Musings Applying Liberation Psychology to Dealing with the Devastating After-effects of the Brain Damage of Herpes Simplex Encephalitis

© 2001 Michele Toomey, PhD


July 3, 2000

In December, 1998, when you, dear Marlene Hoerle, were struck with herpes simplex encephalitis, it seemed like your life was over. Either we were struggling with the decision to take you off the respirator, or fighting to get you into rehabilitation and not a nursing home. But you didn't die, you got to rehab, and now one year and a half into your "recovery" phase, we are diligently working daily to allow liberation psychology to provide you with the vehicle to actually live with the after-effects of the encephalitis.

Not only does herpes simplex encephalitis attack the brain when it's in its active stage, the post encephalitis period is given the name of the healing stage, yet further devastation occurs as part of the healing. As the damaged parts of the brain "heal", they atrophy, and an atrophied brain is a malfunctioning brain. Even as there is true healing and improvement, there is also more devastation and impairment. Spasms, seizures, memory lapses and memory eclipses, bodily pressure and electrical tension and misfiring, gaining ground and being thrown back without warning, are all conditions that must be endured and dealt with.

Nothing feels certain relative to the brain and its effect on the body. At a moments notice, something can go awry. And it continues to do so. The only certainty is in yourself and that you will deal with it. Since you are a devoted student of liberation psychology, you have the integrity of its orientation available to you at each and every turn.

The following musings are part of my attempt to apply, encourage, inspire and teach the liberating process of integrity and the gift it brings when "truth and fairness meet." Your safety lies in integrity, intimacy with yourself, and being quiet within.

When people ask how you are, you need to capture the gratitude for what you have and the price of what you don't have. You are lucky but you also have intense struggles with sequencing, memory, energy and losing things. It is a very difficult time in your life.

These musings are based on the philosophy of life of liberation psychology that permeates my work. They assume that the basic human need for connection and intimacy is achieved by living out of integrity, accountability, and fairness. Since we are paradoxical beings (body and spirit, independent and dependent, strong and vulnerable) integrity, honesty and wholeness requires that we learn to reconcile these paradoxes. Not a simple task. And certainly not simple when brain damage impairs the brain's integrity. We are forced to deal with both the practical and the spiritual, and reconcile perspiration with inspiration. To be able to reconcile the gift and curse of brain damage, we must have a deep commitment to integrity and the challenge we face in moving back and forth between the body and the soul, reconciling the loss and the gain of brain damage, without denying or exaggerating either.

Common practice often dictates keeping a stiff upper lip and with stoic courage we are to resist allowing ourselves to feel the pain, and the discouragement, even the despair, of tragedy. Vulnerability is feared as a sign of weakness or as a danger to functioning. Denial of the cost is often held out as a strength and, therefore, our integrity is violated by this denial, and paradox is not only not reconciled, rather we attempt to eliminate it.

On the other hand, we can become victims of the emotional toll that tragedy exacts. Overcome by the pain and anger, fear and loss, depression and despair, our integrity is again violated by denial. Our refusal to acknowledge the strength, hope and gift that is still available to us. Rather than reconciling the paradox of the gift and curse of tragedy, victims are swallowed by the curse. Vulnerability and helplessness define them and courage and strength escape them.

Both of these conditions are tragic and serve only to add a layer of tragedy to the initial tragedy, in this instance, brain damage. Integrity demands that we embrace both the cost and the gain, and put the appropriate weight on each. These musings are designed to do just that. They provide access to the reconciliation process that moves back and forth between the practical and the spiritual, the cost and the gain, and even the gift and curse of brain damage.

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