For a writer I certainly don’t do a lot of writing anymore, then again I’ve never felt less epileptic in my life. Writing sets off epilepsy which creates more writing. The more the epilepsy, the more creative the writing. The more creative the writing, the more the epilepsy. The more the epileptic writing, the more the brain damage. Oops. Thus, sidelined, I just kick back and watch all the shit go down. These are marvelous times for watching the shit go down. Glorious times, even. Watching history happen from our little urban forested haven. Lots of time to read and watch old movies. The less the epilepsy, it turns out, the more the reading. I’m wending my way though stacks of turgid volumes. Don’t even ask. The constant writing in my head got in the way when I was trying to read. It’s good to have the fountain of words turned off. I can listen to people now and not rewrite what they are saying. I can listen to music now and not hear it as writing. I can look at the landscape and not see it as stories. I can listen to birds sing and not hear language. I just hear birds singing.
(from an email)
Brain tissue is a problem, but new brain pathways do spring up. Also, the current research seems to indicate that music thinking is a precursor to language, so it’s deeply embedded.
Well, those new synaptic pathways are also a problem for epileptics, as synapses connect in ways they shouldn’t and rerouting around synapses that should be connecting, thereby sundering the neuronal pathways to parts of the brain. It’s as if a neuron that had one hundred possible connections now has only five possible connections. If you imagine each synapse as a door to another room, suddenly ninety-five rooms have been locked shut, and everything within them is now unavailable forever. That is the impact partial seizures have on our brains, a few neurons at a time. When you realize that entire behaviors can be the result of a handful of connected neurons, it is amazing just what can be lost with even a virtually invisible seizure. A seizure is like a power surge in an electrical system, arcing currents and burning out circuits and wires and damaging machinery. As the temporal lobe seems to be much more vulnerable to this than the frontal lobe, every time an epileptic has a partial TLE seizure, some of the pathways are sundered and information is lost forever. Most we are not aware of. It can take decades to realize things are missing, though I’m sure the vast majority we have no idea we lost at all, simply because you can’t remember what you no longer remember.
Had to take a mental examination for epilepsy on Monday morning. Lots of drawing, writing things down, repeating, remembering, trying to do things backwards. Little brain games. I was doing OK until the cubes. Four of them, red on some sides, white on other sides, some 50/50. I had to put them in combinations to create patterns. Right off the bat I knew I was in trouble…I had to create abstract patterns with abstract patterns. A trigger. I don’t do abstract shapes well. Within seconds I was going numb, talking slow, having trouble remembering anything. But I finished the test. All day long I was in a daze. Memory problems, out of it. Next day the same thing. On Wednesday more of the same. Finally today I am mostly back to normal. It used to be that concentrating on abstractions like that would wipe me out for a few hours. Now it lasts days. It’s not as intense as it used to get–no nausea–but it’s longer lasting. And of course, all that does is burn out more synapses and wreck more neurons. It’s like an epilepsy loop. The damage causes aka petit mal seizures which wrecks neurons which causes petit mal seizures which wrecks more neurons…..drip drip drip.
I’ve been trying to write this for days now. But I had to write this without trying to visualize the cubes and patterns, as the memory of them has the same effect as the actual experience, though the symptoms–numbness, stutter, memory loss–were even stronger. Apparently the actual experience of playing with those damn cubes involved several disparate sensory parts of the brain, but the memory involves only the parts of the brain that store the memories of the experience, and for some reason those memory centers set off more of the symptoms than the original sensory centers. If I were to think hard right now and try to remember actually doing the tests–though the memory of it is thoroughly garbled by now–I would actually get sicker than if I were actually doing the tests. I suppose I was only able to write this now as the short term memory of it has dissipated…as short term memories do after a couple days. Medium and long term memories are not as triggerable, if that is a word. If not, it is now.
The focal point of my seizures is a hole in the brain in the frontal lobe. A birth defect. Hence I can be set off by certain abstractions. I cannot do any sort of math beyond simple mathematics, I cannot read complex philosophy, I have difficulty with the modularity of things within things within things. Were I a gorilla (a common misconception, actually), this would not be as much of a problem. But Homo sapien sapiens are really big on the abstractions; our brains, in large part, grew huge because of the giant frontal lobes that developed to handle abstractions. It’s just that some of us have holes in our frontal lobes. Most of my symptoms, however, are in the temporal lobe, as so much frontal lobe activity is channeled through the temporal lobe. When the neurons that are all screwed up around the hole in my brain in my frontal lobe start firing in too rapid an order and messing things up, the extra electrical energy is released in the temporal lobe. Apparently the frontal lobe can handle such things easier. The temporal lobe, perhaps because it is much older and developed when brains were smaller and contained far less potential electrical energy (think of a neuron as a battery, and our frontal lobes are an enormous collection of interconnected batteries), perhaps never developed the protection it needs to protect it from such excess electricity. Like putting a Model T electrical system in a Porsche. The slightest thing could burn it out. And after a lifetime of epilepsy, the temporal lobe is thoroughly burned out. It has actually shrunk in size from all the electrical abuse, and a wide array of its knowledge–the various kinds of memories it stores in various places–are not even accessible anymore. The executive functions it controls–planning, etc–get thoroughly messed up. Frontal lobe functions–all that useless historical information and irritating know-it-all trivia–are unfazed. I can write. I can read. I can talk and talk and talk until everybody leaves. But stupid things like red and white cubes can mess me up for days.
One of the fun things about epilepsy is how it displays the inner workings of the brain. If you are fascinated by cognitive processes, it’s like being your own laboratory. One of the less fun things is drooling all over the carpet.
Someone mentioned a good cry she’d had. How it had been just what she needed. The tears flowed and afterward she felt fresh and renewed, as after a spring rain.
I think I’ve cried for a total of two or three minutes in thirty years. Just doesn’t come easily to some folks, I guess. Maybe a minute when my dad died, not at all when my mother died, as she’d told me not to. Once I burst out in tears like an idiot putting down a cat, one of the most embarrassing moments in my life that was. It passed in five or ten seconds and the cat died peacefully in my arms. I cried once for a few seconds when I thought my wife was dying and for maybe 30 seconds, just bawling, when I was misinformed that while she had lived she was severely brain damaged. I didn’t cry more about it, she’s an Indian and they don’t cry much, don’t believe in it, and too much grief seemed wrong. An epileptic learns never to trust his emotions, what for you all might be genuine for us is probably just a simple partial seizure. Life has been hard, pretty damn hard, but crying never seemed to do the trick. Laughing, though, works like a charm. Laughing I believe in.