My Brain Slapped Me and Look, It Was For the Best

Note: I actually wrote this a couple of months ago and then chickened out of posting it. I’ve now found myself in a damn-near identical head space so it seemed like the time to suck it up, fortify, and get it out there.

It’s sometimes hard to tell a linear story when a number of different factors come together, but I’ll do my best to make sense of this.

  • It’s winter. I don’t do well in winter. Seasonal Affective Disorder makes my brain feel like it is shrinking, and it’s too small for thoughts. I can’t concentrate or focus or move well. It’s too dark. It’s too cold. I struggle.
  • I’m on immunosuppressive therapy. I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s entirely possible it’s causing some fatigue issues since it’s actual fucking cancer medication and I have definitely had the nausea reaction and I am definitely immunosuppressed (Do. Not. Ask. Unless you know me very well).
  • I’m overscheduled. As a person who is not fully employed and who juggles multiple contracts and responsibilities, I find it hard to say no to projects, since it is statistically very likely that sooner or later I will have no work at all.
  • I have Crohn’s Disease. It’s a progressive autoimmune disease and it affects my ability to absorb and use nutrients from food. It also means I’m in pain a lot of the time, in spite of my helpful nerve blockers.
  • I have hypermobility syndrome/EDS, which means that I have to work out a lot or it hurts to move, and sometimes I work out a lot and it hurts to move anyway, or hurts to move in a different way.
  • I have a uterus, and it’s a fucking bastard.

It turned into a bit of a perfect storm. A bunch of deadlines appeared for a project. The project turned out to be much larger and more complex than I thought it would be. I got very stressed. My hormones started singing the song of their people, and I spent most of the weekend feeling like my abdominal cavity was (a) swollen, (b) on fire and (c) tearing slightly (I can’t swear to the swelling but the rest of it is not literally true). Pain is exhausting.

I had so much work to do.

I kept trying to work.

I kept failing to get work done. I was so tired. I was in pain. I couldn’t think through the fog. I kept feeling like more and more of a failure.

And yet.

I kept trying to work. I would swear, set the work aside, and then try to write, and this wasn’t much better, only now I was failing at writing, which feels much, much worse than failing at anything else.

The pain was bad. The painkillers made me fuzzy – and didn’t really touch the pain.

Kept trying.

Kept failing.

From Saturday, through to Wednesday. I spent a lot of Wednesday running errands. When I added it up, I’d spent more than an hour in the car, and I had gone for a run (I hadn’t finished the training session as prescribed, but since I did run about 5.5km, I figured it wasn’t a complete wash), and I’d gotten a blood test, and I’d picked up Amos from his overnight test-playdate.

I sat down thinking “no, I really, really need to get some work done.”

Tried again.

I just couldn’t think. It felt like my head was tight. I felt feverish. I felt pressure at the corner of my eyes. Everything just started to feel like it was at the end of a tunnel. My limbs felt heavy. My mouth wouldn’t move when I tried to speak.

Hey, if you’re an autistic person reading this, and you think this sounds like a mild shutdown? Yeah, that’s what I think too.

I lay on the couch, barely able to move, tears leaking out of my eyes. I had enough dexterity to send two and three-word messages to Husband and my mental health buddy. Eventually I managed to get myself up. I put Amos outside, since he hadn’t been out for a while.

I staggered to bed. Stripped my clothes off.

Slept for about ten hours (with some interruptions).

I got to Thursday, and I managed to get to a psych appointment, where it turns out I’m actually really, really upset about the fact that I have to work out all the time and I have to drive all the time and I have so much to do and I am so tired and in so much pain and why won’t it stop, why, why, why.

Here’s the deal: I have not adjusted to the fact that I can’t do as much as everyone else. I still castigate myself for being incompetent or lazy or irresponsible when I can’t focus. I still feel like a failure when I get to the end of the day and haven’t checked off everything on my to-do list.

I haven’t worked out how to live with the new normal, and guys, that’s hard. It’s so much harder than I thought it was going to be. I didn’t really expect there would be a new normal. I didn’t realise I’ve been driving myself so hard for so long. I thought I was just skating by on the bare minimum and wasting time, and it turns out that, when objective people look at my life and my schedule, that’s not the case. My “wasting time” is what happens when my over-worked brain stops being able to focus.

I have a few friends who don’t have a way to measure a normal work ethic, a normal way to handle the curve balls that life throws at you; and it turns out I’m more like these lovely, overworked, hardarse people than I thought.

My brain has told me to stop. To learn to be kind to myself. To understand that spending hours working out is a priority, and that sleeping and relaxing is a priority, and that work has to take a hit, and yes, I’m privileged that Husband can keep the wolf from the door and I can afford to not work all the time.

This is my reality. This is reality for a lot of people, and most of them don’t have the advantages I do.

But if you can, be kind to yourself, and don’t wait for your brain to slap you, because it did not pull any punches.

Published by Doctor Fancy Pants

The short version: "I write stories and work out a lot. Marine biologist by training. She/her/Dr." The long version: Kate blogs on just about anything she gets interested in, and when she gets interested in things, it's an intense and overwhelming experience! She was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 36, three years after handing in the thesis and discovering that a sudden lack of routine meant that her "absent minded scientist" persona went into overdrive. This diagnosis turned out not to be a surprise to anyone who had spoken to her for more than three minutes (hindsight, eh?). The autism diagnosis was a bit sneakier. So Kate blogs a lot on neurodivergence, but she has also had a long and strange medical journey, resulting in a diagnosis of Crohn's disease (now in remission: YAAAY!), visceral hyperalgesia (which is when your intestines hurt for no good reason) and hypermobility syndrome (aka hypermobile type Ehler's Danlos). She blogs on the management of chronic pain, on mental health, and on the challenges of working out so that her muscles can support her bendy joints. She also blogs on politics, feminism, various scattered opinions, how nice it is to sleep on boats, why she likes airplanes, and yeah, look, whatever turns up is fair game. Kate is an Australian marine biologist based out of Melbourne, with a PhD in genetics. Mostly she works on taxonomy and molecular ecology of feather stars and brittle stars, identifying and describing the myriad sneaky species that pop up as soon as she looks at the DNA. She lives in a rainforest with a rottweiler called Amos, a ragdoll cat (Ollivander) and a monstrously affection tabby moggy named Ridcully. What about that fabulous avatar? What a fabulous avatar you have! The delightful RachaelW drew my cartoon Nanowrimo alter-ego, Captain Kate of the good ship Apostrophe. You can find her on Twitter @RachaelW_Art and on

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