I have a brain tumor, that’s why.
I suppose I need to explain what that has to do with bowling. It’s OK. I am used to explaining why I do, feel, respond, Etc the way I do. Because it’s not normal and I know it.
I’ve had little things here and there for as long as I can remember that I quietly struggled with. It was not outside my control, after all. Few knew that I had hallucinations and these times where I just sorta ‘spaced out’. Occasionally I would have these little shakes, but i was aware. I did not realize the spacing out and little shakes was a type of seizure until after I had my 3rd child in 2001 because..well they were little and I had seen people had gran=mal seizures. It was a tough pregnancy. I nearly lost him and I was on bed rest much of it. I even went into premature labor, which they stopped. Only to induce me at 37 weeks due to some complications.
I came home with a newborn like I did the first two times. While he needed a billie blanket because he was jaundiced, it was not unduly bad. However two other issues popped into my life at the same time. A friend came onto hard times and stayed with us. She had 3 children, one of them with a cleft-lip pallet and a newborn, like my own son. I was frequently left alone to care for all the children. 6 children, 2 of them newborns. One newborn you had to be careful feeding so he would not drown in formula.
I think it was the really the next thing that started to break me, though. My husband, who I view as my other half, literally, started treating me with a lot of disdain and stopped touching me. I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong. I tried everything. It was not until 2014, 13 years later I found out why. Things are fantastic in my marriage now, but 13 years ago a chain of events was set off that forever altered my ability to manage those oddities I’d dealt with before hand.
I did the sensible thing and I went to my doctor when I realized how hard it was for me. My depression was deep, I could not sleep, and I felt utterly worthless. I’ve known this doctor since I was 12. He is not one to give medication, so he sent me to a colleague, telling me “You just need something to temporarily help you get through this”. I took his advice and saw the doctor he referred me to.
I went to the appointment, told this doctor all my symptoms and he diagnosed me bi-polar. No blood work, no testing. Nada. Of course, I thought he knew what he was talking about and when he put me on enough medication that it seemed like a meal, I did not question it. Shortly after, I had my first grand-mal seizure. My symptoms began to get extreme. I could not work, care for myself, or be a “normal human being”. People told me to “snap out of it”. Trust me, I tried. I still do to this day.
I lost most my friends. People would get mad at me because I could not control my emotions. They could not understand why I just didn’t ‘think’ it away. They did not understand how I constantly chanted to myself to “Calm down. It’s ok. Stop acting like this. You can do this”. Over…and…over…and…over. But, it did not work. The medications did not work. In fact, I was to find out years later they are what made it worse.
It wasn’t just the emotional roller coaster of feeling everything to the extreme. Happy was ecstatic. One little unkind word had me in the depths of despair. Sexually, I was in constant hyper drive. Everything was amped up to such a degree I was so overwhelmed I could not think straight. I would shut down. I would look at a roll of paper towels and be unable to comprehend their existence. I’m not kidding. It’s not that I forgot what paper towels were. It was much more than that. It was like looking at an inter-dimensional object outside my real of existence and I could not comprehend them. If it got bad enough, I would get stroke-like symptoms and be hospitalized for days.
Another side effect of all this was memory loss. I would lose entire days, weeks even. I would lose the memory of seeing a movie. Or talking to someone. Or what I had spent. I became paranoid of what happened in those blank moments. Apparently I was just acting my usual self. Nothing different. No personality changes. The memories would just be…erased.
One of the memories lost was seeing a neurologist who had done some testing after my original Doctor disagreed with the bi-polar diagnoses. I did not recall having all these tests and did not know about them until I was hospitalized one day and found this doctor standing over my hospital bed. He looked very unhappy. At first I thought he was mad at me. I had gotten used to people being mad at me, after all. People say and do terrible things when they do not understand.
Turns out he was not mad at me. He was mad at what had been done at me. Mad at the other doctors I had seen that did not question the diagnoses of another doctor who had not even taken blood tests to check my blood levels. He had taken MRIs, brain scans, and did an EKG on me. Unfortunately, I was so messed up that this was a memory that had been erased. While he is not the one who found the tumor, because it’s quite small and hard to see if you don’t know where to look, he could tell my the test results my brain was very wrong and the medications were causing reactions that amplified my symptoms.
He took me off all medications. Ironically, he had to put me back on one and wean me off because I was now addicted. Fun. He warned me it would take time and I should regain more control, but that the medications had forever altered my brain. Most people have an emotional filter and mine was pretty much gone. Apparently this is something you can see in the tests he had given me. I am sure he was using lay-mans terms for me, but it sure helped me understand it wasn’t my fault.
I mentioned he was not the one who found the tumor. Before I landed in the hospital that particular day, I was experiencing reverse tunnel vision off and on. I went to an optometrist who referred me to an Opto-neurologist who did some testing, including an MRI. This is the first MRI I recall having, but I now know I had others. They found the tumor in an unexpected place and only because the one viewing it did not just look in the area he was told to, he checked the entire brain. Because of the distance, I had signed a paper saying they could give me the results over the phone. Her exact words at one point was “If I had a brain tumor, I would want yours”. To this day, I can not decide how to take that, but I do think she was trying to assure me. This was in 2010 and it was shortly after I landed in the hospital to look up to my frowning neurologist. It took 9 years to get answers.
Some of you might be wondering why I elected not to get surgery or chemotherapy. The size and location of the tumor and the fact it looked like I was probably born with it meant that it was safer I just lived with it and found ways to manage my symptoms. Unless it shifts or starts growing, this is the choice I made. I am very careful of the situations I place myself in these days. It took me such a long time to know when to back off and when to embrace something in order to maintain my emotional stability. It does not help that during one of my stroke-like episodes I was also injured and have compressed nerves in my neck and hips. So, I also live with chronic nerve pain.
So, what does this have to do with bowling?
I bowl because it’s the one thing I allow myself to do where I lose control. It’s exhausting and I come home utterly worn out emotionally, mentally, and physically. It is a constant battle trying to keep myself in check. I fail constantly. The sounds of the bowling alley overwhelm me. The crashing of the ball and pins, the yelling out of the league bowlers. My teammates, mostly consisting of family (Husband and mother in law), telling me “If you just do…or if you just…just..just” adds to the high stress. I frequently ask myself and the others “Why do I do this to myself?”. They really think I can just magically tell myself to calm down. To not get upset when I feel I am letting my team down. I think they forget I am usually hurting the entire time and my senses are being bombarded along with having this lack of ’emotion filter’.
They mean well. They love me. Even my best friend joins us, and she does not bowl. She sits there just to support me and I love her more and more each time she chooses to do this with me. I know I am not easy. I know they want me to enjoy myself. They do not understand I am at war. With myself. I am fighting a battle and I am always losing it. But, I come back each week to fight it again because I have a hope: I will stumble across a coping method that will help me overcome it.
And that is why I bowl.