Q. I think I’m having a nervous breakdown. I’ve been depressed and nervous since my wife died a year ago. I can't sleep and I feel shaky. I force myself to go to work but I don’t accomplish as much as I did in the past. On the weekends I force myself to go out some where but most of the time I sit home and cry. I can’t get over having lost her. Am I having a nervous breakdown? Am I mentally ill? What can I do to get over this?
A. You’re not having a nervous breakdown. In fact, there is no such thing as a nervous breakdown. Many people say, “I think I’m having a nervous breakdown,” when they feel very stressed or depressed. We are fearful and think the worst when our emotions are overwhelming. A nervous breakdown is not a legitimate medical diagnosis. It doesn’t exist in diagnostic manuals or medical text books.
Nor are you mentally ill. When a person has a mental illness their personality is seriously disorganized and out of touch with reality. Instead, you are very much in touch with the reality of your wife’s death.
You are experiencing normal grief over the loss of your wife. Most of us expect to grieve for a few weeks after the loss of a loved one - until we experience a major loss ourselves. Then we learn that grieving is more painful than we imagined and takes much longer than we expected.
Most widows and widowers face the same feelings you’re experiencing. After the loss of a loved one it’s very common to have periods of anxiety, sadness, tearfulness, anger and guilt. It is also common to have difficulty sleeping, a loss of appetite, and little energy. Some people also have physical symptoms such as stomach aches, joint pains, or headaches.
Friends have no doubt told you to keep busy, to be strong and positive, and make a new life. Their advice is sound but it’s only part of the story. Spending all your time grieving is not healthy. But denying your grief also is not healthy. Activity numbs the pain and keeps you in touch with the world but it doesn’t shorten mourning.
If you try to deny your mixed emotions you will prolong your grief. The key to working through grief is to allow yourself to feel your pain some of the time, which you are doing. Go into your sadness and let yourself cry. Express your anger and hurt out loud to a close friend. It’s also helpful to write about loss.
Grieving may last several years. The fact that you aren't over it is normal and O.K. This doesn't mean you will be grieving all the time. Each year it lessens. However, you will experience periods of pain; days or weeks when you are again depressed after feeling better. Certain days will be more difficult than others. Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays and weekends are particularly difficult for most widows and widowers. Knowing this you can plan how you want to spend these days. A balance of activities with others and time alone to grieve is best. When your grief is strong don't avoid it, go into it.
If you have no one you can talk to about your loss or if your depression isn’t gradually lessening, seek help from a counselor or a pastor. Talking about your loss will help speed up the grieving process. Medication can also help if your sleep problems are extreme and constant. A number of churches also offer a program called Grief Share which is very helpful. In this group program you will learn to understand your grief and how to handle it. And you will have support from others going through the same difficulties.
Above all else, call out to God in your sorrow and he will help you through this time of grief. Pray and read His Word daily. Abide in Him. He is a safe refuge.
“I will restore you to health and I will heal you of your wounds.” Jeremiah 30:17