Troy Davis

cognitive overload;, memory, overstimulation, resting brain


Last Wednesday night Troy Davis was put to death by the state of Georgia. Thousands of people all over the world tried to stop it to no avail. One of my facebook friends wrote, “I wonder what’s going to happen….all I know is, if Pope Benedict, Jimmy Carter and Bob Barr all agree on something, somebody should listen.” I am very much opposed to the death penalty but in this case it’s possible an innocent person was killed.

All this brought back memories for me. In the 90’s, I began visiting a man named Terry Mincey who was on death row in Jackson, Georgia. When GA switched its execution method to lethal injection, Terry was the first man killed. As a result the event garnered quite a bit of attention. There is always a vigil outside the prison but this time there were newspaper cameras everywhere. At one point, I got angry and screamed, “Stop taking my picture!” Immediately a group of people stood in front of me to block the cameras but it was too late. A picture ran of me in the Atlanta papers. I must say, it captured my sadness perfectly.

I preached a sermon about my experience with Terry at the Open Door Community in Atlanta afterwards. I don’t know if I can attach it to this blog but if you’re interested in reading a copy, contact me directly puffer61@gmail.com) and I’ll send it to you.

Due to my TBI, visiting Terry was difficult for me. The Open Door Community visits the prison every month and I first went with them. They drive a van the 1 1/2 hour south to the prison from Altlanta. Many of the folks on the trip are family members. Sometimes the trip was noisy (overstimulation) with children laughing and I found the trip difficult. Since at that time I wasn’t driving on the highway, making the trip alone was not possible so every month I made the trip.

Pencil and paper are not allowed in the visiting room. I have learned that if I want to remember something, I must write it down. As I’ve said before, there are three parts to memory. First, one must get it in the brain. Second, it must be stored and third, it has to be retrieved. My way to store it is to write it down and then I can retrieve it by reading it later. I always took notes about my visit when I was riding home but I’m able to remember something for only a short time before I must write it down.

Leaving the prison was quite an experience. I waited for the guard to let me out of the room. I then waited for my companions before our long walk out of the prison. Trying to attend to things and concentrating really wore me out (cognitive overload, resting brain). I put in my ear plugs and slept all the way home. There was often noise in the van which made resting difficult for me. Fortunately later, I found folks who drove up separately so I didn’t have to continue taking the trip with the Open Door Community. Either way, the trip wiped me out.

My experience with Terry made me interested in visiting as clergy. I tried doing this once but realized it was going to be very hard for me to do with all my challenges. Terry knew about my memory challenges and he often wrote me letters about our visits. This helped immensely. I think when I first began visiting, Murphy Davis, who is responsible for setting people up with someone to visit, choose Terry for me because she knew he would understand my challenges and be willing to work with them.

In retrospect, I’m very glad I took the opportunity to visit Terry even though it pushed on all my deficits. In the early years of being a survivor, I didn’t know how to pace myself. Sometimes I did more than I really was able and I then had to sleep for days. Now I know where my limits are and I try to plan for them. However, sometimes things don’t go as planned. Troy’s execution was one of those times. It was postponed for hours and instead of going to bed early like I always do, I stayed up and watched Democracy Now which was broadcasting from the prison. I hoped the Supreme Court would stop the execution but this didn’t happen. So I stayed up and watched till the bitter end.

Over-stimulation

memory, overstimulation, resting brain, spatial orientation



It’s happened again and I hate it. Prior to my TBI I could do things all the time. Now too much stimulation and I get tired. Even though I know this and am careful to avoid too much activity, sometimes I can’t help it. When I say “activity” I mean paying attention to everything. I didn’t realize how much one concentrates and pays attention to their environment every day until I became a TBI survivor. Simply driving or walking down the street means one is hit with all sorts of stimuli. We may not know it but lights, sound, speaking and everything else we do causes our brains to work.

For example, my day yesterday was too much for me and I didn’t even do that much! Shoot, I used to have meetings, appointments and writing assignment all day and night long. Yesterday I worked in Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church’s community garden in the morning. The garden is right in the front yard by a busy street with lots of traffic noise. After that, I delivered some vegetables to someone before driving home. All that in itself was a lot of stimulation.

I then cleaned up, ate lunch and visited someone in the afternoon. I really enjoy visiting folks for my church but when I concentrate on a conversation for a length of time, it wears me out. I then had to pick up my dog from day care. I know! I know! Day care for a dog sounds crazy but I have a dog that thrives on stimulation and he gets it there. But it meant picking him up before going downtown for a rally sponsored by the organization Move-On. I really wanted to go even though I knew it was a lot, so I went.

Even though downtown Asheville is not far, I didn’t want to find a parking place and then remember where I parked the car (spatial orientation) so I decided to take the bus. I used to take the bus in Atlanta when I couldn’t drive at all and I had tons of little pieces of paper with my bus numbers and times on them. I always had to write everything down including what subway station to take. (memory) It took a long time to get anywhere but it worked. The Asheville Transit isn’t as good but taking a bus from my home downtown is pretty easy.

I brought my umbrella to shield me from the sun and I prepared to wait at the stop. A woman joined me and we shared my umbrella. The experience reminded me what I like about the bus. I always meet interesting people and I’m more aware of the difficult lives many people must face. I had a choice to take the bus but some folks don’t have the choice at all. I had written my directions down on a little piece of paper but somehow in the commotion with buying my ticket and putting my umbrella down, I lost it. I remembered the first part of my directions from the bus station and began walking.

The problem was I thought I needed to go to Pritchard Park when I really needed to go to Pack Square Park. At least I got the “P” right! I asked directions to Pritchard Park but when I arrived there was no rally there. People gave me directions to go to City Square Park so I headed there. On the way, I found the rally at Pack Square. The picture posted above is one from that rally. Michael met me there at the rally and we drove home together. I was beat for it was a long rally but I’m glad I went. It felt good to be around folks who are as angry as I am about the budget cuts and high unemployment.

I usually take a high intensity water aerobics class on Thursday mornings but I didn’t want to have to concentrate on a teacher’s directions or worry about colliding into someone. Instead I swam laps. I didn’t have to think and I could swim as hard as I liked. It’s just what I needed. When I returned home, I realized I had left my swimsuit at the Y. This meant going back for it instead of resting my brain which I really needed to do. When I finally returned home, I put in my ear plugs and rested my brain for a half hour.

I had some other things I wanted to do this afternoon but when I push it this hard, I usually need to take it easy for a while. So I wrote in my journal, meditated and am planning to do things that won’t stress me out. It is a challenge to try to be involved in one’s community when one has a TBI but I am trying to find ways to do this.

If you are a TBI survivor do you get over-stimulated easily? How do you work with it? Some folks simply cannot do as much as I do and I must admit that sometimes I push it too hard. Every TBI is different and we all have to do what works for us. See top right for commenting instructions or contact me directly at puffer61@gmail.com. I still can’t respond to your comment here but I read all of them.

Memory Implants

memory

I read in the New York Times last week that scientists have come up with a brain implant that restores lost memory function. It’s still a long way off but the article states “the implant demonstrates for the first time that a cognitive function can be improved with a device that mimics the firing patterns of neurons.” The hope is some day these implants could be used in humans. There are, however, a number of technical and theoretical obstacles. “For one the implant must first record a memory trace before playing it back or amplifying it; in patients with significant memory problems those signals maybe too weak.”

When I was learning about how one remembers things, I learned there are three parts to memory. 1) getting the information in 2) storing it 3) getting the information out. I can do the first two parts fine. The difficulty comes in retrieving the information. I’ve learned to always write things down if I want to remember them. My Android helps me here since I have an app that allows me to take notes.

Some folks with a brain injury can’t get information in so when they write it down and read it later, it’s like reading it for the very first time. I don’t know any examples of folks who can’t store information so I can’t say much about this. It does seem like these implants could help someone like me. To be honest, as nice as it would be to improve my memory, it probably affects other things as well and I’m not sure I would want to take the risk involved in this.

Plus memory implants would not correct my other challenges like spatial orientation or organizational skill. When I first read this article, I began thinking what it would be like to have my former, uninjured brain. Things would be like they were before. Shoot, I might even be the pastor of an inner city church or have a position where I could do more pastoral care! But no this is my life now. And it’s a good life.

Imagine that it is years ahead and these memory implants have come into being. Would you want them? What other challenges would you still have? See upper right for commenting instructions or contact me directly at puffer61@gmail.com.