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Is My Brain Full...or is it Empty?

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

I always thought the biggest challenge of being a mom was going to be time management.

How in the world would I get everything done? How would I put in my hours at work, do the grocery shopping, pitch in with the laundry and cleaning, cook the meals, pack the lunches, maintain some relationships AND care for children full time?

And there's some truth to that. While having a baby was exhausting and having a baby AND a toddler was even more exhausting...it was nothing compared to having a toddler and a preschooler. I find myself constantly behind on everything. There's always a stack of laundry, always dishes to be washed, always floors to be swept and rooms to clean. Always books to be read, boo-boos to kiss, kids to put to bed, kids to hug, kids to blow bubbles with.

I mean I didn't exactly have a lot of free time BEFORE I had kids. How in the world would I expect to have any with two of them running around?

That's not to say I don't love them dearly or thank God 'round the clock for blessing us with them.

But lately, I've noticed it's not the time management "thing" that gets to me. It's my brain.

I work a creative job. I'm a writer, an educator. It's my job to come up with something new and interesting to say each and every day. To develop new ways to introduce old concepts in the hopes that someone who never "got it" before will "get it" now.

This means my brain is supposed to be going constantly. And it does. My, how it does.

What I'm finding though is that instead of traveling down a path...it seems to go more in circles these days.

For example: I have a stack of 9 marketing books sitting on top of my television. They've been stacked there for...five, maybe six weeks. Each and everyone of them contains things that interest me, that will make me think, that will work my brain. Yet I can't bring myself to pick any of them up.

I hop online sometimes after hours and I find I spend more time refreshing Twitter and looking at who is on GTalk so I can chat for a bit. Often, I'll head off to read through some blogs or look up some topic, but I find myself getting bored and my mind wandering off before I get very far.

So all this leads me to wonder...is my brain "full" or is it now "empty."

Have I shoved it with so much information and spent so much time thinking and contemplating that it's begging for me for a rest? Or, have I spent so much time doing the same things over and over and getting used to 140 character sound bites that I can no longer absorb complex thoughts? In other words, is my brain is sadly empty.

I remember back before I had kids...reading about the women who didn't want to have kids and stay home because "I need mental stimulation..." or some load like that. I sometimes find myself wondering how I can get LESS mental stimulation.

Nonetheless, it all leaves me wondering... what's going on with my head? Am I giving my brain too much stimulation and need to chill out a bit? Cut out what little TV I watch? Turn the radio off in the car? STOP trying to read books? Just chill?

Or, is my brain running in circles because it's desperate for a DIFFERENT kind of stimulation? Meaning I should be pulling out some of those old "make you think" books I used to love? I read Stephen Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage" about a month ago and that seemed to give my brain a brief respite. I don't know if it's because it was a different topic, or because it really was steeped with a lot of "make you think" type content.

I know I'm not the only one of us who has run into this. So please, dear readers...share with me your insight. When your brain gets into this "running in circles" mode and you find yourself being decidedly unproductive...what works best to get the gears turning again?


  1. Blogger JudyBright | 7:27 PM |  

    At least I'm not alone. I wonder sometimes if the oppressive men of the past did women a favor by not letting them get too much book learnin' since all that was expected of them was having and raising babies. Of course I reject that philosophy, but I wish sometimes I didn't have all these thoughts running through my head with no time to act on them, but being a diaper changing machine that gets no sleep. Yes, she's still teething, getting up once or twice a night.

    I have this sort of disoriented feeling of not knowing if I'm tired or not since my sleep pattern is so messed up. You know sometimes you feel tired because you slept too much and that feels similar to when you actually need more sleep? I think I need more sleep but wonder if I need to just go for a walk.

    I don't get enough sleep yet I have to intentionally focus on my breathing to get my brain to quit working and relax into sleep.

    Anyways, I was reminded of this blog post when I read your post:


    Check out this thought by George Matheson, a blind 19th c. Scottish Presbyterian minister:

    What a strange cure for mental weariness…I should have expected an invitation to mental rest….The weariness of the body is cured by slumber, but the weariness of the mind can be cured only by stimulus.

    He said this as he was meditating on Hebrews 12:3 (Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart). He suggests that an active meditational life on the work of Jesus will help promote rest and protect from weariness.

  2. Blogger JudyBright | 7:28 PM |  

    I hear visiting with friends helps too ;P

  3. Anonymous Yvie | 8:18 PM |  

    My thoughts exactly! I always feel that I have a lot of chores piled up in the corner and I can't seem to finish them in a day. Imagine having to look after your kids, work, try to do all the laundry---that's a lot of work!

    What I do is, when I feel unproductive and tired. I take a break for 2 days or so. It would be hard but I ask my relatives to watch the kids for the meantime while I rest. So that means, no thoughts about the family, my job or my other problems. You need to take a break to relax your mind if you say that it might be overstimulated.

    I hope this helps.


  4. Blogger brightsong | 11:40 PM |  

    Hi there

    I chanced upon your blog through a friend's blog. Could really understand your thoughts on this post. I have a toddler and preschooler myself while my elderly mum-in-law lives with us. I now work parttime so I could be there for my kids in their first years. I also have communications and public relations books that I'm interested but yet to read. I frequent my facebook account, email or blog just so to update with my friends and contacts, or there doesn't seem to be any other method to be in touch with people I used to work with or know.

    As a result, I constantly experience "mind blocks"; sometimes I feel numbed by my brain, sometimes I just feel lost or angry with myself.

    As of today, I haven't really found a way to redeem myself from such feelings. I just hope I may feel different as my kids grow a little older and perhaps I can return to how I used to work my brain. :)

  5. Anonymous Jillian Frank | 3:18 AM |  

    Another mom who feels my pain. I've felt the same kind of need for mental stimulation (or is it mental vegging? I still can't tell) since my son was born last May. I haven't been able to figure it out yet, but I blame that on the fact that I still can't find time to use the bathroom by myself, let alone read. What has helped in the past is making a conscious effort to rest (like Yvie said -taking a weekend off to specifically do nothing but recharge) and making a daily (or every other day) commitment to some sort of exercise (jogging, running, yoga, etc.).

    Good luck! Let us know what ends up working.

  6. Blogger Michelle | 7:32 AM |  

    Isaish 40:31 "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." I find that just spending time in prayer and reading the Word takes me from that tired, I never get anything done feeling, to a feeling of contentment and peace. I feel the same way after church, that is why Sunday is my favorite day!

  7. Anonymous Marica | 2:13 PM |  

    I definitely feel that after I take a Yoga class at the gym, or video at home, that I do feel renewed/refreshed/revitalized. If you are at home you have to do Yoga without the kids :)

  8. Anonymous Annie | 2:30 PM |  

    Writing helps me to clear my brain and put my thoughts in order, so I started blogging about parenting related stuff (http://phdinparenting.wordpress.com). If I can at least keep the parenting part of my head in order, then maybe there will be some room for other stuff!

  9. Blogger Chris | 11:18 AM |  

    Hi, Jennifer--Well, I am sure glad to hear that you're human, too! My kids are two and five now and I have been where you're at for a while now, wondering what in the world is wrong with me. It seems like I can't accomplish anything anymore or even complete a thought. It's incredibly frustrating.

    I have been reading a lot lately about ADD. I might have it, my husband almost certainly does, and the impetus for the research is my daughter, who probably has "it" as well (we're having her evaluated in July). In my reading, I've learned that a lot of people have what's described as "pseudo-ADD," largely due to our fast-paced, demanding lifestyles that are so full of distractions. I don't know if I have ADD or pseudo-ADD, but I have found that by implementing some of the time and organization management techniques recommended for people with ADD, I've begun to regain some semblance of sanity. My favorite book so far is "ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life". I also just picked up "Women with ADD" and while I haven't read it yet, it comes highly recommended. In addition to all this ADD reading (which I often do while my toddler nurses to sleep at night), I am also immersing myself in the study of Evolution Theology--something just for me and my spirit. Mostly, I have just cut WAY back on outside commitments. I have come to accept that less is more, in so many ways. I maintain my highest value relationships, but let the ones that aren't as rewarding slide.

    Also, I try to take Sundays off. On Saturdays, I make sure we have plenty of leftovers, so I don't have to cook (or feel guilty about eating out, again), then Sunday morning, I take off by myself. Hubby gets a few hours of Daddy-time with the kids and I have a few hours to THINK or read or walk (without having to worry about keeping a child out of the street) or do whatever my brain and body needs. It's not enough and I don't get to take off every week, but "Mom's Morning Off" is always on the calendar.

  10. Blogger Milk Donor Mama | 5:41 AM |  

    My brain is always "on" too. I find it impossible to just sit. When Mike and I started dating 10 years ago, he would get mad at me for crocheting while we'd watch a movie. He got used to it. I can't just sit on the bus, I read or crochet. Heck, even at work while I pump, I am reading, making grocery lists, clipping coupons, calling my parents, or crocheting (obviously I do hands free pumping thanks to KellyMom, with rubberbands not the expensive bras). I have projects and ideas piled up (at home), along with about 20 library books to read (I read about 5-7 books a week, all nonfiction).

    My explanation for myself is a history of depression and anxiety disorder. I was diagnosed 6 years ago. Medications did more harm than good for me. I did some counseling while in grad school but am not currently in treatment because my condition now is fine.

    Working outside the home full-time and having a house/yard, 2 cats, a toddler and husband plus all of our family living far away... is always generating things to do and guilt about not doing every last one of them.

    One thing that has helped me is a nightly footrub. Mike rubs my feet almost every night, even for just 5 minutes. I have had a bone removed from each foot and have some serious foot problems, and the foot rub relaxes the tendons in the arch of my foot that give me the most pain. This physical relaxation also helps me mentally relax before I go to bed. Maybe you can try this or something similar at your time of the day when you start to feel overwhelmed?

  11. Anonymous Anonymous | 5:45 PM |  

    I understand this 110%!! I have 3 little ones. I find that being alone outside gardening is fantastic. You can focus on one little spot at a time, listen to the wind blow, the wind chimes, the birds, whatever. It does wonders!

  12. Anonymous Annie | 7:42 AM |  

    I ran across this article at work today and it seems appropriate given your post and your day job.

    Is Google making us stupid?

  13. Anonymous Anonymous | 7:09 PM |  

    I know exactly what you are talking about...my mind feeling numb yet full of "stuff" at the same time. I don't think we give mothers enough credit with dealing with sleep deprivation (a killer), constant care of others - the physical, psychological, emotional needs of babies and kids - all while trying to at least sometimes care for ourselves! (Husbands are in there too somewhere but hopefully can fend for themselves at least some of the time!)

    I think we live in an age of more anxieties and more expectations of us as mothers. We can do it all but now are expected to do it all. Is that really fair to us or the children we are trying to raise?
    I work part-time - one day a week, usually Saturday - as an RN so my "time off" is spent taking care of others - again. I feel very drained. (We have a 6, 4, and 2 year old.)
    Time away is key for sanity and even beginning to remember who I was pre-kids! Exercise truly has helped me too...treadmill time in the basement is my time alone.
    My kids are now finally sleeping better and so am I, but I don't think you ever fully recover from all those lost hours of sleep! Best of luck and hang in there...

  14. Anonymous Sarah | 8:11 PM |  

    My experience with the "full/empty" paradox is similar. After my first daughter was born, I spent every spare moment trying to "stimulate" my brain. I felt grossly disconnected from the rest of the world, yet could not figure out how staying at home with one child could make me so busy all the time.

    Now that I have two daughters (ages 18 months and soon to be 4), and I live in an intentional community where I also work a full-time job, I have given my evenings over to internet-surfing, and have revived my habit from college (usually after late nights at the bar) of seeing what kind of weird faces I can make in the mirror for about half an hour as I'm getting ready for bed. I'm allowing myself to just stare at the wall again, just lay on the couch, just sit and watch Disney movies with my three-year-old while my toddler naps.

    My brain is always "on" too...in fact, I even had insomnia as a little girl because I could never quite shut it off. But there comes a point when every mother must indulge in her right to not think. To just let her brain wander. For me it's like meditation, but without all the formal sitting still...I just lounge about, and acknowledge my thoughts, while trying to release any attachment or guilt that I might have about those thoughts.

    When it's 11:00 at night and my mind is racing about a deadline at work, and the dishes haven't been done, and my kids just finally fell asleep, and I haven't showered in a week, and my husband is feeling frisky...that's the perfect time to exercise this right to be un-stimulated. My mother used to call my generation (that would be people who are soon to be 30) the MTV generation because we were so used to the constant change of scenery presented by music videos and the like. Well this is my rebellion against that. I am allowed to stare at the cobwebs on my ceiling, the dust falling from the ceiling fan blades, the toys scattered across the floor, the computer screen glowing across the room, the piles and piles of paperwork to go through, and I can say "not now, I'll talk with you later" to ALL of it!

    I just started giving over to this impulse about a month ago, and it's been blissful. The key is to ward off guilt, and to remember that some day your kids will have grown up and all this will be but a distant memory.

    Thanks for your blog, by the way. This is the first time I've read it, and I will be back!

  15. Anonymous Anonymous | 11:50 AM |  

    Oh my God, Thank everyone for having this problem. I was beginning to think I was alone, and was about to become depressed, well not really, but kind of. Let me explain, I am an upbeat person, and yesterday I was online trying to figure out what the heck is wrong with me. I googled fuzzy thinking, and I found out that I was crazy. I have four children, and an adult child in college, 22yo daughter, 11 yo autistic son, 4 yo son, 3 yo daughter, and a 1 yo son. I pretty much figured out I was nuts, but not clinically diagnosed, so when I tried to find out what was really wrong, I became upset to find out that there was no new thing that I could do to get my brain out of this fog, because I found out that I was just crazy. I decided that I would become depressed by this new discovery, then I just couldnt do it, I am naturally upbeat. But before my last child I was really a sharp individual and now I do things that I would have frowned upon before. I find pleasure in doing little things that dont require much brain power. Normally I read lots of books I love my intellectual side, but I dont know where that side is. It vanished, I want it to come back, but I feel as though I have developed some sort of ADD in a bad way. My brain is always going but, then it gets into a loop pattern, or bounces around from one idea to the next, interrupted by jumping toddlers that are hungry for snacks, and thirsty for juice, I never get to finish a thought, I cant even go to the bathroom by myself, or have a nice uninterrupted bubble bath, oh that would be so nice, alone with my thoughts, but then that scares me because I feel if I am alone my brain will still jump around or play dead. Can anyone tell me if it gets better or do you just learn to live with this new malfunctioning brain, well it can still sing barney songs at least.

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