May 16, 2010

Echoes

I've got to try to find some context for this. It reads as if it's a project I did for Toastmasters.

In the movie the young man said “You can always travel in there” as he touched the forehead of the woman who would become his lover and who had just told him of journeys not taken, destinations not seen and revealed a dozen ways her enthusiasm had been stilled, her ambitions had been crushed, and her dreams had been shattered. He was far too young and far too good-looking for me to identify with, but she seemed to reach inside me and touch a disappointment I knew all too well.

I first recognized this kind of disappointment about the middle of my working life. I was too young to think that an end to my time working would come anytime soon, but I was old enough to know that I wouldn’t be the next GS superstar, an office director, or the savior of the western world. I watched more than a few colleagues as they neared retirement, and while there was talk of reading, relaxing, and travelling, I saw an inevitable isolation from the rest of the staff--fewer and fewer projects went their way, their advice was no longer sought, their experience seemed no longer appreciated.

I never found out if my career would end the same way. Illness put a sudden end to my working days, and instead of retiring to a nice quiet life, I found myself wrapped up in hospital routines and intensive therapy. Even now, I find it difficult to talk about that time because most of it is lost in the haze of a cognitive deficit. I think I knew who I was and what I was doing, but there was so much memory loss, so little ability to pay attention to what was happening that even now I’m not sure. Time and effort and care have enabled me to carry on with my life, but I have to admit that the quality of my experience is different. I know I’ve come a long way, but I feel gaps and losses anyway. Probably nothing bothers me more than the loss of mobility. I walk with difficulty, and even worse, I don’t drive. And that seems to make the area I can act in much smaller. a path between my computer and stereo in one room, the television and easy chair in another, and the bed upstairs. More requires the involvement of another, and you can only begin to imagine the conflict of interest between the grocery store on one hand and the museum and the computer store on the other. Gone is the ability to engage a large number of friends and acquaintances in workplace and social conversations; gone is the ability to move about when and where I please. So instead I worry that my life and my world are contracting, shrinking. That’s what I recognized when I watched people getting ready to retire; that’s what I recognized in the movie.

Other facets of my experience are harder for me to recall; maybe it’s because I don’t have a hook for them like watching people retire. It will be hard for me to explain to you an unusual feeling of well-being I had in the early days of my recovery. I don’t have a name for it other than “The Manana Effect” I was in a hospital, away from home in an unusual and barely friendly environment, surrounded by people who asked questions and poked and prodded whenever and wherever they felt they had to, not able to do anything familiar, but I still felt good and that I had nothing to worry about. If there was something I had to take care of, I could do it manana, it didn’t matter. In her remarkable book, My Stroke of Insight,” Jill Taylor is able to give a much more precise and articulate explanation. The brain damage that occurs in a stroke has the effect of disconnecting the right brain from the left brain, and stroke patients often find that they can’t reestablish the orderliness and rhythm of life. In effect, they’re lost in the wilderness of their right brain. (It was Paradise for someone like me who has a tendency to be prefer the right brain, anyway.)

So as much as I might have been happy to stay in the mental state I was in, my brain cells took over and did what they had to do. They exercised their neuroplastic ability, built new connections between my left brain and my right, and helped me get back as close to a normal life as I’ll ever let it get. As they say, it was a bumpy ride. I recall moments of difficulty and discovery like the first time I was handed a cel phone. I knew, I think, that it was something that was supposed to be useful, but I didn’t know how. I had to be shown the keys and what they were for and how to use them. I had to learn first what a phone number was and then how to find the number for the person I wanted. The first time I touched a computer, I had to be shown how to turn it on.

I continued to stumble through frustrations to discoveries that proved far more rewarding. Loss of Mobility meant that I didn’t go into many parts of my house until long after my initial time in the hospital. A simple act like taking a book from a shelf after it had been unseen, unrecalled, and untouched for years let me recall all sorts of things--not just the book and its contents, but what I was doing when I read it, who I discussed it with, where I read it and more. Opening a drawer for the first time in several years can lead to confusion and discovery, practically an overload as associations are made and mental pathways are reestablished. I’m actually greedy to explore parts of my house that I haven’t used for a while, to get into boxes and drawers and shelves that are still hidden from me. That’s why that young man in the movie spoke so convincingly to me. In just a few words he showed me that I “can still travel in here” and made me appreciate that I do it every day. And even better, he made me believe that I can still travel.