March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, and in the truest spirit of people-pleasing goodie two-shoes-ness, my brain is in full semi-shut down mode. I have been trying overly hard lately to embark on a quiet campaign of self-improvement, consisting largely of watching gobs and gobs of lectures, history channel shows on Netflix, and TED talks in every spare minute. I have stacks of library books on my couch, on my bed, on my filing cabinet, and on any flat surface I can temporary co-opt for the purpose, and I can report to you part of the way through this experiment a success rate of approximately 0%.
In one of the books I was reading (please don’t ask me which one it was) there was some research on people with damage to the basal ganglia and how this impacted abilities to form new memories and I thought, “AHA! This is me! This is why I have the brain capacity of a rotting grapefruit!” But then as I read more about the implications of this type of brain damage I realized this wasn’t me at all and I wasn’t so neat and tidy. I regularly come across things that inspire me and consciously commit myself to learning what I am learning, only to be just as dumb afterward as I was before.
This isn’t just the scattering of age, and it isn’t the inevitable decline that happens to all of us. This comes and goes based on my head pain and neck pain and other neurological symptoms. Sometimes I can be “on” and have coherent discussions, and sometimes I am the rat in the maze who can’t figure out who moved the cheese. Or even if the cheese ever existed.
But this new wave of brain dysfunction is even more harsh because I am so deliberately trying to rebuild my sleeping cells. I am trying to wake up and pay attention to things that at other times are easy for me. When I hear the ads on the radio promoting brain injury awareness I hear the voices of people with static injuries and I am reminded of all of us whose damage is more invisible and more fickle. I become very aware of all the times I seem okay and even more aware of all the times I don’t.
It’s so important to me to be smart and to have that as part of me identity but a brain injury shows me just how little control over I have over this brain which is me. We think of mind control and of working to shape out thoughts and beliefs and behaviours, but at the end of the day we are a collection of cells and of chemical soup and we are at the mercy of it all..
The terrain of my mind is like constantly shifting sand on a beach, but without the predictability of even the tides to guide me in making decisions about when might be good times to count on being more or less functional. I will have months of low tides broken by hours of high tides interspersed with days of stagnant waters, which don’t run deep. Not only is it exhausting, it is demoralizing as well.
Lately I have been trying to get to the neurologist. The trick with that is, I need to feel well enough to go, yet off enough to be motivated to spend hours traveling back and forth to this doctor. He is worth it, but it takes a lot out of me and I need to be pretty convinced a visit is warranted before I will set one up. But invariably I will feel so poorly by the time I need to get there that it is almost impossible for me to make it to his office. Clearly I haven’t perfected this system yet…
After many moons of looking outward for my life to get saved and become better, I have started to look at what is within my power. That in essence means: What can I reach from my bed, and how can I react to what is around me? And a big component has been TED talks. I have felt in the groove again, even going so far as to watch an MIT course last night on copyright law (Yes! I love this stuff!). But after I have had my fill of Aha and Wow and OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh moments, when I am trying to recreate the lectures in my mind, I will realize I am having trouble accessing that same information. And that is so hard for me.
If I understood hashtags, I would write #braininjuryawareness.
Or maybe #braininjuryselfawareness.
The most insightful question I could ask myself now would be, “Is it better to have watched a TED talk and lost it from my mind, or never to have watched at all?” Unfortunately, given the current state of my cognitive functioning, I don’t think I am able to answer it.