Because just as you don't know what you've got until it's gone, you don't know what you've lost until you've learned to live without it. That said, once you've learned to live without, you also truly understand and appreciate what you still have.
Why does this idea rear its ugly head now? Mostly because I've been thinking about my ugly head.
I've been struggling with some of my ongoing Brain Injury deficits. Or maybe they're just my shortcomings. Where does my stroke end and I begin? It matters, but it really doesn't matter. In the end, it's all me; and I have to learn to learn to live with me or no one else will want to.
I recently saw my neurosurgeon for my five-year check-in. Based on the CT taken last year, he feels I'm stable enough to steer clear of him for another two years. Stable's good and all, but I certainly don't want to get stagnant or boring. So my brain has been introducing some "invisible" challenges in new ways.
Specifically, I've had some struggles with motivation and initiation, as well as in properly filtering what people say to me and what I say. This site has a good list of right-side stroke deficits, many of which I thankfully have only experienced in small doses.
One of the things these challenges remind me is that (just as all politics is local) all Brain Injury-- while invisible -- is physical.
Even my more apparent issues which might be labeled "physical" (minimal use of my left hand, my need for a leg brace and cane) are deceptively invisible. My inability to open and close my hand, prevent my knee from hyperextending, or smoothly lift my leg up stairs has nothing to do with muscle strength but rather my brain's incapacity for controlling muscles on my left side. Yes, I have some atrophy and weight gain (stop looking at my gut!), but even that's a factor of lost stamina and mobility related to my stroke. That's not an excuse; it's a fact I have to accept and forgive. Even sitting at my desk all day, performing only mental activities, is enough to tire me out enough that I need to nap for an hour when I get home from work so I can have some quality time (not just a vicious circle of work and sleep).
My physical fatigue comes from extra energy exerted when rerouting my mental activity (including attempts at muscle control) around damaged areas, much like internet routers perform packet switching to find the most efficient route for data traffic.
So I started wondering what that congested highway might look like in my head. And I found some pictures.
Warning: these images may be upsetting for some, but I recommend looking to get a tangible reminder that invisible injuries come from very visible wounds which just happen to be masked by the skull:
This is a cross-section of an uninjured brain (top) and a brain affected by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) (bottom), as frequently experienced by boxers and football players:
This is a cross-section of a brain which has suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. So if I donate my body to science, my noggin might look something like this:
I know none of it's pretty. I don't know if anyone truly has a beautiful brain. Just having one is a codependent, often abusive, relationship.
Still, even all bloodied and scarred, I'm happy with the one I've got. In some ways, I'm more impressed by what it can accomplish, working around that mess. I can forgive imperfection.