Once you find something more

… more than your personal pain, more than your own problems, more than your difficulties and drawbacks and struggles… everything changes. Once you find something that is bigger than yourself, that means more than any problems you might have, that lasts longer than the next 24 hours… 24 days… 24 months… 24 years… Once you find something that lights you up and brings you out of your shell, a whole lot of… well, nothing-ness… can be put to rest.

See, the thing is – when we are so caught up in what is wrong with us, it takes our attention off the things that are right with us… the ways that we can help others who have their own issues which may be all but impossible for them to handle. When we are so caught up in managing our own issues, in dealing with our own pains, we don’t have the energy and the time to look around and see what else is there for us to do with ourselves. We spend so much time consumed with ourselves, that everything else fades into the background.

And our lives become that much smaller, that much darker, that much less live-ly.

I only say this, because I myself have fallen deep into this quagmire, and I have been stuck there for many, many years. I spent so much time in my childhood and my young adulthood, and then in my adult years, working hard to manage my issues and deal with life around me. I didn’t understand what was happening to me, I didn’t understand the nature of my issues, and everyone around me had their own problems that were keeping them from helping me see what was going on with me.

If anything, they were still dealing with their own problems they first encountered as children, and never fully managed to resolve or escape. I’m sure they were very bit like me, when they were young — needing help but never getting it, because the adults who could help them were too caught up in their own pain and problems to see beyond and see what was in front of them.

And so the cycle continued.

And so it continues to this day — and probably will, well into the future.

The thing of it is, it’s not really necessary to ONLY have this happen, generation after generation. I don’t imagine for a moment that we’re going to help everyone to resolve their issues overnight and usher in a new world of love and light and bliss by this time next year. I’m not saying it’s not eventually possible, but these things take time. And in the meantime, we need to take these little steps to help the situation — not only helping ourselves to get past what is dragging us down, but helping others to see that there might be something else possible that they could experience, besides the hurt and the pain and the anger and the fear.

I don’t want to get all “airy” here — what I’m talking about is actually really practical, really commonplace, and really everyday. It’s just this basic fact that things are hard all ’round, but we can make them a little easier by getting over ourselves. I do believe it’s important to take care of yourself, but sometimes “looking out for number one” gets us — and everyone around us — in trouble. Especially when the pains and the hurts we’re trying to make up for are actually invented in our own minds.

Take for example someone who lives their life around being rewarded for enduring difficulties in life. I know lots of people like this, and at times I count myself as one of them, so it’s an easy example for me to use. Say someone grew up in a family that had a lot of problems — for one reason or another, life was chaos. Growing up, there was a lot of pain and frustration, and certain habits got “grooved” into everyone’s thinking and behavior. Even after growing up, those old habits still stayed in place, because … well, you never know what might happen, and something really awful could come ’round the corner any minute. This person spends their adult life on edge, always looking for that THREAT that may or may not come, and by the end of each day, they feel completely exhausted — depleted by their constant need to be on alert.

Is their life really, truly dangerous? Maybe. Or maybe not. Perhaps they live in a very safe area, they have a good job, and all their needs are met — so much so, that they have a constant supply of luxury items available to them anytime, for the having. Still, because their mind is trained to look for danger, and they are accustomed to being on guard, they end each day in Paradise convinced that they’ve barely survived Real And Present Danger, so therefore, they should be rewarded.

Or at the end of each day, they are so exhausted by their hyper-vigilance, that they attack everyone around them for pulling on them and draining them and keeping them from relaxing after what seemed like an impossible day.

This is one example of how it can go… how we can lose ourselves in our old pain and suffering, because we’re in the habit of focusing on it, and we don’t realize we don’t have to do that anymore. Now, granted, sometimes the pain and suffering is very, very real. What I have gone through in my past, thanks to TBI, was not imaginary. I didn’t make it all up. It was difficult, almost impossible, and it did a lot of damage to me before I realized what was going on. At some point, though, I had to be willing and able to let go of the iron grip I had on my life, on my difficulties, on my challenges. I had to be willing and able to entertain the possibility that A) my own struggles were subsiding but my focus on them was making them worse than they had to be, and B) others were struggling even more than I — with far more serious issues — and for far more genuine reasons.

It took me some time to get to that point, and there were a lot of fits and stops along the way. I can’t say it even sank in for quite some time. But once it did… well, that was interesting. When this started to hit home to me, I felt lost, disconnected… as though I was losing a part of myself. I was, too — I was losing the part of myself that had hardened around my injuries like tough scar tissue that was holding me back from being able to completely move. My injuries were part of my past, they were part of who I was. And if I let them go, who would I be?

Who indeed?

Well, I struggled alone with that for quite some time, until it occurred to me that my injuries weren’t only about me. I’ve always been aware that others struggle with these same types of issues, and that reaching out to others to let them know they are not alone is an important part of my life’s work. Yet part of me has really clung to the idea that my life has been defined by injuries, that it’s held me back, that it’s cost me so much — me, me, me. All about me. Because, well, if it’s not about me, then won’t I disappear?

Yes and no. I now feel that letting go of the “me” that is defined by injury, is the one way I can actually make some sense of what I’ve experienced. It’s ironic — the very thing I hang onto is the thing I need to let go of. At the same time, once I let go of that “me”, I’m free to become something else – someone else – someone who knows what it’s like to really battle these issues, and who still has to work with them, day to day, but who isn’t going to be held back by them, and is going to use their experience to help others, in hopes that they themselves may find freedom one day.

I’m a big believer in freedom. I’m also a big believer in responsibility. And oddly, the very thing that seems to take all the “fun” out of freedom — responsibility — is the thing that makes it even more free.

Because there is something more out there, than the pains we suffer and the injuries we endure. We all — each and every one of us walking around on planet earth — has our own share of pain and suffering. You can’t live on this earth without at least some of that. What we choose to do with it… that’s up to us.

And once you find something more to put your attention on, that isn’t all about your own hurts, your own pains, your own dramas… well, you’d never believe what else is possible in your life.

 

The hurt of the hidden wound

Got a tip about this article today. Good reading – check it out.

It was July 4, 2009 when Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Hill had his independence taken away from him. But he doesn’t remember much of what happened on that hot, dusty Saturday, and has no recollection at all of the moment the lights went out on his former life for ever.

His last memory was of a Chinook helicopter rising from a ploughed Afghan field. It carried the lifeless body of 18-year-old Private Robert Laws and other injured men of the Light Dragoons and 2 Mercian, victims of an attack with rocket-propelled grenades by the Taliban. After that, the gaps have to be filled in by others.

Read the rest here >>

I finished reading a book

Here’s a blast from the past. About a year ago, I wrote this post (but forgot to publish it), absolutely giddy about having finished reading a book. Looking at where I’m at now, it’s pretty amazing the changes I’ve been through. After not having been able to get through an entire book in years (although one of my favorite pastimes was always reading), last November, I actually finished reading a book.

Here’s the post:

November, 2009

Yesterday afternoon at about 3:30 p.m., I finished reading Aging with Grace, the book about the Nun Study of those long-lived School Sisters of Notre Dame, which explores how and why some people live long and never succumb to Alzheimer’s or dementia, and why others may be more vulnerable. This book has a lot of meaning to me, because as a multiple TBI survivor, I’m statistically more vulnerable to dementia, and about the last thing I want, is to be incapacitated and demented later in life. No thanks…

I found a number of tips and clues about what you can do to avoid dementia — even if you do have some brain degeneration — and I read reports of nuns who had all the signs of advanced Alzheimer’s, but no symptoms whatsoever before they died. Sounds good to me.

I’m invigorated by this new information. I highly recommend it to anyone. And I’m even more invigorated by the fact that I actually finished the book! It took me a month to read all 219 pages, but I did it!!!

This would not be big news for most people I know. Most people I know read books as a matter of course, and when they start a book, they generally finish it (unless it’s truly awful and/or they run out of time). I, on the other hand, have not finished reading a book I started in a number of years. It’s hard for me to remember the last time I actually reached the last page of a book I started.

Let me walk around my study, looking for a book I know I’ve read cover to cover… Let’s see… I am reasonably certain I’ve read about 56 of the books in my study, which constitute maybe 10% of the total on my bookshelves. And the  most recent one I finished prior to Aging with Grace was consumed in a hurry back in 2006. I may have read something from cover to cover in 2007, but I cannot recall.

Now, mind you, I have tons of books, but most of them I’ve only read the first couple of chapters, if that. It’s a lifelong habit that goes way back to when I was a kid, and I never even really realized it was a problem, until this past year or so, when I started to take a long, hard look at my reading habits — or lack thereof — in the context of my TBIs.

It’s a complicated issue — part difficulty with the material, part difficulty with keeping focused on the material. I can be really distractable, so I often end up wandering off on cognitive tangents, when I’m reading. But part of what feeds my distractability, I think, is the fatigue that sets in after I’ve been reading for a while, as well as the discouragement I feel when I realize my eyes have been skimming pages for the last half hour, and I cannot remember what I just read. It’s complicated. And it sucks. And it never occurred to me before that I might have difficulty reading. I’m such an avid infovore – I’m usually reading something. Who would guess that reading is such a challenge for me?

It’s taken some adjusting to get used to this fact. And the adjustment has been as much of a hit to my self-image as anything else. I was always known as a bookworm. Much of my knowledge comes from books. If I’ve been reading at substandard level all these years without knowing it… and also not grasping a lot of what I was reading… what does that say about me, as a person? Does it completely invalidate many of the beliefs and assertions I’ve had about myself, for over 4 decades? It’s troubling to think so.

But now that I know reading is a problem for me, I can take steps to do something about it.  And that’s good. I literally cannot live this way, not being able to read a book from cover to cover. I am NOT going to continue in life this way. Something must be done. I need a plan. Here’s my plan — which so far has worked well, the first time through.

I need to acclimate myself to reading for longer periods of time, by reading for fun and pleasure, getting up to speed with that, and then starting to read for learning and understanding. I need to practice regularly and build up my stamina, and also develop different strategies for how to handle the material I absorb.

First, for the fun reading, I need to identify a topic that interests me which will stimulate me. I need to have some investment in the material, some payoff, some reward that comes with it. Preferably, I need to find something to read that also has “companion” material, like a movie that was made of it. I need to have the information presented in different formats, that different parts of my brain can “hook into”.

I chose The Bourne Identity, because it’s an action adventure novel that’s broken into relatively short chapters. It’s also got a movie made of it that is one of my favorites, and I have visuals of the action to prompt me as I read along

Second, I need to set aside time to read. I have to have time to do it, when I have time to rest either before or afterwards, or both.

I do this on the weekends. I take naps on the weekends to catch up with my rest. And I read during the afternoons.

Third, I need to gradually increase the amount of time I spend reading. I pay attention to how much time I’m spending, how I’m feeling, how my pace is. And I really congratulate myself, when I’ve read more than 10 pages at a sitting and understood what was being said the whole way through.

I can do this, but I also need to make sure I’m not tiring myself out. I need to make special efforts to reward and praise myself for having read as long as I have. I tend to get down on myself and think I’m stupid, when I’m not reading well, and I assume that it should be easy for me. But my reading has never been as strong as I always thought, and since my fall in 2004, it’s got even worse.

Fourth, I will then transfer my stamina and interest and good experiences with action/adventure fiction to my other non-fiction reading. And I must pace myself, gradually working my way up, again, and re-reading the things that I didn’t get the first time around. I need to keep an action/adventure book on hand, to keep my interest bolstered. I don’t worry so much about finishing the fiction in a timely manner. It’s more for the sake of keeping my spirits up and having a good experience while reading, so I can focus my more intent energies on the non-fiction/professional reading.

This is what I’ve been doing, on and off, with Aging With Grace over the past month. And now that I’ve done it and see that it works(!) I am ready to move on to my professional reading.

This is such important work. My survival and success depends on it. I’ve got a bunch of books I bought in the past that I need to read for work, but I haven’t been able to crack them. Now, I’ve got to do it.  Now I have a strategy and a plan, and I’ve proved (at least once) that it works. Reading really is fundamental. And the fact that I have done it with Aging With Grace has really lit a fire under me.

But before I go any further, it’s time for my Sunday afternoon nap.

Another sort of amnesia

A really interesting thing has been happening with me, lately. It’s actually been unfolding over the past six months or so, when I think about it. More and more, I’m piecing scattered parts of myself back together. Most importantly, I’m becoming increasingly aware that there are pieces of myself I need to piece back together. I’m starting to remember things I used to love to do, things that used to be part of my everyday life, that I couldn’t do without… but suddenly became “pointless” after my last fall.

In particular, mindfulness and meditation are back. And I’m really focusing again on the re-development of the abilities and the interests that keep me focused, centered, and going strong. This return is big. It’s huge for me.

Now, it might not seem like that big of a deal. After all, everybody loses motivation, now and then. Everybody goes through ups and downs, shifting in and out of specific interests. Why get so worked up?

You have to understand — my shifting away from mindfulness and meditation wasn’t just a flight of fancy. It wasn’t just me getting distracted by other things and taking a break. When I got away from it, I not only got away from it, but I pretty much removed it wholesale from my life.

To understand the full impact of this, you have to comprehend what a significant part of my life mindfulness and meditation were, for many, many years. I had always been a thoughtful kid, growing up. Philosophical, even. I spent a great deal of time contemplating life and its deeper meanings, and I didn’t let the fact that I was young stop me from pondering age-old things. I would meditate on mountain vistas and campfires, commune with nature on solitary walks… be one with the universe while sitting and watching dust particles dance in a sunbeam.

In retrospect, I believe this tendency to contemplate and meditate arose naturally from my difficulties with everyday activities that other kids engaged in. I had trouble with my coordination — real balance problems, at times — and my senses were pretty sensitive when I was tired, which was a lot of the time. I never really fit in, like a lot of kids. But unlike other kids, who went out of their way to remold themselves to they could fit in better, I withdrew to a solitary, almost monk-like life of minding the smallest details of life and extracting meaning from them.

Into my adult life, too, I spent a tremendous amount of time contemplating and meditating, communing with the cosmos whenever I could. I found tremendous comfort in that, a sense of connection that eluded me in everyday life with other people. External situations that others found easy tended to baffle me, so I focused my energies on cultivating an inner life, an inner view of the world that was consistent with my heart and mind. I spent my free time reading and journaling and meditating and exploring spiritual matters. I wasn’t heavily invested in “the things of this world” because I had other interests in mind —  namely, my connection with that still small voice within.

It served me well, too. On the surface, spending a lot of time contemplating and meditating might seem like an interesting hobby, but what good would it really do a person in the real world?

Actually, it helped me tremendously, as I developed a practice I called “modified za-zen” where you maintain your mindful composure and presence of mind in the midst of chaos. It was a real “warrior stance” I took – being impassive and composed even in the face of full-on attack or a schedule packed full of highly stressful tasks. That practice enabled me to play a significant part in many heavy-duty projects at work, and it molded me into a truly competent team player who was a rock and a cornerstone of the groups I was with. It cultivated in me a presence of mind, a peace of mind, that was the envy of my spouse, my friends, my co-workers. Very little could ruffle my feathers, when I was in the zone. I wasn’t always in the zone, to be sure — I had various issues that would come up, no doubt related to my neurology, but that practice of mindful awareness and intentional composure made all the difference in some very tough situations.

After I fell in 2004, that changed.


Broken Bokeh by WatchinDworldGoBy

Suddenly, I couldn’t be bothered with that meditation stuff. And contemplation? Well, that just seemed like a huge waste of time. As for my composure at work and at home, well, who the hell cared about that anymore? I “decided” I was sick and tired of putting forth the effort to hold myself together. I “decided” it was high time that I had a break and stopped holding myself in check. There was a part of me that suddenly felt like making the effort to sustain my calm was stupid and weak. It just didn’t want to be bothered. It told me I was “choosing” to stop controlling my behavior and stop monitoring my moods and state of mind and actively managing them, but the truth be told, I just couldn’t. The part of me that had used to do that wasn’t working the way it used to. It couldn’t.

It was like the responsible, mature part of me that had good sense about keeping myself centered and sane had been shattered. And in its place I found a selfish, self-centered, self-pitying creature who had a hair-trigger temper and frankly didn’t give a damn what anybody had to say. If that part wanted to act out, it acted out, and it had the best of excuses for doing so. The part of me that had long been conscious of how vital it is to keep centered and calm and have mastery over my behavior, didn’t fully recover from that fall. It was like it got knocked out for a lot longer than my lights went dim, and while it was out, it got pushed out of the way by the other part of me that felt like any attempt at composure was cramping its style.

Whereas I had already spent many, many hours… indeed, many months of my life, if you add up all the hours together… cultivating an equanimity that was the envy of many friends and co-workers, starting at the very end of 2004 (I fell at Thanksgiving), I moved pretty rapidly away from that old practice of mine. And within a year’s time, I was in trouble. Deep doo-doo.

Of course, all this was pretty much invisible to me and my broken brain. I told myself, I had other things to do. I told myself, I had to focus on “real” things. I just let the meditation drop and walked away. And whenever some anger or frustration came up, instead of checking in with myself to see if there was any valid reason for me to act on it (there usually wasn’t), I indulged every one of my whims with a self-righteous self-justification that seemed perfectly logical to my broken brain, but logistically made no sense whatsoever.

The result? A lot of headaches at work, a lot of trouble at home, increasing money issues, relationship issues, and health issues. It just wasn’t good.

But all the while, as my struggles compounded, there was still that raging voice in me that was convinced it had every reason and right to accommodate every single negative impulse I had.  Seeing the connection between my feelings and my behavior and the consequences was next to impossible, in my diminished state. I had literally forgotten that it mattered, for me to get a grip.

Okay, enough background. The good news is, I’m coming back. Those old monitoring parts of me that I had worked so hard to cultivate, are coming back online. It’s more than just feeling better and more alert — I AM better and more alert. I’m able to wake up in the morning, I’m able to engage more fully throughout my days, I’m able to step back and take a look at my moods and my behavior and choose the sorts of responses that will work in my favor, not against me. I’m not just on this mad auto-pilot drive; I’m actually able to slow down and contemplate my life and find real meaning in it again.  I’m also able to relax — really relax. It’s pretty amazing.

And as the time passes, with each new success which I fully realize and appreciate, I build up my stores of lost self-regard, self-esteem, self-respect. I also build up my stores of self-control, and I can actually live without being right about everything, no matter what the costs to my relationships. I am better and better able to choose my responses, and even when people around me are acting up and seemingly going out of their way to provoke me, I’m able to pull back from the engagement, figure out what I want to do and say… and do it.

Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. What amazes me even more, is that I went for years without having this as a regular part of my life. It amazes me, I thought I could do without it.

So, I’m enjoying this. Thoroughly. I’m watching my life with a whole new interest, and I’m learning a lot. In a way, I feel as though I’m re-learning skills, like someone re-learns to read and write after a head injury. Like someone re-learns to walk and talk after a stroke. Like someone with amnesia who starts to remember their name, their family, their home, their work… Like someone who wasn’t even fully aware of having amnesia, who suddenly sees a world they once knew, and isn’t sure whether to be elated or dismayed. In truth, it’s a little bit of both. I’m elated that bits and pieces are coming back to me. But I’m also dismayed that I lost sight of them for so long.

It feels very odd to be writing this, and to be realizing it, but I guess I was a lot more impacted in some ways than I really realized. But now that I’ve “got” it, I can move forward. Progress is good.

What really piques my interest is thinking about what got me back on track. I think one of the big things that set it in motion, was taking care of my body — starting to exercise regularly, and waking myself up with exercise and stretching, rather than two strong cups of coffee. That, and stretching and consciously relaxing before I go to sleep at night.

I actually think that I developed a hefty dose of PTSD, in the aftermath. Not right away, not from the fall itself, but rather from the progression of small disasters — bite-size catastrophes — that have dogged me for years. The collapse of jobs, the dramas at home, the startling surprises that I didn’t see coming, the encounters that went poorly or that carried some sort of hurt with them… My sympathetic nervous system has been on high alert for quite some time, now, and it’s taken a toll.

But since I started making a point of caring for my parasympathetic nervous system — bit by bit, exercise by exercise, breath by breath — I have been able to feel a difference in my whole system. Sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes it’s dramatic. But it’s there. Conscious breathing has played a significant role, of late.

It’s good to be getting back. I’ve been toughing it out just about all my life, but this past 5 years has kicked my butt, to the point where toughing it out is no longer the best solution I can think of. Now I have other ways of dealing with the crises and dramas — ways which involve really basic care of myself, basic care of my system, and attending to the details of my life with a much greater depth than I’ve been able to manage for a number of years.

But now I am remembering who and what I am. I am remembering what matters most to me. I am re-learning the wonder and magic of paying attention to little things, and seeking deeper meaning from my life than what the television has to offer. I am re-learning the discipline of just sitting and observing what’s going on around me, rather than diving in with the intention of “fixing” what isn’t mine to fix. I am re-learning the fine art of calm in the midst of storms, as well as making my way in the world in my own individual way.

I wish I could say it’s coming naturally to me. I used to be able to say that. I used to know it and feel it. I seem to recall that I used to not have to really work at it. But I’m not adverse to work, and if extra effort is required to get me back to a place where I can piece back my life into a state of quiet dignity and genuine happiness. then so be it.

Brain experts develop game plan for football concussions

Just found this:

If international expert Robert Cantu had his druthers, football teams would practice without helmets.

That would be the best way to teach players to avoid head-to-head collisions, utilize their shoulders and bodies more in contact, protect against the concussions and later-life brain maladies the brutal game creates at rates such scientists find alarming.

The same notion would apply for players from preps to pros, too.

“There may be one day a week you put them on,” Dr. Cantu said Friday in the first of a two-day, Duquesne University seminar entitled “Is Football Bad for the Brain?”

Dr. Cantu is a noted neurosurgeon and co-founder of the Boston-area Sports Legacy Institute that has helped to lead the NFL’s recent reform movement through its study of long-term brain damage in middle-aged or older athletes.

“Keep them off, so you don’t use your head as a battering ram,” said Dr. Cantu.

. . .

Also on the first day of the seminar, presented by the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law:

• Dr. Cantu revealed his research found that a fatal form of follow-up concussion, called Second Impact Syndrome that kills three to four high-school players annually, can be detected by a CAT scan. Sports-related brain injuries never before revealed themselves in imaging.

• His co-worker at the Sports Legacy Institute, Dr. Ann McKee, announced the finding of another protein — TDP43 — that causes degeneration in the brains of such older athletes diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the disease that results from a history of head trauma. The protein called tau also does that.

• Dr. Maroon’s research echoed Dr. Bailes’: Gobble up Omega 3 fatty acids, and they may help to prevent and cure the inflammation of a traumatic brain injury.

“Quite frankly, I think everybody should be on it,” said Dr. Maroon, who was part of a January 2009 study in which an NFL team showed reduced cardiovascular risk factors when regularly ingesting them

He proposed downing 2 to 3 grams of such fatty acids as DHA or EPA daily. “I think it’s like Vitamin B — it’s a natural anti-inflammatory.”

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10072/1042511-66.stm#ixzz0jPWG3R1P

Interesting, that they’re talking about Omega-3 fatty acids. I’ve been taking them for (I think) about a year, and that may be one of the things that’s really helped me. I haven’t taken 2-3 grams (more like 1,200 mg, or 1.2 grams). But I have been taking some.

Between that and my daily exercise, I’ve seen a big difference between how my brain functions now and how it functioned just a year ago. It’s also helped that I’ve been getting regular help from my neuropsych, and that I’ve had some really great breakthroughs in how I perceive my life and my place in it.

I only wish I had known about this, when I’d had my last head injury. For that matter, I wish I’d realized that I’d had a head injury, which affected me as much as it did.

Oh, well. I guess progress is better late than never. And I’m glad to see the football community getting on board with addressing concussion.

Beyond the “skull-based brain”

I’ve been watching the videos of Dr. Dan Siegel, over the past couple of weeks, and he’s really got me thinking. He talks about “the embodied brain” — the physical experiences of life and how they interact with the neural networks in our heads to produce certain firing patterns, which make up the fabric of our lives. He also talks about the brain being more than the organ that’s in our heads.

As I now understand it, the “brain” as we know it, is the organ inside our skull which directs the activities of the central nervous system, but it’s not the only brain in the body.

We have other masses of neural connections throughout our body, in particular, in the gut and around the heart. They look very different from what’s in our heads, but they do the same type of work – regulating the system they are attached to in ways that are responsive to our surroundings.

The brain in our gut, the “enteric nervous system” manage[s] every aspect of digestion, from the esophagus to the stomach, small intestine and colon.

enteric nervous system

Just like the larger brain in the head, researchers say, this system sends and receives impulses, records experiences and respond to emotions. Its nerve cells are bathed and influenced by the same neurotransmitters. The gut can upset the brain just as the brain can upset the gut.

The gut contains 100 million neurons – more than the spinal cord. Major neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, norephinephrine and nitric oxide are in the gut. Also two dozen small brain proteins, called neuropeptides are there along with the major cells of the immune system. Enkephalins (a member of the endorphins family) are also in the gut. The gut also is a rich source of benzodiazepines – the family of psychoactive chemicals that includes such ever popular drugs as valium and xanax.

And then we have the heart, which has a complex intrinsic nervous system that is sufficiently sophisticated to qualify as a “little brain” in its own right. The heart’s brain is an intricate network of several types of neurons, neurotransmitters, proteins and support cells like those found in the brain proper. Its elaborate circuitry enables it to act independently of the cranial brain – to learn, remember, and even feel and sense.

The heart communicates with the brain and the rest of the body in three ways documented by solid scientific evidence: neurologically (through transmissions of nerve impulses), biochemically (through hormones and neurotransmitters), and biophysically (through pressure waves). In addition, growing scientific evidence suggests that the heart may communicate with the brain and body in a fourth way – energetically (through electromagnetic field interactions). Through these biological communication systems, the heart has a significant influence on the function of our brains and all our Systems.

The Little Brain In the Heart
The Institute of HeartMath has a great page here showing pictures of The “Little Brain In the Heart”

Most of us are familiar with the concept of “gut feelings” or “following your heart” — and those ways of orienting ourselves in life play a huge part in how we manage our lives. It’s almost like we have two extra “backup” brains in those areas of our bodies, which work with the brains in our skulls to keep our whole system moving, breathing, living.

And these two “extra” brains communicate freely with the brains in our heads. We feel it in our bodies when our head-brains observe our surroundings and reach certain conclusions about what it all means. Our guts get turned around, as do our hearts. Or quite the opposite takes place, with the butterflies in our stomachs subsiding and/or our hearts slowing down their frantic beating.

On top of it all, we have the central nervous system with all its amazing connections, the nerves, the ganglia, the axonal connections, the neurons, the constant flow of energy and electricity throughout our systems. We are literally electric, with charges and pulses carrying messages from one microscopic member of the system to another… all of us comprised of millions and billions of neurons, each of which makes 10,000 connections and on-off firing patterns that provide us with infinite potential to become what we most desire.

If you think of the “brain” as a central processing unit of neurons and axons and synapses and all the controlling activity that goes on in them, then our entire body is filled with our brain. It’s just just inside our skulls —  it’s all through our bodies.

Now, knowing more about this brain stuff today than I did a month ago, I have to say it changes my perception of “brain injury” a bit. All along, I’ve been thinking about brain injury as being something that happens only to the head. I’ve been thinking — and saying — that brain injury and head injury are the same thing. But now I have to rethink this. And I have to start saying “head injury” a whole lot more than “brain injury” because while my head may have gotten banged up over the years, my gut brain and my heart brain have not taken the same sort of beating — they’ve taken different ones, of course, but they haven’t had the same specific sorts of physical impacts that my head has had.

At the same time, I have to consider other injuries I’ve had — such as when I fell out of a tree when I was 14 or 15 years old and landed across a log on my back — that affected my spine, which is chock-full of nerves and connections. And let’s not forget the car accidents. Don’t want to leave them out of the picture. I need a broader view of what makes my life more “interesting”. And I need a broader view of what makes my life more whole.

Indeed, when I think about the brain as encompassing body experience and knowledge and processing, as well as what’s in my head, it offers some pretty good clues as to how I’ve managed to stay in the game, so to speak, despite these injuries. If there’s more to my brain than what’s in my head… if my brain is actually distributed throughout my body… if I have other “backup brains” that are able to jump in and help out with information and energy processing throughout my whole system, then it relieves some of the intensity around my head injuries, and it offers me clues about how I am able to keep keepin’ on, despite my various setbacks over the years.

It’s complicated, of course… The head-brain clearly plays a part in regulating the rest of the body, and its importance is vital — we need it to live. But at the same time, what happens in the heart and the gut has its own intelligence, which impacts what goes on in the head, and that often goes unnoticed. I’m going to have to start thinking more carefully about this, as I go about my business. Pay more conscious attention to what my heart-brain and gut-brains are telling me — not just what my head-brain is gong on about.

Our systems are marvelously complex and interconnected. And it feels good to “get” that and be connecting things that I hadn’t really given much concentrated, focused thought to, in the past. It’s impossible to separate the system out into distinct pieces and truly make sense of it. I would even venture to say that the only truly thorough way to understand the system that is our “brain”, is to consider first the interconnections and interactions between its various elements, and then move from that point to understand the distinct parts.

I guess the bottom line is, there’s more to the brain than what’s in the head.

concussion now i’m stupid

Someone visited this blog yesterday with the search “concussion now i’m stupid” and it seems like it’s in the air.

I had a great day Saturday — I had a very social day, and I was out and about in town, which rarely happens with me. I either don’t have the time, or I don’t make the time, or I find a hundred other things to do that are more interesting than interacting with other people in a city.

But Saturday, I took a bunch of chances, and I had a ton of interactions that were really positive and encouraging.

Sunday, on the other hand, was a huge challenge. I wasn’t able to rest as much as I had wanted/planned, and I was really feeling the effects of all the exertion on Saturday. Even if the exertion was good and positive, it was still exertion, and I didn’t remember to rest.

One of my big problems is, when I get over-tired, I often forget to self-monitor. That happened to my yesterday. So, I ran into trouble.

With a Capital T. Had a huge meltdown yesterday. As in — rage and tears and being stuck in a loop of anger and shame and frustration and resentment. I hate when that happens. I could feel it coming on, and I thought I could stop it, but I couldn’t. It was like a repeat tsunami of unwanted overwrought emotion. Waters pulling out, then washing in and wrecking everything in its path. Emotion pulling out, then rushing back in and leveling everything in its way.  It came and went for about three hours, and it totally screwed me up — and my spouse. Not pretty at all. And I’m still “hungover” from it this morning.

Ugh.

Looking back on things with a less emotional eye, one of the things that complicated my situation yesterday was that insidious little voice in the back of my head that managed to find everything I’d done “wrong” on Saturday, amplified it about a thousand times, and then commenced to tell me You’re So Brain-Damaged and Stupid. Who would ever love or care about you? You’re such an idiot – you had a concussion — no, wait, you had a bunch of concussions – and now you’re stupid. You’re so stupid you don’t even know how stupid you are.

Stupid.

Well, you get the idea. And sure enough, as always happens when that voice gets going, before long, I was at war with the world, at war with myself, at war with my spouse, at war with my job, at war with everything and everyone who came anywhere near me.

concussion now i’m stupid…

My thinking is too slow, I’m not sharp and quick like I used to be, I’m not even funny anymore (and I used to be a laugh and a half all the time), and who would want to bother with me?

Geez.

It’s bad enough that I have to contend with the physical and logistical issues, but when that voice gets going… well, the only thing to do is go to bed.

I managed to do that eventually, but not on my own steam. I had to be guided to bed and put away like a cholicky baby. I friggin’ hate when I’m reduced to that. But when I’m in the midst of that storm/tsunami, I cannot for the life of me pull myself out.

For future reference, I need to keep the image of the tsunami in my mind, when I feel it coming up. So I can get to higher ground. Tell my spouse I need to take a break, and remove myself to my bedroom or study, to simmer down. Just get myself out of the way of the wave. Maybe go out for a walk in the woods. I did that yesterday at the end of the day,  and it helped tremendously. Yes, the walk in the woods — climbing up to the top of the nearest big hill — helps me a whole lot.

I also have to have a talk with my spouse about this TBI business – it’s not okay for them to talk to me like I’m an idiot, which is what they’ve been doing more and more over the past year. Apparently, they seem to think that because my memory is a bit spotty at times, and my processing speed has slowed, I’ve lost my innate intelligence. Either that, or they have always acted this way, and I’ve just recently stopped allowing myself to be intimidated into hiding my issues from them. That’s always a possibility.

So, there are three main issues I am contending with — the wave of emotion that cannot and will not be stopped and can only be avoided until it calms down… the voice in my head that tells me I’m stupid… and the voice I live with that tells me I’m impaired. The first one, I just have to be mindful of and learn to avoid being swept away. The second one, I have to either ignore or actively argue with. The third I have to have a serious talk with — and possibly involve my neuropsych to explain to my spouse that my relative weaknesses are manageable and don’t mean I’m reduced to a simpleminded shadow of my old self. Some days it feels like that — like yesterday — but it’s not the truth of the matter.

But ultimately, the bottom line is, here’s the #1 Lesson I (re)learned over the weekend:

I have to pace myself. If I have a big day, even if it is a really good big day, I need to take the next day OFF and SLEEP. Rest. For real. Nothing else matters. No distracting entertainment is worth the price I’ll pay for exhaustion.

Achieving more by doing less

I am really resisting writing this post, but I have to put it out there for the sake of honesty — and also to get it into my head that this is the way things are now.

It’s not that what I’m thinking about is a bad thing, or even an unpleasant thing. It’s a new thing — a true thing — that I’ve been resisting for as long as I can remember, much to the dismay of my family, my coworkers, and my neuropsych.

I hate having to admit that I have been wrong, and they have been right… but in this case at least, I have to admit it:

I get more accomplished, when I do less.

Now, it might not seem like that big of a deal, to admit it. What’s the big deal?

Well, people have been “on” me for years, that I do too much. I take on too much. I have too much on my plate. I’m spread too thin. My spouse has been lecturing me for years, that I don’t relax enough and I have too many projects going on. We’ve actually had some pretty bad fights about it. I defended my hyper-busy-ness with every fiber of my being, till the bitter end, and it’s not helped our marriage at all. But I was convinced that I was right, in having twelve balls in the air. I felt so energized. Like I could do anything. And it never seemed like there was a problem. If I didn’t finish things, so what? They were boring, I told myself. And I needed a fresh start.

Well, that outlook has modified somewhat over the past couple of years that I’ve been working with my neuropsych.  Taking a long, hard look at my patterns on a regular basis, I’ve realized that being super-busy is often a direct result of anxiety. It’s not about positive exuberance. It’s not about having a vision of a future I can eagerly step into fully and with all confidence. It’s about existential angst that is welling up and driving me ahead of it, like a wild stagecoach driver whipping the team of horses into a mad gallop… in the meantime not holding the reins or guiding them in any particular direction.

This mad gallop is plain to everyone else’s discernment. It’s obviously a ploy on my part to avoid life, rather than engage with it. But it is disguised from my view by something in my perception that interprets a mad dash towards whatever comes to mind as a positive and life-affirming thing ;}

Over the years, countless people have tried to get me to stop and look at what I was doing, but I resisted — and resented — their “interference” with my grand plans. I wasn’t planning, of course. I was just flying willy-nilly in every and all directions, for the sake of flying willy-nilly. Nothing more. And when I got to a point where I couldn’t continue with what I was doing, I’d drop it… and then wonder, sometimes years later, why I ever quit what I was doing, if I was so devoted to it.

Crazy.

Well, as I mentioned, that’s been changing over the past year or so. Once I started logging all my activities and tracking them — for real, not in some quasi-reflective journal entry that rambled on about this and that for pages on end — I started seeing what was really going on in my life, and I wasn’t pleased. I looked back on all the projects I’d started — each one seeming like the thing that was going to catapult me to greatness and/or solve all my personal problems through professional success. What I saw was not greatness, but whatever-ness. Oh, man… what a wakeup call.

And I started to admit that maybe I was spending an awful lot of time on things for the wrong reasons. Maybe I was spreading myself too thin. No… obviously I was spreading myself  too thin. Judging by what little I was getting done versus what lots I was putting into my efforts, my approach was not effective. It was downright disastrous.

So, I decided to change things up. I swept a whole bunch of projects off my plate. I trimmed the fat off my docket considerably, tabling projects I thought would be cool, but obviously demanded a lot more time and energy and manpower than I could muster. I decided to do without a lot of the lists I made for myself. I also quit imagining I was going to have these multiple career paths, and be able to pick and choose between the cream of the crop, on down the line, whenever I chose to switch my path.

And it was working out pretty well. Suddenly, I had a lot more time to devote to my pet projects — the really pet ones, that is. I could focus more on the details that had slipped by me before. And I had a lot more bandwidth to do the things I enjoyed during my free time. Sleep hasn’t appealed to me much over the past months, because I was still totally into the idea that I could continue to keep up a blistering pace on a select few things — for the fun of it. Literally. I felt really “on” at work — I felt like I was really making headway and was taking the tiger by the tail.  Woo hoo – right?

Um… not so much. Now, months on down the line, I find myself worn out, all turned around by myriad details that once seemed so clear to me, and not delivering at the rate my boss wants me to. My thinking is not clear, my relationships at work are suffering, I feel like I’m slipping into a hole of my own digging, and I’m battling to get myself out. I find myself taxed and tapped, angry and raging and resentful and antagonistic and defensive and increasingly volatile… saying things I wish I hadn’t… and my marriage and work situation are both suffering as a result.

Here, I’d thought I was supporting my family and my coworkers better by driving myself like a crazyperson, taking on all sorts of tasks, when all I was doing was driving myself — and my spouse and my coworkers — crazy.

Which brings me to what I’ve been learning — the hard way — over the past couple of weeks.

I actually perform better, and I accomplish more, when I do less.

… As in, when I work in intervals — planning and thinking things through ahead of time, then mustering my energy and tackling tasks with full attention and focus.

… As in, when I spend less time on busy-work, and I devote the bulk of my attention to strategic and tactical planning and implementation, saving my logistical energy for select tasks — no more than two or three a day.

Indeed, I do better, when I tackle less of the little niggling details work that’s just filler for my time and is more about my brain thinking such-and-such is important, when it’s not really.

And I accomplish more when I don’t insist on taking on this mountain of everything by myself, as I’ve always been prone to do.

Truly, the practice of only doing 2-3 significant things a day, when I used to tackle at least five-to-ten times that amount, is a huge change for me. It’s a difficult change… An unsettling turn of events. It makes me nervous — incredibly anxious. I feel like I should be doing something. But during those stretches when I’m “doing something” to the tune of 20 deliverables a day, and I look back on my notes about what I actually accomplished, well, the results are a lot less impressive, than my fantastical plans.

But if I break it all down and pick and choose from the things I need to get done and don’t worry about the other things, till I get the most immediate couple of things done, it’s friggin’ magic, man.  I get waaaaaay more accomplished if I take things 2 and 3 tasks at a time and do them in an extremely focused and intense fashion, than if I “pace myself” and take on 20-3o items (no joke) at a “reasonable pace”.

They say timing is everything. It’s true. It’s even more true that the right timing in the right way for the person in question is more-than-everything. Some people can go slow and steady through a mountain of small details. I, on the other hand, drown in those details. Just like there are slow-twitch muscles that long-distance runners use, and fast-twitch muscles that sprinters use, I’m more of a fast-twitch kind of person. And if I slow down to go at a “reasonable” pace, I’m toast.

So, there we have it. I’ve had my helping of crow for the day. I have to admit, it feels good to say/write it out loud, but it’s been a long time coming. And I have a lot of work to do, to reverse the damage that’s come from ignoring and denying the truth about how I work best — and worst. But reverse this, I will. I’m the comeback kid. I’m not going to quit till I get where I need to be.

Even though I know it’s good for me and it’s the only way I can really work effectively, the idea of only doing a few things  a day still makes me intensely anxious. I don’t expect to get used to it overnight.

But you know what? Doing a little bit at a time in a very focused, intentional way gets me there. And since actually getting there is what matters to me (and my spouse and my coworkers and my boss) — even more than the “journey” on the way — that’s what I’ve got to focus on. Results. For real. Not plans and methodologies. Results. What works. What works for me.

Onward.

Brain Injury – Can it be overcome?

I could go on for hours (even days) about whether or not TBI can be overcome, fixed, healed, etc.

But I don’t have much time this morning, so I’ll be brief.

36 years ago, I was struck on the head  by a rock thrown by some kids who didn’t like my looks. I was knocked out briefly, and after I came to, I started having tons of problems with anger, aggression, distractability, disruptive behavior, and underperformance in school. I still do have those issues, to this day, and they bring out sides of me that are very out of character for me.

But they don’t stop me from living my life. They’re manageable. And they have not kept me from experiencing a wonderful life and accomplishing things that many people either only dream of, or don’t think is possible. I’ve traveled widely, I’ve lived abroad for years at a time, I’ve played a key role at a multinational professional services firm, I have a healthy and thriving 19-year marriage, and I own my own home and am current on my mortgage payments. I am also a lot happier than most people I know – in no small part because I make being happy a priority.

In the past 30 years, I’ve sustained a number of concussions and head injuries, whiplash from car accidents, etc. Each one had specific consequences — loss of memory (not recognizing people who clearly recognized and knew me), loss of social functionality (being essentially non-communicative for about 3 months till I came back “online”), loss of a really good job at a really good company, and sudden, precipitous drinking binges.

But over time, as I’ve walked through my life and done what needed to be done to the best of my ability, the vast majority of these issues have resolved. Oh, sure, I still have memory problems, and there are times when I am not very communicative at all (much to my spouse’s dismay), and I have my struggles at work. I have a hell of a time sleeping through the night, my body generally hurts like hell, and I have a constant headache. But these things have not stopped me from getting on with my life. Not at all. They’ve made things more complicated, but they haven’t stopped me. And I’m back working for the company that 86′ed me almost 5 years ago, working closely with people who literally used to be afraid to come into my cubicle.

As far as I’m concerned, I have overcome my TBIs. And I continue to, each day. It’s an ongoing process — at times a painstaking and frustrating one, but ultimately very rewarding. I haven’t reversed the damage 100%. I may never accomplish that. I still have my struggles. But who doesn’t? The main thing is, I am aware of my issues and I actively manage them, I take responsibility for my choices and actions, and I do whatever I can to make right the things that go wrong — whether or not I think they are “my fault” or not.

Overcoming TBI… it’s a complicated issue. And people have different definitions of what “overcoming” means. It’s important to stress that, yes, brain injuries cause permanent damage of one kind or another. That’s the kind of information that raises public awareness… and also raises the call for effective legislation and much-needed funding.

But it’s even more important, in my opinion, to stress that over the long term, recovery is possible. And it is possible to overcome. It’s not guaranteed. Nothing in life is. But it is possible. And you can’t help it happen, if you refuse to believe that.

As for me… I choose to believe.

Once we’re aware of brain injury… what then?

One of the things I hope happens during this month — March is Brain Injury Awareness Month — is that TBI awareness doesn’t “dead end”.

What I mean by that is, I hope that in learning about brain injury, tbi, head injury, concussion… whatever you choose to call it… people don’t reach the conclusion that a brain injury is The End of the Line for people who sustain one.

Proof that this can’t possibly be true, all across the board, is the fact that Every 21 Seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a traumatic brain injury.

1.5 Million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury each year.

And those are just the ones we know about.

There are very likely many, many more individuals who sustain head injuries (or concussions) and either never fully realize it, or who say nothing about it, don’t report it, don’t seek medical assistance, etc.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an awful lot of people. Which means, there are a whole lot of folks walking around with a history of head injury. And it means that this “silent epidemic” as some folks are calling it, has a substantial presence in our lives, whether we like it or not.

And although this silent epidemic is a serious one, from where I’m sitting, it’s not catastrophic. It doesn’t need to signal The End of Productive Life for survivors. And it certainly doesn’t necessarily mean that we TBI survivors are all disabled or incapable of getting on with our lives.

Now, I’m playing devil’s advocate here — and it may seem out of character, because I’ve devoted a fair amount of time and energy to raising awareness about the difficulties that come with TBI (especially “mild” traumatic brain injury, or mTBI). I’ve spent a lot of time talking about my difficulties and challenges and things that hold me back and get in my way. I’ve really wanted folks to get a sense for what it’s like to deal with TBI on a daily basis, not sugar-coating it, and not hiding the warts and bumps and foibles and screw-ups that beset me along the way.

I’ve taken the liberty of saying things here and voicing opinions that are clearly the results of my issues — temper tantrums and tirades and poor-me bitching and moaning. I’ve been as honest as I can be — on purpose — because that’s a side of this condition that needs to be acknowledged and reckoned with.

At the same time, though, I also want this blog to show how, despite these challenges and problems, it is possible to overcome them. With the right strategies and the right outlook and the right tools — and the right self-awareness — you can overcome mild TBI’s challenges and get on with your life. You can even overcome a more severe TBI — I may have had a more severe one that I originally thought, when I was knocked out by that rock when I was 8 years old (but I don’t remember how long I was knocked out, and I didn’t get medical assistance that could identify what the real story was with me, back then, so I’ll never know for sure just how severe that injury was — for all I know, my brain might have swelled or I had a bleed, or something like that, but 35 years after the fact, any evidence of that didn’t show up on the MRI or EEG).

TBI doesn’t have to be the end of the line. Concussion, either (and let’s use those terms interchangeably this month). A head injury may sideline you for a time, but it does NOT need to become a permanent, life-threatening condition that plunges you into chaos and desperation. For some people it may be that, but there is no rule written in stone that says that TBI is the end of the road. While the organizations and research facilities which are seeking funding and want to get the public’s attention around TBI may resort to dramatic accounts to get people’s attention and get them to take this national health issue (note, I am not saying “crisis”) seriously, as an individual I am saying that TBI can be survivable. And it does NOT need to permanently derail your life.

Now, I know the dangers of giving people false hope. Sometimes an injury is a permanently disabling one. Sometimes there’s just no chance of getting back certain functions and abilities. Sometimes the brain is just “done”  in places, and the things it used to do, are things of the past. For people in that situation, I feel a great deal of compassion. Not pity. Compassion. They are in serious need of help — especially when their injuries have come as a result of serving their country, and their TBIs have left their spouses and kids and other family members with a huge gaping hole where their personality and presence used to be.

That’s a terrible, awful situation, and those folks need all the help our nation can offer.

But when it comes to Brain Injury, there is no set-in-stone rule that says a certain outcome is 100% predictable. There is no 100% certainty that a certain type of injury will result in a certain type of effect. Everyone is different. Every brain is different. We’ve got our genetics, our physical fitness, our personal expectations, even our individual character, to factor in. We’ve got past training and conditioning — physical, mental, spiritual — to consider, as well as the amount of support we receive. And then there’s plain old grit and mettle…

What happens to one person and results in certain after effects, can happen to another person and result in something completely different. It’s not an exact science, and there are as many unpleasant surprises along the way, as there are pleasant ones. There are no guarantees, and there are no unassailable absolute rules about TBI that say if such-and-such happens, you can expect such-and-such to occur.

Each head trauma survivor, and their family and friends, have to find out for themselves what is truly possible for them.

But while we’re learning about the issues and problems and difficulties and challenges, let’s also keep in mind the possibility that there is much, much more we have to learn about how much recovery is truly possible. For all we know about brain injury, right now, there’s a ton we don’t know. That goes for the brain, itself. And in this day of medical and scientific expertise, where trained professionals with “qualified” backgrounds are doing their utmost to help us feel more secure by being their expert selves, it would do us all some good to keep in mind that their demeanor and their outlooks are parts of roles they play — as experts, they must necessarily appear strong and confident and authoritative. Which opens the door to following them blindly down roads where the surface is not paved nearly as well as they would have us think.

And it can also close the door to other possibilities — the possibility that they might be wrong about how the brain works and how it heals. The possibility that they may be wrong about what the human spirit is capable of doing. The possibility that they may be looking in the wrong places for some of their answers, and that they might be discounting valuable information and experience that others can use, because it’s not part of a double-blind peer-reviewed controlled experiment conducted under tightly monitored conditions.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, and my own personal contribution to the collective awareness is this: Just because you sustain a brain injury doesn’t mean your goose is cooked for all time. There may be some things you have to let go of — like that go-go-go lifestyle that kept you from paying attention to your whole life. There may be some changes you need to make — like exercising regularly, or taking some meds to keep yourself cognitively engaged. There may be some challenges you cannot shake — like constant headaches and all-over general aches. But everybody has something they have to overcome. It comes with the human territory. And for every one thing that we have to let go of or adjust away from, there are about a million other things we can do or pursue, to take its place. Just because you can’t do ___________, doesn’t mean you can’t do _____________.

The world is bigger than that. And so are we.

Awareness of Brain Injury is just the first step. And it doesn’t have to be the last. There are millions of people who are dealing with the after-effects of TBI, years after the fact, and not all of them have been rendered incapable of living their lives. How well they recover and move on with their lives depends on myriad factors, not least of which is character and the strength of the human spirit. It’s not all about the brain. It’s about the mind. The body. The heart. The soul. The brain is one piece of the equation — it’s an important piece that cannot be disregarded. But it’s not the only piece.

This is important information. It’s critical. And it’s vital that we not lose sight of the whole person, when we look at TBI survivors. Each person has their own personal “constellation” of abilities and limitations. And each person has a choice in how they approach them. We TBI survivors may not have the same faculties as we had before our injuries, and we may not have the same faculties as others, but we are still very human and we are still very much alive, and that in itself should count for something.

That being said, during Brain Injury Awareness Month, I am really hoping that more of a conversation can emerge about the nature of brain injury, and we can hear more stories of recovery. There’s always the danger, I suppose, of successful recovery stories convincing people that brain injury is not that big of a deal, and that all you need is time and rest, for things to get back to normal. That’s not how it works. I’m not sure it works that way for anyone, brain-injured or not. Likewise, there’s the danger that showing the lives of people who were brain-injured who never fully recovered will tell people that once your brain is damaged, it’s the end of the line for you. That’s not how things have to work, either.

It’s more complicated that that. More complex. Perhaps more than can be handled and addressed and discussed in March.

Well, at least this is a start. The month is just beginning, and there are 30 more days in which to talk about all this.

Onward…