Dear brain (a love letter)

First of all, I have to apologize. That was quite the warning shot with that concussion last week.  I took you for granted way too much, dear brain. You have done a pretty great job keeping things together over the past 40 years and I’ve been barely helpful at times. I have to admit, I sort of knew what you were doing, but I don’t think that had fully sunk in.  This is my second concussion. It sucks and it is surprisingly painful. I went to the hospital (thank you, NHS) and got expert help and advice, and a diagnosis.

The first concussion didn’t go like that at all. I was in a remote mountain village in India traveling by myself. Doing the hippie trail, yoga, meditation, body mind and soul etc. I never actually told anyone this happened during that trip. There was no hospital, and no diagnosis, so calling that a concussion is my guess extrapolating from my symptoms last week. I knew I was in no shape to be transported for hours across bumpy unpaved roads so I crawled into a corner like a wounded animal, resigning myself to the fate that I had lost my mind and that it might not come back. I crawled out of my little room twice a day to buy water and soup, barely able to keep myself going. I had violent mood swings, trying to tell myself it’s all just in my head. Yes, for where else would it be.

I so desperately wanted enlightenment and a crack at transcending the body, this human existence. Instead, I hit my head on a rock trying to do Yoga by the river. I was not the type to ask for help back then, nor did I have any idea what help might have looked like beyond “rest and hydrate”. Also, that was long before smartphones and people instagramming every minute of their lives, and people googling symptoms etc.

My considerably more adult self still shudders at the risk of it all. It worked out alright over about 10 days, thank you dear brain for coming back, and for having enough basic robot programs in place to keep the rest going while you stepped out to take a a bit of a break from me. Can’t blame you, at that point in my life I would have been glad to take a break from myself too. You could call it a mindfulness practice of sorts. As a pattern interrupter, concussion #1 did a mighty fine job.

The second concussion happened in South London last week in much more worldly settings, banging my head on the corner of a TV screen helping with the setup of a training day. Near enough to a big hospital that friendly colleagues drove me to. The intense pain. A strong sense of self that stepped aside from the majority of that Christine clearly in trouble. The witness. Observing the rest of myself trying to have a coherent conversation and failing. Trying to follow simple instructions how to get from A to B and failing.

Staring at the familiar letters R-E-C-E-P-T-I-O-N being unable to make a word out of them. The basic robot script that still works when you walk up to a high desk at the entrance to a building that you are able to rattle of the usual information like name, date of birth and address even if you could no longer explain it or answer questions not part of that script. Thank you for having the basics organized in ways that make them work when nothing else does, dear brain. It helps.

The sharp rise of panic. I am a writer trying to finish a book – this letters-into-words-thingy is somewhat important for that. As for everything else in my overly brainy adult life really. The complete and utter lack of being able to focus a blessing at that point, as these thoughts and bursts of panic arise and subside all on their own, as I slide in and out of consciousness, answering the same questions about 4 times, people doing the flashlight thing with the eyes several times, with me unable to feel or express annoyance. One form of non-attachment, dear witness, dear brain.

Trying to find my way home from this unfamiliar location on the other side of London, holding a piece of paper I still couldn’t read that says “head injury (adult)”. Basic transportation program working like a charm (find building that kinda looks like train station, open bag, look for bright pink strap, pull on it to get to Oyster card, tap it and get through the gates). Not being able to work a subway map, making bold guesses for directions and possible connections (baffled at my choice of route, looking back). Trying to buy food, trying to remember what to do and where to go next (reading thankfully come back, focus not so much…).

Finally home (took about 2 hours longer than it should have). Conversations still not working. Trying to cancel plans for the next 48 hours. Spending the next 36 hours in a dark room (wearing sunglasses or a sleep mask), drifting in and out of sleep, in and out of pain, trying not to move. After 24 hours the conversations started making sense again. The intense relief. It’s a million degrees in London and my head hurts. Dear brain, I missed you so much. You help me construct reality and myself in it I couldn’t be me without you and I thank you for putting up with me.

Thank you for my ability to think and feel, to make sense of things and of myself (mostly), for being able to focus and to make decisions. To ask for help (and sometimes get it). Thank you for the strong survival instinct and for lots of basic programs that run remarkably well even when “Elvis has left the building” (did I just call my brain Elvis?!).

A lot of how we make sense of things and of ourselves happens through words “Die Grenzen meiner Sprache sind die Grenzen meiner Welt”—Wittgenstein (the limits of my language are the limits of my world). I can’t thank you enough for having them back. And for having them in the first place. Let’s not do this again please.

I might be a bit more compassionate now, appreciating more how hard everyone tries. Making it from R-E-C-E-P-T-I-O-N to the room in urgent care was the hardest cognitive task ever – relative to bandwidth available at the time (it felt harder than prepping for and passing a state exam with a 90% failure rate, which was so far my benchmark in mental stretch). I had to follow a painted line of blue fish (!) around a corner and through two automatic doors. I nearly gave up but was terrified of just being stuck in between and not finding my way back or not getting help or not being able to explain anything in the state I was in so I willed myself to keep going.

A lot of life is a bit like that sometimes. Trying to make it to wherever you want to be next, following instructions that don’t always make sense, being stretched to the max, and just keeping going anyway. Making it to the next room. And the one after that. With these humans that are for the most part lovely and helpful and so utterly confusing at the same time; who have good intentions while blocking all the available seats. 80% of success is showing up and all those other smartypantsy instagrammable things we tell ourselves. Thank you brain for being in this with me, this is considerably easier when you are around, I have to say.

Waiting times are shorter in hospital for things like head injuries. Not that you’d notice, drifting in and out of consciousness, time turning into jelly, molasses, a bowl of smarties in different colors, scattered across the floor, being swept up and carried off. Losing your marbles right then and there. Retroactively really wanting to frame this into some sort of fancy vaguely-eastern-terminology-awareness-thingy when in reality I was just completely zonked out.

Still, always present the witness. The wordless observer of my equally wordless blunderings. The witness who wasn’t worried at all, all loving acceptance. I felt that and it consoled me. My harsh inner critic, the never-ending commentator finally stripped of his arsenal of words and therefore judgment. Reverted to the default setting, which is loving acceptance as a witness. Dear brain I had no idea how beautiful this is once you allow that in. Now that the words are back, that is something to remind myself of whenever the inner critic goes overboard.

The double vision in parts of my visual field (went away after a few hours). Not being able to stand straight without falling over towards the left (went away after a few hours). Dear brain, I had no idea how tender this all is, how exquisitely fragile and how carefully you are maintaining this. Sorry for not appreciating this at all until today. Your loving continuous stewardship to keep things together (and there were plenty of moments where my lifestyle certainly didn’t help, hello teens and 20s). I am coming to a better understanding, a deeper, loving trust that there are parts of ourselves that are looking out for us, caring, mending, fixing whatever stupid thing you did last.

Self-care is something we do. I am learning it is also something we are, actually. This then gives us what the Germans call “Selbst-Vertrauen” (in German, it is always “self”-confidence, implies you trusting yourself first). The trust in yourself, that deep down you are alright, that some parts of you look out for the other parts. A successful team. That, even with a few glitches, ultimately, between us, we’ve got this. This fundamental anchor point that then allows you to go out there and live life to the max, the Selbstvertrauen platform that supports that confidence. Thank you for that dear brain (and for giving me my words back).

The flaming pain rattling around inside the emptiness of my skull like a white hot seed, singeing every part of the head it touches from the inside. For days. Slowly too slowly starting to fizzle out. Trying not to move or to laugh. Realizing how much there still is to laugh about, despite everything, or because of everything. I haven’t “lost” my mind. It is more like there are replacement buses, minor delays, construction and other incidents. It’s still too hot. Passengers are advised to carry a bottle of water.

Once at Uni they gave us an essay to read called “das Leib-Seele-Problem” (the body soul problem). It was meant to scare us off Psychology, to get people to voluntarily leave the course to free up space (no kidding). It was never mentioned thereafter, much to my chagrin as I stuck it out to the end in that class and a few others (all the way to a degree). I have since spent over 15 years trying to make sense of this whole body mind soul thingy, hopefully make this a bit better, and I feel like I barely started. It would not have occurred to me to see it as a problem though.

From the last few days I take a heightened appreciation how closely these are interlinked, and how much they are all needed, and how they need to team up to make this construct Christine work. This is as personal as it gets. Dear brain, I could now promise to be better and you would then laugh in my face as you know me and then lovingly support me despite or because of it. Thank you team. This is my life.

Now can somebody stop that headache please?

 

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