Brain Biofeedback

Another Piece to Reading Puzzle After Brain Injury

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I met again with the psychology prof who has helped me discover more pieces to my reading puzzle as I work to unravel why I have so much trouble reading after brain injury.

To recap: I have a diffuse injury, and so many areas involved in reading were damaged. But some areas were not. My health care team and I have worked on improving concentration, healing Wernicke’s Area, enhancing alpha brainwaves in the left frontal cortex. I’ve improved a bit. I can read more than one paragraph; I can skim and read Twitter; I can sort of see the edge of the big picture of an article. But I still cannot read a book in order to follow a plot, remember characters, acquire and retain new knowledge — and so I write what I’ve read about to try and help me retain it but mostly because a hard copy is my memory. The question is: which area or damaged areas are the sticking point? What precisely do I need to heal?

Clues came from the EEG assessments the ADD Centre conducted, other clues come from my meetings with the psychology prof. And always after one of our amazing discussions about cognitive theory, neuroscience, and my experience, I come away with a practical suggestion or two.

We began by discussing how the brain integrates information over space and time. (For some reason, I kept thinking about my book Time and Space!) Apparently, much has been studied about how the brain integrates information in space. For example, you look at a cup, your visual cortex sees the bottom of the cup, sees the lid of the cup as related to the bottom in space, and puts them together to create the information that you are looking at a cup.

The brain also integrates information over time. That’s reading! I thought. Yup. True, you see words in space, for they are next to each other or above and below each other on a page. But when you read, you take them in one after the other over time — if you’re a slow reader. If you’re a fast reader, well, it’s a bit more complicated. So let’s forget about fast reading; let’s just look at reading as if we’re a slow reader: one word at a time, sequentially in time.

The brain has a corresponding map of things in space. For example, the upper part of our visual field maps to an area below a sulcus (groove) near the bottom back of our brain. The bottom part of our visual field maps to the area above that sulcus. Yeah, the brain likes to reverse reality. It’s funny that way. That’s why we know a paralyzed right arm means damage in the left side of the brain. Anywho, bits of information in our visual field –- bits of what we see – get mapped into corresponding areas in the back of the brain. But then there’s another area, a little deeper in and towards the cortex or outside of the brain. This area also processes bits of information, except in combination not individually. So two points in the first area become one point in the second area. This is handy. I wasn’t clear if the processing happens over time; it seemed like it happens almost simultaneously. The brain sees both the bits and the combination of bits at the same time.

However, the brain has no corresponding map of things in time. We exist in a point of time. Our brains exist in a point of time. Our brains don’t exist in the past, present, and future all at once. So how does it map bits of information in time?

How does it map reading in time?

And how does it combine words, one after the other, in the way it combines bits of information in space?

We don’t know.

What we do know . . .

From my discussions with the ADD Centre, I understood that reading begins with the back of the brain processing the visual information – the words – then Wernicke’s Area receiving that information and translating the language of it into understandable meaning before sending it on to the frontal cortex where meaning is processed, old knowledge is accessed, new information and old are all synthesized together, and the whole thing stuck into long-term memory. I’m sure that’s a simplistic explanation. The sticking point to my reading problems could be anywhere or everywhere along that network.

After the ADD Centre used tDCS to stimulate healing of Wernicke’s Area, my ability to speak and listen improved markedly. Even though I must still prop up my ability to understand spoken words by watching people’s lips move when they talk, I don’t have to expend so much energy in simply understanding. That means I have more energy to compose and say my reply. Conversation with me is more fun.

But it did SFA for my reading.

And so there must be another sticking point. Early in 2016, the ADD Centre targetted my left frontal-prefrontal cortex (FP1-F3), and my headaches while doing my reading homework disappeared. My ability to organize also began to re-emerge from the dead. Unfortunately, having experienced extreme stress, my brain regressed. I had lost the foundation of relaxed, focused attention in the middle top part of my brain that they had trained in me back in 2005/2006, and we had to switch from training FP1-F3 back to enhancing 12-15Hz in the middle top part of my brain. Since gamma brainwave enhancement de-stresses me so well, we’re simultaneously enhancing it too. Although my resiliency and calmness are returning, unfortunately, my headaches from reading also have. I try not to think about that setback. Anyway, back to my conversation with the prof.

I talked about the effort of reading. This fascinated the prof, for there was no sign of the effort on my face while I was talking. How can I talk seemingly effortlessly yet have so much trouble reading? Well, listening is difficult too. Just because you can’t see the effort on my face doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot of conscious hanging on to words as my ears pick them up so that I can follow the conversation. If I want to ensure full comprehension, I have to make a very concerted effort to hear and understand, especially if the conversation is complex like ours was. But if it’s just social chit chat, then I can sort of coast.

In any case, listening is still not as difficult as reading.

Also, talking, like writing is output: both are easier than the input skills of listening and reading. He came back at me with the fact that talking includes assessing facial expressions, body language, monitoring what you’re saying, etc. Only later did I think about the fact that after brain injury, little of that happens, which is probably why we make for sucky conversationalists. But my ability to read faces and body language, to stay on point and not hop around like some crazed bunny, has improved markedly. So just because talking is multi-faceted doesn’t mean it’s still equivalent to reading. I can talk sans caring about conversation. I can’t look at words sans reading without caring about the fact nothing is happening if I do that unless I make myself OK with that (I did for awhile).

I think feeling the effort of reading is like feeling the effort for any ability or skill that’s damaged after brain injury. The brain learns, and while it’s learning skill X, it’s effortful. Watch a child learn to read: their brow is furrowed, their tongue is tucked into the side of their mouth, they mouth words with effort. Then watch an older child read: their brow is relaxed, their mouths may silently sound out words, but they read easier than the early reader because their brain has automatized reading. Only when they come across a new word will you see their brows come together, their lips move in exaggerated caricature and their tongues in wide gestures, several times, maybe even asking a parent or teacher to sound out the word a few times, before they master it. Even then, it may require several exposures to this new word before it becomes part of their effortless reading. Now watch an adult reader: they’re relaxed, nose deep in book, they’re absent from the real world, they’re deep inside the imaginary world, feeling the feelings of the characters. almost physically experiencing the fictional world they’re reading about, relating themselves to the characters, having revelations, learning sans knowing it. Time means nothing. That adult reader exists outside of real time and lives inside imaginary time. They can do that because reading, learning new vocabulary, putting the story into memory and adding to it, drawing out old knowledge and using it to understand the story – all of that the brain has become so good at it, it’s automatic. Anything that’s automatic takes less energy and frees up resources for the brain to do other things, in this case, engage emotions and get into the state of flow. And learn.

Brain injury has taken me from that adult reader to the youngest child, except that I retained my vocabulary. At first, I lost access to much of it; as I heal, my access is returning. At this point, it seems like it’s 100 percent. I know it isn’t, but it’s returned enough to have that façade.

As I talked to the prof and listened to his theories and explanations, I would repeat the concepts or spring ahead with my concepts. This puzzled him: how could I create concepts and understand complex concepts yet have so much difficulty reading? I told him the psychologist who saw me way at the beginning of my injury said that I had not lost my logic or reason, they were only stuck inside and I could still use them, albeit at glacial speed. My speed has increased markedly since 2000, and I have retained my old knowledge. I can access that, especially when conversation stirs old facts back up into the recognition memory zone. Logic and reason and my foundation of old knowledge acquired during decades of voracious reading pre-injury are the reasons I can create concepts and understand complex ones.

I explained the effort of reading and listening is in the hanging onto each word or idea as I move onto the next word. I have to effortfully keep them present in my mind as I add to them. It’s hard work, and it’s all conscious work.

We went on to discuss working memory. Way, way back in my university studies, I had learnt about short term and long term memory. Simplistically put, information goes into your short-term memory; whatever your attention decides needs to be remembered is shoved into long term, the rest forgotten. Working memory is a newish construct to me. I asked him to explain. There launched a rather interesting discussion, the upshot of which is that there may be no such thing as working memory in the brain. It may simply be a psychological construct with no physical reality. What I had learnt remains true.

He concluded that my sticking point must be at the basic elemental level, that is, the level of taking in bits of information and combining them. What if we took that block out? What if we combined those words for me? Pictures do that. It takes many words to describe a picture; but one glance to understand a simple picture or a prolonged glance to understand a detailed picture. In either case, the words are combined for the viewer.

There’s a new genre in town: the wordless graphic novel. The reading is in the looking at each image panel in sequence. He loaned me Cinema Panopticum to see if it would make a difference to my reading, to see how my brain would react.

The other issue I have is speed. I can follow people much easier than I used to, but if they talk too quickly, or when my speech speeds up all of a sudden – ack! – I get lost. I can compensate by either not caring I’m not following them and faking it or by asking them to repeat themselves. I’ve grown clever at being able to ask people questions so that they repeat what they said without it being obviously asked.

He suggested that I could use a podcast app that speeds up or slows down the rate of speech to assess how quickly I can comprehend the spoken word. I can take a passage and note down the speed. Then listen to it for x minutes and record at what speed I could comfortably comprehend it. Repeat that assessment regularly, say, once a month to track my progress.

When I first began my reading rehab in 2015, I had timed my speed in seconds per word. But now I time it in terms of paragraphs per number of minutes. Less work. However, it would be a good idea to time my reading per word every so often. Being able to see if I’m changing or not will give me an idea of my progress.

In the occupational therapy world, writing down goals and ticking them off is how they get those of us with brain injury to see that we are accomplishing things, because things take so frigging long to do. The same with timing podcast passages and words read. It would give me an objective number — those two methods would show me and my health care team exactly what kind of progress I’m making.


Smashwords Winter/Summer Sale = Free Ebooks

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At one minute past midnight Pacific time on March 2, the special Smashwords Read an Ebook Week promotion catalogue goes live on the Smashwords home page.  Readers can browse the catalogue and search by coupon code levels and categories.  At the stroke of midnight Pacific time at the end of the day on March 8, the catalogue disappears.

The coupon codes only work at Smashwords, not at retailers served by Smashwords.”

I’ve enrolled all my ebooks in this super sale, from anywhere from 50% to 75% off to FREE. Click on the book cover of your choice to get your super-discounted copy and start reading.

Time and Space

Abans Accension Cover Buy This Book 120x180 Shireen Jeejeebhoy Job Cover Buy This Book 120x180 Shireen Jeejeebhoy Lifeliner
A Nibble of Chocolate, Cover Eleven Shorts  1 Buy This Book 120x180 Shireen Jeejeebhoy She Front Cover

Orangeberry Tour of TIME AND SPACE Wraps Up

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It’s hard to fight for home when you’re dumped into an alien future with a pack of three boys gunning for your death.

Today, August 31st, is the last day of the 2013 Orangeberry Book Expo, in which I participated with my time travel novel. Time and Space is in row 7 of their Booths. Click on the cover, and you’ll be taken instantly to the Amazon buy page. One-click shopping! Even after the Expo ends today, Time and Space will remain in the Orangeberry bookstore. Check it and their bookstore out today!

And so ends my book tour of Time and Space. Between my exhaustion trying to keep up with daily life, leaving no room for flogging the life out of my tour, and the gods, the sales dived deep under my expectations. I think I need a new cover. But I’m feeling right out of ideas. Or maybe I could use the same concept but different colours or something. Well, I’ll keep that stuffed down deep in my mind where the creative neurons can chew on it while I take the next nine days off. It’s staycation and digital detox time! For those who’ve yet to come across that nugget of a term, a digital detox is when you go offline and off computer and re-enter the analogue world of papers and pens. I’ll be reading or photographing what passes my fancy.

Except for hosting #ABIchat on Monday, September 2, I’ll be back Monday, September 9. Have a great Labour Day holiday everyone! And enjoy your first week back at work or school. I’ll be thinking of you as I lounge around!


Another Month, Another Giveaway for Time and Space!

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Giveaway time! Enter to win a copy of Time and Space through Goodreads, the website for readers.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Time and Space by Shireen Jeejeebhoy

Time and Space

by Shireen Jeejeebhoy

Giveaway ends August 15, 2013.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win


Time and Space Giveaway!

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You’ve seen the announcement, read the excerpt, checked out my interviews on my writing, and now you can enter my Goodreads giveaway for a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Time and Space. But hurry, it ends July 3rd!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Time and Space by Shireen Jeejeebhoy

Time and Space

by Shireen Jeejeebhoy

Giveaway ends July 03, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


Time and Space Goes on a Virtual Book Tour

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New novel, new book tour! I launched Time and Space on 4 June 2013 and sent it off on an Orangeberry book tour at the same time. Today ends the first leg of the book tour, which comprised reviews (to come), guest posts, author interviews, and a #TwitterView!

Day One: Newbie Blast and a Feature on Peace From Pieces.

Day Two: Interview on Mommy Adventures with Ravina.

Day Three: Guest post on How to Research Your Story on Bunny’s Review.

Day Four: More questions for moi on The Reading Cat.

Day Five: Guest post on Finding Your Voice on Blog-A-Licious Authors.

Day Six: Excerpt on Author’s Friend (tis labelled an interview but it’s a sample of the ebook).

Day Seven: #TwitterView!

(If widget showing only questions, click on this link.)

Day Eight: Twitter Blast with @OBBookTours

The next leg of Time and Space‘s Orangeberry Book Tour begins on June 18 with a guest post and will consist of weekly blog stops, with interviews, excerpts, and features!

Buy Now @ Amazon & Smashwords & Kobo


The TTC in Time and Space

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My newest novel Time and Space has just launched. When I wrote it in November 2011, I thought I have to get this out fast, otherwise my prediction about the TTC will become obsolete, after all Mayor Rob Ford was voted in a year earlier to build subways. His popularity and speed at beginning to implement what he’d promised was such, I thought for sure that some of those LRT lines would turn into subways. And then when Andy Byford was promoted to CEO and began polishing up the TTC, I became convinced a major rewrite was in my future.

So much for my prediction about my novel’s obsolescence.

Here we are, a year and a half after National Novel Writing Month 2011, when I dreamt up and described the 2411 version of the TTC — which description arose out of my total frustration with the lack of needed subway expansion –  and nothing has changed. This is good for my novel, for it won’t sound outdated. But not so hot for us commuters. While I tried to get my novel published the traditional way and while it also had to wait in line as I worked to get other books out first, Toronto Council indulged in endless back-and-forth debates and TTC coup and counter-coups. It made for compelling viewing for us Torontonians, and I’m sure reporters were salivating at what the next week would bring, but it didn’t create one nm (nanometre) of additional track, designed or real, and it doesn’t help us at all. And that is what I tried to convey.

Sometimes you need to use fiction and hyperbole to drive home a point.

Although I think at this point in time, everyone has done that non-fictionally on social media, around water coolers, waiting for a streetcar, and on and on.

That is the one thing that has changed since 2011. Commuter frustration has become more vocal. Usually, Torontonians are a quiescent lot. A few voices may rise up in dissent, but the majority keep their head down while grumbling to their friends and family. But now, here in 2013, the grumbling has come out into the open. The never-ending scandal surrounding Mayor Rob Ford may be drowning it out a bit, but with social media offering such an easy outlet for TTC frustration, it has not died down.

Historically, writers have used their novels as pulpits to pound out a social issue message – in an entertaining way. My favourite author has always been Charles Dickens, who was a master at that. I’m not as prolific with words as he is, but I hope that in the way my characters get around town and in how I describe the subway system, the streetcars, the bicycle traffic, and the cars in Time and Space, that I have made it exceedingly clear how much our leaders have failed us and how inadequate the TTC is to the population size.

Time and Space Final Ebook 1256x1910 Shireen Jeejeebhoy 18 May 2013

Time is kidnapped by three boys from the future, then dumped in the future past to die. She finds shelter with a mysterious man whose name is Space, and she must either adapt or find her way home before the boys catch her and dispose of her forever.

“I am reading Time and Space by @ShireenJ and loving it! What a great writer!” – @Mariam_Kobras, 26 May 2013

Buy Now @ Amazon & Smashwords & Kobo


Time and Space Launching

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Time and Space Cover
Time and Space on Sale Now!

It’s hard to believe, but almost two years after I began relearning certain aspects of theoretical physics, general relativity, and time travel, I am now launching the fruits of all that mental labour: my second novel Time and Space.

Faint clicks emanating from behind me, from inside the murkiest of the gloom, send all my nerves on end and shoot my head up, eyes narrowed, darting around, hunting for what caused the sound.

Time and Space is about an ordinary woman turning 40 whose life suddenly undergoes a dramatic change as she’s on her way to her safe, boring job. Three boys kidnap her and take her to their present: a lab in the future. Their prof is not amused. The boys had promised never again to kidnap people from the past, he reminds them. He orders them to leave her where they took the others: her future, their past. The Nasty Time, they call it. But while they leave her alone in order to prep the time travel cube, a bikini-clad girl slips in and tells her how to build a time machine to get back home. But it’s all gibberish to Time, and she doesn’t want to learn . . . until the boys dump her in The Nasty Time. It’s 2411. She’s still turning 40. And she wants to go home.

Time and Space is on book tour now. And you can purchase your ebook copy in ePub or Kindle right now, for only $4.99 and while you’re at your favourite retailer or Amazon Canada, you can add a free copy of my first novel She to your cart. I hope you will enjoy reading Time and Space as much as I enjoyed writing it!