#2132

My mother and I share a lot of private memories, things for which only we were present – the time we got locked in a dark sauna and I was thoroughly convinced we were going to die; the time we accidentally ordered so much food at a Chinese restaurant that it was like the chocolate factory conveyor belt scene from I Love Lucy; the time our car was nearly hit by lightning during a tornado warning and we rode out the storm in a little diner in the middle of nowhere; all the times we sat talking over dinner or laughing at stupid reality TV. We share countless private memories between us, both mundane and magical, silly and serious, yet there is a specific shared memory which binds us beyond mother and daughter – a memory I have barely touched in the last eleven years.

I was fresh out of my first year of college, just eighteen years old, and my parents and I were on vacation in northern California. We had driven to the ranger station at the top of Mt. Lassen, a ride during which my mother had kept her eyes squeezed shut for fear of the steep cliff-side just feet from the car. She hated heights, hated seeing the tops of trees passing by below as the car wove its way up the steep, winding path, and probably didn’t trust her own driving skills enough to risk the attempt anyway. On the way down, though, she had to take the wheel and remain calm for us both while my father sat stunned in the front seat by an inexplicably painful and disorienting headache. We didn’t know why the headache struck so suddenly or with such force, only that he needed medical assistance – and so my mother faced her lifelong fear to get us all to safety. I knew she was on the edge of panic that whole drive down and yet she reined in her fear to keep her teenage daughter, who had never seen her beloved father so vulnerable, from panicking too. Thanks to her we made it safely back to the tiny town at the base of the mountain and hurried to the local hospital. If my father was cogent enough to commend my mother for her bravery at the time, I don’t remember… and at this point it’s only she and I who remain to tell the tale.

My mother is made of steel and I could provide a hundred examples of her strength just off the top of my head; anyone who knows her could. She fights for her family, for her friends, and for her community and has always set a positive example for everyone around her. However, I’m the only one who can offer up this particular memory as proof of her unyielding bravery. A check for a million dollars couldn’t have convinced my mother to make that stressful drive back to civilization on her own and yet she did. For my father, mysteriously sick, she did. For me, young and terrified, she did. Maybe if we had known what the upcoming days would ask of us she would have quailed at this first test, but all I remember is her determination in the face of the frightening unknown.

I talk a lot about the ways in which I’m like my father because I’m proud to carry them on in his name and make him present in every moment with me. However, what I should say more often is how much I hope I am like my mother. How I hope I have inherited her courage, strength, and conviction. How I hope I may act quickly and calmly to protect my little family when emergencies strike. How I hope I may so bravely face down any and all of my fears to do what is right for those I love. Anyone can tell you my mother is a little blond spitfire who doesn’t back down from a challenge, yet only I can tell you about the time I saw her at her bravest. It’s not a happy memory to share between us, nor are any of the other memories from the week that followed, but it remains preserved and clarified in my mind as testament to the strength for which I want always to strive.

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#2092

there are some things i can only write about at very specific times, like when the moon is just a sliver in a sky the color of my freshmen year of college or the afternoon sun is slanting just like it did that day in eighth grade, when i’m driving the old back roads home from a theater that hasn’t changed at all in twenty-five years or listening to a song i wrung all the emotion from while i walked endless circles around campus late at night, but even then i must hurry to capture the fleeting, fickle moment before it passes and i am left too weary to write another word, too empty to perform another grand resurrection of my old ghosts and demons and long beloved spirits, and in the morning or the next day when i go back to reread those scribbles i’ll just be disappointed anyway by how impossible it is to capture such ephemeral experiences, so i’ll think why do i even try, why do i bother robbing graveyards, and then i’ll ctrl+alt+delete my way out of all memory but today’s

#1904

I feel like I’m going crazy. Literally.

Over the last two years, I’ve frequently felt like my own brain is gaslighting me. At work, I miss red flags that I specifically looked for; I calculate budget numbers but then can’t figure out how I came to those totals the next day; I forget tasks or duties I’ve never had trouble remembering before; I swear I started a project but then find no evidence in my files; my completed documents are riddled with obvious mistakes I thought I checked or corrected; emails I have a vivid memory of reading were never sent to me. I’ve even run two red lights – not because I wasn’t paying attention, but because I could have sworn that the light was green. Every day, I feel tripped up by false or missing memories, by basic math that makes no sense, by this frustrating “Past Elyssa” who keeps fucking everything up for the present me. Sometimes I find her mistakes the next day, when I can fix them before my boss notices, but other times I don’t find her mistakes until months later, when a tiny issue becomes a monster. I find myself apologizing over and over and over again, promising I’m a hard worker, dedicated, detail-oriented, that I’m not who Past Elyssa makes me out to be. But what if I am?

For two years now, I’ve felt like I can’t trust my own mind. This paranoia leads me to second-guessing everything I do. I double and triple-check information I’ve long had memorized; I have shadow systems for everything I might possibly need to track or remember; I leave myself sticky notes for the most obvious of tasks. I read and reread emails and documents before I send them, and I check my math however I can. But it’s not enough. Things still slip through at an alarming rate. And it scares me. It scares me because this isn’t who I am. I am detail-oriented. I am good at remembering deadlines and tasks. I am able to complete complex tasks. Yes, I’m bad at math, but I’m not usually this bad. I’m not usually inept.

When the brain weirdness first started, it had a definite cause. I had just gone on Topamax, a medication well known for reducing the user’s cognitive functions. And boy, did it slow down my brain. I was like a different person at work: forgetful, prone to missing obvious mistakes, and overall just slower at grasping even simple tasks. When I forgot to take another important medication for an entire week, I finally went off the Topamax. I assumed the side-effects would linger for a while, which they did… and did… and did… and do. I still feel like I’m on the Topamax, though I was only on it for a couple months and I’ve now been off it for over a year. At this point, whatever I’m experiencing simply can’t be caused by the medication. My doctor has suggested my migraines (for which I was taking the Topamax, ironically) might be causing my forgetfulness and decreased cognitive function. This is a good theory, but I don’t buy it 100%. This stuff just seems to happen too often to be the result of a migraine.

So what is it, then? None of my other medications cause such side-effects, and they’re all meds I’ve taken for years without issue. My diet and general health are good, so it’s not my body trying to run at half-capacity. The issues happen no matter what my mood, so it’s not anxiety or depression related. I don’t fit any of the other symptoms of adult onset ADD. I don’t love my job, but I’m dedicated and focused, so it’s not just that my brain is checked out. Plus, that doesn’t explain the times I’ve run red lights.

I feel crazy. That isn’t me co-opting an often misused word – I truly feel like I can’t always fully trust my mind or my perception of reality. These things have happened too often for me to just laugh off. Now every time I find a weird mistake or have a memory that apparently didn’t happen, I feel myself unravel a little more. It’s a creepy, frustrating, scary feeling. I don’t like being a bad employee. I don’t like being unreliable. I don’t like putting myself in danger by accident, or questioning even bland, innocuous memories. I already deal with anxiety, depression, and invasive thoughts; I really need my brain to otherwise work okay. If something’s wrong, I want to know so I can treat it with therapy or medication or whatever will work. It’s the not knowing, the not being able to act on a problem, that’s eating away at me.
[ I feel like this sounds really dramatic, and maybe I’m overreacting, but I’m going to make myself post it. Blurhg, brain bad. ]