This is one of the harder days, even when it’s actually a good day. It’s a good day because it’s a weekend, it’s warming up outside, our family went out for a brunch at my favorite breakfast place, and my older son got to play with several of his friends, including one who has moved out of state but was visiting. It’s a bad day because of the cloudiness – in my head.

These images were taken just outside Las Vegas in February 2008. I thought of them because, in many ways, they visually represent the way my brain feels during these times.

These images were taken just outside Las Vegas in February 2008. I thought of them because, in many ways, they visually represent the way my brain feels during these times. (You can click to embiggen them.)

My husband asks me what’s wrong and I just start crying because my brain is so clouded and scattered that I actually don’t even know how to explain what’s wrong. What’s wrong is that I have all these little tasks I need to do, little organizing things that actually shouldn’t be that difficult but which require holding information in my head at one time, an ongoing kind of multi-tasking. And that makes the scatteredness even more scattered. And then I try to start one task, but in order to do it, I need to have already done another task. And so I back up to do that one, and that one is connected to another. And I try to explain what I need, but I can’t come up with the words. I need a card reader. So I can upload the photos from our trip. So I can empty the cards. But I have to back them up before I empty them in case my computer crashes. But backing them up means choosing one of the dozen hard drives to put it on. Which requires knowing which one has what because they’re all mixed up because of my old computer going dow and getting the new one and trying to make sure everything is backed up in at least two places because I’m paranoid about losing data, and with good reason. But I can’t think of the word “card reader.” So I can’t even explain that I’m looking for a card reader to my sympathetic husband trying to help while my brain is already five thoughts ahead on that hard drive thing, and I’m still trying to think of the word “card reader.” And then my husband picks it out of the pocket from the organizer hanging on the back of the door that I’ve been staring at for five minutes. Except it doesn’t have a cord. And I try to explain the cord was supposed to be on that thing. That thing behind him. THAT. That… that… the thing that holds those things. Books. The thing that holds books. The bookshelf. The cord. The cord was supposed to be on the bookshelf with the card reader that he just found. He goes and gets a similar cord that will work in his office. And the frustration I experience from not being able to come up with the words “card reader” and “bookshelf” then cause greater cloudiness. And I tell my husband it’s what I imagine having Alzheimer’s might be like, where you slip in and out of being able to think straight and clearly. You can’t remember basic words, and then your frustration overwhelms you, which of course only makes it worse. And then I’m trying to think. What do I do next? Do I start to upload the photos with the card reader with the cord I now have? Do I check on the other computer’s back-up to a hard drive that I started? Have I eaten recently? Am I hungry? Which hard drive will I back up the photos on? When will I ever get to assess what’s on which hard drives so that I can make sense of where everything is and feel secure that it’s all backed up? Do I need anything to drink? And then there is a stack of mail next to me to look through. And I have to tally up expenses from taxes. And I have to organize some books. And the baby needs to go to bed soon. And my 4-year-old keeps asking questions. And the last question is, “Mommy, why are you upset?” because I’m now crying because my brain is like a shattered mirror. I look into it to see what I need in my brain, but a couple shards have fallen away, and it’s incomplete, and some of it is distorted, and some tiny, tiny slivers so small I don’t notice them are gone, or I don’t notice until I need the word “bookshelf” and it’s not there.

Ironically, I nearly lost all of these images. I thought they had been uploaded, but they weren't. The card was erased, and I had to recover as many as I could with a recovery software I bought. I was able to recover the majority of them, in part due to having shot in RAW + JPG — for the first time in my life.

Ironically, I nearly lost all of these images. I thought they had been uploaded, but they weren’t. The card was erased, and I had to recover as many as I could with a recovery software I bought. I was able to recover the majority of them, in part due to having shot in RAW + JPG — for the first time in my life.

This is what it means to have my mental illness. It’s one part of what it means. There are other parts, and I suppose I may try to write about them when they happen or I think of them. This particular part is about the scatteredness, like piece of my thoughts are strewn across the floor in a cloudy room, and I can see bits and pieces and can’t fully make them out. It’s the downside of the mania. When the mania allows me to stay up writing for five hours, it’s great. But then there’s this part, where it splits my concentration into 15 pieces — just big enough to taunt me with thinking I can see the full picture, but just enough that I can’t keep them all in my head at once. It’s like my brain’s RAM is overextended. The hard drive works just fine, but the RAM is full and so I can’t actually access anything in the hard drive at all. And sometimes I can’t access the simple memory in RAM like “bookshelf.” Except, unlike a computer, I have the emotions to contend with as well, and they interfere with the memory issues because the emotions and overwhelmedness and frustration and anger at my brain and all the rest of that steals some of my cognitive energy as well.

My husband asks if I’ve taken my medication. I snap back that I have, but he says it’s a reasonable question, and it is. But it doesn’t always fix everything. And no, sleep or meditation or “taking a break” or whatever else doesn’t always fix it either. Sometimes you just have to wait it out. And I wonder as I write this, knowing that I’m going to put it on a blog and then put it on social media, whether explaining this sort of thing will hurt me professionally when I consider that editors may see it. But then I remember that I’ve already proven myself and my reliability to them, and it’s important for other people to know that it feels like this. And that a person can be motivated and hard-working and intelligent and successful and still have these things to reckon with. And the mental illness doesn’t make me more creative or more prolific. It hinders me. But I have figured out how to plan for the fact that these incidents happen even when I don’t know when they’ll happen. And that’s built into my workweek just like anything else is so that I can meet deadlines and do my work. (Except not to come up with ideas. Because that’s a faucet that never friggin’ turns off and part of my problem is too many ideas, all the time, floating around my head constantly, taunting me with all the things I could do and say and write if there were three or five or ten of me and if I could stand to be around those other me’s without all of us going truly crazy.) And I figure out what I can still do when it happens. I can’t remember the word “bookshelf” or the word “card reader,” and I can’t talk to my son, and I can’t tally up my expenses or know if I’m hungry or make the should-be-simple decision of what hard drive to put a backup of my photos on until I can organize them later. But I can write. And so I write.

Seven years later, this is still one of my favorite photo excursions. Funny enough, I nearly missed it. I had been on the wrong plane on the way there and ended up in LA instead.

Seven years later, this is still one of my favorite photo excursions. Funny enough, I nearly missed it. I had been on the wrong plane on the way there and ended up in LA instead.

And people wonder why I work so much. I’m a workaholic, no doubt, but working is sometimes all I can do. It’s one way to stay sane. If you’re an athlete and you haven’t worked out, and you feel that itch, that NEED to move and do what you do, and you HAVE to do it or you’ll go crazy, kind of like having a fix, then you know what I mean. That is what mania is sometimes like. Other times it’s something completely different, and it’s impossible to work. But often it’s a crowding in the head of 15 different tasks to be done, and 20 other thoughts, and you’re trying to ignore the ideas coming into your head, and the other things you can do or want to do or need to do, and you’re trying to remember things like it’s 20 minutes past your son’s bedtime and he needs a bath and are you hungry and do you need to eat? And if you’re tired reading this, or you’re backing up and trying to figure out the last thing I just said or you’re counting run-ons or clauses or conjunctions, then welcome to my head. This is 1,500 words, and I wrote it in 30 or something minutes. This is how the brain cells do things around here. Sometimes. Or a lot of times. Or it depends.

Just about every phase of my has involved a tradeoff somewhere, which is probably true for most people. When I moved to Peoria, I gave up the heat of Texas summers (thank God!) for the cold of Midwest winters (so far I’m fine with that). I also gained the opportunity to really focus on my writing – but at the expense, for various reasons, of my photography. snowflake Tara Haelle Midwest

For now, I’m mostly okay with that too, but I still need my photo fix, including a bit of creativity and exploration. Therefore, when I read on a colleague’s blog post about her attempts to photograph snowflakes using a macro lens on her iPhone, I was intrigued. The photos were pretty cool, and the Easy-Macro lens Karyn mentioned as her favorite was only $15. I figured I’d try it.

The lens arrived late last week, just in time for a snowstorm’s arrival here in Illinois. But the snow started falling too late in the day to have enough outside available light for the iPhone camera. Fortunately, it snowed again yesterday and today, so I had the chance to try out the Easy-Macro lens – basically a lens of about 1 cm in diameter embedded in a blue rubber band that wraps around your mobile device. Real high tech, right? Well, low tech doesn’t mean low quality, it turns out. More »

So, it’s high time I got this blog rolling. I already blog about health and science news for parents and families over at Red Wine & Apple Sauce, but I am constantly finding there are other things I want to tell people about, whether it’s science-related, political, personal, or it’s just some thoughts or commentary related to the news of the day.

That’s me, in a past “terra incognita,” India. I backpacked there solo for five weeks in 2005, and this town of Bundi was among my favorite places there.

Therefore, welcome to Tara Incognita. The name, an obvious play on “terra incognita,” alludes to the fact that this blog will likely roam all over the place – it’s unknown ground. My greatest strength in life is also my greatest weakness: I’m interested in everything. I actually find it a relief when I stumble upon something about which I can sincerely say, “Meh. Not interested.” That’s a rare occurrence indeed. This curiosity and thirst for information is great as a journalist and a teacher – it’s no surprise that I’m both – but it also means my attention gets split and it’s difficult for me to immerse myself in one thing too deeply for too long. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between.

Along that vein, expect this blog to cover a range of topics, from albatrosses (literal and metaphorical) to zoo excursions with my toddler son. An incomplete list of the stuff I might cover on this blog…

  • Cool science stuff
  • Cool brain stuff
  • Intersections of politics and science or religion and science
  • Political ramblings (with some semblance of a point, though)
  • Children’s and young adult literature
  • Education news and learning theories news
  • Anything related to SHARKS
  • Parenting stories
  • Reviews of great (or crappy) books I read
  • Teaching stories
  • Photography news
  • Travel stories… and so on

It will take a while to build up an audience when I blog about such eclectic stuff, but hopefully people will chime in. It’s much more fun to discuss stuff with others than mumbling out loud to yourself in the corner.