by Lynsey Calderwood
Jessica Kingsley, 2003
Review by Roy Sugarman, Ph.D. on May 28th 2004
Firstly, I am not
entirely convinced by the edifice of using fancy fonts to illustrate confusion,
pain, damage, humiliation, and various onomatopoeias: at times it is effective,
at times not. I am ambivalent. At times it detracts from the strengths of a
survivor's account of traumatic brain injury followed by dense confusion and
loss. At time it illustrates much of the fogginess of her brain, for the
Speaking of the
uninformed, the word recovery is also problematic as so many times even
specialists (albeit naïve ones, to quote Muriel Lezak) use the term to mean
improvement, rather than return to pre-injury cognitive status quo. Again,
Anthony and others now use the term in psychiatric rehab to imply recovery of
psychosocial status, so I am beginning to be somewhat more than resistant to
back to the true storybook, Lynsey is a teenager clearly functioning well on
the psychosocial stage, enjoying her life and her identity, when, as it does,
life turns on a dime, and she falls off a chair. It's not a trivial injury,
and Lynsey, as she knows her, dies off into a murky retrograde amnesia. The
anterograde amnesia bit isn't great either, and the burden and sense of
estrangement from herself and others dominates the book, as she lives in the
twilight zone of return to family and school, looking like a zombie.
She repeats many
of the themes so common to this tragic group, who bear the stigmata of their
injuries silently and invisibly. Like Twinkies, if it looks good, surely it is
good? So for Lynsey, those outside of her brain see her apparent return to
physical wholeness as indicative of recovery. Unable to see the bad brain,
others make fundamental attribution errors and see bad girl, and that includes,
most painfully, the professional carers as well as her schoolmates.
After all, if your
leg is gone, and you bear a prosthesis, all around you will note that you no
longer enter the hurdles dash, and will be sympathetic. When your brain is
maimed, invisibly, your failure to dash through the hurdles of everyday life is
regarded as indication of bad person, not bad brain, or bad family. We are
superficial in our evaluation of others when the scars are not evident.
So Lynsey descends
into bulimic anorexia, a scrabbling attempt to gain a sense of control over a
visceral brain gone mad, her depression evident and painful to read.
She leaves her
school, finds another, where no one knows or expects anything from the old Lynsey,
someone she has grown to hate, or grieve, in bouts of sad rage.
ignorance of the public comes over again and again. For instance, when a bully
assaults her, a passing adult regards her as 'drunk.' When told of her injury,
the same passer-by notes, oh well, the blow may restore her memory, I have seen
that on TV.
or James Bond educates us. Heavily and serially conked on the noodle, such heroes
wake hours later, have sex with a blonde, go "Ow" and then go on to
solve a complex case. In Dances With Wolves, Kevin Costner's character
gets a significant concussion a few times, in rapid series, and yet he goes on
to represent the Lakota Sioux in their fight against discrimination: this is
our education in brain injury.
struggle meanders through the book, not so much a journey of recovery, but of
exquisite and overwhelmingly lonely pain. She is acutely aware that she is
damaged goods, afraid that no one will want her, afraid that someone will, and
then will find that she is now a straw girl, of no substance, lost in time,
lost in space, and meaning, to quote Frank N Furter, a changed character from
another world, of uncertain gender and social role, and alone. It is her
loneliness that dominates the pages of her fractionated recall. One of the
saddest moments in the book is her observation of her grandmother's decline in
dementia, her shock at seeing someone else in her family acquiring brain-based
disability. Lynsey writes of the concept of poison seeping through the cracked
chest, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. My eyes circled her bedroom, one last
time, penetrating the dust of the untouched furniture before stopping to rest
on the vast, vulgar crack in the mirror. As the mist on the grey windows
clouded over, all my secreted memories of the hospital come seeping back into
my mind like a poisonous gas (page 138).
Out of school, unable to continue, Lynsey
joins the club no one wants to be accepted into, the Brain Injured Community.
Hovering around on the periphery of her mind, circling the firelight, are the
vampire figures of catastrophic reality, holding the sense that there is not
complete awareness of deficit, and if she lets the crack open too wide, then AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH
will come through like poison (that's what she does with fonts).
It's a painful and
sad little book. I know its blurb paints it as a reconstruction, a triumph over
adversity, but her closing words are no different to her opening really, with
burden and estrangement dominating.
You are just left
wondering why it has to be so hard. There are many such accounts in
publication, many from the UK,
as Lynsey's is. Her loneliness and pain are condemnations of the care offered
her, of her incarceration in a psychiatric ward, a strange place in a strange
world, populated by middle world carer-figures. Her treating psychiatrist
writes that it is interesting that from the mist of her disaster, Lynsey
emerges as a poet and writer: it in fact is not unusual. Humans in pain have
turned to such edifices to try to re-make contact with the world, to reconnect
with a world that no longer makes sense. After the loss of most of her right
sided frontal and temporal lobes, leaving her brain damaged, epileptic and with
Borderline Personality features and rapid cycling mood, another survivor
writes, in her unpublished "Magnum Opus",
"I woke up in
a world gone mad. I had lost myself, my family, my friends, my boyfriends my
career, my life, my Faith, my self. I had gone from being my mother's shining
star to being my mother's burden. Damaged goods, who will ever want me?"
She goes on to live her life, return to
university, and marry, and live her finest hours.
I wish the same
for Lynsey, 14 years after her injury, now a 28 year old, dependent on her
family, and now involved in a day to day struggle to find her socks, her diary,
gloves, jacket shoes, and the lost bouquets of her stemmed life.
© 2004 Roy Sugarman
Roy Sugarman PhD, Clinical
Director: Clinical Therapies Programme, Principal Psychologist: South West Sydney Area Health Service, Conjoint
Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry, University of New South