You would think that in times of stress our superpowers would kick in and we would be able to temporarily function brilliantly, wouldn’t you? Instead, our minds are like children watching the tense part of a movie. They want to not hear or see anything for a while.
A few years ago I was in a bad car accident that caused me to be out of action for a long time. I knew I had to wait for my bones to heal and to get back on my feet again, but I never expected that I would not be able to do arithmetic.
Three days after I came home from the hospital, I got a call from Canada Revenue telling me my taxes were being audited. (They have impeccable timing.) I explained my circumstances and the agent asked when I expected to have the “halo” brace removed from my head and neck. I gave her the same date three months hence that the doctors had given me. Being a logical type of person, she called back that very day.
I had tried several times to go over the records and find the information the tax department wanted. I would get it all out, sit down at the table, and instantly become completely incapable of rational thought. I tried to explain this to the Canada Revenue agent, but she had been trained to exhibit no empathy. She did, however, give me another month to come up with the data.
At this point I knew my mind had abandoned me, so I called an accountant friend and asked for his help. He and his wife came over and together they went over several years of my tax returns, trying to figure out the problem. It eventually turned out to be a simple error; I had accidentally claimed the same thing twice on a tax return five years previously. I could have found that, if I could have found my mind.
One of my sisters had a similar experience recently when she was unable to fill out a couple of forms. Her home was burglarized and some jewellery and a camera were stolen. The police and the insurance company immediately asked for an itemized list of the stolen items. You’d think that would be easy, but it wasn’t. My sister would get out the forms, say “I can do this,” stare at the documents for a while, then put them away again. She was incapable of recalling the items or even the jewellery boxes she had used for years. Things she valued sentimentally and financially and that she saw every day had suddenly disappeared not only from her house but also from her memory.
Last week I was finding it difficult to do some mundane tasks related to packing up my things. I was going move house in a few days and I should have been able to get more done than I did. I had some papers that needed to be filed, but it took a couple of hours to do a chore that would normally take me a few minutes. I would pick up a piece of paper and not be able to figure out which file it should go into, so I’d put it down again. Then I’d get mad at myself saying, “I can do this. I know I can.”
Ultimately, the papers got filed, and I moved house successfully. Now, though, I’m surrounded by boxes waiting to be unpacked. I think I’ll close my eyes and just wait until the scary part is over.