Traumatic Grief vs Complicated Grief

Traumatic grief usually occurs when someone experiences a sudden, unexpected, and often violent, loss. Shock over a violent death can be traumatizing. Often traumatic grief sufferers have uncontrollable thoughts of the violent death and replay it repeatedly in their minds. These constant thoughts interfere with daily life. Disturbing thoughts and the reaction to those thoughts impact every aspect of their life.

Forever Shattered

Sufferers often feel the world as they understood, shattered, and will forever be shattered. Traumatic grief often leads to complicated grief. Mental health professionals do not have a hard fast rule of time when traumatic grief then becomes complicated grief. However, most diagnoses of intense, persistent, and debilitating grief beyond 12 months are usually accepted as complicated grief.

Complicated Grief

Those with complicated grief are trapped in chronic, debilitating grief. They feel lost, alone, and devastated. Instead of progressing through traumatic grief, it stalls. Instead of feeling intense grief for months, it continues over a year. Daily activities are severely disrupted.

Often, there are certain factors that can lead to complicated grief. They include some of the following:

  1. Witnessing the death.
  2. A death was shocking, premature, or violent.
  3. Previous history of depression.
  4. More than 1 death, or traumatic event, in a short period.

Signs of Complicated Grief

People often show signs of complicated grief over an extended period of time. This grief does not get better with time.

  1. Refusing, or has difficulty, leaving the home.
  2. Anger.
  3. Sleep problems usually involve nightmares.
  4. Strong attachment to the deceased things.
  5. Difficulty functioning daily at work, school, and daily tasks.
  6. Deep despair.
  7. Unbearable sadness that never stops.
  8. Withdrawal from activities, people, or anything social in nature.
  9. Talk, or thoughts, of suicide.
  10. Flashbacks.
  11.  Anxiety.
  12. Feelings of depression and isolation.

This Was My Reality

It is strange for me to read this list and to realize this was once my life. Lauren’s murder sent me into a deep dark pit that I could not crawl out of by myself. My life was a nightmare. There was no sleeping more than 40 minutes, I would jolt awake screaming from a nightmare. My life consisted of panic attacks and daily activities were difficult. My bed was my safe haven, and there I stayed. I dropped to eighty-six pounds. Eating was a chore with my throat constantly constricting and ultimately I would become sick.

Finding The Right Counselor

I tried different counselors before I finally found the right fit. First on his agenda was sleep and panic attacks. I was given three medications and within a couple of days, I was sleeping again, and my mind was allowed to rest. My panic attacks were slowly controlled. This was the beginning of my healing. Then the real work started. I had therapy weekly for 4 months, then every 2 weeks and then monthly.

Tools & Coping Skills

I learned all about grief and complicated grief. I was given tools and coping skills. I learned to plan ahead and took steps to join society. I scheduled self-care and made life goals. I learned how to handle situations and I successfully returned to work. I was in a safe environment to discuss my thoughts, emotions, and Lauren. About 8 months later I was going to dinner and seeing friends. I had hope in the future; I was no longer in the deep, dark pit of grief. I was in therapy for over 3 years. I am no longer on medication or in therapy. I have joy in my life, and I love life once again. It’s been a long journey, but I am so thankful I am here. I still grieve my girl, but it is so much softer. I am thankful for my life.

If this complicated grief sounds too familiar, my plea is for you to not give up, seek professional help. It took a whole host of support for me to get back on track, but I did. So can you.

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