Friday, July 27, 2018

July 27: My brain

It started with the writing. Nah, it probably started with the boring stickiness in conversation. I'm an extrovert and I love people and I can start talking and I just don't stop. Or at least I used to be that way--I have taught myself to catch social cues and I'm better at conversation now.

But then the writing. Notebook after notebook of diaries and silly stories and letters and doodles. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote every day. It was like I couldn't help myself. Some of it was good--my sixth grade Old Testament teacher loved the stories I turned in, the essays and confessions and fiction. I was especially interested in, and focused on, rewriting biblical stories from different points of view. At least for him.

I moved after 7th grade and wrote to Carol, Leslie, and Marita until the pens ran dry. Until I exhausted them. I moved during 9th grade and kept writing. I moved again after 10th grade and by that time maintained 14 overseas penpals as well as 4 former classmates who hung on for dear life. Sometimes my domestic mail would be 20 handwritten pages long.

I started typing to keep up with the thoughts. At night to go to sleep I would type out words with my fingers on my thigh or on a pillow. And I would think a lot about religion and wonder about deep things.

In college, this channeled into a Theology minor, lots of papers I had to edit down to size, and lots of late night conversations. I never thought anything was wrong with me.

I developed migraine auras without headache when I was 22. I was briefly medicated and then weaned myself off because the side effect of lethargy was too hard. I underwent EEGs and an MRI to see if maybe they were seizures. Inconclusive.

In my family, seizures run wild and crazy. All kinds--generalized, partial complex, clusters, absence. My dad's family has 8 siblings, 16 cousins, and 10 second cousins thus far--at about a 50% seizure rate (at least one, you have to have at least one to count). Some are medicated, some are told they have a low seizure threshold. I went in ready to battle the epileptologist when Maeve had her second seizure, but she was on my side. Maeve would let us know if she needed medication. She didn't--she hasn't had another in 8 years.

I never got answers. Later on, I was medicated for anxiety and some of the symptoms--hypergraphia especially--subsided. But there is something strange about my brain that medical science cannot pinpoint.

These two books helped.


  1. I think the brain is still largely uncharted territory, as least in terms of its functioning. I remember reading in one of Oliver Sacks's books about a patient of his who had a stroke. The man couldn't read after his stroke--everything looked like it was written in another language--but he could still write words (which was good, because he was a writer). Bizarre.

    I'm curious: do you still have all your journals? They would be an amazing chronicle of your life, if so.

  2. Re your journals, I'm afraid I'm going to leave behind more writing than my kids are ever going to want to read. I didn't know Oliver Sacks wrote a book on migraine. I'll have to read it. I started getting migraine auras (sometimes with no headache, sometimes with a mild headache) after being bitten on the back of my neck by a tick. Any bright light will trigger it, and anything with a flicker—computer monitor, a ceiling fan, a drive through the woods with sunlight coming through the trees, and (the worst) fluorescent lighting. Thank you for mentioning this book.

    1. Meant to add my oldest stepdaughter, my daughter Gillian, and my granddaughter had debilitating migraines, starting at a very early age. I assume they inherited them from my husband's side of the family, but who knows? Gillian and I would both get dizzy from seeing something that flickers. No nightclubs with strobe lights for us!

  3. I have the occasional aura, no pain. It's strange, and it makes me wonder what could be ahead.

  4. I had an MRI once with the report, "brain appears normal for age." It was reassuring at the time, though is less so now as I think of it.

    Also - aura migraines. Yes.
    And I was a prolific letter-writer when an AFS student.

  5. I used to get what I think were migraines when I was a child. My mom called them nervous headaches and made me carry on with whatever I was supposed to be doing as if I brought them on myself. I remember crying and vomiting. They continued up until the birth of my oldest child. Now I only get ocular migraines with no pain at all.