It’s very rare that a book stays with you long after you’ve put it down. Lauren Marks’s bestselling book, “A Stitch of Time” has made a permanent place in our list of favorites. Despite years of research on aphasia, this book is one of the only first-person accounts of what it’s like to lose your words, yet find your voice. Marks’ journey has been nothing short of miraculous. It’s a testament to the fact that recovery after aphasia is boundless, and it doesn’t stop until you do.
This book is an excellent read for those on their road to recovering from aphasia, family, caregivers or anyone simply interested in an in-depth account of a brain in the act of healing. We could, of course, dig our noses into a textbook to understand aphasia, but personal stories like these help make this condition human. This book is a wonderful product of great storytelling, knowledge about the brain and mind, and an extraordinary journey of determination and patience. It’s about a voice, slowly finding itself, one word at a time.
Lauren Marks was a young actor, director and Ph.D. student when a life-altering aneurysm made an unwelcome appearance in her life. One moment she was on stage singing with her friends at a karaoke bar, and the other being wheeled away to the emergency ward after an aneurysm ruptured in her brain, leaving her with aphasia.
Aphasia affects one’s ability to express and comprehend speech and is a common result of brain injury or stroke. Marks’ world of words, as she describes it- from poems to prayers, stories to songs – were lost overnight. Language, something that was so important to her and her career, at the forefront of her professional and personal achievements, was replaced by the ceaseless “Quiet.” This silence spread within her too, putting to rest her internal monologue. Our inner voice is the constant stream of thoughts, emotions, and worries our brain narrates to us. What was really interesting to read was how she gives an identity to this voice and calls it “The Quiet.”
One would imagine this deafening muteness to be so frustrating, not being able to communicate, read or write. But she has a completely different take on this- she accepts all that the silence brings. To her, the silence is illuminating, nourishing and all-encompassing, almost like a meditative state. She feels at one with everything around her and finds that the smallest of activities have a sense of order. She talks about the wet gloss of magazines on her bedside table, sponginess of her teeth and the room pulsating as one breathing organism. Such a unique perspective on aphasia reflects just why Marks’s memoir is different from the rest.
Her approach and response to her condition are so positive and motivating. Sure, there were times she faced the harsh reality of her situation- like realizing even after all these years of building an extensive literary background, she found herself at the same reading level as her 8-year-old cousin. But no matter how much she had to relearn, or how slowly she progressed, she never stopped. She never stopped reading, writing and seeking help. She tirelessly worked with her speech-language therapist, started taking ASL classes, sought the help of support groups, researched about the brain’s anatomy, but most of all never gave up hope.
After her stroke, Marks didn’t just lose her words but found a different way to think. Throughout the book, she points out how much language is intertwined with memory and the mind. Language isn’t merely a medium that carries our thoughts into the world, but can ignite a swarm of memories and emotions- it has the power to create. Words aren’t just used to describe what is, but what doesn’t exist and what can be. The language we use gives rise to our specific way of thinking and our thoughts piece together to make us who we are. In this way, language thought and identity is much more interconnected than we can fathom.
When Marks’s linguistic template was taken away, her thinking, and ultimately her identity felt compromised. She remembers when people around her brought up memories of her past self, she had trouble identifying (as she referred to it) the “Girl She Used to Be” and othered that version of her from the “Woman She Was Becoming.”
During this time, Marks acknowledges how her friends and family expected her to return to her “former self”, but with how much her language, and as a result, her perception of the world had changed, she started adopting a renewed identity. She accepted both versions of herself and incorporated all her shortcomings to be the person she is today.
Change is inevitable, she says, and in her case, appeared as a life-altering incident. The way you sound, speak or think is bound to modify as you grow (and the best part is, you never stop growing!) Whether you’re undergoing brain rehabilitation or not, to accept change is to move forward. These different versions of you make you who you are and we must embrace that. Change is the only constant.
Having aphasia does not mean the loss of intellect, and it would be a grave mistake, Marks says, to assume that someone with aphasia is no longer knowledgeable or capable.
“People with aphasia remain chess champions, problem-solvers, high-level managers, devout spouses, parents, and children. The many manifestations of aphasia can be as unique and varied as the people experiencing it.” Marks understands that her journey to recovery may be vastly different from others with aphasia. And although she shares with us her deeply personal story, she includes extensive research showing just how unique everyone’s pace and the path is. But regardless of where you stand, one of the biggest takeaways from the book is that you must keep going no matter what the road ahead looks like.
She highlights the importance of surrounding yourself with a strong social support system and focussing on doing things that make you happy. She never let the condition stop her from traveling, exploring or meeting new people. Her journey from picking up a book and merely seeing it as a jumbled cobweb of words to now writing a book of her own, Lauren Marks shows us just how far grit and resilience can take you.
Give this book a read! Pick up a copy of “A Stitch of Time” from your local bookstore or visit this website for more information.
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