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 whole 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.