*CW: oblique references to intense subject matter, but without details.
The human brain – especially the ADHD brain – has a way of latching on to the most inane of details. It dutifully encodes what the original package writing was on the box of records carried into the courtroom itself. It encodes the original sticker price of the random hardcopy book purchased in a vain attempt at “distraction” from it all.
It immediately calls to mind the two right shoes accidentally brought by the Partner instead of one complete set, necessitating a last minute scramble to find a replacement pair, and it recites the same lame attempts at humor that at least he was doubly in the right instead of the wrong without missing a beat.
It recalls every minute of the three-hour wait for pizza the night before – really, does the whole of the 9th Circle of Hell have to order pizza at the same time on the same random night? – and the raiding of the hotel’s snack bar during the wait. It readily embraces the fact that cheez whiz is a thing in the Midwest and that it might actually be a dysautonomiac’s perfect food. (Four crackers with cheez whiz can literally top salt pills for raw salt content. The brain won’t soon forget that…)
The human brain can also dutifully remember all the relevant facts of the situation that brought it to Hell and where the injustices lie. It can never forget them, in fact, as even in sleep it will remember the things it’s experienced these past few months. It can remember clever lines from our counsel – though only with the help of its owner’s honed skill of taking accurate notes even while feeling thoroughly numbed out or overwhelmed by the enormity of what this state permits in ignoring their own regulations and allowing things to get this bad. It can remember the specific beaded bracelet it directed its owner to chose for the day and why it chose it, and the flavor of the Gatorade it instructed the arms to raise up to the mouth to drink before it signaled that same mouth to open up and speak.
It can remember being told its owner did a good job in her testimony afterward: that the raw anger she displayed (contained within court-appropriate voice and following proper protocols, of course) as she spit out the rights violations both in the original situation and in the posthoc cover-ups was probably more convincing than anything she specifically articulated. It can remember that it supposedly conveyed “wronged” in a tone that bald facts alone, sadly, could never hope to match, because facts don’t really matter in these situations. Appearances matter far more.
The human brain can even remember that it did actually prevail that day. (Though, it would immediately remember not to get too congratulatory about one “victory.” It remembers this is a complex situation, and there is more yet to address before all is said and done. And, sadly, it remembers from long experience that even if everything were to go “doubly right” the entire rest of the way, it would still only be addressing prior wrongs. It wouldn’t be making a dent in the larger system that sustains these kinds of wrongs with immutable indifference and laxity. The human brain can remember what it is like to know it has only put another band-aid on a gaping wound.)
The human brain can remember many things, and it can imagine and plan for so many more. It’s funny, then, that it can’t seem to be bothered to allow its owner to truly remember much of her actual testimony itself, even while it remembers the preparation and the debriefing. Oh, and her dinner.
The human brain, it turns out, is equally great at filtering out as it is at taking in. It has a mind of its own, and it wields that power with the conviction that it knows better than its owner what she is strong enough to remember and what is better for it to quietly disperse into vague impressions.
Oh, an owner might argue that her own testimony should rank a bit higher in the priority list than cold pizza, but that’s the frustrating thing about the human brain’s algorithm. Cold pizza? Frustrating, yes, but it’s logical and vaguely predictable and fits within an ordered world. The brain likes safe, predictable worlds, even when they are predictably frustrating. That can make the cut.
Testifying? Well, that requires not just reliving all the fear and horror that went into experiencing the situation originally, but adding some new on top, because “justice” is not a word the brain ever associated with the 9th Circle of Hell. Testifying is confronting the illogical, the inexplicable and the disordered. Testifying is confronting that the world isn’t safe, and the logical brain thinks it is most logical to shield its owner from that world as best it can.
The human brain is, admittedly, a bit confused as to why there isn’t a surgeon general’s warning “for those with diagnosed autonomic nervous system dysfunction only” printed on every can of cheez whiz, but it can choose to remember cheez whiz without needing to understand or, frankly care why. It can’t choose to let its owner remember her testimony without risking her caring too much – or worse, numbing to the point of not caring and risking becoming no better than those she fights against. So, rather than trust her coping skills it filters those bits right out. It files such things away in a special category called “trauma memories” for her own protection.
The human brain is the most biologically intricate piece of machinery on the planet, and all those millions of years of evolution have led it to an algorithmically optimal solution for handling trauma. Until the world becomes a much safer and saner place than it is today, the safest bet, it believes, is to offer its owner only cheez whiz for brains.
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.