Like that first step, there are first words. Another stumbling block.

You have probably been in the situation in which you try to explain something to someone who, for whatever reason, simply does not understand what you are saying. Communication is possible because we share a definition of the words we use. Telling someone something is beautiful is meaningless if by “Beautiful” you mean “green,” unless they also define “beautiful” as “green.”

I find that certain words have different meanings to me now than they used to. “Remember” is one of them. My memory is a collection of moments. I have always known my approach is different from that of other people, and from what I hear in therapy my “problem” is that my memory is now “normal.”

When I was teaching aircraft identification in the Air Force, I taught my form of memory. An aircraft is not just a list of features, it is an object. If you remember the object you can mentally walk around it and identify the features. This just seemed obvious to me. I have retained memories of childhood because they were events, one in particular, a motorcycle when I was four years old, moving from Corsicana Texas to Dallas. A young man had come over to say goodbye and was giving people rides on his motorcycle. It was a cold day, I can smell the exhaust and hear the engine. I have several similar memories from Corsicana, a toy, a party, a girl (wouldn’t you know, even at four).

Now my memories are mere recollections, I am aware something happened, but I have no sense of participating. I have the script, but not the experience. The clearest example is painting my bedroom last February. I know the room has been painted. I know I painted it. I know Sam and I went to Home Depot to buy the supplies. But I have no sense of actually doing any of these things, no memory of smelling the paint or holding the brush. I am aware that at the time my arm was so injured I could not move it, so I must have painted left handed. But no memory of left handed painting. No visions of paint covering the wall or dripping on the floor. I can imagine my personality telling Sam she wasn’t doing it right and taking over as she has told me I did, but no picture of those things happening.

The fog is expanding, more events are becoming lists in my mind. I know we went to the cinema to see the latest Star Wars film, Sam has said I was adamant from the time I was released from the hospital that I would see the film. I have been to that particular theatre many times. But I have no memory of going to the theatre or the film itself. I have fragments, I know the film was essentially episode IV recast, but I can’t recall any dialogue or tell you if we had popcorn. A strange twist, I was reminded of a blog entry from February (which I don’t remember writing) in which I mentioned seeing the film. At that time I could remember the other films in the saga, yesterday I watched episode VI and did not remember the film. I know there is an episode VI and that I watched it with Emma, but the scenes and dialogue are foreign to me. I do remember her distaste for science fiction in general and certain elements of the film in particular, she had been annoyed by the phrase “younglings,” hearing it brought back the script, but not the experience.

Other redefined words may exist, but I don’t know which words they are. I had a great deal of trouble explaining to the ophthalmologist what perceptions were missing, it was as if we were speaking different languages. This event I remember, so the memory issue is fragmented, and in fact we were speaking different languages, he was speaking ophthalmologist, looking for things manifested by different tests, I was speaking English, explaining things not revealed by the tests.  I had a similar issue with the otolaryngologist who is supposed to uncover the reason for my hearing loss. He is looking for an inability to hear measured tones at precise frequencies and decibels. I am experiencing interference, as if my ear was blocked. Most sounds come through with the density of bone induction.

The inability to communicate has caused a loss of confidence. I am not as sure of my thoughts, ideas, and judgements. I am not sure if I am communicating with myself in my internal exchanges. When I express my thoughts, what are those thoughts based upon? I have had a couple of conversations about morality, and I realize I am ill equipped to argue my point of view. Part of this is not my thought process, there appears to be a sector that believes the universe is defined by their personal standards, even the words “truth” and “moral” have a single meaning, the meaning they have assigned. Debate is reduced to disparagement, and thus from an educational standpoint, useless.

Part, if not all, of my cognitive therapy is designed to teach me to accept who I am today. I recognize that. Hoping to be who I was last year is as futile as hoping to be the person I was thirty years ago. I know that each day we are new, a fresh set of twenty four hours of experiences build us into altered beings. The accident was merely a new experience, a major, life-changing experience, but life is changed every moment. I have been aging since birth, this was just a rapid acceleration of the process. I never wanted to be normal before, now it is a goal.




Terra Incognita

The journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step. The trick is to get one foot to move. Sounds easy, but last week while driving I saw a stop sign, recognized what it was and what I was supposed to do, but never placed my foot on the brake pedal. As I traveled through the intersection I realized I hadn’t reacted properly, so at the next stop sign I said out loud “Stop Sign,” looked both ways but didn’t slow down. This got Sam’s attention. We did not have any more stop signs on our route, so she allowed me to keep driving. I am not aware of having this issue before or since.

But there’s that word, “aware.” I am fully aware that I am not certain of what I am aware.

I am regaining some sense of self-awareness, which my doctors and therapists say are a sign I am healing. Some even use the phrase “getting better” although I do not. I am aware of my deficits. I am aware of what I cannot do today that I could do before the injury. I am aware of who I no longer am. The story I am told is that I was not aware before, so this is a good sign. I do not believe a good sign has ever been so dark.

There is a lot of frustration. Frustrated that my body doesn’t work like it used to. Frustrated that my memory is missing events that I can remember remembering before. Frustrated that my vocabulary has decreased in range and accessibility. Frustrated that my “processing speed” has slowed. Frustrated that as I begin writing again damn near every sentence starts with”I.”

One thing my neurosurgeon has remarked about is my mood. Pleasant, which apparently is unusual with injuries such as mine. I’m beginning to understand why. I’ve also heard that drinking problems are more common in people with brain injuries. Not at all difficult to believe. I have been told to avoid alcohol, as it has a stronger effect on the injured brain, and delays healing. I am fully aware of the frustration involved in recovering from a traumatic brain injury, being told it will take at very least a year, but temporary disability payments only last for six months, and social security disability could take a year or more to be approved. Finding that my test results indicate I am average, so despite the fact I have never been average this is the only target for the doctors to aim. Finding that the hormones knocked out of balance cannot be addressed because hormone therapy (for men) is not covered by insurance. I can see why some folks might want a drink or seven.

The greatest challenge of my awareness is determining of what I am aware. Do I trust my ability to drive? Do I speak up at a gathering, or are my thoughts too muddled to communicate? I am redefining memory and thought, gathering memories requires effort, they don’t present themselves as they once did. Thinking requires both time and effort, as well as “spark,” the inspiration to consider, much the same as the inspiration to stop at stop signs. This article, an exercise which would have taken a few hours last year, has taken one month so far, and I do not believe I am half way through. And this is supposed to be the first chapter.

I have recognized my vocabulary has changed. Words mean different things than they did before. When I say “I don’t remember” it does not mean I am unaware of an event, it means I do not feel as if I participated. I can see the script in some cases, but the associated perceptions are absent. So I’m not entirely sure if I was actually there, that I know these things as facts. This is largely why I seldom write, I am unsure of the validity of my thoughts.

Physically there is some fear of falling. I used to embrace my “poor balance,” because I was still graceful. I could make falling down painless, even beautiful. I knew where the walls were and used them, bumping against them to check my location. I could, reliably, pirouette, now it takes twelve steps to turn around. I suspect this has  lot to do with lack of confidence, if I could spin on a soft surface which would be safe to fall on I think I would try.

Sam has said it is like being with my twin brother. I look like Blake and have many of his mannerisms, but I’m not him.

The desire to write still exists, new topics occur to me, but I stare at the page with no motivation to type, words do not flow from my fingertips. This is the hardest to communicate with my therapists, the desire to move forward, to exercise my abilities, is missing. From my interactions with various doctors I think this may be because the cause is beyond their training. I’m pretty sure this is part of the hormonal imbalance, as I perceive no aggression, and from what I know I was a fairly aggressive person before.

My greatest barrier is my expectations. I used to be Superman. I could do anything I desired. I lived on the edge and never fell off. The most important part of my therapies is learning to accept who I am today. Still working on that. At one point I considered “changing” my name, back to the first name I never used, so I could stop trying to be Blake. So many doctors working off my hospital paperwork I have to be Kenneth when making appointments and making referrals.

This will be a difficult road, but I know I wouldn’t be here had I not had a good start. I will be Blake again, not the Blake you knew, but a person with most of his experiences. Silver linings are not always silver, but they are not lead.

This is step number one.