The other day Derek and I had an interesting conversation where I tried to explain how my brain works, or in this case malfunctions. Now I am going to attempt to explain it to all of you!
The video clip above (sorry about the ad) is from WarGames and if you’re familiar with that movie, you’ll remember that scene. For the uninitiated: Essentially, the computer, Joshua, is trying to win a game that cannot be won. Currently, my brain is trying to solve a problem that can’t be solved: What will pre-surgery/the surgery/post-surgery/recovery really be like? On a smaller scale I do this all the time, and some of you may also do it occasionally. You might imagine how a conversation with your boss might go before you actually have the conversation. You might imagine doing a sick roast beef off a snowboard jump right before you launch yourself off a kicker. All very normal processes that the brain goes through to prepare us for different possibilities.
My brain is more like the computer in WarGames; it’s running through multiple scenarios at a break neck pace in an effort to get to the solution faster. This massive amount of data processing is exhausting, it has an adverse effect on other parts of my body, and it makes me feel a little crazy. In the past, I have been able to do little exercises to stop this cycle of over thinking and calm myself down. Sort of like restarting a computer, or doing a force quit on a program that’s spinning. But lately, I haven’t been able to get a handle on it.
The strangest part to me is that I’m not really thinking about the scary parts of the surgery, I’m thinking of the mundane parts. I’m fixated on the minutiae of the unknown. What will the room look like? What color will my johnnie be? Will I have my own bathroom? What will the shower look like? What will I be able to see out the window? Which arm will they put the IV into? Will I be able to sneak out of my room in the middle of the night to visit Derek? Should I paint my toenails before the surgery? There’s more but I won’t bore you with every little thought that runs through my head.
Yesterday, I went to Lahey to meet with the social worker assigned to me. I told him about the frequent looping of thoughts and how I wasn’t sure how to manage it and how I was worried about it ramping up the closer I get to surgery. Without sharing everything (I love you guys, but some stuff is private!) I will tell you one suggestion he gave me that I thought was very interesting.
One solution to this kind of ultimately unproductive thinking is a form of cognitive therapy. It seems counterintuitive, but one way to stop the cycle is by embracing it. Here’s how it works: I set aside 5-10 minutes of my day when I am pretty calm and I let my brain obsess its brains out. (This was exactly how it was described to me! Which totally cracks me up.) All of the thoughts get written down stream of consciousness style until the timer goes off. Bing! Once the time is up, I tear up the paper and say, out loud: “Stop.” If I repeat this everyday, what happens is the brain begins to realize there’s an alternative to over thinking. I decide when it starts and I decide when it stops. Stopping becomes a viable option when I feel my brain turning into the WarGames computer. If I get stuck in a loop outside my allotted 5-10 minutes, as soon as I notice, I can say: “Stop.” Eventually a new groove gets set in the brain and it stops the loop from even starting. I’m a huge proponent of cognitive therapy, and I’ve utilized other forms of it before, so I’m used to the process and I know it can work for me.
In addition to that exercise, I also met with my transplant coordinator who had another suggestion: she’s going to give me a tour of the pre-op area, the recovery area and the floor Derek and I will be on while we’re recovering. Perfect. If I see all the little details of where we’ll be, I won’t have to imagine all the different scenarios.
I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned I was going to try to be the best patient I possibly can be. Which means asking for help, and doing everything I can to make sure I am healthy and happy going into this.