Brain Injuries Change Lives — Some Find New Pathways, Some Don’t


Oliver Sacks recounts the intensely emotional final years of performance artist Spalding Gray’s life after he suffered severe psychological reactions, apparently as a result of a brain injury. And Bryan Logan writes about how the suffering he experienced from his own traumatic brain injury ultimately “stoked an already burning fire in me to be the best version of myself.”

The Catastrophe (The New Yorker, April 27, 2015)

How getting hit by a car changed my life forever — in some ways for the better (Business Insider, April 25, 2015)

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  1. There are 2 brief questions I’d like to pose regarding “The Catastrophe,” the complex and fascinating New Yorker article linked above:

    “Soon after this, Spalding was admitted to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic, on the Upper East Side. He spent four months there, and was given more than twenty shock treatments and drugs of all kinds. He responded to none of them, and, indeed, seemed to be getting worse by the day. When he emerged from Payne Whitney, his friends felt that something terrible and perhaps irreversible had happened. Kathie thought that he was ‘a broken man.'”

    How often does giving someone “shock treatments and drugs of all kinds” actually make the person better? It just seems to me that such treatments are based upon rampant guesswork and wild speculation, without any solid evidence as to their effectiveness. Furthermore, it’s been my general experience throughout life that drastic courses of action based upon such guesswork or speculation rarely, if ever, result in the desired outcomes.

    Also, the article states that general anesthesia due to surgery, of all things, seems to have had a very positive, although temporary, effect on Spalding Gray’s depression (via an interaction with his frontal lobes). Hopefully, much more research is being done on this?

    • I don’t know what he got as an anesthetic but ketamine is one that can be used – it’s sometimes referred to as potential anti-depressant. I’d not advocate for that any more as any other narcotic – it’s just as dangerous.

    • On another note, I don’t understand why so many people, including the author of the article, an accomplished neurologist, state totally unproven hypothesis as fact. In this case: “Spalding had had occasional depressions, he said, for more than twenty years, and some of his physicians thought that he had a bipolar disorder. But these depressions, though severe, had yielded to talk therapy, or, sometimes, to treatment with lithium.”

      There is no proof whatsoever that these severe depressions yielded to talk therapy, or to lithium, or to anything else for that matter! So why continue to perpetuate the highly controversial lithium myth as fact?

      • Okay, it’s not clear to me, but it could be that Dr. Sacks was quoting or paraphrasing Spalding Gray about lithium having lifted him out of depression. However, I think the sentence leaves many readers with the impression that it’s a given fact that the lithium had worked.

  2. “He spent four months there, and was given more than twenty shock treatments and drugs of all kinds. He responded to none of them, and, indeed, seemed to be getting worse by the day.”

    How surprising. Turns out you don’t fix a broken bone by jumping on it or hitting it with a sledgehammer.