Salvation: Time to Say Good-Bye to My Past
Brain injury treatments give much, but they can't restore your dreams.
Posted Aug 27, 2018
This is part ten of a weekly serialization of chapters from Salvation, a section of my book describing the hope that effective treatment brings. Part one is here. For the first time in over five and a half years and after standard rehab had made little change to my injury, I received a "yes" to my goal of healing my brain. Concussion Is Brain Injury: Treating the Neurons and Me begins at the start of my brain injury journey; the Salvation section begins the journey of restoring my neurons. This week, I begin to experience remarkable effects from brain biofeedback, but they're not enough to hold on to my dream.
Chapter 10: Biofeedback Begins and Lifeliner Ends
My emotions settled back into the abyss, and once again I felt nothing. I had dialled back on my AVE sessions. I had been in such a hurry to get better. The more I could do to move my brain, I thought, the better. But those emotions…that was awful. But now I knew that I had made the right decision.
On my birthday, another problem. Where was my massage therapist? It was 2:00 p.m., the time of my appointment. My watch said so. She walked into view on her way back to her office where I was waiting for her.
“It’s three p.m.,” she said. My face sagged in disbelief. Three? I looked at my watch, and this time my brain understood what my eyes saw. The hand was on the three, not the two. I shook my head. How did I misread the time? I had been doing so well.
My massage therapist was understanding. They’d been worried because it was so unlike me. She gave me a quick shoulder knead before her next client. I went home in pain, aching, stiff, weary, perplexed. I walked in my front door. I had to change my alarms on my Palm. They just weren’t registering, and despite feeling like I was on the right path, I still misread numbers. And spoken English turned to gibberish while words morphed, like when strongman became sidethrough or string. I called those mysterious mistakes “verbos.” Meanwhile people continued to confound me. Their voices said they wanted to see me, but their actions absented them from my life. My spiritual mentor told me to set boundaries. “You can’t let people walk all over you,” she said. I nodded.
The next day, as I was washing my edematous hands at the sink, I tugged at my wedding ring under the suds in the way I did every now and then. I’d begun to gain weight again and didn’t expect to be able to pull my ring off when it hadn’t come off after I’d lost several kilograms. My ring moved. I stared down at it. Could I pull it past the puffy fat and water? I tugged properly. It slid off. I felt nothing.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The ADD Centre and I continued to hone in on what would help my reading.
Michael advised me, “It’s important to ensure you’re alert when reading.” I wasn’t sure how to do that. I wasn’t a zombie anymore, yet alertness eluded me.
I thought, I suppose alertness is relative. My psychologist had told me that when I don’t practice, my brain reverts to its default state. I had to keep reading and do it at my peak energy level.
I called Lily. She asked the Lord for a word. Diligence. I frowned.
“I’m bad at definitions,” I told her, as my memory refused to cough up that word from my internal vocabulary. She looked it up. It meant industrious and careful. She said it applied to my life. Don’t quit. I’ll get to where I’d like to be through my hard work. Don’t get discouraged with my blog or photos, how long it takes me to figure out Flickr, or how few kith and kin are interested in my writings or photos. I hung up. When I loaded my Flickr page, I was astonished and delighted to see the Northwest Territories’ blogger had added me as a friend.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
December arose cold. Money continued to drain from my bank account, and I kept the thermostat low. I tired of being cold. My muscles enjoyed an entire hot shower whenever my skin allowed it. I began to stay in bed in the warmth under the sheets until I had no choice but to get up.
My traumatic rhinitis returned. Zombie mode returned. I became cranky. I despaired. I didn’t have many sessions left. I had to get better before the forty were up to prove the rightness of my decision. Instead, my body was breaking down. Fat cells swelled and multiplied like cockroaches. More water gathered in the spaces between my cells. Except for that one moment when my brain had shut down my appetite, I remained perpetually hungry and my stomach expanded, demanding food all day long. And on November 1, I’d gotten the horrifying news.
A former psychiatrist had called me. She’d received a request to copy every single page of her notes to send to the lawyers. What? Provincial accident benefit regulations stated that the insurance company couldn’t view mental health records older than one year prior to the accident. Mine were much, much older. What possible relevance could they have?
December 4, like magma rising, my anger exploded. Why would anyone see a shrink when the expectation of privacy is a mirage? I raged to the uncaring walls around me. They’re invading my own personal, painful words that I said in confidence. They’re alleging my old shrink is a liar, that somehow she could predict years into the future my car crash, that her summary for them wasn’t good enough. Why is a fishing expedition allowed? God is nowhere. Why believe? You’re still strung out to dry like the wretch in the old marketplace scaffolds. Not a shred of dignity left. I’m not a criminal. I didn’t harm anyone, the only justification for unsealing private emotions. The two drivers who hit my car, the defendants, un-fined and un-convicted, were the ones who harmed me.
A couple of days later, after doing an AVE alpha session, I happily travelled to my twice-weekly brain biofeedback.
“Your busy brain is up,” my brain trainer said as he frowned at my scores. “Why is that?”
I couldn’t think of what was worrying me. Puzzlement wreathed my brow till I was on my way home. Oh yeah: lawsuit. Meanwhile, my second brain trainer listened as I cried that the reading wasn’t going well. No matter what I did, I couldn’t see the big picture of what I was reading. I was stuck in the moment of the page I was on with no past remembered, no future to predict. She described a new strategy to help me. I didn’t understand her. She drew it out, and my brow cleared. I’d try this gridding method where on one page along the top row of a chart I’d list the article topics and in the left column the five Ws so in each cell I’d write something I’d learnt.
The next day, I reread a section of my current book for the third time. It took me five to eight minutes to read a page using the grid method and writing notes in the margins. But I remembered what I read! It worked!
Daytime TV kept me company during the monotonous hours of recovering from my appointments. Oprah talked about how she surrendered to Jesus and then immediately got the call about The Color Purple role.
I tried it. In my inside world, I saw Jesus hold out his hands, giant hands, waiting patiently as I put each of my cares in them. When I was done, he continued to stand there patiently holding out his hands. What had I forgotten? Was I hallucinating, making it all up?
I placed that and all the things I could no longer write, my dreams, in his hands. With his hands full, he turned ninety degrees and walked away to the right.
Peace relaxed my whole body as he walked away carrying my cares, worries, lost dreams, and people in his hands.
But peace didn’t last long. The legal invasion into my past encircled me. I huffed to myself that so many had documented my case that there’s no way anyone can claim I’m faking.
“It’s like the courts reward bad behaviour by those who don’t want to pay out!” I vented to my lawyer.
He explained that the Master of the Court had ordered it, and we had no choice. Besides, he soothed me, “They’re so old. They’re irrelevant.”
I filled in the mental health release forms. I scribbled angry words in my journal. And my brain trainer asked me later that day if I knew the something or other that reduced busy brain? His words turned to gibberish in my perception, so I replied, “No.” He explained this stopping ruminations thing. My mind cleared. It’s what I did in my journals!
The next day on December 14, 2005, my other brain trainer explained the smurf thing is pretty close to my journal writing. Smurf? Did I hear the word right? I didn’t ask her to repeat it. I was concentrating hard, trying to remember this busy brain-reducer thing, feeling good I was doing something right. She added that I was looking less anxious and more focused when reading.
Yeah! I thought. My mind isn’t bopping like some sort of superball out of control. This biofeedback thing is working!
After my second neurofeedback screen, she excitedly told me, “I’ve found you a new game. It’s taken us a long time to figure you out, what’s needed to get to your problem areas,” she admitted, “but I think this one will challenge your visual-spatial skills.”
Oh? A memory bounced out of its vault, of how the vocational assessment a few years ago had said my visual-spatial skills were ranked high, at the top. I knew they’d been wrong, like they had been about my writing.
Pay attention, I snapped at myself.
My trainer was unboxing the game. She explained it to me. We’d learn it together by playing level 1. She placed little toy cars and trucks in different colours inside a black box with short walls and one exit. I had to get the yellow car out the exit. To do that, I had to move the other cars and trucks out of the way, one at a time without bumping into or running over each other.
My subconscious couldn’t play it.
It was all up to me to do the conscious work, and I couldn’t. She had to help me figure out how to figure out the beginner level. The game became part of the repertoire. Meanwhile, she questioned me on my reading grids, fine tuned my method, and said she’d question me weekly to see if my reading was sticking.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
I need daydreams to fill my head and crowd out the circling.
I thought about how an old friend who sporadically stayed in touch had stood me up, got angry at my complaint, and then thinking about it, had come over in early December and had apologized in a way she hadn’t before.
“It didn’t matter what my intent was. It mattered that I really hurt you. I’m really sorry. Can you forgive me?” she’d said. The rare apology had hit me hard. Tears had flung themselves out of my dry eyes as I heard words of remorse and admission of how she’d affected me, words I’d longed to hear from so many but hadn’t. The hurt dissolved. I forgave her. My thoughts circled round and round to that apology.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
I awoke on Boxing Day hung over with exhaustion from Christmas. My Flonase and puffer were my friends. My couch was my spouse. Over the next four days, energy began to flow through my neurons. And I began to think again. Time for the next step in my recovery.
Give up Lifeliner.
I could write. I could write lots in my journal, wandering thoughts, feelings peeping out, but I still couldn’t write fiction.
I reminded myself, You can write poetry.
Yes, there was that. But the book eluded me. I couldn’t write enough words, organize, problem solve, or make even the smallest of decisions. I needed a human resource, and I had no volunteers, no money to pay anyone, and no ability to find one if I did and no person willing to look for me. I had to face facts. Time to say good-bye to my past and to that commitment. Finishing no longer mattered. I was getting used to my brain injury causing me to cancel my commitments as I struggled to relearn what I could and could not do.
I chucked out all the publishers catalogues. I boxed up my stories and archived them. I set aside what I’d written for Lifeliner before my injury and, with a reluctant hand, wrote Christmas cards to Judy’s family with the news. I had to give up writing Lifeliner. I was so sorry. I handed the cards to my mother to mail for me else I might confabulate mailing them.
That night, I walked into my office for a final check of my Flickr page. I had so many views. I was accumulating likes and comments from people I’d never met in real life. Gladness suffused me. I shut off my computer. I noticed my office denuded of all signs of the published life, all signs of Lifeliner.
I switched off the light and left the room.
I felt nothing.
–To be continued next week.
Copyright ©2017-2018 Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.