Sunday, 18 October 2015

My broken brain

It seems to me there’s a new movement – though perhaps not so new – of people leaving Facebook.

I left abruptly a couple of months ago with a quick status update one morning (that it turns out most people missed), because I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I was wasting too much time on Facebook, always reaching for my phone, not paying enough attention to the baby wiggling on the floor or the jobs that needed doing, until I HAD to face them.  But funnily enough, I was sick of Facebook too – always reading the same kinds of status updates, getting the same ads clogging up my feed, not seeing anything from the people I wanted to hear from, but not being bothered or forgetting to look for them or change the settings so they’d pop up again.  And increasingly, I was living my life ‘out there’ and it was really messing with me.  I needed to bring my focus, my attention and my love ‘back in’ – into myself, my own family, my own house, and my physically-present and oft-neglected friends.

Living my life ‘out there’ (with gesticulating hands) was causing discontent in my life.  I have a wonderful husband who loves me more than I confuse him these days, which never ceases to amaze me.  I have two beautiful, happy, healthy children.  We have a mortgage, which means we both have good jobs to buy a house in the first place.  WE are healthy.  Our family members love us and are healthy too.  I have a handful of true friends I love dearly, some close, some on the other side of the world.  But I’d see status updates about someone with a nicer/bigger house than ours, or in a better suburb, or doing renovations to make their dive their dream home.  I’d see how well other new mums were doing at life, while I felt like I sucked at all of it.  I’d see others travelling the world, seeing places I can only dream of visiting.  Discontent.  Discontent. Discontent.  So I left Facebook to bring my focus back ‘in’ and on all of the many, many, many ways we are blessed.

While I’m not in the typical Post Natal Depression phase anymore, given Baby is now almost 10 months old, my brain isn’t working quite the way it should – quite the way it used to.  Things really bother and get to me now that didn’t rattle me Before Baby.  I have a very short fuse.  I can’t stand crowds or noise.  I have an overwhelming desire to control as much of my surroundings as I can.  I calm myself down with cleaning and organising and getting jobs crossed off lists.  If I can see that I’m making headway on my list of things to do, I feel a sense of peace – I haven’t totally lost myself, I’m still capable and my world isn’t falling apart.  The Black Dog stays in its kennel.  But when the house gets too messy for my unease, or the pile of papers on top of the everything-out-of-date, totally disorganised filing cabinet starts to lean dangerously, I feel anxious.  And not anxiety like, “I hope I get home before it rains or we’ll have no clean underwear tomorrow”, but anxiety like “I’ve let it get out of hand; I’m losing control; I suck at life” and my heartrate goes up.  But get stuck in and tidy/clean/organise something, and my soul exhales. It can be as simple as the shelf in the bathroom where we keep the medicine.  Or clearing off the dining table.  Or scrubbing the kitchen.  “I’m okay, I can do this, I’m still ‘me’.”  I’m sure there’s a name for what I’m doing now, but I’m fine not knowing!

And while all of this started after Baby was born, I think it has grown bigger than that.  This isn’t about Baby anymore because Baby is awesome – loud and wakes way too early for all concerned, but awesome.  I’m not sure what it IS about though.  Sometimes I think of it this way - my brain was broken for a while, and it has healed a little misaligned, like a broken nose.  Or like when you’ve had a stomach virus and have thrown up for a few days, that first day when you don’t feel like vomiting, you feel better but also very ‘fragile’.  Maybe my brain is still fragile after months of throwing up.  Awesome.  Isn’t that a nice image for you!

Apart from trying to use ‘control’ as a tool to make myself better, I tried really paring back my life to give my brain the space/time/energy it needed to get to the root of some of my issues – even if I couldn’t fix it, maybe understanding what Square One was would help.

1) Get off Facebook.  Stop living and focusing ‘out there’. 

2) Not going online as much as I used to and avoiding all negative stories (*though not possible to do in my line of work)

3)  Reconnecting with friends by picking up the phone or making coffee dates and Skype dates with far-flung friends. 

4) Being around genuine people.

5)  Not watching commercial TV anymore and avoiding shows with dark or ‘on the edge of your seat’ content…
I’ve also tried to mend some long-broken fences in the hopes that that will give my head, heart and soul more peace after months of nightmares.  I pulled away from a great friend for a while, too, because I just never felt like I was ‘doing a good job’ on the occasions I did talk to them.  Our conversations felt weird and strange to me and I didn’t understand why.  So I pulled back to try and figure it out.  (Turns out it simply had to do with the changing shape of our friendship – of all my friendships – because of all that’s happened this year and how our lives have both changed this year.  I don’t cope well with change sometimes, so throw my broken brain into the mix and you know I’m about ready to curl into a ball with a bowl of leave-me-alone ice-cream!)
But despite all this, I fear I may never quite be myself again.  I’m trying everything I can to get myself back, but I’m not sure yet if it’s working.  I clean and organise and cross things off lists one week and I feel a bit like ‘me’ again.  But the next week is busy and I’m more exhausted than the week before, and the house gets messy and disorganised again (to my irrational eye) and I lose it again.  I use my cranky voice with Kid Wonder (age 4) faster and with more force than is warranted.  I feel heart-aching guilt over things I have no control over.  I worry.  A lot.  I get angry at things I have no control over.  Then I push myself to try and get something done to make myself feel better – sometimes that works but sometimes it starts an avalanche of other things I see that need doing.  It. Is. Exhausting.
But I will keep trying.  Because at the start of this year when it felt like I was laying on the seabed, I wasn’t sure I would be able to swim up.  But I did.  I’m adrift in the ocean, perhaps, but I’ve learned I may not stay out here.  Maybe I’ll find driftwood to keep me afloat and give me rest.  Maybe I’ll manage to find an island to sustain me for a while.  Or maybe I’ll be rescued and taken back to the mainland and I’ll be ‘me’ again and stay ‘me’.  I will keep swimming.
PS:  You know how there was that lady in the US who created brutally honest greeting cards for people with cancer that the world went crazy about because nothing like it existed before?  Someone needs to start a line of "I'm sorry your brain is broken" cards for people to give to loved ones with mental illness.  Because sometimes people want to reach out but don't know what to say.  I'll take a simple 'finder's fee' for the idea!