I’ve got the study of the brain on the brain. I am reading the book The Brain that Changes Itself, mentioned in my last post “In Our Eyes,” and scrutinizing my old artwork with new eyes. Here are two pictures I drew (ink on paper) in 1976, trying to make sense of my depression. The first, “ObsessedBrain,” shows, at the top, my struggle with suicidal thoughts and in the lower portion of the picture, my memories of the times that I attempted suicide in my teens and at age 22. One eye is open, one colored shut. Is a part of my brain on stop and another part on go? I notice that my mouth is a grill or a set of bars–not a positive sight. I like that I wear earrings–that as artist, I gave myself some dignity despite rough times.
In the picture below, “FoodBrain,” I’m struggling with my obsession to stuff down pain by overeating. I see that my struggle may have had something to do with what happened to my brain when I was starving for those weeks before surgery; I lost close to 3 pounds then–from 6 lbs. 7 oz. to 4 lbs. My mother said that I was “all ribs” and looked like a squirrel that had gotten squashed by a car. (Thanks, Mom.) In the center of the picture is what looks like a limp neuron with unconnected synapses. What happened to my poor brain during surgery and then afterward, considering that I had no (and I mean zilch) contact with my mother for almost two weeks? (In 1952, the fear of infection ruled!) My head is severed from my body, like a disconnected light bulb.
In my reading and my conversations online, I am exploring the effects of starvation on the developing brain and the ways one can heal the brain. I am also interested in how the brain is affected by infant surgery without anesthesia. In the past, I’ve been addicted to nicotine and food. I’ve also abused alcohol in my early teens but was never addicted. Then, in my early twenties, I became addicted to Valium that a dentist had prescribed in order to treat my TMJ (tempero mandibular joint) disorder. Do addictive tendencies result from early trauma to the brain? Do learning disabilities result? What is the brain chemistry of PTSD? I want to know so that I can do more to heal my brain. In his book The Brain that Changes Itself, Dr. Doidge says that in the course of writing his book, “I saw people rewire their brains with their thoughts, to cure previously incurable obsessions and traumas . . . the brain can change its own structure and function through thought and activity.” I want to be that brain.