Better Living Habits to Help My Brain Work Better

This just got posted as a comment at  my post about confabulating as a kid

  1. You can get away with treating your brain pretty badly and it still works okay, as long as you don’t have a head injury. That rule changes dramatically after a head injury. The brain malfunctions under any kind of unfavorable operating conditions.
  2. For example, if you skip breakfast and eat fast food for lunch, expect your brain to get sluggish. Having a healthy breakfast, including some kind of meat or other protein, is strongly recommended.
  3. You should not subject your brain to any kind of nutritional deficiency. That means drinking plenty of water, and avoiding starving yourself.
  4. There are many theories about nutritional effects on brain function that recommend avoiding sugar, white flour, or both. These are major ingredients in fast food. Although science has not reached agreement that eating a diet which is heavy in fruits and vegetables, whole grain bread, and healthy sources of protein (fish and chicken) helps your brain to work better, enough nutritionists suggest this kind of diet to make it worth considering.
  5. Lack of sleep is a major source of reduced brain ability, especially in people who have had head injuries. To the extent that you can do so, you should make sure to get enough sleep. If you have difficulty in sleeping, this topic will be discussed in an advanced chapter.
  6. If your injury makes you prone to getting tired, there are “energy management” techniques that allow you to make best use of the capacity you have.
  7. Try to do your most difficult and important work early in the day.
  8. Try to avoid working under tension as much as possible, as that burns extra energy.
  9. Try not to do one kind of activity for long periods of time. Switch off from one activity to a completely different kind. For example, after reading something difficult for half an hour, switch to doing dishes or gardening. When you do this, you stop draining the last chemicals out of the reading systems of your brain and start using other, different systems. Switching activities like this can allow you to get a great deal done without getting completely exhausted.
  10. If there are stresses where you live or spend time, work on reducing those stresses. For example, after living or hanging out in a messy room for a long time, some people find that it actually reduces stress to straighten it up. If your living area is infested with bugs, and that bothers you, take steps to get rid of them. Any reduction in stress is likely to make everything work better.
  11. Getting some physical exercise every day seems to help the brain to work better.

Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

6 thoughts on “Better Living Habits to Help My Brain Work Better”

  1. This is a perfect example of the frustrations – food stamps go further on cheaper, lower quality food. If you have a brain injury and require food stamps (and there is probably a lot of folks who do) you must struggle – do you risk making it harder to think today – or do you risk running out of food stamp money and having nothing to eat in 3 weeks?

    Lack of sleep – great – can you clean the house, work an hourly job, look for a better job, take care of the kids, use public transportation to get everywhere (even though it takes twice as long), cook the meals, take care of doctors appointments, and whatever else needs to be done with 8 hours of sleep? But of course if you don’t you pay with your ability to think. How many jobs allow you to waltz in and say – jeez, I would like to take a break for 15 minutes in quiet space every 2 hours. 90% of the hourly wage jobs that are available to tbi survivors are in fact the worst conditions for those people – noisy, crowded, long hours required, forced hours, physically demanding, repetitive tasks which require regular focus and have no margin for mistakes or you are fired, few breaks and no quiet space and no utilization of a persons other skills.

    Often these folks do not get the choice of when to do what work and the tension of having a manager staring at you all day is unavoidable.
    Physical exercise – you can’t afford a gym, shit you can’t afford sneakers and your joints and muscles hurt and your pain tolerance is reduced because of your injury. And where will the time to do this come from anyway – sleep? Work? Household chores?

    Organizing your house is invaluable, having an organization system would be wonderful but your accident was two years ago and you are only now getting to the point where putting things away is something you can wrap your head around – you go down into the basement to sort things and wander over to something else – three hours later you have opened 6 boxes and it’s a mess. You discover bills that are 2 years old, you discover receipts for groceries you bought a year ago, and you are too tired to clean it up. The mess can’t be tackled in a day and you can’t even figure out what to throw out. The fridge is just as bad, and your clothing closet, and your school papers which you never finish, and…

    That’s TBI life.

    PS. I happen to be in a very tense mood about these things so forgive me – I am not attacking you – but I am very very very very frustrated by what I see and have experienced and the madness of it all. When a TBI survivor can’t get a job to FEED themselves and folks on Wall Street are demanding 250,000 BONUSES I simply go crazy.


  2. Yes, lest I forget… my most recent brain injury caused me to burn through ALL (and I mean ALL) my savings and put me within striking distance of the Edge of the Abyss. My solution? Work till I’m dead. Retirement is not something that’s even remotely possible. Not now, and I’m not sure it ever will be. Unless I can figure something out. Well, I have two healthy kidneys. I hear they’ll pay $10,000 for one of them. I wish I were really joking.

    Ironically, I have a mortgage insurance policy, in case I get disabled or hurt or killed, but despite the severity of the aftermath of my last injury (two years into my current mortgage), I have no medical records that anything happened. No insurance company (headed by the likes of the quarter-million-dollar-bonus crowd) will ever pay me a penny based on hearsay. So, I’m sweating bullets (when I’m not distracting myself with thinking happy thoughts or scheming in the way my brain does when I’m too taxed to contemplate the reality of my situation), wondering if I’m going to be able to make my payments, suspecting that my spouse’s patience is wearing mighty thin with me, and half convinced that my employer is going to get rid of me any day, now.

    I really am quite close to the edge, my positive outlook notwithstanding. I just can’t go into it in detail — it’s too frightening. So, I muddle through, try to stay upbeat, and try to think things through as best I can.

    But it still doesn’t feel like enough. It never does. And I’m never certain if tomorrow is going to pan out the way I hope. I plan my days, but frankly, it’s often an exercise for its own sake, not that I really expect any of it to truly happen. When things do come through, it’s a pleasant surprise, but I’m constantly braced for something to go terribly, horribly wrong.

    This is what living with multiple mTBIs since childhood will do for you (meaning “me,” anyway) — you never know if anything is really the way you think it is, you never know if any of your plans will work out, you can never be sure if people are being honest and honorable with you or if they’re just laughing at you behind your back, and you never know if someone truly loves you, or if they’re just tolerating you for the time being, till they get what they need and find someone else who is a better deal. You live your life in a state of constant horse-trading, trying to stay two steps ahead of disaster. Like an alien or an outlaw, never sure if you’ve run afoul of the authorities, never certain if it’s okay to ask for help, or even if you do, if others will understand what you need, when you need it. Most of the time, it’s about faking it till you make it, but you never can know for certain if you’ve made it, so you spend your life faking it… and hoping you can stay under the radar just long enough to score a little something before it all falls to pieces.

    I’ve tried to explain to my neuropsych about the faking it part. They don’t understand. They think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. I literally have no idea if anything I try is going to work out. I just don’t. The times when I am most certain, are the times when I’m most surprised by disaster. And I spend my life hedging my bets, always with a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D. Always with something else in the wings, because I have no guarantees that anything I try will really work.

    But I have to try. I can’t just quit. Christalmighty, if I did that, I’d still be in that doorway I was looking at in Center City on that cold, cold February night back in 1990. I had no idea if the one friendly person I knew in the world was home, and I was working on my Plan B for the night, which was spending it in that doorway, if they weren’t there.

    You have to understand — I have been through so much crap in my life — bullied and harassed for years in school and stalked by a crazy person for more than a year, in no small part because I couldn’t for the life of me read what others were all about, and I misjudged and I couldn’t navigate the landscape. I have been in and out of jobs since the mid 1980’s, rarely staying at any of them for more than a year and a half. To date, I have had 20+ different employers, and I have held close to 30 different jobs. Career? That didn’t happen because I chose it. I was chosen to be given a career by people I worked for who thought I should have one, so they gave me one. Hired me full-time, and then kept scratching their heads for years about why I couldn’t deliver the results they were so sure I could deliver.

    Believe me, I know what it’s like to be completely turned around and unable to function. Been there. More than once. I’ve been married, several times, divorced once, have moved back and forth across the country, and have been both very well-off, and homeless and destitute. Very few people I know have a clue how “varied” my past has been, and fewer still would believe them if I told them.

    Because I learned to fake it. And I learned that if I don’t say anything, people assume you know something they don’t. Like Chance in “Being There” — very much like that.

    I learned to not let it bother me that people my own age have actual careers, where they are able to effect change in their worlds, make policy, create the world we live in. I learned to not let it bother me that the bottom felt like it’s constantly going to drop out from under me. I learned to fend off the complaints and dismissal of my parents and relatives who decided long ago that I just wasn’t smart enough or capable enough to make good on my promise — not that they ever actually asked what was up with me.

    I know you’re not attacking me… I am intimately familiar with much of what you talk about. And I hope you understand that. TBI (mild and perhaps moderate) has been a part of my life since I was about 4 or 5 years old, so everything I say, everything I am, is shaded by that. Most days, I couldn’t even tell you who the hell I am, because I live my life in constant reaction to what others do and say, my energies largely dedicated to not pissing someone off, getting myself in trouble, or tipping off the Folks In Charge that I’m not exactly who they think I am.

    I have been living on the edge for as long as I can remember. And precious few people have a clue what that means. They could never withstand that level of uncertainty, day in and day out, the relentless lack of guarantees, the constant “surprises” and disappointments and contradictions… not to mention the unending choreography of covering up the screw-ups.

    The thing is, I’m still here. On bad days, I’m bitter and lost and am convinced that cashing in my mortgage insurance by driving my car off a cliff is the best thing for those who care about me. On bad days, I’m utterly alone, utterly unredeemable, and in my eyes, I’m a total waste of space. But those bad days pass. I’ve learned that over time. And the good that I manage to find, here and there, is really worth sticking around for.

    The confusion, the frustration, the problems… they can be too much. But that’s the deal. That’s just how it is. All the talk about acceptance and coming to terms is so much flap-flap-flapping of gums. Really — the rubber hits the road far too often, and far too loud, to sit around processing. Life goes on. Sink or swim. All or nothing. Like it or not, that’s the deal.

    So, what do we do? I for one am not going to expect anything from any agency. No food stamps, no extensive medical services, no nothing. I am so far beyond expecting anyone to reach out a helping hand, it’s a little frightening. I have been in those situations where I couldn’t keep a job, and you know what? I found another one. The thing I did not let stop me was my pride. Or my assumption that anyone owed me anything. I’ve worked in a styrofoam cup factory, I’ve worked in a greenhouse transplanting tomato seedlings. I’ve worked as a typist, eking out a few dollars here and there from college students who were plagiarizing each others’ work. I’ve worked in food service, scraping dried-on soda syrup off fountains. I’ve waited tables. I’ve been a room monitor in a facility where all I had to do was make sure a dot matrix printer didn’t mis-feed the paper for the programmers working there. I’ve been an office manager, a receptionist, unskilled clerical worker, and a groundskeeper. I’ve done whatever it took to keep working — despite not being able to remember things that were said to me 20 minutes before, being bent over with chronic, crippling pain, and having a hell of a temper.

    Somehow I made it through. And I continue to.

    I guess the thing for me is — no matter how bleak things may seem, there is always a way. Or there’s not. We can decide we know how wretched the world is and how much it all sucks, based on what we’ve seen… but there’s a lot more that we have NOT seen. And it ain’t over till it’s over. Seriously, I wouldn’t still be here, if it were.

    The only way failure can ever happen, is if you just give up. So, if you never give up, you never give failure a chance to happen. No matter what, I refuse to give up hope.


  3. Yes, I believe you do understand this and have lived it and appreciate the maddening frustration of it. Hope is very fragile – and for many tbi survivors depression and the loss of hope is a constant battle – and that’s ORGANIC – it’s because the feedback mechanism in their frontal lobes has dents and they can’t self-regulate well – but once again, the drugs are the WRONG answer because the impairments make it worse in the long run. So you slog through and hold on to what you have. Pride has never been an issue, I have been on my hands and knees so long that I could probably run a marathon that way – but I also hope and want to stand tall – and sometimes do.

    Think about this:

    TBI is a ‘disease’ or a trauma or illness that cannot be accurately diagnosed.

    Recovery for it cannot be accurately measured or established.

    There is no cure.

    There is no way to determine the absolute level of damage or the absolute level of recovery.

    It manifests itself, among other ways, as socially inappropriate behavior and lack of regard for others in individuals who seemingly are otherwise intelligent and functional.

    It is completely invisible to others.

    And even the people who have it fear that secretly its just an excuse.


  4. From what some of my friends tell me, it shares these characteristics with addiction or alcoholism. Alcoholism, especially, which – as I understand it – is an essentially physiological problem, stemming from the fact that the alcoholic body cannot fully metabolize alcohol, and when it partially metabolizes it, it produces all sorts of extremely toxic chemicals like methanol and formaldehyde, which impells the drinker to drink more, to relieve the physical distress of all that crap running through their veins.

    Alcoholism is a disease, as well. There is no cure. There is no way of knowing how damaged an alcoholic is, or how well they will recover – if they do at all. I believe the statistics are 1 in 10 make it, the rest relapse and are either killed or die slow agonizing deaths. And it certainly does manifest in socially inappropriate behavior. And aside from the affects, it is invisible… and in its worst state, it makes the sufferer believe they do not have a problem.

    I have often wondered if alcoholism isn’t actually an extension of TBI. TBI reduces your ability to deal with drugs and alcohol. And many of the maladies my friends in recovery comment about sound quite familiar to me.

    Well, it’s all a journey and — with the right combination of humor and persistence — an adventure.


  5. It’s an interesting comparison – and certainly there is a sense with alcoholism that the person brought it upon themselves and doesn’t WANT to get better – and yes it is a disease.

    But there is one difference and its significant – an alcoholic can stay dry; this is a bonafide ‘treatment’ for his/her illness. It IS difficult but if they can control that one thing they will be okay. The TBI survivor can be diligent and determined and not even know that they are making a mistake, or they can struggle without recourse because their brain is spitzing – the answer in not necessarily in their control.

    The brain injury association of America wants to have TBI categorized as a chronic disease – I agree although I actually think of it as an acquired spectrum disorder (my nomenclature) – and yes, a lifelong condition that can be mitigated but not eradicated.

    Alas I cannot often think of it as an adventure – people made money, a lot of money, off of the ‘help’ they gave to me – and it produced nothing. I cannot scoff at social services; as minimal as it is (and believe me I understand and even respect your desire to refrain) the life of my child depended on it. I committed no crime, broke no law, and yet I pay and pay and pay – with my health, with my mind, with my life. I fight back – and sometimes I succeed but often the obstacles that get placed in my way – and I do mean placed because this country takes HUGE advantage of the disenfranchised – means that I have to struggle twice as hard for 1/2 as much. My voice is often dismissed by those very same folks who preach about awareness and education – because they cannot admit to their own prejudices and ignorance.

    This past month has been a downward turn for me and I am angry because once again it is the result of indifference at best and actual lack of humanity more likely – and because my life doesn’t really matter to a bunch of institutions or researchers or politicians – it matters only to me.


  6. Well, I did some checking with some friends in longtime recovery from alcoholism, and they tell me that stopping drinking is just the beginning of a life of sobriety. And it’s something that needs to be constantly tended — alcoholism is a spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical disease, and it requires constant vigilance and self-correction to keep from being sent off the rails. There’s being dry, and then there’s being sober. Being dry is one thing, but it leads to misery and a life of “white-knuckling” which in turn increases one’s chances of drinking. And if they drink, they can die, they tell me.

    From what I understand, and what I’ve observed amongst my sober friends, I think the two conditions are actually quite similar, especially in terms of social acceptance. Alcoholism, for all the more that’s known about it now, is still subject to tons of prejudice, and if people find out you’re in recovery — even if you’ve been sober for 20 years — it can cost you your job. I understand that AA meetings for airline pilots are Top Secret. There’s a reason that it’s Alcoholics Anonymous. If word gets out, you’re toast.

    With TBI, there’s also a need for constant vigilance. And behavior modification. And tools for living. My sober friends have taught me a ton about keeping a level head in times of trouble, setting healthy boundaries, and taking care of myself even when everything is telling me to do the opposite.

    The more I think about it, the closer I think the two conditions are linked. Alcohol kills brain cells. It causes brain damage… not to mention the other things it causes, like falls and fights and accidents. Nobody that I know in AA ever talks about brain injury — they are focused on living their lives as constructively as possible — but I’ve seen so many similarities between their situation and the conditions of TBI survivors, I have to believe there’s a correlation.

    It might be worthwhile for someone to explore the intersection — and possibly “import” into TBI recovery some of the tenets of sober living. Come to think of it, I might do that myself.


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