What’s With My Brain in the Middle of the Night?

That feeling when you wake up at 2 a.m. with the urgent need to remember the name of the Greek god of the forge, and you’re panicked because you can’t conjure it up. You remember the Romans called him Vulcan but to save your life you can’t latch your mind onto the Greek designation. Then, as you wake up enough to realize there can’t possibly be an emergency in your life involving Greek mythology and wonder why you would wake up wanting to know, you segue from panic to irritation. Irritation at having interrupted your own sleep somehow and also because you still can’t remember the name and you really should know, with all the time you spent reading those myths in your teen years. But you need to go back to sleep so you can function at work tomorrow, so you don’t want to try looking it up. But you can’t go back to sleep until you remember it. Does it start with an H maybe? So you get up and open your laptop and discovered you were right about that much – Hephaestus. Then you feel satisfied and lie back down, close your eyes and…wait, wasn’t there something weird about his feet? What was that about?

I can’t be the only one this happens to. Right?

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Book thoughts: How having a stroke is like going to school

Note: This isn’t a review. It’s a summary of some random thoughts I had while reading.

I began reading My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor after watching the author’s speech on TED . Taylor is a brain scientist who experienced a stroke at the age of 37.

I’ve never been in the hospital with a stroke. So why did her experience seem so familiar as I read about it? The answer revealed itself with this sentence: “I wanted my doctors to focus on how my brain was working rather than on whether it worked according to their criteria or timetable.”

Aha! It was much like having a kid in school, I realized. Substitute a few words and you have a sentenced uttered by some parent somewhere at least once every day, especially if that parent has been through the IEP process.

“I wanted the educators to focus on how my child’s brain was learning rather than on whether it learned according to their criteria or timetable.”

I may have uttered those exact words. I know I’ve said something at least very close. 

There’s also this sentence from the book: “My ability to cognate was erroneously assessed by how quickly I could recall information, rather than by how my mind strategized to recover the information it held.” 

Familiarer and familiarer.

Taylor credits many thoughtful healthcare professionals who offered her real assistance and compassion. Nevertheless, it’s clear they were working within a strong institutional culture that made it difficult to operate outside the proverbial box. Likewise with teachers. Most of the ones I’ve known are great individuals, working within a strong institutional culture that allows teaching to a narrow range of learning styles and not much more.

We parents are asking them to meet our children’s needs, while the boss – the institutional culture – is requesting them to get the children to meet the needs of the system. This is why left-handers used to have to be cured. They smudged the paper too much; it caused problems with institutional efficiency. 

In the chapter titled What I Needed the Most, the list again seems like one that should be sent to educators as well as those working with stroke survivors. For instance: “I needed the people around me to believe in the plasticity of my brain and its ability to grow, learn, and recover.”

Some of the other needs she mentions – love, encouragement, dreams – are things we all need. May we all grow, learn and recover from our lives’ traumas if we remember to supply these to each other.

I encourage everyone to watch the talk on TED, even if you don’t read the book. It’s got good information on stroke, things we all should know. But it’s more about life and love and compassion, things we all should know as well.