Iâ€™m one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans being impacted by the wildfires raging across thousands of miles in the U.S.
Iâ€™m currently coming to you from my friendâ€™s garage in Boise, Idaho, where Iâ€™ve set up a tent bedroom and toolbench office (because COVID) after fleeing hazardous air quality and fires moving ever-closer to my usual stomping grounds in Oregon.
That the fire part.
Hereâ€™s the thalamus part:
Iâ€™m finally reading The Body Keeps The Score, after a half-decade of having it vehemently recommended from many corners of my world.Â Itâ€™s an excellent treatise on what is happening to the structures inside our brains when life is less than optimal.Â My ah-ha moments to pages-read ratio is basically 1:1.Â (Seriously.Â Read it!)
I learned the thalamus in the brain combines incoming information into a coherent experience.Â Hold on to that factoid for a minute.
Thanks to my relatively new skill of noticing what is (instead of my life-long skill of noticing what should/could be), I observed many things about my mental and emotional state as I:
- left my home just after midnight this past Tuesday
- drove many hours in the middle of the night to relative smoke/fire safety
- slept in my car for a hot minute next to a freeway under Walmart-parking-lot floodlights
- drove under-slept most of the next day to social safety
- set up my garage-refugee life
- started adjusting to new reality
I noticed a consistent chasm between what I expected myself to be able to do and what I could actually, reasonably do.Â E.g. Despite being in refugee mode, thereâ€™s no reason I canâ€™t still work, exercise, keep up with correspondence, and sort out healthy meals, right?Â (I hope youâ€™re laughing!)
Then I realized that pattern is everywhere in my life, the lives of those around me, and in Western culture at large.Â In short, I think Western culture dramatically underestimates the cognitive impacts of instability.
According to the book I just mentioned, in threatening situations the thalamus can break down.Â â€œNormal memory processing disintegrates.â€Â Even if you arenâ€™t experiencing COVID as a â€œthreatening situationâ€ and arenâ€™t a fire-refugee, even if your thalamus isnâ€™t breaking down, surely itâ€™s glowing fire-hot with the effort of combining the incoming train wreck of 2020 into a coherent experience?
All I want to say is that it seems instability causes our brains to work double-time.Â When we fail to respect and allow for that reality, we can end up feeling at best bewildered by our own â€œincompetenceâ€ and at worst full of self-loathing for falling short of our own (ridiculous?!) expectations.
For instance, maybe there is simply no room left in your mind to take advantage of the pandemic perks I mentioned in the last email missive.Â Thatâ€™s okay!Â I see you!Â Deep breaths. Â Keep breathing.
If youâ€™ve been expecting yourself to keep functioning in 2020 like you did in 2019, can I invite you to give yourself a little grace?Â Can I ask your inner parent to go easy on you right now?Â Tell them your thalamusâ€™ inbox is overflowing and needs you to spend more time staring at walls and doing mindless, â€œunproductiveâ€ things so it can do its very important, very â€œproductiveâ€ job!