Saturday, July 20, 2013

How The Brain Works

Our seven-year-old daughter was working on a drawing a few days ago. It was a diagram of the brain:

How The Brain Really Works

She had color-coded each part of the brain in the drawing, and she explained to my husband and me how it all works:

Pink -   Separate World ("Seperate World")-- i.e., imagination. Everyone can have a separate world, she told us. You can decide the color of your separate world. My daughter's world, of course, is pink.

Green - Silly Beans. Everyone is born with 1,000,000 silly beans. After birth, you start losing them. Between the ages of 4 to 7, you have 1,800 (or at least, I think--her calculations were too complicated for me to follow). At this stage of life, my husband has 900; I have only 700 silly beans left.

Lines and Dots  - Files. Most of the space in your brain, she told us, is occupied by files. 

Red -  Blood  ("Blud")

Blue - Thinking. Note the size of the part of the brain that is devoted to thinking.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lost and Found: Performance Anxiety

I'm still finding parts of myself that went missing after the stroke.

For instance, a few weeks ago, I was watching Nova. Some of the program was about test anxiety, and it showed nervous students taking a test. As I watched the show and tried to put myself into the students' shoes, I realized I could barely remember that feeling of performance anxiety. Before the stroke, any of these situations--taking a test, or speaking in public, or even thinking about some students taking a test on a TV show--would have gotten my heart rate up.

It's not that I don't feel anxiety sometimes now. But more often, it feel like I have a switch with two settings: crushing fear, or a strange calmness. In the few times I have had to speak in front of a group since the stroke, I haven't felt much of performance anxiety.

I'm sure there are many reasons why I feel calmer these days. First of all, a disabling stroke can put things into perspective. Or it might be medications. Or that after failing so many tests of language and physical ability, I'm used to failure now. Or it might be because I started out not being able to recite the alphabet or spell my name, so any achievement can make me feel like a wunderkind. But mostly, it feels like parts of my brain are still not hooked up the way they used to be.

Given how much I have struggled with performance anxiety all my life, you would think that I would be happy to leave behind that part of myself now. But I remember some of my discussions with my former piano teacher. I studied with her for many years before the stroke, and she helped me work through my anxiety a lot. She talked how important it is to be meticulously prepared. But she also talked about how anxiety can make a performance more focused: without some anxiety, a performance can loose its edge.

So I keep thinking: do I want this part of myself back? Do I need to regain that anxiety? Do I have a choice?