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The fog lifts

I was in a fog for almost two months after Rana died. I just didn’t know it until it lifted.

Foggy trees
Nikon N8008, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 AF Nikkor, Kodak Tri-X 400, 2017

Actually, I thought my fog had lifted after the first two weeks. It turns out that was abject shock. Once that cleared away, the fog set in.

Thank heavens my job didn’t demand too much of me when I returned to it. My new boss was busy setting the stage for some changes he wanted to make, and asked me only to manage the team managers and make sure the in-flight project delivered at the end of the quarter as scheduled. The teams were handling their work well. It took only a light hand on the tiller to keep things on track.

That was a relief, because I was so tired all the time. Because I worked from home most days, I could get away with taking a 30-minute afternoon nap. I wasn’t able to function after a certain time of day without it.

My diet also went to crap. Unrelated to Rana’s death, I started counting calories and exercising more to try to lose the 15 pounds I gained during the pandemic. It’s been working, slowly; I’m down five pounds since January. But I’m eating a lot of junky frozen meals to do it, and when I’m out for a meal I reach right for pizza and cheeseburgers.

I’m reading a book on grief called Life After Loss, and it tells me that the naps and bad diet are incredibly common among grievers.

I got a grief counselor right away. I have the Director of HR at my company to thank for that. I had been trying unsuccessfully to find a counselor — it’s crazy how booked up they are these days — when the Director of HR reached out to see how I was doing. When I told her I was having trouble lining up a counselor, she swung into action and somehow got me an appointment with a grief counselor for that Thursday. She even had the company prepay my first ten visits.

Talking it out with the counselor has been helpful, but I have plenty of people to talk it out with. What has made counseling valuable is the questions the counselor has asked. They’ve been innocent little curiosity questions that have caused me to explore my thoughts and feelings, often for hours or days after the appointment.

She also had me write a letter to Rana. I was surprised how much anger came out in it. I started it with, “How dare you do this to all of us?” Writing the letter was enough for me to process a great deal of those challenging feelings and let them go.

It was after I wrote that letter that my fog lifted and my feelings started to settle. Rana is no longer on my mind all the time. I feel some energy returning. Not all of my energy, and still not most of my willingness to deal with the everyday challenges life throws my way. The little things that go wrong irritate me disproportionately.

My whole life I’ve lived with some level of general anxiety. I’ve worked it over with any number of therapists and I’ve improved that all I’m likely ever to. I will always feel on guard against some threat. Thanks to the work I’ve done on myself, it doesn’t cause me distress and I’m able to do the things I want to do. But last autumn, intense pressure at work pushed me to burnout and my anxiety kept spiking. Sometimes it caused me to freeze up and not be able to act. That was new.

So I visited my doctor, who tried a medication called BuSpar. It’s supposed to be a wonder drug for anxiety, but it gave me up-all-night insomnia. She discontinued it, prescribed me some Klonopin to use when anxiety was strong (with no refills, because that stuff is habit forming), and referred me to a psychiatrist.

Twenty years ago as my first marriage was falling apart I was deeply, dangerously depressed. Under a psychiatrist’s care I tried antidepressants for the first time. Every last one I tried had crazy, ugly side effects. The first day I took Zoloft, for example, I straight up passed out, just fell over unconscious, and was out for something like eight hours. I tried and abandoned eight or nine different drugs in rapid succession, each with some new and frightening side effect. It was a horror show.

The doctor finally tried lithium, which is normally prescribed for bipolar disorder. It gave me no side effects, and put a floor under my depression so I could function. It didn’t make me happy, but at least it made me not want to drive my car into a bridge abutment anymore. I took it for several years, until the worst of that time in my life was over.

When this new psychiatrist started talking about the various antidepressants that also have good effect on anxiety, I interrupted him right there and told him about my history. He said, “Ah, you’re treatment resistant then.” He described a number of options that didn’t exist 20 years ago. One is transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain and alleviate depression and anxiety. Another is ketamine, which is primarily used as an anesthetic and also illegally as a party drug. Administered in small doses as a nasal spray, it is said to have incredible positive effect alleviating depression and anxiety. The third option is genetic testing to determine which traditional psychiatric medications do and don’t play well with your genetic makeup, and with the enzymes that are and are not present in your system.

The first two options were very expensive and time-consuming, so I tried the genetic testing. The results made me laugh — every last antidepressant I tried 20 years ago was not recommended for me based on my genetic profile. I lack a couple of key enzymes that would let me metabolize most of those drugs. So the doctor steered me toward a medication that my test results said should interact well with my body.

I hope this medication works. I am depressed since Rana died. Between low mood and anxiety, I really don’t want to do very much. I get through the things I absolutely must do, but not much more. I’m grateful that my new boss at work has recut my job responsibilities — I was carrying far too much before, and now my job is do-able by one human being. The things I’m responsible for now, I am good at and enjoy.

You might be wondering how I keep publishing here six days a week. Some of that is sheer stubbornness — I’ve kept this schedule all these years and I don’t want to stop now. But most of it is that I know from experience that to keep depression from getting worse, I must keep doing the things I enjoy. I make myself do them. So I’m still getting out there with my cameras, still writing about the things that come to mind, still working on my next book. I don’t feel terribly creative right now, and so far this year I haven’t produced anything (words or photographs) that feel like great work to me. But I know that keeping at it is part of keeping myself together, and that I’ll start producing satisfying work again in due time.

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36 thoughts on “The fog lifts

  1. Jim I am glad the fog is lifting, that sounds like progress!
    The only time I have experienced grief like that, and it probably was not even close to what you have been experiencing, was when my second wife walked out. I was ferrying a new light aircraft across the Pacific from the US to Australia, when I landed and was waiting for the biosecurity guy to come to my aircraft with his bug spray I called to say I was home and she would not take my calls. Finally I called my Dad who told me she had gone and the house was pretty much empty.
    I think it was the shock of something so unexpected, and for two or three months I just could not function, or see any way forward. I had a business that was really struggling, and I could not fly in that mental state. I stopped going to church because it became obvious that the priest, a woman, had already taken my wife’s side and encouraged her to leave. Our friends wanted nothing to do with me.
    I think what turned things around was when I was talking to a customer whose company had bought very little from me up until then, and I confided that my life was in a mess and it would be very helpful if he could send me a little more business – he said yes, of course, and that was the beginning of a business turnaround. About the same time I had a moment of clarity (rare for me) and decided that she had hurt my past, but that I did not need to let this define my future.
    That helped me to look forward instead of back, and eventually to look with some optimism to the future. That’s just me, we are all very different, so I pray you will find whatever it is that lets you look forward again! Blessings from New Zealand.

  2. I cannot begin to know what you have gone through. I am happy, though, that you are starting to emerge from it. How great is it that 1) you have had those helping resources available and 2) have had the courage to use them.

    I have never heard of the generic testing for medication tolerance, but perhaps this describes Marianne. Prescribe me almost anything and I am Mr Textbook Normal. Marianne is my opposite, and drugs that work for most won’t do a thing for her or she will have off-the-wall side effects.

    • This genetic test I took was specifically for psych meds. I guess that a lot of people have challenges tolerating them. The norm is to keep trying meds until one is found that works and has a tolerable side-effect profile. The genetic testing’s goal is to shorten that cycle.

  3. Thank you for sharing, Jim. You have no idea how many people you may help with this raw, honest telling of your story. I’m glad things are improving and hope you continue to take care of yourself.

    • Thanks Brandi. One thing I did get out of therapy so far is an observation by my therapist that the end of my first marriage was probably the deepest loss I’ll ever experience, and that getting through that has given me a roadmap of sorts for getting through future losses – and the confidence to know I can make it through.

      • Interesting. That is a good point. You do seem to frame a lot of your stories with when your marriage ended or in the time following the divorce. I relate to this as I tend to view my life as starting over when my relationship ended a few years ago.

        I’m glad you have worked with a therapist and hope that this realization helps you.

        • I can’t overstate how terrible that time in my life was. My desire to be present in my children’s lives was truly the only thing that saved my life.

  4. Hey there Jim, you are not alone. I too have suffered significant loss and ended up on anti-depressants for depression and anxiety. I was reluctant to do so but at the time i was and my all time low and my health was starting to be effected by it. I fortunately did not have the crazy bad reactions to my Rx that you did. The low dosage I was prescribed and the time, care, and attention afforded me by my primary care physician was what lead me to a journey of healing. I stayed on the meds for about 6 months and moved away from them after I felt ready and I developed a right sleeping pattern again. I have also used meditation and hemi-sync music which I have found to be very useful tools going forward. If you are inclined, look for the book titled,The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk. In the book he explains how the brain may forget trauma but the body retains it. It was very helpful to have it explained my life long anxiety in a way I understood it. Knowing why helped tremendously.

    So many of us feel so very deeply. After having followed your blog for a number of years and listening to how you express yourself here, I believe you are one who does as well. The term is called an empath ( a person highly attuned to the feelings and emotions of those around them).

    I lost my Mom in Feb 2018 after a long illness and it completely gutted me. My Dad followed soon after. I am still healing. But, I do feel, as you said it, the fog has lifted. Thanks for sharing, Jim.

    https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/sep/20/trauma-trust-and-triumph-psychiatrist-bessel-van-der-kolk-on-how-to-recover-from-our-deepest-pain

    • While I’m sorry you went through that time of difficulty and loss, it is comforting to hear your story and know you got through it.

      I do feel very deeply. Frankly, it’s exhausting. I’ve read a theory elsewhere that empaths are not born, they are made, often by childhood trauma. Becoming well tuned to the emotions of others was something we learned to survive, because there was someone dangerous (on some level) in our lives whose emotions we needed to read well and fast.

      Someone else recommended The Body Keeps The Score to me about 10 years ago. Maybe this time I should finally read it.

      • Maybe. I support your theory on the childhood trauma. And, I agree it is exhausting. I find that as I heal that my feeling of others emotions are improving. Or maybe I’m just learning how to manage it. I feel strongly that you will get through it as well, Jim. Your pouring it all out here is a very cathartic and brave way of managing the process. Peace brother.

  5. Ann M Miller says:

    My mom recently passed away, right before my 50th birthday. My dad passed away 14 years ago. How is it at my age, I have no parents on earth? But one thing keeps me going, keeps me from dipping into despair. I know I will see them both again some day. They’re not here on earth, their temporary residence, but Home with our Savior, the One who loves us most. “For GOD so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him, should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This helps me through those times when I just want to talk to mom and hear her advice, her wit, her common sense about whatever I’m going through. Praying for you as you go through this time of grief. 💔

    • It’s true, our faith in God and belief in an afterlife with Him can provide real comfort. There’s so much pain and loss in this world. It’s good to know that there will be no tears in the next.

  6. -N- says:

    Jim – great article, very touching. Nearly all of us go through grief, but dealing with it is the challenge. We are “supposed” to be one way, and we may be something else. Anger, rage, frustration, helplessness – all of these make us feel out of control with ourselves, with life. Thanks for writing this. Your ability to express yourself will help anyone who is going through grief if they want to learn how to deal with it as well as the total craziness the process can be.

    • Thanks N, I appreciate your encouraging words. I feel like my ability to write about my inner process is a gift. Even if I were never to share the writing with anyone, the writing materially helps me sort things out. I publish this kind of writing in hopes of receiving encouragement and connecting with others who have had similar experiences. I will be deeply pleased if my writing helps anyone.

      • -N- says:

        As you have probably heard, an hour of counseling can have impact way beyond its immediate impact. Ripples of water expanding outward from a stone in a pond is my thought – far reaching. Like you, writing helps keep me sane – the process of finding the right word helps define, and refine, and reframe. I don’t doubt you have helped others. And, by sharing the writings and thoughts, you reach beyond and will leave behind a gift for someone to find. ;-)

  7. Jim, my fog dissipated after some length of time too after my father’s death. I may have shared that privately already. Your words (I could get away with taking a 30-minute afternoon nap. I wasn’t able to function after a certain time of day without it.) resound with my own experiences. As to low moods and depression, I have not been one to absorb medications for such things but a simple increase of Vitamin D3 50mcg twice per day (no side effects) has removed all traces of monthly depression caused by chemical/weather imbalances, for which I’m grateful.

    • When I started taking 5,000 IU of D3 every day, my sleep improved immensely. It didn’t help my mood, unfortunately. But I believe myself to be someone with a low-mood normal anyway.

  8. I’m glad the fog is lifting for you and that you’re able to get help. I appreciate you sharing your past and current options. I didn’t even know the genetic testing route existed. We don’t talk about mental health enough as a society. I hope that your sharing helps someone out there.

    • I remember when I first got a therapist at age 22, in 1989 or 1990, that there was still a lot of stigma about doing such a thing. Thank goodness it’s not that bad anymore.

      I have garden variety mental health issues, the kind that are common to many. I talk about it openly in hopes it continues to help normalize seeking mental health help.

  9. I’m glad to hear that the fog is lifting Jim. I think posting about these things is very helpful, as a form of self-help. Even if noone were to respond as they have, just the act of releasing your thoughts and feelings can help, but it’s even better to know that you’re not alone in your grief and life difficulties. The people responding might be scattered around the globe, but there’s a feeling of shared experience that I think really helps. Also, posting things like this will help others by reinforcing that they themselves are not alone in whatever grief or difficulties they face, and also by way of a sharing of useful knowledge of how others have dealt with their problems.

    • What I’ve found is that by sharing openly thoughts like these, I gather so many kind, encouraging, and helpful comments from people like you. Thank you!

  10. Carol Rowland says:

    After reading your post today, I realize I am depressed also. My husband, Bob, died in September and I am still tired all the time. The Dr asked if I was depressed and I told him “No, I am grieving”. I, too, do just what is necessary and no more. Maybe I will rethink my position. Good luck with your crawl back up to normal. You are not alone.

    • When you’re always tired and don’t do more than you absolutely must, it’s almost certainly depression. It’s just that lower-level insidious kind that’s hard to recognize.

  11. ronian42 says:

    Hi Jim, it is good news that the fog is lifting. Whilst it may not help directly with the grieving process, I find the apostle Paul’s words at 2 Co 4:7-9 help with life in general when we face challenges.

  12. Hi Jim, thanks for sharing such moving and personal things as you have in your post . I think it takes a lot of courage to be able to share so honestly.
    Your honesty and courage are inspiring.

    • Thanks Sonny. I don’t feel very courageous. I’m just writing my story for the few of you who read it, in hopes I feel a little less alone with my experiences.

  13. Rick Bell says:

    Hi Jim.
    I’m sorry to hear that the grief you’re feeling is so debilitating. It is a natural process we must go through as you know but affects us all differently. I’ve seen on your post that you don’t seem to be getting comfort from God. The times we are living in are extremely difficult and the problems we face are varied.
    I encourage you to not give up on the power of prayer, as our Creator loves us very much to the point He sacrificed his son. This gives us the opportunity to eventually reach perfection as was the original state of Adam and Eve.
    The time is coming soon when He will put His plans into motion.
    Meanwhile some scriptures that helps comfort us are
    1Peter 5:7 God himself tells that he cares for us
    Philippians 4:6,7 tells us how to achieve the peace of God
    1 Corinthians 15:26 When the last enemy (death) will be done away with

    I encourage you not to give up on God but wholeheartedly ask him in prayer for help and be open to his response. It may come in a completely unexpected way or time.

    Take Care
    Rick

    • I need to admit that I find this comment a little challenging. I am dedicated to God and determined to cling to him. I just chose not to write about that aspect of my grief in this post.

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