Where to begin? First off, I've got a new comic for sale, details are over on the Cute But Sad Comics site but I'm sure you all subscribe to that, right? It's the second in the Polaroids from Other Lives series and I've done a lot to make the drawing style more realistic and accurate but that's not what's making me nervous about publishing it. In the first volume, I told a story about a parallel me who is grieving for a lost lover who is taken by an un-named disease. It's based on how I felt after someone close to me died when I was quite young. Some of you will also have read the one-page story about the murder I witnessed in Leeds. That story was straight down the line true and one I'm planning on telling in more detail at some point down the line, probably as a part of this series.
This story, though, sits somewhere between the two in terms of autobiography and looks at someone (who, as is the theme of the series, looks exactly like me) in a hospital waiting room trying to decide whether or not to seek medical help after a violent sexual assault. Even though it's not a true story, elements of it are and it's definitely emotionally autobiographical, so I'm going to be feeling quite exposed after it's published. I think this is a good thing and that it will continue to push me to tackle difficult themes in my work and there's also very much a way in which it's cathartic by letting me write a different story to what happened. We'll see. I'm hoping that it will be received as warmly as the previous comic, and I'm preparing myself for some good conversations to come up as a result of it.
Anyway, that's one thing, go have a look - I'm taking orders now, it should be through from the printers in a week or so and I'll post copies out the day it arrives with me.
What else is going on? Well, I complained to PALS in Lewisham Hospital that I wasn't getting any follow-up after the surgery on my arm and there's been some very intriguing developments as a result of it. The main thrust of my complaint was that I don't feel I was adequately informed about the operation, particularly in terms of recovery time and in what I should be doing to make it easier to recover and I asked why I hadn't been offered any physiotherapy or occupational therapy when I've still got a compressed nerve in my left elbow that means I had no working hands after the operation.
Well, I saw a physiotherapist the next day - the physio team have been brilliant - and she took a look at my posture, my neck and back and said that she thought the trapped nerve in my left arm could be sorted if I could learn to radically improve my posture. The reason the nerve is pressing in my elbow is that it doesn't have enough slack further up where it passes through my neck. This is, of course, brilliant news and seems glaringly obvious. What I'm now wondering is why the orthopaedics people never checked my neck and back, only ever poked at my elbow, which usually left me in agony for hours.
Yesterday, I met with her again to say that two weeks of standing tall and following her instructions had really helped me to ease the pain in my left hand and I asked her whether she thought I really did need the surgery in my right arm. She sighed and told me that the surgery is a notoriously unreliable remedy for the kind of problems I have had and said she'd wondered the same thing. Add to that the orthopaedics consultant only now telling me it'll take 18 months for the nerve to heal, during which time I should expect to continue having days where it suddenly feels as though my hand's on fire and you can perhaps understand why I'm wishing I hadn't had the surgery after all. I'm definitely pressing the complaint with PALS and getting a second opinion from a doctor in West London now I've moved.
I'm trying to remain focused on the good stuff that's coming from the physiotherapy and not just descend into the limitless rage I feel towards the orthopaedics team. Once I have the response from the PALS investigation, I will more than likely be seeking legal advice as 18 months of arm pain which could have been avoided could really fuck up my chances of completing my MA, which means so very much to me. Plus, it means I can't really return to interpreting for a very long time, so that career is ended by the injury, the surgery was probably the final nail in the coffin.
As if that weren't enough medical stuff to talk about, I had an utterly fascinating appointment with the Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder clinic in the Maudsley hospital yesterday. We talked through the survey things my mother and I had filled out about my childhood and current behaviour and he ran through a very detailed questionnaire about my early years, my experiences at school and in adulthood and then we went through the slightly harder stuff of my wider medical history, talking about depressive episodes, drug use, suicide attempts and risk-seeking behaviour. I'm not going into the details of all that, I'm sure you all know enough about me to figure that the diagnosis that followed wasn't a huge surprise.
He said I definitely have ADHD, without a shadow of a doubt. He said that it has three main features: inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity. He said that I still exhibit quite a lot of inattentive traits, but as an adult, particularly as an intelligent and insightful person, I've learned to mask and suppress the hyperactivity and impulsivity and most of the time I let those out as internalised stuff. He also said that doing so takes a lot of effort, which makes sense of why if I'm tired or hungry or stressed, I lose the ability to mask those and suddenly seem incredibly snappy and reckless. He said I also have a depressive disorder, but whether it's the bipolar illness I was previously diagnosed with might need to be examined again once treatment for ADHD has started as it's easy to confuse mania with ADHD traits. He reminded me that although there's a very high co-morbidity of the two things, ADHD treatment won't change my moods and there's a world of other stuff I still need to talk through with a psychiatrist, particularly around post-traumatic stress after the murder and other horrid things I've experienced.
However, the most fascinating aspect of the discussion was when we chatted about how he thought this all came together and it was sparked by my mentioning that when I have migraines, I get a kind of numb paralysis down my left side, followed by an inability to speak, followed by the loss of sign language and the ability to perform complex manual tasks. He said that this is an incredible insight into the wiring of my brain because it means that the language centre in my brain sits in a different place to where it's found in most people. I process language in my right hemisphere and it's also threaded through into different sensory pathways.
He asked me for a third time in the interview if I was left handed. I explained that as an infant I was ambidextrous but at school it was felt that if I had the option of using either hand to write, I should train myself to write with my right hand. He smiled, as if this suddenly made everything make sense. I've looked into how ambidextrous brains work and have a vague understanding that quite often they're a bit of a mess with things passing from one side to the other in quite odd ways. He elaborated on this in a way that made my history make such perfect sense on a neurological level.
I've got an ambidextrous brain, he thinks, which means that when I was born and wasn't breathing, my brain recovered from the damage caused by hypoxia at birth which is connected with all kinds of mental health problems and can cause cerebral palsy, schizophrenia and other things I am quite glad I don't have. The reason I could recover from this was because of being ambidextrous, which meant I could develop using different pathways to those which were damaged at birth.
We then talked about early deafness and how that often makes touch compensate for hearing and how, in an ambidextrous child, particularly once my hearing returned after grommets, the pathways for my senses were interwoven. I often think about sounds in terms of texture, tastes and smells as colours but had just thought this was me being a poet/artist type. Apparently not; I'm a very mild synaesthete according to him.
All of this means that I process information in a different way to other people, a way that is driven by intuition rather than ordered learning, so it's little wonder that I was always getting poor grades for effort, good grades for attainment at school and hated having to copy things out when I felt that I could just grasp the concept quickly. Even now, I'm very weak on process driven skills which rely on learning compared to how quickly I can absorb new concepts.
It's not all good, though. Having this fluid processing style means I'm not going to do well in anything that's measured in rigid terms or relies on retention of information, particularly if it's to do with sequences rather than patterns and if it relies on single-sense input. It also means I will always have slightly unpredictable responses to stimuli and seemingly incongruous things can trigger depression in ways I can't really justify.
Now, I know the temptation at this point is to just give a sigh and attribute everything to this particular atypical neurology, but I'm really wary of being too fascinated by it and wanting to understand myself purely in this light. I don't want to be defined in these terms, but I also recognise that if I can improve my attentiveness and get support in re-training myself out of habits I've built up through my life, I can probably improve my productivity, my chances of holding down a steady job and perhaps even learn how to relax by doing nothing rather than relaxing by doing things, which is how I do it now.
I don't want to be a banner-waving nutter using a medical description as an excuse for all kinds of odd behaviours. Just as the physiotherapy is a tool for me to improve my posture and from that my general sense of health and to avoid pain in my arms, neck and back, I want to view this new phase of psychiatric intervention as providing me with a toolkit to make me able to be a little more grounded, more emotionally honest and to accept that I'm as entitled to be the way I am as anyone is and that being neurologically very different is something I shouldn't be ashamed of, just like my height.
I'm looking forward to being content to stand tall and to stand out.