Bending time

Okay, I have put in some good time on my Main Project that I am trying to wrap up tonight, and now it’s time to take a quick break to blog. That’s one of the nice things about working at home – I can take breaks here and there without being judged. And I can gather in and collect myself in the silence of my own home office, whenever I need to settle my thoughts.

Not so at work… but I’m not at the office right now, so that’s moot vis-a-vis this post.

What I’m noticing is how time seems to “bend” for me. When I am absorbed in something and totally engaged, it seems to either elongate or condense. And the time estimates I give myself for how long something will take me are often completely wrong.

So, a task that I think will take me a long time, actually doesn’t. Or it does take me a while, and it doesn’t feel like a while.

On the other hand, sometimes I think I can get things done quickly, but when I get started, I realize there’s a lot more to what I have to do, and that can hang me up. I can get very turned around and flustered when my estimates of time and the reality don’t match up.

I’m not sure if that’s a TBI thing, or if it’s a human thing, but I have to say, ever since my last TBI, I have had a hell of a time estimating how long things will take me.

And then there’s the part of it that’s about me worrying too much about details that don’t really matter, and that get me hung up for no good reason.

See my earlier post about not giving a sh*t…

Anyway, now I’ve had my little break, and it’s time to get back to the grindstone. It’s not a very appealing image, actually. How ’bout… it’s time to get back to my professional calling…

It’s safer not to give a sh*t

I just had to say it. This isn’t a bad-attitude, who gives a flying f&ck about whateverthehell I’m supposed to be doing kind of perspective.

I’ve got more of a “serenity prayer” kind of outlook right now — “turning it over” as my friends in recovery love to describe it. It’s not a bad attitude. It’s actually a pretty good one.

I’m looking down a proverbial tunnel at a couple of projects that are going to take me hours to complete today, and I don’t have the kind of time or energy I need to do justice to them all.

So, I’ve decided to just not give a sh*t about the minutiae and all the things I obsess about in great detail, while intending to DO THE RIGHT THING. Those minutiae are often byproducts of my TBI-addled or fatigue-addled sense of over-active hyper-vigilance that drives me to ever greater heights and ever deeper lows.

But when I decide I don’t give a sh*t about the excruciatingly detailed end result, and just dive in and get stuff done, well, things go a whole lot better.

And I feel better too.

It’s hard, sometimes, to know where I’m being reasonable, and where I’m being OCD… but in the end, I just have to trust that my innate love of quality and devotion to doing the right thing, is going to win out in some small way. And I won’t totally screw up, the way I think I’m going to.

Just gotta go on faith, I guess.

All the good stuff – how exhausting…

Lots of everything

Not to be ungrateful, but geez, I am wiped out.

I’ve been having a full life, of late, haven’t had much time at all to write (let alone think independent thoughts for weeks on end), and it’s seriously catching up with me. I have more work to do for work, this afternoon, and then I have more to do in the evening. It’s a lot of really great stuff I’m fortunate to have in my life – but it is A LOT, and I am certain this is not sustainable for the long term.

Truly. I can’t see myself lasting at this pace for more than another six months. I’m not sure if it’s me, or if it’s how things are structured at work, or if it’s just upper management going on a yee-haw! spree of let’s-see-how-much-people-can-take-before-they-all-collapse.

All I know is, this whole “collaborative workspace” business is seriously kicking my butt. It’s utterly exhausting, to be bombarded, day in and day out, with open-space sensory input — not having my view blocked and having the noise of many, many others’ conversations and keyboards and phone calls, as well as the bright light that you can’t get away from — it’s really taking a toll. I tell myself I’ll only stay for another six months — till my bonus comes and I reach my two year anniversary — then I’m free to go.

Actually, if I stay till August, it may work better, as I’ll be out from under a mountain of debt payments by them. I’m paying off just about everything I owe (the house not included) this year, so by September, I’ll be considerably better off than I am right now. It’s been very, very tough, but it’s all paying off, so it’s worth it.

I’ll just be glad to have it done.

But for now, I have to turn my attention to my work and get some deliverables ready for tomorrow. I really hate the word “deliverables” because it’s so abstract and it makes your work out to be just something you do for someone else, instead of something you do as part of an activity you care deeply about. I detest how my work has been turned into a series of often disconnected tasks, and the success of it is gauged based on time and timeliness, rather than the quality of it. I seem to be in an organization that cares more about doing things in a certain time, than doing them correctly. It just creates more problems on down the line, if you rush things – and that’s exactly the situation we’re in at work — rushing things for their own sake, then having to clean them up later.

Someone said the other day… it’s “job security”. If you do it all wrong, they need to keep you around till you get it right.

Sad…

I’ve had a very social day, thus far, with company who stayed over last night. But they just keep talking, and I have to get some work done. Again, it’s sad, that I can’t spend more time just hanging out. But it’s also frustrating that they don’t seem to have anything better to do than hang out. It’s making me crazy, and I had to just step away after a while.

But it’s good too.

Both.

Like many things.

Long-term dangers of pediatric concussion/brain injury

Football less dangerous for kids?

The Concussion Blog has another thought-provoking post about an announcement made by Dr. Howard Derman, co-director of the vanguard Methodist Hospital Concussion Center that children’s brains are (apparently?) better able to tolerate the effects of concussion. From what I read — also in the orginal article at Beyond Chron — the plasticity of a kid’s brain, along with its greater amount of room to handle swelling, makes (football-related) concussions “less of a concern” for children.

“I’m not saying it’s safer to play football as a child,” said Dr. … Derman,… “but the plasticity – flexibility, in layman’s terms – in the brain is greater in a child, and it has more room to swell. So things we see in adult football players are slightly less of a concern in children. That’s just a statement of fact.”

Okay, so let’s assume that the doctor has his facts right, which is up for dispute by a number of truly independent writers and investigative journalists. Even if a kid’s brain is more resilient (and I’m not agreeing that this helps), another fact to be taken into consideration is that having a concussion makes you more susceptible to having others. And speaking from experience, the cumulative effects of childhood concussion into adulthood (which brought with it yet more concussions/tbi’s), can wreak havoc long after the initial injury was sustained.

What concerns me about this statement — aside from the fact that it was made by a physician with ties to professional sports teams, whose word is probably taken as gospel in certain circles — is that it treats childhood concussion/brain injury as an isolated incident that you really don’t need to worry about, because, well — as so many people have said over the years — chances are everything will clear up and things will go back to normal.

I truly wish I could say that was true for me, but from where I’m sitting, those supposedly harmless blows to my head when I was younger, led to more supposedly harmless blows… which ended up sidelining me not only from games, but from the game of life.

And this was some 30 years after my first concussion — the first of many, which had cumulative effects over time.

Where does that leave me? Still working to pick up the pieces, still trying to avoid meltdowns, still trying to keep my act together at work, still hassling with light and sound sensitivity, as well as continuous fatigue. I won’t say “chronic fatigue” because chronic implies that it comes and goes indefinitely. With me the fatigue just never goes away. Oh, well.

And where does that leave the people around me? Stressed out for reasons they don’t fully understand, and scratching their heads wondering WTF?! when I do something truly boneheaded.

And where does that leave my community? Well, my immediate community as well as my country, have lost about 40% of my original tax revenues since late 2004, when I left a good job because I just couldn’t hang in there after my last TBI. Say what you will about the individual being responsible for pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Thanks to (undiagnosed and underestimated) TBI, my employment situation is at 60% of what it should be. And in the past seven years, the loss in tax revenue is thus equal to about three years of full-employment tax revenue. By the time I stop working (if I ever do), thanks to the TBI-related gaps in my employment history, the lost tax revenues will probably be equivalent to me retiring and no longer contributing to the collective kitty at least 10 years early. If not more. Can the government afford this? I’m not sure — especially considering that I was born at the tail-end of the Baby Boom, and it’s my tax dollars which will be buoying up the aging generation of retirees right before me, as the younger generation struggles to just pay off their credit cards and student loan bills.

It’s tax time, and I’m hassling through yet another data collection process — which is so much harder than it used to be, even though my taxes are significantly less complicated than seven years ago. In the process, I’m thinking about the effects of my injury on my tax rate. And while I don’t really chafe at how much money the government is scooping out of my pay (so long as I can just live my life and I’m not being totally flayed), if Uncle Sam did the math on how much revenue is lost to TBI each year, thanks to fully employed people becoming under-employed (or un-employed), I’m guessing they might take it a little more seriously.

Seriously, we live in expensive times, and I’m willing to help pay for roads and schools and infrastructure and War on Terror and national parks and all the things we tend to happily take for granted. Somebody’s got to. But it’s difficult to really contribute when you’ve got this whole… deal going on. And it’s difficult to take seriously a prominent doctor who claims that a contact/collision sport like football poses less of a problem to kids than to full-grown adults. Especially when I look at the long-term effects that one seemingly innocuous concussion after another can — and in my case, did — have on a young brain, and a young life.

So, in the end, it’s caveat emptor as usual. Be smart. Consider the sources, and draw your own conclusions. And remember, just because you have “M.D.” after your name doesn’t make you the ultimate authority… even in your chosen field.

After the Crash

RIP Sarah Burke (September 3, 1982 – January 19, 2012)

The Concussion Blog had a good post the other day – Action Sports an Issue Too — with a couple of videos that have really haunted me since I watched them.

I’ll show them again here:

There’s some mention at The Concussion Blog about high impact falls and the fencing response (which everyone who plays sports and is concerned about concussion should be aware of), which is good food for thought.

And it really did get me thinking. Because looking at Mr. Huston taking those falls, then lying there for a while and shaking himself off and jumping up to have another “go” at it is exactly the kind of behavior that gets so many of us into trouble.

I’m not sure if it’s the sudden release of glucose into the brain cells, or the whole rushing extended metabolic cascade of concussion that makes those neurons fire like crazy, but there’s something about getting hit on the head — and I hate to say it — that makes you want to go at things even harder. Perhaps it’s an evolutionary development from days of yore when warfare was largely hand-to-hand, and head trauma was just another part of the fight… and if you got hit, you couldn’t just lie there and wait for your opponent to make mincemeat of you. You had to jump back up and go at them even harder than before. Consider the eons of warfare humanity has been embroiled in, practically since the beginning of time. If darwinistic evolution has anything to do with how we’ve evolved as a species, and if the ones who could rebound after a blow to the head and keep fighting to the win, no matter about the dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, light sensitivity, cognitive deficits, poor risk assessment, etc…. and procreate along the way… and if the children inherited the qualities of their warfaring sires… then it makes sense that we would be in the situation we’re in.

‘Cause people have been running around, getting in fights, slugging each other over the head with sharp and blunt objects, and basically, wreaking havoc with the hidden grey matter since before recorded history. And if we as a species are conditioned to bounce back up and head back into the fray, well, then, it makes sense that Nyjah Huston is falling and hitting his head, apparently sustaining obvious concussions in the process (as indicated by the “unnatural position of [his] arms following a concussion. Immediately after moderate forces have been applied to the brainstem”), lying there for a moment or two to collect himself, then hopping up, grabbing his hat and board, and heading back up to the top of the stairs to try again, regardless of the “overt indicator of injury force magnitude and midbrain localization”.

Says Nyjah, “It normally takes that one fall in a trick like that to, thought, ride away and kinda like realize what you have to do to actually land it. And yeah then after that one that I rode away on, the next one was perfect, and it felt so good riding away from it after that battle.” (See the Berrics video at 2:19 to hear the roar of the crowd — which is really what so many of us want, right?) And all the while in the background, a band is playing “Well, you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone / But you went on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on…”

And so it goes. We fall, we get hurt — sometimes seriously (whether we know it or not) — but we get back up and run right back into the fray, regardless of possible consequences.

And the crowd cheers.

Because we value “resilient” athletes of all kinds, and we applaud them to no end when they actually succeed at the things they’ve practiced, over and over again. We value “resilient” employees and individuals who can “take a licking and keep on ticking”. We reward people who make sacrifice after sacrifice for the greater good, even when that “greater” isn’t so good. Even when it’s something as transitory and non-essential, like a Saturday afternoon ball game. Not that sports don’t matter – they certainly do. But is the temporary distraction of fans from the humdrum, sometimes uncomfortable facts of their lives as equally important as the long-term health and well-being of the athletes at play?

At what point does entertainment — and that’s what so much of it is for spectators — become more important than the health and safety of the entertainers.

Granted, entertainers and performers of all kinds have a long tradition of taking risks for the enjoyment of the crowds. Think high-wire acts, trapeze artists, bullfighters, bull riders, and people who play with fire to please an audience. In some ways, entertainment and distraction are as vital to human survival as food and air and water. We have to have them, or we wither amidst the constant rigors of the everyday. Something has to keep us going through it all. So, we have our sports and our games and our shows and YouTube and Twitter and so on.

And in watching those games and shows and performances, we learn lessons about what it means to be human, what it means to struggle to overcome adversity, be resilient, and keep on. We get reinforcement for our values, and we cheer on those people who support our values and demonstrate successful practice of the qualities we value most — the ability to take a hit, the ability to jump back up after a particularly hard fall, and get back in the game, not letting anything stop us.

Once upon a time, I was like that. I would get hurt, and I would jump right back into the fray. I wouldn’t take any time off, I would just push myself, no matter what. I would crash — and sometimes burn — but I’d be back eventually. Before anyone even really noticed I was down for the count. And I kept getting hurt. Like Nyjah Huston, I would lay low for a short while, then gather myself and plunge right back in. I kept recovering as best I could, then rush back into the action — in sports as well as in life. Knocked down and way woozy for a while? No problem. Just prop me up and turn me loose again. Smashed up in a car accident and unable to read with comprehension or understand what people were saying to me? No worries. Just give me a few days and a job change, and I’ll be right as rain before you know it. Went down a flight of stairs and smacked my head hard and can’t talk or think straight? Forget taking some time out. Let’s just get going — and move even faster than before.

That was pretty much the story of my life until 2007, when I started to notice that things were falling apart, and I didn’t understand why. Then it all caught up with me. And the rest is history. Here I am, working at rebuilding my life as best I can — and finding ways to do even better than rebuild — to actually build from the ground up, in so many ways.

In a way, what I’m doing now is a long, protracted rebound from the extended fall(s) I took over the course of my life. And this time I’m doing it a lot better than ever before.

Because I’m taking time off. Not 100% out-of-commission time off, but I’m stepping back from the crazy rush of everything, moving at a more sensible pace, and I’m not letting everyone else drive my action. It’s been an incredibly difficult change to make, but it totally makes sense for me. It’s a shift away from the reactive to the active, a move away from letting others define me and my life goals, and going with my gut — what I want and need, not what other people tell me I want and need. I’m not pushing to reach some brass ring that’s forever out of reach. I’m backing off… being more introspective about my approach… and giving myself time to come up with answers that make sense to me, not just the rest of the world.

It’s an entire life change, which hasn’t been easy. But it’s been necessary. And long overdue.

After the crash, when you take a hard hit, it can be a really good idea to step back, reassess, and only return to play after getting to a place where you’re truly good to go. If you got injured pretty badly, it may take some time to get back to that place, but you’ve got to resist the temptation to race right back into the fray without giving your body and mind some time to recover. If you take time off, you may actually figure out if you’re hurt, and how badly, and what you need to do to get back into decent working condition. But you’ve got to give yourself a chance to catch up with yourself. You’ve gotta be smart and self-defensive, not succumb to the pressure of the cheering crowds which can push you out into dangerous situations all over again.

Now, you can’t just sit out indefinitely, losing your conditioning and your abilities by being over-protective. And you can’t run away from the urgings of others, who may actually see things in you that you don’t see in yourself. That’s another danger that’s very real and present, and I’ve seen a lot of people pass up great opportunities in life because they were afraid they weren’t ready or up to it. At some point, you’ve got to find it in yourself to move on and act on opportunities as they arise, provided you’re up to it.

If you don’t, then brain injury has taken over your life, and you’re a hostage for as long as you let your fears dictate your future.

Now for the disclaimer: For brain injury survivors, self-assessment and accurately gauging the levels of your abilities can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. So, you may find yourself in “interesting times” as the Chinese phrase it, with all hell breaking loose, thanks to disconnects in your abilities vs. interests. It can be helpful to have the input of others who are realistic as well as supportive. Indeed, taking steps to get back in the game may in fact reveal that you’re better off not getting back in the particular game you want to rejoin. Self-reflection and objective observation of real feedback about your life and your abilities may show that you should find a different game — metaphorically choosing tennis or golf, instead of ice hockey or football. Whatever you find and whatever you choose, the important thing is to not get STUCK in one place, and to NOT GIVE UP trying to find a different way. The brain is a big place with tremendous plasticity. And history has shown that even significantly injured individuals have recovered and developed abilities that nobody expected or realized they had.

It’s a balance. And it’s a very hard balance to strike.  Especially after the crash, when your brain is telling you go-go-go… not necessarily for any particular reason, just to GO… and the rest of the world is cheering you on, urging you to get up, dust yourself off, and jump back in the action ASAP.

Awake again

Well, that’s better. Sometimes there’s nothing like a little nap on a Sunday afternoon to get the batteries recharged.

I’ve had my hour of rest – down from the three hours I had yesterday – and now I’m ready for the rest of my day.

More and more, I’m learning to really relax and enjoy sleep when I can get it. I’m also doing better about being more deliberate in my routines, which is good.

Every little bit helps.

The other thing that helps is that I’m back to exercising each morning. Feels pretty good to be back, and I have a lot more energy now than I did when I was mostly sedentary.

Now, to habe my late afternoon snack and get back into the action.

Surprise – a day “off”

I just “won” an extra six hours in my day. I was supposed to go see friends this afternoon and catch up after our holiday extravaganzas, but my spouse is sick, which is unfortunate. That is not good.

What IS good, is that now I have those afternoon hours back, so I can focus on some things I’ve been rushing to accomplish. It really takes the pressure off.

And now I can go for a short walk. And take a quick nap, before I start on my next “leg” of activities.

It’s not that I don’t want to see these friends – I do. I really enjoy hanging out with them, and I’ve missed being around them. But things are so busy now at work, it’s difficult to relax when I know how much is waiting for me on Monday.

I’d rather be relaxed and present, than rushing (and possibly resentful) over not having as much time to prepare for tomorrow as I need.

Despite the misfortune of illness, this is a blessing in disguise.

What we make of it

I had a pretty good day today. Got lots done, and still had time for a long nap in the afternoon. Tomorrow promises to be a busy day. Sunday, yes, but full of activities that have to do with Monday.

That, and some time with friends.

It’s all good, of course. That is, when I choose to see it that way. I can make it out to be a chore and a trial, or I can make it out to be a chance to see what else life has to offer.

I think I’ll go with the “chance” thing.

Stupid is as stupid does – for now

Huh?

Looking at my blog stats, it appears that a lot of people are concerned that concussions make people dumber. “do concussions make you dumber” is one of the top searches of all time, following a number of searches about tbi and mental illness.

On the surface, it would seem that concussion makes you dumber. You end up doing things that are genuinely dense, and no logic can explain it, other than that you must be incredibly stupid. I can’t help but think about my own experiences in the first months (and years) after my most recent TBI. I did some seriously dumb things — like tangling with police during routine/minor traffic stops, walking around in the woods at the beginning of deer hunting season with no camouflage on, saying and doing things that no one in their right mind would do…

Yeah, it would appear that concussions do make you dumber. If stupid is as stupid does, then I was a real idiot. For a while.

The thing is, it doesn’t last. At least, it doesn’t have to. There’s a lot that can be solved with having presence of mind, physical fitness, and really focusing your energy. The three might seem unrelated, but they’re closely connected.

Presence of mind happens best, when you are rested and able to concentrate.

Being rested and able to concentrate happens best, when you are physically fit and you’re taking care of yourself.

And becoming physically fit is a lot about focusing your energy on that goal, and sticking with it.

The three all feed each other, and the more fit you become, the more balanced your nervous system becomes (so you’re not always in fight-flight mode, and your system isn’t constantly shorting out, thanks to all that adrenaline and floods of stress hormones). The more balanced your nervous system becomes, the better able you are to control your emotions and not let the anger/rage/impulsiveness run away with you. The better able you are to control your behavior and your outbursts the better able you are to concentrate on what’s in front of you and not get side-tracked by every little distraction.

It’s all connected. So you see, there is a solution for post-concussive stupidity.

I have found it really helpful to keep this in mind, when I am having one of those non-brain days. When I’m just coming up with all sorts of really stupid ideas — and acting on them — at least I can remember to do something about it.

Like focus in on paying attention. Like getting some rest or some food (good food, that is), and maybe stepping away to catch my breath and block out all the swirling crap that’s running around in my head. Like just remembering that post-concussive stupidity is an intermittent and often transient condition that can be addressed with actual strategies — that I can do.

So, I do it. I keep it simple, when I can. And things have gotten better. I haven’t done anything really stupid in about six months, but now that I’ve said that, you never know what can happen.

Main thing is to keep present and focused on what’s in front of me. That’s what works best for me. That, and remembering that this moment will never, ever come again, so I better make the most of it. That usually snaps me out of my fog and brings me back to front and center. I’m not saying it will work for everyone, but the principles are common across the condition of post-TBI brain-lapses.

Fatigue is a big problem post-TBI/concussion.

Fatigue impacts brain function and focus.

Poor physical fitness and poor diet fuel fatigue.

Impaired brain function can result in certifiable denseness.

Learning to restore focus and get some energy going again can help reduce denseness.

All these things can pass and improve with time — so, stupid is as stupid does. But it doesn’t need to “do stupid” forever. There are ways to get past it… but at some level you’ve got to accept the fact that you will, now and then, do things that other people think are idiotic — but are really just part of your neurological landscape.

So hang in there. Not to worry. This stuff — with the proper approach and steady practice — can be sorted out.

Just keep trying. Just keep going. Focus in. Pay attention to the NOW, because it’s not going to be NOW forever. And you never know what can happen next.

The radical mindfulness of the everyday

Nothing special... or maybe it is?

Some time back, I heard someone speaking about having sustained a pretty serious head injury, which left them without any memory or any awareness of who they were for about 24 hours. They had a bad accident, which pretty much reconfigured their face, and left their brain blank, when it came to knowing who they were or what they were doing far from home with a bunch of other researchers.

They said that right after their accident, they had no idea what their name was, where they were, who they were with, or what they were doing there. They were on a research trip with a bunch of other scientists, and their job was to collect data. But after the accident, all that changed.

Their amnesia lasted about 24 hours, and then all of a sudden, they were back. They said they believed that the thing which brought them back was paying extremely close attention to every detail about their experience.

The air they breathed.

The food they ate.

The sounds they heard.

The feeling of their body.

Every sensation that they encountered, they focused in on it with their whole might.

And a day later, they were back.

What strikes me about that story — and the person who told it is a nationally recognized leader in their field with an avid following — is that they plunged full-on into their life experience after their brain injury. And decades later, they are a thought-leader in their chosen domain.

Now, who can say if their mindfulness was the thing that restored both their memory and their awareness of who they were, but they were convinced that this “extreme mindfulness” approach made all the difference for them.

And so am I. I’ve been thinking a lot about that story, since I first heard it several years ago, and I have been employing that approach more and more in my life. The principles behind it, as I think of them, are that when we engage our whole selves in our lives, noticing small details and really dwelling on our immediate experiences, we create new connections in our brains — new physical connections that really “fill in the blanks” for who we are. When we approach our lives as actively involved individuals, and we learn as we go (from trial and error, or just thinking things through very carefully ahead of time), we “build out” parts of our brains that may have been neglected before, or that may have gotten hurt in that accident. When we try new things, eat new foods, think new thoughts — and do it repeatedly — we lay in new connections that strengthen with repetition. We acclimate ourselves to the new life we have, and we find ourselves better and better able to function in this new way. (Or we discover that that new way really isn’t for us, and we go off to find another way.)

The process is gradual, but it can also jump us ahead in leaps and bounds, when we least expect it. That’s been my experience, anyway. But it’s a process. And my experience has been that it is cumulative and accumulative. It’s pretty cool.

The biggest threat to this process, from what I can see in my own life, is fear. Fear keeps us from engaging with our lives. It keeps us from getting involved. It keeps us at a “safe” distance, and it may make us feel smart (for detecting danger) or safe (for avoiding situations that we think are dangerous), but it doesn’t help our brains very much. If anything, it robs us of the chance to rebuild what we need to rebuild. It keeps us from building new connections, and it keeps us from developing as truly human beings. I know a number of people who are extremely fearful, and over the past several decades that I’ve known them, I’ve watched their lives become smaller and smaller, as my own has broadened. And it makes me sad to see it.

It’s also a good lesson for me. Every time I see them making choices that have to do with fear, instead of curiosity, I am reminded of the kind of life I do not want to have. And I start to make different choices of my own.

Now, fear can be a tricky thing. Some is good to have — fearless animals tend to be short-lived, and I want to live a long time. But having it run your life… that’s no good. And from personal experience — having had fear run my life for many, many years, when TBI-caused anxiety was wreaking havoc with my soul — I can say it’s no darned fun. And it keeps you from recovering what you need to get back.

Looking back at my life over the past 40+ years, I can see a direct correlation between the traumatic brain injuries/concussions I experienced, and a growing anxiety… which eventually built into a nasty case of post-traumatic stress. I was so wired all the time with anxiety and stress over constant fight-flight situations (that were induced by my TBI-related anxiety) that even though I wasn’t in immediate danger a lot of times, I felt like I was. I was often completely taken over by fear, which kept me from developing as a person and kept me from recovering from my injuries.

But since I’ve been actively dealing with the anxiety and agitation… and now that I understand the actual nature of my issues (they are neurological, not psycho-spiritual)… it’s taken the edge off my experience in ways that simply amaze me. And it makes it possible for me to engage fully with my life, day after day, as an actual human being, not a shell of the person I once was.

Active mindfulness is actually pretty radical, if you think about it. When I say “radical” I mean “Relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.” I mean, it turns me 180 degrees in a different direction from where I’m going when I’m stuck in fear. Diving into my life experiences, and not holding back because “there’s something wrong with me” has proven utterly transformational for my life, my relationships, my sense of self, and my sense of well-being.

And the weird thing is, even though to this day I don’t feel like I’m the person I used to be, and I have this nagging sense that something about me is “missing”… that doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as it used to. I can accept that I’ve changed, that my life has changed, that I’ve lost the things I’ve lost. Because now I realize that I’m actually gaining a lot of things I didn’t have before. I have a much deeper and higher-quality of everyday experience, each and every day. And I am involved in my life and my relationships and my work on a far deeper level than I can ever remember being, before I got help for my TBI issues. Life is a series of losses and gains, and when I can accept that and get on with the gaining, instead of getting stuck in the losses, that only helps.

Now, thinking about it, I am struck by how this approach — total, full-on engagement with the world around them — can compliment the directions we’re receiving from doctors and athletic trainers, to rest the brain completely while recovering from concussion.

I am NOT a doctor. Nor am I an athletic trainer. I have not received their level of education and training, and in no way can I compare myself to their expertise or even rival their formal knowledge. But I really believe, based on what I’ve read, that the concept of total rest after a brain injury is 100% right, and I often wonder what might have happened, had I actually taken the time to rest after my injuries, to give myself time to heal and give my brain a chance to sort itself out.

Now, each and every person is different. Each and every brain injury is different. There is so much we don’t know. And I don’t know any of the other details of this radically mindful post-TBI individual’s full experience that might shed light on why they came back from their amnesia so quickly, and why they lived out such a high-achieving life. What we do know is that there is still a whole lot of uncharted waters out there, when it comes to what-to-do-about-concussion/brain-injury, and we may just find different ways of approaching the injury, based on the individual and their own scenarios.

I really support the wisdom of pulling student athletes from play and keeping them out for extended periods of time. I also believe the science behind the biochemical cascade that happens when concussion takes place. And I only wish that the NFL and NHL and student sports leagues would pay attention to what we now know about concussion and traumatic brain injury, and take full responsibility for what their sponsored activities make possible — damaging, potentially catastrophic traumatic brain injury.

At the same time, I think that something more needs to follow the initial resting period. We need to manage concussions not only immediately after the injury, but over the long term. We need to find ways to help the injured — and that includes veterans returning with TBI, as well as countless other individuals who experience brain injury each year — re-engage fully with their lives, on a whole new level. Experiencing life as it comes up, learning to taste and feel and see and hear all that is around us, each and every day, can help the brain create whole new connections and pathways that “fill in the blanks” that TBI can leave. It might not fix the “busted parts” 100%, but it can create new parts and new connections, where none previously existed. And in the creation of these new parts, we can turn our minds from focusing on what we don’t have, to focusing on what we can have.

I hope that others who have been concussed or brain-injured can find this same kind of experience, that they can find ways to overcome the anxiety and agitation that wreak havoc with our minds and our brains and our spirits. And I hope the same for those who live with them and care for/about them. Beyond the initial recovery period, there is a whole world to discover out there — a world that I found severely limited by my rigid thinking and my inflexible attitudes, which were really cemented in place by anxiety and agitation.

Most of all, I hope that we can all keep open minds when it comes to what will work for individuals, that we can all learn about what has worked for people who have “been there”… and continue to look beyond the initial mechanics of concussion and traumatic brain injury, to seek out longer-term approaches to restoring life after TBI. Standard protocols of immediate response and treatment are very important, in my opinion. And so is innovation and an open mind — as well as a truly scientific approach that keeps the doors of the mind slightly ajar when it comes to alternatives and workable approaches.

In the end, we have to keep learning – fortunately, we’ve got tons of opportunity to do exactly that.