Taxing memory remembering taxes

Awaiting our tax refund, I get a letter from the IRS. They are holding it until I file for not one but two years I never filed for. You’re joking I thought (as if the IRS ever joked.) Nope. I found the undone taxes. Looks like I had filed extensions, twice, and then forgotten, twice. Have done them since them, every year, early. Go figure.

I remember now, though, that I did miss a year before these two and then filed two years in one. Not sure how that happened but it happened. It had never happened before. Got a refund on both so there was no penalty. Looks like the following two years I flaked. No idea what the result will be. Not looking like a refund, though.

This is just another of those things that fell through a hole in the brain (actually I do have a hole in the brain, literally, hence all this). Alas, the world doesn’t work with holes in brains. It’s made up of whole brained people who don’t mess up, and people whose memories haven’t been erased clean in five minutes like a blackboard. We were always exceptionally good about taxes. Keeping great records, timely filing, being honest. But in 2006 I had a hellish year of small seizures that went on for months and months, unrelenting, and she had a blood infection in 2008 that stopped her heart and left her essentially dead for five minutes. After that everything changed. Some things instantly, like her amnesia and vaporized executive functions. Some things slowly, over the following decade, like my disintegrating memory and executive functions. Either way, you’d be amazed at how much you can forget. And how, once forgotten, it’s like it never happened at all, until the IRS send you a nasty letter, or someone bangs on the door with a summons for a bill you can’t remember. Or you find out they’re going to haul you into jail because you forgot to mail in your jury form. Or the internet disappears, unpaid for. I knew I forgot something, I always say. Though most of the time I didn’t know I forgot anything. That’s the beauty of amnesia.

I was just flipping through Seized, by Eve La Plante, probably the only real book ever done on Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. I actually have Frontal Lobe Epilepsy, that’s where the hole is, but most of the electrical storms caused by that hole sweep across the temporal lobe like a low pressure front on The Weather Channel, causing all sorts of weirdness and memory loss and zapping executive functions all to hell and reducing my time frame to a few days from now and not much more. Slowly the brain deteriorates, neurons burned out and destroyed. You’d be amazed what you lose with it, like remembering to file taxes. Anyway, in the section of the book called “Ordinary People” it discusses three people. The first was a guy who was messed up but still functioning, working, very busy, just a little odd. I remember how in 2006 that was me. The next subject was a lady who’d been successful in business, but epilepsy had messed her up. There was a paragraph in there about what a mess her finances had become, even on her executive salary, with money misplaced, bills unpaid, checks bouncing, utilities turned off, debt collectors calling, the IRS angry. She had a drawer full of unopened mail. She was an organizational disaster. She’d never been good at handling money even before her epilepsy, and look at her now. Damn, I thought, glad I ain’t her. I could not even imagine what it was like to be her. I was super organized, super disciplined. I was on top of things.

Well guess what. I ain’t that first guy at all anymore. Now I’m her. And unlike her I had been good at our finances. I remember a month long road trip we took across country in 2010. Not only was every single bill I worked out a cost estimation of the trip ahead of time. When we got back I went through all the receipts and bank statements and realized I had been off only a couple hundred dollars, and that was because the price of gas had fallen while we were driving ten thousand miles. Everything else–lodging, food, etc.–was remarkably close to what I had figured. And this was a trip that we sort of winged the route on. No hard and fast plans. Somehow, I had worked that all into my calculations. I couldn’t even do that for a day trip now.

(I’m afraid to read about that the third person. I remember it was weird. Very weird. She played the violin in the symphony and would go on these weird and disturbing adult oriented Through the Looking Glass adventures. It was a rare case. By the way, Lewis Carroll was epileptic. Never Never Land is where he’d go in his seizures.)

Nice to know, however, that screwing up one’s taxes by forgetting them is just another symptom. You go to your neurologist, tell him your sad story, and it’s just the tenth similar story he’s heard that day. But it’s jarring to think of us ten years ago, though, and us now. I can actually think back if it’s longer term. (Long term memory is less affected than more recent memory, and short term is the most ephemeral of all, ask any pot smoker.) Between my wife dying for five minutes and having her memory obliterated and my brain being fried to hell by who knows how many little seizures, we’re like ten year olds trying to play grown ups with the bills. What a disaster this is. What a decade this has been. I wonder what this next decade will bring. If I could see more than a week into it I’d probably be concerned.

I used to be good at so many things, and all I can do now is write. So I wrote this.

Advertisements

Carpe diem

My essays keep getting shorter and shorter. Executive functions slipping away neuron by neuron. Everything I do now is in immediate bursts. Too long and I seem to forget what it was I was doing. I sit surrounded by projects I forgot to complete. All around me are piles of things half done or undone. It’s a pleasant life, clockless and calendar free, but every once in a while I remember that I could once stay focused for days or weeks at a time. Now I live in the now. Carpe diem, I guess.

Forgetting

Fifteen years ago, I worked for about thirty or so people, from executives on down, and I handled all their expense reports and purchases and you name it. I was so good at it that I was one of the employees that others would come to when they were stumped trying to figure out how to expense something. Executives from outside my department would come and ask for help. That was at Disney and I knew my shit. I was also, for a year or two, the one man purchasing department for Disney Online, when it was a start up. Millions of dollars of purchases went through me, I drew up the purchase orders, I figured out to set up the accounting for each, I got them approved. I remember setting up a database on Access to keep track of them. A schedule on Project. I had that purchasing down, too. Later, I was told by accounting that I processed more accounts payable invoices than the rest of the Walt Disney Internet Group put together. Tens of millions of dollars every couple months. That is in addition to all those expense reports and getting purchase orders processed–though I was no longer the purchasing department. There were several people by then doing what I had once done. I was a master of details and process and numbers.

This occurred to me a couple nights ago as I stared at our bank account and tried to figure out if we had enough cash on hand to cover rent. (We did.) I couldn’t remember what charges were outstanding. I couldn’t remember what we had paid or not. I had definitely forgotten to pay the DWP, I knew that, as they were threatening to shut us off. Time Warner Cable too. All these numbers swimming, these things I have no ability to calculate or schedule or understand. An infinitesimal fraction of what I was once a master of at Disney. It’s all beyond me now.

Losing your executive functions is a bitch. Abilities just disappear. Things everyone can do I can no longer do. Basic human being things. Those neurons burned away a long time ago. My temporal lobe, where all these things lie, is a beat up mess. A life time of small seizures, thousands of them, have done their damage. It’s like someone reached into the hard drive of the computer I’m writing on and 0-949uj1/’p23fh13wcde’p9dcalkjaZXA. Just like that.

A couple days ago was our wedding anniversary. The day before I was looking up at the digital sign above the bus driver, charmed, and it said November 28. November 28? Oh wow, November 29th is our anniversary. I said that aloud. She said yes it is and smiled. I said I had completely forgotten. I had never forgotten before. Not even almost forgotten. I always remembered. She smiled again. That’s OK, she said, we’ll have a nice dinner. You live with a husband long enough and you can see that his brain has been zapped away, and that he forgets things, but he means well.

I had never forgotten our anniversary before. I wondered what else I was forgetting. What else I would forget. And I sat there, as the bus lurched along, with the cold hollow suspicion that I was not going to able to take care of us by myself much longer.

 

(This is also posted on brickwahl.com)

let the brain settle itself down

[Email from February, 2006. Reading this now I can’t believe I didn’t apply for disability. Instead I toughed it out as the increased medication slowly settled things back down. Took only a year….though the damage was done.]  

My epilepsy’s been messing with me pretty hard and writing is dicey and any intellectual discourse more so….which kinda scotches a lot of our conversations! Feeling slowly better….I suddenly developed an incredible stammer which is almost completely gone and my memory seems to be returning pretty much intact. I had lost my ability to read other people which was a little unnerving…that seems to be coming back. I still have a reduced depth perception (mainly over long distances) which is always cool at first but gets old. The limbs keep going numb, the skull tingly, I get really tired. Been losing weight which is nice. Libido’s fine. And I am whining about myself a lot which is exceedingly rare so enjoy it while you can.  All I can say is that seizure disorders are overrated as a spiritual vocation. There are lots of things more fun to do.

I flunked out of pre-Algebra

I flunked out of pre-Algebra in high school, so they had me take it in summer school where I passed with–I kid you not–a D minus. I think it was a mercy D-minus. I have an excuse, though, because whatever thought processes are used in any math beyond basic arithmetic sets off petit mal seizures and I end up out of it and nauseous. It took me years to figure this out, though. I thought I just hated math.

My IQ test results must have been interesting. I have no idea what score (or scores) I received, but I probably did well on the language stuff, and the basic arithmetic stuff, then bottomed out when it went beyond that. I remember taking an IQ test in high school. They’d herded us all into the auditorium and handed out the test sheets. I was whizzing through the language section thinking I was smart, then made it through the adding and subtracting easily enough, but then it began to get abstract and I began to get fuzzy. I never thought much about it though. Decades later the reason dawned on me one boring day at work when I started one of those online IQ tests. Those were all the rage at the time, one of the first annoying internet trends. This was years ago. As soon as it got to the more advanced questions with shapes, etc, my brain fizzed out and I felt sick. Limbs go numb, tongue heavy, and this fuzzy thickness descends and a sort of creeping nausea comes on. Ah ha, I thought to myself, and have avoided anything like that since. Can’t believe it took me thirty years to figure that out. The exact same thing used to happen to me in math class. I was a tough kid, though, not prone to complaining and figured everyone was like that too. Never imagined it meant something was wrong. My neurologist wasn’t the least bit surprised when we discussed it. It happens, he said. With epilepsy anything can happen. Some epileptics talk to God. Some have spontaneous orgasms. Me, algebra makes me sick. Not as fun, though probably less embarrassing.

I’m very leery of physics and philosophy for the same reason. I could never make head or tail out of either and I suspect it’s because trying to think like that sets off little electro-chemical firestorms in my frontal lobe which then spread to the temporal lobe and fuck shit up nicely. Maybe not, I may just not be bright enough to figure them out, but why take chances. Life sciences I’m fine with, though. Earth sciences, linguistics. My great regret in life is not pursuing a science career, but there was no way. You need math, and all I can do is simple arithmetic.

Certain kinds of modular maps will set me off too. Not long after I made the mistake of taking that IQ test I made the mistake of trying to read the stupid arty map in the Getty’s Top of the Hill garage. Hiply modular, way modular, expensively modular. A regular map just wouldn’t do, not at the Getty. I studied it for maybe fifteen seconds and suddenly I was in a haze, a little lost, and I couldn’t remember anybody’s name. My wife got us to our seats.

Anyway, I eventually learned that if trying to read anything made me feel out of it or sick, to stop reading it immediately. Took me thirty years of epilepsy to figure that out. Some writing will set me off too. It used to be a problem. Apparently over the years I’ve learned to write in ways that doesn’t set off my epilepsy. Couldn’t tell you how, but I rarely get sick writing anymore.

But I can take all the strobe lights ya got.

Tuesday something

(written a couple years ago….)

It’s Friday morning, and here’s the old people medical news, plus a ten pen cent discount. Good article in AARP magazine about the meds you take and why you can’t remember anything. Luckily for me both my anti-seizure drugs (that sounds much nicer than anti-convulsants) are listed so now I have twice the excuse for not remembering your name or what I promised or where I am. Plus the good thing is that I have twice the excuse for not remembering your name or what I promised or where I am. And here’s an article about the meds you take and why you can’t remember anything. Thank god it’s Thursday. Or Tuesday. Though it doesn’t look like Belgium. Or Weld, for that matter. And I read somewhere that some meds affect your memory.

I was going to say something.

Memory! That’s it. And you thought I couldn’t remember anything.

Tuesday Weld, looking like she forgot something.

Tuesday Weld, looking like she forgot something.

Vincent Van Gogh

(2015)

Yet another theory on Vincent Van Gogh, this time from an astrophysicist. Van Gogh’s Turbulent Mind Captured Turbulence. “The painter’s creations during his blue period mirrored nature’s turbulent flows, as if his mind somehow tapped into a universal archetype, says astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser.” OK. Some sort of astrophysical mysticism. But while tapping into the universal archetype is cool, Van Gogh was very epileptic, and a lot of his technique was simply his painting the visual effects of his epilepsy. The auras around light (like the moon and stars in Starry Night), which can vibrate or pulsate, and the flattening effect, with objects appearing to be separated from the things behind them, as in the tree in the painting. To an epileptic, objects close up will appear three dimensional, objects further back will have less depth and objects further back appear flat, like a backdrop. It’s like a crowd scene shot on a soundstage in old film, with real people up front, cut outs of people behind them, and paintings of people on the backdrop furthest back. It’s actually a pretty cool effect. The first time I ever stood right in front of a Van Gogh–Irises, at the Getty–that is what I saw. The gradations of dimension. Vividly three dimensional in front. Less depth behind. And further back little or no depth at all. I was startled at how epileptic it was. It was like I’d missed a dose of my meds. Pretty cool.

On evenings that I have nothing to do, if the effect creeps up on me I’ll sit out on the deck and the view goes very Van Gogh–not like Starry Night, but earlier, before his temporal lobe seizures got out of control. It’s the most gorgeous thing, one of the symptoms of epilepsy that I love. I’ll sit out there and just look at all the beauty of it for an hour or so, and wait a bit before taking my pills. Once they hit the bloodstream it all goes three dimensional again, a shame, but it’s better that way. But you all don’t know what you’re missing. If you ever dropped acid you’ve seen some of the same effect, though you thought you were a Greek god at the time.

Sometimes I’ll take advantage of that state to write. Push off taking those pills a bit. It’s an old epileptic writer’s trick. There’s an intensity to writing epileptic. You get lost in it. Hours can pass. Sometimes it can get out of control and the writing comes out like Neil Cassidy on speed, unusable. Sometimes it’ll take me so close to the bone I’ll begin trembling and feel physically ill. I don’t like to let that happen. And sometimes it comes out just right. A little edgy, maybe, a little weird even, but just right. Still, I don’t recommend it as a writing technique. But it does give me a glimpse into Dostoevsky’s muse. Or what Van Gogh might have been seeing.

You hear a lot about Van Gogh’s use of absinthe. As if absinthe was some crazy elixir, like LSD. But it’s basically alcohol, a very high octane alcohol, like white lightning or Rumplemintz. You drink enough of that kind of stuff you’ll be messed up, epileptic or not. Of course, it would likely have very deleterious effects on epilepsy, exacerbating it severely. Our wiring is thinly sheathed, our neurons very susceptible to firing out of sync, or too often, or firing when they shouldn’t be firing. Doesn’t take much too short us out. Any stimulus is a potential risk. And in Van Gogh’s case, uncontrolled by medication as it was, any booze in excess probably messed him up badly. Caffeine could have too. Or any drugs he was doing. Even cigars. Because stimulants–any stimulants–can exacerbate epilepsy. And Van Gogh’s main problem was he was very epileptic. That’s what he was diagnosed as during his lifetime, that is what he was being treated for, that is what he was being medicated for, though the meds at the time were only partially effective. There’s a terrific chapter on him in the book Seized by Eve LaPlante. Van Gogh was classically epileptic, with a classically epileptic inter-ictal personality. That is, he was different even between seizures. And he had a lot of seizures. Not big seizures, so much, but lots and lots of lesser seizures. What are commonly called petit mals. You have a lot of those and they will mess you up. I’ve been there. It’s not easy. I can’t imagine living that way without effective medication. I’d be in a 24/7 epileptic world. I’d be unmanageable, full of rage and inspiration and moments of brilliance and many more of embarrassment. I’d be writing every conscious moment. I’d be falling madly in love incessantly. I’d drive people nuts with chatter. I wouldn’t want to sit next to me on a bus. I’d be a lot like the descriptions you read of Vincent Van Gogh. I don’t mean the talent, obviously, or the genius or any of that. I mean the personality. The epileptic personality. Temporal lobe epileptics (or frontal lobe epileptics whose seizure activity extends into the temporal lobe) are all remarkably similar. Do a lot of the same crazy things. And Vincent Van Gogh was as epileptic as they come. Textbook. He wasn’t crazy, or delusional, or mad. He was just really tore up by his virtually uncontrolled temporal lobe epilepsy. You look at his paintings chronologically, you can it increasing. Something was making it worse. The visual effects he recorded are intense. Obviously the concentration required in painting is bad for him–ideally, an epileptic should do as little as possible–and his frustration is palpable. He would have known what the problem was. Suicide is not an uncommon cure.

I’m not sure why art historians refuse to label Van Gogh’s malady as epilepsy. I guess there’s a deeply rooted stigma about epilepsy and a romance to madness. Whatever. But Van Gogh was as messed up as Dostoevsky who was also classically epileptic. Yet today, neither would ever have been the artists they were, as their distinctive art was so based on badly controlled temporal/frontal lobe seizure activity. Pills would ruin that. They would have been much happier, written shorter books, painted fewer paintings. But the live wire creativity that goes with uncontrolled epilepsy, that would never have happened. We might have Irises, but no Starry Night. Maybe a Crime and Punishment, but no Brothers Karamazov. I think about Van Gogh and Dostoevsky often, and I pity them, a little. They were  messed up. Tragically so. Yet being messed up is what turned them into such extraordinary figures. An extraordinary painter, and astonishing novelist. There’s a bizarre tendency in modern western civilization to disprove anyone famous was epileptic. There is scarcely an epileptic of note for whom experts haven’t tried to erase the shame of the falling sickness. They’re forever looking for some other explanation. Dostoevsky made that impossible in his case with his vivid descriptions of seizures throughout his novels. Van Gogh, though, has been the victim of quite literally dozens of theories of his “madness”. Some are feasible, others unlikely. Sometimes very unlikely. And now a scientist has him metaphysically in tune with the mathematics of the universe. How this works, who knows. Is there any science behind this? Absolutely not. It is complete fantasy. The truth is that Vincent Van Gogh had epilepsy, and his art was an epileptic’s eye view of the world.

Starry Night--the sky.

Detail from Starry Night.