I had no idea how much those “bumps on the head” affected me

It feels like no one understands... and heck if you can describe it to them
It feels like no one understands… and heck if you can describe it to them

When I was a kid, I got clunked on the head. A lot. When you’re little, they call them “boo-boos”. Your mother kisses it and makes it better. Or your dad checks to make sure you’re still breathing, then hauls you back on your feet and tells you you’ll be fine.

That was back in the day. 1960s. 1970s. Falls. From heights. Bike accidents. Clumsiness. Playing at recess.

In the 1980s, it was organized sports. High school. Car accidents, too. Two of them within the space of 6 months, if I recall correctly.

It had an effect.

I’m sure of it.

Irritable. No good sense of where I was in the world, relative to other people, or relative to objects around me. Distractable. Easily confused. Angry. I got angry quickly. I was always playing catch-up, and nobody seemed to notice.

They all told me I was so smart… Why wasn’t I as smart as they thought I was? What was wrong with me? What was wrong with me?

I had no idea that any of the concussions had an actual effect on me. I knew I was dizzy and dumb and numb for minutes, hours, days after the biggest hits, but I had no idea that it could last. I had no idea that it did last.

Maybe that dumbness, that numbness blinded me to my own difficulties. I’m sure it must have, because coupled with that fog, was an energy… a furious drive to go-go-go that propelled me through life, like someone on a 6th century battlefield who gets hit in battle and has to keep going, keep fighting, keep running and charging and defending and thrusting and parrying, lest I end up dead like the rest of my comrades.

Like that. Only I wasn’t in any outward battle.

It was an inward battle.Β  And I was attacker and the attacked.

I never knew…

I never knew.

TBI-Friendly Grocery Shopping Chops

grocery store scene with shelves of produce
Shopping frequently saves me a lot of hassle

I grocery shop almost every day on my way home from work. I do this for several reasons.

  1. I hate to eat defrosted frozen food. I like meat — and vegetables — to be fresh when I cook them. I don’t own a microwave, and I hate dealing with frozen foods. They don’t taste as good, and they don’t seem as healthy as fresh food. We used to eat a lot of meals “out of cans and boxes” — cans of soup, ready-made meals we heated in the oven, frozen combinations we stirred up with cooked pasta. But since my spouse got ill back in 2007 and I started doing all the cooking, I just can’t bring myself to do that. I need real food. Fresh food. And I’m happy to shop every day to get that in the house.
  2. Shopping every day keeps my shopping lists short, so I don’t lose track of things and I don’t end up wheeling around a cart piled high with stuff in all sorts of directions, when I remember that I forgot to get something on the other side of the store. If I have a list of 10 things, I’m good. I can manage that. More than 10 items becomes a trial and a test, and by the time I get to the checkout lane, I’m in a terrible mood. It also makes it easier for me to go through checkout more smoothly, without a lot of anxious fumbling with the card reader and getting turned around about which way to leave the store.
  3. Buying fewer items lets me go through the self-checkout lane. Cashiers and baggers are helpful, but I’d rather do it myself, thank you. I don’t have to interact personally with a machine. I don’t have to exchange niceties and keep an eye on the bagger who was never taught that you put the heavy things at the bottom of the bag, not on top of the fragile/breakable things.
  4. It gives me extra time to chill out before I get home from work. It’s a stop off that lets me recalibrate and reset with strangers, before I interact with my spouse. And that’s helpful for both of us.
  5. It’s on the way home. Literally. It’s just off the highway, and there are actually three different choices of very different — and good — stores on the way. So, if I can’t find something I need at one, I can always go to another. Stopping off to shop also gets me out of the worst traffic at the worst time of day, so that’s a major plus, as well.
  6. It’s familiar in a way that reminds me of when I was younger. Years ago, I lived in Europe, and it was back in the day before there were a lot of preservatives in foods. I got in the habit of shopping daily, just like everyone else, and I really miss those days. Doing my grocery shopping every day, nowadays, makes me feel like I’m 20 years old again. And that’s a good thing.

So, shopping every day actually works well for me. It not only helps me handle my own personal “combination” of issues, but it also adds something positive to my life. It’s all about making the most of things, despite my shortcomings — even using them to my advantage.

It’s all good.

Onward…

Saturdays and Sundays should be reversed

lawnmower

I have a general complaint for the Western World – Saturdays and Sundays should be reversed. For those of us who “run hot” all week, Saturday is the last day of the week that we actually have resources to do everything as well as we would like to. Municipalities should have the town dump open on Sunday afternoons. Banks should be open then, too. Business should have hours on Sunday afternoons.

And they should all be closed on Saturdays.

Think about it… people only have so much energy, and if you push people to keep going top-speed through Saturday — to take the kids to their sports / dance competitions or various clubs… to run errands, do the week’s food shopping, go to the bank, get your hair cut (oh yeah, I did that yesterday, too), and generally tool around at near-top-speed… you’re going to encounter herds of people who are all in a pretty bad way, all forced to interact with each other.

And that’s no good.

It’s very bad, actually.

Of course, this structure all presumes that everyone can KEEP GOING on caffeine, adrenaline, fear, joy, and necessity.

But not everybody has energy left over in reserves.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world isn’t about to change for me, so I have to do my own adaptations. The biggest one I’ve come up with, is a Friday afternoon nap. I usually work from home on Fridays, so I get up and do my work, my thinking, my concentrating. Then I have some lunch, maybe go for a walk down the road and back, and then I lie down for a nap. I don’t set an alarm (unless I have that cruel, cruel bi-weekly Friday 2 p.m. conference call). I let myself just sleep.

Sometimes I sleep for half an hour. Sometimes I sleep for three hours. I’m exhausted, and there’s no way I can request a reduction in hours without compromising my position, especially now that the company is changing hands. Word has it that the new company is much more amenable to working from home as much as humanly possible, so I might even be able to do it more… but who knows?

Anyway, for now, I have that approach.

Another option I have is to take the trash to the dump earlier in the week, like Wednesday, when they’re open till 7. Or during the day on Friday, when I’m working from home, anyway. I could do that. But I’m usually pretty fried by the end of each day, and on Fridays, I’m also pretty wiped out, so it’s actually easier for me to do it on Saturday morning.

But yesterday was a real task … just so laborious and zombie-like… And now that I think about it, it might be worthwhile to shoot for Wednesday, before I’m completely wiped out. Or push myself on Friday, before I take my nap. The idea of having a Saturday free of having to deal with that chore, is quite pleasant. I’ll have to re-jigger my schedule and see what comes of it.

The other stuff I have to do, like get my hair cut (about once a month), I generally have to do on Saturdays, because that’s when I have the free time. The barber is in the opposite direction of my work, so it’s no longer on the way there, anymore. So, unless I go on Friday (which would take a chunk of several productive hours out of my good “thinking” workday), there’s no really smooth way to segue that into my week.

I guess I’ll just have to bite the bullet with the haircuts, and stick with that. Or start shaving my head. Or get a buzz cut that will last me for months. Or let my hair just grow, and run around with a pony tail or a bun or some-such. Then again, I hate it when my hair gets long. It’s even more distracting, with the ends getting in my eyes and hanging on my neck. And then I have to comb it. My hair does what it should, when it’s short, so I keep it that way. And that works.

For chores like shopping, I grocery shop almost every day on my way home from work. I do this to keep my list small and also break up my day. It’s not bad — and it also keeps me from having a massive list that I lose track of. I also try to do other shopping on my way home from work — office supplies, greeting cards, hardware… If I take the long way through the town next to us, I can get a lot of things bought on my way home.

Another thing I usually don’t have to do on Saturdays is mow my lawn. I generally think I’m supposed to mow on Saturday, but it actually works better to do that during the week, after work, when it’s a little cooler. It only takes me half an hour to mow my front lawn, which is the one that matters, so I don’t have to feel obliged to do it on the weekends.

All in all, I think I have a pretty good system in place for many things I do. My system spares me from my weaknesses, and it makes the most of opportunities. And my Saturdays actually aren’t too crazy-busy, to tell the truth. I just don’t have much energy at all, for the things I need to do. And I feel like I’m walking around in a grouchy haze, which isn’t fun for me or anyone else.

I’d really just like to enjoy myself on the days I’m off work. If the rest of the world isn’t going to accommodate me with making Saturday into the day of rest, then I’ll arrange things, myself. One trick at a time, it can happen. One small improvement at a time.

Onward…

Good day. Thorough day.

moon shining on tree in field
And now it’s time to sleep

I had a pretty good day today. Unfortunately, I had a bit of a “rage issue” this morning, when my routine was disrupted and my spouse was hounding me for information. I was off my game and reacted poorly. Tailspin commenced.

But other than that, I’ve gotten a whole lot of stuff done that’s been needing taken care of.

Hauled the trash to the dump.

Emptied the dehumidifier.

Watered the flowers that have been withering in the heat.

Put the last air conditioner in the living room window.

Assembled the new shelves I bought my spouse a few weeks ago, and set them up in the corner where they’ll double as “stuff” and clothing storage.

Cleaned out the refrigerator and got rid of the science experiments blossoming in the containers.

Did some other cleanup.

Had a little nap.

Made a really delicious dinner.

Caught up with a friend who’s been wanting to connect. Had a good conversation for a couple of hours.

And now it’s time for bed.

A well-deserved rest.

Q3 Goals done – Yes! Bring it on.

hand holding pen, checking off lists on a checklist
Got that covered

I just got notified that my boss approved my Q3 goals. Woot!

That’s done. Now I can just live my life and do what I please, come what may.

I’ve been spending some time really digging into the “corners” of my past year at this job. Next week is my 1-year anniversary, so now’s a good time to do a retrospective and see what all I’ve accomplished… and figure out if that’s what I want to do with myself in the future.

I need to brush up on my resume this weekend, just to have it in good working order, in case I’m let go next week. And yes, I’m very nonchalant about it, because it’s a distinct possibility, and I have NO idea what’s going to become of me.

BUT I am confident of my ability to find another position. I’ve come to realize, through dealing with many other people, that I have skills and abilities that are assets to any organization. After years and years and years of not thinking I’m a “people person” — because I would lose track of conversations, get confused, not feel like I was keeping up, and I was a total blithering idiot — I now realize that I can hold an intelligent conversation with other people, if I just pace myself differently and interact with them more, in the course of our conversation.

I’ve also become a LOT less self-conscious, thanks to working with a neuropsych on a weekly basis. Just having someone there who’s intelligent and experienced and isn’t going to judge me for being weird — because they know what my limitations are, and they understand the nature of them — is a huge help. I practice conversing in those sessions. There are other benefits, of course, but it’s mostly the conversation practice that I need and benefit from.

So, I feel like I’m really well-positioned for whatever happens next at work. I suspect, if anything, they’ll keep me around but slot me into a different role, because the thing I do now has changed a lot, since I started, and it’s sidelined me and not made the best use of my abilities. Whatever. I’m happy to live a life of simulated productivity, just like everyone else. For all their talk about how “slammed” they are, they spend an awful lot of time on Facebook and watching videosπŸ˜‰

So, today is all about doing a retrospective on my last year, as well as working on the handful of things I’ve got going for a handful of people at work. It’s fine. It’s Friday. Everyone is working from home, pretty much. And so am I.

So am I.

Lighting a candle of my own, while the world seems to burn around me

hand holding lit match, lighting a small candle
We can’t do everything, but we can do some thing

I’m focusing on just being really kind to other people.

… Carving out my own little space of heaven on earth, where others can be treated with dignity and respect and offered what they need most – connection with a living, breathing person who sees their worth and humanity.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that a lot of people just want to connect, just want to talk, just want to be treated like a real human being.

And that’s what I’m going for these days.

In the supermarket… sharing a moment with someone trying to figure out which package of chicken to buy… in the elevator, just chatting with someone who wants to be acknowledged… at work, where everyone is worried and uncertain… at home, where my spouse wants to just hang out and spend some time together.

It takes time to connect with other people. It takes energy. And at the end of a long day, I don’t always have the strength to do as much as I would like, or to do it as well as I’d like.

I could have stopped a little longer to talk to the woman in the supermarket. I could have said something more intelligent to the veteran who was sharing the elevator ride to the 2nd floor. At work, I could go out of my way to be a little more friendly to people. At home, I could spend more time just hanging out with my spouse, talking about things we both care about.

I can think of many things I would like to do better. And each time I make the effort, I learn a little bit more.

I’m not perfect. But I can do something.

And so I shall.

Onward. Together.

Less than two weeks left at this company

Just floating along...
Just floating along…

So, it seems the merger is speeding up, and I may be working for a different company in another two weeks. How strange.

The lucky thing is, I will have a little over a year logged at the existing company, so I won’t look like a “jumper” when the company name changes on my resume in such a short time. I need to have at least a year in at a place, so I don’t look like a “flight risk” later on.

So, unless I get laid off in the next week, that will happen.

And that’s good.

Things are really strange at work. Nobody’s really doing anything work-related. At least, not obviously. They’re doing online crossword puzzles, checking Facebook, answering personal email, walking around out in the far parking lot while they’re talking on the phone (maybe to recruiters), or just hanging out. It’s like everyone is just on hold, until the final word goes through.

As for me, I’m trying to accomplish one concrete thing a day — today I put together a plan of action to help some co-workers who need to do a certain task on a regular basis. Tomorrow I will concentrate on finishing up my goals for the coming quarter. Wednesday, I have meetings all day. Thursday I’m volunteering in the morning and then going to work in the afternoon, when I will run some reports and send out some announcements to people. Friday, I will do my retrospective on the week and figure out what I’m doing next week.

So, that’s figured out, and that’s fine.

All in all, it feels like a weird limbo-ish bubble at work. People are upset that the company they have loved for years and years is going away. Others are shrugging their shoulders, because this is what happens, these days. I think a lot of older folks on the brink of retirement are panicking a little, for fear they’ll be let go before they can just retire. As for me, I’m watching everything just kind of roll by.

Only time will tell how this all works out.

Only time will tell.

So, onward.

 

 

Gadolinium on the Brain: Curiosity or Cause for Concern?

I’ve had two MRIs with Gadolinium contrast. I’m not sure I’m interested in having more. Read on…

Gadolinium enhances the quality of MRI by altering the magnetic properties of water molecules that are nearby in the body. Gadolinium can improve the visibility of specific organs, blood vessels, or tissues and is used to detect and characterize disruptions in normal physiology. By itself, gadolinium is toxic. When used in contrast agents, the rare earth metal is bonded with a chelating agent. Bound to chelates, which vary across different gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs), gadolinium is eliminated from the body. Every year, nearly 20 million patients in the United States undergo gadolinium-enhanced MRI studies to help their physicians diagnose and treat a wide variety of medical conditions, according to RSNA.

“Gadolinium-enhanced MRIs often provide crucial, sometimes life-saving, medical information,” says Max Wintermark, MD, a professor of radiology and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University in California.

The belief has been that gadolinium used in contrast is safe, leaving the body rapidly and completely in patients with normal kidney function. Yet when researchers from Japan noted progressive signal changes in specific areas of the human brain following multiple IV doses of gadolinium contrast, they speculated that these changes could be attributed to retained gadolinium within the brains of these patients. When the radiologists from Teikyo University School of Medicine in Tokyo and the Hyogo Cancer Center in Akashi reported their findings in Radiology online in December 2013, it raised some concerns. Additional follow-up studies from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and the Japanese researchers confirmed the existence of long-term gadolinium deposits in brain tissues of human cadavers.

Read the rest of this interesting article at: Gadolinium on the Brain: Curiosity or Cause for Concern?

One day at a time, one experience at a time… TBI recovery over the long term

brain with lots of question marks
How DO you work your way back?

I haven’t been doing nearly as much blogging, lately, as I used to.

Time was, I’d get up, do my exercise, eat my breakfast, and then spend 30 minutes or so blogging before I got my shower and went to work. I did this (almost) without fail, each and every day. And on weekends, when I had more time, I’d blog even more.

I researched. I wrote. I commented. I actively committed to sharing information about my life to everyone who might find it useful in their own recovery from traumatic brain injury, or in helping someone else who was recovering.

And it was good. It kept me going. It gave me a sense of purpose — a mission, if you will. This went on for a number of years. And yes, it was good.

Lately, I find myself wishing I were blogging, more than I really am. There are a lot of thoughts in my head, but it’s hard for me to sort them out, these days. I don’t think I’m declining cognitively… if anything, I think I’m doing much better than I have in a long, long time — maybe ever. The difference seems to be that I’m handling more on a daily basis. I have more challenges in my work life and home life. I have more responsibilities and more accountability. And that takes more energy from me, to handle everything well.

So, as I volunteer more, as I take on more responsibilities at work, as I gear up for my next career move, as I read more and am more active, I get tired more… so, I need to rest more. And I also have less opportunity for blogging.

And from where I’m sitting, that’s a good thing.

Here’s the thing though — in the midst of doing all that I’m doing, I really need to check in and show the rest of the world that recovery after mild TBI is possible. Recovery of a really high-quality life is possible after multiple concussions. And even when you sink as low as you think you can go, there’s still the chance (however remote) that you can get back.

I used to be pretty active on Twitter, but not so much, anymore. Frankly, it depresses me. It seems like all the concussion and TBI talk is around sports, especially pro football, hockey, Aussie football, etc. Despite the fact that countless non-athletic folks sustain mild TBIs from falls, assaults, and motor vehicle accidents, the talk is still focused on pro sports. Lawsuits. Who’s to blame for CTE in football players… and all that.

And it does the conversation a disservice. Because not only does it accentuate the dire nature of concussion — which just puts fear in the hearts of people everywhere (and possibly makes people less inclined to report or seek treatment) — but it also diverts the attention away from actual recovery.

How DO you recover from TBI? Even Mild TBI can do a number on you (as I found out, 11 years ago). So, how do you deal with it? Work with it? Overcome it? Everyone’s recovery is different, clearly, and what I’ve done may not work for everyone, but for heaven’s sake, certainly we can do better than we are now!

When I say “we”, I should really be saying “I”. Because I’ve been to the “valley of TBI despair” — not once, but a number of times. And I’ve wished I could simply die and disappear into the cold, dark earth. At different points, I’ve lost my ability to read, to write, to understand what people were saying to me, as well as how to regulate my moods and control my temper. I’ve had miserable, terrible headaches that wouldn’t go away 100% for years. I’ve had balance issues, sensory issues, work issues, relationship issues… directly related to and resulting from repeat blows to the head. So, yeah, I know what it’s like — at least in part.

All these things have resolved with me, for the most part… although I do have intermittent issues with them, now and then. And if I don’t talk about that, well, then it’s my bad.

It’s my bad, indeed.

I’m not one for sitting around feeling terrible about myself, though. I’m in a position to make a positive difference, so I will. It’s probably not going to be at the frequency and intensity that I’ve been working at for years, but it’ll be a heck of a lot more than I’ve done for the past couple of months. (Hmmmmm… I seem to remember vowing to do that, a little while ago, but nothing much has happened since then… but I can’t be too hard on myself – something is better than nothing.)

Let me close by saying this: My job situation, as tenuous as it is, is kicking me into gear to really re-examine my job choices. There are things I do really, really well, and there are things I struggle to do. I’ve been urged to master the things I struggle with, for my entire life. Now I’m at the point where I feel like I should put more emphasis on what I naturally do well, and not sink so much time and energy into mastering the stuff that I have trouble with. That’s not to say I don’t want to constantly improve, but I think there’s a missed opportunity to make the most of my innate talents and strongest interests… I just have to figure out what those are, after so many years of swimming against the stream of things I have trouble with.

I’m using this job uncertainty as an opportunity to get to know myself better — not only remembering what I’ve done well in the past, but what I’ve really enjoyed doing in the past (whether I did it well, or not). I have a deadline to update my job goals by next week, probably because of the impending merger, and also rumors that a lot of staff will get cut (mid-level management, I hear — although they always say that, and then it’s the little guys who get axed). I need to state clearly what I’m up to, what I plan to be up to, and why that matters to the company.

So, today (with no meetings — woo hoo!) I can spend some quality time really thinking about them, examining what I’ve done, thus far, and taking stock of what I’d like to continue to do. I can then transfer that into my resume and update it with what I want to do, not just what other people have told me I do well (but I don’t really like to do). Seriously, I am so hard-headed and tenacious and perseverative, when someone challenges me to do something — even if it’s not a good idea — I do it. I pull out all the stops, and I GO FOR IT. But what I’m going for, is sometimes someone else’s idea of a good thing. It’s not always mine.

For the past several jobs, I’ve stepped up challenges and roles that I’ve been asked to take on. Not because I wanted to, but because I was asked to. And I did a fabulous job — better than I thought, actually. That looks good on my resume, and it’s gratifying to realize I did great, but it’s not how I want to keep spending my life. God help me, no. I want to do things that appeal to ME, and that don’t exhaust me like the stuff that other people tell me to do.

That’s my goal. That’s my plan. Now, it’s time to go examine my life, see it for what it has been, what it is, and what I want it to be.

It’s time to dream a little — and put the pieces in place that will let me reach my dreams.

Onward!

Taking the pressure off with work

silhouettes of a group of five businessmen - one of the silhouettes is a different color
It’s hard to say if the orange guy is out, or if he’s staying, while all the others are shown the door

So, rumor has it that there are going to be massive staffing cuts before too long at work. Nobody — but nobody — knows their fate.

How wonderful!

I mean, it’s not wonderful for people who need to keep their jobs and keep supporting their families.

It’s not wonderful for people just on the verge of retirement, who will find their plans hosed by rich people who aren’t getting richer fast enough for their tastes.

It’s not wonderful for people who don’t have a lot of skills to transfer into other companies or other lines of work… people who have been at low-level positions with the same company for so many years, that their salaries will never, ever be replicated if they go to a new company and have to start from scratch.

But it’s wonderful, that it takes the pressure off all of us to PERFORM AT OUR PEAK LEVEL, DAY IN AND DAY OUT. You can almost hear a collective sigh of relief, at how much less pressure there is to be ALPHA MALE/FEMALE and UBER-PRODUCER-OF-THE-DAY/MONTH/YEAR/DECADE.

All that gets old, after a while. And it’s a relief to just go about my business, doing what I do because it’s the right thing to do, rather than because it’s politically expedient.

I’m supposed to do my Q3 goals a few weeks ahead of time. I also had to do my Q2 recap a few weeks ahead of regular schedule. I think they’re trying to line everyone up and pay out our bonuses before we’re let go. And that’s fine. Because it may give me the month of September off — or at least a few weeks — to regroup and just enjoy the fine weather (assuming it is fine).

This is the harsh reality of the job market in my lifetime. It’s never been any different for me, so it seems business-as-usual for me. I’ve never known stability in any job, they’ve always moved things around, always cut staff, always merged and joined and “transformed” organizations — most often to benefit the ones in power. I feel bad for everyone who’s been at this company for the past 10-15-20 years, who had some stability and constancy, but to be honest, they’ve been in a magical bubble that was bound to burst, sooner or later. And I feel bad for some of them, because the skills they used to keep employed there, aren’t going to translate elsewhere, necessarily. The cultures are different. The people are different. And what cements your place in one company, won’t always work elsewhere.

Everything is unheaval. Everything. The best thing to do, is embrace it. Update your resume. Look around for other jobs. See what the market is like and where the biggest opportunities are. Follow your gut, use common sense.

And never, ever, take anything for granted.

This is the new world for many — and the old world for me. I wish everyone the best of luck…