I know I said I wouldn't mention it again, but today it is exactly one year on from the night I had my sub-arachnoid brain haemorrhage and I find myself unable not to reflect on what has been a very strange year.
From the moment of the explosion of the pain, light and noise in my head at pretty much the stroke of midnight (pun possibly intended, but it lightens the mood a little, don't you think?), my life has been different. Even now that I am, as far as I can tell, almost completely recovered, the way I view things is necessarily different. Those kinds of afflictions kill people. In fact, most people who experience it die. That rather puts it in perspective for me. After such a realisation that more people than not die from a SAH, it is impossible not to feel somehow as if you had a significant and lucky escape.
Life therefore has an entirely different complexion as a result. This is a Good Thing.
From the exquisite agony of the happening itself, the months of painful recovery, the confusion, tiredness and frustration, I have arrived here. It feels a good place to be. Paradoxically, it feels a better place to be than had I been a year on without it having happened. Perhaps this sounds a little trite, and I am sure that those close to me who had more awareness of what was going on than my addled self, might disagree. But it was a profound experience.
What strikes one, having viewed the world with a brain which had various regions malfunctioning, is how mechanistic the process of cognition, of sentience itself is. Parts of the brain have specific functions relating to how information is gathered and processed. When they are not working, cognition works differently.
I am going to be blunt here, and some of you might this difficult to accept, but when one experiences existence with a damaged brain and perceives just how different the experience is, it is not difficult to extrapolate this to what it might be like to have more impairment of the circuits. And ultimately, if the experience of consciousness is so altered by physical damage to the brain, then the complete removal of neural activity by death, must surely produce the ultimate change in consciousness: Oblivion.
My recollection of general anaesthetics tend to bear this out. And it does not bode well for notions of a soul or consciousness after death. I think now, if I ever doubted (and that would have been a very long time ago now) that definitely "This Is It: This life is all there is". Notions of afterlife seem fanciful hopefulness, and I have had all the confirmation I personally need to make it completely evident that consciousness is solely produced by the action of the neurons in the brain. When that stops, we stop.
And I am ok with that.
I am ok with that because it means that this new flavour life has, as a result of my reminder of mortality, acquired a new deliciousness. To be alive, to be mobile, to have a mind, and inside that a vibrant, colourful Life of The Mind, is, if we take the time to examine it, a dazzling experience. It is one I shall henceforth never take for granted.
My mind came back in stages. There were times I thought it was all back. I was wrong then. But then the problem was with my organ of cognition. It is excusable that this organ, self-regarding but damaged, might be unable to examine itself correctly. I think as a result, I pushed too hard, came back to work too soon and set myself goals that were too high for the various stages of recovery. I hope this learning will not be required again. But it does perhaps make a case for a little compassion towards ourselves and others.
But now, I really do think I am all there. I thought so before and have said so here. But this time, I think I am right. There have been times this past week for instance, when I felt my mind was on fire with agility and a euphoric sense of its own possibility. I have so missed that.
Small physical symptoms persist which hint at the possibility that subtle cognitive effects may linger, though I personally am not aware of any mental impairments. If I bend my head forward on my neck, the pains in my limbs return: Stabbing pains, almost as if in my femurs and radius and ulna bones. It would seem reasonable to assume that these residual effects might be mirrored mentally and I am vigilant, in a curious rather than anxious way, to see if they manifest themselves. At this stage though, I can discern no phenomena of this nature.
So, here we are. A year. And an enormous amount of strange experiences. I have made the acquaintance of my own brain and how it operates, seen it not operate properly, relearned to use it, discovered new ways to use it in order to circumvent it's dysfunctions, and discovered a new taste for life. My memory is better than before, my ability to evaluate information is better, I have taken up tango, started reading fiction again and feel, if I may say, 110% at least of what I was before.
In all this, somewhat self-regarding, piece of prose, I hope there might be messages of hope for what can be achieved in the face of setbacks.
I have been asked by several people to document all I can recollect about the whole experience in the hope it may help other sufferers of brain injury to make some sense of the experience. I was initially against it. Until yesterday actually when it suddenly, for some inexplicable reason, seemed a good idea. So, I shall do that.
Well, if you have read thus far, well done. I admire your patience. But what I want to say to you is this:
The brain is an incredible machine (and sorry, but machine it is, but don't let this detract from its wonder). It is unbelievably configurable. And there is no manual! So, given as how lost function can be regained with practise and discipline, what else might it be configured to do???
I exhort you! Play with it! Feed it! Teach it and challenge it! Learn a language, take up dancing, write a blog, or just plain start talking to people in the street. And I promise you, you will be rewarded with unexpected and delightful results. It will reconfigure itself by what you do. You just have to do it.