My brain is really excellent at binary thinking.

Given any situation, I will come up with two answers, one of which is complete failure (resulting in failure) and one of which is unattainable perfection (resulting in failure). Therefore if I choose either column, I fail, and am therefore subject to more mental berating.

If I attempt to choose another, more moderate option, I am berated for not being good enough to try for the perfect. There is elaborately cooked, time intensive dinner, or there is failure. There is compulsively clean, 100% taken care of house, or there is failure. There is 100% kindness to everyone all the time, or there is failure.

It’s a kind of twisted perfectionism that I’ve spent most of my life perfecting, it seems. (I should mention that even if I come up with something I initially think is good, my brain will pick holes in it until it looks like every other failure, even if I’ve accomplished something. It’s … kind of sick.)

Nowhere is this better illustrated than with exercise.

With exercise, there is either “exercise until exhaustion” and “nothing”. Compound this with my joint disorder, whereby I can’t do things like lift weights (because my joints go squishywibble and won’t work properly, so I can’t even get my muscles engaged) or run (impact is bad, yo) or really most “normal” exercise, and there are two options. Do nothing, or walk until you can’t feel your knees and then go lift weights anyway, even though it makes you feel awful for two days.

There are two kinds of exercise I mostly tolerate (verging on enjoyment) – biking and yoga. I’m not allowed to bike because of the pressure it puts on my wrists (which, plus my hands, are the only joints that hurt on an everyday basis anymore). I just bought a new bike in October. Failure. I’m not supposed to do yoga for the same reasons.

But Anna, yoga has infinite variations and modifications! Why not do one of those?

Because so far I can’t. Well, physically I could. Mentally I must either do the full version of the pose, or I might as well not bother because I’m a failure anyway. This is compounded by my relative ease with kinesthetic adventures like yoga and dance, which I learn quickly. I’m also naturally extremely flexible, so I have never really done modified poses. I am still adjusting to this new way of living in my body. (Also, let’s not even get into being fatter.) Doing a modified version anyway, in a sort of “fuck you, brain” only results in having to listen to myself for the rest of the day.

To be honest, I feel a lot of sympathy with Gollum.

It’s all extremely unkind, and difficult to live with a lot of the time too. There are entire days when I wish my brain would just SHUT UP and GO AWAY. I’ve tried asking it why I only have these two options, but the answer isn’t fit to type.

I fight against this every day, some days with more success than others. Some days the crazy is just too loud, and I don’t really function beyond going through enough of the motions to not get fired. Recently the crazy has been very loud, and so I’m not getting much done. It’s too much work to try to deal with it, to try not to resist, but to … not accept. Just… allow it to exist and do whatever I need to anyway?

My awesome therapist says that “What we resist persists” – the more mental energy I throw at resisting and arguing with the crazy, the more it pushes back. Instead, I’m supposed to say “ok, I appreciate that you feel that way” and do whatever else anyway. (I know it sounds crazy, but somehow this works better than the alternatives.)

It’s very draining, just doing everyday stuff.

I’m trying really hard to “work on it”, but its hard to change something that seems built in, if that makes any sense. Meditation helps, as do naps. Journaling helps when I manage to do it without automatically setting myself up to fail at it. (How you fail at journaling, I’m not sure, but I manage.)

Today I managed 8 hours of work, plus 3 sets of pushups and squats and a set of “hang on the pull up bar and think really hard about it” (I can’t do pull ups). I’ll put something together for dinner – probably out of the freezer (maybe tamales). After dinner I will sit on the floor and attempt to get my brain to slow down for awhile.

And that’s going to have to be enough.

Big Bad Binary Brain

7 thoughts on “Big Bad Binary Brain

  • January 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Back when I had Untreated Crazy Brain, my therapist told me to just do one thing every day. If the one thing was take a shower and put on clothes, that day was a success. Now that I have behavioral tools to keep my anxiety in check I can add more things to my plate, but some days I have to go back to just doing one thing and calling it successful.

  • January 30, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    Tami sent this to me because…well it is me, to a certain extent. I’m not sure how to explain the little differences except maybe to say that sometimes I seem to “forget” to be so negatively against myself and I can just let life progress onward.

    But there are days that make up for those forgetful days and then some.

  • January 31, 2012 at 11:47 am

    If you can get your hands on one, an elliptical is an excellent stand in for running. No impact to the joints and unlike a treadmill you have full control over your speed. When I want to give my joints a rest I hit the elliptical, turn on the TV and tune out for a good half-hour run.

    Barring that, swimming and lots of it! I had a friend tell me about an olympic runner he knew and the runner said the way he trained everyday was to swim with intensity. Running all the time isn’t good for anyone, but swimming is much harder to over do with great health benefits.

    I’ve battled with anxiety and self-critical issues for a long time. What I’ve found to help is to keep benchmarking against what I’ve done in the past and what I see others do that are in roughly my position. Unfortunately it tends to make me a bit competitive which has its own troubles, but it keeps me motivated.

    IE. I don’t care what a good run time is, did my run improve over the last time I ran? Yes? Awesome! No? Gotta push harder next time!

    • January 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm

      SemiCasual » I love to swim, and am quite good at it. Sadly, swimming ends up taking 2 hours to do, so I don’t do it. I can barely get myself together to do a 20 minute workout, let alone drive 15 minutes to the pool, change, swim, change, drive home, and shower. My doctor and I are also quite aware of the kinds of exercise I can do, and the benefits of each. This is, however, kind of beside the point of the post, which really isn’t about exercise. While it’s a good idea to compare to what you’ve done previously, and always strive to improve, with a massive joint disorder, “improve” is a very relative term (there are days when I can barely do my hair, other days when I can work a stapler with no pain, for example). I literally can’t “benchmark against what I’ve done in the past”. In the past I was an athlete. Right now I physically can’t be that, and it’s a mind trip and a half for someone with all the mental illness I fight.

  • January 31, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Sorry, wasn’t trying to just hone in on things that weren’t the primary focus of the post. Just wanted to put up my thoughts on the stuff that I actually know anything about. I’ve been to counseling but I wouldn’t say I have a whole lot of helpful advice for dealing with mental illnesses of any kind. My own troubles are/were fairly mild by any comparison.

    I should really not toss out unsolicited advice… it’s a bad habit of mine and I wind up looking fairly ignorant or just full of myself (sometimes both!). I found the “one day at a time, accomplish one thing.” approach helped me, when I’ve been run down.

    • January 31, 2012 at 1:53 pm

      SemiCasual » It’s OK – the internet has made it very easy to dispense a lot of advice (and I’m probably extra sensitive about it because most advice I get doesn’t work in my situation, but it gets given like I should’ve just thought of this super easy solution months ago! Yours wasn’t like that, but it still made me *twitch* a little). Counseling is weird because if it’s done right, it’s tailored to the individual, so while big concepts transfer well and can be very helpful to hear (like one day at a time, accomplish one thing – which I’m really working on), the rest of it has to take into account the individual situation and doesn’t always scan well as big picture advice. (if that makes any sense)

  • January 31, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Makes total sense to me, that’s why I (tried) to present that last bit as just ‘This worked for me’. Yeah, the counseling was definitely tailored and it very much has to be; it mostly pertained to putting some old demons to rest that I had never truly addressed.

    I really appreciate this dialogue, it’s actually given me a lot to think about.

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