my brain has a queue now
one thing I think about a lot, every day, multiple times a day, is the headline that said some people’s brains shrink after Covid. If I hear something so acutely somatic, I will honestly never forget it. When I was younger, some relatives used to go to something they called, errrr, fatty class. I can’t tell you what the actual name is because it wasn’t Weight Watchers, it was a jarg version in a church. I’d get dragged along because I was a kid and I was happily peripheral. But one time I overheard somebody say (and please don’t click on this if you have issues with disordered eating because even though I don’t, I feel like these phrases could have single-handedly changed my relationship with food forever) a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. Urgh. it is a brain worm that still slithers through my inner monologue. I’m lucky it’s gone nowhere. The other one was little pickers wear big knickers as if the fatphobia gods only do their propaganda through rhyme. It’s funny because I have never been bigger than I am right now, never been happier with (the appearance of) my body, and never had to eat so many snacks to stay alive as per the rules of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. But whilst body is getting bigger and bigger and I’m okay with that, my mind might be doing the diametric opposite and I’m not okay with it at all.
I read the headline / Even mild COVID can cause brain shrinkage and affect mental function, new study shows / and that was it, burnt into my memory. I didn’t even click on the link. I saw many links over the space of a few weeks saying the same thing and it was like compact deja vu; burnt into my memory because it felt true, like an accusation or a grand reveal. I thought, oh, my sense of time is unreliable now. Maybe that’s the bit that got lost in the shrinkage. I thought, oh, I used to be good to go and work and think and react and have ideas from the minute I woke up to the minute I fell asleep, and now my brain has opening hours. Now, my brain has a queue. I can’t spin plates in there anymore; I can’t spin them at all, really. I pick each plate up one by one and I scrub it clean, dry it slowly, and then put it back in the cupboard, careful not to knock into anything as I handle it, clumsy and chipping many of them in the process. Once it’s put away, I’m onto the next. The plates are conversations and projects. The plates are social interactions and other responsibilities. One by one, so slowly I make my way through my to-do list. And if I’m dealing with one plate and someone starts asking me about something else, I’ll drop it and just stand there frozen lest I stand on any shards with bare beet.
Spoon theory but plates. Maybe it should have always been crockery instead of cutlery. Cutlery is too hardy. Plate theory. Just smashing all of the plates, even the new ones.
I have a lot of work to do this month and I had a lot to do last month, and the only way I’m managing to keep on top of it is to deal with one thing at a time. I used to multitask, for example I’d be working on multiple texts at one time; I’d look at emails every day; I’d let calls interrupt my writing, and have meetings about things happening months away. But now, I can’t, and I won’t. I put my to-do list in order of priority. I take the plate off the top of the pile. I start and finish the work I need to do, and then I only move onto the next one when it’s completely done. Letting the queue in my brain play out like a really strict British queue with no cutting has done my mental health wonders; I also think it is improving the quality of my work, because there is better focus, and also less anxiety distracting me. (If there is a job coming up on the list that is worrying me, I’m not allowed to worry about it because I’m not up to it on the list yet; the fear simply does not exist, haha). This method feels slower but I’m getting more done? It feels much more strict but also more creative. Like, if my brain has shrunk and I can only deal with one thing at a time, then I have to submit to that process until they figure out a way to inflate my brain. Pump through my nose, blow me up.
Unfortunately the study that reported on brain-related pathologies after COVID does not offer special brain pumps through the nose as a reversal method. The study talks about brain matter thinning out and a ‘reduction in global brain size.’ I recommend not reading it if any of my metaphors feel relevant to your life right now.
Now, a tangent:
I feel so much less like myself in this state. I don’t like it. Is state even the right word? We’re nearly at 2 years and I’m calling it a status effect like it’s going to be over soon.
We have recorded a few chatty podcast episodes lately. I edit them. And when I am scrubbing them after the meal, able to go through the conversation at my own pace, to stop and start, pause and rewind, I notice all the incredibly thoughtful things Zarina says and I kick myself for not catching them in the moment. I think, my head is smaller. The bit that got cut in the shrink operation is the ability to pay attention and react quickly to things that aren’t enemies in video games. I listen back over the podcast and even though I enjoy the way it plays out, I can tell that my head has its hands full trying to hold up my end of the bargain. There’s not enough headspace — literally — to meaningfully respond and follow Zarina’s ideas any further, to see them to their end.
Mostly I am sick in my home out of view but this is on a podcast! Thousands of people will hear me not hearing what she’s saying! The sickness and the slowness are clear, audible. My mind and my collaboration have changed. And I resent that! I have managed to completely avoid watching videos or listening to audio of myself from before. All of this annoyance makes me run towards writing, the place where no one can see me do any of the thinking until the thinking has become thought.
And I wonder — I wonder how to change the podcast recording process to make it fairer on my new slower self because it really tests the brain queue. It explodes the queue a bit. It’s someone at the front of the queue who is being demanding, changing their mind, and asking to speak to the manager, all whilst asking something of me that I can’t quite remember how to do. Yeah, I think I could prepare more before we record. Come with better notes to calm myself down. Anchors. I could pause more, think, and carry on. We never have breaks and we should. I could also edit new thoughts in afterwards — YouTubers do that all the time. I should definitely do all of these things. And actually, I could do all of this without telling anybody, I could slip my proper brain in unseen… except, I don’t know.
When I write a text, there are normally two to three drafts. A podcast is a single mess I tidy up. I never do drafts of podcasts because I worry some of the magic would be lost. Does anyone ever do multiple podcast takes and then splice a single episode together from three possible ones? And how self conscious am I to be thinking about these alternatives, when maybe it isn’t even that bad — I’m just a perfectionist who knows it could be better so it pains me. We are recording a new podcast in a few days and we have guests this time, so I think I am getting self conscious about what I need to do to make this work. Smaller brain, smaller brain. Accessibility takes so long to figure out!
‘Write a brain queue blog post’ has been on my brain queue — I mean my to-do list — for about two weeks. I enjoy thinking about these things out loud because sometimes people read them and get in touch with genuinely helpful solutions. If you have podcast recording ideas that can help stand up to brain fog, please let me know in the next few days before I record the next one D: