When something happens to someone in your family, it can be difficult, even in the best of times. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis wrote that “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” He described how the physical sensations associated with grieving and fear were so similar, including the fluttering you feel in your stomach and the restlessness that overcomes you. If you live with social anxiety, then the line between grief and fear becomes even more blurred.
Family can be an anchor when the world seems too turbulent, with years of trust and goodwill going a long way toward calming the storms you feel inside. That’s what makes it so difficult when someone that you’re close to is hurt, ill or otherwise in peril. Your anchor is ripped away, and you aren’t sure where to turn to get things back under control. It can be terrifying.
Family Hits Hard
Part of the problem with family emergencies is that you aren’t the only one affected by them. Your siblings, your parents and everyone else who was close to the family member in question are affected as well. This cuts you off from other potential sources of comfort, and surrounds you with people who may be looking for some comfort themselves. This will usually make things worse, since you’re still trying to find your way through what you’re feeling… you don’t have it in you to bear the burden of someone else’s grief as well. But it’s okay, because you don’t have to.
It’s Okay to Grieve
Close friends and family may be in shock or grieving, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t understand what you’re going through. In fact, they may understand more now than they ever have before. If you need a break, just say so. No one is going to think less of you, no one is going to expect you to shoulder their burden. Just let people know that you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some time to yourself. They may be concerned about you, but you’ll find a lot of understanding as well.
Write a Letter
If a family member is in bad shape or passed away, your anxiety may make it difficult to work through the complex emotions that you’re feeling. You may feel that you don’t have anyone that you can talk to about it. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get it out, though. Take the time to write a letter, separating yourself from everyone else to give yourself some privacy. Use a pencil and paper if you can, since the tactile sensation and sound of the pencil lead on the paper can be soothing.
Write out exactly what you’re feeling as though you were writing to the person you’re concerned about, and take as much time and space as you need. It doesn’t matter if you ramble or admit that you aren’t sure what to write about, just so long as you work on getting it out there.
Slow and Steady Progress
Loss and other family emergencies are very difficult, and it may seem as though nothing is going to be the same again. It’s important that you keep doing what you need to for yourself, though. If you’re on medication, keep taking it. If you see a therapist, keep attending your appointments.
Be honest with those who care about you, let them know that you’re still feeling overwhelmed and that you’ll update them as things change. Write more letters, or start keeping a journal. Just don’t give up on yourself. Each day, each conversation, each stroke of a pencil or pen is one small step closer to getting things back under control. Even if it takes time, those little steps will eventually get you where you need to go.