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How do I cope after losing everything?

Losing all your possessions in a house fire is a shock. You need to know how to grieve.
Losing all your possessions in a house fire is a shock. You need to know how to grieve.

I lost all my possessions in a fire a few weeks ago. I started to cry when the fireman pulled me up saying it could’ve been worse. I haven’t cried since but I can’t be bothered with anyone or anything including work.

No one expects all her possessions to disappear so suddenly. You are shocked and depressed and should see your GP for referral to a psychologist or professional counsellor.

The fireman meant well but he has not really served you by telling you not to cry. Grief is most appropriate in a situation like this. As a fireman, he sees disasters frequently and has become hardened.

He has forgotten that each victim reacts individually to trauma. Some people can cope with severe loss, while others are traumatised by relatively minor loss. There is no point in making comparisons. Each person’s emotional reaction deserves to be empathically addressed.

Your lack of interest in work or other people means that you have not dealt with this loss. You have pushed your sadness away. The fireman, unwittingly, has given you the message that you have no good reason to be upset. Most likely other people in your life have also discounted your emotions in the past.

You have frozen your emotions. Emotions manifest physically in the body. When you decided not to cry, you tightened some muscles in your body so you could not feel the pain of loss. Deadening your feelings in this way stops the pain. But it also stops the joy. You then lose interest in life. Without meaning to, you have created your depression.

Emotions are like energy. If you wish to be healthy, it is best to allow your emotions to flow through the body. This is how they are released. Emotions are a bit like the breath. When we breathe, we take in air and then let it out. All life is taking in and letting go. Without this rhythm there is no life.

Think what happens when you hold your breath by tightening your muscles and not letting the air out. Or what happens if you refuse to take another breath in. You are stiff and tight, static, until you breathe again.

Holding onto emotions, though less dramatic than holding your breath, reduces your sensitivity to life. Depressed people often report that life is passing them by. They feel deadened and don’t fully participate in activities. Over time frozen emotions can lead to the development of mental or physical illness.

Your first step is acknowledging that you have suffered a significant loss. Even if you are compensated by an insurance payout, you lost possessions that cannot be replaced. These need to be grieved.

Reject the fireman’s advice and allow yourself to cry. If you cannot cry, doing deep, slow breathing while thinking about the fire will help move the emotional energy.

Undertake physical activity. Run, cycle, swim or hit a punching bag. You need to get those tight muscles working. Once you release your emotional energy safely, you will feel more relaxed. And your interest in life will soon return.

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North Brisbane Psychologists