Meta-cognition After TBI: Learning How to Learn
When I graduated high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life yet. This did NOT seem to be acceptable to my parents or teachers. My understanding as a high school senior was that because I had a good enough GPA, and because college graduates are able to make more money than those who do not go to college, I had to pick a job that I would want to work until I retired, and study accordingly… There was so much pressure put on this decision about studying for what I wanted to do for the REST of my life. It was presented as if this choice determined what I would do until I died! That was a hard decision to make about the following four or more decades when I was not even two decades old. I believe that the pressure placed on high school seniors with the ideology of this being the decision that determines the rest of their life is counter-intuitive. I do not regret any part of my life, but the way college was presented seemed like a factory of social lemmings or a cookie cutter for workers of all kinds. It is a bad ideology upon reflection.
Even though I was good at math, science, and writing, I had a love for music; and if this decision determined the work that I would do for the rest of my life, it had to be something that I could see myself doing for decades: something that I loved. I had been in many bands and produced music since middle school, so I had a love for music. I ended up studying recording arts, music theory, and music business.
Since that fateful day in May 2011, I couldn’t play an instrument anymore, but because I used to produce music on my computer as well, I wondered if I could still produce and compose after my brain injury. I had loved music all of my life. In the past few years before the accident, I had designed and set up a recording studio in the basement of my apartment in Brooklyn; and I had started a sound rental company with some friends where I would rent out music gear for events.
After the brain injury, I had sold off the vast majority of my sound gear, but I had kept the essentials to produce. My mom got me a desk and some speaker stands and we set it all up and I had a production suite again! I did not know what would happen when I tried to produce a beat again, but there is only one way to find out. It was certainly more difficult and slow for me to produce, but I still knew where to put the beats, chords, notes etc. And I even still had my same style! I remembered! It felt amazing to create a beat. I had lost a lot and I had to start over on many things concerning music, which, again, was very important to me.
Playing an instrument was nearly impossible for me, and my voice was low and slow and it took a lot of effort to talk, let alone sing, but I still remembered the language of music! It was this unbelievable moment when I was able to listen to a track that I just made and say “that’s pretty cool!” As much as it sucks to start over with just about everything physical, my cognitive abilities were coming back! And that was awesome! This is the unfinished track that I made that day and improved upon:
The brain injury I had suffered in May was kind of like someone had hit the reset button on the video game of my life. I had to relearn how to walk, talk, eat, balance, handle a ball (or any object for that matter), run, do jumping jacks, jump-rope, dance, and more (I still cannot run, dance, jump-rope, or do jumping jacks). I also had to relearn how to think. I had to learn how to learn so that I could teach my brain and body how to do everything that I had lost. I do not believe I was wronged, but even if I was, blaming someone or something would not change the fact that I was limited and it was up to me to improve. I had damaged my cerebellum (motor control) and my corpus collossum (communication between left and right brain) and I had to either make the most out of what still worked or wallow; and wallowing would get me nowhere. I did not know it at the time, but this was where I really became extremely interested in the brain and how it functions to improve itself.
I found myself thinking back to my childhood constantly — because that is when one learns how to do the basic things that I had lost the ability to do — and had been working to regain for months. Children build new synapses in their brains everyday, and I had to build alternate synapses around the damaged areas of my brain (the brain has an incredible ability to change itself). I now had to tell my brain to build. This meant that I had to attempt every day to do things that I could no longer do. This was and is extremely frustrating, but years of playing music had given me the patience (See Earlier Post: Musician’s Friend). I somehow had the will to try and fail and try again.
I would think about my early childhood and how I ate a lot, slept a lot, and played a lot (or interacted with my environment). It makes sense that it must take a lot of fuel and rest to build the synapses that are encouraged by interacting with your environment (playing). My brain was in a place where it needed to build new synapses. Thus, even if I did not know what my brain needed, IT did! I was constantly tired and hungry the entire time that I was in the hospital where I was fed only 2,000 calories of liquid processed crap through a tube in my stomach; and ever since I could eat (THANK GOD!), I still was almost constantly hungry. I had not learned much about brain building nutrition yet, but my brain was hungry for real food! I really craved red meat, eggs, and fish which I have come to learn are all excellent brain building foods. I also ate some not so good stuff, but I find it amazing and obvious that I craved some of the things that my brain needed to build new pathways.
The fact that I still had the ability to write music was beginning to drive my interest in building all of my cognitive abilities. I continued to do cognitive tests and exercises daily as well as all of my vision exercises and physical therapies. I was determined! And I am so thankful that I have that trait. I will forever be learning how I personally learn and I will be finding methods to retain information or learn old skills that I have lost, and new skills that I encounter. After the outcome of the music production experiment, I was more confident than I had been since the accident that I had the mind to get better; and a mind can teach the brain what to do… A mind is indeed a terrible thing to waste.