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I’ve reached middle age now, and it’s clear to me that my brain is not the same one I had as a younger person.
This one tends to forget and fog up and take longer to recall things.
I suppose my anger about this was really a form of grief—sadness masked as frustration over the loss of what I once considered a sharply attuned ally.
But all is as it should be. I don’t have the brain of a 20-year-old because I’m not a 20-year-old. Instead of tromping around the house (trying to remember what I was doing in the first place) saying, “I sure my miss brain, it was a good one,” I am changing that chastising dialogue to something more akin to gratitude.
Thank you differently wired, middle-aged brain for still being so capable. Instead of lamenting the mental agility I once had, I choose to focus gratitude on the mental agility I now have. It’s not the same, it works a little differently, and that’s okay.
To my younger brain: thank you, with the deepest gratitude. You learned things so quickly. Your knowledge base was extensive—your memory sharp as a tack. I especially loved your aptitude with words and vocabulary; it always did give us a leg up in games of Scrabble, and writing term papers was a breeze. You weren’t so skilled at math but that’s okay because we live in a world of digital convenience and use calculators for everything anyway. Because of you I never felt like an ignoramus, even though (of my own accord entirely) I have done plenty of ignoramus-esque things that made me feel stupid, but that wasn’t your fault. Your intellectual aptitude was never in question. We had a good run and the memories of you as a fast, sharp, quick-witted brain will always be with me.
To my current brain: I’m still getting to know you, but I love you. I’ve decided to stop chastising you for your forgetfulness and your inability to recall words as quickly as I’d like. Your knowledge base is still vast even if you have a little more trouble remembering all the things you know. Maybe that makes us look a little dull sometimes, but that’s okay; we know what we’re about and you don’t have anything to prove.
The fact that to get anything accomplished you make me write everything down was frustrating for a bit, but I now accept it without any unkind judgment to you. Younger brain didn’t need to write anything down no matter how busy life got, and while that sure was a neat trick, I can’t expect you to perform that amazing feat any more than you should expect me to down five tequila shots and then waltz into work the next day unfazed. Things change.
And you know what? It’s okay that I have to come back into the house three times when I’m trying to leave because you keep forgetting things and then keep forgetting what we came back for. It’s not the end of the world. I’m sorry I’ve yelled at you so much for this. Actually, this little trick of yours has taught me to be much more organized. I now give myself a little extra time and I keep a basket by the door to collect the things I will need to take with me on my next foray into the world. I rather like this new habit you’ve created out of necessity. See? You’re still clever.
There are new things to ponder at this stage in life, and though I don’t take you out to late-night gatherings for lengthy intellectual discussions anymore, I have discovered my true community and we have wonderful conversations and lots of laughs. These exchanges are more meaningful at this stage of life because you have taught me to accept people just as they are.
You have deeper grooves of empathy and compassion than younger brain did, and it’s lovely how you allow me to parlay those neural pathways into meaningful exchanges with other humans—I promise to do better to use those pathways when talking to you.
You are helping me learn a new language, and while I give you the time for this intellectual stimulation you so crave, I never stopped to thank you for giving me the ability to do it. Merci à toi!
You know what else is pretty cool about you? Your security. We can travel to new places and explore new cultures and you have collected so much experience and confidence about managing your way in the world that we can do this with a sense of well-being. Young brain got pretty nervous about unpredictable situations, not trusting itself to handle whatever might come up (no judgment young brain—that was natural). But your maturity and experience allows me to relax because I know you have the ability to manage whatever happens.
If you take a little longer to pull up a word or name or if you come into a room then stand there dumbfounded about why you’re there, I will no longer rudely refer to your process as “mental pause.” Menopause sure has been tough on your chemistry but that is not your fault, and you are doing such an amazing job navigating those changes. I’m sorry for directing frustration at you instead of being more compassionate about what you were going through.
I promise to never again compare you to the young brain I once had because that is completely unfair. You shouldn’t be expected to function exactly the way 20-year-old brain did any more than a child is expected to know the things a 30-year-old knows. You’re actually pretty damn cool, middle-age brain, and you haven’t been getting enough credit for that. Thank you. I promise to cherish and respect who you are now and every version of you that comes later.