How a Book Helped Me Get My Brain Back
After suffering a concussion, a book led me to the help I needed.
Posted February 6, 2018 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
In the first week of January 2017, my car was hit by a truck while I was stopped at a red light. I suffered a concussion, which is why I have not written here in a year. It's been a very difficult time for me.
Initially, I was told by the emergency room doctors and my general practitioner to go home and rest, and to stay off screens—no TV, no computer, no cell phone. I was to avoid stress.
The first weeks after the trauma of the car accident, I was mostly confined to my bed. Attempting to walk, I had to feel where my body was in space by grazing the wall with my hand and tapping in front of me with my foot. I could not tolerate noise or light—I wore wraparound sunglasses even in the house. I could speak with difficulty. Sometimes, I could not find the right word. Other times, I had the word in my brain but could not say it. When I tried to do a simple task such as making breakfast, I could hear my brain telling my different muscle groups what to do, “Go to the cupboard, move your left hand and pull the cupboard door open, right arm grab a plate….” After making and eating a piece of toast, I would have to take a two-hour nap on the couch downstairs—I had no energy to make even back up to my bedroom.
Sometime later, I found out about a book called The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back by Clark Elliot, Ph.D. In 1999, Dr. Elliot, a professor at DePaul University with a research career in artificial intelligence, was in a car accident and suffered a concussion. He had to give up his research lab and had a terrible time just trying to go through everyday life activities. For eight years, doctors told him just to get on with his life and to learn to deal with the challenges he now faced. It took eight years for Elliot to find the help he needed to retrain his brain.
Finally, an optometrist emphasizing neurodevelopmental techniques and a cognitive psychologist agreed to work with him. Professor Elliot got his life back and wrote The Ghost in My Brain to help others, and I’m glad he did. His book was the starting point for me in knowing where to turn to for help in my recovery from my concussion. (For the record, I don't know Professor Elliot, and have never communicated with him or any of the professionals mentioned in his book).
In writing as I did above that “I found out about a book…” I am simplifying for the purpose of this blog post what actually took place. It’s not quite that simple when your brain is no longer functioning properly. Describing how injured my brain was—how slowed-down my processing was—my inability to listen to people or to read for more than very short periods of time; the work I had to go through to be able to process enough to write this post—that’s all for another post.
Today, I just want people to let people know about The Ghost in My Brain. Neuroplasticity—the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections—is real, and believing in it is what guided me over 25 years ago in helping my son, Jeremy Sicile-Kira, when I was given no hope or advice after he was diagnosed with autism and severe mental retardation. I was told to find a good institution for him and to get on with my life. I didn't know the word “neuroplasticity” back then—I’m not even sure it existed in layman’s language. But I believed my son could learn. And so I retrained his brain. Jeremy ended up graduating from high school despite having to type to communicate, and he now is an acclaimed artist.
This same belief in neuroplasticity helped me get my life back. I’m not 100 percent out of the woods, but I’m certainly better than I was 6 months ago, even 3 months ago. I can drive again. I can write and speak again. One day I hope to be 100 percent back, but right now, I am grateful that The Ghost in my Brain led me to specialists in my area who could help me. I am forever grateful to Professor Elliott who wrote it, and to my friend Ernest Priestly who told me about it.
Concussions are like autism in a couple of ways—people can show different symptoms and need more or less help. So perhaps The Ghost in My Brain isn't helpful to everyone with a concussed brain. But I know as a parent to a young man with autism how hard it is to find the right information that can be helpful to one's particular case. So I am sharing this book here to encourage anyone who has suffered a concussion or knows a loved one who has to pick up a copy and read it. It might be useful to your situation. If it helps even one person, I'll be happy I spent the time and energy (and brain processing) to write this blog post.
Elliott, C. (2015). A Ghost in my Brain: How a Concussion Stole my Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped me Get it Back. New York, NY: Penguin Books