Mental Health: My Bum Brain

I say I have a bum brain. That’s how I describe mental health issues. I just figure it’s easier to equate mental health with a leg’s health. Sometimes the leg seems fine. Other times, there’s a limp, a hinderance from running like usual. Sometimes there’s pain that’s bearable. Other times, it makes it hard to do stuff.

When I say I have mental health issues, I feel compelled to add that I’m not a danger to myself or others. It’s one of the first things you’re asked if you ask for a counsellor.

Perhaps it’s my generation or past generations where mental health was “something” but not treated until it was extreme. Psychiatry synonymous with quackery. Freud reduced to “it’s the mother.” A person only sought help if it was “serious,” but that bar was set high enough that it was remarkably close to “a danger to themselves or others.”

It probably doesn’t help that I know I don’t think like most people. I joke that my body and brain don’t want be dead; they want me to suffer. I joke about my mom not needing a retire home because I’d kill her first— to be clear, we have both joked about this for decades and I cherish her and she knows it. But I know that’s not how most would approach such topics. I just don’t quite understand how other people do.

And that’s the thing about a bum brain. My thoughts make sense. There isn’t a handy manual everyone is given at birth that let’s us know what’s normal or expected or healthy. I’ve always had a bum brain, but I didn’t know it needed treatment so it got worse and I just figured that’s how things went. Other people got sad. Other people seemed to feel the way I did. Sure, no one really thought *how* I thought, but my walk (as it were) was close enough I figured it was fine and I seemed to fit in well enough, just had to learn how to hide the limp.

So I went a very long time, thinking I was ok. I definitely didn’t need any help. And if it once got bad enough that I should have, it was just really a blip when I couldn’t walk. That bum leg tripped me up, but I found a way to get back up and walked just as well as before. And I’d probably still be walking with a bum leg/brain, thinking it wasn’t serious enough to need help, if it weren’t for a chance conversation with my husband.

I happened to mention how it bugged me that everyone else always knows they’ve had a good conversation with someone while I have difficulty when I replay them in my mind. He was confused. Then I was confused. Didn’t everyone remember almost every conversation they had to replay and look for improvements? Apparently not. Not even half of conversations. And definitely not to the point they found fault in almost every one of them.

So I went to my doctor. Said I’d like to not do that anymore because I’d really like to live that way. Then they checked I wasn’t a danger. Got an appointment— they checked about the danger bit while scheduling. I was also prescribed some meds to help. Going to a counsellor and meds helped. I was given ways to think better. Like how to look for evidence that people aren’t always two-faced.

See, another problem since my youth was that I found a lot of people said one thing to someone’s face and another behind their back. It’s not like it was all mean-spirited. I’ve witnessed people doing it to spare another’s feelings. So people could be nice to others, and then mention how boring a person was when they weren’t around. Lots of times people just didn’t “have the heart” to tell someone the truth as they saw it. I never liked it, but accepted this was something everyone did. I had lots of evidence and experience to back up this belief… until the counsellor calmly asked if I do it all the time too. “No.”
“So let’s see what evidence there is that each friend is doing, okay?”

Because prior experience with others aside, I rather lacked any direct evidence it was actually happening with me. My brain just went with, “it always happens so it’s probably happening now. Like usual.” And I didn’t realize that’s not how it’s supposed to be. Friends might actually be inviting me to do things because they liked me, not because they knew I’d be available and didn’t want to do something alone. People might actually mean it was nice talking to me because it was a nice conversation, not because they didn’t have the heart to tell me it sucked. People might actually like my art. People might actually like me.

Then came the test, just a simple series of questions. Because I’ve always had “ruts,” as I called them. Again, I assumed everyone did. Everyone gets sad. I get sad. Or, okay, I get numb. I feel like I know I should feel happy, and things that usually cheer me up don’t, and the ruts last awhile… and it’s like this numb feeling that can eat at me because I should be able to get out of this rut. Except that “rut” is apparently depression. That’s the actual term for it.

After talking with a counsellor, I’m better able to recognize when I’m slipping into depression so I can better deal. I have borderline depression, which means sometimes I’m doing good and other times, I’ve skipped over that line. I can go pretty far in the bad direction if I’m not careful. That bum leg can be a real drag, and very bad.

But that’s why there’s meds and professionals, and slowly a society recognizing that there are bum brains and that’s okay. It’s becoming more ok to say one’s talking to a counsellor/therapist/psychiatrist. It’s becoming more ok to admit when mental health means that it’s hard to physically do things.

That’s why I look for evidence that people aren’t “just being nice” to me, and when I can’t, I ask. It’s why I talk and write down thoughts with a book I often carry with me. It’s why I bother with mindful breathing exercises. It’s why I take my meds like I’m supposed to. Because I can’t get rid of my bum brain, but I’m going to manage it better so I can still get where I want to go.

I know there’s a destination, a goal or two I have, and this brain is slowing me down, but I still have hope I can achieve them. My brain isn’t ready yet. Luckily, life is a marathon not a sprint, and there are lots of supports along the way.

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