My Beautiful Broken Brain: Continuing life after a brain hemorrhage

My Beautiful Broken Brain: Continuing Life After a Brain Hemorrhage

“Who am I? I’m someone who has a huge amount of friends, is very hard working, travels all over the world, loves to read. . . . (but) what if all of that evidence is removed? What does that make me?”

Charismatic filmmaker Lotje Sodderland was 34 years old when a massive inter-cerebral brain hemorrhage nearly killed her. Though grateful to have survived, Lotje finds her life upended. The brain injury resulted in aphasia, impaired information processing, significant executive functioning challenges and visual impairment—imposing limitations that dared to eclipse her former identity. 

Despite the newly acquired loss for words, Lotje bravely commits to sharing the details of her triumphant journey toward a hard won recovery. Her background in film writing and production provide the unique feel of an unfolding narrative. With filmmaker, Sophie Robinson, Lotje portrays the inner- workings of her new brain by comparing her perception with film excerpts from David Lynch, the American film artist known for his surrealistic and haunting artistic style. Inspired by his work, Lotje’s film adopts eerie music and skewed visual effects which persist throughout the documentary and overwhelm the audience until it becomes evident that this strange world is Lotje’s new reality.

The documentary begins with Lotje’s as well as her family’s recollection of the stroke followed by images of the damage to her brain. The injury is extensive and it is empowering that Lotje chooses to video record the details of her stroke and the ensuing aftermath. As a result, she bridges her former identity of being a film writer to a new role residing within the eye of the camera’s lens. Lotje’s first video clips reveal the significant change in her language and cognitive function. She searches for words to mend broken sentences, and ultimately shares her feelings with her family and friends. She persists through rehabilitative therapy and discusses the painful and “extremely strange” process of “starting from nothing.” 

Lotje continues to film herself during her 3 month stay at England’s Homerton neurological rehabilitation unit. Here she learns that the foundation of a typical brain is connectivity, and that when different parts of the brain communicate, the individual can effectuate functions. She also learns that her lesion site severed important pathways that once drove everyday tasks, like reading and organizing. She works intensively with a multitude of therapists, including Amanda Neilson, a neuro-psychologist who explains Lotje’s ability to write despite her immense difficulty with reading. In response to learning new aspects of her injury, she states that it is an “uncomfortable reality,” but presses on.

It is almost seven months since her stroke when Lotje decides to join an experimental treatment program in the neurology center at the University College London. The experiment used non-invasive transcranial stimulation to expedite language gains. Unexpectedly and somewhat mysteriously, Lotje is rushed to emergency care due to a major epileptic seizure. Although she survives her speech regresses, and her setback feels uncomfortably familiar in most ways. However, the love and support from her family continues—and so does her indefatigable optimism.

The documentary illustrates Lotje’s will, relentlessly driving toward rehabbing her brain back to its former sharp and articulate capacity. She discovers; however, that this aspiration does not help to reconstitute who she was but rather helps her achieve a sense of a new and evolving identity as she moves forward with her “beautiful, broken brain.”

Jessica Diamond has her BA from Stony Brook University where she studied psychology and English. She earned her MS in Speech Language Pathology, graduating with distinction from Nazareth College of Rochester, New York. She presented at the ASHA Convention (2016) and YWRI Interprofessional and International Conference on language enrichment for adult refugees. Jessica currently resides in Queens, New York where she plans to complete her clinical fellowship year specializing in cognitive rehabilitation, aphasia, and literacy.

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