Is numb normbal?

I feel numb, detached. I can’t seem to express this emotionally, and I’m not sure why. I’m looking for normative responses - is there something wrong with me that I don’t feel a different way, or do others experience this, too?

It’s like this. My wife may have cancer. I say “may”, and I’m holding on to the “may”, even though it’s a pretty slim hope. The doctors are uncertain of the diagnosis. They think it’s a lymphoma, but it’s not a normal type, it’s in the wrong spot. They’ve spent weeks trying to diagnose it, and we’re on pins and needles. It’s…

Wait, let me start over. That paragraph is not exactly what this post is about - it’s more a symptom of the problem. The problem is that I find myself reacting too clinically, and it just seems wrong. People at work ask me about it, friends, my side of the family, and all I can seem to do is recite a list of the latest news, with medical terminology, in a detached sort of way. I feel like screaming in anger, or breaking down crying, but I can’t - it’s never the right time. And if I do, I may never stop. So I don’t. Instead, I feel like I should put a hopeful, optimistic face on it. Be cheerful. After all, if the doctors don’t know quite what it is, they can’t be sure it’s not cancer, right? Right? Trouble is, I don’t quite manage cheerful optimism, either. I manage detached clinical numbness. (Or perhaps that’s as optimistic as I can manage.)

I feel like I’m coming across as a heartless bastard. That’s not how I feel, but I’m worried that’s what I express. I don’t want to look that way to my coworkers, my friends, my family. I especially don’t want to look that way to my wife, who needs my support. (What kind of support? If I’m cheerfully optimistic, does that seem like I’m not taking it seriously? If I’m sad or angry, is that just adding more burden to someone who is already having to deal with this even closer than I am? As it is, does my detachment make me look like I care less than I do?)

Anyway, this was kind of pointless, so that’s why it’s in this spot. Would others act this way?

I reacted that way when I found out about my dad. I think it’s a way of detaching yourself from what’s happening, sort of denying that it’s happening to someone you love.

I hope your wife is okay.

NE Texan, I understand where you’re coming from. My husband is just like that. A few weeks after I met him his father died. I was shocked that he displayed what (to me) seemed to be little emotion over the situation, yet it was not as though he were trying to pretend it didn’t happen. He’s a very rational person, and was able to look at the facts of the situation and resolve them within himself. He loved his father very much, and he greived tremendously, but in his own way. My husband now works at a funeral home, and that type of outlook has served him well.

It’s not a lack of emotion. It’s not a lack of caring. No one can tell you how you’re supposed to feel about something. Some of us find comfort in knowledge, whether it’s a clinical knowledge of the details surrounding an illness or the knowledge that it’s okay to feel how you feel, regardless of what people think of you.

Trust me hon, if you’re worried about feeling the pain, the anguish, the suffering, it will come. All in time. Don’t force it, and don’t ever feel like you’re less of a person because you don’t cry on command or shake your fists with rage. It will come to you out of the blue, when you least expect it. You’ll be laughing at a joke and before you know it, the feelings will well up, deep and strong. Sometimes we must understand the realities of our emotions before we can feel them.

My thoughts and prayers for you and your wife.

It is normal. My first reaction to upsetting news is generally numbness. When I hear something really bad, I think my mind just doesn’t know how to react, so I detach from the situation. It’s actually kind of helpful, I have time to think logically about the situation before the emotion hits me. And it will. trust me, you’ll get that normal gut reaction eventually, so use the numb time to think about the reality of the situation and prepare yourself for the visceral reaction to come. It can make all the difference in not letting the emotion cripple you.

I felt the same way over the summer when my mother was first diagnosed with liver cancer. I remember that when I got off the phone with my dad, I just sat there, unable to know what to do. I felt like that for days.

I think part of what you’re feeling is the unknowing of your wife’s condition. When my mother was diagnosed, the doctors were certain her liver tumors were secondary cancer, and that the primary cancer might be more dangerous to her. I’m sure part of my own numbness was a result of fearing the worst possible diagnosis, waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it were…and, as the days and weeks went on without any definitive results from her tests, not being able to feel clear about what was to happen next.

I agree with what 5-HT said…use this time to prepare yourself. Subconsciously, I’m sure that is what’s happening at the present.

I also hope that the news will be good. Let us know how she (and you) are doing.

NE Texan, I don’t know if anyone in their right mind would choose to judge you at the moment for your seeming “clinical detatchment”. Without going through it themselves, how does anyone know how you are “supposed” to react? As for your own personal feelings, there is no right or wrong way to feel in this situation. Everyone deals with a crisis or time of trial in their own way. Don’t doubt yourself…you can’t do anything wrong.

Thanks, everyone. It is some small comfort to read the responses, and not feel something else wrong on top of everything else.

We (well, my wife, if I want to be honest about it) have an appointment with the doctor this Friday, and we’ll hopefully learn more. Wish us luck.

Well, I came back to read this again, and I realized that the title isn’t quite right. (I mean, aside from the typo, which now that I’ve noted it seems amusing, so I won’t ask for it to be changed.)

My OP made it seem like I was feeling numb - nothing could be further from the truth. I’m feeling quite a lot. I’m just not expressing it very well (or very clearly). Please bear with me while I vent briefly. (Yes, this is pointless, isn’t that in the forum title?)

I’m frustrated as all hell. I’m frustrated at the doctors for not knowing what’s wrong. I’m frustrated with the hospital for sending the stupid slides and samples to the wrong other hospital for a diagnosis. I’m frustrated with the fact that it’s taken Three Frigging Weeks from my wife’s surgery, and there’s still no formal diagnosis. (My god, my wife’s sister had a lymphoma that doubled every 24 hours, and eventually killed her; you tell us it’s probably a lymphoma and expect us to wait THREE FRIGGING WEEKS???

And I’m frustrated that my car died last night, leaving us with one car between the 2 of us, my wife’s parents are getting into the airport tomorrow night, she has a doctor’s appointment Friday, my son has to be picked up from school Thursday because there aren’t busses after extracurricular activities, and I work 30 minutes away.

All I have to say is, they had better know what this is by Friday’s appointment.

and it better not be as serious as it seems now.


Poor dear heart… your reaction is fine. You can’t be expected to express lots of emotion when you don’t really KNOW what kind of emotion to express!!! (since you don’t really have a real diagnosis yet.) You have anger and frustration and confusion – not the best mix of feeling for easy expression.

Be easy on yourself – this is a hard time.

Best wishes for a happy outcome…