BODY LANGUAGE: When your own body becomes the terrain (by Alison Piepmeier)
Posted: 19 Jan 2010 01:02 PM PST
Over the holidays I had several seizures, which led to me being diagnosed with a brain tumor. It’s a low-grade glioma, which is the good news. It’s smack-dab in the middle of the language center of my brain, which is the bad news.
I tell you this in part to let you know why I might not be around for the next few months. I’ll be having brain surgery in February, and I expect at least six weeks of recovery, time in which I’ll be exhausted and may not be up for blogging. I hope to bring in some fabulous guest bloggers for those weeks.
The other reason I’m sharing this, though, is because having a brain tumor in the language center of my brain has raised a lot of hard questions for me, questions that relate to the theme of this column. I’m an academic, a scholar who writes books and teaches classes. I’m the mother of a young child who is doing great but who needs more help, intervention, and encouragement than a typical child. My Ph.D. is in English. I have been a ravenous reader and passionate writer since I was a little, little kid. Potential damage to the language center of my brain feels like something that threatens the heart of who I am. Who will I be if I don’t have the fluency or facility with language that I have right now? I’ve been poking around in the academic world of disability studies for the last several months, but this diagnosis brings disability even more intimately into my life. It’s not only someone I love who’s experiencing life with a disability (my daughter); it may well be me.
Indeed, no matter what the long-term effects are (and the prognosis actually looks quite good), I certainly will be living with disabilities for the weeks and months immediately following the surgery, as I’ll have brain swelling that will lead to some language difficulties and motor function challenges. I’ll have a kind of insider’s perspective on disability.
Who will I be? It’s an academic question as well as a deeply personal one. I can go around and around in my mind, wondering–imagining what it would be like not to be able to talk off the cuff about feminism with the same ease that I do now, or to hear a sentence and not to be able to understand it immediately. These aren’t effects that the neurosurgeons have promised; in fact, one of the frustrations has been that they can’t tell me much. We’re very much in a wait and see mode. One friend pointed out that this may be a great opportunity for me to learn that who I am is not the same as what I do, but she was quick to add that this life lesson is no justification for a brain tumor.
It’s really weird for me to think about so many characteristics of my life—characteristics which in some way feel transcendent or inherent—as being tied to a physical organ. It gives body language a whole different meaning.