My mom tells my sisters and I, “A tired brain is like glue, things stick to it”. That’s why sometimes in the middle of the night you think of something and you can’t let it go. It’s why you can’t think clearly when you haven’t had enough sleep. Your brain likes sleep. And unfortunately, most tired brains don’t stick to good things. They aren’t Kris Jenner saying, “You’re doing great sweetie!” from a chair off in the corner. They stick to your mean thoughts, and your unkind thoughts. They stick to all your worries and anxieties and don’t want to let go. A tired brain is like glue.
Unfortunately, my brain is tired a lot. My brain does all the things your brain does to make it tired. It makes to do lists and grocery lists. It remembers anecdotes and passwords. It has conversations and reads social signals (not well) to figure out situations. But my brain also does a couple other things. It spends time trying to make extra serotonin, because it doesn’t really make enough. It spends time engaging in coping mechanisms, I have to get myself to deep breathe probably at least once a day to calm little anxieties. It works to identify when I’m ruminating and then tries to stop.
And when it gets tired, it becomes Gorilla Glue. It sticks to everything and anything. Here’s the thing about my anxiety, it catastrophizes. It creates the worst possible outcome and presents that as the only one. It spins and spins and spins until it makes me dizzy, and I’m so disoriented I can’t distinguish up from down. Years ago, I couldn’t let go of the fictional catastrophes and I would spiral into a panic attack, but now I use coping mechanisms. I go for a run, read a book, watch a Marvel movie, drink some tea, talk through the problem with a friend. But like I said, coping mechanisms can make my brain tired too. Coping mechanisms can be hard work, but they’re worth it.
I get convinced of things that don’t really have basis in reality. Every morning when I go to work, I assume I’m going to get fired that day. My brain thinks everybody hates me. And when I say everybody, I mean everyone except for approximately 10 people, five of which I’m related to. Its stressful thinking that every co-worker, friend and acquaintance I have hates me. It’s very tiring. My brain sticks to the idea that I’m fat and ugly, and tells me horrible things about the way I look and the food I eat. It sticks to the idea that I’m stupid, and that my degree was a lucky stroke in a life where I can never be academically successful. It sticks to the idea that I’ll get in a car accident, get followed home from work, get COVID from a customer, end up alone and practically every other negative thought. A tired brain is like glue.
But most problems have solutions. How do I stop the spinning and the sticking? With facts, when I feel myself starting to latch onto worries, I try to think objectively about a situation. I have a degree so I can’t actually be stupid. I’m an attentive driver so I won’t actually crash. I wear a mask and use hand sanitizer frequently so I won’t actually get COVID. Anxiety likes to play pretend, so I keep at least one foot strongly planted in reality.
Secondly, I use sounding boards. I talk to people I trust about what I’m thinking. I tell my dad that I feel like my life is going nowhere and he says, “Get over yourself, you’re 22 not an old hag”. I tell my cousin that everyone hates me, and she says, “Fuck that, then I hate them too”. I tell my sister I think I’m ugly and she sends me a list of Nicki Minaj pump up songs. I ask for help. That’s an okay coping mechanism to use.
But I also need to learn to wind down my worries on my own. At the end of the day I am my own responsibility, so I need learn to unstick my brain. I ask others for help, but I also need to know when I’m using them as a crutch. I need to take care of myself. I need to get extra sleep or do yoga or take a rest day. I need to recognise what is a “normal worry” and what is an “anxiety worry”. I need to not stress about “normal worries” and simply attend to the “anxiety worries” without letting them rattle me.
Worrying is natural, I remind myself that everyday. Worrying about money keeps me from spending every dollar I have. Worrying about my social relationships shows that they are important to me. It’s okay to worry, but it’s also important to know when a worry is out of touch with reality. When to just recognise the worry and let it go. I’m working really hard at just letting the sticky thoughts pass through my brain and move on. It’s not going as well as I could hope, but I’m getting better at it. I just need to stay in reality. I just need to keep calm. I just need to get some sleep. Because a tired brain is like glue.
From me, with love, to you,