I have a problem brain, and I know that I’m not the only gamer with one. There’s a number of us that have mental illnesses, brain injuries, and neurological conditions that can make not only life but our hobbies incredibly difficult at times. There isn’t a lot of public chat about gaming with neurological disabilities, and very little about trying to keep playing games after a stroke. Three years ago this fall, I had mine.
Brain vs Gamer
When I was 26, I had a stroke. My family doctor thought it was probably two strokes, within the same 24 hour period. I don’t even remember the first one, and I only remember the second in out of order pieces of memory. I had what’s called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is a form of stroke that typically resolves without permanent brain injury. Sometimes TIA gets called a “mini stroke,” and because there isn’t a bleed in the brain, some doctors may treat it as less ‘serious’ than a hemorrhagic stroke (a stroke that involves bleeding in or around the brain).
The bloodflow to my brain was greatly reduced, possibly by some sort of blockage. I remember being in pain. I couldn’t talk. I had to be carried to the car that would take me to the emergency room. I was unable to communicate in any way, walk on my own, grasp things, my vision was blurred. Only hours later, I could start speaking simple sentences again. I was exhausted, and I was really scared. I was going to follow up with a neurologist, and until my first appointment, I spent most of time reading a lot about strokes. Because I’ve had a TIA (possibly as many as 4-5) I’m at an increased risk for future TIAs, as well as hemorrhagic strokes. For bonus points, there’s also silent strokes, which don’t cause what we think of as stroke symptoms (like slurred speech) but do have an impact on neurological health. Having lived through TIA makes those a risk for me as well. It’s like having a cranial bomb in Shadowrun, except my brain is the bomb.
Gamer Vs Brain
The medication I’m on to control massive migraines (and hopefully prevent future strokes) make me fuzzy all the time. That was my trade off: wait for my brain to win, or be a little out of it all the time, but improve the chances for me to win out over the chances of future strokes occurring. I chose the medication, even though I often miss memories of feeling “clear” and “more awake.”
I already had neurological health problems before the stroke, but having a stroke put me in up close and personal space with my brain in the months afterward. That’s also when the side effects were at their worst. I still have the fuzzy head and slower thinking, the sleepiness and ten pounds of weight that are really hard to keep off. When they started, it felt like the end of the world. But they’re not as bad as they were, and I can usually wake up early now without falling over my own legs.
The brain issues still have influence on my social life. Most games have tight pacing and fast movement, and a lot of cons involve their fair share of social drinking. I have to be very careful about drinking, even if I keep it to just one drink. I often feel slower than my peers, and still bristle at times about lifestyle changes I’ve had to make to keep my brain as healthy as possible. I’m a wreck when I’m underslept, and have some pretty serious motor control issues unless I’ve rested enough.
I can’t pretend to be invincible, but I’m learning to work with the brain I have. It’s easy to see it as my enemy, to feel betrayed by my body. I need more help than I used to, even at the table. Asking my GM or fellow players for help understanding maps or doing math on the fly can be really embarrassing, but a moment of being embarrassed is still outweighed for me by the hours of enjoyment I have around those moments. And I’m down to checkups every six months, my medication is stable. I know what side effects I’m living with, and that I’ll probably be on these medications (or similar ones) for the rest of my life. Despite the changes, I’m still incredibly lucky that things turned out this well.
If you have any advice or words of support you’d like to give other gamers with brain disorders/brain diseases, leave them in the comments for everyone.