June 19, 2014

A Blow to the Brain: These Eggs That Scramble

I keep talking about the aftermath of my car accident, but I haven't really written about what's going on.

I'm not talking about the whiplash, or even the inconvenience of my car being in the shop for a month or the financial hardship of paying my $500 dddic deductible (which, thankfully, has been reimbursed).

I'm talking about the brain injury – the "post-traumatic head syndrome" – that has been driving me batty for the last two months, and, if it's anything like the last concussion I had, will probably persist for a few more.

I'm going to write about that now.

You might think someone's who's never had any brain trauma might not understand, but if anyone who's has ever been even just a little bit buzzed on alcohol – or taken pain killers or muscle relaxants that are a bit too strong, or have even been woken up a bit too suddenly, a bit too early in the day – will understand what I mean.

There's a gauze cast over every experience – a stocking thrown over the lens, rendering the world in soft focus. It's not necessarily in the visuals of the scene per se (though blurred vision did come immediately following the impact), but in the experience of it. It's like listening to music underwater: you can hear that something is playing, but it's not very clear. You can't distinguish the details, but maybe you could hum along.

It's the feeling you have when you think you're sober enough to drive yourself home, and the next day realizing you don't remember much about the ride.

Your long-term memory hasn't been touched, but the loading dock for short-term rent retention is just...full...or closed...out or out of business completely. You can't even really remember your own accident.

When your eggs have been scrambled inside your own skull, swished back and force forth from the blunt force trauma to both the back and front of your car, your senses are not only dulled: you're functioning on autopilot. And your control panel isn't receiving accurate information about the world around you, so it's making decisions based purely on memories and habits. Rehearsed speeches in front of large groups are easy. Off the cuff answers during one-on-one conversations are nightmarish.

Pauses, sometimes long ones, are necessary to conjure the right words, and now you speak deliberately and slowly, choosing each word carefully, somtei sometimes settling on the wrong wrod word just to keep the conversation moving. Eventually you decide it's better not to talk at all, and you make your escape to the bar or the restroom or some other group of people talking, where you can just listen and not really understand what they're saying.

When you must speak, you get frustrated when you say the wrong thing, if you even notice it. You might tell someone the year 2001 when you mean 2011, and even when you're corrected (a mistake you don't realize, but you believe to be possible), you do it again and again.

You apologize for your lack of social skills, bad jokes and misunderstandings, but people who don't know you well just smile and say, "You seem fine to me!" Maybe they're being kind. Maybe they just don't know what a good talker you usually can be.

So rather than exhaustingly trying to explain your situation to people who seem to care but not really understand, you avoid social situations, the phone, and anything beyond key English phrases like "How much do I owe you?" and "Where's the restroom?"

When you're alone, you lose things. You're not sure where you are. You look for your cell phone while it's in your hand, again and again. You must occasionally stop to reconnoiter and assess the situation, realizing you've driven past your destination. You read and reread directions, instructions, ingredients, and other commonplace tetx text, but you barely get the gist of it. You rarely really get what is ever going on around you.

In the absence of p speaking, there is no solace in writing. This is where the brain injury manifests in front of your own face. You might not notice if you say the wrong thing (though you always suspect that you have), but when you have had the chance to think about it, look up definitions and synonyms, and you've finally got the right words in your head, there's some disconnect with your fingers, and they can't get them out right.

You type out words that sound like the words you're thinking, but have a totally different meaning.

You type words that kind of look like the words you mean, but aren't.

You combine successive words together into a new word, sharing and swapping syllables like chromosomes recombining with each other's genetic material, creating some new, unique beast.

Dyslexia manifests in numbers and letters. You see it happening, but you can't stop it. All you can do it is hit backspace. Over and over again.

At first, you think your brain just needs to rest. You take naps, and you don't dream  – a welcome relief. You don't go out in public much, for fear of forgetting well-known acquaintances' names, and being unable to recall your favorite bits of trivia and bar talk.

Drinking alcohol doesn't help, because your brain is already drunk. A single sip of wine surpris suppresses your conversational skills even more, and brain brings on the waterworks to irrational proporatio proportions. No one wants to talk to someone whose eyes are constantly welling up.

When I was 2-3 years old, I had terrible temper tantrums – screaming, wailing, writhing fits on the floor that my parents could not explain. Thinking I was emotionally disturbed, they sent me to a child psychiatrist, who reported that I had "a lot of anger." Shortly thereafter, my parents discovered my progressive near-blindness, and the tantrums could suddenly be explained as my way of expressing frustration over it, since I didn't really have the words to articulate it at that young age.

But back then, I never knew what it was like to see. I thought the world was blurry.

Now, I know that it's just my bruised brain that's making everything blurry. I know how sharp I can be when everything is clear. And I'm afraid I'll never get back to that point.

My whole life – despite crisis, abuse, assault, poverty, line lonli loneliness, and abandonment – I always hat had my wits. I was street smart and world-wise despite my overprotection. I was intellectual without having to study. I was an A++ student in my sleep. My brain was the shiniest on the shelf.

And now I'm struggling.

Fortunately, the head syndrome hasn't affected my more sophisticated intellectual processes: I'm still a smarty-pants, but now I have this stronger desire to prove myself, do to do better than even before, to show that I still got it. But for all of my overcompensation, posturing, and bravado, I'm more sensitive than ever before. I have to work harder at maninting maintaining normalcy than anybody else does. It takes an enormous amount of effort just to reach baseline functional, and so I can't understand the frustrated honking drivers, the cranky elderly waiting at the ATM, the defensive peers who choose to pick a fight with me rather than giving me a freaking break. I take it personally, and so I recoil further.

I shouldn't have to explain this, but I will – for those who can't explain it themselves, for those who understand, and for those who don't.

Related Posts:
A Kick in the Head, Part 4 - Conclusion
It Got Worse

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