My Brain is a Volcano

Where are these clever and sometimes even erudite words coming from? I mean the ones that just seem to spill out of my brain at will. And how do they manage to arrange themselves so prettily on the page, each one interestingly depicting an idea or a person, or charmingly connecting to another word?

My prefrontal cortex is a volcano and the words are lava.  

I think that’s a pretty neat sentence, if I do say so myself, and before Parkinson’s, I never would have been capable of such an elegant turn of phrase, or at least not with so little effort.

I’ve always been a decent writer, but getting my writing to engage the reader deeply, to establish a mood, or to vividly describe took a fair amount of work. I especially struggled with metaphors, and when I employed them, they were often labored and clunky. And frankly, I don’t think the end product was ever as compelling as what my volcano-brain is churning out these days. Why is that?

Turns out that Parkinson’s is a kind of gift to my brain. Some patients – and I suspect I’m one- respond to dopamine therapy with an emergence of innate artistic skills. In other words, my verbal aptitude is amped up by dopamine medication. I’ve become a “dopa-fiend.” (See blog post The Lost Month for another take on that phrase.)

A different manifestation of the same brain activity among Parkinson’s patients can show up as compulsive gambling or shopping, hoarding or hypersexuality.* I’m not flushing away my retirement savings at jewelry stores, galloping off to Vegas, or checking out guys to hook up with in bars, so there’s something to be thankful for.

So yay, I’m smarter and more creative with Parkinson’s. Well, I’m here to tell you that life with a more creative brain is no bed of roses.**

There’s what I call “the yuckies.” Even a dopa-ed up writer like me can’t find the words to describe what I’m experiencing. It’s kind of like having the flu, with overall body discomfort and near-nausea. Put simply, I feel like crap, or at least a bit “off,”often for several hours a day.

I don’t want to convey the impression that I’m miserably in pain pretty much all the time. I have good days (not terribly symptomatic) along with the not-so-good.

The principal pain center is my lower left leg, which sometimes jiggles and other times hardens into a block of wood. Both sensations are extremely uncomfortable, and often disrupt my life, including my creative activities, because they’re just too damn hard to ignore. If only I could pop a pill and make the feelings disappear. Truth is, I can, but it’s an addictive and sedating medication that I shouldn’t use too frequently, and the effects of which, principally fatigue, don’t exactly lend themselves to much activity, mental or physical, during the daytime.

Would I try to exchange my newly-enhanced brain at the brain store for a more ordinary one? Absolutely. But we play the hand we’re dealt, and at least I’m not (yet) sporting that $30,000 Birkin bag I saw on Ebay.

*I’m no scientist. In fact, high school chemistry and college biology nearly did me in. So apologies if I have misinterpreted or mischaracterized any scientific findings or literature.

**I’m still not smart enough to avoid the occasional cliché.


This gem from HBO doesn’t always get the love it deserves.  Six Feet Under portrays a dysfunctional family that owns a Los Angeles funeral home.  Powerful stories, believable characters and great acting make this a compelling binge. Featuring a pre-Dexter Michael C. Hall.

Till next week!


10 thoughts on “My Brain is a Volcano

  1. Robin Dite

    I have always wanted to be a writer, but never had the “oomph” to get working. Parkinson’s hasn’t changed that for me, but I’m pleased to know it has for you. Maybe I should change meds . . . hahaha! By the way, I love your blog.


    1. Thanks robin, but don’t give up! I didn’t start writing till I was forty. I’m now 71. You could try some classes near you. Grub Street in Boston( but really national) is a tremendous resource. Also the University of Iowa summer writers festival is fantastic. Feel free to contact me directly if you’d like to chat further.


  2. I’ve always thought you were impressive as a wordsmith, going way back to our fun and competitive scrabble playing days in DC; and whom do I always mentally “wink” at when I hear someone on TV/ radio incorrectly use a pronoun or adverb? So, seems as if you’ve gotten even better!

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