I know way more about my brain than most people know about theirs because my brain is the key to what’s wrong with me. My life’s work is coping with it. I am obligated to learn as much about my brain as I can. I have to pay attention to detail. I study my thoughts, actions, and behavior to live with minimal suffering. My brain is what I study.
My brain is the reason I’m humble. I’m not better than anyone else. I am significantly weaker than most people, and sometimes that slaps my ego in the face. Humiliation becomes humility.
There are a number of ways in which my brain humbles me. If I measure myself and my abilities against an imaginary “average” person, I come up short. No such person exists, by the way. We make that person up to compare ourselves and determine our own worth by comparison. Right now, I can plainly recognize that. But the next time I’m put in a position that makes me feel weak, small, childlike, vulnerable, or less-than, my first instinct will be to measure myself by unrealistic standards and berate myself for failing to meet them.
I am aware of how wrong I can be while being sure I’m right.
You can talk with a person who thinks they’re aware of their own brain’s shortcomings. This person may talk about how first-person accounts of events, given as evidence in trials, are hogwash. They may talk about how memory changes over time. Then, you can tell them something true that they misremember, and they will insist that they are right, that they know they’re right, and they remember it clear as day. If there’s a solid memory of something, almost everyone will believe their own memories over someone else’s
I don’t have that privilege. I am wrong all the time, and cannot trust my memory, regardless of how true something feels. For a few years, I would even confuse my memories with my dreams. Now, I have flat-out false memories that are crystal clear, and I am positive that they happened. That’s the natural reaction for us humans. But when someone else tells me I’m wrong about something, I am forced to admit that I can never be sure, and more often than not, I have to take the word of the other person and incorporate the new, correct information into my reality, discarding my incorrect memory.
I’m sure many of you already see the problem here: I can’t know for sure if the other person is correct, either. This makes it easy for people to accidentally gaslight me. I may be correct, be told I’m incorrect, and then believe my brain is lying to me and the other person knows what’s real. Because I’m the only person in the equation, who is (forced to be) self-aware enough to recognize that my memory is faulty, my memory will always lose the argument, regardless of who is right. I can’t even fault anyone for this. I know what being sure of something feels like. This is another example of healthy, neurotypical privilege; believing you are right about something with absolute certainty.
My brain also limits my practical skills, like running errands.
My brain’s limitations make something as normal and boring as going to the store a high-stakes event. I hate stores. Overstimulation is dramatically negative for me. It’s not fun. Grocery stores and big-box stores have fluorescent lighting, rows and rows of endless information to ingest and lots of people threatening my personal space. I walk out of a grocery store with less than half the mental capacity I walked in with, and I don’t mean just emotionally. I’m also unable to process some information and complete ordinary tasks, even if they’re simple (like making coffee). I tremble and have jerking motions in my body. It’s a lot to deal with. Being actively respectful of this limitation of mine humbles me. On some days, I tell my partner that I’m not strong enough to go to the store, and man, that hurts my ego. Most people take something so simple for granted, leaving me humiliated by my limitations when I compare them to an imaginary average person. I feel weak, or childlike, or vulnerable. I feel like I cannot protect myself. Sometimes I thought-spiral when I’m confronted with these feelings. Then there’s the double-edged sword of thought spirals. It’s easy to feel sorry for myself, but it hurts like hell.
Knowing my brain well comes with the price and privilege of understanding how fragile a person’s understanding of the world is. Most people “know” that they’re right and take simple tasks for granted, often even going on autopilot to complete them. But each of these people could be thrown off of reality without knowing it. False memories are a thing.
If you never know you’re wrong, you feel pretty good about yourself. If you can move easily through the world, you feel even better. I’m not someone to be pitied: not at all. I still love my life. But I am humbled by my knowledge of my limitations and the ways in which my brain functions. Humiliation conquers me during episodes and thought spirals, but when I’m steady, I’m left with humility, not humiliation. I am grateful that I know how small and fragile I am compared to a neurotypical person. I can see my place in the universe; I know I am impossibly tiny, just like you. Just like the earth. Just like the Milky Way.
Again, I am not someone to be pitied. I am incredibly grateful for my life, including my disorders. I even had one phenomenally positive change in my brain because of a seizure. That was an unexpected but greatly appreciated gift. I love my house, my husband, my stepson, my parents, my family, and my cat. I love that I’ve never gone hungry. I love that sometimes, in mindful moments, I can completely connect to the present. I love my life.
I am often humiliated, through no fault of my own. I hate it. But sometimes I am in a healthy place, and I have the forced gift of humility. It allows me to let the people around me be right, which makes them feel good. I am no better and no worse than any other human, and I don’t look down on many people. We are all completely controlled by the chemicals and electricity bouncing around the insides of our heads.
My brain forces me into humility during healthy times, but shame during episodes. The tasks I can’t complete leave me asking for help, and there is no more humble position than asking someone for help. Situations I can’t handle mean I am relying on someone else to keep me safe. Feeling childlike without being humiliated is something I still have to work on, and I’m not very good at it. But if I can breathe and let go of my terror and humiliation, I can (sometimes) just be a person who someone is helping. Whether they’re providing a correct memory or pulling me out of the way of a car, I always know I am not as able as they are, and I hope I can someday consistently turn that shame into humility. I have work to do. The easiest path for me is letting go of all attempts at control of the situation and just flow where life takes me. Life and my brain make my world. I am humbled daily by that knowledge.