Short essays by Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., the author of TING AND I: A Memoir of Love, Courage and Devotion, published in September 2011 by Outskirts Press (Parker, CO, USA), available from outskirtspress.com/tingandi, Barnes and Noble [bn.com], and Amazon [amazon.com], in paperback or ebook formats. Please visit us at tingandi.com for more information.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO MY WHITE PICKET FENCE? Editor's Note, Foreword, Poem
In the nearly three years I have worked
together with Janet Schliff as editor and coach for her memoir, I have been
fortunate to get to know an exceptional woman with an unusual story that
contains lessons for us all: brain injuries, such as hers, are invisible, yet
they produce often puzzling behavior that can alienate victims from friends and
families just when the afflicted most need the love and caring of these former
Imagine having to relinquish the career
that you love, due to a growing morbid fear of germs. Imagine being cured of
that by a radical brain operation that removed a tumor the size of an orange,
leaving the part of the brain in the immediate vicinity of the excision damaged
both by the previous pressure from the tumor and by the loss of brain matter
due to the operation.
Writing this book has required unusual
perseverance. Janet persisted despite severe back pains (requiring a back
brace), skin cancer surgeries, ulcers, liver problems, tendinosis (requiring a
boot), cardiovascular issues, painful urinary tract infections, her dog Happy’s
canine medical issues, and relationship disappointments…yet, weekly she came to
our meetings with her writing and correcting done, often lugging in backup
Janet has been left both hyper-sensitive to
the world and less able to self-censor her comments about what she experiences.
We have joked, though Janet finds joking
uncomfortable because it can be hurtfully ambiguous, that she should wear a
button, “Handle me with care…I’m brain-injured.” Yet, she and others like her
want not to be treated as so very different from the rest of us. Just given a
bit more slack, a bit more care, a bit more love. So much hurt and
misunderstanding could be prevented if people were a bit more careful. Those
who read Janet’s story will want to do just that from now on.
I believe you will find Janet’s story
intriguing, inspiring, and enlightening.
Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D.
Foreword: In the Eye of the Storm
you have seen one brain injury, then you’ve seen ONE brain injury!” Sadly,
this statement is not heard often enough in the world of brain injuries. There
is too great a tendency to typify behaviors and possible outcomes. While there
are some impacts commonly experienced, many
factors are important to consider: the
person’s preinjury functional status, the cause of the injury (trauma, stroke,
or tumor), the area affected, the post-injury rehabilitation treatment, and the
natural supports in each individual’s life. These all play significant
roles in the recovery process and long-term outcomes.
Braininjury effects are invisible
until a deficit area is stimulated, resulting
in anobservable behavior that can
be cognitive, emotional, behavioral, or social. There are areas of the brain that help to
regulate behavior and allow forcontrolled responses. These
areas allow us to think things through and thenrespond. Other areas of the
brain are more reactive, in that they respond without ourthinking, based on body signals received that are related to anger or
stress. Brain injury
can result in structural, neuronal, and/or chemical changes in thebrain’s functioning. When the
responsive area of the brain sustains damage,there is less thinking things through, and more
impulsive, acting-out reactions.This can result in a range
of emotional upsets, including aggression,depression and anxiety. The observable responses may include
attention deficit, impulsivity, disinhibition, poorinsight, impaired judgment, and anger-managementstruggles.
is the impact of the storm that wreaks havoc on what was once a person’s
previously well-controlled life. A low frustration threshold, high intolerance,
and exaggerated reactivity can affect both the individual and the individual’s
interpersonal relationships. A vicious circle of increased occurrence,
decreased control, and increased difficulties may result. Feelings of resentment,
insecurity, inferiority, and isolation may begin to take control of social
activities. Because the affected person
appears unchanged,those around the
person who is within the storm question the validity of the issues, or
question the person’s ability to exercise control, wrongfully believing that if the person really wanted to, or just tried
harder, he or she could manage and control the behavior.
This is the storm
that Janet Schliff navigates daily. In the years that I have known Janet, I
have watched her struggle with how the impact of her brain injury, resulting
from a cerebral tumor and its removal, has caused deviations from her
pre-injury pattern of behavior; I have seen her frustration as she has tried to
recognize and derail her negative reactivity; and most of all, I have known also that she suffers the deep
emotional heartache of having people in the various circles of her life
question the honesty of her struggle and pain. I have become aware, sadly,
of their inability, or unwillingness, to acknowledge the self-imposed regimen
she follows in seeking assistance through traditional and alternative medical
practices, as well as by attending multiple support groups, in her attempts to
utilize any and every treatment or strategy to exorcise that which she wishes
she could remove from her life.
could have easily succumbed to the weight of this invisible, residual, and
chronic impact of her brain injury, this permanent damage to both her
frontal and temporal lobes, but that is not who Janet is. The same tenacity
that inadvertently sometimes fires off her brain’s overreaction is what also
keeps her fired up to work on these areas of her life. It is a daunting task to
keep aiming for a moving target that arises and detonates without warning. Yet Janet pushes herself to learn what it’s
made of, and to face it head-on.Janet
has come further along than even she realizes…because she lives in the eye
of the storm. Her unwavering
determination, and the support of those who genuinely care enough to weather the
storm right beside her, will continue to ensure positive outcomes in her life.
Adaptation to the “new normal” of
post-brain injury is about progression, not perfection.
Dr. Lois P. Tannenbaum
Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology
Master of Science in Education
Certified Brain Injury Specialist
Former Director, Mid-Hudson Brain Injury
Board President, Brain Injury Association
of New York State
[Just to let you know: Lois has emailed and
texted me the sweetest words to thank me for cards I sent, things I do for her
and others in our support group, and more. She is so smart, sweet, and just,
plain good, and I LOVE her for that!]
For the coming year, I will be excerpting, weekly, material from this fine book by Janet Johnson Schliff, M.S.Ed.. She wrote it over a three-year period, with some coaching and editing help from me, through my business, WriteYourBookWithMe.com. The book is available from amazon.com and from its publisher, outskirtspress.com: What Ever Happened to My White Picket Fence?