Brain Man

I knew there would be a period of adjustment once Anya left for Nepal, and there certainly has been. It was likely that I would have some initial trouble adjusting properly or productively, and that has happened too. Furthermore, I fully expected to make some large or unwise purchases, and I have bought some things (read: bikes and jeans) but I consider those incredibly wise purchases. Two things I didn’t fully anticipate: 1) my affinity for spinach and avocados (random, but healthy) and 2) the improvements in my cognitive abilities.

Let’s back up a bit, because an interesting thing has happened over the course of adjusting to and living with brain damage. First, there was a detachment of sorts from my brain, as if it had it’s own will and, for lack of a better word, personality. As I began to recognize and understand how my damaged brain operated, it became easier to blame my brain for my mistakes and frustrations. “Piece of Shit Brain” is how I unlovingly and frequently referred to it. There was a clear distinction between how I wanted to be and what my crippled brain would allow, and I resented my brain for it. I blamed it for making me come across strangely, for my emotional blow-ups, for forgetting the smallest things and screwing up the big ones. We weren’t the best of mates.

Ironically enough, while disassociating and distancing myself from it, I became very familiar with my brain and this is what ultimately lead to a functioning compromise. As in interpersonal relationships, listening and seeking understanding appear to be the keys to a healthy intra-personal relationship as well. This period of time was marked by intense self analysis – dissecting actions, thoughts, motives, and emotions – and acute observation of what worked well and why. Simply second guessing wasn’t enough, I was triple guessing on the easy days, taking nothing for granted, and passing everything from my mind under the microscope of introspection. This cyclical endeavour, however, was prone to become its own kind of little hell that would leave me feeling detached and isolated at the end of it all. Regardless, it was just my brain and me, like two little kids stuck in a room until we sorted out our differences, but my brain at the time seemed to be a most unscrupulous companion.

Forced to spend (or to continue spending, rather), so much time together, my brain and I slowly worked toward making amends and, through that, making peace with the circumstances we found ourselves in. I stopped demanding perfect execution, taking note of the skills and abilities that remained instead. Willpower gave way to reality and pride followed suit shortly after. The less I tried to be a certain way (read: like my old self), the more my brain and I converged. It was no longer the annoying, clumsy teammate I put way, way, out in left field where the ball would never go. I wasn’t embarrassed to be seen with it anymore.

This understanding, then, to stop seeing my brain as the official opposition, has helped me see what I’m really fighting here and where to focus my efforts. The real battle is to live well now, to combat the innumerable and endlessly creative excuses my mind generates for why I shouldn’t do this, why I’m entitled to that, and why there’s no point in trying anymore. With my real foe clearly in sight now, I set about pushing back. I started pursuing and initiating events precisely because they were outside my comfort zone. I sought out a job. I enrolled in a bicycle mechanics course in Colorado Springs. I forced myself to interact with customers in the shop. I bought a bike. I bought another bike.

I decided to stay home while Anya works in Nepal for six months.

And it was in this deliberate effort that I began noticing cognitive improvements. From a neurological standpoint, the surival mechanisms I employed early on developed neural pathways in my brain, a sequence of cause and effect reactions that fired from thought to conclusion. With repetition, these synaptic connections fired almost instantaneously, not unlike a reflex, reinforcing the behaviour, and therefore the thought process. In other words, my brain developed habits in conjunction with my own behavioural ones. As I put myself to work in these weakness-laden areas, however, I am increasingly capable of circumventing these neural hair-triggers, forcing a new neural connection in my brain, and a new outlook in myself. Like two live wires making contact, these new connections spark so sharply that I can literally feel it when it happens. I can feel my brain diverting the energy from old routes to even older, yet familiar ones. Something shifts, like a glitch in the Matrix, and suddenly the weakling on my team is hitting 600ft home runs with alarming regularity. And now I’m more resourceful. I’m more resilient. I ask less and find out more. I’m bold in what I know and what I’ve learned.

Today, it isn’t me and my socially inept, awkward brain shuffling along behind.

It isn’t me and anything.

It’s just me.

It’s all me.


About jaybrandsma

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3 Responses to Brain Man

  1. My fav entry thus far. And might I add that it is not fair that someone with brain damage writes much better than I ever could…

  2. Matt says:

    Great read, dude. Really dug the last paragraph. Stoked to see you this summer and throw cheese.

  3. Michelle says:

    remarkable. I knew this time apart was perfect. perfect timing, perfect God, perfect healing!

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