Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"You Disappear" a book review

For a bit of thematic synchronicity, this review is here but not here. If you scroll over and highlight the blocks of text the review will appear. Not my original intent, but that's how it worked out and at the suggestion of friends, I'm keeping it.

Christian Jungersen set out to overcome a number of literary challenges that few other authors would have attempted, and with You Disappear he deftly handles them them brilliantly. First, he writes a book from the perspective of a convincing female main character. Second, he writes on a suite of subjects that require an intimate understanding of broad range of current research, namely brain trauma and it's many psychological aberrations, which is saturated in enigmas with feintly understood ramifications. Third, from the bowels of deeply conflicting social, medical, and political issues he must wrest forth a lively and entertaining story. In each instance he has unequivocally succeeded.

I have read many accounts of brain injury recovery in the last twenty-five years since my own severe brain trauma. The accounts of the slow and heartbreaking recovery from brain injury are at best tedious and draining to read. Jungersen has crafted a story that is a page turner. Among the plodding metronome of brain injury recovery he has woven a symphony of plot twists that are as unexpected as they are believable. Quiet moments of beauty and gentle humor mix with the character Mia's discovery of what it means to be brain injured. Her fugues of hope and despair culminate in a resolution that is as satisfying and complete as it is unexpected.

There are many villains and many heroes and they exchange places within each character. Each of the main characters is a fully realized believable person that changes and grows throughout the story. So many other fictional stories of brain trauma focus on long term memory loss and little else, those are easy stories to write, even though such amnesia is incredibly rare. Jungersen, on the other hand, tells an engaging story that embraces the full spectrum of brain injury symptomatic sequelae by unpeeling the onion of mystery and misconception, rather than just listing the symptoms like ingredients. I found myself crying, "Yes, yes, yes! That's exactly it!"

Finally, as a reader with letters in literature, I was also enthralled by the sophistication the work demonstrated in its employment of a narrator that may be, or may not be, reliable. The confidence the reader places in the narrative vehicle can subtly alter the interpretation of the events as they are related. The mind wants to place black hats on the bad guys and white hats on the good guys, but such verity is elusive. The story, like brain injury itself, is different for every individual.

Jungersen has set a new standard for excellence.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Brain Injured, Brain Damaged?

It used to be, years ago, that those who had disabilities or were different in some way, were categorized and named in ways that were insensitive, if not downright cruel and hurtful. Gimp, cripple, harelip, lung (for TB sufferers), and many more terms too improper to bother printing. Fortunately, that was then and this is now.
            These days there are forums and other vehicles to discuss how these individuals would like to be called. In these modern days we have an avenue to make it known how we would like to be referred to in public. The internet allows for many voices to be heard. It is important that those affected get involved or the terms chosen are still liable to be inappropriate or offend.
            The latest best term for those have suffered a brain injury is "person with a brain injury." This is preferable to 'brain injured person' because the emphasis should be on the person, not the condition. The popular term "survivor" has problems because it is too general. People survive a lot of things, someone whose cancer is in remission is also called a survivor. We also need to avoid creating an overly technical term like neurophysiometrically compromised, we don't want to obfuscate brain injury the way I just did with this sentence, by using a word like obfuscate.
            I've been giving the term "brain damaged" some thought. Although "brain damaged" is technically accurate, it implies a permanent state, which of course it most emphatically should not be viewed as. And yet at the same time, brain injury is forever. I'm not ever going to be "not brain injured." Perhaps it is more accurate to say that "brain injury" is an experience, "brain damaged" is a state. The two are not incompatible, yet they are apples and oranges.
            Similarly, imagine if you had a broken leg. Strictly speaking you are "leg damaged." Yet, no one ever says that. Some still have an occasional limp that they will refer to as "an old leg injury from a car accident." Maybe next time when I have trouble word finding or following directions I'll explain it by saying "My old brain injury is acting up again."
            The phrase "person with a brain injury" is more descriptive of an experience than a condition. When a person's injury is relatively new they may justifiably resist this label as their intention is to re-cover from it. That is why they go to re-hab. If they are lucky, they may re-gain their former pre-injured state of being. That is a really cool thing, if it happens to be your lot you lucky duck. For the rest of us the journey is different. Once you experience something that changes your life you can never go back and "un-experience" it. Just like you can never un-mix the chocolate powder you just mixed into your milk to make hot cocoa.
            Nobody that has a brain injury wants to have another. Although statistically, if you have a brain injury, you are much more likely to suffer another, that is not from any personal desire. However, those who have lived through something like that tend to feel they are better for having made it. Basic training in the military is something that is challenging and unpleasant, and yet anyone who has gone through it will be proud of the fact they did it.

            Which leads me to the final conclusion for which I'm proud, inwardly, for having gone through what I have gone through. Other things, even if they are more difficult to do now because of my brain injury, I don't shy from doing. I am not a better person because of my brain injury, but I am because of what I've done in spite of my having a brain injury. I wouldn't choose to be this way, but as best as I can remember, no one ever asked. The fact is, I suffered a severe brain injury in 1989. Ever since then I have been crawling and struggling, fighting and groaning for every inch, to get to where I am today. And I smile, sometimes I smile through my tears, but I smile. I am here, and that is my victory.