Sunday, August 25, 2013

Dying to See You Again

I'm posting here tonight to discuss the matter of my death. It's a subject that is close at hand for me right now.

Before anyone panics, I want to make it clear that, as far as I know, my demise isn't imminent, at least in a corporeal sense.

In almost any other sense, though, I could argue that it happened months ago, and everyone, including myself, somehow missed it at the time.

The adjectives that I would have used to describe myself - balanced, quick-witted, patient, upbeat, attentive, creative, articulate, focused, persistent, sharp, athletic, self-controlled - now fail to apply in any significant degree. Things that used to be easy and fun, that I used do for amusement, are now entirely beyond my reach, some physically. some mentally, and some both. The skills and talents that I used in my work - pattern recognition, rapid data processing, attention to detail, reading speed, verbal fluency, the ability to draw meaningful connections between disparate elements, knowing just the right thing to say at just the right time, access to a vast and varied font of accurate and precise memory - all gone or altered beyond recognition. My patterns of behavior and emotional response have changed dramatically, and so relationships with family and friends have shifted as well, and not in ways I would have chosen. People I counted close cease to call, cease to speak, turn away from the stranger who stands in the midst of my life like a doppleganger.

The situation I find myself in leads to some interesting questions, ones that have been explored through the ages by better minds than mine by far, but I (or what passes for me these days) am here and they're not, so it's my turn to at least bring them up, even if I'm not up to the task of tackling them alone.

Here's the first set that's been on my mind (or on the mind of whoever it is who has been living what passes for my life these days):

Where does the essence of the self reside, and how much can it be altered before it ceases to be the self and becomes something else?I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

I had a neuropsychological evaluation recently, to try to determine the nature and extent of my brain injuries and distinguish them from any underlying psychological pathology. As part of the evaluation, the psychologist asked me if I was suicidal. I denied it. But the question struck me funny. It still does. If suicide is the desire to extinguish the self, what more thorough job could ending the body possibly do than what has already been done? And if I'm not myself, it wouldn't really be suicide, would it? It would be murdering a stranger, and if there is any continuity between the person I was before and the person I am now, the idea that murdering strangers is something one just doesn't do would have to be counted among the few, but blessed, common threads that join us together.

I'm grateful that I retained just enough judgment and impulse control not to say that out loud during the evaluation.

I apologize for the lack of relevant links. Consider it a symptom. Composing these few paragraphs has been the work of weeks, not minutes, as would have been the case before. I'll try to remember to keep hunting for them. If you have any that you think would illuminate the topic of conversation, please share them in the comments, and I'll add them in in the appropriate places. I'd like to think I'm not just writing this for myself (especially since I don't even know who that might be or where they might have gotten off to), so I'll look forward to your comments, and check back as soon as I remember that I still have this blog.

3 comments:

  1. Maybe I am just talking to myself. I'll keep checking back.

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  2. I don't know you, but I empathize with you. I went through a similar experience seven years ago, just after my teenage son died from cancer. Not physical injuries like you, although a rapid decline in physical health due to near-suicidal self-neglect did ensue in the two years after my little boy died. But it was the near-complete psychological shredding, the almost total destruction of my old personality, which occurred as a direct result of the loss of huge chunks of my long-term memory, all because of the trauma and grief. which almost destroyed me totally.

    I looked at myself in the mirror and saw only a complete stranger. I've on quite a few occasions met people who were close friends many years ago, but I simply couldn't remember who they were. Really embarrassing, for both parties. Little things like childhood and early adulthood memories, all gone. It's the memories that make us who we are, that are the fundamental basis of our personalities. Once the memories go, the personality unravels, something which we see in stroke or Alzheimer's sufferers. A truly frightening process, which only those who have experienced can understand. The only thing that I can't forget is the loss of my son and the unbearable pain that that loss brings me, every time I think of him.

    I've spent the past few years rebuilding myself again, from the ground up. But it's the New Me that looks back from the mirror, and so much of the Old Me is simply gone, forever. I was lucky, in that my family and close friends stuck by me, through thick and thin. And I've also made many new friends since then, people who didn't know me from before, something that should give you hope, as it will also happen to you. It can be done, totally recreating yourself, so don't give up hope. Just hang in there, rebuild yourself bit by bit, and look forward to the future. For those like us, the only way is forwards.

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  3. Phil, I just saw your comment. Thank you so much for sharing your story. There's more I'd like to say, but I don't have the words right now.

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