Friday, August 15, 2014

Do You Struggle With Two Brain Syndrome?

Yes, I have two brains and I imagine so do most people with chronic illness. I call it Two Brain Syndrome. One brain knows the truth of the current severity of my chronic illnesses, understands my limitations and respects what I need to do to take care of myself. My other brain is left over from my other body, the one before chronic illness. See, this brain thinks she can still do the things she used to be able to do with ease over nine years ago.

Brain One says:
You are running back and forth to the toilet because little dudes inside your bowels have sounded the alarm to evacuate! Your abdomen feels like a heavyweight boxer's personal punching bag. And did I mention, he has spikes on his gloves? Your mid-section has bloated to an unnatural size. Sorry, you are not pregnant, it was just the alien from the movie, Space Balls, waiting to jump out of your abdomen and he left an acidic goo that is burning your lower digestive tract. How do you like that screw driver drilling into your right temple and the icepick driving itself into your eye? Oh and that clamp around your head sure looks tight. Your stomach contents are threatening to escape. George has gotten louder, brighter, smellier and more annoying. Man, your legs are shaking from so little sustenance and so much running to the toilet.  How much longer until you can take your next medication? Don't forget that the sooner you treat, the better!
Brain Two says:
Yo! You are so bored. Let's do something. You want to be productive. You want to get to this doctor's appointment. You want to have some fun. Let's drive down to visit your parents or call to reconnect with a long lost friend. Let's do this!  You are more than strong enough. You can handle anything. Let's push through! Your body will be just fine. That to-do list of nine items is completely reasonable for today. Let's go! 
Somehow I have to figure out which brain to listen to: the rational brain who knows that I am too sick to push through or the idealistic brain who thinks I can do whatever I want to. Or perhaps I should mediate a compromise between the two. But it is not that easy. Though I usually have a good gut feel about my capabilities, Brain Two often convinces me I can do so much more. The down side of thinking I can do more than I actually can is being disappointed when I hit the wall and feeling regretful the next several days as my body recovers. Sometimes, pushing through limitations is worth it, but often it creates more problems. How do those of us with Two Brain Syndrome decide how far we can push?

This past weekend, George and I pre-bought premium plus seats at iPic Theaters for the movie, The 100 Foot Journey. We had assumed my symptoms would have improved by the day the movie came around, but we assumed wrong. I was determined to get out of the house as IBS and Chronic Migraines have made life challenging these last several weeks. I was feeling so weak, but I knew all I had to do was get there and know where the closest bathroom was. George and I debated up until the minute he helped me into our SUV as to whether going was the smartest idea, but we decided to at least try. George wheeled me in. I climbed in the chair which electronically reclined to my desired position.

A pillow and a blanket was provided. Our server brought me water and brought George a delicious meal. iPic premium plus seating is made for a chronically ill gal who wants to go on a date with her man once in a blue moon. And even though I was curled in a ball with a cramping burning abdomen and an intensifying Migraine, I was glad to be on a date in a theater with George turning his head and smiling at me every so often. He later told me he enjoyed watching me enjoy the movie.

During the movie he did not know how much sicker I was feeling compared to when we first arrived and I am glad for that because even though I was really feeling rotten, George was happy.  I was happy too -- even when feeling so sick. Moments like those are a gift. And iPic premium plus seating was a perfect venue for what I was able to do--even though it was a touch expensive!

This past Tuesday, I was still feeling weak. My IBS was calmer but rumbling and my head was hurting. I had canceled my prior two physical therapy sessions and I felt like I shouldn't cancel another one. So, I ignored my gut and we went. I felt like trying to go was better than not going at all, but that leads to a familiar story.

Halfway there, my symptoms got worse, but if I took my "as needed" IBS medication which needs to be taken at the first sign of symptoms (the equivalent for triptans in Migraine treatment), I would become sleepy from the side effects and how would I be able to participate? By the time my physical therapist came to get me in the waiting area, I had already made the decision to take the IBS medication and was holding my abdomen. Brain One was saying, "This was a mistake." Brain Two was saying, "You are already here, why not try until the side effects start?" That familiar inner disagreement has led to poor outcomes in the past such as passing out, but sometimes pushing through has been successful. Conflict mediations between the two brains are something that occur daily.

As my physical therapist works with many patients with sensitized nervous systems like myself, she was very kind in telling me that she did not want me to try to push myself. Her reminder was that if I push my system when it is vulnerable, I can trigger a worse reaction and become sicker. Thus, my physical therapist sent me home with gentle guidance to not push myself again. She communicated that she understood that if I cancel any future appointment, even several in a row, it would be because I had determined it was not the best for me. No cancellation fees. No guilt trips.

George had left work early to drive me to the appointment which was an hour round trip. But, the moment we got back to the car, George said, "I am proud of you, Kelly." It was sweet that he felt proud that I made the best decision for my body even though he had been inconvenienced and my physical therapist had lost an appointment.

The mediation of my two conflicting brains will continue. It is a fine line that takes a lot of thought and discernment of when to push myself and when not to push myself. Sometimes I obsess too much about a missed appointment or I feel excessive guilt that George has gone out of his way unnecessarily. I often deny myself the reality that Brain One sees or realize that I need to extend myself compassion. (In an upcoming post on IBS, I will share a video George took of me so that I could look back later and realize how sick I was.)

Do you have what I refer to as Two Brain Syndrome? How do you decide when to push yourself and when to hold back?

[Disclaimer: "Two Brain Syndrome" is not an actual syndrome. It is something that I made up to describe my experiences. I am not a medical health professional and nothing I write should be taken as medical advice.]

Today's Happy Thought: Around six months ago, George bought me a huge red stuffed frog to make me smile. By the smell, I knew he had bought it at the supermarket and it was not a pleasant smell. But as time has gone on and the smell has been treated, myself and the dogs have found this frog to be comfy.  I have no qualms saying that I like stuffed animals. They make me smile, make great pillows and neck rests.  Hello, my name is Kelly, I am 34 years old and sleep in bed with my husband, three dogs and several stuffed animals. And I'm not ashamed! Be yourself and allow yourself to add crazy things to your "Surviving Chronic Illness/ Migriane/ Constant Headache/ IBS/ Fibromyalgia/ Anxiety/ Depression/PTSD Toolbox."  Otherwise you might miss out on the chance to cuddle with an uber-soft large red stuffed frog!


  1. Lovely,
    First, you're a trooper with much inner strength which I admire. Geo knows you so very well, Dearest; you're blessings to one another. Although the theater is expensive; it's a guaranteed pleasant change of pace once in a blue moon. Wonderful to know that the physical therapy sessions are at your control and do not cost extra when your body does not permit the trip. I simply adore you! <3 xo

    1. You are sweet hon. You are a trooper with inner strength too! Proud of you. (((Hugs)))

  2. I can so relate to this, Kelly! Thanks for sharing about your two brain experience. Love you!

    1. I really miss your writing, Jamie! Love you!

  3. Yes I have Two Brain Syndrome!!!
    and it is very hard to determine which one to listen to.
    sometimes I choose the correct one, sometimes I'm wrong.
    and sometimes I wish I had just gone for it!

    this is a lovely story. heart warming and breaking at the same time.

    love to you....may our brains somehow learn to tell us the right thing to do.