And maybe, I hope, the last. Unless something miraculous happens and there are significant improvements or something terrible happens and I need more surgery. Neither case is very likely. Things are pretty well stabilized and my MRIs continue to look good.
It’s still very frustrating that my brain doesn’t work the way it did before. People see me and talk to me and say how amazing it is, they would never know I had a problem. I respond politely because their intentions are good and they can’t possibly know how much more difficult certain things are. I guess it’s a good thing that I have ADHD, because it’s taught me how to accept that I can’t change and figure out ways to compensate instead. That doesn’t mean I have to like it!
The anomia comes and goes. I’ll have days when I’ll forget most of the names of people whose faces come into my head, not be able to tell anyone what a thing I want or am looking for is called, or even identify something I’m holding in my hand verbally. But since it happens so often, I don’t get as agitated when people try to help me by suggesting words (that are often wrong) while dredging through my memory for a connection that’ll bring the word to the surface.
I’ve learned little tricks to work around my still slightly impaired sense of direction. Most of them involve planning ahead. That’s not my forte, but I try. When I don’t, I turn on navigation on my phone. I need to look at a larger picture to get a sense of relative position of everything, so even when I’ve already been somewhere I might pull out a map and spread it out so I can position the place mentally among multiple spots I’m already familiar with.
Since the last Brain Diary, I’ve been to school for Cosmetology and am waiting for my license to arrive any day (week, month. . .) I know, it doesn’t sound sciency at all. You’d be surprised, but that’s beside the point. Learning new things and performing services with my hands was not only great occupational therapy, but also gave me insight as to some particular effects I need to work around that I might not have noticed otherwise. For example, at the beginning, I would need to hold a picture of a hairstyle up to the mirror next to my mannequin head so they were both facing the same way, because I couldn’t mentally flip images. I still have to do some extra thinking sometimes, especially if I’m looking at something that’s asymmetrical, and sometimes I need to have my hands on a head at the same time as I’m looking at a picture. I also need to go very slowly right now to create symmetry, because as I go from one side to another my visual perception and body angle change unless I pay very close attention to altering my posture and directional gaze.
I simply can’t “do the same thing on the other side.” Braiding taught me this in a singularly humiliating way. I needed to find something that stayed the same no matter which hand was working because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t mirror what my right hand was doing with my left. If you watch me as I do it, you’ll see that I don’t hold my hands or the hair the same in both hands. The harder I try, the worse I do, and the more frustrated I get. I need to look at it almost as if it were two separate things I was doing. I described it to my fellow students as if I was trying to make a braid on two different heads, one hand for each. (Plus, I need to learn this for each different braid, and there are lots of them.) It was the first thing we learned, and the last thing I figured out. I’m still a ways from mastering it, and if I make up a stunning new design, it’ll be completely by accident!
This distorted sense of spatial relations is even worse on myself. Yeah, everyone says they have trouble doing their hair or makeup in the mirror, but I remember what that was like. It was like what I deal with now when working on someone else. Just like with the map, I need to establish points of reference that are outside myself that I can associate with one another. If the main point of reference is ON ME, that just can’t happen. I have become less inefficient at doing my own hair, but it’s still kind of comical how many different directions my comb and brush will go on different areas of my head and how many things I hit with the blow dryer that are not anywhere near my hair. My style is different every day because I can’t do it the same no matter what. I let people think it’s all creativity, but the most creative thing is figuring out how to get it to look like I did it that way on purpose. More often than not, I had an idea, tried to do it, then pulled out super strong holding products for damage control.
The other things I tried to do on myself were very useful for pinpointing specific deficits. I got it into my head that fake eyelashes would be better than mascara, and spent countless hours trying to put them on, went through three tubes of adhesive, and threw out 8 pairs of lashes and three packs of individuals before I gave it up. Towards the end, I realized that not only does my right eye not close independently without squinching it up tight, but it has weird “blind spots” where I can see colors and shapes but not “understand” what they are. I would finagle my way around getting a lash strip on my partially-open right eye, but when it came to the left, these “blind spots” made it impossible to put one on. I’d try with the left eye open enough so I could see through it, but each time my hands or wrists covered one eye or the other, my “sense of direction” would change. I’d have the strip placed perfectly, say, on the outer corner, but once I moved towards the center and one eye or the other was even partially blocked, I’d start pulling the strip in the wrong direction and sticking it to the middle of my eyelid, the tips of my lashes, or even pulling it off. It was during one of these frustrating sessions that I stopped and just covered and uncovered my eyes one at a time and realized that the world moved in different ways from one eye to the next and made more sense in the left than the right.
Makeup is a bit more symmetrical now, but that also took some training. Initially, I had to use pencils or chopsticks or other long, straight guides to make marks on my face, and even then I would end up with one side higher or lower than the other, farther out, closer together, darker or lighter. I still have to step back frequently because up close the right and left sides are perceptually disconnected. I won’t lie, there have been a lot of tears. When you’ve been doing something for 30 years with almost no thought at all and suddenly it requires slow going and meticulous attention to seemingly superfluous details, it makes you feel impaired. Even if it’s just something as silly as having to give up eyeliner because you can’t draw a single smooth line on your face anymore.
The good thing about this is that with the improved awareness of what’s doing what, I am getting better at accepting and compensating for my new set of neurological differences. They’re not going to change, or they would have by now. So here I am.