My Latent Self Anne Ricketts

My Latent Self

Recovering My Soul After Brain Injury
Recovering My Soul After Brain Injury

Dysexecutive Syndrome

Also sometimes called ‘Frontal Lobe Syndrome…’

I couldn’t find any known quotes on the subject of riddles – so here is my own…

‘Where there is a riddle, there is an answer.’

It seems to me that there is nothing quite like ‘Dysexecutive Syndrome’ (DES) for creating the most profound riddles in life. People can easily become lost, fall off their path, suffer psychological and spiritual problems, without ever having experienced a TBI, but, nonetheless, we can share similar experiences, even though the causes are very different.

You can end up with cognitive, emotional, and behavioural problems as a result of psychological trauma, pregnancy, poor diet and a host of other causes. I don’t think this puts us in the same boat, but I do believe that the lift rafts are all sailing on stormy waters…

Alan Baddeley was the man who coined the phrase, as it were, to describe a range of disabilities in what are known as executive functions.  This particular term acts as a kind of umbrella to incorporate a range of ‘brain’ skills such as organising, initiation, planning, visualisation, problem solving, inhibition, according dynamic results from limited thinking or mental gymnastics / flexibility, the ability to multi-task, the ability to monitor, progress and process the results of actions, and even working memory.

The brain injury organisations listed in ‘Resources’ all hold ‘lists’ of the symptoms of DES. They differ slightly, but all share very common ground.

Physical Problems

I consider myself to be extremely lucky. Physically I had few problems. To start with I completely lost my sense of smell, but it has a ‘vagueness’ to it now. I had particularly had problems with balancing and dizziness in the few months and they still show up today – especially when I am tired…

I was never a headachy kind of person. In fact I can tell you that the last time I had a headache before I fell on my head was when I was 22. Post injury I suffered severe headaches almost continuously and they lasted for way over a year, but because I have not made entries in my journals about them after this, and because I have no medical records that document any later complaints, I have no idea when they actually stopped…

Fatigue was a huge issue for me. I could easily be in a deep comatose-like sleep for around 20 hours a day when I first fell on my head. Over the years, as I healed and improved mentally, this gradually moved back to my regular 8 hours a year ago. In other words it took me ten years to regain my old sleep patterns and needs… Working on my books and this website has thrown that out of kilter again. Because I am really pushing my limits and work so very hard on my brain – I am commonly back to sleeping for up to 14 hours to make up for the extra effort that I am putting into my life…

I am not a lazy person. As soon as I do wake up I am straight out of my bed. I can’t even begin to fathom why some people opt to ‘lay-in,’ as this seems like such a huge waste of living time to me…

Many people who experience brain injury also have problems with reduced mobility – these can be quite significant and people can be left with severe physical weaknesses. ABI can also cause ‘ataxia’ or poor motor coordination and tremors, perhaps even numbness. I can’t comment on any of these ‘symptoms’ because I haven’t experienced them, but, my heart goes out to you if you also have these networks to repair…

Cognitive Problems

When it comes to my describing my cognitive problems I feel so swamped that I am tempted to refer you to my book. How can I condense the severe disabilities I experienced into the content of this page without also swamping you? I am going to try to. Where there is a will, there is a way…

Inevitably, I will probably miss a lot out, but one of the most important things to say is that one of the worse problems I have had is with my working memory. If you learn something new, and then seconds later you are totally oblivious to it, then you haven’t learnt anything at all…

Learning new things has been, and still is, one of the hardest problems I have had to face when it comes to DES. You grasp something only to find that it is like trying to make silk stick to fuzzy-felt or glass stick to Velcro.  What you ‘learn’ falls away like a marble let loose on the rim of the Grand Canyon. You need persistence. I needed persistence. Thankfully, because my short-term memory was so bad, I very rarely remembered the incidents of my ‘failures.’ Almost every time I tried something, it felt like the first time.

I know that it isn’t always this way. Some people with TBI’s remember trying and trying and trying. For some, they still don’t remember what for, or what it was all about. This can make them feel as though they are failures, but, what I would say is that it is all practice, and practice makes myelin. Myelin makes neural pathways that eventually become habit. Persevere. Everything comes in its own good time… Be patient with yourself, reach your hand over your shoulder and pat yourself on the back – this physical action will help to reinforce what you are trying to learn. Every single thought is etched into the brain like a sculptors’ chisel carves into their chosen material…

Don’t compare. If you remember how quickly you learned before your life changed – don’t compare. Think of it this way – would you want your brain to learn something the first time around? Is your answer yes? Consider this excerpt from my book: –

“Practice adds layers of myelin. We have to practice, practice, practice, before myelin will wrap itself around the nerve fibres in our brains, and hence enable us to become proficient at anything. We have to move from conscious incompetence to unconscious competence.

If our brains accepted the first time we tried something as being the best we were going to achieve, and hardwired the function into place, we would not only lose our flexibility, but more importantly, we would be unable to survive. Our brains have to remain flexible in order for them to be capable of creativity.”

“Discontent is the first necessity of progress. “
Thomas A. Edison

Do some research – you are not alone, you can never be alone…

“I start where the last man left off. “
Thomas A. Edison

“The last person who walked my way left a springboard.”
Anne E Ricketts

One of the other things that was to possibly become the bane of my life was the ‘speed’ of my information processing. Again, this continues to be a severe disability in my life. Before I fell on my head I used to commonly experience having the ‘answers’ almost before I had thought entirely through the problem. I was more familiar with feelings of inspiration and with the ‘shooting star’ answers that came to me, than I was with picking up a telephone receiver. Bearing in mind that I made my living via the telephone, this is quite an achievement.

The one thing that I had on my side was a ‘photographic memory.’ This doesn’t only refer to my ‘visualisation’ skills, but to my ‘verbal’ memory. Anything that I heard or read stuck in my brain like sticky porridge sticks to a pan. From here I could churn out simple solutions to complex problems… I once accepted a job offer at a factory that made crop spraying equipment. Never done before by me; never experienced before by me. I ‘interviewed’ the Managing Director during my interview (long before the days of the internet where I could have done a lot of my research this way) and I was expected back the following morning for a second interview. By the following morning I had a five-year-plan. I ‘saw’ it.’ This ability to both process and visualise was so real to me that I could almost have taken a bite out of it…

After I fell on my head it could take me years to work things out. Some things took as much as ten years. I have never once, even without all the knowledge I have since gleaned, been impatient with myself. I know that during the first five years of my recovery I was totally oblivious to what I was doing and to what was going on, but regardless of this, my brain was still working on the problems that arose for me. I had to keep everything within my conscious mind; I still do now. It takes up a lot of space but, I persevere.

I know that I no longer had access to my subconscious mind and its powerful processing capabilities. This is an excerpt from my book: –

“Everything that used to happen in the background now has to happen in the foreground. It’s as though the subconscious mind has become like a withered raisin, with size and health all dehydrated to leave nothing other than a wrinkled terminal blob. The brain knows it is failing in its normality and it needs no internal conscious communication to tell it that. There isn’t necessarily any conscious recognition of the same thing though. You don’t need to be consciously aware of the biological processes of the brain for them to keep happening.”

Let us step aside a moment, I want to share something….

This story is not only about me and I have very sadly lost touch with the other people involved. For this reason, I won’t all share the details for the sake of privacy, but suffice to say that in late 2004 I met a man who was very near his death from a brain tumour.  He could no longer communicate, and yet I could understand him. I spent the next few months making his family aware of his dying wishes, his last words of love and reconciliation…

I received a note from my dear friend, this man’s wife… It said: – ‘there is ‘gold’ in [blank]. You were my treasure found. My new friend forever! You are one of God’s Angels. Pat yourself on the back for me every now & then.’

Miracles can happen, even for the brain injured amongst us…

Some part of my broken brain was able to understand one that was dying, when no one else could anymore…  If I hadn’t fallen on my head I wouldn’t have those memories or that note – the note I will treasure forever…

I ended up in places that I had no idea about how I came to be there. I got ‘lost’ en-route more times than I would care to remember if I could. I thought I could still do everything that I could before, and when I couldn’t I treated it as ‘okay.’ I could manage myself in small doses and could even convince other people that I could do things that I didn’t stand a bat in hell’s chance of doing. But, I couldn’t plan, organise, solve miniscule problems or initiate any action. I couldn’t even turn the knob on my gas hob and push it down for ignition at the same time….

I still have these problems. I still do stupid things… I still have immense trouble sustaining my attention and God forbid if anyone divides or switches their attention when I am supposed to be listening!

I can’t ‘visualise’ anymore. My ability to ‘see’ an end result is over the rainbow with the blue birds. I can’t always grasp where I am in situations that are not familiar to me; I knock things off shelves and clothing off the racks in stores almost as often as I lock my front door. I leave my front door wide open – with the keys in it. I rarely comprehend what I am being told at the time I am being told anything. I rarely respond in the appropriate moment – I am down to only taking three days to think of my response – but this is way better than not even knowing that I need to reply at all….

My daughter sent me away for three weeks in January 2010. She wanted me to write my book. I came back with the full draft copy of Latent Beliefs. It took me over nine months to hone it into something I felt I could be ‘proud’ of. When I received a publishing contract I realised that ‘My Latent Self’ needed to come first. Until I wrote either of these books I had no insights into the realisations I had gained about life and the way it works, nor did I have any insights into what caused me to have such profound disabilities…

Writing has ‘opened’ the door to my self-awareness again…. My deep desire to share and to help has aided my recovery. It has given me new goals (that I often ‘lose’ or forget), and it makes me try and then try again. I have to say that I would always be doing this anyway, trying again and again, but, it seems to help my focus when I ‘know’ there is someone out there I can ‘talk’ to….

I have almost totally escaped from my emotional and behavioural problems. In ‘Shared Insights’ I have listed a host of experiences about how things appear to the outside world, versus what is going on in the inside world. I think this ‘list’ totally conveys what is really going on when you have temper outburst, rapid mood swings, emotional lability and flattening, disinhibition, and anxiety, depression and obsessions…

There is always hope…

 

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysexecutive_syndrome

 

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My Latent Self, Recovering My Soul After Brain Injury. Annie Ricketts. Isle of Wight, UK. Help Someone With Brain Injury, Glasgow Coma Scale.
 

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