A person with an inflamed brain surrounded by like and dislike symbols with question marks.

A Brain Inflammation Flare Made Me Forget What I Liked and Disliked

In 2014, I stood up after teaching a violin lesson one day and forgot how to walk. A severe episode of lupus cerebritis, or brain inflammation, followed and lasted for about a year. Nearly every part of my brain was affected: my short-term memory, my long-term memory, my emotional stability, my ability to tell time, my gross motor function, and even the sensation in my left arm. But one of the most unusual parts of my brain that was affected was my ability to tell what I liked and disliked.

Lupus cerebritis or brain inflammation

Before lupus cerebritis, my preferences were clear to me. I have always loved dogs. I am drawn to the color red. I dislike mayonnaise, ranch dressing, and alfredo sauce—the creamy texture of these condiments clashes with their piquant taste in an extremely unappealing way. I feel the same way about most types of yogurt, which I haven't eaten in years.

At my sickest, I lost track of my own personal preferences, completely forgetting what I liked and disliked. Sometimes I approved of everything; at other times, I disliked everything. Mostly, I had a very neutral attitude towards the people and material possessions in my life.

Lack of opinions

My lack of opinion was especially noticeable to my caregivers when I was eating. My caregiver would fling open the curtains every morning and bring me my breakfast. Usually, my first meal of the day included an opened container of yogurt, which I eyed with suspicion. I had vague memories of disliking this gooey, runny substance, but I usually chose to tentatively dip my spoon into the yogurt and try it anyway. I swirled each spoonful around in my mouth, noting the texture and flavor, struggling to form an opinion. Some days my spoon scraped the empty plastic bottom of the container. Other days, I returned the half-eaten yogurt to my caregiver. Each day, I struggled to conclude whether I liked yogurt. The plastic container seemed to stare up at me mockingly. An entire month passed before I was finally able to tell my caretaker that I did not like it and had never enjoyed yogurt.

Indecision with lupus flares

The crushing indecision of being unable to remember any of the things I liked or disliked made me feel like I was going crazy. I used to love online shopping. The buying part didn't appeal to me. I'd usually fill my cart with cute dresses and shoes, my brain sending little happy pings when I saw a blouse or skirt I liked. When I was sick with brain inflammation, all the dresses looked the same. I was startled to realize that I had completely lost interest in fashion altogether. I imagined myself wearing simple fabrics and minimal makeup, spending half my usual time getting ready each morning. The idea neither appealed to me nor repulsed me.

Recovering from brain inflammation flares

Our preferences and opinions, in part, make us who we are. Like stubbornness, thoughtfulness, or any other personality trait, our taste in clothing, food, movies, and even our taste in who we spend time with partially defines us. Without definite likes or dislikes, there is no pleasure, no intrigue, or interest.

As I recovered from my brain inflammation flare, my preferences and opinions slowly returned. When I fully recovered, I remember cleaning my closet and coming across some hideous shirts.

"Who bought these?" I asked my mother.

"You did!" she laughed.

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