My brain is broken

Between parenting and pandemic-ing, my brain has taken a major hit.

Lately I think that my brain might actually be broken.

I am so overwhelmed by the incessant barrage of tasks and notifications and noise in my brain that I lose track of every thought before it’s even complete. I’m repeatedly losing things: my physical belongings, my words, my thoughts, my memories. Doing basic things feels like an immense struggle.

When I was school-aged, some kids used to refer to me as “Brainer” or “The Brain,” which obviously is mortifying when you’re a 12 year-old girl trying to hang with the cool kids. As much as the labels may not have done wonders for my social life, I did take a certain amount of pride in them, knowing deep down that being brainy and smart and getting good grades were ultimately things that would benefit me. My brain was my hidden badge of honour, allowing me to excel in areas where others couldn’t, whispering to me in a hushed voice, “You’re capable of doing great things.”

My brain certainly served me well, through many intellectual and professional pursuits. My brain was a friend to me then. But recently, it’s been acting like a real jerk.

I will spend hours on the most mundane decision, paralyzed by option A vs. option B. And heaven forbid an option C comes into play–at that point, I may as well just book off the entire day.

These days, this is how my brain operates:

I need to pee. That reminds me, we have no toilet paper. I’ll quickly open my grocery app and add toilet paper before I forget. Oh, look, cheese is on sale! I better add cheese. But maybe we have too much cheese. That reminds me, I still haven’t thrown out those pickles rotting in the back of the fridge, I need to do that. What’s that sound? Is that my phone? Where is my phone? Oh right, I’m holding it. Oh no, I forgot to respond to Jessica’s text from four days ago. She’s going to think I’m ignoring her. What’s this? Why am I getting text reminders for a doctor’s appointment? Oh shit, was that today? What day is it? No, it’s tomorrow. I better put it in my calendar–oh wait, there it is, I already put it in my calendar. Why am I standing in front of the fridge? What am I doing here? Oh, there’s the coffee I made 3 hours ago and forgot about. Speaking of coffee, I really need to pee. Ah shit, I forgot to add toilet paper to my shopping list.

This is not an exaggeration. There is a constant stream of disconnected thoughts overloading my brain all day. Every simple task turns into another entirely unrelated task, and within minutes, I completely forget what it was I intended to accomplish. I used to pride myself on having a stellar memory. Now I’m lucky if I remember what I ate for lunch today–or if I even ate lunch at all.

Every simple decision feels like I’m trying to solve a complex math problem. Should I order the light grey sweatpants, or the charcoal grey? Which size did I order last time? High-waisted or regular waisted? Oh, wait, these other ones are on sale. Maybe I should get those instead. Or should I get both? How much will that cost? Do I really need another pair of sweatpants?

I will spend hours on the most mundane decision, paralyzed by option A vs. option B. And heaven forbid an option C comes into play–at that point, I may as well just book off the entire day.

Mush, I tell you. My brain is porridge.

There are several culprits I believe are to blame for the apparent demise of my once lovely and high-performing brain.

When I was undergoing treatment for cancer, I learned about the term “chemo brain” which refers to cognitive and memory issues that cancer patients experience as a result of their treatments. Whether from the stress, the surgeries, or the actual chemotherapy, I definitely suffered the pains of this phenomenon. Although I’ve since recovered (as much as one can recover from the trauma of almost dying in your 20’s), I can’t help but wonder about the lasting effects of chemo brain and how much that has played a factor in my fall from grace. Ultimately the trade-offs there were worth it, despite whatever ill effects resulted.

After having one kid, and then another, my cognitive abilities took a nose-dive once more into Scatterbrain Land. Between the sleep deprivation (which still hasn’t let up five years in), the endless list of things to remember (Do they have winter boots that fit them? Are they up to date on their vaccines? Did I remember to put the lunch bag in the backpack? Do we need more diapers?), and the exhausting reality and anxiety of being responsible for the safety and well-being and development of tiny, vulnerable people–my brain simply couldn’t continue operating at its previous level.

Then the pandemic reared its ugly head, and I had to deal with all the aforementioned challenges, with the newly added stress of finding masks to fit my kids’ faces, worrying about their/my/my family’s/the world’s health, learning way more about epidemiology than I ever cared to know, calculating risks versus benefits of every single decision, and on, and on, and on.

I believe it was at some point during all of that where my brain exploded. A fragile organ can really only take so much.

A quick Google search shows me I’m not alone. Apparently “pandemic brain” is the newest ailment that many of us are suffering from. There are several theories as to why this has become an issue, most of them obvious: fatigue, stress, and isolation among the top offenders. There are also many suggested ways to combat the lasting effects of pandemic brain, which are of course all the things we know are good for us but have trouble doing: sleeping more, exercising, and practicing mindfulness.

All of these solutions seem simple enough, but are hard to come by at this current stage in my life. I do hope one day I can do the work and cultivate some new brain power that surely must be laying dormant deep within my membranes.

Until then, I’ll keep stumbling over my words, sorting through my dizzying jumble of thoughts, and forgetting to do the thing that I meant to do today, and yesterday, and the day before that. Just like I’m trying to do for myself, I need to cut my brain some slack. However many punches it takes, it does always seem to pull through for me when I need it the most, and for that I am grateful.

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Stray thoughts 💭

  • Have you suffered from pandemic brain? Respond to this email, or leave a comment and tell me about it.

  • My brain managed to get it together for a period last week and allowed me to write this fun article for Kveller.

  • For fellow TV + culture fans, this was a great read from Anne Helen Petersen: Overloaded: Is there simply too much culture?

  • Some of you may recall that time Jake Gyllenhaal was on my flight home from NYC; it was my “cancer anniversary” and I asked him if he’d take a quick photo with me in the airport and he said no, leading me to declare that Jake Gyllenhaal sucks. So I can’t help but giggle a bit at all this silliness: A Comprehensive Explanation of Why Taylor Swift Fans Seem Ready to Commit Homicide on Jake Gyllenhaal

  • Thank you again to everyone who shared/commented/subscribed last week! Writing is a strange thing where you throw all your thoughts and ideas out into the world, and you often have no clue who’s receiving them, or gaining anything from them. If you’re reading and enjoying, please tell me! Or click the little heart button if you want to exert minimal effort. This was a very lovely note to receive: