Split Brains, Broken Brains

One of the most amazing of the TED Talks was that of neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor who described having a stroke, of how different parts of her brain coming in and out of focus, of how she struggled to get help:


I knew of the two sides of the brain working differently, but I had no idea they were states of mood as well. She talks of the creative right side being the peace and love, connecting with everybody in the universe part of us. The left side, which I understood was the more logical side, is the bill paying, no nonsense side. The grumpy parent to the free spirited child.

This got me thinking, especially in terms of the horrific problems I have had coping with the past year’s stress. One of the things people find impossible to understand is how I can be planning to kill myself at the same time as planning my next book, or to do a masters degree. They seem to think this means I am undecided, or not really clear in what I want. But I am absolutely clear, and that is the real problem, both in explaining what is going on and being taken seriously, because it is not just that I have problems, I have a problem dealing with the relations between the problems.
Most of my problems come from outside circumstances, and as a person used to solving problems for myself, it makes perfect sense to have several options, depending on how things pan out. If things work out well, if I had somewhere quiet to work, then I would do some writing;  if the hellish situation continued, I was determined to kill myself. Simple

There is no contradiction. This is being human, this is thinking on my feet. This is about survival, even when it involves self destruction. I am used to having some control over my life. That is how I deal with my arthritis, working around the pain, dealing with the various tasks involved in being self employed. But losing my freedom, losing my home, that was – and is – totally beyond my comprehension, my ability to deal with.

The bouts of depression caused by this overload can be  utterly paralysing. I cannot sleep, cannot think, can’t do anything. People think because I seem to be getting on with my life, that I am getting better, I’ m looking a lot better, but I am not. The depression is just turning chronic. It is not a passing phase, it is now part of what I am. So any attempt to deal with it is a lot more complicated, it is more like a cancer than a curable infection. Bruce Springsteen’s (yes, him again) song ‘Philadelphia’ he has a line, ’don’t take away my pain, cause pain is all I have.’

The depression is like a battering ram. It comes out of nowhere and just whacks you. Sometimes I can stand up to it, sometimes I can deal with it, but there’s always a danger there. If  I’m in a safe place I can ride it out, but if I‘m on a busy street, or near a bridge, I sometimes get to thinking….

Keeping busy helps, but the depression sometimes stops me doing that. The hell I’ve been through also makes me feel like I don’t matter. That I don’t count, that I am being punished, though as in Kafka, I have no idea why. When I tried to set fire to myself, I believed I should be punished in the most painful way possible. It was the only thing that made sense. I was so ill that sense made no sense.

I seem to be coping by putting all the stuff that has happened, that makes no sense, into a sealed off place that I don’t go near. If I leave it alone, maybe one day it will either go away or I will get strong enough to deal with it. Meantime, I seem to be more creative than ever, at times writing better and faster and more  varied than ever. This blog.. I have no idea where all the stuff is coming from. It’s like a dam bursting. all the stuff I’ve been reading and working on for years has finally found an outlet.

It comes back to the split brain. By leaving the left part alone, by refusing to deal with the  problems, the injuries can sort themselves out. At the same time, the creative side is being left to run wild without the sensible stuff getting in the way, so, again, it all makes sense.

Which of course brings me back to cave art. Being out in freezing conditions is very stressful, very left brain stuff. What if the art was their way of escaping the stress, of switching off to the dangers and just being creative, just haing fun?

Our bodies are not just amazing machines, they are incredibly good at fixing themselves. Mostly without us ever noticing.



7 thoughts on “Split Brains, Broken Brains

  1. I admire your courage in posting such personal agonies in this blog. I have been of some help to my youngest son, who fought and overcame the devastating affects of depression and attempted suicide. Thoughts of suicide can happen to anyone, as if there is a battle going on between the two sides of the brain. Even, indeed, in actuality. Although probably impossible to eliminate completely, these aspects of mental illness can be controlled. I think it is good that you have put the stuff which makes you feel bad into a locked room. You know what’s in there but as long as the door is only opened to put more stuff in, none of it can hurt you any more. Also, having fun and creating various articles to publish in this blog is wonderful therapy! But we all know that life is not all fun and that it should not be all doom and gloom – looking back over our shoulders at locked rooms ether! So, relish the good times and seek out your trusted friends etc when they are not so good: Our bodies (more than just amazing machines, as you have concluded above) do need a helping hand sometimes!


  2. It is funny that I should have found your blog at this time in my life. I like to call my self environmentally chronically depressed. Meaning, it’s not a random horrible illness like Parkinson’s, but I have actual reasons/events/ect. to be depressed and to ask myself awful questions like “how old does my youngest child have to be before I just end it….it’s too hard. I don’t matter.” I can feel steady and then on a dime weep myself to sleep (my 17 year old son overheard me in this state the other night which made me feel so much worse, (horrible mother, all that) I feebly told him I just had to let it out…) Everyone says, you seem better, you look good, your life is turning around…I feel profoundly unmoored, fucked up. Because of my children I don’t have the luxury to be so fragile as to completely fall apart. But I am shattered. I don’t know why I started a blog, sometimes I am sure I’ve posted my last, sure I have nothing more to say, but my right side relentlessly continues and I like it. I like reading yours and (one or two) others as well. Life sure is strange.


    • Oh dear. I didn’t sleep again last night. completely went off the rails when the b&b i was in had no staff around so I could check out. Called the police for help and ended up almost getting put away again. I really have had enough. Homeless for 14 months and no sign of it ending. Brain completely seized up so can’t write which is the only thing that has kept me going.


      • yes, I am homeless, yet not homeless and it is hard, I’m not sure how to go forward. I live at my mother’s and she is an extremely difficult person to live with (if I wrote about her it would be too shocking and I’d be forced to confront too many demons). Fortunately I’m good at faking a facsimile of a non-depressed me. Unfortunately I’m good at faking a facsimile of a non-depressed me….
        that is where the blogging/writing may come in saving me a bit from the depths of my isolation, helping me to be a more open person, one whom will now for the first time (at my age! pathetic!) occasionally reach out to the few friends I have for solace.


      • wow. you write like you’re the queen of new york, with all your activities and your kids. oscar winning stuff. but exhausting. I’m starting to tell people of my problems – one woman was shocked – she said I seem so respectable. indeed. the people on my curse kept discussing how radical they were as artists, yet they never noticed when my right hand hurt so much i had to use my left, when i was so depressed i coudn’t join them for celebratory dinners. They didn’t get that all their jolly stuff just made me worse. The screaming silence.


      • I constantly assure myself that nobody wants to hear about my woes, which is an ungenerous way to treat my friends whom want to share my life, it’s just hard for me to imagine. Who cares Jessica? Shut up. Even a sunny day can get on my nerves at times. There are so many suffering people in the world, and I don’t have it so bad relatively, but how many of us suffer under the asphyxiating pressure of assumed respectability and fabulousness. It is exhausting.


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