One of the most frustrating consequences of my brain damage is that I seem to have lost my inner voice. I can’t get myself to think within myself. Every thought manifests itself as a conversation with someone, though they never reply. It’s a sort of Tourette, as if I can’t stop myself saying what I am thinking, just fortunately not aloud. Actually, that does happen too, and I am brutifully aware that this might upset folk, in fact I have become very sensitive that I might have said the wrong thing. It goes round and round in my brain afterwards. In her fascinating film, Me and My New Brain, brain injured Charlie Elmore interviewed a woman who couldn’t stop saying “Thank You” whenever anyone is speaking.
I can feel the muscles in my brain exercising when I try stop myself commenting with my voice. Then I began wondering if I might be able to get my mind fit again. So I started setting myself neural challenges. One particular routine is to look ahead at signs on the road when cycling. Physically, I force myself not to look down at my basket at all. I used to get neck pains, like a crick, when I kept my head up, like swimming breastroke. As a result I would never take the long view, which may reduce the risk of hitting a pothole, but doesn’ help checking for junctions ahead. I decided to embrace that pain, to turn it around using it to focus on the inner voice part of the brain. In The Brain’s Way of Thinking, Norman Dodge talks about using pain to repair brain damage. ‘While it is hard to welcome pain,’ he writes, ‘using it to rally oneself can feel constructive, knowing one is taking charge and using the pain spike to heal.’
Mentally on the bike I make sure all my thoughts are within myelf while keeping up my chin. Sign posts make the best targets, but trees are good too. The challenge is to ensure none of my thoughts are being spoken to anyone else, silently. Initially I found this hard work, neurally exhausted by the end of a five-mile ride. It is a bit better now. I am sure this helps control my thinking, except perhaps when I am stressed or emotionally disturbed by relationships and stuff. I do the same walking streets, and perhaps am re-learning the journalist’s skill of only ever listening, never using one’s own experiences to impress or impose. Certainly the pain in my neck is less noticeable, and to an extent I now welcome it as a means to redirect the mental wavelengths somewhere else.