Feeling color & other traumatic brain injury weirdness

May 31 2018 | Guest post by Mary Beth Huwe
Feeling color & other traumatic brain injury weirdness
Brain Art by Bookful Anita Designs

I never much loved roller skating. There was a certain surrendering into the weirdness of moving with wheels on my feet that I just couldn't allow myself to do. I lacked trust in my own balance, and I had full faith in the hardness of the roller rink floor, which I really didn't want to meet with my face.

But even more disconcerting than the potential of busting out my teeth was what happened if I DID get into skating. When I took the skates off, it felt discombobulating to move in the way that previously felt normal. Without wheels on my feet I was confused. And I hated it.

I felt weirdly seasick, like a fish out of water, or like a fish on a bicycle, or like some other uncomfortable fish simile. It was unsettling, and so I ceased strapping mobilizing things to my feet, thank you very much. No roller skates, skis, snowboards, or roller-blades, or other such heralds of physical disorientation.

But we're not the ultimate coordinators of our lives. Activities that we definitely DID NOT PLAN will show up on our doorsteps quite uninvited. This happened to me in December 2016 with a traumatic brain injury, and I've now had a wrong-footed motion-sick fish feeling for 506 consecutive days.

Because I hit the fuck out of my head.

The Crash

Just after my husband screamed out my name in warning, there was an almighty boom as an 18-wheeler hit the back of our car. We toppled, flipped over, and then settled in the median of the divided highway.

I remember the sounds most clearly. My husband and baby screaming. The thumps and thuds and cracking of the car. My own grunts as I bit my tongue and hit my head.

From impact to rest felt like forever — a busy, noisy, disorienting, overstimulating forever. It was like being shaken up in a tunnel of noise and metal.

As the car jerked and flipped I remember thinking, "This is still happening," but really having no idea what "this" was.

We all survived, which felt miraculous. Like the benevolent forces of Subaru engineering and divine stunt-driving coalesced to keep us intact. No broken bones. No punctured organs. No brain bleeds.

But I hit my head. Hard. And that shit got weird.

The Reeling

After surviving a trauma of that magnitude with very little gross, visible injury to contend with, I began to experience the staggering oddness of my brain scramble.

Initially following the wreck, I was bedridden in the dark, unable to bear any light. I felt stripped of all buffer, like my brain was an overheated, bruised, smoldering mess of mixed signals. As I lay there with my eyes closed, I saw lots of moving shapes and colors. It was like a trippy laser show I couldn't turn off.

I wondered at the swirling shapes projected on the insides of my eyelids. Was I looking through a microscope at an atom, or through a telescope at the sun? Were these things huge or minuscule? And before I could fix my mind's eye on them, they changed into other things.

I'm shut out of who I was, and the natural proclivities I once had.

The degree of shocking shakeup and disorientation calmed over the months, but still shows up now if I've had more screen time or sunshine than my brain can handle.

It shows itself in different ways, too. I can't look up without getting dizzy. I have lots of repeat conversations with my husband. I no longer know how to spell architecture and parallel, nor can I do simple math tricks in my head, like 105 – 3.75.

I'm shut out of who I was, and the natural proclivities I once had.

There's a way of unlocking those mysteries, but the door feels sealed to me. It's like I need Dumbledore and Elrond the Half-Elven to hold these puzzles up on Midsummer's Eve in the pale moonlight with lemon juice and the Mirror of Erised in order to reveal The Answer to Princess Leia.

I took the proverbial roller skates off when I got out of the car, and I still haven't gotten my land-legs back.

The Rebuild

I decided to see some status quo healthcare providers, as such diagnoses are helpful when seeking reimbursement for my medical expenses.

I was wary of swimming into the conventional medical model. As an offbeat human, I have serious preferences about medicine. I'm not into authoritative biomedicine, blanket scientific worship, or euphemisms about health. Really, what's more personal than healing?

As an offbeat human, I have serious preferences about medicine. I'm not into authoritative biomedicine, blanket scientific worship, or euphemisms about health.

What if they were a "they?" What if "they" believed the line from A to B was arrow-straight, with no curves or cloverleafs? I'm an acupuncturist and herbalist; would "they" dismiss my medical model and try to push pills and ice upon me?

The good news for me, however, was that brain injuries are SO WEIRD that no practitioner I encountered claimed to know The One & Only Truth. There have been no Capital Letter Pronouncements.

But here's the deal: if there had been, I would've fired that provider. To me, affinity is more important than "being nice," or respecting their "authority," where they went to school, or even *gasp* if they're covered by my insurance. (Which they weren't. I was uninsured. Is that fucking hard? Yes. Does it stop me? No.)

The other day I told my psychiatrist about an amazing phenomenon that I've encountered since the accident. I can feel color with my hands.

Meaning, I can sit in the dark holding a deck of cards or an assortment of my husband's colored briefs, close my eyes, and sort the colors one-by-one. Some shades are hard to differentiate — like red from orange, and hues of blues — but I get the family right.

"Do you think that's crazy?" I asked.

He looked at me like I was crazy for asking such a thing. "Of course not," he said. "Who KNOWS what our brains are capable of?"

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. And yes, brains are crazy!! Feeling color is an awesome super power to have.

    3 agree
  2. I had a large brain hemorrhage a few years ago. Like you my brain gets 'tired' if I'm in front of a screen too long, or do much talking/reading during the day. My art has changed since the injury – I'm more in tune to seeing patterns though can't tell apart faces as well!
    The brain is remarkable in its ability to heal. It gets easier with time, you start to accept this as the new normal. I just have to keep reminding myself that its OK if I lose things more frequently or cant remember certain words considering what has happened. Thats what other people are for ­čÖé
    Keep going strong !

    4 agree

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