Grief and the Overachiever

One of the hardest things when writing about grief is that everyone’s experience of grief is so different, and depend on everything from the person’s temperament, life situation and their relationship with the person who died. If you’re used to excelling in life, however, grief can pose some specific challenges might not be as troubling for a less performance-focused person.

Here are some things to be aware of as you recover from the loss of the loved one if you generally expect yourself to be at the top of your game.

Brain Fog and Fatigue

For most people the days, weeks and even months after a major loss feel like a fog has descended on your life. It can be hard to concentrate, hard to make decisions and hard to work “as usual,” even if your usual schedule isn’t particularly grueling—which means if it is grueling, it can be even more difficult.

Brain fog is an especially common grief experience for people whose spouse has died. If you think about how you interact with your spouse on a daily basis—get input about mundane decisions like what to eat for dinner, discuss your plans for the weekend and get reminders about where you put your keys. We outsource some cognitive abilities to our spouses, and suddenly not having them there can be debilitating.

Widows and widowers aren’t the only ones who experience brian fog, though—and the closer you were to your loved one who died, the more likely it is to hit you.

Grief can also be fatiguing, in a way that many find surprising. It’s not unusual for people to find that they need more sleep than they did pre-grief. This can make it impossible to simply carry on with all of the same commitments, professional and otherwise, that you had before your loved one died.

If you’re distressed because you can’t work as effectively or as much as you expect yourself to, here are a couple tips:

  • Give yourself a break. You probably won’t be a peak performance right after the loss of a loved one—and that’s ok;
  • Be patient. The good news is that you can get back to peak performance. Most people start to see improvements after six months, so just because you can’t work at your best now doesn’t mean you won’t get back there eventually, even soon.

Throwing Yourself Into Work

The flip side to the common problems with brain fog and fatigue is spending so much time at work that you neglect all other areas of your life, and in fact fail to take care of yourself.

Some people find that work is a way to escape or avoid grief, and that working as much as possible also allows them to gain a feeling of control over their surroundings that is often shattered when a loved one dies.

If you feel like you’re overworking yourself as a way to avoid the reality of your loss or to avoid other problems, here are some ways to reframe your relationship to work.

  • Why am I working? Think about your reasons for working—are they mostly financial or mostly ego?
  • What am I neglecting? Identifying what parts of your life you aren’t spending enough time on because of work is usually the first step towards readjusting your priorities, if needed.

Are you feeling distressed because you can’t keep up at a high-powered job anymore? Or are you looking for reasons not to go home at the end of the day? Either way, working with a grief counselor can help you identify your priorities and find ways to heal that are healthy for you mentally, physically and emotionally. Grief can effect us in unexpected ways, but you can get back to the “normal you,” it just takes time.

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