The ever-evolving state of the brain, even after it turns 40-something

Megan Duncan

learning new beats to write about is really cram-packing my mind — in a good way but it still requires some stretching of my 40-something brain.  

I am exhausted. Sitting in a booth in Mimi’s Coffeehouse, trying to keep my eyes open. 

Up late writing and then back up early to take the boys to school makes for a pretty exhausted mom. When the 16-year-old gets a car soon that will help, but then I will just be up late and back up early worrying about them.

Plus learning new beats to write about is really cram-packing my mind — in a good way but it still requires some stretching of my 40-something brain.  

I don’t think my brain was expecting anything like this. I am thinking once we hit 40 that my brain, and my bladder too, just thought we were going to ride things out the best we could from there. There were times I thought that too.

I’ve done some stuff. 

I made it through my teenage years, which got pretty sketchy once I got a car and some friends. I flipped my car into a ditch three weeks after I got my driver’s license. There was no drinking involved — just some really bad driving down a non-gravel country road.

I still remember standing on the side of road marveling at my upside down car and watching my tires spin while the radio continued blaring “Way Down Yonder on the Chattahootchie” from the ditch. It’s a weird feeling and a few of my friends broke some bones. So it was a lesson learned and now that I am older and wiser, a praise that it wasn’t worse.

Now I know if you’re going 80-miles an hour then don’t suddenly stomp on the brake for no reason. Also, maybe just don’t go 80-miles an hour on a curvy road where the posted speed limit is 55.

Truth is, there’s enough material to fill a book with many reasons I shouldn’t have made it through my teenage years, or at least gotten mugged or something.

I also survived my early 20s and that especially worrisome “Ninja Megan” stage I went through. Basically after I’d had a few too many, I became amazingly good at karate. I thought I was at least, but I’m pretty sure the moves actually resembled some fairly well-executed Paul Blart rolls.

Then there was the early marriage and motherhood stage. Those days are mostly a blur of crying babies, doubt, and marital arguments where we didn’t see eye-to-eye on nearly anything.  And a whole lot of automatically slimming pants because my baby weight has been in a vicious cycle of coming off and then coming back on since 2006.

I mean there have been some cheeseburgers and ice cream involved in various stages of that —and we won’t even talk about my dryer’s secret plot to sabotage my self-esteem— but overall it’s definitely the kids who are keeping me kind of fat.

Early motherhood, especially for me, was the hardest part of parenting. Every time one of my boys cried uncontrollably, which was a lot, I was pretty sure I was doing it all wrong.

But I would say my brain completely had enough when my parents were diagnosed with cancer now almost five years ago. 

Dad had pancreatic cancer and mom had lung cancer — discovered only months apart at late stages. With my husband and I taking care of them meanwhile trying to raise a 10-year-old and 7-year-old at home, it was a hard time. 

That said, my husband Shawn and I were both honored to be there for the people who had been there for us all those many years. 

From the mornings I would wake up to the smell of coffee and dad with his bible spread out on the kitchen table, ready to study with a young momma he knew was hungry for encouragement, to the hours my mom spent listening to me sing, read book drafts and help my first-ever attempt at telling the news when I was 8 or so — known as “The Guinea Pig Newsletter” to the three neighbors and my grandma who all got hand-written copies of it.

Dad died first and then mom died two months later. 

There are parts of you that shut down in that kind of survival mode and some of those you never really get back. When the two people who always told you everything would be ok are now turning to you for that encouragement, there’s only one thing to do.

You slide down the wall in the bathroom and allow yourself to cry for exactly one minute. Then you get up, dry up your face, comb your hair and reenter the room with composure.  

And then you stand strong by their side. 

Those two knew me better than anyone else —other than Shawn— so I can’t believe they didn’t know I was terrified but it wasn’t my turn to break. They needed me upright and ready to fight. 

Then after they each drew their last, it was my turn to collapse, and I did.

My emotions became so screwed up that I didn’t even know how to be sad for a little bit. I only knew the numbness of coming to terms with loss. 

Grief brain is a real thing, too. And it was preying on a mind that was already pretty iffy sometimes as it was. 

I was a nonexistent mom for the kids’ school life most of the year they were sick and the one following their death, but they had amazing teachers and co-workers at the time who reached out and helped me. Plus, the always steady hand of my husband, Shawn.

I can’t say I am still the same person who first sat in that doctor’s office with dad and heard the word “cancer”. I have emerged through the haze as someone else.

God uses these things, even when you don’t understand them. Even when your pointing a finger at Him and angrily asking, “WHY?”

Truth is, I still don’t know why.

But I do know that God is good and that doesn’t change so I simply let Him take over and recreate me yet again.

I was a lot softer then than I am now and I think He knew I needed that toughening. I was also lot more timid and I think He knew I needed some bravery for days to come.

So although my brain is tired right now and for a lot of reasons, I’m not giving up on this old friend (unless there’s math involved as previously discussed.) 

God has plans and He shapes through fire and those tired days of learning.

So I am here for it.

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