Book Review: ‘Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders’
For people with mental disorders, certain aspects of life can be challenging. Author Cole Cohen lived her entire life with varying learning disabilities along with other cognitive difficulties that made it hard to judge time, distance and similar perceptive measurements. She lived her entire life dealing with these issues but never knowing what was wrong, until she went to the doctor with the hopes of getting cleared to get a driver’s license at the age of 26. It was then that doctors discovered a hole in her brain that was about the size of a lemon. In her memoir, Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders, Cohen recalls her diagnosis and describes life with this unusual condition.
Cohen begins the book by recounting how her then-undiagnosed condition affected life as a child. Throughout her school years, she and her family went to various doctors and specialists to no avail. Her difficulties with spacial awareness, time recognition and other issues left most professionals stumped, and Cohen was essentially passed through the system. Some of the issues she found herself struggling with included difficulty learning how to tie her shoes, distinguishing left and right, and the inability to recognize increments of time.
Cohen is an inspiration in that she tells her story with a lack of self pity, often interjecting humor and a lighthearted acceptance into the narrative. She manages to take a relatively unique situation and make it relatable. One aspect of her journey that many people can relate to is the difficulty of finding a diagnosis. For many struggling with mental illnesses, getting a proper diagnosis can be an issue, and many people find themselves being passed through the system. Those who have experienced this will appreciate Cohen’s narrative about her struggles.
Having made it through elementary school, middle school, high school and getting her undergrad, Cohen decided to go to school to get an MFA. However, her cognitive issues made her unable to get a driver’s license since she couldn’t accurately judge distances. What she thought was a variety of learning disabilities made it hard for Cohen to tell how far away other cars were and how to tell when the light was about to change.
Upon going to the doctor’s office to get a clear diagnosis and a plan for treatment, Cohen learned that she had a hole the size of a lemon in her brain. Having holes in the brain is not entirely abnormal, and it’s a potential side effect of substance abuse, but congenital brain defects aren’t as common, and they are hard to diagnose. Once Cohen had a diagnosis, she was able to figure out how to manage her symptoms and achieve her goals.
After bringing readers through her initial symptoms and diagnosis, Cohen provides an uncensored look into her life after the diagnosis, chronicling everything from relationships to work to sex. Living life with the types of symptoms caused by the hole in Cohen’s brain is not an easy feat, but she manages to tell her story with humor and positivity.
The book itself is a little disjointed, but it works, because it offers insight into the inner workings of Cohen’s world. The fact that she manages to tell her story with honesty makes her likable and easy to relate to. One negative aspect of the book comes when Cohen delves into a serious relationship. Her boyfriend isn’t as likable as she is and comes across as cold and unsupportive. In a book where you are rooting for the narrator to overcome her struggles, this aspect of the book makes it hard to move forward.
Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders is a gripping and heartfelt coming of age tale that a lot of people from all walks of life can relate to. It’s a good story about coping with life’s setbacks and thriving in spite of them. People who like linear narratives may not like the style in which this book was written, but for those who like stories about people who overcome obstacles and achieve their goals, this is a good story.