Broken Early

The mind is an amazing thing.   It is so adaptable, such powerful wetware, that it reconfigures, changes to meet the needs at hand.

I knew someone who had a stroke and I was able to understand what happened.  Firmware controllers for basic tasks, like walking, had blown out in the brain, but they were able to emulate that processing in the main brain.  With training and work, they were able to simulate what the controllers did, but at the cost of attention and focus.

When they were tired or had a lot to process, their basic functions were impaired in a way that they would not have been if they were still run from the dedicated controller bits.   The emulation program had to compete for resources, adding stress and challenge to basic tasks that would be easy without the stroke damage.

They liked this explanation, feeling it represented their struggle, and were surprised when even non-technical people understood it.

When the basic firmware of the brain is flawed or broken, we have to emulate those functions in the higher brain and there is always a cost for that.

Reading about Harry Harlow’s mothering experiments with rhesus macaques I was reminded of this notion.   Harlow noted that when he took his monkeys away from their mothers and raised them in a nursery setting, they ended up being “strange.”    They didn’t have basic social connection skills.

Pushing the question of the role of mothers — the role of love — in the development of mammals, Harlow deliberately raised some animals in isolation.   The results were shocking.   “Total isolation . . . for at least the first six months of life,” Harry Harlow wrote, “consistently produces severe deficits in virtually every aspect of social behaviour.”

Isolated monkeys failed to initiate or reciprocate social behaviours like play or grooming, failed to engage in normal social behaviours, showed abnormal levels of aggression, and made horrible, inattentive parents.

While there was some recovery when these isolated monkeys were reintegrated, there was never full recovery.   The damage was permanent.

When these monkeys raised without love and affection were afraid, they often showed self-harming behaviours, calming themselves by hurting themselves.

The injuries from ineffective and distant mothering were deep and profound.    They were not fixable, but with effort, they could emulate some of the broken basics in the main brain, but always at a high cost that was revealed under stress.

I know the limits of having parents with Aspergers later in life when I had to fight with them, learning to be manipulative in order to defend and protect myself.  I know how I had to use my big fast brain to create survival strategies in the world, emulating in software the deficits I realized I had in firmware.

I don’t know, however, at least on any rational and logical level, the cost of having Aspergers parents in my first years when that firmware based on love and trust should be laid down.    I have no words, no stories for the challenges I experienced as an infant, before I had language and structured thought to try and get or substitute what I needed.

I do know how much these stories resonate with me, how I have slammed my own head and imagined being kicked to calm myself down.  I know how much behaviours and attitudes that others seem to take for granted are always hard work for me.   I know how much things others see as easy slip away from me, causing stress and pain.

What are the costs of maternal deprivation in my life?  How has trying to fake, to vamp, to substitute what most learn early from healthy interactions cost me over time?   Like any curse, it is also a gift, as I suspect my own meta consciousness, my own fast and furious analysis comes from the same place.

I never played well with others, never easily fit into social networks, never found social interactions easy.  I played alone and I still do, hermetic to the last, much like my younger sister, and maybe even like my youngest brother who paid a lot to become assimilated as an extension of his wife.

The mind is an amazing thing. It is so adaptable, such powerful wetware, that it reconfigures, changes to meet the needs at hand.

I thank my mother in the sky for the power of my brain to fill in the gaps from my history from the general store of cycles.

But those gaps, those gaps, those gaps, well, they still make me sad, still leave me disconnected and still seem to cause me pain.

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