Comfort rots the brain

 

Comfort kills.

It rots, it mutes, it makes us benign.

Kevin Spaceys’ character Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint nailed is in the great movie, The Usual Suspects. He said:

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

When we think there’s no devil, there’s nothing to keep us sharp. We get soft. Or as Pink Floyd perfectly put it, we become comfortably numb.

Rage against the devils that mute us, I say!

It took me stroking out and having to reboot my brain to get hip to this trick. It doesn’t have to go so far.

I’m convinced that we’ve become wired today to make us think that the early struggles and challenges of life are supposed to lead us to a land of milk and honey where we can finally just sit back. So we get to a point where we can do our job in our sleep and go on autopilot to handle the other things in our lives.

That’s when we’ve made it, baby.

Except that we haven’t.

Because — I’m convinced of this — that’s where the rust sets in. And before you know it, one day melts into the next. We’re not bending our brains. We’re not stimulating our souls. We’re at risk of becoming like a character in another amazing Brit band’s song, Synchronicity II by The Police: “He walks unhindered through the picket lines today. He doesn’t think to wonder why.”

Think! Wonder! Our brains literally feed off of this.

So do we seek high stress jobs and drama in our personal lives to stay sharp? Been there, done that. It’s the other extreme. Maybe it’s another trick of that damn devil. In my case, it’s likely a key driver in my path to the stroke ward.

There’s a middle way that’s not benign.

You’ve got a great job that you’ve been doing for a long time that’s keeping the family in groceries? That’s great. Maybe volunteer on weekends at an inner city homeless shelter? You’ll get yourself some stimulation there. Guaranteed.

You’re kinda shy? Did somebody say ‘open mike night at the local comedy club?” There’s nothing like the sound of crickets after you’ve delivered your best gag to get those juices flowing!

Angry about that good for nothing politician who keeps talking without doing? Don’t be a do-nothing yourself. Volunteer on the campaign of that layabout’s competition during the next election.

Don’t be afraid of being afraid. If you’re a right brain gal, find left brain stuff to do. Hey left brain guy, take a walk on the right side.

There’s also stuff that you can do without leaving the comfort of your hacienda. There are loads of brain games and programs online and at your local book store. Read books and magazines on subjects you don’t normally follow.

I knew a guy in the advertising game once. He said some of his colleagues would go to different kinds of houses of faith to challenge and stimulate their noodles – a synagogue one week, an evangelical church the next, then a mosque. I was once at a Hindu wedding and, wow, was that a feast for my mind.

If folks run to lose weight and build heart health why is it so crazy to exercise your brain? It’s not. It’s madness not to.

Here’s a bit more from my newspaper piece:

Part three:

Former journalist Tim Seefeldt tells the story of his amazing journey to relearn the basics 3 Rs

By Tim Seefeldt, Edmonton Journal

June 13, 2014

Everything we do, everything we are is connected to our brain. Its four quadrants control various functions. So where the stroke hits determines what type of damage it does. And the longer it goes on, the worse that can be.

Simply put, a stroke is a sudden loss of brain function. It’s caused by the interruption of blood flow to the brain or the rupture of blood vessels to the brain. While this is happening, the brain is being damaged.

There are more than 50,000 strokes per year in Canada – one every 10 minutes. It’s our third leading cause of death and our leading cause of adult neurological disability and hospitalization.          

You don’t fix a broken brain.

The parts that are sizzled are done for. It becomes a matter of rewiring the brain to the degree that that’s possible. For me, the vision problem and body control weren’t the big issues. I was able to get those working for me again pretty quickly, though I’m still numb on the right side.

The real jolt was to the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. Oh, I almost forgot: my memory was sizzled, too.

Technically, I had a large left posterior cerebral artery territory infarct. That meant that the back left side of my brain was damaged. I literally needed to relearn my ABCs and simple math. Confounding the task was that I couldn’t draw on important bits of the past and I struggled to keep hold on what was happening in the present.

Damage to the left brain is felt on the right side. That’s why it was my right eye and side that let me down the morning of my stroke.

Put it all together, I’d fail a general test of my intellectual abilities. I wasn’t capable of meaningful work and it wasn’t clear that I ever would be.

I had enough brainpower to realize this could add up to financial ruin, a downgraded life and a very raw deal for my girls and Patricia. I had lots of encouragement, but no promises.

I started my career as a newspaper reporter, spending 11 years in journalism. Writing was the only thing that my grade school teachers thought that I had some knack for.

I saw reporting as a path to writing books. But as the years passed, I kept putting it off. It was always in the back of my mind.

Now the back of my mind was broken.

I spent a week and a half on the stroke ward at the Grey Nuns, with a weekend pass to break things up. It was depressing and frightening. The only plus was meeting the folks who worked there who could deal with the horror of stroke without giving in to the depressing vibe.

Dr. What’s His Name was actually neurologist Mikael Muratoglu. He did a lot for me, nothing more important than trying to make it clear to my strokey mind that attitude would be as important as science in getting better.

Heather Stamler is the speech language pathologist who took on the task of teaching me to read and write again.

Twice a week, Patricia drove me to the Nuns for my sessions with Heather. (It turns out that they take away your driver’s licence when you’ve had a stroke.) Heather gave me daily homework to noodle over between sessions.

I now have new respect for people taking on English as a second language. Why does a capital D face one way while a lowercase d swings the other? Why is I before E except after C? Except when it isn’t? There were so many contradictions that I’d given no thought to in the days when thoughts were easy.

If my life then had been a movie, this is where the Rocky theme music would have kicked in. It felt like the training sessions before an improbable shot against the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. If I thought about it too much, it seemed impossible. Don’t think, I told myself; just do.

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