Okay, mostly fits but some starts too.
The winter has been too long, too cold, and much too snowy. Vast mounds of snow and ice line our streets. Both front and back bumpers are hanging off our car after three months of smashing into snow banks to cram the brute into the narrow opening of our driveway. Crash goes the front bumper into the heap on the right of our driveway. Crash goes our rear bumper into the heap just across the street. Crash, bump, bang, slide, skip, spin, crash and finally come to a stop, settled into place against yet another heap o’ snow. Forget K-turns. This is a 20-point turn of tire-spinning madness. Open the door and slither slowly to the sidewalk, snow-skimming on one side, filthy salty car-nudging on the other.
One kid loves to play in the snow and the other stays inside playing with Lego weekend after weekend and for much of the February break. Our dog is patient. I walk her twice a day in this cold and that’s one walk shy of what she needs. None of us is thoroughly enjoying ourselves.
I have no ability to focus. Thoughts slip through my brain instantly leaving no trace of their existence two seconds later. Nothing stays put. I worry that I’ve got early onset dementia. It’s scary. I cry to my mother who really doesn’t need one more thing to worry about. She assures me it’s normal. She is forgetful too. I make lists for myself to show to my therapist:
- Delivery mix up. I had been working on prints for a neighbor for several weeks. When I finally delivered them I went to the wrong house. I saw the dog at the door and wondered why she was visiting the next door neighbors. That’s strange I thought. They aren’t even friendly with each other yet. Only when the dog’s owner came to the door did I realize it was the wrong house. Wrong dog. Wrong house. “Early onset…” I say as I apologize to the woman for my mistake. “Me too.” she says.
- Boots. I’m walking our dog at night and my boots feel weird. My gait is off. My pajama bottoms come untucked on one leg and I tuck them back in. Twenty minutes later as we make our way home through the snow I realize I am wearing one boot each from two different pairs. One is 4 inches higher up my leg than the other and also a full size smaller. One is snug and one is loose and it took me almost half an hour to realize what was going on. It’s easy enough to slip into the wrong boots when they’re all aclutter at the bottom of the stairs but still. It’s upsetting.
- Print orders. I have many print orders to fill from my large portrait commission. It’s enjoyable and predictable work and I’m proud of myself for keeping track of everything via a spreadsheet. Even with all the information I need right in front of me I send invoices for the wrong item to people and print the photographs at the opposite orientation than we had settled on.
- Words. I am constantly switching my words. It’s either using one that starts with the same sound and has the same number of syllables (though I just typed sentences – case in point) or there’s a little switcheroo in my brain. I say garage instead of yard. Brain scrambles yard and garage because they’re both found often before the word “sale” and god knows I love a yard sale. It’s embarrassing though mostly it happens in front of my kids who glory in pointing it all out. They say it’s only worrisome if you don’t catch your mistakes. I almost never do.
It’s troubling. It’s no fun. I lie in bed with thoughts swirling around my brain like a swarm of hornets. Is my IQ lower than ever? Am I stupid? Am I starting to show signs of dementia? Is it from years of drinking heavily as a teenager? Is it the years of drinking heavily as an adult? I don’t drink much these days but have the others bouts of it caught up with me? Is it the anti-anxiety medication I took regularly for years? Why am I so forgetful? Is it my addiction to the computer? I am as addicted as they come. It gives so much but it also taketh away. It gets in the way. “Let me just finish…” I say to my kids when they want to play with me. It’s hard to unglue my ass from this chair. I’m always awaiting the next juicy tidbit of news or funny or informative thing on Facebook or maybe an email requesting my photographic services. I spend hours reading reviews of LED light bulbs. Weeks are wasted online-stalking the all-clad pot I suddenly absolutely have to have after seeing it in Abby and Gordon’s kitchen. I want it but shouldn’t spend the money right now so I visit it over and over.
It all pulls me in and doesn’t let me go. I let it. I’m weak and put up no fight.
I have a new therapist who I started seeing this past fall when the panic attacks returned. She assures me that I am just extremely distracted and it has nothing to do with dementia. Stress can cause this she says. “I don’t feel stressed!” I protest and then find myself talking about the crushing weight of still not making much of a living five years after losing my job. I dredge up the contents of those five years and remember that I didn’t put work at the top of my list because there were far more important things to take care of like stabilizing my family. If I think about what we’ve accomplished here I am okay. Work comes next. It is okay. I need to tell myself that over and over. It will get better. It will happen. It’s okay.
But still. The brain. What the hell? Do I have undiagnosed ADD? Even if I did I wouldn’t take the medication so why bother with the testing? Would reading help? I haven’t read a book in ages. I read the paper online and, as I said, many a review but I have not held an actual book in my hands and read for the pure pleasure of it in far too long. I started reading short stories a few weeks ago and I’ve managed an hour a day ever since. At night the three of us lie in bed together reading. I am setting a good example and exercising my underused brain at the same time. It should help.
I realized I have almost zero contact with other adults now that my portrait commission is finished. I may have lunch with a friend every two weeks or so but that’s it. The dog walking crowd has been as shut in as we are so there are no pleasantries exchanged while scooping up shit or throwing a damp and slimy tennis ball. I am feeling the effects of cabin fever. I have too little going on.
A few weeks ago I agreed to be part of a focus group at a local hospital. The purpose of the meeting was to find out how patients would want information about breast density presented to them after having a mammogram. A new law has been passed requiring doctors to inform women with dense breast tissue that they have a higher incidence of breast cancer than women with less dense breasts. For the first time in ages I had plenty to say. I was part of a lively conversation! I was articulate! I was one of the more vocal participants and I left feeling helpful and satisfied. I was able to focus! I didn’t jumble my words!
I see a name pop up on someone’s Facebook post and a face flicks in front of my brain. It’s almost always the wrong Lauren or the wrong person with a common last name. Multiple friends with the same name but only one slot in my head for that name. I stop after the first syllable and move on. It’s time to reprogram myself. It isn’t coming naturally but I’m not giving up. I think it’s all about slowing down. If I don’t read the name, the date, the sentence or the paragraph slowly and deliberately my brain will rush in and flood me with bad data.
I go too fast. I rush everywhere I go. I rush myself and I rush my kids as they scramble up the snow mountains pretending they’re Cherokee chiefs or peace keepers. “I found some flint! Let’s make weapons!” one shouts. The other slides down the hill, snow crashing onto the only well-shoveled patch of sidewalk. I have to dig my nails into my palms to keep myself from telling them to hurry up or yelling at them for messing up the sidewalk. What’s the rush? They’re having fun. They’re playing. They’re outside. This is their childhood for goodness sake. Dinner can wait. Bedtime can wait. Let them be.
I am consciously trying to go more slowly. It’s a struggle but I have to slow down. Breathe. Think. Read. Write. Walk. S L O W down.
Today is the first day I’ve written anything in a long time. It feels hopeful to be productive and I know it’s because I had a plan for this afternoon. When I have too little going on I get nothing done. If I have something cutting into the vast expanse of day it all works a little better. I had a job scheduled today at 2 pm and it gave me just the right balance. I did a little organizing in the morning, wrote a little something and then took a shower to get ready for my photo session. It isn’t a shapeless day, it’s a day with something fun scheduled. A family photo shoot with a large and friendly family about a mile away. Their house is spacious, airy and uncluttered. I was headed there instead of shooting here as I normally do. I just texted the woman to say I’d be ten minutes late. It turns out I’m two weeks early. I skipped over the part of the text message that read “Friday, March 27th” and somehow slotted the job for today. Slow down. I may have started but I still have a long way to go.