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When It Feels Like Your Brain Doesn't Belong to You

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Maybe I was a war hero in a previous life — decorated with medals for actions of bravery. Maybe my soul is still burdened by past life famines, accidents or tragedies. I tell myself that it has to be something like that. Because, in this life, I often find myself perplexed by my own brain.

Since I was a young child, my amygdala has been ready to fire up at even the most innocuous of situations. A noise. A thought. Anything. All systems go. The stress and anxiety has always been bubbling just below ground level, ready to surge at a moment’s notice. It was an unrelenting stomach ache as I sat in the middle of a middle school classroom — eyes on the exit in case I needed to make a quick escape. It was sobbing in my room over a minor insult or slight. It was feeling an ache in my body and being incapable of thinking of anything else. The aches become amplified and I begin to panic. It was a horrific thought or image that implanted in my brain as my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) manifested — the shock and horror making it impossible to think of anything else — completely debilitating. My focus is extremely powerful, but the content can be toxic at times.

Yet, I have not been in war. I have not experienced unbearable trauma. I have faced very difficult situations, some minor trauma, but in the same sense that most of us have. In times when I’m struggling, I get so very angry. Whose brain is this? The firing and wiring don’t align with my life experiences.

Now I don’t mean to sound completely sinister. Me and my brain have some great days. I have many wonderful, happy, loving, elated periods in my days and in my life. When I look at my life, I honestly wonder how the hell I ever even got so lucky.

But, even still, anxiety is an absolute sneak — lurking in rabbit holes just waiting to pop up at the most inopportune times. Sometimes I can co-exist peacefully with it. I am able to recognize it for what it is and move on with my day. And then, sometimes, I feel like I am completely losing control. My heart begins to race, I begin to shake and my thoughts begin to spiral. Many times the chain reaction is set off by an invisible catalyst. A part of my brain begins working very hard to protect me from a non-existent threat.

For the past nearly decade, I have been either pregnant or breastfeeding. During this time, most of my hormones have been balanced out and I had been feeling very in control. However, after weaning Simon after three and a half years, my hormones have begun courting my anxiety again. The surges of cortisol. The jumpy emotions. There is such a strong link between hormones and well-being and our medical field has failed us thus far. Women struggle in silence as they are hijacked by their own hormones. We need to do better to understand the link between women’s health issues and mental health.

So, no I have not been in war. But, this is a battle itself. Genetics. Hormones. Situational stressors. Yes, there are times when I seriously fear that I will lose — that my temporary feelings of defeat will become permanent. But, then I look around me and I see my other comrades fighting similar battles. I look into the faces of my children, including one whose brain is like mine, and know that I have it in me. I realize that even on my most anxious days, I am blessed beyond compare.

My life experience with anxiety and OCD has gifted me with so much empathy for other people. I know that many people walk around with invisible wounds and demons. The people who we think have it all together fight their own battles behind closed doors. My sensitive nature has enhanced my creative writing ability and inspires me to reach out to other people and foster connection. I have realized that there is beauty in the struggle. And most importantly, I’ve learned you have to enjoy every good moment that you have.

This is my brain and this is my life — and I’m my own kind of hero.

Follow this journey on Mom in the Middle.

Getty image via Tatyana Antusenok

Originally published: May 20, 2020
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