a woman looks pensively out a window and she's wearing a headband and chunky sweater with a raised eyebrow


Are We Sad Because We Aren’t Using Our Brains Anymore?

Nov 17, 2020

“Your minds are feeble.”

So said the yoga master at a training I was attending. He was talking about mindfulness and concentration, but for me, it struck a different chord. I had been experiencing a reduction of mental acuity. Save for the yoga trainings, I didn’t feel like I was truly learning anymore. Yes, I was producing. As a writer, I was reflecting and creating. But I didn’t feel like I was learning the way I had in university, or even at interesting conferences I used to attend for work.

I’m not as happy when I’m not truly stimulated, like when I'm acquiring knowledge or new skills. And this got me thinking about the present moment and sadness. Are a whole bunch of us sad, depressed or unfulfilled because we aren’t really using our brains in the same way anymore? Is that part of the whole mid-life crisis?

This past September, all five kiddos in our household went back to school. Most were excited to do so, for the social aspect, but also for that engagement of learning. I think. My daughter started Grade 6 and seemed more fired up about school than I’d ever seen her. She made flash cards for a social studies test that wasn’t even certain to happen. Now this may have been the influence of binge watching Gilmore Girls over the summer — she was certainly inspired by Rory’s dedication and love of learning, reading and writing. But she was also brimming with new concepts, ideas and their application. It made me happy to see it. And envious. Dang, I was envious of those social studies flash cards.

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So this year, I did something about it. Instead of buying myself much-needed new running shoes, I bought myself a class — one university class, in a subject I am so interested in. I dove in and found myself again. For once, I wasn’t always the one putting forth ideas, content or analysis. I was a vessel, listening and responding to ideas and concepts. I wasn’t reinventing the wheel, I was learning about it. I had to hunker down, read, write, discuss and pontificate. It’s been fabulous. 

To augment my thirst for learning, I ferreted out other online learning options that are free or less costly than university or college courses. I’ve always loved conferences, especially those in my field of communications. COVID has actually helped me out here by making all of these learning opportunities available virtually. Now everything is right at my fingertips. If you’re feeling bored or stifled, I recommend thinking about what topics interest you, and then look for a conference that focuses on that thing. From social media management to home renovation, there are a lot of great events out there.

And if you're keen to really settle into something, a greater array of university courses are now available online. Pre-pandemic, the closest university to my town is still at least an hour drive away, and the classes that interested me weren’t offered online. Now I have almost the entire academic calendar to choose from. This opens up a lot of possibilities, like having a university experience while still working part-time and caring for the kids and household.

"Back then, we coloured our own pictures using a multipack of Laurentian pencil crayons."

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This thirst for learning reminded me of being a kid again. I’m the youngest of three, and my sisters were always doing something exciting that I desperately wanted to be a part of. I remember my sister coming home from school and working furiously on a project about gemstones. I was so, so envious of everything about that assignment, even her need to commandeer the dining room table and work away frantically.

Back then, we coloured our own pictures using a multipack of Laurentian pencil crayons. We borrowed hardcover books from the library. We wrote out a “rough” copy, and then laboured over a neat version that comprised our “good” copy. If we were lucky, we found pictures from National Geographic magazines and used our yellow glue sticks to carefully add this coveted enhancement to our work. We placed it carefully in a brightly coloured duotang and added it to the big stack on our teacher’s desk. We waited with bated breath for our grades. Every step was magic.

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At the time of my sister’s gemstone project, I was young, and not working in the same way yet. So, I gave myself a project to complete (I think it was all about wolverines). I went to the library. I read. I researched. I wrote. And I learned. It was wonderful. I realize now that somehow along the way — since being six, or 16, or 26 years old — I forgot to give myself permission to learn for myself, to create my own learning journey. 

My mind was feeble. I wasn’t happy, and I was more than a little bored. But now I’ve got a duotang full of promise. So for me, the answer to my question was yes. I was unhappy because I wasn't using my brain anymore. 

I wonder if, for many, they have found themselves in a similar boat. I know a post-graduate class may not be accessible for everyone, but there are plenty of opportunities to learn skills and many are free. It just takes some time and research, and pulling yourself away from the noise. 

Article Author Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt

Read more from Janice here.

Janice Quirt is a yoga teacher and freelance writer who lives in the beautiful hills of the Headwaters in Orangeville, Ontario, with her blended family of seven. With kids spanning a decade in age, there are always some shenanigans on the go, and she loves being in the middle of it all. Janice loves sharing nature, eco-living and new experiences with her family and friends, as well as a fine cup of coffee and a good book.

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