I appreciate that the allure of a small local bookseller for some may be the recommendations of its clerks or owners. Yet for others, myself included, the opportunity to browse provides a sense of self-discovery that can be satisfying in its own right. I say this bearing in mind that chancing upon hidden treasure is only possible when owners of small bookstores (like Rita Maggio) speculate on a gem such as Helmut Dubiel’s phenomenal memoir, Deep In The Brain, a slim 129 page volume nestled without fanfare between much heftier works.
The book was originally published in Germany in 2006. It’s appearance in 2009 awaited the translation by Philip Schmitz as a Europa edition. Although ostensibly a memoir about living with Parkinson’s Disease, as it is subtitled, this little gem is actually a primer for battling through life’s challenges. Dubiel, a German sociologist who sojourned in the U.S. for four years through visiting professorships at U.C. Berkeley and NYU between 1998 and 2002, traverses the terrain between what sort of person has the disease and what sort of disease has the person. What follows are several passages that illuminate the personal nature of a brain/body disease such as Parkinson’s from the patient’s perspective.
On the paradoxical relief that a diagnosis can bring:
“Theories, models, and concepts are not simply the toys of scientists. They also play an important role in the everyday lives of laypeople – for example, in the way humans experience their bodies … Once the term Parkinson’s had been introduced into my world the constant fatigue and anxiety attacks could no longer be dismissed as the hypochondriac symptoms of a severe neurotic. The diagnosis brought order into an apparently random series of symptoms, just as one creates order in randomly scattered iron filings simply by passing a magnet over them at close range.”
On motor coordination difficulties:
“My vertigo increased and was accompanied by a new kind of difficulty coordinating my eyes.. My pupils began contracting and dilating involuntarily and independently of one another. From one moment to the next, I was hardly capable of placing one foot in front of the other. It was as if I were wearing shoes of lead.”
On divulging the full range of signs and symptoms of one’s illness:
“It was precisely the parallelism of physical and psychiatric symptoms that was so confusing. The more they coalesced into a neurological picture, the more I kept silent about them … it was experiencing the diverse fears, the daily impairment of my lifestyle and the constant inexplicable exhaustion, after performing tasks that had once been a source of joy that permanently darkened my horizon … The fact that serious diseases often use psychophysical breakdowns as a Trojan horse may mislead one into interpreting the underlying disease process in a simple, psychosomatic sense. To me, the hypothesis of an emotional immune system would appear more fitting. In addition to an intact physical immune system, every person who is physically and mentally well enough also possesses an emotional immune system The latter can be so weakened by numerous traumatic stressors that it collapses, resulting in the manifestation of a pathology which was long present in a latent, germinal form.”
On the “X” factor in the “why” chromosome:
“I often find myself thinking what a vast number of coincidences determine our lives. I’m referring not only to the chromosome lottery at the beginning of life, but rather to the situation where, at the threshold of old age, one asks: which aspects of my biography may be attributed to my own merit or guilt, and which have resulted from pure coincidence … the complexity of insights we reconstruct always lags far behind the complexity of the actual reconstructed events themselves.”
And lastly, on the folly of certainties:
“In the modern age, discourse on physical disability, insanity, and illness is guided by a binary schematic of normal versus abnormal … Over the last few months I have tried – with some success – to secure the positive stocks of my life rather than lament what I am no longer able to have or to do … one of the prerequisites for happiness is in realizing life’s open-endedness and having an inkling that beyond the next mountain range, around the next bend in the road, lies an unknown land …