the brain as it is

Sometimes one rolls all the way back down the mountain in a snowball of old junk, into old realities which block out the new and sabotage hopes of renewed peace.

What I’ve had to acknowledge is that through some of my experiences, my brain changed and I have to be continually mindful to manage it well. Otherwise when my energy and/or inhibitions are low or stress is high I cannot regulate it. I simply can’t access that space where one steps back and notices one’s responses to whatever streams into consciousness like it’s a film. Sometimes I still need to find new tools. While others might be able to tolerate high-stress situations or an influx of chemicals, hormonal or other, without issue, I’ve learned that I have to be more careful and make sure to have things that keep me tethered to the here and now in order to avoid having everything feel unregulated, unfiltered, out of control. I have to avoid anything which could make it worse. I have to stop searching for answers which aren’t available or trying to imagine ways to fill in the gaps between disparate events I haven’t understood on my own.

There was a time when I was just numb and for both internal and external survival reasons couldn’t respond to anything emotionally as it happened, but this just meant that those responses became eruptively protracted later on. There was one summer after some events where I was just in a big void of understanding what had happened or support and just sort of sank emotionally. It’s been terrifying to think of that happening again as I’ve branched into my new living situation, and even have a learning opportunity which is totally different from yet still somehow echoes a learning opportunity I had that summer, but because of some overwhelm hadn’t been totally able to take advantage of. Although I know that my course of study now isn’t nearly as challenging, I’m still absolutely terrified of failing or letting the people who helped me get the opportunity down.

This has been hard because at some core level it conflicts with my survival myths, that I should be able to manage or gladiate anything, that I’m in control, that I’m low-maintenance and don’t need to demand a lot from others. That I’m not someone who could become too scared to cry, that I could not be immobilized by shock. That I should be able to wrap my head around and puzzle through anything. That I can find the answer. It can be hard to get any distance in the sense of temporality, to realize that at this point I’m better resourced and better connected than I was before, that I have more tools, that I’m less isolated, that my human experiences are just part of the experience of being human, and that something about that is sort of beautiful.

There’s a fine line between learning about how an altered brain and psyche function and having this information lead to despair or hopelessness. But the other thing I’ve learned is that not acknowledging what’s going on just leads to longer term issues. It’s really unsettling to find that one’s rational mind is not always in the driver’s seat. I just have to try to have faith in neuroplasticity to be able to restore some of what was lost with the proper approach and support.

One example has been my ability to concentrate. I used to be able to sustain long hours of very deep focus and a sense of connectedness to life without much effort, but during times of upset this changed. I was trying to learn a challenging language and to turn out long papers and was having such a hard time sustaining any focus, which only led to more frustration. One well-meaning professor once told me after some big events that she noticed that I didn’t seem to be able to focus. Instead of saying yes, I have not been able to concentrate and am feeling totally overwhelmed, even violated, and do not feel I can escape, I just felt that it was another way I was failing and tried to become more buttoned up and streamlined and commit myself to the charade that there was nothing wrong, that the ground was solid after all. I had wanted so badly to show that I could endure and handle it, that I was worthy of support. It was sort of like trying to walk or even run on a broken limb and enormously frustrating. In retrospect, I really ought to have taken a little time out (although for many reasons this seemed totally impractical if not impossible at the time) to regroup myself, to have pulled myself away from circumstances which only made things worse. But there still seemed to be shells in the shell game to turn over, maybe I would find what I needed if only I guessed the right combination of words, cracked the code, found the underlying logic. Sometimes the answer is not in the problem after all. But scary to confront that void. All of this has meant that it sometimes just takes me longer to get through my work or a book or to put myself back into the driver’s seat, and to remember that it’s always worth trying to get back up again.