Head Injury: it feels so good when you stop.

green-lantern1In many ways, looking around at my fellow bloggers, the lovely people who write in, hell some of the people I meet on the street, I feel a bit like a fraud.

Really.

I’ve been depressed, sure. Cried at work, check. Stayed in house for extended periods of time, check. Almost lost job, check. Generally listless and lacking joy or motivation in almost any area, check. Totally emotionally vulnerable and reactive, check.

But really all that pales in comparison to what some of the people out there live through, are living through, would sometimes rather die than live another day of…seriously. What they “live” with is staggering.

Some of the worst sufferers? People with traumatic brain injury. TBI can cause everything I experience with ADD or depression times ten, with a touch of blinding headache, personality change, and memory loss, just to sweeten the deal. Or worse.

But here’s the thing.

I don’t care.

[Stay with me here…I’m pausing for dramatic effect]

I can empathise, sympathise, and many other ises, I’m human.

But we humans are all about the me, the I, and possibly the us, but mostly the first two. Because when it comes down to it, we’re trapped in here.

We have these marvelous machines that do all our seeing, smelling, thinking, feeling, and a million other jobs for us. They’re so important in fact, that we have to protect them by locking them away in a pitch black, bone-encased, fluid-cushioned cave. And that’s where they stay. Every so often one of our sense organs, or a nerve bundle, will send our big ol’ brain a message, just to let it know how things are going on the outside. But for all intents and purposes, that sucker’s doing the equivalent of a life sentence in solitary, without so much as the occasional conjugal visit from one of the other inmates (it does get the imaginary porn channel though so it’s not all bad).

And it doesn’t like it one bit.

Want to know how much your brain hates being trapped in there? Try what’s called a sensory deprivation tank. Like a seven-foot coffin filled with body-temperature water. You lie in it with a face mask or ear plugs, they shut the sound-proof door and voila…nothing…nothing…still nothing…um a little more nothing…no sound, no light, not much feel…nada. After a little while, your brain gets sick of not getting any input and starts making shit up. I kid you not. It is SO desperate to not be trapped in there without reading material that it just starts to make up visions, images, smells, whatever it has to to stop from going insane.

That’s crazy! who would design such an insane system? Of course we should have our brains on the outside. In neat transparent bubbles with little holes and stuff so it could see and hear everything without this complex eye and ear junk.

Unfortunately the world is a cruel place and the whole brain on the outside thing would pretty much guarantee that you wouldn’t survive falling off the couch, never mind a grade three classroom or a New York sidewalk.

So, despite a solid potential career as a Star Trek (call me geeky, I am so seeing this) extra, this isn’t going to work out. Stuck with the skull prison cell thing.

How do we know about things, trapped in there? Is the tree green? I dunno. I know a bunch of vision nerves told me about this light they saw a little while ago, and some sound nerves told me that some waves in the air were a lot like those other sound waves that happened a long time ago when the vision nerves were seeing those lights that mean “people” making those “talking” noises and one of them made the green noise while it was pointing to something that had the same sort of light coming off it. Was I seeing the same light as the other people shape? Um sure, if that people shape and I have exactly the same brain, with exactly the same eyeball and the same nerves connecting them. So…no, we weren’t. No two people have the same experience of the universe at the same time. We ain’t made that way. In fact it’s a freaking testament to the human social structure that we can talk to each other, never mind build cities, or make rockets, or breed and make more tiny little soon-to-be-messed up humans.

So…it’s a pretty tenuous system, no? There’s an awful lot riding on our skull’s ability to keep the brain intact and functioning. It’s an unbelievable complex system that can be severly damaged by just screaming at it enough (aka emotional abuse). What does actually hitting it do?

Well, when it gets whacked…things get sloppy – fast. We (me and all them doctor-y types) are coming to the realization that many of our most treasured moments on the sport field were the times when we were pounding our brain into a permanent stupor. Really. I don’t think those jocks started out that thick.

More and more, doctors and neuroscientists are seeing that even minor head injury leaves permanent brain damage. Got your bell rung? Had a concussion? Fallen off a horse? Done boxing? Crashed your bicycle without a helmet? Chances are you are now stupider than when you started. You might not notice. It might be subtle. You might be just a bit worse at math. Maybe you just don’t have the memory you had. Or maybe you get irritable easier now.

And maybe you were always like that.

The fact is that this skull of ours is real good at protecting our heads, but not so good at some other things, like being born.

Our heads are now so large in comparison to our hips (I blame the thighmaster) that we may be damaging the brains of our children in the birth process. Lack of oxygen during difficult labour, forceps, the drugs we take to ease the process may all be contributors. Pre and post labour scans show that up to 10 % of infants have significantly changed brainwave patterns immediately before and after birth. So either they are just really impressed with their new view, or one in ten of us got a raw deal at the outset.

Just so we are clear, I’m not talking about you. You’ve never been hit in the head, never played sports, never been in a car crash, and obviously, you work just fine…no way you could be one in ten…

My record is clearly less stellar. Seven years of rugby, playground “accidents” (yes I’m talking to you Patrick), skiing, a minor concussion running around a gym with my head down, getting mugged by a guy with a bat. Any one of these might have seriously affected my ability to function. And brain injury tends to be cumulative. So maybe all of them.

And really, even if you had some minor brain injury, it’s not like you really notice the difference. Why would you actually do anything about it?

Because you can, first off. Neurotherapy has a great success rate helping even major head injuries. One small study noted improvements from 61% to 181% in the functioning of participants with brain injury. It doesn’t repair damage, but it can help your brain train surrounding areas to be the best they can be, taking up some of the slack.

Second, IMHO, it is your god-given right to be the best you can be. If you broke your arm, you’d go to the doctor and get a cast. This is the same thing.

So what I guess I’m saying is…life is hard. Our brains get broken. You don’t have to take that shit lying down.

Wordsworth said “We come into this world trailing clouds of glory, Getting and spending [and getting the smackdown – ed.] we lay waste our powers.”

When I was young, I always wanted to be a super hero with powers and stuff. Now that I have the prospect of fixing some of those brain bumps and bruises we all seem to acquire, I do believe I’m gonna go out and reclaim a bit of that glory. And maybe a cape.

Passion

gogh-bandaged-ear1Here’s a question for the depressed, the trapped, or the merely unmotivated.

What drives us?

Hunger? Fear? Passion?

For now, let’s forget hunger and fear. They’re pretty basic. Solid. They can be shifted, a little, but mostly you have them or you don’t; as solid and ancient and immobile as time and tide.

But passion…ephemeral, exquisite, entrancing passion. It drives us and tears us down. An inside force that pulls like an outside force, a force that can build, or destroy us. Humanity speaks of the drive that comes from passion as an outside influence. We speak of the muses as gods that bestow passion to the lucky few. We speak of those with passion as being blessed.

Perhaps they are, or perhaps they aren’t. They used to kill men, letting them be dragged to death by wild horses. Pure need seems to have pretty much the same effect. Look at van Gogh.

But is that worse than a life lived without passion?

There are some things all humans just know. When a baby is upset, or really hurt. When someone is angry. And being different. Even the challenged kids know when every one else has something that they just don’t seem to possess. They don’t like it either.

I think I lived my whole life wondering what drive looked like from the inside. Pressed up against the storefront glass, watching the way the driven people moved, how they ate, how they spoke. And mostly I played a pretty good game, pretending; I’m not untalented, just uninvolved. But what I saw as I watched, was enticing. You can see what it is…you just can’t touch it. That’s maddening.

[Side note: Is this what television does to us? Does it show us the things we are not, creating an ever-spiralling circle of unfulfilled hunger? Some may disagree, but I don’t think we are bright enough or sufficiently in control of our base selves to truly know, on every level, that it ain’t real.]

Yet none of us are completely devoid of passion, they ebb and flow – and the one thing that always made it possible for me to continue was people. They’re lovely, endlessly fascinating, and when someone around you has passion and drive, it’s almost like you have some yourself. But, in the end, it’s just an act. It burns away and on to the next…you end up skipping across the surface of your life, never really digging in. You never succeed the way you should, and lets’s face it – you never really live.

Perhaps humans are built this way; some leaders, some followers. Perhaps without a sensible ratio, the human race bobs around in billions of tiny boats, bumping hulls, stealing fish and singing “My Way” at the top of our collective lungs.

Whatever the genetic necessity however, it REALLY wasn’t working for me. Clearly a leader, trapped in a follower’s body, like some sort of motivational transvestite. [Yup, I already regret that simile. Too late now, though.]

My cure? Sit on my ass and wait for passion to come. Occasionally do something fun or scary. Against all odds, this worked. Naturally it backfired immediately, but hey, it’s not all pool parties in the Hamptons, is it.

Gods willing, the neuro will help with the rest of it or reduce the level of distraction that forces me to keep finding new sources of passion.

So, if neuro does help…

Is passion the natural human state, absenting sadness and distraction? Can we just reawaken it with technical wizardry? Must we wait for outside forces to provide inspiration or can we, without an ember or a spark to warm, ignite the fire by rubbing sticks?

Does anyone have a match?

PS. Next time I promise to write about something more upbeat. Like brain injury.