I thought I was losing my mind, a few weeks ago. Turns out, it’s not as cute or fun a feeling as one might think.
I’ve had problems, since the coma, with short-term memory and word retrieval. I’ve started carrying lists… to-do lists, appointment lists, lists reminding me to carry my to-do lists… sometimes it helps, and sometimes I’m standing in the middle of a room, certain I came here for a reason, and absolutely lost. This happened before the coma once in a while, of course – I think it’s part of motherhood, and in fact I’m convinced that the placenta is directly attached to a portion of the brain, such that once you deliver, you lose that portion of your brain forever, never to be quite as smart as you were prior to parenthood (at the very least, I’m certain I knew a whole lot more about how to be a mother before I was one, and many of the non-childbearing folks I know now can expound, at length, about the best ways to raise children, without the mess and hassle of actually, you know, raising one). But since March, it happens to me at least daily, and it makes me crazy.
But that’s a kind of cute, frustrated, exasperated sort of crazy, just like the crazy I get when I lose things… which is another experience that I have far, far more often now, post-coma. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a paragon of order and organization, but prior to March it was very rare for me to misplace things. My desk would often appear cluttered, but I knew where everything was and could find whatever I needed at a moment’s notice. Now… not so much. I’ve probably lost an entire day, if you were to add up all the bits and pieces, to these extended and beyond-irritating searches for my keys, my latest knitting project, my specific-and-need-it-right-now paperwork, one of my children…
And there’s the lost words, too. I’m used to the words just flowing; the way I write, here, is very similar to the way I speak, and I’m used to being able to find exactly the word I want, when I want it, without a whole lot of effort. I probably find too many words, to be true, but they’re the right words at the time. So this experience of being mid-sentence and suddenly screeching to a halt, groping desperately for a word and not finding it, not even finding an acceptable substitute for it, is a new and unpleasant thing. I’ve added thesaurus.com to my little bookmarks at the top of my browser, a site I almost never visited before this year… and even then, it’s not always helpful, because I have yet to find a website that can help me when the best I can come up with is, “that white thing that makes the loud noise and sucks up debris on the floor.” (I do have a history of occasional word loss, which is why the kids refer to the kitchen stool as “the magical thing that makes you taller,” but it used to be a rare and fun sort of event, an anomaly in the life of an over-educated, over-verbose kind of person… now it’s a way of life.)
Crazymaking, but not exactly alarming or infuriating or scary. At least, each separate instance is no big deal; the more it builds up, when it is the third day in a row when I have very carefully prepared a drink and snack for myself and then walked out of the house without it, or I am 15 minutes late for an appointment because I left my phone on the guinea pig’s cage when I can’t even remember entering that room… it stops being funny, after a while, and starts being sad and scary.
So, a couple weekends ago, I was running up an especially impressive string of forgetfulness and um, uh… the, you know, um, wait, I know this word, um‘s, and so I was already feeling sorry for myself. One more long-lasting effect from the nightmare which was March, one more scar. I was working hard to keep that self-pity and frustration at bay, because this was the weekend that I won tickets to the Melissa Etheridge sound check and concert, and I was determined to have a good time with my mother. And we did, the whole time she was here: Willem cooked a fantastic dinner the evening she arrived, we had a wonderful time at the show with a fantastic Thai dinner in between sound check and concert, followed by a beach trip the next morning before she left. She learned, after a few repeats, that I wasn’t laughing when I left yet another soda on the counter on my way out the door, so we were able to talk about it without misunderstandings or undue frustration.
I wanted to bring my phone and camera to the beach, but didn’t want to risk ruining them by dropping them in the sand, so I tucked both into a sandwich bag. When it was time to go, I very carefully sealed the bag, slid it into the side pocket of the special mesh beach backpack, double-checked to make sure I wasn’t leaving it in the drink-holder of my beach chair or some such, folded up the chair and collected Jacob’s beach toys, triple-checked the camera and phone, and climbed into the minivan to head home. We stopped for take-out, ate, let everyone shower, and then my mother packed up her stuff and headed home. Mission accomplished: a happy and fun weekend complete.
Time, now, for me to check my text messages and return a few phone calls. I went over to the beach backpack… no phone, no camera. I went through the house, checked every single place I had gone since returning home… no phone, no camera. Rechecked the bag, started to panic a little, rechecked the whole house, asked Willem to call my phone to try and find it by echolocation… no phone, no camera. Drove back to the beach, checked the area where we had been sitting, talked to the lifeguards and the parking lot attendant, battled hyperventilation, found a perfectly clean (i.e., not previously inhabited by a sandwich) and entirely empty baggie… no phone, no camera.
I fell apart. I drove home – probably unsafely, given my level of misery and panic – and berated myself severely for losing my phone and brand-new birthday-present camera, there’s a couple hundred dollars we really don’t have to spare, how on earth could I have let my absent-mindedness reach this level, how freaking stupid could I be, I can’t be trusted with anything, and so on, and so forth. I came home, rushed through the living room holding my breath so as not to unduly alarm Jacob, sat on the side of my bed, and just sobbed. It was one thing to be forgetful and prone to losing things, but it was something else entirely to have formed a very clear memory of taking care of my things, which was obviously a false, delusional process. I was terrified, and miserable.
Willem used his phone to call my mom and ask her to stop at the next rest stop and check through her things, just in case. Meanwhile, I got on the computer with Abby at sprint.com to start the process of putting that phone number on hold until I could get a new phone – too many people have that number for me to change it now – and continued with the sniveling and hitched breathing and mental self-flagellation. And then, literally at the exact moment when Abby wrote, “Please confirm that you would like me to place this number on hold and start the process of ordering a new phone,” my mother called Willem’s cell: my stuff was in the trunk of her car. She had collected a bunch of shells and beach rocks in the backpack, and rather than remove them one-by-one, she had simply upended the bag into her trunk, and hadn’t noticed my little baggie-o’-stuff alongside her treasures.
It took me another half hour to stop shaking, and I’m still a little overwhelmed when I think about just how awful that feeling was. “I’m losing my mind,” we say, as though it’s a cute and funny little thing to lose, but when faced with the honest belief that my mental processes are not only sub-par but are worsening from mere forgetfulness to outright delusion, it stops being cute or funny.
And so I continue writing out lists, and cleaning and organizing things when I feel sufficiently energized and exasperated. And I hope, very much, that this current mental state is as bad as it gets… I can handle this. But I’m not sure how much more I can handle.