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.