The Beautiful Brain

I don’t even know what to say.  I am humbled and amazed.  My friend Ruby* attempted suicide twice before Christmas.  Everyone thought she would die.  He doctors thought her brain damage would be fatal, that she could not survive off life support.  She hung on with help from a breathing machine, but then we were told she’d never regain consciousness.  Sometimes she’d breath on her own, sometimes the trach would have to take up the slack.

At first I was getting all my info second and third hand, from a friend of the family.  That’s how  I heard that she had “woken up.”  But I couldn’t get enough details second-hand to be sure if she was actually cognizant or if her family was seeing autonomic responses.  I am extremely skeptical in medical miracles involving brain injury.  I had to see for myself.

I drove an hour and got lost twice going to see her and I was not encouraged by what I saw.  She had been sedated but still she moved constantly, tossing a leg over a bed rail, sliding down in her bed.  She coughed and gagged constantly, she was out of it.  Her mother told me she had developed a fever.  I sat with her for several hours, talking to her (whether she could hear me or not), to her mother, to her father, but when I left, I was not convinced she would ever come out of it.  I felt like I didn’t know much more when I left the hospital than when I had arrived. And then the next day her mother confirmed what we had feared; Ruby had pneumonia.   I thought, That hospital won’t be happy until they kill her.  It was their fault the second suicide attempt even happened.

I have not been able to go see her again yet.  The antibiotics had managed to help her pneumonia and I wanted to go back and sit with her some more.  But it is one thing after another here, as usual.  No one said life is easy, right? First a snowstorm had us housebound, then our furnace went out right after the storm, while there was still half a foot of snow all around.  We had to call emergency HVAC to come out at 2am.  We were losing about a degree of heat an hour, and our house got down to 50 degrees before a temporary  fix.  The permanent would end up costing us over $400 dollars.
And then our car started misfiring left and right and throwing codes.  We haven’t got to fix it yet, but you can bet it will cost more money.

And through all of this, Ruby’s mother would post on Facebook from time to time.  She said Ruby looked at her…but her eye contact wasn’t direct (I didn’t read that as a good sign).  She said Ruby sometimes cried.  (I thought it was autonomic.)  She said that Ruby smirked at her once when she said she’d shut up if only Ruby would smile.  (I wasn’t convinced).

I have never been so happy to be wrong about something.  Today Ruby’s mother posted that she heard her daughter’s voice.  

I got more secondhand details from a friend that Ruby told her sister she loved her.  Her trach will be removed soon.  She has a long road of rehabilitation ahead of her, in addition to still needing to conquer the depression and anxiety that laid her so low.

After my visit with her, I had Googled  “recovery from brain death,” already knowing there was not supposed to be such a thing.  Of course there were the usual smattering of “miracle stories,” but ever the skeptic, I wondered if the loved ones of those people misunderstood the diagnosis of their loved on. I think the terms “brain death” and “vegetative state” probably get thrown around a lot, and not everyone may understand the different types of brain injury.  Without talking to a doctor myself, I’d never be certain of what they were told. I only know my experiences with brain injuries in my family.  To me brain death is my cousin after he shot himself in the head and pieces of his brain were on the floor but a machine kept him alive.  I think of Terry Schiavo.

I don’t pray to a god for miracles; I don’t believe in those kind of miracles.

But I also know the human body and brain is an amazing, fragile, resilient thing.  How could something be fragile AND resilient?  I don’t know, but it is, and now I get to see first hand, and I also get to hear my friend Ruby’s voice again. ❤

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Good-bye, Robin. I’m Sorry.

I’m sure people will be posting ad nauseam on here about Robin William’s apparent suicide…and that’s okay.  It has occurred to me more than once how Facebook and other social media have come to play a big part in our grieving process, from sharing memories, to revelling in our loved one’s presence for just a bit longer, to sharing our grief with others…

But I just want to say one thing, and it’s about mental illness…depression….anxiety.

It’s amazing how many people do not have a full understanding of what true clinical depression and anxiety are like.  These illnesses are diagnosed now more than ever before, and I’m sure their inevitable over-diagnosis leads some people to believe they are not that serious.  True clinical depression and anxiety are not situational.  “Why are you sad?  Why are you anxious? Did something happen? Are you unhappy?” or by extension “What reason do you have to be depressed?”

As someone who suffers from both anxiety and depression since early childhood, I don’t mind answering honest questions, but I am tired of the stereotypes, and especially tired of the use of the term “mental illness” as a buzz word or scapegoat for every dirtbag that would walk into a school with a gun and blow through a clip before shooting himself, thus putting us out of his misery.

This, what happened to Robin Williams, is the true face of mental illness in this country.  For me personally, having grown up always with this man in the periphery, his voice talents, his acting, always with good cheer and humor, (not to mention the fact that he reminds me of my Dad in some ways,) the idea that someone so warm and (by all accounts) genuine and caring, felt low enough to take his own life is unutterably sad.

Yes, he left behind a wife and grown children who will grieve him, but he didn’t take it to a public place with the intent to harm others or to garner attention or fifteen minutes more in the spot light.  He went quietly, and in the end the person who suffered the most was him.

Not with a bang but a whimper. 

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The Monroe Meme:They Said It First!

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And I’ve thought something along these lines every time I see one of those memes come through my Facebook feed.  Okay, not exactly in those wordsreally…just that perhaps her quotes aren’t necessarily “words to live by,” when considered within the scope of her many insecurities, mistakes, and less-than-admirable traits.  While I would not call her a whore, it is considered pretty much general knowledge that she carried on affairs with a very married President of the United States (and later after being rejected by him, with his brother.) In fact, it is said she became somewhat obsessed with the Prez, although he seemed to view her as not much more than a very pretty notch on his proverbial bedpost.  But I am referring to more than just her sexual proclivities and questionable relationships.

[By]1956 …she’d begun to lose herself to self-doubt, depression, drugs, and alcohol.

[Her] mother and maternal grandparents had all struggled with mental illness and institutionalization, [and she] began taking sleeping pills for her insomnia. She regularly consulted psychiatrists. She drank heavily, and began a habit of arriving late to work, and sometimes not being able to work at all.

In short, she was kind of a basketcase.  To top it all off (no pun intended,) she ended her career and life early with an intentional overdose of barbiturates.  The image I get of her is a woman who was trying to make her way and own her sexuality in a largely male dominated industry.  However there seemed to be a dichotomy between the part of her that relished her sexuality and the power it gave her, and part of her still felt objectified and dependent on men.

 “People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn’t see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one.”

“Please don’t make me a joke.  End the interview with what I believe. I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one.”

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not trying to crap on her memory; I rather like her.  I’m not even trying to pass judgment on her chasing a married man, even allegedly pulling that huge mistress party foul and calling his wife.  I’m not passing judgment on her drug use, and definitely not her depression.  I’m not even saying the fact of these things invalidates her ideas…  If anything, it makes her very “human.”  I am just not sure that when people quote her for her empowered and self-actualized feminine ideology, they realize all the ways in which she was not necessarily “role model” material, especially not for young women just coming into their sexuality (not to mention the emotional upheaval of adolescence . ) 

 ” I’m very definitely a woman and I enjoy it.”

” I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.”

” If I’d observed all the rules, I’d never have got anywhere.”

” Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.”

(source)

Admittedly, many of her quotes do seem empowered and self-actualized.  But the fact of her downward spiral and consequent suicide seems to indicate that all her self-actualization and pragmatic ideas on the ways of the world were not enough to save her from her inner demons.

Rest in peace, Norma Jean…