My Brain is Broken. Is Yours too?

Guest Post by Laura Gassner Otting

My brain is broken.

And yours might be, too.

For the last couple of weeks, my teammates and I have gotten together in my open garage, with our rowing machines spaced six feet apart, to do our regular morning workouts, just as we’ve been doing since the pandemic began. But over the past few weeks, something strange began to happen. Each day, from one moment to the next, I have been unable to remember the workouts, or unable to keep in my head how many minutes of rest between sets, or do the math about how long the whole workout will take.

The workouts are not complicated, and they aren’t different from what we’ve been doing for years.

But my brain is broken.

A friend, lamenting about missing travel, recently asked a question, “What was the last trip you took?”

I couldn’t remember that February client trip. But you know what I did remember? The March vacation that the pandemic cancelled. My brain conveniently forgot what I had, and focused only on what I’d lost.

My memory is failing me.

The last time I experienced this was when the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon in 2013. Once we were finally able to get home from the course, because we didn’t know what the next few days would hold, I went to the bank to withdraw some cash, just to have it on hand. I put my card into the ATM, and then hovered over the pin keypad. My mind was blank. I tried to think of the numbers, I tried to think of the finger movements, I tried to take the card out and start again, but the grey matter on which the memory sat had gone black.

I tried for weeks to go back, and after a month gave up. I walked into the bank and asked the teller for the number, which she handed to me. It was entirely foreign. I asked if she had reset it. She said, “No, this was the number automatically set when you opened the account ten years ago.”

I’d had the same number for ten years. And it didn’t even look familiar when she handed it to me.

Why do I tell you these stories?

Because the workout numbers were not set by me. The PIN number was not set by me. The client trip was not set by me. None of these things had as permanent of purchase in my mind as the things I set myself.

My Brain is Broken

Just like the marathon bombing inserted trauma into my brain, instantaneously fragmenting formerly organized bits into chaotic shrapnel, this pandemic has provided a slow motion replay, burrowing mole holes that leak at a sludge-like pace information which once easily found purchase.

Wait, many cloves of garlic did that recipe demand? What time am I supposed to pick up the kids? Am I adding these expenses correctly?

Also, I seem to have forgotten my PIN number again. And also the code to my own garage.

My brain is hurting.

This pandemic has been going on for seven months, and we are only halfway through it. The numbers are surging. The headlines are foreboding. The election is unending. And winter is coming.

Maybe you recognize yourself in this post. If you do, I see you, I feel you, I am you. Know that you are not alone. I don’t have any solutions other than what we already know: wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands. We will get through it, and we will get through it together. The fact is: there is no other way.

And, me? I’m going to try to focus more on what I have than what I’ve lost. That burden has proven too heavy for me and I can no longer bear its weight.

I am choosing to put it down.

And, I invite you to do the same.

Re-posted with permission from Laura Gassner Otting, author of the Washington Post bestseller, Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life.

Something New

Hi everyone!!! Starting next week guest bloggers will be incorporated more regularly into my editorial calendar. The content, as with my personal writing on this blog, will feature well-crafted stories that change the narrative and look more deeply at struggle – with one’s health, with women’s rights, with motherhood, with caring for aging parents, with the many ways life can present challenges. As usual, you can expect honesty and authenticity as writers reflect on the lessons learned. These stories underscore the universality of human suffering alongside the opportunity to take a new look at one’s own challenges and discover the threads of hope.

The oxygen mask is the antidote to the negativity bias that threatens to consume us all! Enjoy the first guest blogger – Laura Gassner Otting – coming out this Tuesday!

Cheers!