Slipped Gears

Holy crap! Two posts in two days, y’all might start thinking there’s crazy afoot!
So, I write a post about my brain and the swirligig dance party it is and I get a lot of feedback. People asking for clarifications because they might also have some similar issues, mostly, but also messages of support and love, thanking me for sharing this info.
First, thank you for the emails of love and support. Depression can put you in a really dark place sometimes. You often feel like you are so very alone. Hearing from other people helps enormously. Another thing that helps is being able to read that you are not alone, that you aren’t singular in your brokenness but that there are others fighting the same fight.
That’s why I write about this. It’s very hard to sit down and write, to find the motivations and the correct words and the concentration to put them together. That why there are so few posts in the last 18 months. I write these words because I can and I do it to let other people know they are not alone. The messages that I get, the ones sharing love and support, the ones that let me know I am not alone, those are the messages that remind me to keep writing so that I, too, can let people know they are not alone.
Like I said, I got a lot of messages from people wanting to share their experiences with similar situations and others asking for more details as they might be dealing with something similar. I want to share a few scenarios that can hopefully shed some light on what it’s like to be in my head.
I talked about the grocery store, how it overwhelms me and suddenly I can’t read or comprehend what I am seeing. Just walking into the store can trigger this, grocery stores are jam packed full of stimulation. There are all the products, the ‘HOORAY 32 for $1’ signs, there are people everywhere and they are moving, I need to get a cart, I need to get my list out, I need to navigate. I almost never go to unfamiliar grocery stores anymore. I have the few that I know well and I stick to them. Most grocery stores have the produce right up front, so the first thing I do when I get inside and start losing direction is to find the oranges in the produce section. Oranges are bright and easy to find, they are stacked high and often in the middle. Carrots are also orange but they don’t work, there are too few carrots and they are in the middle of the green wall (the green wall is that wall of green leafy veggies, I avoid that until I can get my bearings.). Oranges! I find them, I spend a few seconds waiting for the gears in my head to start catching again.
The gears in my head. Oh how I love the gears in my head! I’m there in the grocery store, things are going well, I’m finding the things on my list. I’m not getting lost. I’m doing pretty good! My list says ‘canned beans’, let’s go get some beans! I love beans! I get to the bean section and I’m looking at my options, but…hm…my list says ‘beans’…what kind of beans? Let’s do black beans, that’s something we eat a lot, right? Black beans…looking…shit! SHIT!! What brand! What brand of black beans do we buy? Do we even have a brand?
And all the gears in my head slip at once. Now I can’t see anything but shapes and colors. I see letters but they are meaningless, the pictures on the cans are nothing. Up and down the aisle I only see shapes and colors, no words, no objects, the lights are suddenly too bright, the music is so loud. The more I try to pull it together the faster the gears spin. The faster they spin, the greater the panic. I can not understand anything that I am seeing and I can’t make it better. Inside my head things are flying, I’m panicking and that leads to a rain of self castigation falling all over me. “Goddammit, pull it together! Why can’t you just do this? It’s not hard! Stop being stupid and just do this! WHY AREN’T YOU DOING THIS?? People are staring at you, they know you’re crazy!”
I’ve been learning ways to slow things down again, to regain control so that I don’t have to abandon my cart and leave the store (because abandoning my cart is a shitty thing to do to the employee that has to put everything away and if I act shitty like that then I also get to deal with that guilt). I stop everything in my head, even the insults. Stop. I close my eyes and take a long, slow breath and I tell myself that taking a long slow breath with my eyes closed will NOT make people think I am crazy. Just breathe. Open my eyes, breathe again. I reach up and I grab at a shape, I know it will be a can because that’s what I saw. I bring the can closer and look at it, I know that people will stand for a few seconds and read labels. I pretend to do that. Focus on the can and slowly there are words and a can and a picture of beans on the front. Deep breath. Quiet the head again, deep breath. Remember that the world will not end if I buy the wrong beans. In fact, I remember that there are no wrong beans, we eat a lot of different kinds of beans.
I read the labels, my mind is quiet. I can compare prices and types and can get on with my shopping.
And what about cleaning my kitchen? That’s something that trips me up all the time.
I walk into the kitchen and look around. I know I have to clean it. I can see dirty dishes and pans, jars and bottles and things that need to be put away, counters that need to be washed, trash that needs to be taken out.
The panic starts almost immediately. I ask myself, ‘what do I do first?’ and blammo the gears slip. All of the things are there, I know they have to be done, but I can NOT figure out how to start. I look all around, all I can see is the mess and all I can feel is the shame for having this mess and then the panic! Why can’t I just keep my house clean? Other people do this, they don’t have these problems. What do I do?? There are so many dishes everywhere and I don’t know where to start. Why am I so stupid? Why am I so lazy?
I crying as I write this.
I will stand in the middle of my kitchen crying and panicking because I just cannot figure out how to do this. I will punch myself in the legs because I am so disgusted with myself.
This is why I lost my job. I knew I had to do things, but if I missed something or fell behind on a task, that thing would spiral out of control in my head and then I just could not do it. I had all kinds of little tricks to help keep me mostly up to date, but things kept slipping and I would leave my desk and go to the bathroom and cry and hate myself.
And people say, “well, you just DO IT. You pick a thing and you start and you just do it.”
But I can’t. Trying to pick a thing to start with is what triggers the issue. It’s the most amazing spiral you will ever experience. I need to do something, but in order to do something I have to pick the something to do and I can’t pick something because all the gears in my head are slipping and that’s making me panic and the more I panic the worse it gets. Then the self loathing happens and it’s fucked from there.
Most people cannot imagine this. They can’t even envision a scenario where they would act like this. It makes no sense to them at all. I could describe it until I exhausted all the words in the world and still it would not make sense. You just pick a thing a do it! That is what they can imagine, picking a thing and doing it. Nothing else makes sense.
This is what is in my head. It beats me down and I am powerless. It fills me with shame and anger most of the time. Learning that there is a real, physical explanation for this does bring relief. Soon I will learn to stop calling myself names, to stop being angry with myself.
And for those who wrote to me today, I hope that this can help you find a way out of this quagmire.
I am not the only one and neither are you.

One thought on “Slipped Gears

  1. Oh wow. I swear, I said those exact things to my Heather yesterday. I was trying to explain to her how my brain works when I need to clean up a pile of clutter, or the kitchen, or when I look in our garage and how it sends me into a spiral of “what should I do first? why is it like this? where did I go wrong? why am I such a screwup?”
    Her response has always been the very calm and rational “it’ll be okay, you just pick one thing and do it and then move to the next thing” and I had to explain how that response only adds to the voice in my head and makes it go “see? it’s supposed to be easy. if you can’t handle something this easy, why are you even breathing? an invertebrate could do this!” and that escalates everything more.
    I’ve never talked to ANYONE I can think of who understood that problem. I have a large square ottoman in my living room. When things are cleaned up, I sometimes put my feet on it, but more often, I have my laptop and/or a book or my knitting on it. Sometimes (like now) I put other stuff on it and then it seems to create gravity and suck other things from around the house and then it’s an ottoman under a pile. That pile sits right in front of me, and if I’m having a pretty good day, I can pick the things up one or two at a time and put them away. If I’m having a kinda bad day, or especially a really bad day, I see the pile as a whole and can’t convince myself that it’s possible to pick up one item and put it away. It becomes all or nothing. And each of those items then brings with it the reasons I was bad for leaving it there, the problem of where it goes, and usually the problem of having to clean or organize some other area because of where that item goes, and then the reasons I was bad for that area not being clean and orderly already.
    It’s a bad spiraling cycle and I feel like there’s only a door out of that spiral once in a while when all the conditions are right and the planets are aligned, like a re-entry window for a space shuttle. If I miss that window, I’m stuck in the bad place until another one comes along.
    Thank you so much for sharing these things. It’s amazing how much it helps to know someone else understands exactly how I feel (and I think you do because I seriously used almost the exact same phrases yesterday -and have in the past too- before I ever read this), even when reading about your panics tries to trigger some of my panics.

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