This is a repost from my PinkFeldspar blog. It's originally part of a movie review, but so much of this section is a reflection on what it's like living through what I call 'brain fail' and 'glitchy brain' that I think it needs to go on spaz blog where other medical posts are collected. If you get distracted and want to see more about this movie in general, you can find it among my #TomCavanaghWatch posts.
This is super random like a writing prompt and not intended to be part of the review, and is especially super spoilery if you haven't seen the movie yet, so go watch it first before you wander back.
I've blogged before about movies / TV shows and characters being how we emotionally connect into stories that we personalize while we deal with or process our own life journeys. The movie Sublime that I have reviewed recently has been one of those uncanny connects for me.
I spent years publicly blogging my own 'mess' of 'glitchy brain' fail that began, in part, in 2004 with what my doctors assumed to be a viral infection on top of years of autoimmune challenges. That is one of the layers I've been processing through. When this happens to an already fractured mind from childhood trauma and a lifetime of PTSD, I'm here to say it can be pretty devastating but survivable.
I'll jump right in. When George asks to be taken on a tour of the broken East Ward presumably under construction, he doesn't realize he's surveying his own brain fail. I've had numerous dreams like this over several years, it really does work like this when you are trying to figure out the problems that you can't see and your brain starts helping you consciously assess internal damage from the point of view of an entity that isn't human like you are, because it's existence is lived as an organ that processes data. Oddly, brains can't just type us notes, so they 'simulate' scenarios. If we break it on down, a brain as an organized entity is itself made up of numerous selves that continually work on construction and vital systems management protocols, like securing and shipping energy and oxygen. When shipping and/or nutrients are interrupted, the entire system can plunge into massive fail.
A brain is a living thing that wants to work properly. Like a machine, it runs automatically without our cognition, but like an AI, it connects to us and talks to us in dreamscapes, riddles, visuals, experiences. Our brains can interact with us as a separate entity from us, yet still be one with us. Consciousness, arguably, is not completely dependent on the brain, although the brain is how our consciousness is able to interact in this world reality we see around us with other people in it.
During this tour of the East Ward, George chances upon a room full of files, a sort of archive of information. It is organized but the version is outdated, a hard copy backup of a digital system. He finds his own file with his name on it, and in the very thick file he sees hard copy of many organ and tissue assessments. This is literally what the brain does, in one sense. Our brains know everything conceivable about what goes on in our bodies, that is their job. When there is brain disconnect, or fail, that information can stop being updated, or even be lost, and the brain automatically fills it back in with real time information gathered from what we'd think of as diagnostics. I went through this when I went through central nerve fail and memory glitching. I could feel this happening. Sometimes it was painful, most of it was maddening from a conscious aspect. I didn't know what was happening, but over time, with very patient inner communication, I was able to consciously piece together my own archive of thoughts and reflections about what I was experiencing as my brain was working on healing.
Let's talk movie clues.
When George is arguing with the care team (in his mind, since the IV bag fluid is milky white), the date on the file he found, according to the medical lawyer (a brain perspective trying to share information to his consciousness), was Feb. 29, 1947. That was not a leap year. (That had also changed from what he saw originally.) But there is also a name connected to that file that George thought was his, that actually of George Spelvin, if I heard that correctly (I could be wrong, I suck at transcription). If this is the case, then the pseudonym and nondate are key clues, along with the unidentified bandaged man that George thought he saw murdered, are really himself as an empty slot. The file contents are his own brain content being interpreted, the file identification shifts between the time he discovers it and later argues with the medical lawyer. His 'evidence' is slippery, and his brain is filling in the lawyer's words with substitute answers. Is his brain updating in progress, indicating more loss? Or is this like a dreamscape where hope plays tricks and information is slippery anyway? In any case, his brain itself is aware of loss, but communicating that into his consciousness isn't easy. George is in full fight or flight mode by the time he seizes out during his brain slamming another fail simulation at him, his necrotic leg. That scene is a giveaway since necrosis to that extent takes time. The brain is screaming that it cannot find his leg, it cannot connect and assess, but in George's consciousness (in his vegetative state), it becomes interpreted as a diseased and then missing leg.
The mystery of problem solving inside a broken brain can send a person hurtling around an emotional rollercoaster. It's hard. I was very struck by the opening theme by Bird York, Have No Fear. It's nearly impossible not to have fear when your nervous system is part of the breakage. It's like living inside downed wires and massive grid damage when you can't move around correctly or easily speak what you mean. It's like feeling trapped in a maze of confusion, so much fail going on and no way to share the fear in a way that nets back badly needed emotional support. And sometimes that support is so misunderstood in all the confusion that one can only recoil back into solitude. I have thankfully never experienced a vegetative state, but at one point I made the decision to wrap my mind around preparing for the what ifs of a complete communication sever. The intuitive response is to fight, that can translate into combative patient and poor treatment, and I chose to bend my will toward remaining calm, accepting, and pleasant, trusting what I could not trust. That is very hard. (The key to accomplishing this is to, as George found, wrestle one's demons, face the truths inside that we refused to see, and acknowledge our life fail of allowing bad things to happen, very much like a life review.)
Add to all the confusing emotional rollercoaster the jumble of real life still coming at you, the torments and persecutions of judgments from people all around you, whether those are perceived correctly or not. George reliving memories of his birthday party, assuming he was even remembering correctly, was part of the big puzzle, many pieces that needed reassembling before he could cognitively understand how to take action months after a medical accident. To recognize that he had this power to make a decision was a giant lightbulb after so much misery.
One thing this kind of life challenge wakes you up to is information. Information in general from everywhere, everywhen. Time has no meaning when one is compiling information trying to restructure. Sorting things like timestamps comes later. I personally developed an obsession with timestamps because I lost my sense of time. What I discovered was compiled information.
Using twitter as an example, I am unable to keep up with real time linear interaction flow. For a long time I couldn't keep users straight, much less their personal information that made them unique. I learned to use the twitter search bar with keywords and hashtags to pull up a time order for users and particular thoughts, and I was able to remember the timestamps for some reason. I noticed that a person might say 12 different times over 4 years how terribly sick they were, and then at other times say they never get sick. In their linear experience, they might not remember, while they are in a vital healthy phase, regularly picking up seasonal colds that last a week. I could easily pull up their histories and see that while we are in linear experience mode, we are in the moment and don't pull up all the files. Once we step out of linear experience mode, we can see all the files more easily. Well, I crashed out of linear experience mode early in life when I started dissociating, and parts of me are 'research hounds', obsessed with finding and knowing information for various reasons. Add a 'brain crash' to that and I felt like I simply dropped out of humanity synch with world time. I used social medias like twitter to see the rhythm and try to slide back into it (like jumping into an ongoing jumprope game, perhaps). I'm still not very good at that and eventually let go of trying to keep up in real time. I live in my own real time now.
We cannot explore all the files this way until we step back from in the moment reacting. George tries to react in the movie, but he's lost his moment and can't find the way back to that moment. He's stuck on a moment unaware that months of time have been passing, trying to problem solve what went wrong with very minimal access to information. He can see the broken parts, and he can see the diagnostics, but he can't see how he himself fits into that.
What he didn't expect to see were the jagged details of collected memories exposed in the brokenness, his demons, if you will. Evidently, George was very aware of the political divergence going on around the world that supported his real life success. He was aware of the human abuses going on that supported capital gains in his world. He chose not to 'see' them while he was in the moment. He believed he deserved his success because he had earned it himself. Likewise, he had chosen not to really 'see' or be cognizant of how his wife was feeling. The simulations are valid communications about his fears and feelings and situations, but since he cannot translate them logically, they create panic. His fear grips him and then all he can think about is feeling trapped and wanting to escape.
I can say that level of vividness is very real with 'broken brain' stuff. It's catastrophic to realize we are stuffed full of information that we don't even know we have. All our brains are absorbing all the things all day long. Good things, bad things, all the things. We might consciously choose to focus on our own interests as the days go by, but that doesn't mean all this other information collecting going on constantly is being deleted as overage. It's all still there, and it's all important. Why are things we ignore important? Good question, especially since humans seem to universally experience compelling life review phenomena.
When I see George really noticing these political atrocities among his jagged broken East Ward, I see him realizing the reality of what hadn't been real to him, real people, real lives affected in the kind of life he had been constructing for himself. Whether they were actually fallout from his own financial decision making is probably beside the point, because who could know that. In general, however, there was a connection, he knew it was all connected, and he chose in his linear in the moment life to not see those connections. He turned away from taking responsibility. That this is affecting him so much in the dreamscape simulations is a very strong hint that he went out of his way to stifle these feelings in his everyday life. He stayed busy making money, probably nightcapping his way through his marriage after long days of wheeling and dealing. I can't judge since I don't know, but it's looking like the rude awakening after the brain fail was a seething pile of guilt he managed to lock away for years.
How one heals from a broken brain, assuming one has that option (like me), can involve a very deep dive into cleaning out one's soul. Pulling everything out of the closets of the mind, sorting through it all, repacking and organizing- this is all inherently part of healing when a mind scatters into pieces after the structure crumbles. Restructuring is rebuilding. I think at one point I compared it to reassembling a building piece by piece out of the original materials without a blueprint after it had been blown apart. That was so many years ago I can't find which blog I wrote that on.
:edit: Found it. "Like someone reconstructing an earthquake smashed mansion brick by broken brick without a plan, I am reconstructing my brain today. Like someone who lived in that mansion, I know I lived in my brain, and I know it's all still here. So I glitched again, so what. It's not gone. I just have to go over all the little connections and see what needs to be plugged back in." Dec. 27, 2012
Having our consciousness interrupted from illness or injury is a terrible thing. I compared losing my intellectual capability to beautiful people losing their good looks to some calamity, which we all know can be very devastating. I became very dumb and spent years crawling back from that. I consciously could not logically piece together my own history. I've had to wait while my brain heals bit by slow bit.
In George's case, there was no more healing. Nothing more could be done to cross back into the 'real' world of linear in the moment with his family. He had healed just enough to become minimally aware that he had a choice whether to stay or leave. Whether he was truly cognitive of his family around him is unclear, and as messed up as his awareness was anyway, we'd still only be guessing at what he truly was aware of at the end. However, he did seem, inside his head, to be aware enough of himself to reject remaining in that state. Even on life support he managed to 'escape'. There would be no way to measure if he truly did that or if his brain just stopped working, since he was considered to be effectively medically unable to ever respond again.
I could be like Fangoria and talk about Sublime's "health scare plan", but I'm not going there. I do think it's valid, though. Click to go check out issue 261 published on 9-28-19.