Working memory and stuff

I would like to write more and also more coherently, but it feels like I don’t have time. It’s strange, because essentially I have done nothing for a week, but I don’t feel like I have time. Some of this is that I spend a lot of time going through the motions of sleeping and also actually sleeping. One idea I have is that sleep is very important in dealing with stress and with change, and if I can start sleeping when it is night and being wakeful during the day, then that is going to really help.

My friend seems to inexplicably add to my stress. I don’t know why this is.

I have realized that usually when people are most acutely unhelpful, they are doing what is helpful for them. They aren’t trying to be difficult. They just have different ways of doing things, and at moments when I seem to be distressed, that is how they try to help—by doing what is helpful for them in the kind of situation I seem to be in.

So, for example, there was a point quite some time ago when I was worried about leaving C for a year, and I was sharing this with a friend. Her response was to suggest an attitude of passivity and helpless: everything works out, the universe will guide you, etc.

Which I can’t do. I have not seen the universe guiding people. I have seen people who took responsibility for their lives and their behaviour and sometimes that leads to a better outcome. And sometimes doesn’t. But I have seen people proclaiming the kindness of the universe who really ought to note that human beings have stepped in.

But this helps her. She wasn’t trying to invalidate my experience. We just have different ways of coping. Probably, imagining a benevolent universe is my strong cup of coffee, evoking a mysterious Arab mother-type I can’t quite place. It calms me down and I can think again, and it probably works the same for her.

So my friend seems to want to pull me out of things I am trying to work through slowly and gently. Probably, because that is what she does. She probably defends herself with busyness and socializing, when I just slow down.

It has happened three times. Three times is a pattern, isn’t it? The first time was the first morning we woke up in the same house—my second day there, I suppose. She decided while I was in my just-finishing-coffee haze that I should go through boxes I had left in the garage. The second time was more minor. I just was briefly struck with a thought of some kind—I was trying to sort something in my mind, and it caught her attention, because I put my hand on my head—there was a sort of headachy feeling to it. And she then wanted to explain the stove to me. The third time was a walk to show me around following one of those confusing naps that are hard for me to deal with anyway. It was a prearranged walk, but suddenly it needed to be embarked on then. Then, of course, we went on a walk where I can’t remember where anything she showed me was.

The hard thing about this is that she has no idea how stressful this is for me. It is incredibly hard to manage so much in my mind.

This has been one of my thoughts recently—about how hard this is cognitively. Why is that? And why is it so difficult to articulate that? Emotionally, the transition is hard, but I am more worried about it cognitively, because it gets to the point where I cannot plan any reasonable strategy anymore because I can no longer think, and my main focus is on slowing things down, so that my mind does not stop working altogether. I mean, that happened before I left briefly—back in October or so. I don’t want it to happen again. It also just wastes a lot of time. I spent two hours on a walk, being shown things I can’t remember now, because my mind couldn’t organize itself to form memories.

Trauma affects attention and memory, and it seems to be that the strong emotions of traumatic experiences make the mind believe they are very important and need a lot of attention. Consciously, we might know that at the moment trauma memories surface, they are not necessarily relevant. At the moment of looking at boxes in the garage, I did not need to know the details of whatever traumatic memories of someone moving they evoked. But in mentally turning away from those memories from the past, I lose the emotional information about the present which is needed to encode memories of it

It seems to me two things are happening: you have to work very, very hard in order to suppress these tangentially relevant trauma memories in order to focus on the present, and you also have to try to encode memories when the emotional information from the present is buried under stronger emotions from the past you are trying not to feel.

I get stressed and can’t remember shit. Which is in itself stressful.

I think what I do makes sense: as much as life allows me to do so, try to attend to my internal state, so that I am working at soothing my emotions rather than working harder at managing my attention. If my mind wants to wander off a bit onto very painful territory, that is fine as long as I am working at soothing the feelings that it recalls.

But it’s hard. It is really, really hard, and I don’t think it is what most people do. One problem is how much information is not encoded in an organized way about the past, so that if the present becomes demanding, the past remains jumbled and inaccessible. The maybe harder thing is that my family and others learn to cope with trauma in a different way and that is what other people push me into doing, or I think they are even if maybe they aren’t.

Kids, I read, frequently cope with trauma memories in ways you can categorize into three basic approaches: disconnecting (spacing out, isolating), distracting (directing their attention as well as others’ attention toward something aside from their internal reaction), and being distraught (which presumably demands emotional involvement). That is probably how my parents’ reacted to trauma intrusions throughout their lives. They didn’t mature out of these approaches. And what I was taught were ways to cope.

I can see that perhaps my friend—who I presume has some kind of trauma background, although nothing like mine—is perhaps seeing me and responding to me through that lens. So, it might be that I become confused—as the deluge of new information and trauma memories does to me—and she assumes I am withdrawing, because actually I am trying to limit the amount of information I am taking in, because it’s too much. And it seems to her I am disconnecting, and she feel distressed and responds to the trauma intrusion happening for her with distraction (let me show you the stove—please don’t notice that I am upset, just pay attention to the stove.)

Anyway, this is hard.


2 thoughts on “Working memory and stuff

  1. desilef January 3, 2017 / 10:13 pm

    Sad. We do rely on our friends so it’s hard when there’s this sort of disconnect. Are you able to explain to her? I don’t mean explaining all about trauma, but simply e.g., I’m always confused and hazy when I wake up. I need to come back to you gently and slowly and I know if you start showing me stuff now I’ll never remember it. Or have you tried that and she just doesn’t/can’t hear you?

    • Ashana M January 4, 2017 / 2:12 am

      I might have done that, but we had already agreed on the walk and I didn’t know I would be consumed with jetlag and be waking up from the nap. I did kind of know in advance that I might not remember anything from it, but I felt maybe sometimes I need to let people be nice even if it’s not terribly effective. My haziness does seem to affect her, and she seems to be reacting to an internal panic. I think however she actually responds to me–showing me stuff or something else–she can’t just shut down the panic.

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