A long time ago, when I had the stamina to go backpacking, there would be this moment when the pack came off and for a while, I would feel incredibly light, buoyant almost because my body, having grown accustomed to struggling with the extra weight, had been suddenly released. yesterday, I spoke with the occupational therapist about what it's been like to accomplish what I have while living with multiple brain injuries, that it was like climbing a mountain with a hundred pounds of rocks on my back.
It's only the end of the first day, but I am buoyant, floating, light on my feet. I had ten different therapy sessions today. One of them is with a device called the Dyna Vision. It's a big black square on the wall, with concentric rings of buttons that light up. I ask the therapist what part of my brain we're working on now and he says it's the subcortical region, the most seriously injured. The Grand Central Station of information routing, where so many pathways pass through, delivering information , sending signal, handling traffic--except that mine doesn't.
At first, my task is just to whack the buttons as they light up. But it gets more and more complicated and challenging. Hit the red lights with my right hand and the green with my left. Now switch. Hit the lights while reading a story out loud. And then, do a side to side dance step while hitting the lights. At first they are lighting up at the same speed as my dance step rhythm, but soon they speed up and I am hopelessly snarled. I lose the dance steps or I lose track of the lights, and eventually I lose both and stand, immobilized by my inability to track the two tasks that feel impossibly contradictory. We stop. Then he says, "Now do it again."
And all of a sudden I can. I can do it. I'm not confused. I can FEEL the lights going on in a darkened section of my brain, long unused. I stand there as my brain changes. Then I am taken to a softly lit room with a big comfy chair where I put on headphones for brainwave entrainment. It takes me into a meditative state and lets everything rest. While I am resting, I see two images. First there is a dimly lit curved corridor, full of grip hazards and obstacles--boxes, toys, piles of stuff. Then suddenly the lights are on, the hallways are completely clear and clean and I am running along the curve.
This is toward the end of a day in which I've done two hour long cognitive therapy sessions, played brain games chosen for my specific profile of difficulties, and neuromuscular work to open us circulation through my neck and into my head. I start to notice other things. Yesterday I couldn't figure out how to upload two images for a t-shirt that needs to be ready in nine days. Today I did it over my lunch break . Things I learned in the morning cognitive session are affecting how I play games in the afternoon. My head feel clear, unfogged. I feel lighter. There's a sense of fizzing, tingling, of vines sending out tendrils, of everything waking up. It's springtime in my brain, and I feel in tune with the flowering fruit trees that line the streets of Provo.
I get home with only a few minutes to spare before the first of two check-in calls. I haven't eaten,I have to pee, I want to change my clothes, and I have to fix food for tomorrow, plus my cell just dinged that I have a text. Yesterday I would have felt overwhelmed, felt that each of these things demanded my attention at the same time. I would have dithered and fretted trying to figure out what to do first. Today I pause, think for a minute and then decide I will pee, put up dinner, then check my messages, then do as much food prep as I can til my call starts and let my friend know I'll need to eat dinner while we talk. I'm unruffled. I have a plan, a sequence. Organizing a clutter of individual tasks, ideas, objects into a structure is one of the hardest things for me to do. Or it was yesterday, when I had a hundred pounds of ricks on my back . But somehow during the day, I loosened the straps, and someone helped me set my backpack down on the ground. Today is only Tuesday. Imagine what Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be like!
Aurora Levins Morales is a disabled and chronically ill, community supported writer, historian, artist and activist. It takes a village to keep her blogs coming. To become part of the village it takes, donate here.
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