by Catherine Greenleaf
Preoccupation -- we all know what it's like to have our mind in one place and our body in another. Have you ever said to someone: "Huh? What did you just say?" This can happen when you're in a roomful of people and in the middle of conversation and for some reason you just drift off in your own mind. It's as if you're a million miles away from everyone else in the room. Some people call it daydreaming, and it is human nature to think and dwell upon possibilities in life. That is part of how we plan to attain our goals. However, when your preoccupation is due to trauma like suicide loss, the effect can be quite the opposite and can impact the quality of your life.
Veterans of war call it being "shell-shocked." When World War I, II, and Viet Nam veterans returned from battle, they often presented with the symptom of appearing to be in a daze. This preoccupation, or splitting of the mind and body is a very normal and natural reaction to trauma. The brain is attempting to heal itself from devastating loss and grief. What the brain does is fixate on two things at once, such as vaccuming the rug while talking on the phone, watching TV while reading a magazine, eating a sandwich while getting dressed. This is not what we think of as modern-day multi-tasking. Dwelling in this inbetween state of doing one thing and thinking of something completely different is very effective at stopping painful emotions and memories from coming to the surface.
In some ways, preoccupation is very similar to OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Any compulsive activity prevents a person from feeling emotions. This is why after a suicide loss, surviving friends and family talk about mopping the kitchen floor at 2 a.m. or cleaning out all the closets in the house again and again. They are seeking solace from the overwhelming pain this type of sudden loss can bring.
Preoccupation can prevent you from living life in the moment. It can rob you of your spontaneity and enjoyment of life's many joys. If you feel you are suffering from preoccupation that just doesn't seem to be lifting, you can seek assistance from a qualified sudden death bereavement therapist. There are several modalities that can be quite useful in treating this symptom of PTSD, like EMDR and other types of neuro-linguistic programming, as well as amino acid therapy.
The bottom line is this: you are not alone in your grief. There are many people who have experienced the disorientation of preoccupation after a tragic loss and found ways to combat this annoying and perturbing symptom. The key is asking for help and putting yourself in the hands of a qualified professional so you can get some relief.
Read more about preoccupation and the other symptoms of PTSD in my book: Healing The Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations For People Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicide at www.healingthehurtspirit.com.