This is a commentary about the slow lane, about the slowing of time since I suffered a severe brain injury while skateboarding with my dog. This is a blog about recovery; about our '82 VW Westfalia. It's about writing, surfing, camping, married life, bleeding ulcers that make you feel old at 32; about family, friends, and my dog Artie; it's about cruising in fourth gear, getting passed by every car and learning to appreciate every second of it.
I've mentioned my affinity for pleasing people in previous blog posts. I've always beern quick to make plans with both friends and acquaintances. But now that my filter allows things to slide through with ease, my schedule is full, my weekends busy.
After days and weeks of running around, I become overwhelmed and tired. The fatigue is cognitive before it turns physical. The bulge on the side of my head where coiled tendons gathered begins to swell. It's the first sign of a crash. And while not nearly as bad as before, the crashes force me to the chair with blurry and teary eyes and a numb mind.
My neurologist suggested that I not agree to anything on the spot. She told me to respond by telling people that I need to look at my calendar, or, need to think more about it more before agreeing to anything.
She asked me to keep track of all of the plans and commitments that are asked of me. She said for me to write down what the invitation was, my response, and the outcome.
I started last week. It's kind of funny; I feel like a laboratory researcher and the lab rat at the same time. Judging by my commitment chart, this rat is a slow learner.
The other day I was driving to go to a meeting for work. I turned right as cars across the road were turning left. As I pulled up to the stop light I looked in my rear view mirror. The driver behind me was middle-aged with a long Grey beard. I saw him raise his hands and mouth the word "asshole." Apparently, he thought I had cut him off.
I snapped. I turned around and started yelling. I gave him the finger. I yelled the entire time the light was red. He told me to 'fuck off' and gave me the finger and then watched as I yelled inside the van. He reached down and started dialing a number on his phone. The light turned green. I drove slow so that he would pass me and I would have another opportunity to freak out once again. He stayed behind me and got off at the next exit.
This is my rage. A few seconds later, depression takes over.
I brought this up to my neurologist. I told her that my temper seemed to be getting worse. That the new anti-depressant wasn't controlling it. I asked her why this rage was still around and if it was normal.
She said it was. She told me that the frontal lobes control the outlet of emotions. She compared my injury to a carburetor in a car. She said my carburetor was "idling" fast and was not regulating the stream of emotions. It's an analogy I have not heard yet but it makes sense.
In so many ways, I'm not a new person. Many of the traits and emotions were here prior to the fall. Before, I would fly off the handle. Back then, I went out of my way to please people, I made plans when I probably shouldn't have, and I became excitable in social settings.
But now, all of that comes much quicker and easier. It's crazy to see the person you are, without all of the safeguards in place. It's disturbing. I hate it. I never realized how much we depend on those filters. I never realized how bad of a person I was without it.
Seven junior high students stood next to me at the front of the class. I had finished my final presentation. The kids all seemed to be interested and kind. One of them asked what was the best skate trick that I had landed. I told him it wasn't the one where I avoid the cracks in the sidewalk while my dog pulls me.
Another kid came up to me. He was a short, mexican dude, his hair spiked with what must have been a bottle or two of hair gel.
"So, when you say you can't smell, like, does that mean you can put like dog shit up to your nose and you wouldn't even know?"
I looked around to make sure the kid didn't have a pile of shit in his hands before I answered.
"Yeah, that's what it means."
"Have you tried it?" He asked.
"Yeah, everyday I put a few turds up to my nose just to see if I can smell it or not."
He laughed. I did too.
As for my nosy nemesis at thedailysmell.com, her latest post has me pondering whether if I should ramp up the wi-fi war. Here's a little excerpt from one of her recent posts:
"I’ve noticed that my armpits stink like the stews I’ve been savoring, despite my use of deodorant. When you can smell yourself, it’s not good."
Is this supposed to make me feel sorry for the human bloodhound; her pits smell like a savory soup?
So, does that mean it's good when you can't smell yourself; when others have to let you in on the fact that you reek, or that there is a rotting carcass at your feet? Does that mean it's good to not ever know if you have a bag of dog shit in front of your nose?
On Friday, I go and speak to students at a school in Escondido. The teacher contacted me in June, a few months after the article came out. She said one of her students died from a head injury. Shortly after, her students began reading my story in class and she asked if I would be willing to go and speak to them, about my injury, and about my recovery. I said that I couldn't. I told her that I was overwhelmed and run-down. I also said I was nervous about speaking in an auditorium to the entire school. She told me that she understood.
Weeks passed and the teacher contacted me again. Her students had written letters and made cards. She came by my house and dropped them off. I couldn't get through more than ten of them before choking up.
The other day I received another email from the teacher, asking if I would be able to come and speak. This time, instead of packing all of the kids in an auditorium, she said that I could speak to 60 at a time in a classroom. I agreed.
This will be the first time that it will be only be me speaking. When I'm not writing, I try and plan out my presentation. It's hard. The emotions that accompany this injury are overwhelming. Having to explain the injury, the isolation from family, the temper, and impulsiveness, is difficult. And, looking completely normal while doing it makes it harder.
I thought about bringing in pictures to show the kids what it was like. What Aimee and my family saw in the hospital, what I looked like weeks and months after; a picture story of what my family and I went through. Here are just a few that I picked out.
"It smells so good," Aimee said as we walked to the store. "It smells like," her eyes grew wide. "It smells like fried chicken."
"Thanks," I said. "You know, I really miss the smell of fried chicken."
I do, despite the fact that I don't even eat the damn bird. And even if I did, I couldn't tell the difference between fried chicken and fried dog puke.
It got me thinking how most of the smells I miss are associated with taste. I don't miss aromas all that much unless they are associated with taste, like fried chicken, bacon, and sour cream. I know that last one sounds weird but I miss it and I don't know why.
As for smell, in some cases, it's a good thing I no longer have the sense.
The other day I went to see a lady for an article I am writing. The woman has a terminal illness. She smokes two packs a day and drinks nothing but coffee. The carpet was stained. The table was sticky. The walls were stained yellow.
And there I sat, unaffected. A few times I wondered just how bad it was. I forgot shortly after, and remained in the dirty, liquid-stained chair, next to coffee tins full of cigarette butts.
I guess it's a blessing and a curse.
On to a different topic:
Lately, I've been noticing that my towels have gone missing. I'll see it hanging throughout the day. When I go to take a shower it will be gone.
I confronted Aimee. I asked why she keeps using my damn towels. I tell her that I never notice until after I shower. And then I have to run around the house stark naked for a new towel.
I was expecting an apology from her.
Instead, she admitted to taking my towels. She said she has to take them because they start smelling of mold.
Last time I saw my doctor, a few weeks back, he told me that we would have to experiment until we find the right anti-depressant for me. He recommended putting aside the Lexapro for Wellbutrin.
For me, Lexapro, or Lexapoo as I call it, had me in a constant somber state, like a zombie who didn't need to infect. Never high and never low, just middle of the road. It did help in some ways; I didn't obsess as much, and I didn't have as many fits of rage. But, then again, I didn't feel much of anything.
Now, two weeks on Wellbutrin, I see the power of these medications. Today, was the third day that dizzy spells hit each time I turned my head. The spells are something I have never felt before. They feel like I am inside a tire, rolling down a hill. They are quick and overwhelming. They seem to end just before I feel that my legs might give.
The dizzy spells weren't all. Today, rage ruled the day. Whether it was grinning my teeth as Artie pulled on his leash during our walk, punching myself in the face and hitting the walls because the computer was freezing up, it was there, stronger than ever, and more manic than I could imagine.
I'm not sure why I told Aimee about my temper tantrums when she got home, but I did. Her response, like anyone else: "Why didn't you just take a deep breath and leave the room?"
My response: "Because I can't pull myself away. I know what I am doing but I can't stop. The thoughts are there but the action is not."
So, tomorrow comes another doctor's visit, and another thirty minutes of explaining the side effects of a new drug. It might turn out like most visits, where the dosage changes, or a new drug is prescribed. Either way, the human experiment continues.
The other day, my friend, I mean my archenemy at thedailysmell.com wrote a piece about smelling a fart from her neighbor's dog..."I grinned as I caught whiff of a fart just let out by the dog next door that drifted over our eight-foot tall fence. She needs to go for a walk and ate too many peanut butter cookies last night," wrote Sniffaluffagus.
The passage reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend over beers. I hadn't seen her since my accident. After wondering why I chose the cheap domestic beer over the wall of high-brow brews, I told her that I had lost my sense of smell and taste.
Her response: "Do you miss the smell of your own farts?"
It was the first time that someone else had brought up the fact that I can no longer smell my own farts, though, it wasn't the first time I had thought about it.
The subject was broached a while back when I noticed Aimee on the couch nearly gagging after I had unassumingly let one rip, maybe I had too many peanut butter cookies that day. As Aimee squinted her eyes and clamped her mouth shut on the couch that night, I told her how I missed the smell of my own farts. She didn't feel sorry for me, still doesn't.
Now, because I no longer can whiff my own wind, I have become un-sensitized and unabashed about letting them go, whether that's in front of Aimee or just walking around in public.
I get how horrible it must sound but give it a thought; if you lose a sense when comes the point that the sense is erased from the mind?