The horror of the empty brain



It never ceases to horrify me how the aspie brain, so full and diverse and replete with information can empty itself, at any given time, without warning. I think I'm safe in saying there isn't an aspie among us without a busy brain at most times of the day. Indeed, many of our problems come about because we're trying to live life past this busy-ness.

So, how can it be, amidst all of this activity, that the brain suddenly decides there is nothing there? The files are empty, the once-packed thoroughfares are now quiet, with not even a newspaper blowing past. The multi-storey, usually packed with cars full of worries, is standing silent. The waiting time at the counter for new ideas is zero, but there is no one to serve us.

Everything is like a ghost town in there, complete with the ominous atmosphere that something bad happened and can happen again. As if, by having a blank mind, we are in more danger than before and all because we have no idea what happened.

All right, let me climb down from the fence of fancy for a moment and be clear: I'm talking about those times when you could really use your brain, when you need it to be there for you and you reach for the information and it's simply...gone.

It's not as if it never existed, you haven't entirely lost the information. It's more like a memory, a faded essence of what was once there and now cannot be found. You know the information you needed, you could describe to someone else what you need to find out, but it's an empty drawer in the filing cabinet.

It becomes one of those moments when you sit, a vacant and perplexed look on your face, like when you reach out to pick up the car keys and there's just an empty space. You know you had those keys a moment ago, you know where you put them: how can they not be there now?

In the car keys scenario, what usually happens is that you're looking at where you put them yesterday or this morning and you'll eventually find them in the other place you like to keep them, i.e. on top of the second best toilet at the other side of the house.

It's very similar with your empty brain. You left the information where you thought it would be easy to find, then were confused to discover it had completely vanished. Like the keys, what actually happened was that your brain diverted all the information to the cerebral equivalent of the second best toilet. It all still exists, you just have to find it.

This happened to me the other day, in a lesson. Not good timing and not a good experience. Without going into too much detail, I was supposed to be helping a student with something and, as I sat down to look at their work, I realised I had completely forgotten what to do. The information had vanished.

I knew the shape of the box I kept it in and I knew the corner of my brain where the box usually sat. It was not a popular box and I often avoided it, but that didn't mean it wasn't there somewhere. In this situation, where I was required to teach the student this particular thing, for money, readers, I just couldn't remember how to do it.

What was the point of me being there? This is what I thought. I felt very ashamed and sorry that I couldn't help. I also began to panic, though tried to hold that off until the end of the lesson. Instead, we worked as well as we could with me looking up real-life information from the giant brain that is the internet.

I'm sorry to say the box was still lost in my brain by the time I had to leave. I wasn't much use and left feeling very deflated. I tried not to beat myself up about it but it's very hard not to do that when the whole reason for you being there is to help people with things they can't manage.

We're re-visiting the subject again next week and I'll be prepared. This time, it was sprung on me as a surprise request and I'm sure the surprise element had a lot to do with the information suddenly being unavailable. Next week, I will be armed with real-life information, in my keen little hand, where it can't get away. I'll read it beforehand and be ready to answer questions when we go through it. I will not be beaten!

So, for anyone who has ever looked inside their brain and found a desolate and empty place, you have my sympathy. It is not a good experience and is also a confusing one, to find your previously overcrowded space looking like the movers have been.

It reminds me of the end of Hoarders, when the 1-800 Got Junk? trucks ride off into the distance, filled to the brim with dreadfulness and clutter. The houses have been emptied but are not really ready for habitation, they are merely empty of everything that over-filled them before.

That is what the temporarily empty aspie brain is like - the de-cluttering has been instantaneous and done on a massive scale, leaving sad looking rooms, with dusty floors and old-fashioned cupboards. Everything has gone, of value and of sadness, leaving only the space, ready to be filled again.

Unlike the hoarders, we can re-fill our brains in a moment, all the information rushing back in, a joyful cacophony of clutter, ready to busy our minds both asleep and awake. What would be nice, just sometimes, is to have the happy medium between the two, neither too full nor too empty, but a middle ground, with everything in its place.

No, actually, I changed my mind even as I typed that. Much as I suffered the other day, I would rather live in my chaotic thinking and have the creativity and excitement of a buzzing mind, than live with a tidy and organised one that never knew the thrill of wondering what is under a moving heap of clutter.

Creativity thrives in clutter and lives on the myriad thoughts which crowd our minds, so I must accept that I can't be creative and organised. Sometimes, the price for this is bewilderment and empty-headedness. I just wish that the timing of these moments could be better!

Amanda

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