Reading out loud each day, making an effort to understand what you are reading as you read it aloud, seems to help brain clarity.
I have read about stroke victims who have lost the ability to read (i.e. can’t take in information from the printed word) yet who retain the ability to write. It was suggested that reading is perceptual and basically passive, whereas writing is intentional, and active – i.e. the two functions use different parts of the brain.
I found this intensely interesting. I was alone when I had a stroke. Paradoxically, this may have been a real blessing. It made it easier to listen to my own instincts rather than being advised by someone else to just sit or lie quietly and not to try to talk.
It was the fact that I couldn’t speak, could only make gargling sounds, that first alerted me to the fact that I was having a stroke. I’d woken up in the middle of the night feeling dreadful and when I was making myself a cup of tea my right hand had suddenly curled in on itself. I thought my hand must be cramping, and kept pushing it open with my other hand. It seemed to come right after a few minutes of this. I sat down and tried to read but somehow couldn’t. It was only when my cat came over to me and murmured, and I tried to say hello to him, that I realised I couldn’t speak.
I wouldn’t have been able to phone anyone but, perhaps blessedly, my brain was too befuddled to grasp this problem. Instead I was preoccupied with the implications of what was happening. I knew about brain plasticity, knew that neighbouring parts of the brain can take over functions of damaged parts if they are stimulated early enough. My instincts were telling me to (a) keep moving, tensing and releasing as many tiny muscles all over my body as I could, and (b) keep trying to speak.
Eventually I was able to force out a word or two. Interestingly it was easier to form vowels than consonants. “Oo er a aice at!” I told my bewildered cat. (Later I would learn that the left hemisphere of the brain – which controls the right side of the body – specialises in fast moving sounds like consonants, whereas the right hemisphere favours slow moving sounds and intonations.)
I couldn’t think of anything else to say to Tiger so I turned to my elderly border collie. I had been worrying about the fact that she needed two different kinds of medication to stay healthy and if I was going to end up in hospital, which seemed likely, what was going to happen to her? I tried to say to her “You need to be looked after” but all I could manage was “You need to be… You need to be… You need to be…” I knew exactly what I wanted to say, but simply couldn’t quite bring the words to the tip of my tongue. It was beyond frustrating.
Yet my instincts were telling me that I needed to keep talking. And then (perhaps literally) I had a brain wave: I should read out loud. I still had the e-book open that I had been trying to read earlier. It was a struggle. I was slurring and stuttering but I just kept on forcing myself to read out loud, trying to form the sounds correctly. And gradually my language came back.
Later there was an ultra-sound of the arteries in my neck and a CAT scan of my brain at the hospital, but eventually I was allowed to return home. The next few days and weeks were difficult. Headaches and a very impaired memory. I found it difficult to focus and also had difficulty in processing multiple streams of data. For example I was trying to do my shopping at a supermarket and there was background music playing. I became quite panicky because I simply couldn’t cope with this additional sensory stimulus. There were times when I felt confused; there was just to much sensory data for my brain to process.
But gradually things got better. I had thankfully resisted all attempts to put me on medication. My body doesn’t handle drugs well. I found that reading aloud each day helped a lot. I think maybe because it is a complex activity that engages many different parts of the brain. Rather like a work-out for the brain.
The other thing that helped me beyond measure was having my bars run. By great good fortune I was already familiar with this process. A friend is a wonderful Bars practitioner and I asked her to give me a session. It involves very gentle – feather-light – touching and holding of 32 different points on the head and the process lasts an hour or more. The next day my head felt a little sore all over and then, the following day, I was suddenly back to normal! I hadn’t felt like this since I had the stroke.
The effects of the Bars session gradually wore off, so I had another session a month later and will probably repeat in a week or two, depending on how I feel. But Bars has been a tremendous help.