Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Grey matters

I had an aunt who really believed in the 'Sleep on it" theory -- that if you thought about a problem and did not come up with a solution, if you had it in your mind when you went to sleep, you would wake up in the morning with a solution. Well, some of her decisions were downright strange, but she was convinced it worked for her. It happened to me today; I was thinking about a story plot when I went to sleep and woke up this morning with a possible fix for it. As I was stumbling around making the morning coffee, there was this answer. Normally I don't think of anything until the coffee has worked its magic. Heaven help me if I have to find a new package of filters or anything.

Probably it's the imminent sixty-fifth birthday that is prompting me to be so aware of how my mind is working or failing to work. Someone said in a post not long ago that her mother does a daily crossword puzzle to ward off Alzheimer's. That's me, too. My morning is up or down depending on whether I can get the references I don't know by filling in the blanks the other way, and this is very much a matter of luck because my knowledge of geography is (and always has been) abysmal, and I don't know the titles of modern singers' songs and CDs. In fact, my memory for proper names has always been purely awful.

If you ever had me for a teacher, you sat in the classroom in alphabetical order for the first three months of the school year while I painfully put names and faces together. I can still wake up sweating when I remember introducing my husband to my grandmother (who had not been at our wedding due to illness) and blocking on his name. I was twenty. You can imagine how much worse this quirk of the memory is now that my short term memory is shot. Little Stuff has to tell me the names of all the characters in her videos every time we watch them, and I can tell she thinks I am pretty feeble about this. The only reason I went to my high school reunion is that my best friend from back then can remember names -- I stuck to her like glue for the whole weekend, and she covered for me, bless her.

There is nothing more terrifying than having your mind melt down on you. It happened to me after my first child was born -- mood swings, inability to concentrate, the wh
ole thing. There wasn't much, if anything, going on with the mental health of new mothers in the early sixties. 'You've got a case of the baby blues,' I was told. 'It will pass off,' I was told. Yeah, right. But what am I supposed to do now, today, tonight? The baby wasn't gaining weight well -- I used to walk around the house with the baby in one arm and a can of powdered formula in the other, weeping, because I couldn't decide whether to keep on breastfeeding or switch to formula. The fact that this same baby slept for six to seven hours at a stretch, and had a father from a family of attenuated ectomorphs did not enter my mind. Here's a shot of the same kid, age seventeen. Skin, bone and a lot of muscle from gymnastics.

One morning, when our second child was a few months old, and I had started to climb out of the slough for the second time, my husband drifted downstairs from where he had been lolling in bed, listening to CBC, and informed me that he had heard a program about something called post partum depression and he guessed I had had quite a case of it. He was sorry that he hadn't been more sympathetic at the time. I was too busy to strangle him.

Since then I have learned to deal with the periodic bouts of depression that I think are purely genetic and based in brain chemistry, with my memory when it acts as if one of its tires is flat, with the fact that I'm not the student my mother wished I would be, that my husband and kids will always be able to beat me at Trivial Pursuit, that sometimes I won't find the words or the energy to be the grandmother or friend I would like to be. I know I have to write down passwords, names and other necessary facts, 'cause they just don't stick to the grey matter.

The head doesn't work too badly most days. Some mornings I can just wing through the crossword, dial the phone without looking up the number, come up with the right word at the right time. Only, if you're a former student of mine, don't pop up in the soup isle of the grocery store and say "Mrs. G.! Remember me?" Not while I have access to a whole row of heavy soup cans to bean you with.


  1. That's a great picture! Two of my three kids are like this, but I was fortunately enough to share my family doctor with both the hubby and his unbelievable tall, skinny mother. So when baby number one refused to budge above the 20% in weight (while being off the charts in height), she just shrugged and said, "Just like her dad and grandmother, I guess."

    The third one is little. Perhaps I won't be the smallest in the family after all, as they reach adulthood.

    I struggle with depression stemming from chronic illness. Actually, many people with Fibromyalgia suffer from significant depression, which I have mostly been lucky enough to avoid. But really, it is hard to avoid being depressed about being useless and in pain. It takes a lot of work to keep your head above that one.

    As for the scatter-brainness! Argh! I'll kill you at Trivial Pursuit, but don't ask me where I put my car keys. I feel so badly as I watch my son kick himself for losing his stuff yet again. When you think of reproducing, you think of your kids having your eyes or hair, not your inability to remember where you put anything. Everything.

    The alphabetical order thing is brilliant. We have a code for whenever I go to some sort of work function with the hub. He said, "N, you remember Sam. We were at his daughter's bat mitvah last June." Which, of course, means, Hey dope, you know this guy from his daughter's bat mitzvah. Oh, of course! says I. How is she doing?

    I've had entire conversations in grocery stores with people who know all about my kids and what school they go to and what I do for a living, and the whole time I'm thinking, "I have never seen this person before in my life."

  2. At our engagement party, I introduced my sister to my husband's grandfather - and not only did I give him the wrong name, but it was the name of a popular and somewhat disgusting breakfast meat!
    And I was only 27 at the time.

    Thanks for visiting me and for the recos - I always enjoy a good bodice-ripper.

  3. My record for losing the car keys is six months. They were in my winter jacket pocket. lost in April, found in October. Sigh.

    N. Yes, it is hard to stay above chronic pain, and inability to do things. People tend to think it is always the very old who suffer this way, but I suspect it is even harder to be the mother of young children and have these issues.

    kgirl, love the anecdote. That's worse than mine!

    I wish there was a Name Blockers' Anonymous that we could join, hmm?