Sunday, September 23, 2012

Brain Age

I originally titled this "Flaking" because I am aware that I am forgetting things a lot and it can get annoying for all involved.  But when I looked the term up in Urban Dictionary, it is a wholly derogatory term meaning someone who says they're going to do something and you're relying on them and they let you down.  Though forgetting is assumed, it is mostly seen as a character flaw, as someone who is undependable.  This is not me.  Still, I had hours of neuropsych testing this week to figure out the parameters of my post-concussive syndrome and I still think this is the most likely diagnosis, especially when I had to list all the ways I could remember that I was still messing up.  

A related term was "Brain Fade," which originally came from the "brake fade" term in racing where if you ride them too long and too hard they give out.  Brain Fade would be if you were concentrating on a report or a project for ten hours and by the end you could barely remember what it's about, or cramming for finals.  Interesting, but since I'm not capable right now of this kind of concentration and effort, it doesn't apply either.

"Blond Moments" are of course insulting to the 10% or so of Americans born with that hair color (less so, I think, to those who dye their hair that color and then act the part) because it is some combination of "stupid" and "naive," rather than forgetful.  "Senior Moments" are more apt, and forgiving--mental glitches like forgetting your PIN number and pouring fabric softener into the detergent spot-- and apparently made just for my age.  It's not sexy, but it's true.  I just have more than my share, making up for all those incredibly-mentally-sharp 48-year-olds out there.  I imagine that that just like showing off your toned body on the beach, they can wrap up the award for cleverest at any social gathering with their witty quips and gimlet eye.  That is, until they start drinking and their brain slows right down to my pace.    Ah alcohol, the intelligence equalizer.

So I pulled out my old DS that came with a Brain Age package and tested where I was at.  Brain Age, for those who did NOT buy this when you turned 40 for the express purpose of preserving and enhancing your memory and mental flexibility to ward off senility as long as possible, is a puzzle game.  It has no proven scientific basis, and though having some form of mental challenge does in fact seem to hold off dementia (once you are over 70), you can also get this from doing crosswords, or reading and writing, or Sudoku, or yoga, or conversation, or travel, and all of those seem more interesting.  Still, being a geek I found the game fun (the first few hundred times) and I played it for a few years.  My last score was 35 years (when I was 45).  Today it was 72.

This fits with my mother's sense of my brain working about as well as hers does.  She turned 71 this week and looks fabulous, by the way.  There's hope for me in that department at least.  And she's always been smart so she won't be surprised to have been right again here.  The way I search for words, and objects, and make silly, stupid mistakes and errors in judgement is as familiar to her as it is frustrating.  You can almost feel the mental plaque forming up there; the brain refuses to repel aging any more than the rest of the body does.  We empathize with each other.

Except I'm not supposed to be there yet, which makes me wonder why I it happened to me.  Anyone who has something bad happen to them has to.  My gorgeous sister-in-law this week who needed to have a prophylactic double-mastectomy because of the terrifying state of her breast tissue.  My father who needed his left hip replaced last week (though his right is perfectly fine, a mystery no one seems to be able to answer to my satisfaction).  My son, who was beaten up and found out this week his ACL is torn and needs reconstructive surgery.  Anyone.

The book that helped me more than any other at grappling with these thoughts, and why you might have some mental and/or physical consequences from living a stressful life, is The Joy of Burnout.  It helped me when I had actual burnout from work a few years ago, and since then I really have followed her suggestions on making the way I live and work more personally fulfilling and balanced.  They've improved my life vastly.  She also talks about how people with a strong work ethic feel shameful about burnout, or about failure to work or produce at the level they always have, which I strongly identify with.  People ask me almost daily if I'm back to work yet.  I've tried to steer the question off with a faraway look in my eye, like I'm not paying enough attention, just to avoid answering.  It's too painful to discuss why or how I'm still struggling.

But that's the real revelation in the book.  She says from her experience there are almost always positives to be gained from such a struggle, and the place you come out is different, and better, than you would have expected.  That happened with the burnout, and I have to imagine it will happen with this.  Already, I suspect it has--I've found a yoga class nearby on the beach, I've joined a writer's group in New Haven and I'm trying to take a class on writing romance.  Not sure if these things are better in any way than being able to shop for groceries or drive trouble-free or remember all the steps to baking a cake, but they're good and they're a lot better than the alternative of focusing on what I can't do well.  They're gifts, that you get for something hard happening to you.  And for this, for helping me find the upside to head trauma, I thank her.

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