It’s only now that enough time has passed for me to even get anywhere enough distance to view the event of my stroke and my recovery on any sort of macro level. I really still can’t see the experience in its entirety, not within the context of my life and me as a person.
It has just been way too in my face, like standing one foot away from somebody–you feel intimacy, you can smell them, you can touch them, you can see the pores on their face, but you can’t get a sense of their entire body, you don’t know how the parts all fit together viewed from afar, you can’t separate yourself.
I’ve understood bits and parts of it as they relate to who I am today. The micro-things like my relationships and such.
But as a whole–it’s just starting to come into focus, I’m just finally getting enough distance. And that’s an interesting experience as well. The stroke is behind me. My recovery is by most definitions, complete. And now–how has it changed me? Because we must posit without debate, it HAS changed me both physically and psychically. There is a black dead spot in my brain and it will not go away, the neurons have fired new paths around the dead spot. And in the process of forging these new pathways, I have found new ways to think and process the world and my experiences within it. Emotionally, I’m changed because it was a life changing experience–it made me grow up, gave me new knowledge, it made me feel less permanent in this world, it gave me a window into my own brain.
For a few months, really, I was an infant, as infants also have underdeveloped thalamuses (or thalamii). I had a left thalamic stroke–the thalamus is the hub of the brain, and the hub towards the left brain was heavily damaged. Which left me with my right brain–a side of the brain that is emotional, intuitive, empathetic, and very present tense. The left side of my brain–a side of the brain that is organizational, logical, past and future oriented (ie., experiences and planning go forward) was damaged. The left thalamus itself has lots of functions–like retrieving memories (thus my short term memory problems) and self-soothing (thus my inability to self soothe).
I was living wholly in the present tense and that was just spectacular, like an infant–I was at peace. The world was beautiful. You’d think I’d be freaked out about how fucked my brain was, but I wasn’t aware of all that until a few months later when I healed enough to realize the deficit.
In the interim, my brain was quiet. I mean QUIET. You know how you can never shut OFF your brain–you know how even in the mellowest of moments, your brain is always humming and chattering about what to make for dinner, how you’ll make dinner, what ingredients you might have in your pantry, and oh remember how mom used to make chicken and wait did you clean the kitchen? and did you pay your bills? what if the water shuts off if you didn’t pay the bill? and wait back to chicken…? That chatter was OFF. It was quiet. So peaceful. I couldn’t remember and I couldn’t plan, and I didn’t have any worries.
People pay a shitload of money and spend a lot of time to try to “empty their mind” and get to that level of zen.
But it also sucked. I couldn’t even cook or bake, because I’d start mixing something in the mixer, walk away because I wanted to check email and then come back half an hour later and wonder, “Why the HELL is the mixer on?!” That was the end of my cooking for a few months until my short term memory healed enough.
I could blog–because I was just writing stuff down, not knitting together a narrative. Blogging/journaling is a present-tense activity. But I could not order off a menu. There was no way I could make a choice–I think I made it a habit to order hamburgers for awhile (and I’m not a big hamburger lover).
I was completely dependent on others of course. But I was at total peace–and this window into the present tense, living 100% in the present moment was spectacular and life changing. That I had this ability to broach such nirvana and that it EXISTED was amazing. I mean, there are a few things I miss from that period of my life, and living in the present moment (and only the present moment) in total peace is something I miss.
Other differences–I used to HATE beer, and now I LIKE beer. I still can’t remember most details in my life 2-3 months prior and 2-3 months after my stroke. There are conversations I’ve had with friends that I CANNOT RECALL, no matter how much they remind me. And who knows what else–but if it happened between Octoberish 2006 and Marchish 2007, I probably don’t remember, unless I wrote it down. I find that I remember things that I once wrote down because my visual short term memory was in a lot better shape than my verbal short term memory.
I’m still getting to know my new self. I’m very much the same person, but every once in awhile, I discover something new about myself (like the fact that I now like beer).
And now–why is it SO HARD for me to write an essay about my stroke? I’m guessing it’s because I still don’t have enough distance (it took me 10 years after my depression and nervous breakdown to write about IT)…I’ve been working on an essay about my stroke for awhile now, at first not knowing how to sort out this gargantuan experience into 10-15 pages. And then after a time passed, I gained more understanding and came up with a structure.
it’s still not done, because I myself have not finished processing the experience. I think it will take some more time.