What I’ve discovered: the Cerebellum is like, the red-haired stepchild of neurology. Here’s the old elevator pitch on the Cerebellum: it controls muscle movement and balance.
When anyone who knows anything about the brain hears I had a tumorectomy/craniotomy/thingy in my Cerebellum, they say this: Oh! You must have had trouble moving around. You seem great!” or some such. What they mean is: you are not falling over while I’m talking to you, so yay!
But after the first couple weeks, I could get around fine. I couldn’t remember what the hell I was doing once I was up and getting around, I couldn’t quite understand anything anyone was saying, I stuttered and spazzed out and couldn’t find words at all…but I had pretty good balance. So what gives?
Maybe the Cerebellum isn’t very easy to study, all tucked up there in the back, way overshadowed by the cortex lobes and what not. But in the last couple of decades, the Cerebellum is enjoying its 15 minutes, its hey-wait-a-minute moment of celebrity status in Neuro.
Just consider this: the cerebral cortex has 16 billion neurons. Impressive. Until you find out the Cerebellum has 69 BILLION neurons. 69 Billion! Also, in the last million years, in case you weren’t keeping track, it has evolved 3-4 times its original size, while the other has not.
It has two-way tracks into and out of the entire brain and is apparently processing all the damn time when the other part of the brain is zoning out in front of the screen.
So, when I had great balance but couldn’t make the simplest decision, when I stuttered, blurted out nonsense, couldn’t comprehend anything, got tearfully overwhelmed in the most innocuous situations…it was because my Cerebellum took a huge hit.
In 1997, a group of radical neurologists started noticing the post-cerebellum-craniotomy patients had a weird, consistent bunch of symptoms, they did a 10 year study to find out why.
They named what they found out: Cerebellar Cognitive Affective Syndrome. Notice no balance/coordination in the title. You can read about it here, but basically, it fit me to a T and when I discovered it, I felt deeply relieved and validated. And also relieved because they found for the most part, recovery just takes time. Sometimes a lot of time. Sometimes a lotta lotta time.
Look. I never would have given the cerebellum (or the cerebral cortex or much of anything up there) more than a passing thought before. But this craniotomy changed everything. I mean everything. You think you know who you are, but I know now: you do not. You are not in control, your brain is. And if your brain goes offline for a while, you’ll see what I mean.
I’m writing this stuff because when I was on the path to recovery, there were a lot of posts and discussions online that helped me a lot. You’d think the neurologists would help, but basically no, not so much. And I understand that–everyone’s brain is different, there’s no telling what will help, what will hurt, outside a few general tips. And about 50,000 hours of naps.
Here are a couple great articles on the rising fortunes of the Cerebellum. Cool stuff.