Friday, March 14, 2008

"My Brain Doesn't Work"

“My brain doesn’t work” was his answer to the question posed, by the one person in his world in whom he had a trusted confidence, coupled with an affection, that motivated his desire to be understood. I sat on the other side of our booth in the tiny restaurant and observed this exchange with over thirty years of accumulated emotion founded in love, devotion, responsibility, invested effort, and parental pride. My son was seated next to Annie. To appreciate this scene fully, you must have a sense of my son’s fondness for this young woman … his guest for lunch.

In one of my constant series of created exercises, designed to prod and reinforce the development of a brain that cerebral palsy had affected, I made it a “game” to challenge my son with questions that were playfully presented as attempts to catch him unaware. “Well, Son … yesterday I … or let me see … was it yesterday? … what day is this? … Oh … and tomorrow will be? … Oh … OK … so the day after tomorrow will be? …” and on it would go. (I had learned that “sequencing” was one of the functions of his brain that was severely impaired by his handicap.) When he would proudly cut the game short with correct responses, I would “high five” him and say “Wow! Tried to catch you, but you are too sharp for me today” And he would do the “guy thing” and put on a smug smile of victory.

So, it was very much 'in character' when (as we were driving toward our daily visit to the workout facilities at the neighborhood YMCA) he asked “Dad! What is today?” I employed a few staged hesitations feigning calculation and proudly announced “Monday!” “Nope!! It’s Annie!” was his response with a wistful smile of romantic anticipation. For, you see, Annie was his trainer at the YMCA. And my son was completely enchanted with his “Annie!” And we were on our way to be with her.

With that understanding, you will appreciate his delight when I asked him who he would like to invite to join us for a lunch made possible by the cancellation of his regularly-scheduled speech therapy. There was not so much as a moment’s hesitation in his reply of “Annie!” Thusly, we were in the company of this lovely young woman of delicate sensitivities and grace on the day and at the time of note. After expressing her happiness that we had the opportunity, made possible by the cancellation of his therapy, Annie’s question to my son was, as she called him by name, “Now, why, exactly, do you go too speech therapy?”

He looked at her with such a tenderness and sincerity that it is, all these years hence, still fresh in my recollection. And with an openness that projected his desire to be completely understood he responded with the aforementioned “My brain doesn’t work.” Then, after a moment of profound silence, he looked to me with a look that said “Help me here Dad, I don’t know how to explain further.” I was doing my best to maintain my composure. (I must note here that, prior to this moment, my son had never acknowledged… in any way… any level of awareness of his disabilities. And here he was, at over thirty years of age, revealing a depth of awareness that was profoundly complex in its scope. So, I was torn between the pain of hearing the love of my soul verbalize his burden … and the desire to cheer and applaud this demonstration of a mental grasp that had never before been revealed. But I was in the moment that was his … and my reactions and emotions were secondary to his moment.)

“Well Son … you are a very smart guy. You are quite intelligent. But cerebral palsy has made your brain so that it sometimes ... doesn’t cooperate. And that is what the speech therapy is helping us to find out … ways to make your brain cooperate when it doesn’t want to … by getting your brain to show us what it has a hard time with. And you are getting better at making your brain cooperate by taking charge of it and showing it that you are the Boss. That‘s why we are going to speech therapy.” “Yeah!! That’s it! My brain doesn’t want to cooperate!” he responded, with a look of victory, and discovery that illuminated his Being.

And from that moment forward, he and I had a “frame of reference” that gave him a “tool” to use when frustration and exasperation wanted to overwhelm him. He would, frequently, say “Ohhh… my brain isn’t cooperating today!” And he didn’t, any longer, have that so-long-silently-held concern that he … the person … was flawed. It was simply “that uncooperative brain” acting up again.

So … My Very Dear Reader … why have I subjected myself to this exercise of pained agony, in recollection of the emotions incumbent to the reliving of this event? Simply because I have pledged, to you, my faithful presentation of lessons learned, in my pilgrimage, that have the potential to be of assistance to you, in your walking of path. And I know that you, just as I, have times when your brain … your subconscious … your self-image … your deeply-held concept of yourself … “doesn’t cooperate” with your wished for … your intended … your hoped for images, of who you want to be ... what you want to do … how you want to live.

And just as was true in the miniscule moment portrayed (in uncomfortable detail) for you, you can take control of your “uncooperative” thoughts. You can assume responsibility for the management of your thought processes, and take the reigns of mastery of your “mental behavior” just as my son (who lives with a permanent impairment, that he could easily fall back on and allow to provide an all-too-easy excuse for irresponsibility) did.

I do not suggest that this is easy. I do acknowledge that practiced history may shout discouragements that try to drown out the voices of determination and desire. But I, simultaneously, offer the quiet reassurance to you that, even as my mentally impaired son has done, you can experience ever more frequent moments of victory and conquest over the obstacles and hurdles of any prevailing circumstance. Please try. Please choose to make that effort! The YOU within ... that wondrous YOU, with all of your treasury of unique 'irregularities' that are your individual gifts from Life ... awaits your determined and resolute choice to Be ... the Being that you can enjoy being.

And I pledge my unfailing and unswerving support and encouragement, as I remain, Your lovingly faithful Friend and constant Servant.


CrazyCath said...

My dear John-Dad-Michael,
What a beautifully honest and open post. Thank you for sharing this. You have a son to be proud of and, more importantly, he has a father who he can give his total self to and know and trust it is safe. That is rare and special.

That you use your experience and pain and learning to help all of us makes you even more special. What a wonderful way to express this confusion we all feel sometimes - whether due to mental impairment, permanent or temporary, confusion, illness, fear or whatever. "My brain won't co-operate". Inspired. Because it perfectly describes that I am not stupid, I know what I want to say or do, I feel. I just can't always get it out there in an orderly way when ill. And you my dear man, have helped me do that in a shorted space of time than I would normally. With a dignity in a public forum I would not otherwise have managed. I am sooooo grateful for that. You gave me permission to be me. I needed that.

Unlike your son, I know that I will regain that control on a more permanent basis, and I applaud his resilience, insight, intelligence and his total trust in you, which is well placed. Unfortunately, as we regain control, we bury the "us" inside. I am going to try not to do that this time.

Enough rambling. Thanks again for sharing this.
Love ya!

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Being epileptic, part of my brain is rather dysfunctional too. Although the rest of it tends to listen, read and understand to the best of its ability.

Crystal xx

Vi said...

A very valued point you have made. I will do my best! x

Shrinky said...

Nothing can tear the flesh from your bone more than watching your child struggle to cope with and to understand what (is too often for them) the frightening world about them.

Your honesty and love appears to have shaped him well, both you and he are very blessed to share what is obviously a very special bond between you. I send on a hug, pass it on to him will you?

Classic Charm said...

Thank your for sharing this with us. You are so lucky to have him and he you. You made his struggle more understandable...and that is without saying, immeasurable.

John-Michael said...

Hi Sweetie Cath ... I am so glad that we could accomplish such beneficial things together. Dealing with your "life-stuff" hand-in-hand with your willing and enthusiastic heart is a joy for me. I am, truly, complimented and honored to be included in your life.

Your "You gave me permission to be me" is the highest praise and validation that I could ever hope for. It is my desire that WE ALL do nothing less for one another in this little "village" of contact and exposure that we share,

I love you, Darling Cath.

John-Michael said...

How sweet and remarkably generous of you, Crystal, to trust me with a awareness of your challenges with epilepsy. I too have been challenged, throughout my lifetime, with chronic clinical depression. And, was not aware that it was present until I was in my mid-forties.

To have a dysfunctional brain is such an impediment to all of our life. And I can only imagine (based on my experience with family, teachers in school, employers and co-workers, church and social contacts, and on, and on) how disheartening and frustrating (not to mention frightening) life has, at times, been for you.

I truly admire and appreciate your openness and trust in speaking of this with me. You have enhanced my love for you.


John-Michael said...

Vi! (Oh my goodness! I can't even type your name without a smile of loving admiration jumping across my tired old face ... COOL!!)

I say, to you, My precious Friend, the words that I have spoken to Matthew countless times. "If you have done your best, My Darling, you have done as well as the best of EVERYBODY has ever done." And your 'best effort', my dear Vi, will be nothing short of dazzling!

I love you Dear!

John-Michael said...

Shrinky, your "tear the flesh from your bone" is as good a description of that, too-oft-repeated, experience of witnessing the inner and outer struggles, on the part of a 'Part of your Self.' I truly identify (as well as an outsider can) with your pain.

'Makes me love you even more!

(the Hug is relished and treasured!)


John-Michael said...

Dear Sweet Rose ... YES!! He and I are agreeably and mutually blessed. I could write (Oh Yeah, I am) a book!

I love you Dear. Thank you for your kind words.

Suldog said...

Another wonderful lesson from a beautiful soul. Thank you.

tati said...

yes. yes yes.

John-Michael said...

Thank you, my SulDog Friend. Each time I hear from you, I like Life more.

John-Michael said...

smile. smile smile.

Crystal said...

You truly are a kind and loving spirit to share such inspiring memories and experiences with us all;o)

John-Michael said...

It is so easy, Crystal, to share in a loving environment.

I am truly grateful for You as a vibrant part of that reality.

Lizzy in the Burbs said...

How fortunate your son is to have such a compassionate and sensitive father, and how fortunate for you to have such a warm, and loving son!

I guess we all have obstacles which hold us back, real or imagined, that effect the way we live and see the world. Sometimes those things are hard to overcome, and sometimes we don't even know they are there. Thank you for this enlightening post John-Michael!


John-Michael said...

Lizzy ... can I share a gem with you? Yeah, a really good one. It's gonna cost ya though! I'm thinkin' ... yeah! A cup of coffee! (the classy, expensive, GOOD stuff [I really like mocha latte]). Here 'tis.

Our sub-conscious mind has NO WAY of distinguishing between physical, material, substantial fact ... and that which we perceive, imagine, or dream up. That's right! Our sub-conscious treats it ALL as FACT.

When we put IT (whatever 'it' is) into, or permit 'it' access to, our mind ... it is accepted, with blind trust in our discretion and 'good sense', as REAL!

So, when I heard you say (can you imagine actually having to put up with me ... interrupting and going into these diatribes over every element of a conversation ... I am SUCH a pain! [grin]) "we all have obstacles which hold us back, real or imagined" ... I want SO BADLY to help you understand ... that whatever you fear ... whatever you see as a hindrance or obstacle ... IS just that to your perception. And has all of the force and power of solid concrete in its effects on your mind's ability to function around and/or overcome them.

So, Mt Darling Friend, please do not minimize or belittle those 'things' that frighten or hinder you. do not try to dismiss them as 'meaningless' or 'inconsequential.'

Those dragons and monsters are as real as the breath that you breathe ... to your precious mind. The mind that you must nurture and protect so that it can serve you to your very best interest.

(Me loving and caring about you can be a real pain in the asterisk sometimes ... I know. But I won't apologize. 'Cause it is real too.)

Cowgirl said...

Hi John-Michael,

What a moving post that was, I felt the lump in my throat when your son was struggling for the right words. Thanks so much for sharing and also for popping in to my blog today. The circle grows!

John-Michael said...

I thank you, Cowgirl, for your kindness. You reminded me of the moment in question, and I do recall having that self-same "lump in my throat" at the time.

When I saw that you were kind enough to comment on the post, I clicked back to your blog in hope that you might just have a fresh entry. And "Hurray" you did indeed! I LOVED it! Wonderful stuff. You are a most talented and engaging writer, and I heartily recommend your work to ALL.

Beth from the Funny Farm said...

" can experience ever more frequent moments of victory and conquest over the obstacles and hurdles of any prevailing circumstance."

Your expressed belief here is truly something I live by. I wish more people, especially the young, understood how resilient "life" is to the obstacles we all face and experience.

This post truly touched me, especially this line. Thanks for writing this.

John-Michael said...

Beth ... Dear (and you HAVE become quite dear to me) Sweet Beth,

How can I adequately express how meaningful it is to me ... to consider that my expression, of my soul's conviction, has found a place of acceptance and purpose in your spirit? I haven't words sufficient! Your telling me this is so rich that I am stilled ... humbled ... and oh, so grateful!

I love you.

Misty Dawn said...

Since starting my blog, I have met and become friends with many, many bloggers. However, my friend, none inspire me and affect my heart and emotions with their posts as strongly as you. I thank you for those moments, and I thank you for allowing me to enjoy your generous and beautiful soul.

Now, I must go get ready to go spend the evening basking in the glory of being an aunt to three beautiful and special little girls. I don't usually specifically ask another blogger to read a particular post, however, while I'm away for the evening, if you find that you would like to laugh out loud, I would be honored if you would read my Pummeling Pig Post at

John-Michael said...

Misty ... You would have no way of knowing ... but the one who knows all about all that we are, knows that you spoke the most perfect words, at the most perfect time (at this precise moment) that touch my heart and soul in the most perfect way.

I am NEVER surprised at these lovely gifts from Life ... but will ALWAYS marvel at them. You, My Darling, are just such a timely gift.

I will gladly accept your invitation to read your message on your blog. And look forward to discussing it with you at a later time.

Celebrate your nieces and their love ... mindful that you are so loved ... by me!

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