The Frontal Lobe: Riding the Waves

Emotion is the fuel.

Many of us who live with frontal lobe damage have to wait for a wave of emotion in order to get things done. Absent emotion, many tasks lapse into stillness. Years ago I worked with a young man  whose physical functioning made it impossible for him to manually power a wheelchair so a power chair was ordered. He’d sustained his brain injury from a motorcycle accident. The day his power chair arrived he was overjoyed.

Once he was situated in the chair I said, “Okay bro, rock on. Kick your injury’s ass.” He drove that chair out into the hall, made a right and drove down the hall a good 20 yards or so, navigating the chair beautifully. He then came to a stop. I caught up with him and said, “You can do it, don’t let the injury control you, go for it.” And off he went, but this time only half the distance he covered the first time. After a time, no matter what I said, he didn’t drive the chair.

Confused, I talked to a neuropsychologist.  She explained what was happening. “The emotion provides the fuel for the action.  It temporarily overrides the frontal lobe damage. As soon as the emotion fades, the injury takes over.”

And so it is that many of us who live with frontal lobe damage wait for those waves of emotion to get certain things done. I do this with my writing. There are all kinds of things I want to write, I’m working on three books for God sakes. But unless I can locate an emotional wave to ride, I can’t get myself to the writing table. It is the same with this blog,  I have ideas for essays, but unless I can locate an emotional wave, I can’t get them written.

Those who work with brain injury survivors need to understand this, if they want to be effective in their work. Too often I have heard those with the symptoms of frontal lobe damage referenced here referred to as lazy, which is brutally and abusively wrong. Laziness has nothing to do with it. The part of our brain that serves as the ignition to begin a task doesn’t work. While the engine is there, the ignition is not. Emotion is needed to hotwire the engine so we can begin the task, so we can ride the waves.

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