Brain Injury, hemineglect, My Story, myelin, prosopagnosia, sight loss, Uncategorized

8. Hemineglect

Hemi-neglect

 

rigt half face.jpeg

This is a very strange one! My hemianopia means that I cannot see (in my case) the left side but hemi-neglect is that I “neglect” that side. What? Yes, I actually forget that the left side exists and it somehow doesn’t really exist to me. As crazy as this sounds, I forget that the left side of my body is there and tend to ignore it. Because my left leg and arm don’t automatically move in coordination with my right side, I have to pay attention to them, especially, for example, when walking. It takes a lot of concentration to move my left leg in time with my right leg to be able to look like I’m walking “normally”. Likewise I have to concentrate on my left arm, to swing it in coordination with my right leg. That took a LOT of practice! This can all go horribly wrong at times if I’m distracted, or am tired and can’t concentrate. It can be challenging to walk whilst having a conversation! This is when I forget to lift my left leg and trip!

falling man.png

I also need to pay attention to make sure that my left side is dressed appropriately before I leave the house in the morning. Do I have my left shoe on? Is my left arm IN the sleeve? Have I brushed the left side of my hair? These are the things that I sometimes forget…even though my right side IS dressed. I try to always focus on the left side first but at times, I still forget! But it’s not only the left side of my body that I “neglect”, it also happens with the left side of my visual field, i.e., what I can see.

one shoe.jpeg

It is really difficult to move my eyes, head, legs, arms, or body towards the left. For example, if I’m reading, it’s exhausting moving my eyes to the beginning of each new line of text, i.e., the left, as I read…or write. This has improved over the years but I used to have a bright red ribbon down the left side of the page so that my eyes would eventually find the left side! Nowadays, I use a marker (long strip of card), which I can just move down a line after reading it, and this helps too. Also, if I have to physically move to the left, e.g., to avoid walking into something, I often have to stop because my body just refuses to move to the left. Once I stop, I can force myself to move left through sheer determination and concentration. So, how does this affect me in my normal daily life?

This can be a challenge in many ways. Crossing the road can be difficult because I cannot depend on my eyes/ brain to acknowledge the left side so I have to find a pedestrian crossing. I have learnt over the years not to rely on my hearing in this situation either because, on a few occasions, I have been in a rush, was bored of waiting for the traffic lights to change, couldn’t hear any cars coming so stepped out to cross the road…in front of a cyclist! On the few times that this has happened, the cyclist has swerved, shouted abuse at me and I have shouted apologies at them. Even hearing something from the left just doesn’t register the same in my brain. People sometimes come from my left side and then tap me on my left arm. This always gives me the fright of my life because I haven’t seen, heard, or noticed them approaching me. My fright at least gives them a laugh!

Another funny thing that happens fairly often is when someone waves at me when they are walking towards me. Bear in mind here that I also don’t recognise faces (prosopagnosia) so I have no idea who the person is. Most people wave with their right hand, which, if they are walking towards me, is to the left of them. Therefore, I don’t see them waving but often notice that the person is staring at me. I then smile as I would to a total stranger, and am surprised when the person suddenly stops in front of me and speaks. On hearing their voice, I usually know who it is.

waving.jpeg

If you know of anyone with hemi-neglect, hemianopia, prosopagnosia, stroke symptoms, left/ right -sided weakness, or anything similar, please let me know or tell them about this blog. I would love to hear from others who go through this or have had similar experiences.

If you liked this, be sure to subscribe. It’s free and you will have access to my weekly blogs. If there are specific areas of interest that you would like me to write about, please comment or write a question and I’ll do my very best to answer. I would love to hear from you!

Brain Injury, low carb, MS and Ketogenic Diet, My Story, prosopagnosia, sight loss, Uncategorized

7.Improvements in my eyesight and face blindness (prosopagnosia)

I was admitted to hospital with loss of function of my left leg and left arm. The doctors told me that I had had a stroke (but I know now that it was actually an MS “event”) and I was put into a stroke ward. I was 35 years old and the youngest person on the stroke ward. I remember the cleaner coming into the ward and doing a “double take” when she saw me, unable to believe that I was there. Every morning on waking up, I would find something else (of my body) that didn’t work. My leg was getting worse and worse, my arm was getting heavier, my face was getting even droopier, and the doctors couldn’t tell me if I would be able to move my arm and leg or walk ever again. I couldn’t take it all in! I honestly thought my body was just closing down. A day or two later, I woke up one morning and found, to my horror, that I couldn’t see!

grayscale portrait photo of shocked woman
Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Pexels.com

I was opening my eyes wide open but couldn’t see anything. The daylight coming through all the windows was unbearably bright and I couldn’t focus on anything, make out any shapes, or recognise anything. It was as though the ward was full of bright light and, although I could hear the familiar sounds, I couldn’t see anything. I remember trying to look at the woman across the ward from me, trying desperately to find her and focus on her but I couldn’t. Eventually, I heard a nurse nearby and told her that I couldn’t see anything. She went off to get a doctor and came back with a doctor who asked me questions and then left. It truly was a shocking, scary moment and I don’t remember anything from that day but I do remember going to sleep that night thinking that I was going to die. I thought that my body really was closing down and that I wasn’t going to wake up again. I actually prayed to God that night and eventually fell asleep. As you might have already guessed, I woke up the following morning alive!

person holding round smiling emoji board photo
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Time passed in hospital and although I couldn’t focus on anything, I could see fuzzy people, and could mostly make out what things were. Later, I was wheeled down to the eye department and had to try to read the eye chart (of letters) on the wall. I could make out some of the letters and read what I could from the vertical column of single letters. This was when I was told that I had hemianopia, which is that I could only see one (right) side of things. I had only seen the last letter of each line of six or seven letters.

I couldn’t see people’s faces properly either. They were out of focus and I could only see the right half. I had to rely on listening to their voice to identify who it was. When I finally left hospital, able to walk a little, I couldn’t see well enough to walk anywhere. Over the following two years, my eyesight gradually got more in focus but it still wasn’t great. After a week at the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), I learnt that I could not tolerate fluorescent lighting and that some coloured glasses might help with the brightness of the light. This was life changing because I couldn’t bear going outside in the light. I went to an optician who had colour equipment. As soon as I looked at text through the green tint, the lines of text went into lines and I could see it properly. It was amazing.

Eventually, I was able to get coloured glasses that also helped my eyesight, however, as things became clearer, I became more aware of the fact that although I could see the right half of peoples’ faces, I still couldn’t recognise who they were. This prosopagnosia (face blindness) has caused some difficulties. I have lost friends through this because they cannot understand that I don’t recognise them (when I am looking directly at them) or have taken it personally believing that I am ignoring them on purpose. It is such a hard thing to explain and I can’t understand it myself and I live with it!! I can see the person’s right half of their face but cannot recognise it. If there are several people all together, it is even worse and my brain goes into “overload” and I cannot recognise anyone or anything. It is like there is just too much information going into my brain and it can’t process it. However, since starting on this high fat, low carb (HFLC) lifestyle, things have definitely improved.

close up cooking cuisine delicious
Photo by Oscar Mikols on Pexels.com

Improvements in my eyesight and face blindness (prosopagnosia)

This is a difficult thing to measure and monitor but since being on this HFLC lifestyle, I do think that there have been improvements to my vision. Not only has my eyesight improved in general, i.e., my focus is slightly more stable, but I can also see more of the visual field too (the space that you see with your eyes). For example, where before, I could see the last letter of a word, I can now see half of the word.

Likewise, I can see the right half of objects, the right half of scenes/vistas and the right half of peoples’ faces. Isn’t it amazing that my brain, on some level, must be perceiving the whole object but only an exact right half of the information gets through?! On a really good day, I can sometimes see a little of the bottom left corner of a face, i.e., the full chin and jaw. I’m hoping that this will continue to improve as I stick to eating HFLC. Another strange thing is that after my MS event, I couldn’t even visualise someone’s face, and had no visual memory of faces. Now, however, I can sometimes visualise (or visually recall) a face. So, if I’m thinking about someone, I can sometimes see them in my mind. This doesn’t always happen. For example, if I meet more than one person at a time, my brain gets overwhelmed and can’t process all the information. This means I ignore most people if I join a new class until I have met them one to one and my brain has had a chance to process all the information. Similarly, before, when I went to new places, I wasn’t able to record it in my mind and indeed would not recognise it if I returned to the same place at a later date. Now, I can often remember and visualise places and can often recognise them when I return.

Finally, I have to admit that, despite it being a huge irritation at times, it can also be hilarious! I have walked past people who I’m looking for, have taken someone’s arm thinking it was my friend but it wasn’t, have been unable to find things that just happened to be slightly to the left. People ask “why can’t you just turn your head round and see the other side then?” As obvious and completely rational as that sounds, it doesn’t work! Obviously, if I read the letters “rple”, I know that there’s something missing and can then make my eyes move over to the left to see “purple”. However, for other things, it’s not that obvious and I forget all about the left side’s existence (hemi neglect). I will talk about this in more detail next time.

If you liked this, be sure to subscribe. It’s free and you will have access to my weekly blogs. If there are specific areas of interest that you would like me to write about, please comment or write a question and I’ll do my very best to answer. I would love to hear from you!

Brain Injury, low carb, MS and Ketogenic Diet, My Story, sugar is dangerous, Uncategorized

5. Sugar and Aspartame

Sugar

Sugar, for me, is highly addictive and I was particularly addicted to chocolate. Of course, I didn’t understand any of this at the time but I now know that the reward system in the brain is stimulated by sugar in the same way as it is stimulated with drugs like cocaine and even heroin. This means that when I eat sugar, the neurotransmitters (dopamine and opioids; in the brain’s “reward system”) are released which makes me feel good. This is why I feel good when I eat sugary stuff. Soon after eating sugar, your sugar levels then drop to below their initial level leaving you feeling depleted. This is when your body thinks that it wants more to compensate which explains why I always wanted more and why it is so addictive. Researchers have even shown this addictive nature of sugar on the behaviour of rats and observed craving, bingeing, and withdrawal behaviours (Avena, Rada, and Hoebel; 2008).

pink sugar.jpg

 

I was aware of the fact that once I started to eat sugary foods, e.g., at 7:00 p.m., I would want more of it an hour later and more of it after that until I went to bed. I would have cravings for something sweet, which, at times, would completely take hold of my brain until I gave into it. These are all signs of my addiction. However, sugar is not good for me. It plays no role in maintaining my body and can clog up liver function. The liver stores excess sugar as fat when we eat too much of it, and, as is the case in too much alcohol, can lead to liver disease. Most of us know about the links between sugar and diabetes but sugar has also been linked to a number of illnesses including higher risk of depression (Westover and Marangell; 2002) and heart disease (Fuller, Shipley, Rose, Jarrett, and Keen; 1980).

So, after experiencing a sugary “high”, we are more likely to want to repeat the pleasurable experience, especially as a reward, for example, after a hard day at work. Being bombarded by advertisements (the advertising companies know the psychology behind it too!) only makes it harder to ignore and easier for us to grab a packet of sugar/chocolate treats on the way home. However, the more of this white substance that we consume, the harder it is to achieve that “high” again. Yes, I AM still talking about sugar here! Our brains adapt to higher levels of sugar and compensate by releasing less dopamine/opioid neurotransmitters so the only way to achieve the “feeling good” factor is to eat even more of it. Just like other drugs, our brains become adapted to more and more of it.

lump-sugar-549096__340.jpg

Realising that I was a “sugar junkie”, I decided to give it up and in my desperate attempt to avoid sugar, I then chose diet versions of everything instead. To me, this meant low fat versions too. I would read “diet” or “low fat” on the label and think that it meant it’s good. Little did I realise that many low fat products actually contained even more sugar! Many diet products contain aspartame and most diet drinks contain aspartame. So is aspartame ok?

 

Aspartame

Like I have said before in a previous blog, I used to drink a fair amount of diet, carbonated drinks thinking that I was being healthier drinking the “diet” version! When I had my MS event, which left me visually impaired, and with left side weakness and hemi-neglect, I later started on a high fat, low carbohydrate (HFLC) way of eating. I don’t call it a diet because I have never succeeded on any “diet” that I have been on and I just don’t do diets anymore! So, I continued this way of eating for over a year, and experiencing huge improvements in my health, I decided to drink some diet carbonated drink one evening to see if it would have any effect on me. It tasted different to how I remembered it and was extremely sweet and artificial tasting.

poison-bottle-medicine-old-159296.jpeg

However, the next morning, when I woke up, I noticed immediately that I could not feel my left hand fingertips again. Can you believe that? A few glasses of diet carbonated drink on Friday evening actually caused me to lose the feeling of my fingertips again by the following morning. My brain felt sluggish and as though it was in some thick fog again. I couldn’t think straight at all, and my left leg felt as though it was not properly “connected”. That’s how it feels when my leg is not receiving the signals from my brain to move. It is like the leg is not plugged in and is slow, doesn’t respond, and is heavy.

As I continued back on the HFLC way of eating, the feeling in my fingers returned again in the following few days, but it was fascinating at how this diet drink had had such an immediate effect. I have since tried other foods with aspartame in them and have concluded that aspartame has negative affects on my brain causing me to lose the feeling in my fingertips, stops the connection with my left leg, and causes my brain to become foggy and unable to think straight. I even found one brand of diet drink that didn’t contain aspartame and drank that from time to time. On one occasion though I bought the wrong bottle by mistake and the next morning, found again that I had lost the feeling in my fingers. At the shock of this, I looked at the bottle and then realised that I had got the wrong bottle by mistake. Likewise, I bought some mints that I thought were aspartame free but soon had the same affect on my brain and, again, when I looked at the ingredients, they contained aspartame. I have also, on occasion, had a sugary treat and found the same thing. My fingertips lose their feeling, my brain can’t think straight and my leg loses its connection. So what have I concluded?

I have concluded that sugar is not good for me; my MS symptoms and my brain function deteriorate almost immediately. I have concluded that aspartame is not good for me either; again my MS symptoms and my brain function deteriorate almost immediately. Sugar and aspartame are like poison to me.

Next time, I shall talk about more about the high fat, low carb/ ketogenic way of eating. If you liked this, be sure to subscribe. It’s free and you will have access to my weekly blogs. If there are specific areas of interest that you would like me to write about, please comment or write a question and I’ll do my very best to answer. I would love to hear from you!

References

Avena, N. M., Rada, P., & Hoebel, B. G. (2008). Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 32(1), 20–39. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019

Fuller, J.H., Shipley, M.J., Rose, G., Jarrett, R.J., & Keen, H. (1980). Coronary Heart Disease Risk and Impaired Glucose Tolerance; The Whitehall Study. The Lancet, 315, 8183, 1373-1376.

Westover & Marangell (2002) A Cross-National Relationship Between Sugar Consumption and Major Depression? Depression and Anxiety, The Official Journal of ADAA, 16, 3, 118-129.

My Story, Uncategorized

3. Right Brain Damage = Left Side Symptoms

The brain is made up of two hemispheres. Very roughly speaking, parts of the left hemisphere are involved in moving the right side of your body and seeing things in the right field of vision. Likewise, parts of the right hemisphere are involved in moving the left side of your body (e.g. left arm or left leg) and seeing things in the left field of vision.

515740218-170x170.jpg

On the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of my brain, white spots could be seen in the (right) internal capsule which is deep in the brain and contains a bundle of nerves or “wires”. These wires send signals between the brain and, for example, the limbs (for movement) and send information from your eyes to your brain (for vision). The internal capsule is a common area to be affected in patients who have had a “stroke” (CVA; cerebrovascular accident) which is why a stroke was my initial diagnosis, and not multiple sclerosis (MS). I couldn’t move my left arm or left leg because the damage in the right side of my brain prevented motor (movement) signals getting to my left limbs. Even the left side of my face couldn’t move. I could not see anything on the left side through both eyes because sensory (visual) signals were not getting through the wires in the brain. In other words, I could only see the right side through my right eye, and the right side through my left eye. Confused yet?! Each eye can only see the right side. This is called hemianopia.

 

Field of vision

I could see the right visual field but couldn’t see anything in the left visual field. Imagine a clock split into two halves, I could see the numbers 12 round to 6 on the right half, but the left-hand side of the clock did not exist. People have asked me why I just don’t turn my head round to see the left side. This does sound pretty logical to me too but it doesn’t matter if I turn my head, my eyes still refuse to move to the left and that side simply does not exist for me. Similarly, when I read, I often miss the first few letters of each word. This has its funny side because, as a counsellor/therapist, I am often shocked when, instead of reading the word “therapist”, I see the word “rapist”!

Therapist

The left side, however, is NOT black like the image above and I am therefore not aware of the fact that I am missing something. The strange thing is that I forget that the left side even exists! This is called hemineglect. I totally neglect the left side of my body, the left side of my visual field and no matter how many times I tell myself to remember, I still forget to pay attention to the left side. This is why I cannot ever cross the road without a zebra crossing or traffic lights. If I am walking, I have to continuously remember to lift my left leg but often trip or stumble because, in that split second, I forgot to lift it.

Finally, I only see the right side of people’s faces and the right side of their body. This means that I don’t see people waving at me with their right arm (which is on my left side!) and often don’t recognise them at all, especially if they are in a busy environment. When I look in the mirror, I only see the right side of my own face and haven’t seen the left side for years! I wonder if that side has less wrinkles?!

 

Wink Smiley Happy Smile Yellow Face Icon W

 

 

Next time, I shall talk about myelin, the fatty coating around the neural wires in our brain and possible ways to help it repair itself. If you liked this, be sure to subscribe. It’s free and you will have access to my weekly blogs. If there are specific areas of interest that you would like me to write about, please comment or write a question and I’ll do my very best to answer. I would love to hear from you!