Back at it.

Between the devastating psychological testing results and the intensity of planning and carrying out a surprise birthday party for my mother, who has now completed 85 years on the planet, I have not been in the mood to sit and write.

The party came off last night, a huge hit.  My mother has been a very active part of her community for forty years.  Everyone came out to celebrate with her.  At least a hundred people.  It was, as I have said, huge.

I hired the local Klezmer band.  People danced with the children.  Not to say that children aren’t people, but, oh, how would you say that anyway?  You know what I mean.  Grownups got up and grabbed up the children and danced.

Everyone brought food.  Five long banquet tables groaned under the weight of finger foods and covered dishes.  Another table for wine and beer, another for hot drinks, another for deserts.  The Cake, too.  Egad, there was a lot of food, and it all got eaten up.  What little was left I sent home with my son, to take to his lab full of hungry graduate students.

A wonderful friend of mine, a fine fine fiddler, came out, and we had a few tunes while the band took a break.  That was a real treat.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m an old-time clawhammer banjo player

You can click on the tunes and hear them for free on there.

After my last post, which had a lot of doom and gloom about it, I put in a call to my psychiatrist.  I left him a message, carefully worded, no drama, one doc to another, you know.

And I know that what he heard in my carefully controlled message was:  help, I’ve just been diagnosed with a wormhole in my mind, what the hell has caused this, and is it likely to eat the rest of my already poorly functioning brain?

He sent me a text message.  My shrink likes text messages, I don’t know why.  The text said, in all caps, “MEANS COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT PRIMARILY SHORT-INTERMEDIATE MEMORY FROM CHRONIC BIPOLAR DISEASE AS MAIN CAUSE”.

Somehow I found that soothing, as if by confirming the meaning of the diagnosis without addressing my deepest fear, that fear would be ablated.  Or maybe I would just forget to be afraid.  Wouldn’t that be nice?

Ah, but I’ve forgotten to tell you what all of this is about.  Wouldn’t you know it.

This past month I spent two days having a battery of cognitive testing done.

One of the neuropsychiatric tests I underwent was the “Story Recall Test.”  The tester reads you a short story that is designed to be very interesting and filled with unique and colorful words.  You are then asked to repeat the story verbatim, using as many of the original words as possible.  This process is repeated twice more, so that you have the opportunity to listen to and repeat the story three times.

While listening to the story, I had a feeling of near-deja vu.  Why?  Because I was experiencing the exact sense of loss of control of my memory that prompted me to ask for the whole battery of neuropsych testing to begin with.  I listened to the story, heard it, understood it, and then it was as if I could actually see the story vaporizing before my eyes.  Poof.  Gone.  All those beautiful words, up in smoke.

I was able to recall seven percent of the story.  SEVEN PERCENT!  Barely a skeleton.

When I think about the irony of this happening to someone whose entire life has been devoted to listening to other people’s stories, waiting until they leave the room, and then writing those stories down, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I have been doing both, by turns.

My psychologist is triumphant.  She has been telling me for years that I cannot possibly return to the practice of medicine, and although I have not done so for sundry reasons, she now has objective evidence to back up her assertion that I would fall apart like a box of matches under the strain of any of the myriad tasks necessary for returning to practice.

I am being patient with her.  She is right, and I know it.  What I would really like to do is scream and throw chairs in her office, but it would frighten her, I think, and it would certainly traumatize my dog.  So for now I am trying to content myself with ceasing to feel guilty about being really and truly disabled.

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  1. I sometimes think that neurocognitive testing is more of a harm than a help. I went through it a little while ago, because of all of the cognitive dysfunction I have experienced since my ECT. The only concrete result I received was that I had trouble in areas of processing speed, but I’m told this is quite common for people with anxiety.

    Now, I’ve suffered anxiety pretty much all of my life, but the problems only surfaced after electroconvulsive therapy. So basically the exhaustive (and exhausting) battery of tests told me nothing worthwhile.

    I had one of those near-complete blank outs on a different portion of the test, one I expected I would be extremely proficient at (word recall). It was exactly as you describe, “Poof. Gone.” It really upset me at the time.

    Here’s how I see your situation, though. The stories you used to hear and write down, those were about actual people. They had faces and names and lives attached to them. You can’t be expected to tune in as closely to something you know isn’t real (at least not in my opinion). I don’t know if that helps at all.

    I’m glad your mom’s party went so well. That’s truly wonderful!

    • Ruby, I always appreciate your insightful comments. It’s so hard to differentiate whether cognitive deficits are due to disease, or meds, or other treatments. Yet it’s immaterial in the end. We still have to soldier through each day, riding herd on our unruly brains.

      I’m sure there’s a lot of truth in your observation that taking a history from a live, breathing person would be much more memorable than listening to an irrelevant story! Makes me wonder whether I could still do it. Let’s see, I could set up a tape recorder and tape the interview, then write down the history as usual, then listen to the tape and compare. Pretty simple test. I used to teach history-taking this way to medical students, except I video taped the interviews and then debriefed the students on their communication skills. I hope we managed to produce some doctors with better communication skills than we tend to see nowadays! But I am on a digression roll here, yes?
      Happy holidays to you and everyone!

      • “Let’s see, I could set up a tape recorder and tape the interview,”

        But isn’t that what you’re doing with your writing in general? Where does your mind go when you write your characters? Do you remember what you yourself have written? Or maybe that IS what happens to you and, if so, then yeah, its pretty scary.

        But you’re written several thousands or words in your novel, right? Do you have to go back over previous chapters to make sure you haven’t written those same stories again? Or written them so differently that you don’t remember them?

        You know my writing style is filled with a false
        self-effacement. Fish slaps me when I do that. But, jeez, I think you’re mental acuity has more stamina than you think!

        I think that, in your anxiety for perfect performance [you ARE a doctor, fer-crise-sake!] you’re putting inordinately pressure on yourself.

        Put that in your pipe and smoke it. There’s a shop right down the corner. We’ll toke up together.


        “Faithful friends who are dear to us
        They gather near to us once more”

        Like I said to Fish, “Happy cod-nukkah”! Oy. I think I hoit myself!

  2. Laura,

    I’ve been off on one of my extraordinarily exorbitant expressive jumps of thought for weeks now, and I’m mostly concerned about getting socially clumsy, as is my wont. As I write this now I’m thinking, “I’m losing it, right now, TD. Be careful. Don’t say something stupid”

    So I don’t trust myself to say anything to you except that I care.

    Fish had some neuro- tests recently as well. But he has been obsessed about Alzheimer’s. Maybe he should be looking elsewhere. I don’t know.

    I keep alert for the signs of own upcoming depression. But what can I do. I’ve been over-medicated before and I’ll avoid it as long as possible.

    I want to believe that your intelligence and creativity will guide. I want to believe that you are buying into HER fears. But I don’t know enough to challenge her diagnosis. I would hold off on labeling you until the last possible moment. I would most likely be wrong, but you’d know what my preferences were and let you make the decision.

    What a cop out, huh?

    I just want the best for you.


    • TD, I think you’re great. I consider myself extremely lucky to be the grateful recipient of some of your bouts of insight. You’re right on.

      Nevertheless, I long for a rubber room full of cheap fragile breakable objects that I could smash to smithereens.

      Here’s to surviving the ups and downs, and taking the hands that our friends, “real ” or “virtual,” extend to us in true warm concern. I hope you and Fish make it through the dark days in one piece.

      • “…a rubber room full of cheap fragile breakable objects that I could smash to smithereens.”


        Years ago I weighed about 300 lbs. My addiction was to food. In those days, I thought about renting blacked out storefront, emptying it out, and, with all my might, trashing all the food I COULD beg, borrow, or steal. Throwing it all away, with intense anger, against the walls, floors, and ceilings. I thought my actions would heal me.

        Looking back, I wonder what the local police blotter would have said: ??? Even in MY wild
        imagination I can’t write it out.

        Large frozen containers filled with hard, cold, ice cream. Smashed with sledgehammers. [evil laugh]…[Evil Laugh]…[EVIL LAUGH]

        “Reporters found the two Jewish doctors [of course they would make note of our religion] convulsed with laughter, grinning with mad glee. They said it was a food fight gone viral. Dr. Schulman was contrite. The other man would not give reporters his a name. The judge sentenced him to 30 community service sweeping the freeways in his wheelchair, after he yelled out: “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!”, made references to Victor Hugo, and spit at the judge.

        In the spring, he will gave his own reality show on MTV.”

  3. two weeks, no post! hope all is okay.


    • Two weeks? Already? Hm. Time flies when you’re….um….dissociated, a little, I think.

      But thanks for the kick in the @#$%. I will now write a post, if my poor excuse for internet will stay on long enough.

      Thanks, TD. How are you doing?


      • Alms? Alms?

        • That is a very beautiful old tzedaka (charity) box for the Jewish National Fund, which as you, TD, probably know but others may not, is responsible for having restored Israel’s forests. Mark Twain in The Innocents Abroad (mid 1800’s) describes the completely deforested condition of The Holy Land at that time, as it was until the Jewish National Fund began its work in 1903, buying up parcels of land and planting olive groves. Now the North of Israel is forested green as it was in the times of King David, and olive groves and vineyards provide the Land with olives and wine to rival any in the world.

          But TD, dear, were you trying to tell me something here?

  4. Laura, that sounds like a wonderful party! I’m so glad your mom has so many people in her life that want to celebrate her 85 triumphant years on this planet!

    But right now, I’m celebrating your life and your practice. I know you to be an extraordinarily intelligent woman, with a kind soul, and lovely writing. Having bipolar disorder didn’t change that. In fact, it probably makes you more so. But, I still hurt for you when you are relating the feelings of loss involving your practice and even yourself. I don’t think you lost yourself at all. We are ever evolving and changing beings.

    I nearly lost my position at the beginning of the year because I couldn’t find a resolution to my babysitting problem. Jobs are hard to come by these days, especially teaching jobs. I knew that if I let it go, I may have a difficult time finding another position. But, for me, it’s not just the job. It’s where and why I do it, with a combination of the people I do it with and for. It’s not a job, it’s a vocation.

    I know that pain, even in part. It wasn’t just your career, by the sounds of it. It was your life. Sometimes, we don’t choose things for ourselves, they choose us. And, I see that this is an extremely difficult transition to face.

    Even if you are “disabled” in the sense that you cannot continue your work, I truly doubt that you are “disabled” in the nature that you are incapable of typical function. And how reliable are those tests anyway? Ruby was right. How are you expected to remember the details of an irrelevant story? I doubt I could. Does that mean I’m not fit to be a teacher? I’m not sure. I know that there are a lot of flashcards and post-it notes involved so I can remember students’ names!

    I know that you will, in time, find your way. I understand your anger, and it’s completely legitimate. Try not to take it out on yourself. It’s not your fault! You are wonderful, and I want you to know that.

    • Thank you, Lulu. I really appreciate your input and encouragement. It helps.

      • I know the power of kind words from a near stranger. I also know the frustration and self-loathing that comes with having certain limitations. That makes me understand the magnitude of this. It wasn’t just a job. And this isn’t just about that either.

        This whole thing makes me want to go get a memory function test to prove a point. I am certain that I would do poorly. Having a poor memory frustrates the dickens out of me sometimes. Especially when I word drop. Do you do that? I’m interested to know if others experience that phenomenon. It’s not too bad when I’m writing, but when I’m speaking, it’s annoying. It makes the whole public speaking aspect of teaching difficult.


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