I’ve long known that writing fiction and screenplays for a long time makes the whole process second nature. I eat, sleep, and breathe word wrangling. Writing is who I am. I found out just how much so this winter.

By the time my mom had to go to the nursing home, I had been taking care of her by myself for a long time. I reached a point where there needed to be a new word invented to define my level of stress and exhaustion. I expected to recover from at least some of that once the worst of the strain from dealing with her failing health was spread out among others too.

It didn’t work out like that. Over about a six week period when she was in the nursing home, she wasn’t in the nursing home much. Instead, counting twice during the three days before she could be admitted, she went to the ER six times and was hospitalized three times. This was every bit as stressful and exhausting, just in a different way.

I stayed at the hospital at night and drove about a 60 mile round trip a day to go home and sleep, after talking with her doctor during rounds. She was expected to die more than once, but due to her remarkable strength and resilience, she’s now gone weeks without an ER trip. I’m still trying to rest and destress.

There was something that happened to me during her hospitalizations that I could not understand. After having many, many new names and faces thrown at me in a short period of time, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of remembering who I was speaking with at any given moment. Then I discovered I was calling a nurse by the wrong name. Okay. Exhaustion will do that. Which it continued to do, also with not one but two doctors. Everyone was very kind. “No, that’s not my name. I’m (fill in the blank).” I apologized and tried to carry on as if it didn’t matter, but by the time I’d done it three times it started to really worry me. I had been totally convinced I was using the right name.

As things started to settle down, I stopped assigning random unrelated names to people I met, but it kept bothering me. Even though I’d only done it three times, it just seemed so strange and worrying that I kept thinking about it. Eventually, my ponderings finally landed on the part about randomly assigning names to people. These names had nothing to do with their real names. I heard them once, apparently completely blanked thereafter, and gave them a new name that was the right one only to me. No wonder I was worried!

Eventually, I figured it out. I think.

I believe it went beyond the strain I was under making me absent minded. Extreme exhaustion caused a wall to be hit that robbed me of the ability to take in and process information in my usual rapid, seamless manner. Some corner of my brain did not like this at all. So, it went to the default.

One of my favorite parts of the writing process is naming stuff. Characters, places, pets…I love running possibilities, picking and choosing, then firmly deciding on the keepers. It’s a little different with screenwriting, where I often test possibilities out verbally to make sure they’re easily pronounceable outside my head. With fiction it’s all mental.

So I think what happened is that the areas of my brain I consciously use for writing leapt into the gaping chasm where names usually lodge…as an involuntary response, supplying fictional names for the ones I couldn’t hang onto even
briefly. It sounds as bizarre as it was, and since I’m not Big Bang Theory’s Amy Farrah Fowler or her actress, Mayim Bialik, who are both neuroscientists, I’ll never know for sure.

What I do know is that once I got enough rest and the stress eased it hasn’t happened again. I’m constantly encountering new people in the course of overseeing my mom’s care, and I can easily recall an alarming number of names and their corresponding faces on demand. I also know that it’s pretty darned awesome that my muse tried to have my back during a time of crisis. A little scary, but awesome as well.