In last week’s post, I talked about how experiencing and believing in neuroplasticity gives me hope and helps me be optimistic about my continued recovery.
But neuroplasticity gives me so much more than that.
So I want to say more about what the changes that I am still experiencing are like.
I have had several exciting conversations about the neuroplasticity that I am experiencing this week.
One with Maria Romanas, an MD, who was interested in the neuroplasticity I am experiencing and how my vision therapy promotes that.
And another conversation that I had was with a friend from Thatcher Freund, a memoir writer. I have known Thatcher from Junior High on as he is the brother of one of my best friend’s and the three of us did a lot together–in fact people used to ask if we were triplets. Thatcher has been researching vision and neuroplasticity and what is known and utilized in the dyslexia community.
I have been telling people that ask me how I am doing after my setback that I am in the midst of experiencing intense neuroplasticity and this week I feel full of energy and “clear as a bell”.
When I told Thatcher that I was experiencing neuroplasticity and felt clear as a bell, he almost jumped out of his chair and said “I am so excited you said that.” He said, he could “see” how much clearer and more articulate that you are compared to the last time we had lunch (in December).
So we had a very animated conversation about what was going on for me. Because of his research and interests and background as a memoir writer, he asked very probing good questions that I had a difficult time answering. Its hard for me to get to concreteness on describing how my brain is changing sometimes and what I am feeling and how the neuroplasticity is changing my thinking right now.
But one thing I have learned in my journey to recovery is that if you give my brain good questions, it will eventually come up with answers.
My brain cannot come up with answers, quickly, so I don’t expect it to.
But I know that my brain will come up with them if I am patient and let it come up with them on it’s own time.
So my brain will give me the answers later.
Answers may come up when someone says something to me that “cues” me. (And with a brain injury I have certainly learned how to look to others for “cues” to help me think or to help me stay on task. So I know how to cultivate stimuli received from others to help me think. I have been practicing doing this for a long time. More on this later.)
And I know that answers may come when I meditate, so I cultivate a meditation practice. And I know that answers may come up randomly during my day. So I know to look for them to cultivate and harvest. And I know to just let one of these processes happen and to be patient with my brain. And they may come up as I write my blog.
A couple of things to say that I have harvested since these conversations about the neuroplasticity that I am experiencing:
1) The gains that I am having right now are specific to the deficits that my brain has been having.
I realized that its probably that since ” if you have seen one brain injury, you have seen one brain injury”, my gains are about me and are not necessarily true for others. In other words, every brain injury is different. In my mind, it follows that the experience of neuroplasticity will be different for everyone, which is why its important to hear how others experience neuroplasticity also.
2) That my gains from neuroplasticity are specific to the deficits I am experiencing right now.
Earlier, when I was getting treatment for attention and concentration issues, I was experiencing neuroplasticity around attention and concentration and by conquering those problems, I was able eventually to have more abstract thinking because my brain had changed to support more abstract thinking.
When I realized that my current neuroplasticity is specific to my current deficits, I figured out more about how to describe it more concretely.
This summer, I was sleep deprived and was getting head aches from muscle tension and thus I was at a lower level of functioning.
Now that I have resolved those issues from my setback, I am experiencing repair (neuroplasticity) around my “executive functioning” (which I was having before the setback). Or at least I think its my executive functioning. Someone described executive functioning as the “executive” in ones brain making decisions about priorities and what to filter out and what to filter in and how to do decide to do things in order and figuring out the steps to line things up. A researcher at the Smithsonian in DC called it the ability to “get the trains to the right stations on time”.
So one way I am experiencing neuroplasticity right now is about categories and my ability to categorize.
Over the course of my brain injury, I have had a difficult time sorting things into categories. An overly exaggerated example might be, if I were to sort out red and blue sock, post-injury I would inevitably sort some red socks into the blue and some blue in the red. This happens because I wouldn’t notice that some red are in the blue and vice versa. I just couldn’t see what keeps the category pure or in tact. And it also happens because I may forget my sorting rule in the midst of the task (and not be aware that I have forgotten it).
I would compensate for this issue, by taking a second pass at sorting the red and blue socks, and I would notice some of the red in the blue and the blue in the red. But I would not notice all of them, because of the same problems above.
So suddenly, I experience neuroplasticity around my sorting, and I can look at the red and blue sock piles, and suddenly see that oh! there are still more blue socks in the red sock pile and still more red socks in the blue sock pile and I can “see” the things I couldn’t sort before and consequently make the piles more pure. So suddenly I want to reorganize so that all the reds are together and all the blues are together.
The reason I used the example of red and blue socks is because its exaggerated. You can imagine how unorganized my house looks after moving, if I cannot organize something like blue versus red. In reality, its a little more subtle than that– its beige versus white or kids bowls mixed in with kids plates or its papers that belong in one category versus another. So its not just my house, its my writing and its my organization of my day and its organization of my projects and on and on.
And the irony of it is, is the less distraction I have, the more I can focus and be efficient and think better and more efficiently. But my injury means that I have a lot of distraction going on in my brain that I don’t yet have the skills to filter or the procedures to filter out.
And when I experience neuroplasticity, I suddenly can see how to filter things into better categories. Since I have better categories, I can do things more efficiently and because my brain can do things more efficiently I both have more energy to use toward problem solving and I can solve more problems (because my brain has more energy to solve problems.) Both the energy and the increased abilities bring a sense of accomplishment and a kind euphoria.
(And, not to mention, I don’t have to spend time employing the compensation strategy of going back and doing the work again, I am more likely to get the categories right the first time, and thus save time doing the task. That is if I am aware enough that I can drop the compensatory strategy. More on this later too.)
And another more on this, later catagory too. I need to add briefly that the neuroplasticity isn’t all good. It comes with “costs” that I have to be willing to tolerate in order to embrace my brain’s ability to change and get the benefits of the neuroplasticity .
There is a down side of the sense of accomplishment and euphoria of the neuroplasticity. It can be depressing to grasp just how poorly my brain was functioning before. So I have to be able to take that in without judgement. And I have to be able to let myself cry and grieve and feel the losses that I now suddenly am aware of that I wasn’t aware of before the neuroplasticity stage kicked in. Sometimes its too much to take in, so I have to take it in slowly. Sometimes when I experience the neuroplasticity and the new “seeing” it makes me feel vulnerable and unsafe because I am suddenly aware of how others could take advantage of my deficits or in some cases, how I actually was taken advantage of with my deficits. Or it makes me realize places where I couldn’t stand up for myself as a result of the fact that I didn’t have the brain skills to do it, and I have to be easy on myself, and know that I did the best I could then, and that in the future, with increased skills I can do it better now.
Do you know when you are experiencing neuroplasticity?
Can you describe it? Or begin to describe it?
Does it make you feel euphoric and optimistic?
Or do you feel scared or frustrated?
Do you feel losses with it?