Going Numb Means Going Nowhere in Trying Times

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by Dr. C |

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Sobbing, she throws her arms around me. “I just can’t take one more thing. I’m totally overwhelmed. All the things I need to attend to are flying around me, and as I try to grasp onto one, I come away empty.” She rests in my embrace and the storm slowly subsides. Lying with her is like being in the middle of a tornado.

Toto and the Wicked Witch share the violent winds of her emotional upheaval as I watch her life swirl around her. I, too, feel overwhelmed and have little room for any additional feeling from any source. I want to jump in the car and drive away to a greener pasture, but I find that there is no place away from myself except that which I create. Then, as if someone dropped a house on me, I shifted into the altered state of being numb.

During my years of clinical practice, I saw many patients use the “numb space” as a form of protection during their recovery from a traumatic injury. They walk around glassy-eyed, seemingly lost in their own inner space. Conversations with them cover only the superficial generalities of daily life.

I’ve always appreciated the need for people to create their own healing space and never pushed against that space without informed consent. Right now, it seems that I need the numb space as part of staying healthy through the stress of moving.

The problem is that the numb space doesn’t fit me very well. In some ways it’s quiet and comforting. But it takes a lot of energy to put up all the blockades necessary to force that numb space into existence.

The numb space should not be confused with the quiet stillness one can discover through the diligent practice of meditation. Forcibly blocking out all feelings is not a quiet experience, and it’s difficult for me to maintain. Emotions have, and continue to be, an important way that I see the world. Being legally blind, I need all the extra eyes I can get.

The numb space is also difficult for my partner. She experiences it as a retreat from the intimacy and sharing that we have had for almost 50 years. With Parkinson’s, I can’t always join her on the simple errands of shopping and going to the post office, or with other chores. In addition to the loneliness of not doing things we used to do together, going numb widens that intimate and shared space between us.

We usually can work around the Parkinson’s issues and the “off” times to schedule trips out. Going numb means that even when we’re together, an emotional and spiritual separation exists in our relationship. Add to that all the swirling activity of selling and buying a home, preparing for the move, and the paperwork involved in relocating, and she feels that even more responsibility is being placed upon her, and less time is set aside for her to recover and recharge.

When Parkinson’s causes the loss of physical abilities, partners must rely on the underpinnings of their friendship, love, and communication through the challenges. When those parts of the relationship face the numb space, it feels as if there is little left. We both recognize it and make every effort to reach out to diminish the effects of the retreat.

She has often said that she doesn’t want to be identified as a caretaker; she prefers to keep her relationship with me as a partner. To her, being a “caretaker” implies that there is a clinical aspect to the relationship, or a nonemotional entity that merely provides transportation and makes sure that meals are prepared and the house is clean. Being a partner means so much more, and she will not trade being a partner for a “caretaker.” So, we work together, as we have done for so many years, to give each other support, even though the needs and methods of support have changed.

I see the numb space as temporary, an oasis or break from the storm. It is not a destination because it leads nowhere. People get in trouble when they try to make the numb space a permanent destination to visit daily, by whatever means. It may be harder to stay in touch with feelings during stressful times in life, but brain therapy is about taking the road less traveled and exercising your brain to build new neural connections.

“Use it or lose it,” and remember that going numb is going nowhere.

Have you used the numb space to help you cope with life? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


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