That’s me, right there. You know how sometimes your computer goes on the fritz (okay, maybe not you Mac people), and then when it reboots it will tell you, “Computer did not shut down normally”. It will give you the option of restarting in normal mode or in “safe” mode. Safe mode is where you run essential services until you can figure out what is wrong. Well, I think I’ve been running in safe mode for most of the last three decades. And I’m 48. Yeah.
My parents divorced when I was around fourteen, and after that point, though I lived with one or the other for a few years, I was pretty much left to my own devices. And while some teens might think that’s a great way to live – No rules! No bedtime! No oppressive parents being all up in my stuff! – let me tell you, it’s more scary than it is fun. At that age, your judgment is kinda not sound, so you have all the opportunities in the world to make mistakes and no chance of any loving, caring adult to rein you in and keep you on the right path. You are on your own emotionally as well. My sister was older, around seventeen when she fled the chaos, and she and I had never been close, so I went through most of my adolescence with no role models to turn to, no parent to bounce ideas off of, no warm embrace to reassure me. Add to that total financial insecurity, and you have a recipe for a major anxiety disorder. Yay me!
Even just writing those two paragraphs have consequences. I’ve been very muddled the last week or so and when I’m in muddle mode I get stressed and the familiar band constricts my chest as it always does and if I make the mistake of thinking about my teenage years I get in a really funky mindset. Hard to get out of. Hard to focus. Hard to think about all the stuff that I need to do now that I’m a responsible grownup with, you know, kids and a job and a house, chickens even. There are dental appointments to be made, oh, and the eye doctor, too. Mervat needs cupcakes for school tomorrow and I never did buy the chalk or bubbles for Chalk Day and Bubble Day at school (my tax dollars at work, right there). My son leaves for encampment in a couple of weeks and there’s a lot of stuff to buy, Ramadan is right around the corner, I just joined a neighborhood group online that I’ve ignored for the last five days, and oh, crap, I still have to change my homeowner’s insurance before it gets canceled.
I switch into safe mode so that I can accomplish the essential tasks of the day. Get the kids up and fed, see if anyone needs their nails clipped because I’ve forgotten that the last three days, cute hairband for Mervat to mask the fact that I don’t have the energy to brush out her tangled hair. Breakfast for my father-in-law. Instant coffee because firing up the percolator is too much work. Yell at the kids to brush their teeth. Sit on the sofa and scroll through my Facebook feed even though I really should start a load of laundry but dang, that will mean I have to fold it and put it away. Hubby is returning from a business trip this evening so I should make sure his bathroom is shipshape. Fresh towels are in the dryer. Maybe after I marshal my energy I can bring them up. Chicken defrosting for dinner. Appointments can wait until tomorrow. Kiss kids out the door, sign the youngest onto his Roblox account. Brush my teeth? Later.
Safe mode is where I draw in emotionally – and I swear I can feel myself shrink in physically as well – and I shut down all forward thinking in order to get through the now. I concentrate on the minimal tasks that will make it look like I’ve been productive while I expend the least amount of energy possible. I start the day exhausted and fantasize about bedtime. I think about Obamacare and the fact that I had it last year for about a month before it was inexplicably canceled. So, no doctor for me!
Safe mode is going in to work and finding makework to do because I am the kind of person who needs a set task list to accomplish. But the Task List Creator, the aforementioned hubby, is away until tonight, and I did all the stuff on the list he made before he left. So I piddle around updating some stuff and checking Facebook before saying a silent “stuff it” and coming over here to put down my thoughts in a effort to get them out of my brain. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.
Like a chronic cough that finally – temporarily – subsides, the brain fog usually fades after a while, a few days, a few weeks, and even when it doesn’t I can bull my way through it when I get pissed off enough. I get tired of being tired and just suck it up and do something, anything, to break the mental and physical logjam. Like get the laundry going. Or bake something. Or engage with the kids when I’d rather hide in my bed. Anything to just keep from seizing up. And then I’ll be better and more productive and be able to make it to the next fog bank.
Safe mode is a lifesaver, but it’s no way to live.