My friend Renee called me today out of the blue. I haven’t talked to Renee in a while though I didn’t realize how long. “How are you? Its great to hear your voice,” I said truly meaning it because if there’s one thing that can put a smile on my face it is Renee's unmistakable and very heavy Long Island drawl. “I’m good,” she said, her accent heavy as ever - a sort of plaintive east cost peninsula whine that is specific and oddly both repulsive and charming at the same time. “I’m in my wedding dress.” Oh dear, I thought to myself – she got married YEARS ago – was she having a breakdown? Had she gotten married and divorced and remarried again? “I’m playing Princess with Ava,” she said. Oh – I thought – thank god - she hasn’t lost her mind afterall. “How cute!” I exclaimed, “That’s adorable. How old is she now? Two?” “Five,” she replied (shit – am I really that out of touch?) “And it isn’t adorable. I’ve been in my wedding dress every afternoon for a month now – my daughter is VERY willful.”
I had to laugh really. The idea of my very bright, very work-oriented friend spending every afternoon of the past month reluctantly playing dress-up with her little girl was too charming. But the truth that lay just beneath the surface of her call was something else. The truth held within the thirtieth day of “let’s play pretend” for this particular woman was that she reached out in desperate need of adult conversation. The truth was that she was experiencing her first period of not working – she’s between jobs and spending more time at home than she ever has and is learning to juggle the guilt and burden of motherhood in a completely new non-working-mom kind of way. She is caught between the working moms who still have jobs and the non-working moms who never did and have their own secret society to which she is not invited. So her call was not so much about wanting to touch base or share a story about her adorable daughter or ask advice about how to avoid a thirty-first day of girly fantasy. The call was really about a deep-seated fear of a syndrome I like to call ABS – or Adult Brain Stagnation. ABS syndrome can also become APS or Adult Personality Stagnation, a nasty and often pervasive result of ABS.
What is most insidious about ABS is that it does not discriminate. This is not a syndrome unique to mothers or even to women (though non-working mothers may think they are most susceptible). It happens to anyone, male or female, who lives in a drone of day after day sameness. Certainly it has happened to me. There are times, long periods actually, when my job is stimulating and exciting and fills me with a sense of robustness. And there are other times when the seeming sameness of day after day, of the grind, is depressing. Because it isn’t like those days are slow. It isn’t as though those days are filled with empty space I could fill up if only I were more motivated. Those days are full. They just aren’t particularly intellectually stimulating.
For me, the solutions, while temporary, are often satisfying. I blog. I cook. I attempt to redesign my garden in my mind. I start a book I too often do not finish as time is always lacking and distractions are too many. For Renee, on this day, her solution was to sit in her wedding dress playing princess with her daughter while dialing her cell phone and reaching out to an old friend. Everyone has their way of dealing with ABS. And everyone gets it. The key, the hardest part of the syndrome, is to recognize it, battle it and get through to the other side before severe APS takes over.