The Dark Side of the Brain

“Brain Damage” is a track from English rock band Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. I know this because I once lived in a college dorm room and I believe it's a requirement for residency that you hear the album at least 500 times before graduating. Five hundred is probably a low estimate. In my case, those words are also a way for me to joke about my deficiencies while still relaying the fact that I am, occasionally, off my game. If you are exhausted of hearing about how fucked up I feel, you can stop reading now. I totally get it.

So, what were once frequently referred to as concussions are now often classified as Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). That’s what I have.  There are much more severe types of brain injury than the one I’ve been diagnosed with. But, a blow to the head can cause lots of odd things to happen to your body and sometimes they don’t make sense. You can experience memory loss and inability to concentrate. Some people suffer from changes in personality. Others find that once dormant parts of their brain have been activated, that they now have extraordinary artistic abilities. Perhaps one part of the brain is damaged, which activates another, previously dormant part.

Whether we want to admit it or not, our brain defines who we are. If you break an arm, that injury is usually limited to a specific area. Unless there was serious trauma surrounding that injury, your personality and your brain do not change. Your body generally heals within a set period of time and, in many cases, things start to work the way they once did. I’ve come to learn that your brain isn’t like that. No two brains are completely alike, I’ve been told. They don’t think alike, they don’t work in the same way, and they don’t heal in the same way or within a predictable time frame.

At my last neurological consultation, I made self-effacing jokes as we went through a listing of my symptoms: headaches, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, fatigue, change in sleep patterns, behavioral and mood changes, trouble with memory, concentration, attention, or thinking. I occasionally suffer from slurred speech, loss of coordination (even more than usual), and, often, vertigo.  My handwriting isn’t even the same. I have an old woman’s shaky scrawl lately. I spent several weeks in balance therapy and now I can walk an approximation of a straight line. Those weird spasms that you get when you are almost asleep? I get them when I’m fully awake and walking around. I feel a bit like Steve Martin in “All of Me,” jerking around and looking like a crazy person.

The doctors cannot tell me when I will be “normal” again. My MRI and CT scans show no abnormalities, which is good. But, I was told that it could be 1-3 years before my symptoms resolve themselves.  My doctor says that the number one key to my brain healing is this: Don’t Fall Again. A hilarious prospect for someone with vertigo. So far, I’ve managed to fall only on my rump and not on my head. Hooray for having a well-padded bum, right?

I’m not the same as I was before. I know I’m not the same. I try really hard to act like Sara most of the time. But, I get really easily frustrated and embarrassed when I can’t think of what I want to say. I’m uneasy meeting new people. I’m pretty sure I won’t remember their names and I will probably act a little awkward anyway. I meander all around words and never quite find them sometimes. I was trying to think of “apple sauce” last week and the only thing I could come up with was “apple juice”. Kory was very patient, as he always is. He lets me come to the word myself, instead of getting frustrated and telling me. Still, in conversation about a week ago, I said that my birthday is in January; it’s actually in July. “J’s” are tough for me. I don’t write in the same voice, either. That one bothers me the most.

Maybe you haven’t noticed a difference. Maybe you do, occasionally. My friend, Alex, keeps telling me how disappointed he is that he hasn’t seen me fall down ONE SINGLE TIME since this happened. That’s the perfect response. Laugh and make me laugh. It’s all so absurd. But not as absurd as that Wizard of Oz/The Dark Side of the Moon theory. I mean, come on, people.