I am a social scientist by nature and training. My work involved understanding and improving mental health, life experiences, and education. I believed that science could advance the well-being of individuals and of societies. Two decades into my career and nearly as long since I was diagnosed HIV+, I started to notice changes in my behavior and in my abilities. These were subtle and difficult to pinpoint and I kept them to myself; I told myself that if I tried harder, I could get my brain to function the way it always had. I also knew that I couldn’t try harder; that was one of the problems: I didn’t care or worry or remember as I should. Or I did care but I could not will myself into actually taking action or completing what I set out to do. I also began, uncharacteristically, to write unstructured prose and taking photographs of ordinary things I never noticed before. I became less competent at managing my life. I was ashamed and I was terrified.
In this paper, I tell the story of how I pieced together what was happening in my brain through studying recent neuroscience journals. And I explain the comfort and resonance I found in some of the vocabulary of neuroscience (e.g. ‘inflammatory cascade’ and ‘dendritic pruning’ and ‘disinhibition’ and ‘prospective memory’). And I explain how I studied images of my brain in trying to find what was wrong and how I found myself making art and seeing in new ways.
- Sandra Langley, artist