Tag Archives: Brain injury

Orange Is The New Specs

  

Yesterday, during a quick trip to Colchester, my hay fever got so bad that I had to invest in a pair of protective goggles. I did look a bit silly, mostly because they were florescent orange – and I definitely was not rocking the librarian-chic-look inspired by prison drama star Laura Prepon – but it was necessary because I was on the verge of committing murder as Antonia dragged me snuffling and wheezing around a DIY store; because the last thing a person wants to hear when they are contemplating gouging their own eyeballs out, is their stanley-knife-wielding other half telling them in a high-pitched wee know-it-all voice: ‘Don’t rub them, henny, or you’ll just make it worse!’

Over the last decade, I’ve tried a multitude of different medicines and countermeasures to curb my itching and sniffing and sneezing, including over-the-counter anti-histamines (liquid-form but not tablets because the pills always have lactose in them), flower remedies and edible flowers, eye washes and nasal washes, homeopathic treatments, herbals teas and even a good old-fashioned salt pipe. However, nothing seems to work. Or if it does, there’s usually a nasty side effect which is just as bad, if not worse, than the actual hay fever.    

For instance, almost all the pharmacy-bought medicines make me drowsy – even the children’s and the non-drowsy ones – I know I’m a bit of a unique case because these side effects are aggravated by the petit mal seizures and associated neurological problems I’ve experienced ever since my brain injury twenty-two years ago (https://beanloveblog.wordpress.com/about-me/)and I have been known to start drifting off to sleep at the dinner table shortly after taking them and on a couple of times I’ve actually slipped off my chair altogether. On one occasion, I also ended up at A+E with a swollen eyeball because I had an allergic reaction to a cucumber slice I placed on my eyelid for a few seconds – oddly enough, I have no problems eating cucumber. The salt pipe did slightly alleviate the problems I had with my sinuses, and I might well have persevered with it had it not been for Antonia pointing out that I had started to produce a very unpleasant salty aroma every-time I sneezed. And then there’s nettle tea: a recent article in  http://www.veganlifemag.com cited this as a good natural remedy, and they were absolutely spot on: it cleared up my hay fever symptoms completely within twenty-four hours. However, it also made me pee non-stop (it’s a strong diuretic), kept me awake and agitated and fidgety for nearly forty-eight hours; and caused me to have such a bad allergic reaction that a health professional described me as ‘looking like I was on ecstasy’.   

I later discovered that nettle isn’t suitable for everyone: pregnant and lactating women should avoid it, as should young children, anyone who suffers from epilepsy or has neurological problems (although I’ve also read contradictory information which says nettle can aid certain neurological conditions); and if you’re diabetic it’s best to consult your GP first because it can affect blood sugar levels.

My GP sent me to the hospital for allergy testing a couple of years ago because my hay fever symptoms were so severe (and persisted from February through to November) that he wanted to make sure I wasn’t suffering from some other ailment. Unsurprisingly, the results showed that I was allergic to grass pollen, four different types of tree pollen (I now wish I’d asked which ones) and dust mites. The consultant gave me a sheet of paper with instructions on how to manage my condition. It said something along the lines of: ‘Don’t go out in the morning. Don’t go out in the evening. Don’t hang your laundry outdoors. And take coastal holidays.’ As I was leaving, she added: ‘Obviously, if that advice doesn’t suit then just ignore it.’

  
Currently, I am taking a cocktail of Vogel’s flower remedies: Luffa Complex (drops), Pollinosan (nasal spray) and Eye Bright (drops). I had some itch-relief between two pm and three thirty today and almost felt normal, but now my symptoms appear to be coming back with a vengeance. If this continues I might have to take more than a coastal holiday – I might have to move to a seaside town. I suppose there is always Brighton: it’s very vegan and very gay and Ruby Rose (Stella from ‘Orange Is The New Black’) is appearing at this year’s Brighton Pride, which conveniently takes place on my birthday.

Funnily enough, last year, when I was working in the jail, one of the prisoners told me that there had been an inside clamp down on anti-histamines because they were being sold illegally. I was completely confused by this as I couldn’t work out why anyone would want to take them if they didn’t have an allergy. The answer: they give you a good night’s sleep.

I am now starting to think that a few weeks in the hoosegow away from all the evil pollen wouldn’t be such a bad option for me: I could stay indoors and yet still toddle along to the dinner hall and the library and the gym… and I’m sure it would inspire some interesting pieces of writing…

Advertisements

Divergent

divergent

Last night, Antonia and I went to the cinema in Braintree to see ‘Insurgent’, the second film in the ‘Divergent’ series, which is based on Veronica Roth’s trio of sci-fi novels aimed at young adults.

Set in the futuristic dystopian city of Chicago where society has been divided into five factions (Abnegation, Dauntless, Candor, Erudite and Amity) determined by personality type, the Divergent books follow the story of Tris Prior, an Abnegation-born sixteen-year-old who defects from her faction after discovering during an aptitude test that she possesses rogue ‘Divergent’ traits that make her an apparent threat to her closely-controlled civilisation.

I was very excited by the first ‘Divergent’ book. It was my favourite in the trilogy, although part one of the film adaptation was pretty nail-biting stuff and part two (in mine and Antonia’s joint opinion) was even better. Both book and film were fast-paced and slightly furious, and I identified heavily with the feelings of guilt and anxiety that Tris experienced when she was faced with the choice of leaving her family in order to find her true identity or stay with them out of a sense of misplaced loyalty and duty. I know it’s a rite of passage that most people go through during adolescence, but it was particularly poignant for me because even though I left my parents home nearly seven years ago, having a brain injury has meant having to do things much later in life and I only truly left their guardianship eight months ago. We thought Shailene Woodley was particularly brilliant as the somewhat volatile Tris Prior, and I thought Naomi Watts as the leader of the factionless was, well, rather hot… but I don’t want to say too much and spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen or read the first installment yet…

Antonia and I have been having a running joke recently about what would happen if we were suddenly transported into the pages of one of Roth’s books. Having read all of them (apart from ‘Four’ which is a recently released companion book of short stories) just weeks previous to our movie outing, we are both well-endowed with the knowledge of customs, beliefs and dietary restrictions of each faction. I personally fancied myself as an Erudite initiate – not because they are the most intelligent but purely so I could spend all my time reading, writing and learning about new things. I’m certainly not noble enough to join Abnegation who value self-sacrifice over any other quality; and as much as I value honesty, I could never deliberately ride roughshod over someone else’s toes just to tell my version of the truth, so Candor wouldn’t be suit me either; Dauntless is out too because their whole idea of jumping off moving trains and buildings just for fun seems like a scary prospect (Antonia said it’s also because I’m what the Dauntless-born call a ‘pansy-cake’). To me, Erudite seemed like the perfect place because I could just sit there and google things on the internet. However I realised that I probably wouldn’t pass the IQ test, and if I did I’d be laughed out of the place for being vegan because the Erudite aren’t particularly compassionate.

In the end, I decided the most appropriate faction for me would be Amity. Being the most peaceful, tolerant and friendly lot I’m sure they’d have no problem with my vegan ethics, and I could be perfectly happy living on their eco-farm ploughing the land and planting seeds… and reading my books. Antonia the bleeding heart said she’d go with Abnegation. This is typical coming from the person who once told me her mission in life was ‘to serve’. But she then went on to say that she thought she’d be a Divergent – of course, in my opinion that’s because she always has to be the best at bloody everything!

I’m looking forward to seeing the third film (‘Allegiant’) even though I wasn’t happy with the ending of the book. I’ve got at least another year before it is released though, so I suppose now I’ll have to go and read Roth’s short stories now – either that or start ‘The Hunger Games’.

Generating New Ideas And Interests

The other night, I dreamt that the red, retro, replica telephone-box-cum-display-cabinet that Antonia got me as a Valentine’s gift had turned into a tardis. I accepted this phenomenon with no question whatsoever and was very excited by the prospect of travelling Dr-Who-style through time and space. Antonia, on the other hand, wasn’t so interested: she said she was way too busy with her college work (although to me it looked like she was playing some kind of Tetris game on her new i-pad). It was only when I said ‘fine then, I’ll go on hoilday to Italy myself – I just need to get my shorts’ that I turned around to find her wearing a giant multicoloured sombrero and wheeling a suitcase behind her.

The dream was truncated immediately after that, because Antonia nudged me awake. I tried hard to get back to sleep so I could recapture it, but she was persistent about the whole it’s-morning-and-I-want-you-to-open-your-eyes-and-pay-me-some-attention-thing. In the end, I settled for watching robot Santas attack people in the series two episode one Christmas special whilst eating my breakfast in bed.

When I say series two, I mean series two of the ‘New Who’ which was spearheaded by Welsh TV producer and screenwriter, Russell T Davies (‘Queer As Folk’, ‘Cucumber’, ‘Banana’) in 2005, and featured Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant as the incarnations of doctors nine and ten respectively, as well as ex-teen-popstar Billie Piper as his travelling companion Rose Tyler.

Now, I had previously never watched the show (in fact I purposely avoided it because I assumed it would be all cringey special effects, bad acting and dodgy plots) and was completely oblivious to the fact that it celebrated it’s fiftieth anniversary in 2013; and it was only when I read Roy Gill’s (www.roygill.com) short story ‘Generations’ – a beautifully written account of two young gay men in 1992 who tentatively correspond then meet and bond over their shared love of sci-fi-adventure stories concerning a certain self-generating alien-humanoid who calls himself ‘the doctor’ – that my interest was piqued. (I also gained some interesting early-nineties IT knowledge regarding the DIY duplication of VHS video tapes thanks to the how-to guide which was cleverly woven through the narrative.)

Anyway, I’m glad I did tune in. Because apart from being able to ogle Billie Piper in action for several hours (I don’t feel guilty at all about lusting after someone who’s playing the part of a ninteen-year-old, not when it’s a decade old episode and I know she’s thirty-two-and-a-half in real life), I have to admit that I’m quite fascinated by films and TV programs about parallel worlds and time travel and as a result I’m finding Dr Who very very addictive. It also inspired me to revisit a story idea I had a couple of years ago about a teenager who discovers she has the ability to rewind time after sustaining a head injury.

I just asked Antonia the question: ‘If you were a timelord and the telephone box morphed into your tardis, where would you take me on an exciting date?’

Her reply: ‘Sorry, hen, I’m a really boring timelord – I’m happy where I am.’

To be fair, so am I, but I might be tempted to nip back to the eighties to pick up a few collectibles on the cheap…

Zombeans!

zombeans

 

Ever since I read ‘Warm Bodies’ by Isaac Marion last year, I have been trying to imagine what I’d do if there was a real live zombie apocalyse. I mean, would me and my white-belt-in-karate go down fighting against the grizzly undead? Or would I run away screaming and lock myself in my tiny apartment till the food runs out, in the hope that the zombies would get bored trying kick my door in, or at least have the decency to be killed by someone who is a bit more hard-ass than me.

‘Warm Bodies’ (which inspired a blockbuster zom-rom-com movie of the same name) was one of the best novels I read last year. In fact, it is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. Period. Unfortunately though, because of my brain injury and it’s associated problems, most of the plot is now receding from my memory faster than the living deadly gorging on a patè of grey matter. Off the top of my head, I can remember it was narrated in the first person from the point of view of ‘R’, a zombie who appears to have died in his late teens to early twenties and has no recollection of anything that happened to him before his death: all he knows is the first intial of his name – and he’s not even convinced he’s got that right.

R lives in an abandoned airport alongside his friend ‘M’ and a community of ‘fleshies’ (zombies that are in the early state of decay) and ‘boneys’ (zombies that have decomposed to the point where they have no soft tissue – these guys are meaner than your average fleshie and appear to be the leaders).

Now, I don’t know if this was deliberate (probably not), but through R’s narrative, Isaac Marion paints an eerily accurate description of what life is like for many survivors of acquired brain injury: R admits to feeling vague, empty and frustrated by his inability to read or properly process his own thoughts; and although his fellow flesheaters are dogged with similar deficits (plus a shared lethargy that makes speaking in more than monosyllables difficult), it is made abundantly clear from the beginning that R is different from the other zombies because he has some degree of empathy towards the humans he eats and because he hankers after a life that involves more than simply shuffling, groaning and guzzling guts (– thus the idea slightly mirrors those high-functioning survivors of the ABI community who have a more acute awareness of their cognitive limitations).

Anyway, whilst R and M and some other random corpes are out hunting, they come upon a group of young resistance fighters led by a nineteen-year-old called Perry. R kills Perry and eats part of his brain. During this time, R is able to feel alive for a few brief moments through the memories and emotions of his victim – this I suppose is not unlike the lightbulb moment a brain-injured person might have when they finally grasp how to relearn something that they’ve previously struggled to remember. R, then, experiences a fleeting sensation of remorse – although not enough to stop him from pocketing the rest of Perry’s brain to savour later – and on seeing Perry’s girlfriend, Julie, feels physical attraction and is moved to save rather than savage her.

Anyway, after wiping zombie-gore on Julie to hide her from his hungry cronies, R takes her home and they bond over old records… and then R starts to feel more and more alive… and then Julie eventually wants to go home to her living pals and there’s a bit of a kerfuffle involving a ‘meet-the-parents’ scenerio and … well… you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next…

Antonia, my gorgeous paramour who’s previously claimed to have my back ‘no matter what’, has turned out to be a bit of a disappointment in terms of zombie-defending-kickassness: she said if the living dead swarmed Sudbury then she’d just kill herself because there would be too many to get away from; except for if I was bitten by a zombie, because then she’d become one with me. I really excepted more: I thought she would have acquired a Land Rover or equivalent heavy vehicle that could be used to mow some of the grave-dodging fuckers down – that’s what I would have done if I could drive! And she could have at least broken into Sports Direct across the road and stolen a few baseball bats with which she could have protected me… or exacted her revenge in the event of my demise. Poor show, Madam, that’s what I say.

I did a ‘Will You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse’ quiz on Buzzfeed.com and my result was: ‘torn apart in one week’. Apparently, I’d make a really good effort but would be slaughtered due to poor decision-making and lack of ruthlessness. Sounds about right!

Bean Damage

Recently, I began talking to a woman on Pink Sofa* who suffers from a mild case of prosopagnosia. In other words: face blindess. Oddly, it’s a lot less rare than people think, and up to 2.5% of the population (including Brad Pitt, and Oliver Sacks – the neurologist who famously wrote a book of essays entitled ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’) have this condition, where they have an impaired ability to recognise people they have met before, even their own friends and family.

There are two types of prosopagnosia: congenital and acquired (either through stroke or brain injury). In Sacks’ case it was hereditary. I’m not sure about Brad Pitt, but I suspect he was probably born with it too. My friend on Pink Sofa was in a car accident; and her symptoms were so subtle that she didn’t think anything was wrong with her, until she realised that two new acquaintances she’d recently met at separate slimming clubs, were actually the same person AND this person was a work colleague.

The thing is, even though I mostly struggle with other aspects of visual processing such as topography and spatial awareness, I can strongly relate to the difficulties that people with prosopagnosia experience: For example, I have lost count of the number of the times I’ve bypassed people in the steet who I’ve simply not recognised; or I’ve tried to talk to a complete stranger because I thought I knew them; and often people will accost me in the street, and I’ll find myself nodding and agreeing with them and pretending I know who they are and what they’re talking about, because it’s easier and less embarrassing to say otherwise. Because people often get very offended when you don’t remember them. And they think it’s because you’re rude or self-obsessed or (at best) uninterested in them, especially if you’ve met them more than once.

Years ago, I left my then-girlfriend waiting for me outside a shop in Glasgow Buchanan Bus Station whilst I went to use the loo, and when I re-emerged I couldn’t find her because I not only forgot which direction I was meant to be heading in, but what she looked like! She was mortified to say the least and she ranted on at great length about how she couldn’t believe I’d walked right past her, and how could I not recall her

She just didn’t get it. But then most people don’t. Which why it’s often easier to just feign ditziness, to pretend you’re busy in your own wee world.

Another thing that me and my new friend from Pink Sofa have in common is that we both have difficulty following films and TV programmes. Usually I muddle through, relying on accents, hairstyles, clothing and distinctive hats, but there have been a few things I’ve found particularly challenging to watch: ‘The Passion Of Christ’ was one of them – simply because the characters were mostly middle-aged men with beards and I couldn’t tell which one was Jesus! Another was the American gangland drama, ‘The Wire,’ because most of the characters were all young black men with cornrows and I kept getting confused with who was in who’s gang; the principal detective was white so I was able to differentiate between him and the people he was trying to arrest; it was a wee bit trickier, however, with the two leading ladies in the show who were both red heads.

Whenever I go to potlucks or social gatherings I try to transfer my TV-watching strategies to recognising people I’ve already met, but you can’t pause or rewind real life; and as Antonia recently pointed out ‘people don’t always wear the same hat’. They don’t always have the same haircut either; and there’s always the chance that someone I know will get a mohawk or dye their bonce a different colour and if that happens I’ll just have to deal with it as best as I can.

And if I do happen to dither on past you as I’m trying to navigate around town, please don’t be insulted. And, if in doubt, do re-introduce yourself.

Coming Out Processes

Coming out as vegan might have been harder than coming out as gay, but coming out as brain injured is even harder. I was reminded of this today whilst filling out a ‘limited capability for work’ form for the dwp: one of the categories on the form concerned itself with asking about my social life, or more specifically how I survived ‘coping with social situations’.

Now, it may come as a shock to some people who know me, but the truth is I have a significant lack of self-confidence when it comes to going out and meeting new people these days, and this is largely because I’ve learnt from the mistakes I’ve made and the dicey situations I’ve gotten myself into in the past when I’ve been out.

Deciding whether or not to disclose my brain injury to new friends and acquaintances is and always has been a major cause of anxiety for me: usually, if I disclose my brain injury, people either feel sorry for me or they avoid me because they don’t want the burden of being around someone who has a disability. But if I don’t tell people, then interacting with them becomes awkward because I constantly have to make excuses as to why I don’t have a job or children or any of the other normal things that most people my age have in their lives – the only saving grace is that people often (wrongly) assume that being a lesbian is the reason I don’t have a family.

In the past, I have played down reoccuring problems such as getting lost (sometimes for hours) inside pubs or night clubs; and I’ve often made jokes out of my inability to being able to find the toilet or the bar on my own. And sometimes it is funny. But sometimes it’s just not.

It’s even worse when people I am socialising with decide that they want to change venue while we are out. When this happens, I am faced with an entirely new dilema: I can either make my excuses and go home early (like a right killjoy), or I can follow them to a place where I am in potential danger because of my topographical memory impairment*. In the past, I have gone along with others’ suggestions on the basis that someone else has said they will help me to get back home, and as a result I have ended up seriously lost and bewildered (because although a lot of people mean well, they just can’t grasp that I really don’t remember how to walk to my bus stop or that taxi rank we passed that is just two minutes walk away; and they’ll often trot off and get drunk and then forget all about me). Because of this I don’t go out at night on my own or to places that I haven’t been to before.

Sometimes when people later find out from someone else that I’ve had a brain injury, they often become annoyed, hurt and offended because I have hidden things from them and lied by omission. I’ve been called ‘irresponsible’ for not making them aware of my memory deficits, and perhaps they’ve got a point. But why should I have to come out?

No matter what I do, I often feel socially isolated.

* Topographic memory involves the ability to orient oneself in space, to recognize and follow an itinerary, or to recognize familiar places.

Blank

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.

Sweet Fanny Adams

photo-11

When I first came out to my family more than a decade ago, my mother shrieked then promptly blamed the serious blow to the head that I’d received when I was just fourteen:

‘You’re confused!’ she’d cried. ‘And you’re vulnerable because of all the traumas you’ve had in your life. And it’s not doing you any favours hanging around with all those gay people.’

She swiftly followed this up by asking if I’d now slept with women as well as men, and when I didn’t answer (largely due to embarrassment, because sex was something we’d never talked about), she decided to take this as a no, and therefore proof that I was going through ‘a phase’.

Even now, at the age of thirty-six and a quarter, I find it difficult to discuss my romantic relationships with her, and as a result I’ve experienced a wall of barely concealed resentment gradually piling up between us. Of course, she was right about one thing: it’s quite normal to have emotional and social problems after a brain injury; and so it was no surprise that I found myself regarded with suspicion (and sometimes ridicule), by the wonderful and mysterious lesbian peers that I set out to know.

Frankly, I was desperate to find a girl and fall in love – I wanted moonlight-and-roses, candlelit dinners, fireworks, serenades, and one of those kiss-in-the-rain-endings that you see in old movies; I didn’t just want a romance, no, I wanted a full-blown courtship, but for some reason the girls I met found flowers on a first date inappropriate, and were expecting cunnilingus by at least the second. I wore the term ‘romantic’ like a shiny gold star badge; and in my head, sex was supposed to equal love, and love meant wooing and waiting until they told you that you were ‘the one’, before sweeping them off their feet and into bed. In saying that, a night spent nauseously in a gay bar, jaded with alcohol, and loneliness, and the frustration that I was somehow detached from everyone else and was looking for something that did not exist, was enough for me to temporarily throw chastity to the wind.

When I broke up with the partner I was with before I met Antonia, my whole romantic reverie fell apart spectacularly; and I spent nine months feeling like I wanted to rip my own stupid pulsating heart from my chest and hurl it full force into a spiral slipstream. Every ballad I heard, every dreamy handholding couple I glimpsed on the street, made my insides jerk and my eyes sting. Because even though it was me who had ended the relationship with my ex – I’ll call her Fanny Adams because sweet FA was precisely what I got out of that relationship, and because it softens the blow a little to give her a ridiculous name – I could not stop thinking about her.

I had finally realized that love – albeit it wonderful and warm and fuzzy, like a cotton blanket you want to stay wrapped up in forever – could also be a viper that squeezes and constricts and then turns on you with sharp plunging teeth.

If there had been an on-off switch for my emotions, then I would have jammed it permanently, so that I never again felt that tightening of my chest or the dryness in my throat, when I saw her grinning back at me from photographs we’d posed for, or heard a song on the radio that we had allocated as ‘ours’.

And it didn’t seem to matter how many times I poked and prodded at the corpse of our relationship, for I could not erase the lies she’d told or understand exactly how I’d gotten myself so entangled in her mind games in the first place.

Because the truth was I never in love with her. And right from the start I was suspicious of almost everything she said. But I was also blindly optimistic and I was clinging so badly to this stereotype of what I wanted love to be.

I fell in love with Antonia because she was everything Fanny Adams wasn’t: she moved to Scotland for me; she became vegan for me; and once, during a particularly stressful road trip, she told my mother a few belated hometruths for me.

It just goes to show how much your ideas regarding matters of the heart can change.

One Hundred Percent

20141024_160357

Yesterday I got a hundred percent for assignment two of my crime fiction writing course. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever scored a hundred percent on a test paper, and I probably never will again; and although I’m incredibly pleased (so pleased I almost burst into tears when I read my results), I’m still trying to work out exactly how the percentages were divided up, and how anyone can get a hundred percent for a writing assignment which included open-ended questions such as: ‘in no more than fifty words write the opening to a crime story that will make the reader want to know more’.

It’s funny, because often when people find out about my brain injury they eyeball me suspiciously then make sweeping statements like: ‘oh, but you’re a hundred percent now’, or ‘you must have made a hundred percent recovery because you look fine to me’; or my favourite one: ‘Well, thank your lucky stars you’re back to normal now’. I’m never really sure how to respond to these people. Because I do feel ‘fine’. Most of the time. I’m physically fitter than most people I know, and probably more intelligent than a few of them, and all in all I’m very happy with my lot. But I find it difficult not to constantly compare myself to folk my own age, and this often leads me to thinking that I’m a failure and an embarrassment because I haven’t got a nine-to-five job or a mortgage or, more importantly to me, a recent book deal. And even when Antonia reminds me that ‘normal’ people don’t get into a lot of the situations I do on a daily basis – they don’t sleep for fourteen hours two nights in a row, or mistake wardrobe doors for toilet ones; they don’t forget the name of their current partner, what he or she looks like, or whether or not they’ve just had sex five minutes ago; they don’t spend over an hour looking for the way back to their own street like I did the other day – it doesn’t stop me from giving myself a hard time.

Years ago, when I sat my Standard Grades at high school, my maths teacher took me aside and told me he was amazed that I had managed to get the highest mark in my year for the General (intermediate) exam – and the reason it was so amazing wasn’t even that I’d outranked students in higher classes, but that I’d also FAILED the Foundation (lowest level) maths exam. I don’t know how I managed it: I couldn’t see any logical explanation for it and neither could the teacher. But I do wonder what would have happened if I’d been allowed to sit the Credit (advanced level)… would I have scraped a pass? Could I have gone on and sat a Higher exam in maths the following year if I’d wanted? That really would have been a miracle though, seeing as I recently had to ask my friend, Sophie AKA the original bean-cruncher, what shape a rhombus was.

(Sophie is one of these ridiculously brainy people who only this week bought a raspberry pi – not the edible kind – and was teaching herself a random computer programming language ‘just for fun’ on her day off; she once got one-hundred-and-five percent in an algebra test – and, no, there was no marking error.)

I’ve always preferred learning from books or instructional CDs at my own pace, which is why I chose to do a home study course rather than sitting in a physical classroom. It’s better for me to be completely in control of when, where and for how long I spend reading, writing or listening – especially since my concentration span is like a pendulum that allows me to be wired to a subject for two hours at a time one day and then two minutes the next.

And I constantly think about returning to uni. I fancy going back and doing a BA in Creative Writing or in English Language or even just finally doing that phd I keep deferring. I could even do it long distance which would save me from getting lost on campus. But I’m scared of having to remember huge chunks of information that I’ll later have to spew onto an exam paper or debate with a board that is judging my thesis. And then there’s all the money that would be wasted on fees if I were to drop out.

So I’m not a hundred percent sure where this mystery story is going, never mind what I’ll be doing after I’ve finished assignment five and the final paper. I may or may not save up and do a similar course. Maybe Romance? Or Historical fiction? Or Sci-fi? Or perhaps I’ll just ask Sophie to build me a time machine so that I can go back to nineteen-ninety-four and retake those maths tests… stranger things have happened…

Trope Spotting

Recently, I reached episode two-hundred of ‘Prisoner: Cell Block H’, an episode which contained a plot where top dog, Bea Smith, has amnesia. Now, I don’t normally entertain storylines about memory loss because, in my opinion, they are generally badly scripted, badly acted, and a bad excuse for a lazy writer to turn their villains into heroes and their heroes into victims (there are exceptions to the rule, of course, and one of these is the hollywood blockbuster ‘Memento’ which stars Aussie actor Guy Pearce); I also especially hate it when, for convenience’s sake, the writers decide to predictably smack these same characters over the head with a blunt object so that they can justify magically restoring their pasts and their previous personalities.

Funnily enough, I started watching Prisoner when I was locked up in an adolescent psychiatric unit at the age of fifteen. Finally, after almost a year of being disbelieved, fobbed off, and randomly accused of being on drugs by doctors, I received the diagnosis that I had retrograde, anterograde and post traumatic amnesia (not one but three bloody amnesias) and this was the result of an acquired brain injury; I also had clinical depression – but then who wouldn’t after all I’d been through – so it was decided that it would be for my own good to have inpatient treatment.

It was common practice, in the psychiatric unit, for us to be confined to our rooms from around nine pm (and lights out followed shortly afterwards). However, when ‘the two Anne’s were on the night shift they would sit up in the day room with their tea and biscuits watching Prisoner, and it became a ritual that anyone else who was a fan of the program could get to stay up to watch it too. By then I’d already gained an ‘us and them’ mentality, just like Bea Smith and the inmates of Wentworth, and I’d learnt to grab all the priviledges I could, especially if it meant putting one over on authority figures, and so I became a fan by default.

I suppose you could say I found affinity with the TV program and I continued watching it for several years after I was released. I also tuned in to the Canadian prison drama ‘Dangerous Woman’ when it was on UK Living and then later ‘Bad Girls’ followed by ‘Prison Break’, ‘Oz’ and more recently the TV shows ‘Wentworth’ and ‘Orange Is The New Black’. I did try to watch 1960s English prison drama ‘Within These Walls’ but Granada Gold showed the episodes in a random order and I couldn’t make head nor tail of it.

Anyway, initially, I had to switch my laptop off ten minutes into this milestone episode because it was making me cringe. However, my fondess of the show won through; plus I was very curious to see how the story developed because, ironically, despite having watched nearly every Prisoner episode back in the nineties and early noughties, I have no recollection of Bea ever having amnesia. (I do, however, remember there being another storyline, much later in the series, which involved armed robber Reb Keane losing her memory – and I’m sure Reb was later released on compassionate grounds.)

The plot started off a couple of episodes earlier with Bea, a twice convicted murdress, and the only survivor of a road accident which occured whilst she was being transferred from Barnhurst back to Wentworth Detention Centre, stumbling from a prison van. Concussed and disorientated, she sought out her old home, then her daughter Debbie who unbeknowst to her had died, then finally Mum Brooks, an ex-con, who is out on parole (and the only person she can remember), before being recaptured and hauled back to Wenworth. Fair enough, I thought, it is a soap opera after all… And in the end, I quite enjoyed it, despite the cliched climax where Bea’s memory returns like the flick of a light switch, after she receives a predictable bump on the head during a bashing from fellow inmate Margot Gaffney.

Now, I would love to chew the fat with veteran actor Val Lehman aka Queen Bea about her inspiration and ideas behind that amnesia storyline. And, even better, if the producers of Wenthworth ever thought about re-enacting it with Danielle Cormack and wanted someone with real life experience (nudge, nudge)… well … I would be more than happy to step into the blue denim breech…