Sunday, May 8, 2016

Let's Talk About Perseveration on Grey's Anatomy (Season 12)

Those of you who are watching Grey's Anatomy this season know that there has been a major storyline concerning Callie, Arizona and their daughter, Sofia.  It has culminated in a revised custody arrangement.  

[Image is: a courtroom]

Since the hearing, I have seen fans of the show flummoxed by Callie's behavior, wondering how she could do something so impulsive, so rash, as to risk custody of her daughter in order to follow her girlfriend of one year across the country.

I will admit, I was among them.

What was Callie's deal? I wondered.

Then, I talked to my sis, the day after the most recent episode (12x22, Mama Tried) aired.

"Other characters have done the same thing," she said.  "Meredith took her kids for a year."

"Right, but she didn't take the kids away from Derek."

"No, that's not the point, though.  Grief changes the brain just like trauma does.  So what I'm saying is, can we judge her?"

Up until then, I'd forgotten completely that Callie Torres is a brain injury survivor.  My sis never forgot, because she's one, too.  She was instantly able to put Callie's behavior into context, so that for me, it ceased to be random, confusing or out of character and instead came into stunning clarity.  Specifically, when my sis spoke of Callie's perseveration.

Callie demonstrates what seems to be stuck-in-set perseveration, which is defined as: "[when a TBI survivor]  may persist with a strategy to solve a problem beyond the point at which it ought to be clear that the strategy is not working."  In this case, perseveration means that Callie repeats her plans to move to New York regardless of Arizona's concerns.

As Arizona is Sofia's adoptive mother, and as they currently have joint custody, Arizona sees no other alternative but to take Callie to court in order to revise custody.  Arizona has talked to Callie multiple times, and each time, Callie persists in sharing her plans, to "show [Arizona] she has thought this through."  Callie seems to be unable in these moments to really attend to what Arizona is saying.

Examples of perseveration from 12x20 "Trigger Happy"

Neither my sis nor I had a clear answer about whether anything else could have been done in these moments to "derail the perseveration train," as my sis said.

In this final scene, Arizona intentionally slows her own speech for emphasis.  This seemed (to my untrained eye) to allow Callie some extra time to process and respond to her words.  (My sis noted, though, Callie seems to resent it.)  

Final scene from 12x20 "Trigger Happy" starts at 1:26.

My sis pointed out, too, that "you don't know you need someone to slow down, for example, until you know it."  We spoke about how long it took us to be able to talk about her injury and for her to articulate specific things that were related to her brain injury.  My sis is more than 15 years out from hers, and it took nearly all of them for us to be able to have these conversations.  Callie is "a baby" (only 6 years out) according to my sis, and it takes a long time to be able to specify what you need, and to know what is brain-related.

In this case, it seemed like nothing short of the hearing was going to stop Callie in her plan to move with Sofia to New York.  Ironically, her car accident did come up at trial, but was not discussed in much detail.  Neither was Arizona's plane crash, or the subsequent amputation of her leg.

My sister's theory relating to brain injury has contextualized Callie's behavior in a whole new way for me.  And it's my hope that perhaps her insights will provide others with similar understanding.  For me, it brought such a sound explanation out of what I previously perceived was "out of character" behavior.

It makes complete sense, if viewed in this light.


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