Thursday, 10 November 2011

Stroke surprise

I know very strange things can happen to people who've had strokes. But this really is extra-ordinary - a 19 stone rugby-playing bank clerk who turned into a slimline gay hairdresser passionate about his appearance*.

After an unlucky training accident that broke his neck and caused a stroke, Chris Birch of South Wales gave up his weekend drinking sessions with his hetero mates, gave up his girlfriend and started to date men. Now he lives with his partner Jack.

He also lost interest in his banking job and retrained to be a hairdresser.

"Suddenly I hated everything about my old life. I didn't get on with my friends, I hated sport and I found my job boring. I'm nothing like the old Chris now but I wouldn't change a thing. I think I'm happier than ever."

What this confirms to me is that being gay is definitely not, as some would say, the result of brainwashing, a temporary phase, being too close to your mum, or any of those other idiotic ideas. It's all down to something in your brain that makes you the way you are.

But it must be quite weird when your old personality, that you assumed was fixed and permanent, suddenly mutates into something quite different. A bit like acting someone in a play and then finding you ARE that person, for good. I'm surprised he's so matter-of-fact about it, as if it's all completely natural.

Other equally astonishing things have happened to stroke victims. Alan Brown from Worcestershire found he was able to paint and draw with great skill, despite no previous training. Others have developed regional accents or started speaking in another language.

It makes you wonder what unsuspected talents are lurking in our brains, ready to be triggered by a drastic medical trauma. Are we all secret Einsteins?

* Some sceptics have suggested Chris simply discovered his true sexuality and the stroke had little to do with it other than causing him to rethink his life.

Pic: Chris Birch

18 comments:

Jenny Woolf said...

That story caught my eye too, Nick, and it's very strange. I suspect there were some gaps in the reporting or slightly more to it than meets the eye. Just call it my journalist training. Have you read any of Oliver Sacks' books? They're a bit creepy (I think the whole subject is) but very fascinating. The truth is that even top neurologists have a fairly hazy idea of how the brain works. I have seen quite a few savants (people who may be handicapped but who also have amazing abilities.

Nick said...

Jenny - The reports I've seen are all very similar and presumably from a single source, so other journalists might shed new light on it. I've read some Oliver Sacks a long time ago. As you say, we're still pretty ignorant of how the brain works despite centuries of research.

John Gray said...

queeny bollocks!
what's with the hairdryer? very charlie's angels

Rummuser said...

No matter what unsuspected talents are lurking in my brain, ready to be triggered by a drastic medical trauma, I don't want a stroke. My brain has already been replaced once, thanks to my sense of humour getting the better of me.

Nick said...

John - Charlie's Angels? Your reference has gone over my head, since I wasn't a CA fan....

Ramana - I wouldn't want a stroke either, especially if the effects are as likely to be negative as positive.

nursemyra said...

The same thing is purported to happen when people have organ transplants. The illiterate boozer starts writing poetry, the exercise junkie becomes a couch potato, the extreme sportsman becomes a devout monk, chronic dieters become gourmands..... all lifestyle choices that their donors were interested in.

Nick said...

Myra - I didn't know anything about that, but Google has some interesting stories, like the woman who had a kidney transplant and suddenly developed a taste for Dostoevsky and Jane Austen.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I tend to think that the stroke rewired his brain, and every aspect of who he had been was up for grabs. Such stories are most fascinating.

Wisewebwoman said...

There is so so much we don't understand about the brain.
CBC had a radio programme about one stroke victim recovering and playing the piano like a pro. Never had touched a piano before.
More things in heaven and earth, Horatio, etc.
XO
WWW

Baino said...

I think it was probably being faced with his own possibly demise that allowed the latent feelings to surface. I can't believe a stroke will suddenly turn you gay. Good on him for realising life's too short to live a lie.

Nick said...

Heart - That's what happens, I think, the brain makes all sorts of new connections after a stroke so this could easily change your personality. My dad had a stroke but unfortunately it did nothing for his foul temper.

www - I'm sure there are many fully developed skills tucked away in our brains, which can come to the surface in freak circumstances.

Nick said...

Baino - Oh, I think you're too cynical. A stroke can radically affect a person's brain functioning and a change in sexuality seems quite plausible.

secret agent woman said...

The evidence I've read suggests that there are some in utero hormonal influences that alter brain structure, so I suspect that he had been socialized not to accept his own homosexuality. The stroke may have freed him. But I'm extremely skeptical that it "turned him gay." That doesn't make the transformation any less remarkable in my eyes - there's something pretty amazing about any event that causes us to do a wholesale re-assessment of the life we're living.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - It's possible the stroke made him aware his life could be cut short and that he should be the person he really was before it was too late.

blackwatertown said...

I don't know whether he has discovered his true self, or his true self has evolved, but... It is interesting the extent to which our character or personality is related to chemical balance - depression, vivacity, optimism, sociability, etc. It somehow feels wrong that character/soul/whatever you want to call it - something innate - could be based on something so prosaic or manipulable as drugs.
(I realise I may have wandered off the subject.)

Nick said...

Blackwater - That's a thought, it could have been new chemical balances rather than new brain connections that changed his personality. Or both.

Liz said...

I hadn't heard about him; that's amazing!

It makes me wonder what secrets my brain is hiding ...

Nick said...

Liz - At the bottom of your brain is a mini-Einstein ready to solve the mysteries of the universe.