Curated By: Esther
I grew up to study the brain because I have a brother who has been diagnosed with a brain disorder, schizophrenia. And as a sister and later, as a scientist, I wanted to understand, why is it that I can take my dreams, I can connect them to my reality, and I can make my dreams come true? What is it about my brother’s brain and his schizophrenia that he cannot connect his dreams to a common and shared reality, so they instead become delusion?
So I dedicated my career to research into the severe mental illnesses. And I moved from my home state of Indiana to Boston, where I was working in the lab of Dr. Francine Benes, in the Harvard Department of Psychiatry. And in the lab, we were asking the question, “What are the biological differences between the brains of individuals who would be diagnosed as normal control, as compared with the brains of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective or bipolar disorder?”
So we were essentially mapping the microcircuitry of the brain: which cells are communicating with which cells, with which chemicals, and then in what quantities of those chemicals? So there was a lot of meaning in my life because I was performing this type of research during the day, but then in the evenings and on the weekends, I traveled as an advocate for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
But on the morning of December 10, 1996, I woke up to discover that I had a brain disorder of my own. A blood vessel exploded in the left half of my brain. And in the course of four hours, I watched my brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process all information. On the morning of the hemorrhage, I could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of my life. I essentially became an infant in a woman’s body.