Growing up, I got good grades in every subject. I enjoyed English, Math, Science, languages; all of it. I was consistently streamed into Enriched classes to keep from getting bored. Through my teens though, my brain blipped. I have talked about the emotional difficulties this caused; the panic attacks, the suicidal depressions, but I haven't talked much about what happened to me cognitively. Reading Jill Bolte Taylor's journey through stroke has reminded me what that time of my life was like. And to some degree, still is.
I imagine it happened gradually, but from Grade 10 to the end of High School, my cognitive function declined. Previously I had been able to write long essays defending a point of view. I had been able to design and carry out science experiments. I had been able to carry out complex mathematical operations with ease. I was on the debate team, the Math team, the Geopardy team (a geography club); I was the editor of the school newspaper and the chair of the Writer's Club. And slowly, I watched it all change.
I struggled with the ability to articulate my thoughts. I had difficulty integrating new Math concepts, so much so that I dropped out of Grade 12 Math class. I tried it again the next semester and once again, my brain could not process the concepts. They may as well have been written in a foreign language. I gravitated towards Humanities classes where the focus was on discussion of ideas rather than on concrete concepts. I'm not sure I could have graduated otherwise.
In addition, my sensory system went haywire. Everything got turned up really loud, but at the same time, seemed to all blend together. I remember retreating for days into silence, often into sleep, to shut out the sensory world. Light, temperature, smells, sound, touch; it was all too much. I recall getting very agitated by the smells of dinner cooking in the kitchen. It assaulted my senses so severely that I felt threatened by it, like it would consume me. Imagine being trapped in your senses with no where to go.
In the course of those teen years I felt like I'd gone from A+ dynamo to learning-disabled putz. Some days, I could barely carry on a coherent conversation with people. I peered out from a body/brain that no longer seemed to represent who I was. Perhaps that was my first conscious realization that I didn't know who I was. Without my brain power to define me, what was left?
There's this point in Jill's description of her stroke that had me in tears. It reminded me of those teen years and gives me some language to describe what that experience was like for me.
From My Stroke of Insight, page 78-79:
"Imagine, if you will, what it would be like to have each of your natural faculties systematically peeled away from your consciousness. First, imagine you lose your ability to make sense of sound coming in through your ears. You are not deaf, you simply hear all sounds as chaos and noise. Second, remove your ability to see the defined forms of any objects in your space. You are not blind, you simply cannot see three-dimensionally, or identify color. You have no ability to track an object in motion or distinguish clear boundaries between objects. In addition, common smells become so amplified that they overwhelm you, making it difficult for you to catch your breath."
The brain is a vast place. I wish sometimes I'd had an MRI or a SPECT scan done at that time of my life. I always wonder what it would have shown. And I wonder now how I can best rehabilitate my brain, as it still has profound challenges 17 years later, which have become even more apparent to me on leaving the jw's, perhaps because I have no illusions to distract me from the reality of my functioning or lack thereof. I spent so much energy just holding on for the next life, hoping that God would correct whatever it was that had gone awry in my brain/body. Now, it's up to me. And it's scary as hell.