Yesterday, I wrote a post about age and how short our lives are. I said, “I don’t want to be 116 years old, but I wouldn’t mind living to 60, or maybe even 70 or 80, if I can manage to keep my brain intact that long. I’m not counting on it. With as much damage as my brain has received from meningitis, traumatic brain injuries, and drug and alcohol abuse, I’ll be lucky if I can hold it together until 60.”
That’s not really exaggerating. I had meningitis as an infant, so I practically started life with a damaged brain. I was a substance abusing teenager who never really stopped until a few years ago. I was clocked on the noggin when I was twenty or so and lost most of my memories and the ability to function for a while.
After my traumatic brain injury, I was informed that one of the potential side effects of severe brain boo-boos–aside from, you know, death–was early onset dementia. At the age of twenty, I had the brain function of an eighty year old with Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately for me, my brain was still growing when it was smashed, so I was able to gain some of my mad brain skills back, but no matter how hard I work, I’ll most likely end up there again.
It would be similar to Sleeping Beauty awakened by Prince Charming (or whatever Beaut’s beau was called–they’re all Prince Charming tropes anyway), while knowing that, eventually, she’ll end up in her sleepy coma again. She’s happy to not to be a coma patient for a while, but that reminder of her fate is a little sad.
I have a Sleeping Beauty coma hanging over my head and no Prince Charming to break the spell. If I do fall into a brain coma, don’t put a dumb rose in my hand and take that stupid crown off. Also, that is not appropriate sleepwear.
Unlike Beauty, I didn’t just wake up and everything was better. I woke up and everything was twisted, jumbled or just gone. I knew who I was, but I didn’t know where I was. I knew what happened the previous week, but I had no idea what happened during my entire childhood or five minutes before.
I have very little memory of that period because I had very little memory at all. My short-term memory barely worked. It had a difficult time converting things that happened into long-term memory. I had the memory of goldfish (real goldfish can remember for at least 6 months–still the 30 second memory myth persists).
I spent years in brain rehab. I put square blocks into square holes. I gave my opinion on ink blotches. I did test after test with specialist after specialist, day in, day out, and a little functionality came back.
My short-term memory is still not what it should be, but I’ve managed to find workarounds. If I want to remember something, I have to write it down. Over the years, my brain has made new neural pathways to reconnect to some old memories, but there’s no pattern to it. I clearly remember a field trip in kindergarten, but don’t remember what happened in third grade at all. I only have scattered fragments of my past and I cannot sort them in chronological order. My brain is a huge unfinished jigsaw puzzle of my life and I don’t even have all the pieces.
I’m essentially living on borrowed time. If I’m lucky, I have a few short decades before it all disappears again. Every time I have a bad brain day, I panic a bit, thinking this is the beginning of the end. A bad brain day is what I call those days where I just cannot get it together. I had one last weekend. Instead of concealer, I very nearly put lip gloss under my eyes. I put lotion on my hands to wash them instead of soap. I cleaned the hair out of my brush and put the hair back in the drawer and almost threw the brush away. That kind of confusion and inability to get through daily life is what is waiting for me, only it won’t be a bad brain day, but a bad brain life.
My fate terrifies me. It terrifies me all the more because I’ve already been through it. They say the unknown is scariest, but sometimes, the known can be even worse. I don’t want to live a life of panicking. I don’t want to wake up in the morning and not know where I am or what happened in the last twenty years or so. When it gets to that point, when I am well and truly gone, I would like to think that some kind creature would put me out of my misery. I don’t want to live the life of a goldfish again.
That’s what I have waiting for me again when I get old. My thinking will get slower and confused. I won’t be able to concentrate. I won’t be able to remember. I won’t have the memories I worked so hard to get back and I might even lose important functionality. I might not remember how to tie my shoes or even how to breathe. Next time, no amount of rehab will help. It will be gone forever. I will be gone forever, even though my body still breathes. All of us are destined to extremely short lives on a universal scale, but if I had one wish, it would be to live the rest of my puny life with my brain intact, or as intact as it is now.