Tuesday, July 31, 2018

My brain, my brain, my one and only brain

The way I view the world, we all have a human soul created in the image of God. The soul is a supernatural being that is miraculously and mysteriously melded with the flesh of the human body in order to live in the natural world. The soul is the part that is "you," and your body is the interface with the natural world, the only way that you can encounter it, act in it, communicate with others in it. Essentially, your body is your avatar.

Unfortunately, we live in a broken natural world, and many of our "avatars" are affected by the reality of genetics gone awry, or disease, or injury, affecting our ability to use our avatars effectively.

I begin thinking in this model some years ago when meeting some adults who were severely developmentally disabled to the point that they had to live in a facility with caregivers with them at all times. One man that I met didn't appear to be interacting with his surroundings at all, I had no idea whether he was aware that I was even there. However, his supportive caregiver said "Do you see how he is rolling his eyes back in his head right now? He is letting you know that he knows you are there and this is his way of greeting you."

I was floored. Without this caring woman to interpret his actions, I never would have known. I looked at all the people surrounding me in the center in their wheelchairs and realized that all of them were there, fully human, yet "melded" with an "avatar" that was severely limited in its capabilities to interact with the natural world. I had never doubted the humanness or the great worth of these people in God's eyes, but this was the first time I really understood they are IN there. Fully. Loving, longing, learning, doing the best they can with flesh they've been given. I was overwhelmed with longing meet those humans in those bodies, to learn how they uniquely communicate with the world, to tell them "I know you're in there! I know you're in there!"

This different way of looking at the soul and body has very much changed and influenced my own view of self. I have a lot more grace with myself. Learning about the foibles of my own avatar, its conditions, its perplexities, has helped me see "these problems are not me, they are part of the body I am in." I have OCD. That's not Kirstie. That is a condition of the brain I have. And when I realize that, I can separate myself from the tyranny of OCD thoughts. They remain painful and hard, but now I know they are NOT ME! I can choose whether or not to accept the information that my brain is feeding me. My brain might be on high alert, sirens wailing, telling me that the pain in my stomach is cancer and I'm dying, but now that I can separate myself from it, I can actually say to it, "Silly, you told me last month that my asthma was lung cancer and I'm just fine now. Come off it, will you?" It might take a bit, but the anxiety feelings over the signals from my ultrahyper amygdala dissipate a lot faster when I know that they are 99.9% likely to be false alarms. Of course, I'm sure my daily dose of Zoloft helps too!

Today I am thinking about the possibility my psychiatrist suggested that I might have ADD. This morning I brought up some of my daily frustrations and the ones I have had ever since I can remember. How I can't focus on more than one thing at once, so if I let the dog out and a child calls me, I'll go to the child and forget about the poor dog until he starts barking from the porch. This was much more terrifying when I had infants and toddlers and I lived in constant fear that I might forget them in the car or in some other dangerous situation because my mind was somewhere else.

Or learning new information- I have a beautiful, fine working brain for using and analyzing information I already know. But learning new information, new instructions, new processes, or the new complex board games my husband keeps bringing home- is SO HARD. I got great grades in school, but I had to work so very hard to get them, and I never understood how other people in my class seemed to be able to read that biology or calculus chapter once and and remember it all. I had to constantly ask for extra help and burn the midnight oil studying, studying, studying, trying to get all that information through my thick skull, with many, many tears and flashcards along the way. And processing auditory information is the worst. History, literature, etc- that's all fine. It goes in nice and smooth. But auditory instructions? Forget about it! I'm still trying to get the first thing the teacher said and everybody else is ten steps ahead and I'm melting down and trying not to run out of the classroom in tears. I mastered the art of appearing to pay attention in school while actually having no idea what was going on, and then going home and studying to try to figure out what on earth happened in class.

I've also always had a pretty small "carrying capacity." I get overwhelmed and stressed out by long to-do lists and the fear that I'm dropping some important ball. I feel like I can only juggle three balls when everybody else can juggle ten. My psychiatrist explained to me that it sounds like I have a low capacity "working memory" and low-speed "processor." Once the information gets into my brain, I can handle it just fine. But I can only take one bite of information at a time, and then I have to chew it an abnormally long time to be able to swallow it and put it to work. So if I already have a bite I'm working on, you just can't throw anything else at me. It will bounce right off and yes, I will tell you with embarrassment that I can't remember most of our conversation last week because you told me something that got me thinking and then I didn't hear the rest of what you said.

When I was working, not being a full-time mother and domestic manager, I actually did just fine most of the time. Because when you go into work, you are supposed to put all the demands of the rest of your life aside and focus on the task at hand. But at home there are a million things to remember and children to teach and train in all the things of life, who all want to tell you many things at the same time. "Make sure I am looking at you when you are talking, and that I repeat back to you where you said you are going when you tell me you are going out to a friend's house," I tell my children, because there has been more than one time of getting up from writing to find them gone and have no idea where they are and  I only have some vague recollection that someone came into the room and told me something. A few days ago I dreamed I had a large menagerie of pets- guinea pigs, hamsters, chickens, lizards, ferrets, gerbils, etc, and they all kept escaping where I had put them and I spent all my time hunting them down in a panic and trying to fasten the lids tightly back on their cages. That describes the life of my brain so very accurately.

I have a lot to learn about ADD and it looks like I am actually going to go get some real testing done that I should have done years ago. I am so happy to have a direction to go to understand this brain that I've been given, this one and only unique quirky avatar.

If you have ADD, will you tell me your story?

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