Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Respect for the BRAIN!

As a dancer, I have a lot of respect for bodies. They are capable of so much! This has been helpful since I'm learning probably more than I ever thought I could know about body function in physiology class. We recently started learning about the central nervous system - just in time for me to finish reading the book Siezed by Eve Laplante.

Siezed was recommended to me by my mother. We've enjoyed sharing thoughts on books this year. The brain has always been something I've had at least a vague interest in. My father works remarkably hard- doing brain research. He's conducted this research my whole life, and even won research awards from the Epilepsy Society and years worth of grants from the NIH (National Institute of Health). You can imagine how terrified he was to hear that my mother had a grand mal seizure last year at work - he knows the implications of something like that.

I like to think I have a broader knowledge of epilepsy and all that it entails thanks to my father's research and my mother's health. But I learned so much from reading this book- another book that I truly believe all should read. The book discussed how so often those with epilepsy try to hide it because they think those who know they have the disease will think less of them for it. How terrible to have an illness and feel the need to hide it from the world when it has such a great affect on your quality of life.

Siezed focuses primarily on those with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE), a kind of disease I think most have never even heard of. People with TLE don't always have the typical seizure that the general public pictures when they hear the word. They don't physically seize- but their brain does. Some of these most would not even recognize as a seizure (my mother didn't even with a brain researcher for a husband.) Ever had deja vu? The deja vu feeling is brought on by activity in your brain that resembles a seizure. Don't worry - having deja vu doesn't mean you have epilepsy... The sensation of "jamais vu" is a form of seizure. It is like deja vu in reverse- you are in a familiar place- a street you drive everyday for example- but can't figure out which way to go. A strong smell - known as an aura - can be a form of seizure or a sign a seizure is coming. Not being able to speak, when you know you should - seizure. A feeling of doom- seizure. Obsessiveness - could be a seizure... and worst of all - the altering of your personality - seizure, and symptom of TLE. This disease is so life altering- and so difficult to treat (anticonvulsants have little affect on most).

Other interesting facts I gained from this book? Chubby brown-eyed babies tend to be quite gregarious while skinny blue-eyed babies are often shy (explains my occasional shyness- I was a very skinny, very blue-eyed baby...). Most people we now consider geniuses most likely had TLE- or at least displayed many of its symptoms. Hypergraphia (a symptom of TLE where you write endlessly) is believed to be the reason we have such works as Crime and Punishment or Notes from the Underground. Van Gogh's personality quirks as a result of TLE could have been why he cut off his own ear... and the list goes on and on. Similarly, many people incarcerated for violent crimes could be victims of TLE... A tiny scar on your brain from a head bump, a fever, even deprivation of oxygen at birth, all could lead to TLE... There is just so much that is unknown about the brain and it manages to be terrifying and fascinating at the same time.

So anyway... read this book - it helps with your world awareness - always a good thing. You might even learn something about your own brain! Mostly I learned that there is still a lot that we have left to learn... No one can claim they complete understand the workings of the brain... It is our body's last frontier...

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