Monday, April 28, 2014

Left Brain Right Brain


I felt, right after Dave died, as though the left side of my brain* had gone offline and the right side had taken over almost completely. I didn't think so much in words, but in feelings. I couldn't write or read and couldn't look at my phone, a computer or a TV. I couldn't translate information from them and didn't want to. Even through the overwhelming, searing pain I was experiencing, I was also peripherally aware of this change in my brain and completely stunned by it.

I had always been left-brain dominated. I think a lot. I think through things before I do them or say them. I have a running commentary in my brain. ALL THE TIME. Sometimes the thinking will become a loop bordering on obsession and that category of thinking almost always skews negative. I can talk myself out of feeling just about anything, even happiness. I am a champion worrier. Always have been. I've never known my brain to shift over to right brain mode unless I'm drawing or singing.
But Dave's death crashed into my system so hard that it knocked everything off kilter. My left brain, even when I wasn't drawing or singing, stepped aside as my right brain took over for the first time in my life. Feeling took over. Thinking complete, coherent thoughts became nearly impossible. I could no longer talk myself into anything. If I wasn't feeling it, it didn't matter. I didn't obsess about the unknown, worry about what anyone thought or about what might happen if. I didn't "should" myself or get caught in loops of worry about anything. It felt primal.

I just felt. I felt it all. I felt his absence, my numbness and then the pain unlike anything I've felt before or since. I felt the shock, the anger, the helplessness, the sorrow. I felt loneliness and love and desperation. I felt more easily connected to other people's emotions even though I was already overwhelmed with my own.

This period didn't last long. Since then my left brain has come back online, stronger than ever. It seems now that it's back online, it has decided that its job is to protect me from more pain by isolating me from any risk. Risking and change have been so hard to tolerate, though I've made a conscious decision to tolerate them anyway.

I often feel like a hermit crab who has just crawled out of her shell and is looking for a new shell. In the meantime, I'm more vulnerable than I've ever been, just a glob of organs and nerves. Raw and unprotected. All I want to do is find another suitable shell and stay there forever, safe from more potential pain. But inside that shell is a small, dark life that I vowed (when my left brain was offline) wouldn't be my fate. I'm trying to cling to that memory I have of my right brain mode, sending me waves of reassurance that while life was terrible and brutal, it was also worth it and so very short and that if I wanted to make the rest of my life worth it, I'd have to leave my shell and be very, very vulnerable.

So, I'm trying. I'm putting myself out there and risking pain and, to be honest, more ruin and heartbreak.

I will not risk a small, dark life either. I will fight against that urge to stay safe and immobile inside a shell of safety. I will try to be aware of my conscious and subconscious efforts to avoid risk and growth and keep slowly moving outward instead of inward. It's the path of most resistance and it takes all I have to keep moving on it. And I know that I won't regret it.

*There's controversy in the science world about the accuracy of the left brain/right brain stereotypes so I'm using the terminology because I lack a better way to explain how this has felt. It may not be scientifically accurate at all.


  1. Cassie, my brain has changed too, in subtle and not so subtle ways. I think it's the brains way of protecting us and coping with the trauma we go/went through. When you put yourself back out there, you know there will be pain again. That's half the battle, knowing it will happen again. Look what you know now that you didn't when Dave was here, look how far you've come outta that shell. We all just have to keep going, and it takes as long as it takes for each of us to figure that out and do it.

  2. I will not risk a small, dark life either.


  3. My brain has changed, too. And I really need my old one back! I can NOT be assertive! And I talk too much to people because it just feels too good to unload. Today I needed to stand my ground and say "No"! and I did not. So I ended up taking an exercise class I knew I shouldn't and I got injured. I have heard that old chestnut: Make no big decisions for a year. Seems to be right.

  4. Cassie....This all describes me....I want what I used to have, but I know that I can' in my new reality, where it has been very very painful....I have put on a thick protective shell since I now know the horrible pain of loss.
    Yet because of my loss and pain I know life is so short. ..and should be lived to the fullest. I need to get out of my thick shell and risk living again...Enjoy life. .maybe even love again. ..yet that is what makes me run back to my comfortable thick shell the most. ..
    Your whole right/left brain thing is right has been the exact same with me. ..except my
    switching back to the old me has not happened. .now nearly 2 years I think where I am now is the new me....
    I agree with the post about not making any major decisions etc too soon. .you think you are thinking so clearly. ...looking back I am surprised how wrong I was. ..I always had a strong sense about myself. ..and knew me so well. this was somewhat surprising. ...
    So trusting myself again has taken some time and I am very slow in making any major decisions and changes.
    Thanks for putting into words what I could not.

  5. I friend shared this on Google+ I was moved by this article. I had a loss and the pain was mind numbing. This article may have explained why I went through some of my anguish.

  6. oooh so powerful, Cassie. I totally relate to this. Thank you. Working on overcoming fear and new change. I want to live life loudly. Trying to move through and past the fear to get there.