Algernon And Me
Flowers For Algernon was, hands down, one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read some really horrendous and depressing books – I mean, hey, I was an English teacher and depressing books are all the rage to teach to angsty teens. To be fair, I’ve read a lot of pretty terrible things all on my own, but something about Flowers For Algernon is heartbreaking on such a different level.
For those of you who don’t know, the book chronicles the life of a developmentally disabled adult, Charlie, who is roped into a human trial for a drug that is meant to increase intelligence. Preliminary studies on rats, specifically Algernon, were promising, showing tremendous jumps in cognitive ability.
Knowing What You’re Losing
The results are amazing, like Bradley Cooper in Limitless amazing. Unfortunately, Algernon takes a turn for the worse and starts a rapid decline into a rat type of dementia and eventual death. The same begins to happen with Charlie. The most heart-wrenching part about this is that when very intelligent people, or any people, begin to cognitively decline, they know it. Charlie had been happy with his life before the experiment – afterward his life was filled with soul-destroying knowledge, the worst of which was knowing that he was missing something, Knowing he was declining, knowing all that he had lost.
Trying Not To Lose Myself
After my car accident and subsequent struggle with concussion and post-concussion syndrome, I thought a lot about Flowers For Algernon – it seemed the only thing that I could relate to my feelings and experience. I am ashamed to say that my brain was the thing I valued most about myself and the loss of the function I once had was humbling at best and demoralizing at worst.
Dutifully, I went to PT, VT, OT, ST, doctors visits, and did the exercises at home. I would push and push and push, but brains are not like muscles – if you push too hard you wind up knocking yourself back to the start. For some, one experience like that is enough. Not me. I have had a multitude of mini Algernon moments. I was already a push-through kinda girl, but any woman will tell you, once you become a mom, that inclination takes over completely.
I know I’ve told you much of this before, but I felt a recap was necessary to explain what has happened since my epiphany. I had already begun trying everything I could to work out my brain – this blog started as a brain exercise (And, if I’m honest, a desperate attempt to hold onto my thoughts and memories for my kids); I taught myself to crochet; I increased my physical activity; I play mind games, word searches, puzzles of all sorts, board games, card games, and reading. My next challenge is to teach myself the piano – wish me luck!
The problem was, I kept hitting the same wall. Then God intervened. A few things happened at the same time – a roiling stew of ingredients were dropped into my life simultaneously and just when it began to look like an unconsumable revolting mess, suddenly, it became a recipe for success. Here is my update.
A Surprising Aid
I went to church one Sunday – the migraine began before I sat down and, I had taken my ibuprofen out of my bag and forgotten to replace it. I spent the next hour half-ready to run out the door attempting not to vomit on the carpet on my way to the bathroom, half-immobilized in pain and shielding my eyes. Someone noticed my struggle and suggested that they may have something to help me. This was my first interaction with non-THC CBD oil cream. After rubbing it on my forehead, around my eye sockets, and the base of my skull where my optic nerve starts, I began to get some relief. It was enough to get home to get my 800mg of ibuprofen and two Benedryl and sleep it off. It was nothing short of miraculous in my eyes. I began researching and decided to buy both the cream and a non-THC CBD extract that I could take in droplet form. I have now been using the extract daily for about two months – what a difference in inflammation and pain!
Say It Ain’t So
Within days of this experience, a neurologist wrote a report about me which stated that on top of my PCS, he felt I had CTE. The overwhelming grief and despair which followed for the next few days was indescribable. I could not contain the emotions welling up inside me and would find myself wracked with uncontrollable sobbing. His words were a death sentence. I had been trying for so long, nearly a year and a half at this point to recover from my accident and this, this “news” threatened to do me in.
My husband has some very strong beliefs.
I promise, I’m not rambling.
One of his frequent admonitions is, “Don’t call down sickness on ______!” It falls into the category of – “Speak life.” One day, in the midst of a wave or sorrow beating me down as I attempted to wash the dishes in between sobs, his words hit me in a way I had never felt before. I found my grief immediately arrested as this thought screamed its way through, “He can’t tell me that!! How could he possibly know that?! He couldn’t know that unless I was dead and my brain was autopsied!! I REJECT THAT DIAGNOSIS!”
That was the genesis of the biggest fight I have ever undertaken. I thought I had been fighting before, but it was nothing compared to what I was about to do. Though I was still in the midst of a serious setback, I started to do what I always do in times of confusion – research. I struggled through every medical journal, blog post, and news article I could find on concussions, PCS, CTE, TBI, and recovery. I found a couple of books on brain regeneration and autophagy.
A New Strategy
I began supplementing with a variety of all-natural brain-enhancing vitamins, minerals, and extracts. I also began a ketogenic diet which, when severely restricting your carb intake is supposed to allow your brain to regenerate and remove the “bandages” your brain applies which actually end up impairing your cognition.
I’m a little over a month in. The first two weeks were kind of terrible. Even though I was already gluten-free because I have Celiac, I had awful keto flu. It seemed to last a lot longer than it should have, but now, I’m thrilled to report, I am starting to see results.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Additionally, about a week ago, I got myself a subscription to BrainHQ (This is not a plug – they aren’t paying me). It is an online brain game site which is one of the only thoroughly researched approaches (ACTIVE Study) to improving cognitive ability. Check out the link to the study through the game’s website here: https://www.brainhq.com/world-class-science/published-research/active-study
OK – I still feel a bit stupid, but less stupid than I was. I can’t unconsciously cheat with these games. The ones I had been doing, I had been doing so long that I had learned the games or memorized parts so that it was no longer challenging. This website provides randomized games so that you can never cheat – they change it up too often and as soon as you begin to get too good at a particular one – it changes and becomes difficult all over again.
The Bottom Line
So, what you’re wondering is – What’s the bottom line? Do you see any results? Is there anything tangible you can show me?
In the past week or so, I have noticed that I have been remembering and using vocabulary I haven’t used in a very long time. This is huge for me because my vocabulary loss and inability to remember the correct words was overwhelming and inhibited my ability to process information, articulate my thoughts, and communicate effectively. I am having less and less trouble. It is true that, in the comfort of my own home, where my brain is accustomed to everything, I do much better than when I am in any other setting, BUT it’s still an improvement.
Next, clarity, memory, and multi-tasking – I have noticed an improvement in these as well. Though the improvement is only beginning, I am starting to feel less overwhelmed by – everything.
Finally, energy. This has been a serious problem. My brain would become so exhausted, it almost seemed as if I struggled with narcolepsy. As soon as my brain had too much, it would simply shut down and I would be unable to keep my eyes open. Only sleep – lots of sleep could get me going again. I’ve probably slept more hours than my pets in the last year and a half. When I started therapy, I would need to sleep for much of the rest of the day. By the time I had gotten to a place where they said they had done all they could for me, I was down to maybe a two/three-hour nap afterward. No exercises have exhausted me like that since – attempting to have a regular life has, but the exercises became too easy. When I began BrainHQ this past week – I found myself back at a place where I could not open my eyes after 5 minutes of play – then 10 – now about a half an hour. That’s in only one week! Today, I rested without sleeping and wrote this post only a few minutes after.
Now, because I started all of these new things at once, I can’t point to any one thing that made the difference, but like a delicious stew, each component has complemented the other and has only solidified the faith that this is just the beginning!
25 And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.
26 And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.
27 And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.
28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.
32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.