A couple weeks ago, I drove to the grocery store to pick-up Happy from preschool. Except Happy doesn’t go to preschool at the grocery store (but could you imagine?).
A few weeks ago, I got locked in a parking garage for 30 minutes and I couldn’t figure out how to get out. Does it make it worse that I’ve gotten out of this parking garage before?
A month ago, I got lost in another parking garage for 30 minutes. I just couldn’t find my car although I was exactly where I knew I had parked it. Turns out that in a sea of parking garages, I had chosen the wrong one. Except the one I parked in was the one I usually used at this place.
If it seems parking garages are my trouble, you are my BFF. The truth is that I am my trouble.
I noticed my thinking getting cloudy in the fall. I couldn’t recall new information the way I once did. I couldn’t formulate new thoughts as quickly as I once had. It was taking me longer to read books and grade papers– all things that I’ve been able to do with efficient speed in the past. In my head, it felt like my brain was tired and foggy. Interestingly enough, this didn’t happen everywhere. It didn’t happen when I was teaching, for example, or writing. But, in other ways, I found myself often looking and feeling blank.
BF started pushing me to go to the doctor in December. But I was convinced that it was my teaching load that was the problem, not my brain. And I should be more specific. It wasn’t my teaching load that I was blaming as much as I was blaming my grading load. I had designed my classes in a way that required me to grade over 1500 papers last semester. That averaged to about 100 papers a week. Any brain would be tired after that. I just needed winter break.
But winter break ended, and the start of a new semester with an improved syllabus came and my brain just got a little worse. My teaching was still fine– I never faulted a step there and so was my writing although it sometimes took me longer to come up with ideas or to write the ideas. That said, I could still write pieces whose quality resonated with what I wanted to deliver.
But, in other places, I noticed the softening edges of my brain even more. I started experiencing expressive aphasia, a condition where you can’t remember exact words but you can describe what you are talking about. When I couldn’t find the word for corset it was one thing. When I couldn’t find the word for keyboard– my livelihood- I grew more worried. I made an appointment with my physician and thought about what might be going on.
I had spent years on the emotional and mental health beat as a writer and so I had a good idea of what I was facing when I finally saw my doctor. And it turns out I was right. I had a severe B12 and Vitamin D deficiency. On the surface, a vitamin deficiency sounds innocuous. But a B12 deficiency can actually be extremely debilitating— B12 is what produces the myelin that lines your neurons and myelin is what the messages to/ through your brain travel on. The myelin I’ve lost has resulted in my cognition challenges. As a side note, I find it so interesting that the things that are at my core and that I practice at every day– teaching and writing– haven’t been affected the way that other things have. It is like those highways in my brain are so heavily traveled that I can still seamlessly navigate there. It’s the newer highways that need new pavement laid. Just fascinating stuff.
Anyway, all this to tell you that I’ve begun a heavy dose of vitamin treatment to rebuild my highways and get me fully operational. I’ve also made some room in my life. Once I knew what was going on, and that a little bit of sleep wasn’t going to turn things around quickly, I had to ask for help. First, I shared the news with the Circle de Luz board and class captains. They are an amazing group of supportive women who have all taken on some of my work to help give my brain a break. This generosity isn’t lost on me as each one of them has a huge professional, personal, and volunteer workload and certainly didn’t need anything added to it. I am humbled by their generosity. Next, I thought about how else I could give my brain a bit of a break and I thought about this blog. Blogging is such a gift to me– I often say that we write to learn what we already know– and I try to put up new content here Monday through Thursday of each week (with Friday being dedicated to a This Moment photo). But I also have other writing commitments, like blogging for Mamiverse and Voxxi and writing columns for the Charlotte Observer- and I noticed that my brain was really starting to stutter step when it came to write my four new blogs a week here, and so I’ve decided to give my brain a little room to breathe. You may have noticed that before last week’s awesome Body Image Warrior Week extravaganza (and if you missed it, go back and read those awesome guest posts) I had reposted a couple of older blogs and that was just part of giving my brain a little break. For the next couple weeks, I’ve invited a few amazing writers to guest post here in an attempt to reduce my writing load for just a few weeks in order to give my meds time to take effect. I am so excited to introduce you to them and they are each so rad that they’ll raise this blog to a whole new leave. I’ll post a couple times a week, feature a couple guest bloggers, and still run the Friday photo. My hope is that by late March, I’ll be in strong mental shape and back to blogging every weekday as we share community.
You should know that I am emotionally fine– in good spirits and humor. It’s interesting to look at this experience through the lens of self-acceptance. For a long time, I’ve defined myself through what my mind can do. Isn’t my mind more stable, less of a slippery slope, more true than my body? My mind is almost static (I once thought) while I notice changes in my body almost every day now. So I have always really appreciated my memory– that I am able to recall that someone’s aunt’s been sick and can ask about it- and my energy– that I can yes with confidence that I can pull the challenge off energetically- and my creativity– that I’ll have an idea when I need it- and my ability to reason- that I can think through the options and decipher the next best step. And now those things have faded, evaporated, morphed, changed, slipped. And rather than get scared or angry or pitiful, self-acceptance has allowed me to understand that this is where I am now. It’s not a weakness. It’s a difference. And nothing is really static, not even our minds. It’s all a gift on any given day. It can all change; and, yet, in our soul, we’re still true in our hearts. That’s our anchor.
Want to learn more about B12 vitamin deficiency? Here’s one article. And don’t be afraid to go have your levels tested– it’s not commonly diagnosed thought fairly prevalent.