Sunday, November 11, 2018


After I had my strokes, I saw one of Louis Theroux' documentaries about how strokes and other traumatic brain injuries can cause dramatic changes in personality, but that the person with the injury is not aware of the change: they think they're just the same. It was moving, interesting and disconcerting: that could be me.

Troubled, I checked with someone who knew me before and after the strokes and asked whether they thought I was different. They said that I was essentially the same, but got angry much faster, something I consider bad, given that I can easily come across as irate when I think I'm just excited.

I've considered it a lot, and I think something different is going on. I'm as angry as I ever was, but as we grow from childhood through angry teen years to adulthood we recognise the physical changes in our body that show we're getting cross, and are able to insert our reason to moderate or mitigate that. We learn when it is appropriate to express our anger in public and when it isn't. Stubbing a toe, for example, makes us angry, but we learn not to scream, shout or punch the cat. I still hate cyclists and get lane rage in the pool, though.

If, when the brain is damaged, our brains no longer recognise the "getting" physical signs but a different (still living) part of the brain recognises the "got there" sensations, then we can go from 0-60 in no time flat. We don't get the opportunity to insert our reason into our emotional responses. We essentially act like small children, but as adults we just appear easily irascible or suddenly emotional.

I think this is what I experience and there's good evidence, particularly today on Remembrance Sunday, that that is the case. I laugh more readily and quickly and sometimes at things that are childish: I haven't lost my complex adult humour, but I also laugh at farts, and can't help doing so.

Today, I sob and cry easily and loudly. Whether I'm conditioned to respond in a certain way or deeply feel the wasteful loss of war is irrelevant: I'm loudly sobbing at poems on the radio.

The most easily recognised effect on me is that I am quick to anger,  but many other emotions have been affected as well, and they're far better to suffer. As a result, I try to avoid things that will make me respond inappropriately in public, or at least do so in the dark: I often respond wildly in the cinema, but nobody can see. It's also a relief that my momentary irritation expressed as angry passes quickly.

My sorrow today lasts longer.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Bloody Resolutions

For the first time, I've maintained a New Year's resolution for the whole year. I don't recall ever doing that before, certainly not for a resolution that was specific, rather than the "I will be a kinder person this year" type of vague promise that any lawyer could drive a truck through. No, for 2017 I resolved not to fall over, and I did it.

I've sat down quite heavily, but always on a chair and one I intended to occupy, if not so precipitously. My arm flies out often to help me keep my balance and I'm no stranger to the windmill flail of a gymnast trying to stick a landing, just with much less grace. Turning has meant some fancy footwork (from my left) when my right foot has decided to land in a very unhelpful spot, but for a whole year (and since then) I have not fallen.

This may not seem like a big deal, and for most, it isn't. Not falling is like breathing: something that we shouldn't have to think about in most circumstances; it's automatic. Over the last few years, however, gravity has taught me that I do need to concentrate, and for me, not falling will never again be automatic. Instead, the preparation and calculation when I stand up, turn or just walk must always happen, and that is on it's way to becoming automatic. It's faster now, but there will always be a delay when I get moving; I always have to think about it consciously.

"I am in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go oe'r." (Macbeth)

Making that mental preparation, rather than assuming that I can turn around without ending up on the ground, is boring. If moving can't be automatic again then the siren call of the sedentary response is even more alluring: if moving is a hassle, don't move. This has it's consequences, though. Brains develop by having to work, even with physical things (we just, mostly, get the boring repetitive stuff out of the way when we're little kids), so choosing not to move inherently limits healing. Also, doing nothing makes me fat and unhealthy. The very condition caused by having a stroke makes behaviours tempting that in turn increase the likelihood I'll have another. It's a trap!

A year ago, I had no expectation that I'd make it the whole year, just intentions. At some point, I'd gone so long without falling that merely having to start again would have been painful, as well as the physical discomfort of having fallen. By the last few days of the year, I was determined not to waste my efforts, although such 'waste' makes no objective sense. Now, a new year has begun, and I'm just as determined to maintain my resolve and not fall.

However, I've already made it a year, demonstrating to myself both that I am able to not fall for a whole year, and that I have the stubbornness to sustain a resolution. It would be foolish not to use the latter for further gain, especially to counteract pitfalls; resolving to eat a packet of biscuits (cookies) every week would easy, bad and delicious.

Last year was tough for me; I was depressed and news (local and international) has been appalling. I've found it hard to see anything ahead but doom and consequently had little motivation beyond the hedonistic. As a result, I find myself at the start of 2018 fat and unfit which is a downwards spiral, since exercise increases serotonin levels and makes one happier, as well as fitter and less likely to die.

So, for 2018, I've added to my resolution. I'm still adamant that I won't fall over, but in addition I've resolved to go to the gym at least three times a week and do some exercise. If I don't go three times and could have then my falling resolution is failed: I'm leveraging the tedium already spent to require further tedium. I am in blood so far stepped in... It helps to know that in a few months, going to the gym won't be a chore any more, but one of the ways I've failed before is when my routine has been disrupted; it's been trivial to routinely not go to the gym after a valid event to prevent me going. The resolution addendum, therefore, is not absolute: I know, for example, that I won't be able to go to the gym at the end of February because I'll be on a boat in Norway, but the addendum will require me to go back to the gym when I return.

This time next year we'll find out if my resolve is stronger than my indolence.