The roads in my brain

I believe that the brain has (metaphorical) pathways. So repeatedly doing something will make that pathway clearer (and easier) in future, but it’s like treading a path through grass; it can fade and get all overgrown if you stop completely.

I also think that pathways can get in the way of each other. My line of work is (sort of) creative, and I’ve noticed that certain tasks can kill that creativity stone-dead. The effort of trying to find an unfamiliar building can squash the sparkly bits of my brain and turn me into someone with zero social initiative for quite some time; maybe that’s why I never do very well in job interviews.

If I’m working in a new building, I dread having to set up my workstation myself. Working out which plug goes where, installing software, asking the IT person for help, fiddling with wires… by the time I actually start work, I’ll struggle for a while to do my job. The bit of my brain that comes up with creative stuff has somehow been pushed out of the way by that small bit of logical, spatial pre-work work. Maybe it’s about my cognitive resources “tank” being emptied, but I think the pathways metaphor works better here.

At the moment, I’m learning to drive. And that’s very far outside my comfort zone. It’s the completely justified fear of being in charge of a tonne of metal, combined with the need to do things I’m very bad at (like judging distances) which makes it so scary.

I’m getting better at it, but I’ve noticed that just after a driving lesson, or when talking about driving, I’ve developed a stammer. I try to describe what I’m doing but there’s a lag between the thought and expressing it. (Possibly it’s equivalent to the stopping distance at 30mph on a clear day.)

It’s mostly mild, but it’s sometimes noticeable enough for my partner to finish a sentence for me, which I dislike because I’m worried that if I don’t keep finishing my own sentences now, I’ll lose the ability to do it in the future. Pathways again, see.

The stammer is all mixed up with my anxiety, but I don’t know if it’s a cause or an effect. My hope is that when (if?) I reach the “unconscious competence” stage of driving, it’ll disappear. Because if I had the choice between being my usual stammer-free and fluent self, or having a driving licence, there would be absolutely no contest. One is key to my identity and the other just isn’t.

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