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Intermittent Signal- when bipolar becomes numbness…

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Have you ever felt like your brain totally stopped? She remained trapped in a double-pane window. She is completely isolated. She sees everything but cannot touch a thing. There’s a barrier to the noises she hears. Paralyzed, watching the world running around her.

It has been three months since my mind has isolated herself inside a double-pane window. This is the thing I hate the most about being bipolar. One moment you’re inside a kaleidoscope and the next you are the flatline in an electroencephalogram. I try to remember the moments in which I was reading five books in five days and dread the present moment, in which I slowly reach half of a book in five days. The words on the page glide over my brain. They used to stick to the walls of my mind, and now they just fly away as soon as they enter my neural network.

This morning, I tried to write more than the usual 200 words. The intermittent signal between the various sites of my brain made it rather difficult to accomplish. The words appeared and disappeared in front of me. My thoughts evaporated, and I didn’t even remember what they were about.

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I stared at the pale screen of my computer. I wrote one sentence with transparent ink. My identity was absent. I was not present in those words. I kept falling asleep inside my brain, and my autopilot was not going to produce any good piece of writing. How many times have I passed through this? Too many! But for some unknown reason, every time seems to be the first. Every time my brain slows down I am wondering what’s wrong. Why aren’t you running? Why aren’t you hallucinating? Why aren’t you connecting the dots even when there are no dots to connect? I guess, this is what women mean when they say they forget what the pain of childbirth feels like. It all seems so unreal! How can you forget something so painful?! Then again, how can I forget what numbness feels like every single time?

 

The Carnival

2603b0d1adc47c5be04aa7dafaa63114I kept holding my mask tight on my face                                                                                     you faced me with your words                                                                                                             I have looked behind your pretty eyes                                                                                               I kept holding my mask               almost kissing my face

Then one day           I let you have a peek                                                                                            you faced me with your silence                                                                                                          and my mask                    went straight back where it was.                                                            I have looked behind your pretty eyes

 My mask was starting to crumble                                                                                                 You bought a veil                          You put it on your eyes                                                             You chose a mask for yourself                                                                                                             AND INVITED ME TO THE CARNIVAL.

Molded Brains…Persuasion…and Disability…

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Language is such a huge and general medium that can be used in a myriad of ways. It can be influenced and unfortunately, many times, it can even shape the way we think. I have come to realize that people usually do not care for the “true” answer (if there is one), they care for the explanation they like the most, or the most popular. Human beings love to explain things in the way they would like them to be. Consequently, what happens is that there is another big piece of the population that will just imitate a certain answer and without even checking its authenticity, they assume it is the ultimate truth. The result is that the explanation/word becomes part of the cultural or social certainty of everyone.

Let us take Facebook as an example. A few years ago, my aunt sent me a post. She was all excited. She kept saying that a woman woke up after an accident speaking another language. The FB post explained it as a sort of magical event. The new language just popped up inside the woman’s brain with no possible explanation. It must have been a miracle! God left a mark and so on… Little did my aunt know that the woman had learned the language she “miraculously” started speaking before the accident. What happened was that the brain injury damaged the hemisphere of the brain where the primary language was based, and it automatically fixed the problem by using the next available language present in the brain. After my aunt shared that post to me, I had at least other seven people telling me about related stories. They all had the same crazy explanation; a miracle! There is nothing we can do about people’s “ignorance” or lack of interest in digging deeper for the “truest” (if that’s even a word) explanation possible. We are surrounded by people who will read one think on a social media and will automatically use it as a proven fact!

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Last week, I was reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion for the third time and I found myself reflecting on the idea of being persuaded. What does it mean? Is the idea of being persuaded a disability? Were my aunt and all the people who believed in the FB babble disable?

Salvador_Dali-The_Face_Of_WarIf we think of the word persuasion as the ability of the mind to be reshaped and changed, the idea of being persuaded looks more like a gift than a disability! Where is the answer? Is there one?  All of this is very interesting to me especially, if we think about the huge debate on Brain plasticity that the Neuroscience world is dealing with on the day-to-day basis.

Neuroplasticity, just as a side note, is the brain ability to change, rewire and reorganize the neural pathways’ connections between one neuron and the other. Through this mechanism, new habits are formed, new memories stored and in case of injury or disease, all the neurons are set to compensate for the damaged area.

What it is crucial to note in this brain’s potential is the fact that it can be seen as both an ability and a disability. I will try to explain myself better. I will take as an example a “simple” phobia, the irrational fear/terror of someone or something when this last one doesn’t present any sign of danger to the individual. My point stands not in the phobia itself, but in the moment in which the phobia was created in our brain. In order for us to have a phobia, our Amygdala (the almond-shaped part of our brain dedicated to emotional responses, memory and decision-making) is erroneously “persuaded” that a certain kind of stimulus or situation is dangerous and therefore it sets in action all the defensive responses the body has to have in order to be safe (i.e. adrenaline, heart-pumping, anxiety, nausea etc.) Once the neural pathway is created, we suddenly become “disable”.

Even though it might seem a stretch from Austen’s novel, I strongly believe that all of this can be strongly correlated. In our society, the ones who have phobias are suddenly considered as “feeble-minded”. I cannot pinpoint how many times after I told people I had Emetophobia (fear of vomiting or vomit) they made sure to let me know that they did not have any phobia, they were not scared of anything (as if that was even possible). In actuality, the people who are more prone to having phobias are actually more prone to learn new things (due to the easier chance to rewire the brain patterns).

Something I keep thinking about is how the strong and important power of the brain to rewire itself can be considered as such a damaging characteristic for a human (woman in the novel) to have! shouldn’t this be a good thing? The unpredictability of the brain seems to be considered (then and now) as a crucial element for disability! Why is that?

Poke me to sleep

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I then decide to initiate the potent snow and connect the dots of a spotless and faded memory. I mimic the importance of emotions and actions. I mitigate the cries I have let go alone when I was just learning how to deal with a memory older than me. Every pain is a singular one. I don’t avail the opposite opinion because there’s not one that counts. Every time I remember is a new thing. Every garland present I have tried it on. None looks pretty on those images.

Looking out from an unknown window
Too many emotions are driving to my nerve-wracked brain. And so I wake up. A knot in my throat. This is far too common for me. So I breathe 4 hold 7 and spit 8. Then I repeat. My head starts spinning a little. I press my P6. I take my personal iron tool. I still remember the day I found it and decided to adopt it specifically to poke me. I hold the two extremities that make up its body. I Press through the scaly texture of my fingertips. I mold my lips to kiss first one than the other sharp edge.

Now.
You’re standing in between two tips of the index and middle finger. You’re singing me your deadly lullaby.

Oops! Someone stole my Seahorses. H.M., the man who couldn’t write his own history…

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There is only one way we tell stories about other people, and it’s the only way we’ve ever told stories about other people. We find the connections between us and them, and then we use those connections as a bridge(Luke Dittrich)

The first time I met patient H.M I was sitting in front of my computer watching a video about memory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWeKVzx6NSk&t=12s After the Greek word hippocampus, the small seahorse ‘most of us’ have safely stored in our brain, a man whose name was composed only by two-letters was brought into the picture of my knowledge. He did not have a history or a family, everything was about his missing seahorses or at least part of them. A few months passep3d, until one day in the higher shelf of the Harvard Bookstore in Boston I found Luke Dittrich’s book about the famous amnesiac patient titled Patient H.M. A Story of Memory, Madness, And Family Secrets. Do I actually know more about H.M.’s life now after reading it? Not quite. Dittrich’s book, in fact, is not about the history of the emotional, cognitive or rather personal life of one of the most famous ‘seahop4rseless’ man in history. It is rather a very interesting volume that depicts the history of neuroscience and the limitless struggle to reach for knowledge that human beings go through.

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Dittrich’s book is divided into five Macro-section, a prologue, an epilogue and a thorough section of endnotes which were added after a New York Times reviewer noted that “Any book with neuroscience this complex and content this provocative really needs footnotes. This book has none […]”.  As in a sort of a kaleidoscopic roller coaster, the reader gets to play the marionette of the Dittrich’s show.p6 He will skillfully start by catapulting you into the neuroanatomist Jacopo Annese’s lab slicing through H.M.’S brain artifact and then in a flash you will be standing in front of the child H.M. p7falling from a bicycle, and without even noticing it you will receive a plausible reason for Henri Molaison’s epilepsy. Don’t worry, you will not stay there long!  Dittrich will pull you out of that place in a blink of an eye and you will get to assist to his grandmother’s madness, his grandfather’s trial and error playing Operation. You will be the audience of many surgical performances and finally, in the last section of the book titled “Secret Wars,” you will get to root between TEAM DITTRICH or TEAM CORKIN.

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On this note, I should then introduce our second player in the H.M. historical background series, Suzanne Corkin, author of the book Permanent Present Tense. The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient H.M. published in 2013. Corkin was the neuropsychologistp8 who took care of Henri while obsessively studying his brain after ‘The Operation’ in 1953, and if some of you have just met H.M. in this review you might wonder of what operation I am referring to. On Tuesday, August 25, 1953, the neurosurgeon Dr. William Beecher Scoville stole part of H.M.’s hippocampi by sucking them into a vacuum that paralyzed a body and a mind into a world of constant present moments.

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“Every day is alone in itself” states Henri Molaison (H.M.) during an interview with Suzanne Corkin. Henri’s memory was a series of photograms that never met. His history was puzzled out by other people. The problem is that not everyone likes to solve puzzles in the same way. The result is that Henri’s life has been a sequence of different possible outcomes! One man with many different conflicting stories.

Dittrich’s and Corkin’s books represent a war that started long before Henri’s death. While Corkin’s apparent intent in writing about H.M. was to inform readers about memory and finally to create an elegy for his deceased patient and friend, Dittrich’s motive seems to be quite different. His 416 pages, in fact, constitutes the minutest brick that finally led to the construction of the famous H.M. statue. The book doesn’t provide the reader with emotional details about the man Henri Molaison, it rather walks me through the pathways that led to the creation of his two-letters pseudonym. What makes the book juicy? The fact that Dittrich himself is the grandson of one of the limitless human beings who happened to steal seahorses from people in order to learn something from them.

Scientists are not machines, they are insatiable heartless scavengers that strive to break through the dura mater and uncover one of the most mysterious lands, our brain. Reading through Dittrich’s and Corkin’s pages I grew hungrier and hungrier for facts and knowledge. After the first few patients’ leucotomies (the surgical cuttings of the white matter) I became eager to know more about the different bridges connecting the inside platforms of the human brain.

Dittrich’s approach to these practices and to his grandfather is very complex and borderline. One moment, he will delve into William the grandad with his convoluted, weird and withdrawn personality and a few chapters later, we will meet Dr. William Scoville the perfectly scrubbed neurosurgeon who seemed to lack any connection with his right hemisphere (the emotional side of the brain). The emotional side of this book is exactly it, the struggle to remain objective in a very subjective matter. Dittrich doesn’t only report his grandfather problematic and grandiose personality, he also quite vividly exposed the painful history about the hospitalization of his grandmother (Scoville’s wife) who underwent several shock therapies (also called electric sleep), hydrotherapy, Insulin and Metrazol injection etc. The disturbing side of all these recollections of ‘scientific’ procedures is the lack of empathy, humanity and just simple ethics that you would expect from a grandson writing about his grandfather.

What by its cover seems to be a book about Patient H.M. and his memory loss is actually a semi-autobiographical recollection of a grandson that tries to come to term with the idea that his own grandfather was not the sweet, white-beard old man that most of us think about when we picture our grandpa. “’ Did my grandfather ever feel guilty?’” Dittrich asked Dr. Brenda Milner. With these words, we don’t merely see an author eager for information, but a boy’s need for explanations about his grandfather’s apparent sociopathic traits.

Jumping into Corkin’s book we definitely find a different kind of atmosphere. While in Dittrich’s writing we met Henri at the margins of the page, in Corkin’s book Henry is placed at the center of the equation. The recently deceased neuropsychologist was working with the scientific data in a way that it seems to function as a smaller planet rotating around one center; Henry’s brain. Corkin’s book is divided into thirteen chapters that seem to weave memory science and Henri’s life. Although, as soon as I have tasted half of the book, I had realized that everything kept going back to the present Henri. Every study about memory, which projected me into the past history of neuroscience was constantly interrupted by Corkin’s studies on Henri’s recollection.

p9Left) Mooney face perception test: scores the subject’s ability to form mental pictures with minimal visual information. Henry did very well.                         (The Guardian)

Right) Visual stepping stone maze: Henry had to discover and remember a prescribed ‘correct’ route across the dots – wrong moves elicited a clicking noise. In 215 tests, Henry failed to reduce his errors, indicating a declarative memory deficiency. (The Guardian)

Dittrich vs. Corkin

How do I want to remember Henri?

The reader gets to choose between Corkin’s or Dittrich’s spectacles. My suggestion though would be to wear both! Some moments fit together in perfect molds while others tend to create a distorted image of Henri which will define his kaleidoscopic fabricated identity. The two books are the emblem of a weird diatribe, an implicit and explicit dialogue between two significant icons fighting to keep their most wanted toy; H.M. brain.

Henri Molaison could not link any of his life’s photograms but thanks to Dittrich and Corking we definitely can. Is that a good thing? Do we have the authority to own the story of a man that wasn’t even aware to have one? These are questions that will probably never receive an ultimate answer. For the moment, I enjoy having met a seahorseless man!

 

The long sleep of my inner narrator. Depression wants to stay for dinner!

153388297Today I met a girl. Let us call her Alicia. Her eyes were tinted in sadness. I introduced myself.  She sat on a chair with her legs crossed. She was playing with her fingers. From time to time she was looking up. She stayed silent. When she started talking, her voice sounded like that of child when the parents forgot to pick her up from school. She had the expression of an abandoned child. I kept looking into her eyes and all I could see was her guilt for being the way she was.

I arrived to campus today feeling upset. My mood abandoned me again! My internal narrator has been silent for a couple of days. I felt bored in my own skin. I was walking in the middle of the quad, and I almost felt I had water in my ears. Every sound, people’s voices, the smell of the food-truck-lady making waffles and brewing coffee, the smell of the cold air. All these things were stepping into my brain as if they were trowed into a pool of water. I glided next to them. I saw young brunette girls looking at their phone, a serious professor sipping his apparently too hot coffee. A Young man was silently singing something with his Beats attached to his ears. I was still walking in the middle of the quad. Everything bothered me. I didn’t want any stimulus entering my numb brain. I wanted to close my eyes and levitate into a different dimension. I didn’t even feel like walking. My thoughts were floating around my brain. I couldn’t even pick one to “really” listen or focus on. I was asleep inside my brain. Every stimulus from the external world felt to me as if someone would have taken me from my bed and carried me all the way in the middle of the College quad. That is how I walked into my mood matters group today.

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The girl started to share her story. Her sadness was slapping me in the face. I translated myself into her eyes. I was looking at a younger ME screaming for help! She said she was anxious. She didn’t know what to expect from the group. She said she felt alone. She explained how she thought she was a burden to other people. She blamed herself for many things, too many things!

I felt my face slowly coming out from the water. I started breathing normally again. “She is a human being ” I kept repeating to myself. I started feeling her sadness entering my brain. For the first time today, I was engaging the outside reality with an inner self that was completely awake. The inner me was sitting in my frontal lobe. She was carefully observing an outside body. She helped me translate the girl’s voice into emotions. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t.

The girl smiled! She left the class talking. Her face was not looking at the floor anymore. Her face had a half smile painted on her lips.

I got into my car. My inner narrator resumed her sleep. I went back to mechanically moving my body through the noises of the city waiting for my inner companion to feel better and play with me once again!

Upcoming Movie

I see myself slashing my wrists

crashing to the floor, my eyes are shut open.                                                                                                                                              I’m forced to see what I’m doing to myself.
One hand stabs my skin                         the other is holding the blood                                                                                                                                    so that it doesn’t run out.
Banned again with my eyes open until                         I finally decide to close them.

Darkness slowly descends.

I’m alone

I feel completely lost and lonely.

Alone inside my eyes.

The darkness of my interior organs hinders me to observe what is going on.

I’m bound to feel IT all.

I’m feeling all the pain and sadness piercing my bones.                                                                I feel noises and screams penetrating my viscid organs.                                                              I perceive Injustice and Hate slapping my face.

I’m back outside of myself.

My wrists are completely open.

Blood is flooding like water in a broken sink.

My face looks pale.

I’m emotionless!

I peer into my eyes and I see immense sadness.

I am screaming from the outside of my body.

I’m punching the wall.

I don’t exist. I have murdered myself. I don’t exist.

I look back at my face.                                                                                                                                                                  She remained there staring at me.                                                                                                       She has not abandoned me                                                                                                                                                             not even now after I have abused her body.                                            She is still here watching over me.                                                                                                      She is still here taking care of my untethered soul.                                                                        She will be here with me.

Always.