So this one's a little late. I actually had it written a few weeks ago, before the end of March, but didn't have any images and thought I might doodle a few. Well, that hasn't happened, and my hand is twitching to doodle things not-relevant to this. So here it is as is:
Among the things that getting hit on the head gave me is an appreciation for brain skills most take for granted, and just learning what qualifies as a skill.
Another one of the really important and helpful and useful things I learned from my speech therapist is this:
Aside from being a speech therapist, she was also a professor at a college with a concentrated communication disorders department. When we'd reached the limits of what she could do and how much the insurance company would cover, she invited me to the school to take some tests – to see if I might qualify for some studies. If I didn't qualify, I could at least be a subject for grad students to practice on.
While I did not qualify for any of the studies, the testing did help reveal a few things.
So, as I mentioned above, filtering out background sound is a skill. It was a skill I used to rock, without ever realizing it. And for me, it's one of the things that got knocked around pretty damned bad with that head injury.
When I explain this in person, it goes a little like this:
There were actual percentages involved, but I forgot the numbers and would need to dig up the paperwork. But the visual makes the point well enough. (Yeah, that's some of the stuff I was going to doodle).
My ears were ok, and the language center of my brain was ok. But the signal in between the two was having a particularly rough ride.
When they delivered this news, they made a point to mention that the signal from the left ear travels to the right side of the brain before it gets delivered to the language center.
At this point, my face probably went all scrunchy with thought, which then came out as, "I got hit on the right side of the brain…"
With something like a "mild" TBI and post-concussion syndrome and most of the 'proof' of various issues being a patient's say-so and nothing more, I cannot tell you how helpful it was to have some measurable results in hand that said it wasn't the metaphorical 'just all in my head.". A problem did exist within my head. For reals.
What did that really mean? Well, let's talk a bit about my pre-accident brain and way of life:
I liked noise. I liked having music on, and different kinds of playlists for different kinds of tasks.
My painting session playlists would often have chunks of audiobook or podcasts, broken up by a few songs every 50-60 minutes to help remind me to take a break.
The sound helped me concentrate. Without it, I would think about other stuff, think too hard about the painting, overwork details, get bored, and be prone to all-too-frequent snacking.
Soundtracks and mostly wordless music made up my writing playlists. It helped me focus on what I was doing, and get in "the mood" for the story. I'd often use more dramatic soundtracks for more dramatic scenes. Some of my favorites include Heroes, Constantine, Battlestar Galactica, HALO, Tron: Legacy, Blade Runner, Danny Elfman's Batman Score, Akira, Titanic… you get the picture, right?
Beyond music, the sounds of activity in the background also helped. I enjoyed writing in coffee shops, and even downloaded an app – Coffitivity – for use while writing at home. I had an approximate optimal volume setting for the music to balance against the Coffitivity sounds.
A good punk rock playlist was a great way to motivate me and keep my mind from thinking about how hard it would rather be doing something else.
Music while driving – at moderate volumes – helped me concentrate on the road better. Without it, my mind was prone to getting bored and wanting to drift to other things, and impatience for getting to wherever I was going…. VROOOM VROOOM.
After the accident, all that went out the window.
Just listening to music by itself was hard, my favorite music in particular. I remember having a really cruddy super depressing day and swearing I was going to listen to the entire Rancid album "…and Out Come the Wolves" (favorite song off that = Ruby Soho - and the video even features a kitty!) no matter what, even if it had to be really quiet, just to try to feel normal or something. TRY to alleviate the depression. And I did, but … it hurt to listen to it.
I feel like I should say something about my "migraines" during this time. I call them migraines because they came with severe sensitivities primarily to light & sound, but also often scent.
But they were NOT anything like the 2-3 migraines I'd had previously, many years before the accident and a distant memory. I would take those long lost migraines over the mTBI / PCS brain overloads without hesitation. It wasn't just that they hurt, a lot. Holy cats, did they hurt like I still don't quite have words for. It was that my brain felt like a computer logic board short-circuiting in the rain, relentlessly assaulted by signals that it couldn't make sense of and just wouldn't let up. Sharp and stabby bits and pieces of information.
Sounds shitty, right? Well, imagine when your favorite music has that effect, and it has nothing to do with the volume.
I still listened to it, sometimes, and even went to a few concerts (with heavy-duty near pro-grade earplugs) because damnit if I didn't have to have some reminders of why it was worth it to try to hang in there to see if things would ever get better.
It's been a few years, and some of that has come back. Not all of it, but a lot of it, and some of it I haven't yet put to the test. Around the time I thought I might try writing in a coffee shop again, all the coffee shops, restaurants, and effectively everything closed because the COVID-19 virus was traveling too far & wide. It's occurred to me to give the Coffitivity app a try again, but I would need to spend some thought on the set-up, as I've shuffled computers and speakers around and don't have a dedicated writing spot in my current residence.
But I do have background music on a lot more often. I had to build that tolerance slowly, with some seriously simple stuff. A series of ambient meditative sounds (some from Moby) were all I could handle for a while if I expected to be doing anything other than absolutely nothing, and with my eyes closed. I've worked my way up to and through things like Brian Eno Atmospherics, Siguros & the like. Now I'm able to listen to my 9-member ska-core favorite-of-favorites Mighty Mighty Bosstones most of the time. My writing session soundtracks are less dramatic but getting there, and I often have to choose smoother, less dramatic soundtracks & instrumentals. Sometimes I just can't quite do an audiobook or podcast while painting a trickier part of a painting, not without something suffering for it, be it my comprehension or the painting. So I pause for a bit, and sometimes even remember to un-pause when I've resolved the trickier bits and can get back into 'the zone."
So, slowly working my way back to the noise-ful life I love.
author / artist rambles on about painting, writing, cats, punk rock, vampires, ska-core, mTBI, comics, and life in general.