Numbness Is Not Nothingness

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Sometimes we confuse ourselves into believing that numbness is a lack of emotion, when really, it’s often so much emotion that we have to protect ourselves from it. 

A blue background with the words, "People often mistake numbness for nothingness, but numbness isn’t the absence of feelings; it’s a response to being overwhelmed by too many feelings. Lori Gottlieb"
People often mistake numbness for nothingness, but numbness isn’t the absence of feelings; it’s a response to being overwhelmed by too many feelings. Lori Gottlieb

As many of us who have dealt with grief know, it’s a process. A really long, one-step-forward-two-steps-back process. You think that you are just going grocery shopping when one random sound or shelf item kicks off a memory that takes you down like a ton of bricks.

Every day isn’t like that as you move farther from the loss and, if you compare months ago with today, you will likely see some significant improvements within yourself.

Who Needs An Arm?

I have mentioned having issues with my right shoulder in the past. I did 9 months of acupuncture and cupping in 2023 and I saw some improvement, but it plateaued. More on that in a future post, but the most important thing was that in January (a month after my dad’s passing), I woke up with terrible pain in my right shoulder, neck, and arm. There had been no injury and nothing had happened, but it was clearly nerve pain.

I was already in the process of being scheduled for spinal injections and physical therapy, so my doctor and I continued with that agenda. Approximately 9 days after the pain began, I lost the use of my right arm. I could not lift it, I had no strength, and it was in constant pain.

I could feel burning from my neck down through my forearm and thumb, but I couldn’t use it. I took to pinning my arm to my side and using my hand and wrist the best I could. I had been instructed not to use a sling, as that could cause other problems and we didn’t entirely know what was happening.

For the next 8 weeks, I had shots (which calmed the pain, thankfully), did PT twice per week, took the meds I had been prescribed, and waited. Luckily, by week 3-4, the pain in my arm had become numbness and tingling, which was preferable. I could lift my arm to my chest area, but still had no strength. Brushing my teeth was fascinating, let me tell you!

After all of these things, during week 8, I had a normal visit with my osteopathic doctor. The last time I’d seen him, everything had been so swollen and wrecked that he did his best. This time, he worked on me for about 45 minutes. By the end of the session, I could lift my arm a few inches higher. That was something.

A few hours later, at home and working – out of pure habit – I tried to lift my arm – and it went all the way up! I started freaking out and wrote to all of my doctors thanking them. I spent the entire day lifting my arm in joy. It had no strength, but it functioned!

As it turns out, it seems that it was a severe nerve impingement. We have no idea what happened or why, but the numbness and pain have faded.

A few months later, I was talking to a friend who said, “Was your dad like your right arm?” Yes, he was. So that’s interesting.

The Numbness Continues

And life goes on. I feel so lucky. My son just graduated high school and is very excited about college. He spent the fall writing 42 different essays for various universities that he applied to (I don’t remember writing a single essay for my applications, but I got to edit his, so there’s that!) and he got accepted into one of the programs he was most hoping for.

My daughter is having a great experience volunteering with children this summer, is learning to drive, and has high hopes for her junior year of high school. I’m working with an excellent team of medical professionals to keep my health in check and I have a wonderful husband who is a great support and an exceptionally good human. And yet, there is this place inside of me that is almost completely numb.

I feel so bad that I can’t be wholly happy and joyful about all of the good things. I am so very grateful for my family and I am so excited for my children, but this numbness persists inside. When I focus on it and prod really deeply, I reach profound sadness, but most of the time it feels like nothingness.

I decided long ago that I wanted to live in the present. I wanted to do my best to feel every moment and appreciate as much as possible because it’s fleeting. Things change so quickly. But there is this piece of me that is stuck. A piece that doesn’t really know how to continue on because it desperately doesn’t want to continue without my dad. So it’s confusing. He would never want this. I don’t want it for myself! But it’s there and at the moment, it’s not going anywhere.

Now granted, I feel like I’m doing better than I was a few months ago. There was a period of time when I couldn’t remember basic names, words, or instructions. All I wanted to do was watch movies or television, which wouldn’t work either because I could only focus for maybe 7 minutes on any one show. So I’m much better than I was. I can string sentences together again.

You Have To Keep Moving Forward

I have heard many times now that the hole that grief leaves doesn’t go away. Not the biggest grief. Not the grief for the people who were the standard bearers of your life. The hole stays and over time, life grows around it.

I am grateful though. There were a number of times that we almost lost my father and we got him back. He had kidney cancer 25 years ago, but they removed his kidney and he was okay. He almost bled out a different night due to horrible nosebleeds that they couldn’t contain at the hospital until one rock star doctor finally figured it out. He also got two new hips, double hand surgery, and had significant heart issues over time that he kept coming back from. We lovingly called him the bionic man.

We all know people this way – those we love and have been so grateful for. He passed suddenly and the way he would have wanted. I’m glad he got that gift.

All of this makes sense logically and I believe and feel it 1000%. But that small piece, that numb piece – the one that started in my arm and now lives in my gut – doesn’t know what to do with any of it. So she keeps on moving forward because that is what we have to do.

If you are on this journey as well, I feel you and I’m sorry. It’s really difficult, but we will make it through to where smiles come even more easily and naturally. Just keep going. We’ll get there.

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