I have always been forgetful. When I was sixteen, a few of my friends affectionately told me I was the only teenager they had ever met who suffered from early senility. It was cute. It was funny. It was endearing. It was so very me.
When I was in school, I learned early on that the only way to guarantee I would pay attention in class was to sit in the very front row. Not because I was a ‘keener’ (although I admit I kind of was a bit of a keener), but because having anything else but the teacher to look at was guaranteed to cause my mind to wander away, only to be wrenched back to reality, many minutes later, with a question from the teacher I couldn’t possibly answer. To this day, I still tend to gravitate to the front row of a lecture, or a play, or a choir practice or at church. It’s the only way to ensure that my mind might actually remain in the room.
When I entered the workforce, I came up with a million little tricks to compensate for my abysmal memory and that terrible knack I have of leaving my vacuous body to blankly sit while my mind has flown a million miles away. I kept scrupulous notes of what I did each day. I never left work without writing myself a ‘to do’ list for the following day, so I wouldn’t waste precious minutes early the next morning trying to get my scattered brain in gear. I had a paper agenda and a virtual agenda on my phone. I posted little memos and ‘to-do’ lists everywhere. I single-handedly kept the Post-It brand in business. I became the note taker; the meeting secretary: it’s difficult for your mind to wander when you are the person charged with transcribing a full account of the proceedings. While most of my colleagues appreciated that they would never, ever have to take the minutes if I was in the room, I did get a reputation – near the end of my career – for being a ‘keener’. And not in a good way. Most memorably, one person I worked for once asked me ‘just who I was trying to impress’.
There was no smooth answer for this. “I just want to make sure I stay in the room,” would not have been an appropriate – or career-building – response.
The thing is I am a dreamer. I have always been a dreamer. I am never in the room at quite the same time as everyone else. I laugh well after the joke has been told. I am always the one asking, “What’s happening? What’s going on?” My mind drifts as easily as the tide.
In retrospect, the worst thing about having a mind that so easily drifts from your body, is that you don’t see the signs your body is trying to send you until it is far too late. Post adrenal-fatigue burnout, and all the little tricks I used to use have flown out the window with what was left of my brain. I am too exhausted to take notes. I don’t even see the calendar I have placed – in the bathroom (!!) – with the scant important dates I have to remember now. Recently, a friend invited me to lunch at her place (the next day) and I managed to forget all about it. A few weeks earlier, another friend sat and waited – in vain – for me to show up for lunch at a local restaurant. Both friends were very sweet about my absentmindedness but I felt absolutely awful both times. Just yesterday, I managed to invite a few friends over for supper and accept an invitation to a very special launch of a work of art in the high school in my community that incorporated my mother’s wedding dress. Both events took place at the same time. So, of course, I forgot all about the launch.
Who forgets something that significant?
I have wept as I wrote this one. I see all these twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, forty-somethings and fifty-somethings absolutely killing themselves for their jobs and I know they don’t believe me when I tell them that bodies can and do break. I know they think they are not like me. I know nothing I can say to them will convince them to slow down.
They say you are never the same after a burnout. Four years after my own, I do believe that is the case. Much good has come from mine: despite my now-abysmal planning skills, I have learned true mindfulness. I am always in the moment. I feel daily gratitude. I am at peace. I understand that nothing I do will change what people decide to think about me. And as a result, I have stopped trying to be what people expect me to be. After a lifetime of being a people-pleaser, it is wonderful to let that go.
But oh, that lifelong tendency of mine to be forgetful is worse than it used to be. It’s not cute, funny or endearing anymore. And oh, I am tired of always being so tired.
Are you listening twenty-something? Are you taking my warning seriously, thirty-something? Do you understand that if you fall you might not be able to get back up again, forty-something? Do you know that there are worse things than retiring early, fifty-something?
Ah, none of them are listening.
That’s okay; I promise to be here to help you pick up the pieces when you fall…
Second photo: my Mom and Dad, on their wedding day in 1959
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com