Enric Berenguer – Blanca: The girl that was not her Brain

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A long, long time ago, a girl came to see me. I will call her Blanca (1) because it is a name that best transmits the frailty that she conveyed, but also because the blanco is a way of naming what constituted her symptom that motivated our encounters. One could have used a verse from the Catalan poet Gabriel Ferrater to describe her: “vens d’on no recordes” – you come from where you do not remember.

Blanca was prodigious. She presented an inexplicable contrast for the doctors, the image of her brain – gravely damaged – and the levity of the consequences. Nevertheless, it was not always like this, because until she was four years old she had suffered a very severe case of epilepsy, resistant to medication. Later, suddenly, the neurologists found the formula that allowed to control the innumerable crises. Blanca was reborn. To everyone’s surprise, a series of deficiencies in her development, -which were considered irreversible-, disappeared, if not completely, at least mostly. She had a period of active struggle in which she managed to recuperate a large part of lost time of her early childhood.

Yet, those years in the fog of epilepsy had left Blanca with an anguishing mark. She was scared, she said, because she did not remember anything. Anxiety would grip her at times and have important inhibiting effects.

I met her mother, who I deem an admirable woman. She spoke to me about the tremendous anxiety and the desperation she and her husband had endured until the miracle. In her own way, she knew how to tell me the way they stood by her despite all of the difficulties. I responded that that was evident and there was no doubt in my mind that that was one of the reasons that Blanca had achieved her amazing feat.

Blanca’s mother was concerned about her daughter’s future. She was ten years old, how can a girl -who was marked by the absence of experiences- face adolescence? In some way the ominous emptiness that had presided over her early years was now an obstacle in her future, as if an irremediable innocence would leave her at the mercy of all the bad encounters. Moreover, it called into question her intelligence, her abilities. Those “holes in her brain” translated into holes in her life. It was as if everything she was capable of, aside from some discreet limitations, were not possible and were not true.

Blanca, alone with me, said something that corroborated her mother’s fears. She told me she was scared because, according to her, she had no memories, she felt a hole stalking her that made her feel unsure. The blank in her memories – at some point she spoke to me of fog – was like a stain that produced a combination of fear, insecurity and a sense of guilt, as if she felt obligated to have a memory of which, she says, she lacked. Other kids, she commented, talked about things when they were younger and she never knew what to say, it is as if she could only talk about her sickness. What’s more, she did not know if she made it up.

During the time she came to see me, she made some drawings to depict those few memories that she had. They were scenes of domestic life, a girl in bed and her parents nearby. The way she commented one of the drawings caugth my attention. She said she was not sure if that was a memory because everything was confused, blurry. She added that she did not know if it had been a dream. She was sure that her parents were there. I said that at a distance it is not easy to distinguish a dream from a memory and I pointed out that there was something she was certain of. In the next encounters I added that maybe nobody has that many memories and a few is enough.

One day Blanca told me that she felt better and that she preferred to play instead of come to see me. I accepted this declaration of her right to forget without insisting. I believe that I helped her to forget her brain and helped her mother leave a box of brain images alone, images that influenced way too much her perception of her daughter, although, it is necessary to recognize, this did not impede her from loving Blanca genuinely.

After all these years, we have more reasons to worry about the way in which false names for the subject (diagnosis reduced to clinical acronyms) impose a deterministic interpretation, like a cypher of destiny. The effects of this are particularly felt in the early childhood, period in which all these signifiers as well as the proliferation of « neuroimages » – whose fascinating visual accuracy acquires a value of false evidence when extracted from the context and the limits within which its use is convenient and legitimate – become embed in the development of life, interposing itself between the child and his/her parents, encouraging her saddest phantasy and pushing the child to a quiet resignation.

Following the example of Blanca, we reclaim the subject that is capable of forgetting about their brain to assume the value of what they are capable of, of what they have and of what they are. This implies, of course, situating the responsibility, recognize the margins of decisions making in each subject’s concrete situations. Desire is not in the brain. It is inseparable from the ability of an inalienable decision that certain ideologies, covertly authoritarian, pretend to deny by making misuse of science. The laws of a supposed determinism substitutes the dimension of a law that is properly human, converted into blind norms that are intended to impose on the subject, erasing the singularity without which the being of words cannot live.

Translated: Alejandro Betancur Vélez
Re-read by Lorena Hojman Davis

  1. Blanca/o in Spanish means “White” or “Blank” as in a blank space.

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