Writing to Exorcise Profound Grief, Part 3

I don’t often write poetry these days, and really this poem was more to be written than to be read–though I have some hard-fought wisdom to share about Exorcising Profound Grief Through Writing:

It doesn’t work.

But writing passes the time, and time, perhaps, helps a little tiny bit. What are those 7 stages again? I’m hitting quite a few of them. Anger: I don’t live in a world without my big brother by choice, and though the hubris of it isn’t logical, the fact does make me angry. And depressed. And even afraid.

And yet, somewhere WA-A-AY deep inside of me is a small part of my psyche that’s at peace, and even grateful. I must be grateful that in all history and in all the world, my brother was given to me, and I walked the earth with him for a time. Maybe soon I’ll be able to write about that.


I turned my back on the sun.
My long shadow drags itself over rocks and freshly-mounded dirt,
and hickory hulls,
Refuses to look up.
My long, dark shadow has more substance than I do.
It finds the cracks in the earth and dives down fast to Lethe.
Silent splash, achingly cold.

I turned my back on the earth.
I walk wooden, work hard, I look sad and cry angry.
No day, no night, nowhwere to hide. So I write.
Got to get away quick and stay gone.
(If I don’t remember, he’s not a memory.)
Always behind my eyes, something behind my eyes,
Maddening. The tight lump high in my throat. Maddening.

Aching somewhere far away.
Maddening.

If I don’t remember you, you’re not a memory.
Never a stupid, hollow mistake, what an obscene and ugly word: memory.
I lose. I lose forever and ever.

I turned my back on the world because you weren’t in it.
You went somewhere, didn’t you?
I stare at a mound of dirt and ache, something behind my eyes.
Because you went somewhere swiftly
And I stayed in no place at all.
Where the quiet comes from,
The cracks to the void at the center of the earth.
The void that was you at the center of me.

–Gabriella L. Garlock, March 2018

Where in your head are your dreams kept?

I sleep weird, so I glommed right onto this article about what parts of the brain are involved in dreaming. It’s really quite cool, go have a look, I’ll wait!

I think it’s interesting that the language region also takes a nap during dreaming, since dreams are filled with moods, sensations and imagery that defy description even after I’m awake–to my eternal consternation. It would be brilliant if we could communicate with some kind of short-hand vocabulary for all the colors and textures of those most-palpable moods and atmospheres in dreams. This is something I’ve always felt was sorely missing from human experience.

Ok, so this is what’s wrong with me in particular

I always wondered what misfiring mechanism enabled me to dream while awake–literally. In the morning, more often than not, my conscious brain wakes up but the dream I was in continues unabated, undisturbed, playing out of its own volition.

Though the moment is ripe for lucid dreaming–stepping in and gently steering–that still isn’t really what it is.

And there are similarities with hypnopompic hallucinations, in that all three sleep conditions fail to continue at the same time. Sleep is generally defined and characterized by 1) being unconscious, 2) succumbing to muscular paralysis, and 3) the intermittent presence of dreams. Sleepwalkers, obviously, lose the second, while those suffering from terrifying hypnopompic hallucinations begin to wake up while still feeling residual paralysis and dreaming other sensation such as a presence–here’s where alien abduction stories get started.

Not an alien abduction story

But my experiences aren’t frightening. I’m fully conscious and able to move, though lying still helps the dream reach its natural resolution.

Given the information from this article I can only deduce that, while my prefrontal cortex is able to assert itself as normal upon awakening, there is still some unusually strong brain system perpetuating the dream state–not the amygdala? There’s little fear happening. The limbic system? If it is, then my cortex is allowing itself to be commandeered by the lesser system, for the experience is genuinely like sleeping dreams: sophisticated, though without language at the moment they’re occurring; atmospheric, a largely passive self, “dreamlike”.

I was already accustomed to something quite similar

I now wonder if my temporal lobe seizures aren’t responsible for conditioning me to experience and maintain the dream even with a conscious mind at play. I’ve called my TLE hallucinations or fugues “being in two places at the same time”–it’s utterly miserable only when my conscious mind, the one engaged with reality, tries to or has to fight the waking dream. Perhaps getting used to my particular seizure disorder is why I don’t panic and destroy the dream mechanism as soon as I awake.

Or maybe I really am experiencing a TLE seizure that begins just before I wake up? If I am, I just have to point out: my seizures are just like dreaming!

But I just don’t know. Disclaimer time: I’m not a medical expert and nothing I write is to be in any way construed as technical enough for self-diagnosis. But this is my experience.

The ancients would have labeled me a mystical saint or a shaman–if I were clever or lucky enough not to be labeled a lunatic or a witch–and would have believed I had a hotline to the divine. Scientists today would point out that the temporal lobe is the seat of religious sensation, and hallucinations there are just that: not divine trances, just a neurological mistake.

I believe somewhere in-between. We all have temporal lobes and the capacity to imagine and even feel a higher abstraction, a divinity. To what evolutionary end? That’s for each of us to decide.

 

Seriously, what have you decided? Have you ever given much thought to how your brain chemistry creates your philosophy of existence? Or do you just have some really cool and bizarre dream experiences to share? I’d love to hear either!

Monkeys Swinging Through Trees and Your Ability to Parse this Sentence

Fun Language Factoid

Some of my favorite ideas about the brain and language are posited in Robert Ornstein’s book The Evolution of Consciousness: the Origins of the Way We Think. His fascinating theories about the evolution of the human brain are back-engineered from its amazing structural advantages today (e.g., we walk upright in part because it’s air conditioning for the fast-growing human brain. Oh, and humans have bigger butts than most mammals in order for them to walk upright.)

Check it out

The brain region primates developed to coordinate the complex sequences of movements needed to swing through trees is the very part later co-opted for language. The hominid brain expanded rapidly for other skills long before language developed, but when language did become necessary, it was possible because that part of the primate brain was ready and waiting to adapt to the similar task.

Reading this very sentence requires an ability to use rhythm and to suspend understanding until the completion of a task. Our ability to anticipate then assimilate input is what allows us to construct complex grammar.

I wonder if it works on a smaller scale. Is my lifelong love of languages enhanced because I spent most of first and second grade recess on the monkey bars?

Writing With One Hand Tied Behind Your Back: When Medical Issues Intrude

When my neurologist said I had a complicated brain, I didn’t take it as a compliment.

I’ve spent the years since trying to live an even more simple life, not to complicate my psyche beyond recovery, allowing the meds I take for fibromyalgia to blunt the second consciousness I carry around with me, the one I hopefully call my creative writer side, even though we all dream fantastically–I just do it wide awake.

But sometimes during my morning routine a voice deep inside suggests: twenty to twenty-nine pills a day probably isn’t indicative of a simple life, either. And what’s the inevitable outcome to such a story? Medications don’t work the same way on the same conditions forever.

The Brain Oppressed

I’ve written about the effects of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and Geschwind Syndrome on a person’s life even when the seizures are controlled. The permanent, chronic effects are called “interictal symptoms”–those that are present between seizures. Learning I had the Writer’s Disease had a devastating effect not only on my creative life, it caused me to question everything in my personal life as well. I forced an acceptance of my invisible-to-others split-consciousness, and to cope I developed a great deal of pity for the co-workers and family members who couldn’t understand my life’s turmoil. Like Seven of Nine (Star Trek: Voyager) waking up from a Borg existence, I gave myself social lessons now that there was finally hope for me to pass as human.

And a few years later when meds appeared to treat the fibro, the new-found deep sleep also wiped out most of the seizures, and my assimilation into normal society was made that much easier. Peace and harmony transformed my turbulent life at last!

Sucking at Jeopardy

The decade or so of calm that followed was a decade where I did no writing at all. Cymbalta is notorious for making you slow to find the right word. It also wounds your pride when you start to really suck at Jeopardy. (I knew I knew it! I just didn’t remember the word for it.) At first I didn’t mind: I was, after all, trying to leave behind that uptight, arrogant, intellectually abstract freak of neurology, wasn’t I?

But wasn’t knowing-it-all supposed to be my distinction? And wasn’t writing the outlet I had originally chosen to keep my wild elliptical observations safely out of polite society?

As it turned out, I wasn’t going to have a choice in the matter forever, anyway. Things that are suppressed do surface again. Ducklings submerge then re-appear only to quack all the louder. I’m a deep-diving duckling, hear me quack.

Which is to say, I’m starting to hallucinate a whole second consciousness again.

The Worm Turns. . .To the Laptop

Writing is the time I need to stop all the confusing detail of a life both social and cyber from erupting as the chaotic dream imagery that keeps me forever in my second consciousness. I have to answer the demand to follow the metaphor and meaning of the recurring dream, of the dreams that erupt full-blown in the middle of the day with all the power that a TLE déj-vu has to pull me away from the task at hand.

But writing doesn’t come quite as easily these days, when I know so many words but can’t recall them all that quickly. It’s easy to blame Cymbalta, but even that is masking new fears: my temporal lobe seizures, active as they are in the language centers of the brain, may finally be taking a permanent toll on my linguistic abilities. Before the twenty-some troublesome pills a day there was a genuine medical condition, a complicated brain that never was going to simply settle down and function “normally”. I have a scarred brain; no medicine would ever heal it.

Quitting Is No Longer an Option

Looking back, I lament that there never was a time when my writing skills were reliable. For a few years I successfully channeled all my energy into academia and did very well–right up until I didn’t, and my inability to shut off that second consciousness so I could concentrate with the first caused me to drop out of grad school, with all-but-dissertation defended. This isn’t an insignificant effect on one’s life path.

I’m looking for the strength–or wisdom, or spirit, whatever it takes–not to “drop out” this time, and to find a way to keep writing in my life. I read all the useful writing blog advice on finding the time, fostering the commitment, etc., but the one thing they don’t seem to address is this final hurdle so many of us face: an unpredictable medical condition, one which directly affects, either mentally or physically, our ability to write.

I mean, Beethoven continued to compose after he went deaf. Van Gogh. . .Oh, well. I’m normal; I don’t want any more pain! Is there a better way to handle this?

I really want to hear from you: what is that medical issue that keeps one hand tied behind your back? How do you respond? And have you found a community of support? More power to you all!