Think; Are

I could tell you that your thoughts are just electrical and chemical activity. I could say that your thoughts make your personality, at least in part.  This would mean that tweaks to your electrical and chemical stew would change your personality.  In theory, you can handle that.

You might say, the real me is me when I’m sober.  I don’t have a brain tumor, or Alzheimer’s, or any other kind of dementia.  And before I drink those three mimosas, I am me in the morning.

Maybe.  We have Descartes to blame.  You think, you are?  How do you know?

My grandmother has started losing details and sequence.  At a family wedding, she asked over and over again, What were we doing next? The rehearsal dinner.  What’s a rehearsal dinner? Some of the time she seems perfectly with it.  Then her brain is all blurry in the “rehearsal dinner” section.  Sometimes her confusion makes her more irritable, sometimes it makes her more grateful.  Is she really a more grateful person, or a grouchier one?  Or do all these years at the end not “count”?

Once  a minister at our church had a heart attack.  He came back from the hospital a different person: grouchy, unable to remember anyone’s names.  Which person was he?  Before or after?

After three months of recurring panic attacks, I started taking antidepressants.  I’ve always hated the idea of psychiatric medication.  I’ve exercised hard and meditated and taken supplements and talked my neuroses out, begged and bargained with God and doctors, but I was still a mess.  Unable to stop a normal train of thought like, “What if I need to get out of here?” or “What if I freak out again?”  Normal brains just rattle on past those kinds of detours.  Mine required full effort to resist them.  It was exhausting.

Nine days into the antidepressants, I noticed that when I started to worry, I couldn’t worry with the same gusto.  I could worry for the normal minute,  I just couldn’t get myself inspired to follow the same detour.  I kind of wanted to, I had the instinct to, because my brain has gotten used to doing that.  I couldn’t, though, any more than I can cry on cue.

Emotions are electrical and chemical reactions. Thoughts are electrical and chemical events.  Me as cool customer and me as sick with anxiety are different personalities, different people, even.  I thought the former was normal me.  I think on the medication I feel like myself again.  But what do I know?


I finally visited my grandmother, showed her my photos of Rome.  She asked me three different times if I had seen the pope.  She’s trying to politely inquire about my recent vacation.  But her brain is going, and she loses access to her “I just said that” file, and even the “grandchildren’s names” file, from time to time.  Mine has not been lost, so far, but it might help that we share a name (my first is her middle).

About two years ago, her memory blips and holes and loops were about the same, but she was much more frightened by it.  She showed her fear by snapping at people, insisting on the truth of her clearly zany proposition, or blaming someone else for her lost key.  Lately, that seems to have eased.  She’ll now say, “I can’t remember.  But oh, well, it’s not important.”  Usually it isn’t, really.  Who cares what year she got married?  We could look it up if we really wanted to know.

I drove home from the visit playing scenes from conflicts I’ve had with a friend.  Friend did this.  Did that.  I did this, which wasn’t good, but not nearly as bad as what Friend did.  Some of the scenes I played did not even include Friend.  I set up an ideal relationship, or a nightmare relationship, and then puzzled out how our conflict looked in contrast to ideals and nightmares.  About as productive as a Shakespearean bear baiting.

My grandma is moving out of the world where events connect logically, and you create a story for your life, and keep the events connected causally, and sort out current personalities and experiences according to your taste.

She is slowly dropping parts of her life story.  She can pick them up again for a minute, but they are too slippery for her, and they fall away again.  Events in her life are still connected causally, but with the holes, she has become more accepting of illogic.  Even her tastes seem to come and go.  While she will always like reuben sandwiches and dachshunds, her opinion of mandarin oranges varies wildly.  She may love them or hate them, depending on the moment.

Her world is so different from my world, where I will require restitution and reconciliation to heal my hurt feelings.  I will require conversation, and time, and the effort of forgiveness.  I will remember my anger, and why (to my taste) the conflict was bitter.  After being with my grandma, I wanted to say, look, why can’t I just drop things, let go, and move on?  While running all the churning mechanics of memory, I know that I can’t.