I am sure many of us have regrets from our long ago childhoods. Of things we wish we had done and things we never want our kids to find out about. Some youthful indiscretions can be easily forgotten while others carry a penalty that we cannot erase. Take smoking, for example. The damage from casually taking our first puff as a teenager can stay with us the rest of our lives, especially if that first puff turns into a lifelong habit. And we all know the Big C is linked to smoking. There are other consequences to teenage angst that carry serious consequences, consequences we were oblivious to at the time or simply did not care about. For those of us seduced by the lure of an eating disorder, our bodies can carry the scars for the rest of our lives. A childhood spent watching what we ate, threw up, and exercised away can lead to health problems later in life. At a time when our bodies needed as much nutrition as it could get to help us grow, we starved it down to the bare bones. Cartilage and joints that needed nutrients were denied the ability to prepare for middle age. And now, as a thirtysomething, my body is falling apart. Arthritis is wrapping itself around every joint it can, reaching out its painful and destructive tentacles. I can often be heard joking about how I have the body of an eighty year old. Oh, how I wish it were only a joke! I have had to give up activities I love to do, like crocheting and doing cross-stitch and skiing and long walks. It doesn’t seem fair that my body should be so frail. I, theoretically, have decades left to my life but I am trapped by the consequences of my ill-spent youth. How I wish I could go back to my teenage self and shake some sense into her, get her the help she was crying out for.
I accept full responsibility for what I did then and the consequences I am forced to carry now. I wish I had had the courage to ask for help sooner but I was just a child then. I could not fathom even having a future at that time. I only lived in the moment like every other foolish teenager. I wish the adults in my life at that time would have paid more attention to me and had the courage I lacked, the courage to help a desperate teenage girl lost in a maelstrom of emotions dragging her into a bottomless pit of despair. I spent the better part of my childhood trapped in a black hole, looking for hope and finding only indifference.
If nothing else, my own childhood taught me what NOT to do as a parent. No perceived stigma will ever stop me from asking for help if I see my child spiral out of control like I did.
Sleep can be such an elusive friend. We all need it to recharge our bodies and spirits. In fact, it is only during deep sleep that our bodies can repair the damage they have sustained during our waking hours. But what do we do when our friend becomes our worst frenemy? You know what I am talking about. Those restless nights when you would give ANYTHING for just a few hours of blessed, restorative sleep. Watching the clock all night is not a game we like to play. Tossing and turning, restless legs are not part of our exercise regimen. But some nights, that is exactly what it is. Some nights we have to simply grin and bear – stay calm and carry on.
Then there are the mornings. Personally, I have my best sleep between five and eleven o’clock in the morning. When everyone else is starting their morning routine of getting up, showering, going to work, I am achieving that perfectly refreshing level of sleep I craved all night. I have tried resetting my dysfunctional sleep clock, but it fights me tooth and nail every time. If I try to do anything in the morning that does not involve my bed, my body will rebel. And guess who pays the price? Me, of course.
Once I fall asleep, I am loathe to get up. Whether I am in bed getting my morning sleep or napping on the sofa early in the evening, I hate to wake up. There are numerous factors keeping me soporific. The first is that I am normally in the midst of dreamland when my alarm clock tries so desperately to wake me up. Dreams, for me, are an escape from my tedious life of chronic pain and endless treatments. I never have pain there; I am an active adult running around without a care for my health. I feel normal, like my old self when I am dreaming. Who has nightmares when their waking world is filled with pain – every day, day in and day out. If I could, I would stay asleep forever. My dreams allow me to take the much needed vacation from my life. As I float my way to the surface of consciousness, I am faced with the physical pain. Is it any wonder that I often choose to dive back into my dreams? The pain in my hands and feet are always there to greet me. They faithfully stand by me through thick and thin. Such are the frenemies that haunt my waking hours.
My mind is a slippery slope. It has always been this way. The more emotional my memory, the slippier it is. Growing up in a dysfunctional family where emotions ran high and negative feelings were the norm has had a serious impact on my ability to remember just how bad things were back then. My brain has done a wonderfully effective job of blocking the negativity. I know things were bad; I know things weren’t right. But I’ll be damned if I know who, what, where, and why. I grasp onto to the stories family members have told me like a drowning women hangs onto a life preserver. I cling to the memories others have because without them I am at a loss. My childhood resembles the Dark Ages of Europe – empty space where we know life was lived but not how. On the one hand, I am blessed to only remember the happy times growing up. However, I can feel those empty spaces sucking away at me like a black hole. Just because I cannot remember first hand what happened doesn’t make the damage any less severe. I live with the repercussions of events I can’t remember. Is this healthier for me? Is it best to keep those things buried in my subconscious? Every time I try to pull those fragments of my childhood to the surface, my mental state suffers. My hold on sanity quivers until it threatens to snap. My new family, the one I married into, does not like it when this happens. And who can blame them? It is not a fun experience to watch a loved one grapple with deep-seeded pain, with their always fragile hold on normalcy.
On the flip side, my brain has compensated for this memory loss by sharpening my capacity to remember the non-emotional side of life – a.k.a., data. Raw data gleamed from books and lectures and seminars. It made school easier for me since I had all that extra space in my consciousness. I excelled at the acquisition of data. It was my thing. It made research (a passionate hobby of mine) that much easier to pursue. But now that chapter of my life is over. My illnesses have stolen yet another piece of my life from me. My memory has disintegrated before my very eyes. Brain fog (yes, it is a real, biological event) has stolen my ability to move data with ease from short-term storage to long-term storage. My ability to retrieve data from long-term storage has failed me too. It makes remembering appointments and to do’s difficult. If I don’t leave written reminders around me everywhere, I lose track of them. They slip into the gaping holes that exist in my brain. And just forget about my formerly large vocabulary and eerily precise ability to spell the most difficult of words. Those are climbing out the window one megabyte at a time. That tip-of-the-tongue feeling we all get occasionally is a daily experience for me. I know I know something, yet I can’t recall it. It isn’t dementia; it is the tortuous reality of brain fog.
Today’s rant was inspired by a missed lunch date an hour’s drive away from home with a sister I only see once per year because she lives in the south and I live in the north. It was a lunch date with my Babcie (grandmother in Polish) to celebrate her 95th birthday. I really don’t think normal people forget important dates like this one. It is no wonder that I feel like I am losing my mind…