Imagine how it is to wade through waist-deep water. It’s challenging to do, especially when you want to move quickly. That’s how my thinking feels on a daily basis.
Now try to imagine how it would be to wade through waist-deep mud. That’s how I feel while trying to think on a bad day.
Four years ago, my family and I were made aware of the fact that we had been exposed to chronic carbon monoxide poisoning. Over the course of a year and a half, without our knowledge, varying levels of carbon monoxide were being emitted by three gas-burning appliances in the rural farmhouse we were renting. From what we’ve been able to piece together, the levels of CO were typically low to moderate, and at times shot up to almost deadly proportions.
The only thing my Dad, Mom, teenage sister, and I knew was that we felt terrible. We had severe headaches; dizziness; numbness in our faces, hands, arm, and legs; whistling and ringing in our ears; nausea and other digestive troubles; horrible fatigue; escalating depression; blurred thinking; memory loss; heart palpitations; the list goes on. Ironically, the same house had also served us with e-coli bacteria in the water when we first moved in. Though the e-coli problem was quickly detected and resolved, we attributed our declining health to it…simply because we didn’t know what else it could be. We had always been healthy and active, until we moved into that house. The thought of carbon monoxide came to my father, and he contacted the gas company. But their representative told us the house tested clean for CO.
We called them in five times over the course of a year and a half. Each time we were told that carbon monoxide was not present. We desperately attempted to find another reason for our health troubles…while our minds slowly slipped away from us. It was like walking into a dark tunnel filled with fog—we left clear thinking behind and stepped into darkness, as heavy numbness wrapped around our thoughts.
We had moved to another state, away from all our friends and family. The unexpected problems resulted in financial challenges, so moving again was difficult—to us, at the time, it seemed impossible. As I look back now, I’m overwhelmed with guilt over not simply packing up and leaving, despite being broke. I find myself trying to make excuses for something I was physically and mentally unable to do at the time. Last year, a friend put it in perspective for me—she said, “You needed someone to rescue you. You couldn’t rescue yourself.”
Thank Heaven, part of that rescue did come. A prospective buyer brought an inspector to the house one day—and when the man tested the basement appliances for carbon monoxide, he found the second-highest levels he had ever seen in a home. He told us we were “lucky we didn’t wake up dead.”
It’s been a long journey since that day. Recovery, rebuilding life, has been my main occupation. Carbon monoxide deprives the blood of oxygen, causing brain damage. I’ve come away with many after-effects, not the least of which is a constant tremor in my hands and forearms. Oh yes, and memory loss. I never used to take notes in my work, because my brain was my filing cabinet—I could remember everything. These days, I describe it as my “Swiss-cheese memory.” That’s exactly what it’s like—I have blank spaces where I know something should be. Sometimes those spaces will suddenly blink into view for a minute…oftentimes, they won’t.
I am an artist and a writer by profession. I can no longer draw a steady line. I can’t think of words. I used to have sharp thinking—I was able to mentally “look” at the project I was working on, see the work at hand and visualize what I wanted to do with it. I could see far ahead, past the current project, and on to other plans. If I added music in the background, my brain would burst afire with inspiration and ideas.
Right now, when I sit down to draw, I have to stare at my paper and try to remember all the things I want to do. Then I need to find the impetus to do them. It’s like trying to get a boulder rolling. My brain feels fuzzy, slightly numb. I know what I want to do, but I can’t see the whole picture. (Figuratively! And literally—nobody can see the whole picture till I draw it.)
I have a great drawing sitting in front of me right now, and I need to paint it—somewhat quickly now, so I can list it on eBay this evening—and I’m enthusiastic about the plethora of opportunities that are before me today. Yet my brain is wading.
I put on some Newsboys music, “Secret Kingdom,” and with the first burst of music and percussion, I was suddenly inspired. It felt like I had been closed up in a warm, stuffy room, and suddenly somebody turned a light on and opened the door, letting in a blast of fresh, cool air. It opened my eyes and awoke my thinking.
But the fuzziness gathers quickly back into my brain…so I need to work while I have the mind for it. I’ll keep the music going, have a cup of coffee, and try to keep the boulder rolling. This is how my day goes, almost every day.
A small suggestion—no, make that a desperate plea: have your gas appliances checked professionally twice a year. The fire department and gas company will do it for free. If you still feel lousy for no reason, go to the emergency room. Tell your friends and family how you are feeling. And watch your friends and family, please.
They may need somebody to rescue them.