Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Staying busy after a death is a common avoidance strategy
Q: I seem to be locked into a habit of numbing myself. No drugs or alcohol, but lots of Internet, crosswords, reading, knitting. Things that keep my life, and especially my 5-year-old, at bay. She has noticed this — I say, "I'm sorry, I was distracted," she has said, "You're always distracted."
I also cry at inappropriate times — over an Internet video, or something in the newspaper — but I don't cry over real things in my life, like my mom's death six months ago.
Counseling? Or is there something I can do right now, today? My partner is taking up the slack, but I don't want my kid to grow up thinking that being cold and remote is okay.
Numb With a Kid
Carolyn: Depression screening, then grief counseling. They're obvious answers for a reason.
For "right now, today": creative scheduling. With your partner's cooperation, schedule daily alone time, without your child around — either you leave or they do.
And, schedule daily, one-on-one activities with your child, ones that force you away from every distraction — smartphone included.
Try a climbing gym, nature walk, crafts, baking session. Start a book that you can read to her a chapter a day. Find a mutual interest and stoke it.
I'm sorry about your mom. A major loss like that can really make you want to hide from the world, which is what you've done.
Anonymous: Wow. I lost a parent suddenly two years ago and thought I was doing okay until I read that. I do spend a lot of one-on-one time with my son, but switch "work" or "cleaning" for "knitting" and I think I do the same thing. I've justified it to myself by saying I'm doing necessary things and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just maybe to the detriment of my family. Huh.
Carolyn: It never hurts to view your actions through a different lens.
And while we're talking specifically of grief, I think the topic of escaping pain has broader application, since pain-avoidance takes so many forms: drinking, drugs, affairs, compulsive shopping/eating/dieting, compulsive exercise or sex, or over-the-top involvement in this or that, organizing and collecting and baking under the auspices of various worthy causes. Workaholics and over-involved parents fit here, too.
I think pain drives more behavior than we realize, and so it's useful to look at our choices with their pain-relief potential in mind. It's also a compassionate way to look at some difficult people in our lives, just by asking, "Is s/he in pain, too?"
Anonymous 2: It may be hard to explain to a 5-year-old that your mommy died and that you miss her and that sometimes you are sad, but you should attempt to explain that at her level instead of just saying "mommy is distracted." Children can be empathetic if we give them the chance to do it in their own way.
Carolyn: Absolutely — except you actually proved it isn't hard: "My mommy died and I miss her and sometimes I am sad." Even through tears, that's perfect.