Yesterday I finished re-reading one of my favourite books. It was a book that opened my eyes to a whole new level of understanding about the human mind the first time I read it and made me shout YES at the pages a few times, and it is a book that I hoped would provide answers to me in my deadened state when I re-ordered it a few days ago (It’s a non-fiction-but-kinda-fiction-because-she-made-up-the-cases-from-her-experiences book called The Skeleton Cupboard by the way).
As it did the first time I read it, it really helped me to evaluate myself. I’m not stupid. I don’t need a therapist to untangle everything and find the root of my issues. I have an analytical, logical mind which is fully capable of identifying the roots of its issues. I often found myself several steps ahead of the psychologist I am meant to see about the emotional impact of my physical health, and she often said what I already knew, but in a patronising, dumbed down way. I’m not one of those people who has no idea why I’m a mess. That’s not what I need help with. I know how an I know why. I am entangled in the roots of my issues, and what I need is a weed whacker. I need help with the coping, the fixing. That’s what I don’t know how to do, and that’s where the frustration lies.
I really don’t want to go back to university. I looked around myself last night and I just didn’t want to leave. I don’t want to carry on with this degree at all. I just don’t. I don’t know how. And when I jump back in to uni… Well, I was already drowning and breaking under the work and the pressure… And now with over a week’s worth of work to catch up on (on top of everything I already had to make up) I will be so out of my depth. I’m only going back tonight so that I can go and see my nurse tomorrow morning. A night alone. A night without my dog, who is the only living thing that I want to be around at the moment… A night alone with thoughts that I can’t handle… It’s daunting. I think the expectation from my family is that I will go back to uni. I have a three hour lab session tomorrow afternoon, and if I’m in London I can’t not attend it. If I miss another, the uni will probably push me to drop out again (even though I could just do the lab report from a set of model results). If I do the lab, then I will have a piece of coursework due in a week’s time. Mentally I can’t cope with that at the minute. I can’t think enough or focus enough to work. I can’t think enough or focus enough to function. Before this hospital admission, coursework was already breaking me. Now… In this mental state… NOPE.
I haven’t told any of my friends that I will be going back tonight. They don’t understand how I am right now. They’re far too optimistic and… Fantastically oblivious to what I’m going through. The way they act shows me they have no real appreciation for how broken I am either physically or mentally, which is not their fault at all. It isn’t plastered across my forehead, but some of them think they can relate when they really can’t and that makes things really difficult for me. Even after I explain that I can’t face talking or anything in my current state, they try to have normal conversation, which I look like I’m capable of, but at the minute I’m not.
Right now I feel like I have
“the appearance of a human being, but nothing more.”- Tanya Byron, The Skeleton Cupboard
I’m not saying this to be horrible or trying to be awkward. I want more than anything to be able to be there for my friends and support them, but their lives are so wrapped up in uni (like mine was a few weeks ago) and they project that stress onto me – they talk about it, they expect me to care about work and assignments and worry with them, to validate the way they feel so they aren’t alone in it. And I can’t right now. I have no interest in hearing about coursework or trying to help them find answers to the questions, and they cannot detach themselves from that stuff because they don’t have the perspective that my crappy health has given me (interestingly enough, their latest lab session seems to have been measuring insulin levels, which is kinda ironic). I’m not explaining it right because I sound like an ungrateful idiot. I just feel so disconnected and stupid when I’m around them. They are normal. They are happy, and in some cases not so happy and want me to help them fix that. I can’t cope with either of those things. It overwhelms me, just at the thought of being around a group of people or a friend who is happy to see me makes my brain all asdfghjkl. I can’t deal with my own dampened down emotion right now, and I don’t seem to be able to deal with anyone else’s either.
“In familiar places and with familiar people, I am feeling lost and overwhelmed” – Tanya Byron, The Skeleton Cupboard (Ok so this was a guy talking about the early stages of dementia, but I feel the words can be adapted to explain how I feel about life right now).
At the minute I’m home alone with my dog (who used me as a living pillow last night as he slept in my bed with me). I’m waiting for My Fellow Third Wheel to arrive, because even though he’s miles off the mark this time in terms of understanding what is going on in my brain, he understands more than most. He isn’t emotional. He’s super calm and rational and impossible to panic. He was going to visit me in hospital. but when he found out I was back in Kent he said he’d see me yesterday (but then he was busy so…). He has promised me a long hug, and he’s going to buy a load of food and we’re going to sit and watch films or The Grand Tour Episode 1 (which I’ve already seen but he hasn’t). He’s there. He’s there in a way other people aren’t. No emotion, no skipping over whatever I just said and trying to have a normal conversation which then kinda totally shows he hasn’t understood what I tried to tell him. He tries, and he gets it wrong sometimes, but I am getting it wrong every time because I’m stuck in this rut. He said we can not watch TV, that he will sit here and I can throw all my s**t at him and let’s hope some of it sticks (which I thought was a rather funny way of putting it).
He knows that what I don’t need right now is to be told I’m not broken. Why do people do that? You take a huge step and admit your vulnerability, and they throw it right back in your face, dismiss it like it can’t possibly exist and you’re an idiot, and tell you that you’re not broken, you’re ok, you’re strong, you’re a fighter, you‘ve got this… Like… Like you’re not allowed to break. Like you don’t know yourself. They tell you that you’ll get through it and then they dismiss it and are all so I went to the shops yesterday and got a sandwich for 10p how ridiculous is that?! Instead of offering you support when you so badly need it, they kid themselves that you’re fine without it, probably because they don’t know how to offer it. But telling someone they’re fine or they’ll be fine when they have never been further from it is not… Helpful. It’s what made me withdraw. I kept getting messages like that. I kept having conversations like that.
I don’t need to be forced back together into a functional human that is easier for people to look at. I need to disassemble myself fully in order to reassemble myself. And he knows I don’t talk. He knows I get lost in myself. And he knows where to find the parts of me that are left lost in my mind somewhere. He’s the kind of friend where we will both happily just sit in silence in each other’s company for hours. He’s happy to do that. So am I. We do our own thing but sat next to each other on the sofa, and just the company is reassuring. He is in no great rush to fix things. He knows it takes time. He knows that if he pushes me I’ll just break more, and I’ll stop replying to messages and avoid all contact with even him (one of the two humans I am currently communicating with, both of whom are chronically ill, one of whom – new hospital friend – is in and out of hospitals and nearly dies a lot too). He also knows that I don’t do this to be difficult.
(Now excuse me while I science). The frontal lobes of the brain are responsible for the things that make us human – logic, rational thought, our personality, motivation, speech production, judgement, emotion control, social behaviour, problem solving… basically “higher cognitive” functions – complex thoughts. The prefrontal cortex (behind your forehead) is a part of this area of the brain that is linked to thought processing and personality and… stuff. Now let me introduce you to the Limbic system. That’s pretty much everything in you that is innate, the stuff you can’t control – heart rate, emotion, memory formation, hunger, thirst, pain, blood pressure, arousal… I sometimes refer to the primitive animal inside my brain that is reactive and defensive and behaves like an instinctive animal… That part… That exists. It’s the limbic system (the link has a big scientifically worded explanation for anyone who cares about/understands what it says). It’s the part of you that does whatever has to be done to stay alive I guess, it’s the animal part of us. Sometimes when people are super traumatised emotionally (or when they get stuff like dementia/stroke/traumatic brain injury that physically impairs the functioning of their frontal lobes) their prefrontal cortex is just like SORRY NOPE. It can’t handle reality and thinking and processing that reality… So your brain just… Doesn’t. The bit of you that makes you human switches off, and your limbic system is left in control, with nothing to process or control the emotion or anything. We kind of revert to animal form, in a weird way of looking at it.
“my frontal cortex was shutting down. Soon I would only be limbic, running on raw emotion, and this was not a good place to be.” – Tanya Byron, The Skeleton Cupboard
This is what this book does. It reminds me of the logic that I have researched and understood in order to understand myself, and it walks me through my own mind opening doors and explaining why. The state I’m in makes no sense to me, but that’s probably because my prefrontal cortex is being an utter idiot. Knowing that, being reminded of how the brain can respond to huge emotional traumas (i.e. literally deciding not to human) it provided me with an explanation as to WHY the way I am feeling happened on a scientific level. And I like logic, I like being able to understand myself, so this was of some comfort. It helped. Only trouble is, I wasn’t running on raw emotion either. I mean right before I became emotionally dead, I was clearly totally limbic. I was in a constant state of panic, I was wired, I was shaking, all I could do was cry and panic and the emotions were overwhelming – fear, terror, despair, helplessness, hopelessness, wanting to fight, wanting to surrender, wanting to run, feeling caged… So many more feelings, most of which there aren’t even names for. Survival mode. That’s what it was. The animal was no longer caged, my limbic system was in control, I was in irrational, emotional, survival mode.
I felt so much all at once, with nothing to police those emotions or limit them, that when I listened to a wonderful human being die, my brain was like NOPE ASDFGHJKL QWERTYUIOP ASDFGHJKL ——–. And then I couldn’t think or feel or anything for days. I don’t know what happened there. I don’t know what my brain did with that one. I don’t understand how I’m slowly starting to be able to form half thoughts, but my emotions are still foetuses that refuse to mature or develop and are there but unseen – they could never survive or fend for themselves in my brain, and they don’t last for long when they do appear. That doesn’t make sense to me. Why are my emotions so far past their due date? Why can’t I feel stuff properly? Is that in itself a feeling? Why won’t it just all come back? Am I broken? Will I feel stuff again? Do I even want to think fully? Because when I think fully, I know I’ll melt down and go all limbic again. Because that’s what I do. I know myself, and hospitals and stuff like that just seem to overwhelm my prefrontal cortex a little – to the point that its logic deserts me. And it needs to process stuff before the rest of my brain will settle, even though each time I think anywhere near that stuff emotion just overrides logic all over again (there is very little of either right now).
See this. This is how I think. I don’t like not knowing things. I don’t like not knowing what is going on in my body or why it did it (seriously once I know scientifically and medically how I settle a little. Modern medicine tells us how, but we have no idea why. We know how disease occurs. Most of the time we don’t know why). I especially do not like not knowing myself, my own mind, the one thing that should make sense to me because… I am it.
“Welcome to the inner workings of my mind
So dark and foul I can’t disguise
Nights like this
I become afraid
Of the darkness in my heart
What’s wrong with me
Why not understand and see
I never saw
What you saw in me
Keep my eyes open
My lips sealed
My heart closed
And my ears peeled
” – MS MR, Hurricane