It’s not Alzheimer’s, nor have I had a stroke and ended up with aphasia or other related condition. It it is a neurological condition and was something that came on rather suddenly and occurred as a direct outcome of the fact, well, that I’m still alive…
In the spring of 2012 I was diagnosed with cancer (it’s called “CLL”, a common form of Leukemia) and had my first three rounds of chemotherapy that autumn. I remained ok until the spring of 2015 when I had to have another round of chemo. Right after my first round is when things had started to change. Within a month or two I could articulate a difference in my cognitive experience of life that I eventually discovered is described by others as “Chemo Brain”. Chemo Brain has a clinical name* but it is not yet a formally recognized disorder by the medical establishment (probably under duress by their lawyers). Chemotherapy is vastly more sophisticated, improved and more effective now than it was even 20 or 30 years ago. Far fewer patients are sickened or face losing their hair; and far more folks are living productive lives in spite of their conditions. Many cancers that were a death sentence then have now been moved into the category of “manageable”. The chemo that I get is very effective yet does not make me feel fatigued or nauseous and it doesn’t cause hair-loss. For a person with the diagnosis of cancer, things could be so much more difficult; I consider myself extremely fortunate.
The FROG and the STAIRCASE
Through my whole life I’ve operated on a tight pattern of reflex that would be instantly recognizable by artists and other highly creative individuals. I was always discovering new ideas and perspectives and immediately found myself compelled to carry-through with these ideas to some creative end. For me that meant creating artwork, or later in my life, written word to capture and convey these stimuli to others in unique or instructive ways. When I say “compelled” I mean it; it was never a matter of bootstrapping myself into figuring out how I could “get” myself to do the next thing. No, they crowded at the edges of my perception, all simultaneously clamoring for my attention, drawing me into their gravitational fields of excitement and promise. For me, creativity was a compulsion, not a “choice”.
Before I started chemo, it was as if I was a healthy frog on a staircase of six-inch high steps. I happened to be a frog who could jump six inches high so I had no trouble merrily hopping along and continually ascending the staircase. After my chemo started, the small but significant difference became evident - - it was clearly as if my frog-self could now only jump to a height a quarter inch short of six inches - - and that tiny change has made all the difference in the world…
My ever robust creativity-as-a-compulsion dynamo was broken. My productivity cycle spun down to a crawl. Everything was just a tiny bit harder to do. Tiny, but oh so a meaningful of a difference. This was not simply a change in the quantity of the output of my writings, diagrams and drawings… this struck directly at the core of my self-definition. I was no… longer… “me”.
These small cognitive after-effects of chemotherapy have been a very dramatic change in my life. Oddly enough, I’m now realizing that I have been becoming acclimatized to this increasingly less-new chemo-brain “dullness” and the memory of what it was to be “that other ('me') person” whom I’d been for the whole previous history of my life has already begun to fade significantly. As a consequence the urgency is diminished but it is no less distressing in retrospect.
SO... If you've noticed that I've been recycling more and posting less - it's got a lot to do with this stuff, but I promise I'll keep trying, er, "doing".