Thursday, 9 March 2017

Attempting to Train my Border Collie Brain

 This is inspired both by my ongoing intention to record here how I cope with life as once active individual now handicapped by chronic illness and by my friend Jazzy Jack who is also writing about the journey to understand self, meet needs and pursue  interests within the framework life has given.

In many cases, most people who see me, see me at my best.  They see me on a day when I was able to shower and dress and go out, at least for a short while.  This doesn't give an accurate picture of my difficulties and limitations and so i am often asked how I manage to fill my time since I do not work.  "What do you do?" is asked with that particularly drawn out pronunciation on the word 'do'.  We are a culture that cares about doing.  To be busy is to be worthwhile and valuable and most people fear boredom.  I am lucky, perhaps that I have many relatively sedentary hobbies, though my particular affliction also affect cognitive abilities at times too and that is perhaps the hardest part for me to deal with.  I wrote the following essay based on my typical and daily experience.  What is not described is the fact that my day and thus my time for pursing these activities is shortened by my need for something close to eleven hours sleep, physical fatigue that makes washing, dressing, preparing food for myself and general household clean up more challenging and  a drain on both energy and time, as well as the typical paper-work and administration that seems to accompany adult life.

I sometimes describe my brain as a border collie, noting that it needs to be kept busy or I start chewing up things I shouldn't.  Since this is supposed to be a metaphor I hope you understand I don't literally chew up the sofa or the rug, however I suspect I am inclined boredom eating so that is something I must watch out for.  I also get a bit impatient with people which is a sign I am struggling because I generally am a quite patient and forgiving person.  I don't easily suffer fools who are to blame for their own foolishness but that's a whole other blog post which I probably wont' write.  Or at least not publish.

I crave intellectual stimulation even more than  tortilla chips but I need to be actively engaged in it, so it's not enough to be taking information in.  I need to talk and write to process it and then I need to create or build something with the information and ideas I've got combined.  This is why more than anything else I read and write.  The majority of what I write is not seen by anyone.  I do a great deal of journalling but my journalling is rarely about feelings.  It is about thoughts, responses, ideas, questions.  It is taking what another thinker has stated and playing with it, adding my own thoughts.  I need people in my life with whom I can discuss the many thoughts and ideas because discussing is how I best synthesise what I am learning and how I develop my own thoughts.  When I lack a supportive and interested dialogue partner I talk to myself, or at least I think out loud. This is one reason why I have never studied in libraries.

I have always been a creative person but I have also always been an intellectual person.  I do not mean to say that by this I am announcing that I am smart.  I have enough evidence to convince myself that I am relatively smart but mostly I am far too aware of how much I do not know and how much more I want to know to ever be able to really identify as smart.  I set the bar high and since I am no Leonardo Da Vinci I am not particularly impressed with myself. 

In childhood I spent as much time conducting science experiments as I did drawing or writing stories.  I had nature collections, I recorded observations and the results of tests.  As I got older and discovered I was not particularly good at memorising facts, school taught me that I had limits.  I loved learning but school was undoubtedly an exercise in learning to believe I was good at some things and not others.  While the system has it's limits and it's flaws I don't blame it.  There have to be measures and standards in schools because there are in universities and in work environments.  I am now in a position where I don't have to meet another person's requirements or ideas about how to learn something and I can learn for the sake of my own pleasure and not in order to pass an exam.  I can appreciate however much I learn for it's own value and not worry if it is not enough to hit the right mark. 

In the end, while I am addicted to information and crave knowledge what drives me is the need to be thinking about things that seem important to me and while a wide range of topics interest me, what I am most passionately interested in is best summed up by psychology and philosophy.  I want to examine how people live, why they do what they do, how does the mind work and what does this mean for our lives.  Who are we, what should we do and how should we do it?  My study subject is often myself though not always.  I am also paying close attention to the people around me, the people I observe, the people I encounter online.  When it comes to people I know personally I am reluctant to write about them in ways that would identify them.  It feels like an infringement on their rights to privacy so I tend to write publicly about myself more than anyone else.  I have to choose between appearing to be a narcissist and compromising the privacy of people I care about.  As much intense study as I apply to myself I am also applying to others around me and particularly those I am closest to.

Freud, while he really did get the ball rolling in psychiatry and therapy, was also very influenced by his own beliefs and experiences.  Penis envy?  I mean really!  Was that really the only way he could understand or describe women feeling limited by their gender and envious of the freedoms and advantages men enjoyed?  Given his time period and his personal biases, yes it was.  I too will succumb to such errors but unlike Freud I don't expect to have any profound impact on any academic discipline so instead I just bumble along.  A frustrated academic-type scribbling away in her notebook like a delusional schizophrenic and talking out loud too.  It's probably a very good thing I stay home.


  1. Oh Shawna! Once again you make a great story out of it!
    I laughed at your ending.
    I like the Border Collie brain analogy, very me as well.
    It was a lovely relief to see this post in my feed as I was just telling myself off for spending so many posts on my brain, and feeling like people must be sick of my navel gazing. Self critic lie down! Or better yet, get lost!
    It's funny because when in the grip of a passionate thought process, it feels anything but sedentary.
    xo Jazzy Jack

    1. Thinking is not sedentary for me either, though it's something I can do when my body is refusing to move or sit up or generally cooperate. But my ability to think or concentrate can become quite impaired too and that's when I am reminded that it's a very intense and active process as well. Also, I am likely to pace, make notes, need to tell someone my latest thoughts and get feedback and that's fairly active. I believe I have said before that although I appear to do a lot of navel gazing and I do, I spend almost as much time analysing other people too. It's just not acceptable to write about it. ;-) xo


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