I would like to point out that I did pretty well as a blissfully ignorant soldier and truck driver, but that's beside the point I'm trying to make here. For the last few weeks, starting literally the day after we returned from Burning Man, I have been having my brain stretched by my neuropsychologist.
These evaluations and tests run the board from the kind of surveys that ask you about your feelings to tests of my ability to retain information to my critical thinking abilities and perception. The results, just from where I'm sitting, have been interesting.
Also exhausting. I leave these sessions feeling wrung out. Some of these tests are extremely hard, forcing me to really push my brain to manage them. Thinking can be hard work, especially when you are forcing yourself into areas that don't work so well due to some traumatic incident. Like a stroke.
So what have I learned just from my observations? My ability to retain and recall information is crap. I forget things really fast or lose them entirely in moments. This is even more pronounced when it comes to numbers. I simply cannot hold numbers in my head. This helps me understand why I am so bad with handling money these days. I can't keep the idea that we only have X to spend when I'm looking at an item that costs Y. Trying to keep those two figures is too much for me, so all I see is Y, and forget that X even exists.
This is why I ask Kirsten for permission to spend any money that isn't cash-in-hand. Even a five-dollar download for Civilization VI has to be cleared through her. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, since I think it's good to have one person being the final word on a family's finances, but it can be annoying. I'm a 52-year-old guy who needs permission to buy a book. But we deal with it.
While my ability to retrieve information is shot, I am much more likely to recall information if I'm prompted. We've done several exercises where there were lists of words in pairs. Trying to just remember the words was almost impossible. But when prompted with the first word, I was usually able to give the correct response. Same goes for the long lists of single words. Trying to remember them was a wash, but when asked for them by a category, like "vehicles" or "furniture", I was suddenly able to remember far more of the words than when just asked for the list.
I've also done many tests designed to examine my reasoning. Mostly puzzles and following directions. I'm happy to say those features seem to be working well. But again, when numbers come in I start to flounder. I suspect that my life-long troubles with math have only been made worse by the stroke. Thank Halford for calculators.
Where does this leave me? I'm not sure. I'm waiting for Dr. Dahl to score my last few assessments to see if we need to do a few more to nail down my exact diagnosis or if we are ready to move ahead with a treatment plan for my depression and hair-trigger emotional swings. I'm good with either path. To me, the important thing is moving forward.
But oddly, the most telling thing about my psyche that I've learned about in these past weeks didn't come in a nice office, but at Burning Man. I've volunteered with the Porta Potty Project a few times. It's a team that does education about how to keep the 1,400 blue rooms on the Playa in good shape, goes around to make sure that each john has toilet paper, and locks off the ones that have been vandalized or, um, desecrated beyond usability. This year, I learned that we might become an official part of the team that runs Black Rock City, and I might be able to drive my truck as an official vehicle to do the necessary work at the banks that lie in the deep Playa.
The way the concept of being able to drive in an official capacity again hit me is hard to describe. I spent nearly twenty years in the transportation industry, most of that as a truck driver. Even if it is just driving a couple of guys and boxes of toilet paper around, it will mean being a driver again. It will mean being part of a team. It will mean I have that part of me back if only for one week a year.
Here's hoping it happens.