Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Stroke Survival: What You See...

Ever hear, you are a product of your environment? When learning how to write, you are told show don't tell. It's basically the same thing. When you involve the senses everything in a person is touched along the neural network to the brain.

The setting of the surroundings have a positive or negative impact on the results you want to achieve. The same is true for stroke or brain injury survivors. Are you surprised?

With my youngest daughter, TBI survivor, too much stimulus would cause her to have a multifocal seizure, but if she could get to her "quiet room," a sensory deprivation closet, she could definitely reduce the effects of the seizure activity into a less violent one. We built one in our home in a walk in closet. It was padded with a sound barrier foam on the walls and ceiling, and painted black. Yes, it sounds extreme, but if you ever witnessed how bad her seizures were on her and those around her, you'd understand. She once threw off three grown men during one such attack who were trying to restrain her. She's awoken in the morning black and blue from seizures in her sleep. She actually fractured her wrist one night.

I'd read where this could happen, so we were prepared. I didn't fully understand it until I had my stroke. I would go into sensory overload if more than two people were talking to me or around me at once. My brain just couldn't hack it. I would close my eyes and fend sleep just so they would all go away. Thankfully, these effects have diminished now that the initial damage to my brain has been reached.

Now I'm looking for certain kinds of input to stimulate my brain. Just like I did when writing. Rooms need to have a light, airy feel about them. Plenty of natural light. It's not that I'm afraid of the dark, but if I had to move in total darkness, it's down right scary because I am not sure footed. I'll gravitate to rooms that are painted in yellows or blues for this very reason. When I want high energy or uplifting, it's bold, vibrant, bright colors I'm searching for. The other thing is music. Music or sounds around me play a huge role in how I am feeling. When it involves all my senses and how it impacts me is called Neural Environmental Responses.

Have you ever listened to music playing in physical therapy? It's usually upbeat and energetic because on a subconscious level you are working out. When the therapist wants you to relax during traction or  some pain relief treatment, they'll dim the lights and almost cuddle you into a relaxed position where every part of your body is supported. They will close the door so you don't hear anything other than muted voices. Plenty of times I wanted to drift off to sleep. That was the whole purpose.

To treat you they use the tool of neural environmental enrichment to elicit a certain response. Certain smells can have the same effect. Think of peppermint or citrus smells, did you perk up a bit? How about antiseptic, what does that smell picture in your mind? What about lavender? It's called an offactory response. Commonly used in aromatherapy. Smells trigger a response in the brain. Let's try a different tact. How about the smell of really yummy spaghetti sauce cooking. Ah ha, I heard your stomach rumbling and I'll bet your mouth is watering too.

The brain is one of the most powerful organs you have in your body. When it's damaged, signals can get crossed or overloaded.So you can see why these sensory cues are used in writing, therapy, commercial advertising, and everything in life. They have spent millions of bucks to find out how to achieve their goals of titillating a certain response from you.  Almost on a subconscious level without you even being aware of it. Shouldn't you also use this to your benefit as well? I know I do.

For example, in my office I used bold, vibrant blues, golds and reds for high energy on the walls. I put on suspenseful music when writing suspense themed fiction and more thought provoking music when writing nonfiction. There were windows on two walls to allow natural light in. In my bedroom, I covered everything in muted greens, lavenders, and blues for a more relaxed atmosphere.The sounds of running water trickling from a fountain completes the tranquil space. In my kitchen yellows walls with crisp royal blues and whites to promote a wide open, cheerful crispness. A definite welcoming and homey feel. There is usually the smell of fresh baked bread lingering in the air or an apple pie to complete the sensory impact. Yes, I studied the effects of all of this as an author conveying it all to my readers, and carried it farther into to real life surrounding myself in practice.

So are we a product of what we see, smell, hear, and taste? I think so. I am at least. How about you?

Nothing is impossible.



  1. Hi Jo - even when I was looking after my mother and my uncle .. I'd have brain overload - not like yours or your daughter's ... but I was standing quietly in the supermarket queue - I didn't want to use the self-help till .. that required brain power ... but someone from the store came up and interrupted my quiet time ... I was really frustrated .... so I said no thanks I'll wait around.

    So I do understand ... too much overload and I can't take it all in or appreciate everything ... but it'd be much worse with a brain illness ...

    Take care - cheers Hilary

  2. If you keep the aroma therapy to yourself, I'm on board. My allergies and asthma make smells a hard thing to endure. I think each of us has our own range of pleasing/energetic colors and sounds. That's what make writing a tricky road. My colors don't include blue at all. This is a great post to keep me thinking about what I'm writing, Jo.



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