“You need to record that. Right now.” my friend Betsy says with conviction. She has paused on the trail, so I pause and look at her. She understands. She knowns how tenuous a mental thread is when recovering from an mTBI.
After a moment of processing what she said, I start nodding. “Right… right, yes, that’s a good idea! Let’s do it.” I have been struggling so hard for so long, trying to capture the narrative of my book. Only a month maybe, but it feels like forever.
I pull out my phone and start a voice memo. “The purpose of my book… or the protagonist or whatever. Okay. When I first get injured I think the enemy is my brain injury but through my book I evolve and realize the true enemy is myself and my belief about what my life should be and….” My eyes wander as I try to hunt down the other thoughts in my head.
“Expectations” says Betsy, prompting.
“My expectations about what I should be able to do or how my life should be. And once I accept my limitations and accept the effects of the brain injury my life becomes so much better. It’s not fixed, but it becomes so much more livable… and tenable and uhhh…”
“All your big words” she says with a grin.
“Thanks” I say, grinning back. “Okay, do you think I got it?”
“I think you hit the main points.”
“Great. Whew!” I say, stopping the recording. A second pause of staring at my phone, then my brain kicks back into gear and I put it back into my pocket. I look at Betsy, smiling my appreciation. “Thanks for talking that through with me, it really helped. I’ve been feeling so frustrated, so lost. I try to figure it out, and all I get is blankness. Now I have it, or at least something.”
We pause and breath for a few seconds, transitioning back to our other activity – walking. Then we are off, motoring around Red Rocks for another 30 minutes or so, chatting and hiking and enjoying the beautiful trees and nature, the water and snow. The beauty of being outside, outdoors, during the cold season.
That was my most successful book thought for the entire month of November… and December. I had that clarifying thought, but the next day and the day after that, I didn’t have the mental sophistication to do anything with it. Somehow, sometime, without me being aware, a complexity of thought, of knowing and feeling the written word, snuck out on me. Maybe it was while I slept, or while I had breakfast one day. I’m not sure when, but it left.
The thing is, I didn’t really realize it left. That is the challenge with dealing with executive dysfunction. When my higher thought processes go, I don’t necessarily know they’ve left the building. All I know is I try to do something, to think something through, and it doesn’t work. And doesn’t work. And doesn’t work. Am I not trying hard enough? Am I not prioritizing my writing? Am I not resting enough? What the fuck is going on? I look around me, expecting to find answers, without really being able to put my finger on exactly what the problem is.
It is only when a level of mental clarity returns that I realize what has been missing. Suddenly something that was impossible, difficult, unknowable flows easily, is effortlessly processed and transformed without contortions on my part. It is so strange when nuanced ability returns. Terrifying to be so close to the edge of functioning that I waver back and forth over that line without knowing it.
So for all intents and purposes, I lost two months of book writing and editing. Why? I’m not sure. A lot has been changing and a lot has been happening, so it could be normal things – stress, other priorities, being at a difficult place in my book – or it could be a brain injury thing.
The main suspect – as always – is my thyroid. My doctor lowered my thyroid medication at the end of September after a blood test showed my body wanted less thyroid. The med change decreased my energy, but it didn’t fog me out.
I hit my head on November 15th – hard. A concussion proper, with an immediate headache in the front and back of my head that lasted about two weeks. I didn’t notice any cognitive effects. The headache passed, but I still seem to be more tired and more sensitive to using a computer.
I also started new medical treatments at the turn of the year. I am going to PT360 for their post concussion syndrome program, and I’ve started seeing a chiropractor that follows the NUCCA philosophy. Very positive, very draining, and a lot of damn appointments – and maybe I’ll turn a corner in my healing. It’s also possible all the new information my body is integrating right now is why I’m so damn tired all the time. Not physically heavy fatigue, just… tired.
Or maybe it is stress. The most positive type of stress – good news! I have a lot of that to share. I proposed to Mary and we’re getting married in March. Yay! Mary strutted her stuff and will now be a full-time tenure track photography professor, starting in August. Woohoo! That means we are moving to Virginia. Fun! That also means over the next six months we’ll be packing everything we own, selling our house and moving 800 miles away with our two maladjusted rescue cats. Wow!
What I’m saying is, it’s hard to know exactly what causes loss of such nebulous and hard-to-describe higher level thinking skills. And since it is likely more than one thing, it is hard to fix. Isn’t that the thing with brain injury? There is no “do x” leading to a reliable “z is fixed” experience. It’s all so fuzzy, so hard to pin down, so unpredictable.
Right now, I am applying for Vermont Week at the Vermont Studio Center. This internationally known artist residency sets aside one week a year to host 40 or so Vermont artists. I want to be one of them! While I was working on my application, my higher thinking returned. Suddenly, I could conceptualize how to showcase my writing. I could massage the content of my three or four scenes for clarity, for impact. I felt the pattern, the thread of story through my writing again.
That simply, I became aware of what exactly has been missing for months. This first happened about 1 1/2 weeks after I went back to a higher level of thyroid medication. Now, three weeks later, that clarity and ability still wavers in and out, depending on the day. Definitely not fixed, but a little better.
It’s hard to believe it’s been six months since my last blog post. I have missed you, my friends, and missed your support. My book, though. I’m still working on it. I really expected to be further along, almost finished by now… but that’s not the case. I finished my first draft at the end of September, and as of today I am at 110,884 words and counting.
A lot of editing, writing and shaping still needs to happen, so my blog posts will be widely spaced and sporadic. Since I was already taking a break from my book to apply for Vermont Week, I thought I’d take the time to write a blog post. Going forward, that’s what I’ll do. When I’m on a book break and have the mental space, I’ll reach out. And, before packing everything up, I’ll dig out those mTBI comics to share too.
For now, I must bid you adieu. Blessed be.