Recently, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a second memoir.
I thought I might call it ‘Blank’ because as well as the obvious connotations it has with writer’s block, it also relates to gaps or ‘blanks’ in one’s memory, and to the ‘blank’ expressions I am often accused of wearing.
My first book, ‘Cracked: Recovering After Traumatic Brain Injury’ was launched in December 2002 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and in it’s two-hundred-and-twenty-four pages it documented the early years following my accident: from the initial struggle to receive a diagnosis, to my incarceration inside an adolescent psychiatric unit, and my eventual descension into bulimia and anorexia, as I failed to cope with school and exams and ordinary teenage nuances on top of memory loss and other cognitive impairments; before, finally, recounting the positive search for a new identity as I learnt to accept my limitations.
I was young when I wrote that book, and if I could go back and pen it all over again I’d definitely do it differently. I’d mention some things that I left out, and leave out a couple that wormed their way in. I’ve been told that it helped a lot of people (both brain injury survivors and their families, as well as doctors), and that pleases me because it was not originally written with publication in mind; because writing for me was simply a cathartic outlet, something I did to make myself feel calmer, and to understand myself and those around me a little better. However, I also noticed that ‘Cracked’ had received a one star review on Amazon last year by someone who said it was ‘a ridiculous waste of money’, and who claimed that it provided no insight for them into the condition at all. Well, whilst I’m inclined to be of the mindset that you simply can’t please everyone, I do concede that, perhaps, the book only described the tip of the iceberg when it comes to explaining what living with traumatic brain injury is like, and that a sequel is in fact long overdue.
I was not out as a lesbian at that time – in fact, I was only in the early stages of realising and understanding my sexuality – so I didn’t have to navigate my way around a countercultural gay world with it’s separate customs and fashions, as well as the usual mainstream one that was already highly confusing. Neither did I have to put up with others’ desexualisation of me or the assumption that my girlfriend was simply a carer.
I was also still living a rather sheltered life at home with parents, free of financial worries and responsibilities; and aside from a weekly paper round, a trial run as a silver service waitress, and an unpaid work placement via the brain injury rehabilitation centre I attended, I was completely ignorant of the world of employment and it’s complexities.
Being a person with a brain injury hugely affects the way I react to the world and in turn the way the world reacts to me: I spend a lot of time nodding and agreeding with people simply because it’s easier (and often less offensive) than saying, ‘I haven’t got a fucking scooby what you are talking about.’
It’s also a lot less tiresome than making the effort to tell people that a) I have had a brain injury, b) most people with brain injuries have trouble receiving and processing information (which basically means it takes longer than average for words to sink in) c) because it takes longer for words to sink in I’m still thinking about the first part you said so I’ve totally missed the second, and d) I don’t understand what you’re saying because of a), b) and c). Of course, usually when I have to explain that, I either forget what I’m saying half way through or said person gets bored and cuts me off midspiel by saying something completely dismissive like: ‘oh, that happens to me all the time’.
And believe me, having someone who has never had a brain injury tell you that they / their mother/ father / dog / most people they know have trouble understanding what folk are saying, is a bit like being vegan for seventeen years then having some clown who recently gave up red meat and dairy (‘except cheese’) tell you they are ‘basically vegan’ too.