Aphasia is like trying to get around in a foreign country where you can’t speak the language. It’s like spending 24 hours a day with your words right on the tip of your tongue. Aphasia can feel like a prison. Analogies, metaphors, and similies are helpful comparative literary devices meant to explain something unknown. There are plenty in the pages of Ellayne Ganzfried and Mona Greenfield’s new book, The Word Escapes Me.
The Keyboard Analogy
On page 86, Yvonne describes life after her stroke, pulling in a story about a damaged computer keyboard to explain life with aphasia:
I recently had an incident that serves as an analogy for my stroke experience. I decided to clean my computer and saturated the keyboard with Windex. Bad move. From then on, every time I tried to type certain letters, I got nothing but a blank screen. No matter what I did, it wouldn’t respond. The keyboard looked fine, but it did not work right. When I’m sitting down and silent, I look fine, like there’s nothing wrong with me … When I try to speak, I’m outed as having trouble talking.
She ends her story with a powerful simile: “I am like a computer screen trying to reboot … My computer brain gets jammed, locked, frozen like my laptop’s broken keys.”
The Foreign Country Analogy
I once spent three weeks by myself in Norway, trying to get around Oslo without knowing the language. One day I needed to take the bus to another part of town. No one could understand my questions about the bus system. I ended up getting yelled at for misunderstanding the ticketing system and getting off three miles from where I was trying to go. I spent my whole day walking home, never reaching my intended destination.
That type of frustrating experience is described so clearly by Lee on page 81:
When Lee is asked about how aphasia effects him, he says, “Everything.” It is the single biggest problem that effects everything he does that requires speaking or writing: shopping, asking for things, asking for directions, giving directions, asking and answering questions, making comments.
Travel frustrations are solved by the time you head home. Aphasia frustrations last a lot longer and permeate your normal, day-to-day life at home. By tying the individual experience of aphasia to the common experience of travel, the listener understands a little better what it is like to walk in the other person’s shoes.
The Prison Analogy
The book opens with Ellayne Ganzfried’s essay highlighting the ability to still think in the same way before aphasia but communicate differently after aphasia. On page 24, she discusses this aspect of the condition:
Because people with aphasia can think as they always have but have lost the ability to use language to convey their thoughts and/or understand others, they often use the word “prison” to describe their condition. Imagine the frustration of knowing what you want to say but not being able to say it and/or saying things that others cannot understand.
Life in prison has everything and nothing in common with life outside that restrictive space. A person still sleeps, eats, and thinks, but they do so without any of the comforts and freedoms that define life outside of prison. Unlike travel, it isn’t your choice to leave. You have to finish out your sentence, whether it is for a short period of time or for the rest of your life.
Analogies, metaphors, and similies are helpful doors to give people without personal experience insight into life with aphasia. How would you describe aphasia to someone who doesn’t know anything about the condition?
Join this online book club! Copies of The Word Escapes Me can be purchased through all online book retailers including Amazon. You can also purchase the book directly from Balboa Press, and discounts are offered on bulk orders.
Image: Ozzy Delaney via Flickr via Creative Commons license