The Ghost in My Brain

Free The Ghost in My Brain by Clark Elliott

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Authors: Clark Elliott
and the concussive has to draw on the Set B batteries to power her cognition. Even so, as long as there is a period of several days during which she can recover, life will return to “normal.”
    The real problems begin when the Set B batteries are used up, and there is not sufficient time for them to be recharged. Something comes up—say that after returning from an exhausting shopping trip one of the children discovers that he has left his expensive eyeglasses in one of the stores—our concussive has to respond, and as a last resort, she dips into her emergency energy source: the Set C batteries. These work fine, but only for a very short period of time. Using them, our concussive appears normal, and seems to act normally, in responding to the demanding circumstances. But when the Set C batteries are used up, there is nothing else for our concussive to draw on. Her life will not return to “normal” without a week or two of rejuvenating cognitive rest while the Set C batteries recharge.
    In my case, this odd, terraced way that my cognitive batteries drained, and recharged, was both a godsend and a curse. On the one hand, it was a blessing because it allowed me, for example, to drive safely, knowing that if some driving situation occurred, requiring that I respond to a series of challenges, I would be able to draw on reserves to react appropriately; it allowed me to keep my job by being mentally present at important meetings that were cognitively challenging; it allowed me to reasonably get through conversations in important social situations. Most important, it allowed me to be an effective parent: if my children needed me, I could step in and take over in a responsible way.
    On the other hand, it was a curse because outsiders might look at me doing fine on some task and expect that I would always be able to perform it, and others like it, not realizing the extreme toll it was taking.
    Lastly, independent of what I’ve described as the threelevels of cognitive batteries, there was another, different, effect I could call on. This “extreme emergency” mode could be called up in an instant, to deal with dangerous situations typically associated with rushes of adrenaline, and could usually support “normal” body and cognitive functioning for a very short time—as long as the Set C batteries still had
some
reserve. However, it was exceedingly draining, always took a heavy toll, and required a significant recovery period.
    While “deep C battery” mode and “extreme emergency” mode are a godsend to the concussive, acting as emergency buffers, they are not to be taken lightly: from the perspective of the residual emotional/physical trauma they engender, drawing on those deep emergency batteries starts out roughly equivalent to shouting at a child that a big wave is coming, or jamming on the car brakes, and quickly moves up to something more like reaching into a fire to retrieve an important document, or jumping off a roof to avoid danger.
    How long did it take for the various battery sets to deteriorate? This does not have a simple answer, because it depended on the tasks being executed at the time. Working up in a tree with a chain saw—which requires intense balance calculations, complex visual pattern matching on both the moving background of the gently rocking tree and the fluttering leaves, and extreme vigilance so an arm or leg does not get cut off, will almost immediately work through Sets A and B, and soon start to carve deeply into the resources of Set C. Twenty minutes in a tree with a chain saw is guaranteed to require a week of rest to get fully back to relative equilibrium. By contrast, being the single parent of a continually chattering three-year-old will slowly exhaust the battery supply over the course ofseveral weeks, because there is just never any chance for the brain to rest and recover.
    A few years after the crash a neurologist told me,

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