Chillin’…

Source: D.Reichardt's photostream

This relaxing stuff is pretty cool. Now that I’ve learned how to take the edge off my sympathetic nervous system with focused attention, conscious breath, and intentional relaxation, my life is really amazingly chilled.

Never did I ever expect this to happen. I didn’t think I needed it to happen. I just figured, “I’m wired, I like being wired, and I’m always going to be wired.” And that was that. But no — now I have discovered ways to take the edge off, and now that I’ve been practicing, I’m finding that I actually enjoy taking the edge off.

Which is life-changing.

Truly.

Lookit — I’ve spent my life in a state of heightened alertness and anxiety. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been on edge. And I thought I liked it that way. The edge pushed me to achieve and accomplish, to pile on undertakings and activities, to attempt to do things that intimidated others, to drive myself at full-speed, from the time I got up in the morning till when I lay down (exhausted) at night.

And I thought that was just my lot in life.

But now that I’ve found a new way of doing things — exercising first thing in the morning, and stretching and relaxing before I go to sleep — a remarkable transformation is taking place. Remarkable. Amazing. Nothing short of dramatic. I’m actually able to relax before I go to sleep. And when I wake up, I lie in bed for a little while before I get up. It was never that way before. When I was up, I was UP. When I was down, I was DOWN. There was no in-between. No happy medium.

And my nerves were shot — except, of course, when I was pushing myself to keep it together. Then I felt fine. I felt better, in fact. I felt like me. But it wasn’t me. Not entirely. It was my collected reactions and my responses to the demands (real or perceived) of the world around me. It was, in many cases, pure agitation an anxiety, plain and simple. An intensely focused attempt to Not Screw Up which was more about reacting to what I thought was going on, than acting in a way that created the kind of life I wanted to create.

When I think of how many years I lost to pure reaction… but I can’t dwell on it. It’s just depressing. And counter-productive.

Now things are different, though. They’re very different. Between working with my neuropsych and taking care of my health and fitness, and learning how to manage my para/sympathetic nervous system, I’ve been reconstructing my life skills from the ground up. Maybe “reconstructing” is the wrong word — how can you reconstruct something you didn’t really have? Maybe I’m actually constructing this, for the first time ever?

Well, whatever the word I choose, I’m remaking the way I’m living my life, and it is so, so cool. I mean, amazing. Taking the edge off my constant agitation, my sympathetic overload, and figuring out how to relax… it’s like a magic elixir. Except that it’s not. It’s built-in. It’s actually the way normal people live. And I’m discovering it for the first time in my mid-40s.

How interesting…

And how encouraging. One might think that after 40-some years, I’d be pretty much stuck in that old way of doing things. And to be honest, some days I give up all hope of ever turning things around. If this stress and drama and pain and anxiety is all I’ve known, how can I reasonably expect it to change, especially at this “late date”?

Well, it can. And I can reasonably expect it to change (as it has been) by choosing to make intentional, conscious changes to the way I live my life. Simple, basic changes that are such an interwoven part of how I live my life — like how I wake up, how I get up, how I structure my day, how I go to sleep — they seem, well, kind of rudimentary. And they are. But they’re the foundations, the building blocks of my life, and the more attention I give to them, the more they reward me.

A big part of the reward is physical. My autonomic nervous system is calming itself down… learning to calm itself down under my direction. And my body is stronger and more limber than it was a year ago. I’ve lost more than 20 lbs in the course of the past 9 months, and I’m keeping the weight off, AND my energy level is higher. All of this reduces the agitation, the anxiety, the insomnia, the pain. It take my mind off those myriad distractions of sensory hypersensitivity and pain responses that have dogged me throughout my entire life and seriously cut into my attentional reserve, as well as my energy.

After more than 5 years of struggling nightly with sleep problems… waking up at 3:00 a.m. on a regular basis, being jolted out of sleep by a racing heart, being woken gradually in the wee hours by cramping, aching legs and back… by stretching before I go to sleep, consciously relaxing, and using earplugs to block out unwanted noise, I’m able to sleep not only through the night, but even past my alarm, which is amazing. Once upon a time, once I was awake, I was awake. 4 a.m. or 8 a.m., I was UP. Now I can actually roll over and go back to sleep.

That in itself is a miracle.

And after decades of having this low-grade intensity driving me onward-onward-onward, not letting me have any downtime, not letting me take time to really think through what I was doing, and why, I am emerging from this agitation-created fog of pseudo-effectiveness, into the light of my actual life. For the first time that I can remember ever, I’m able to look at my life in terms of my own wishes and desires, and envision the kind of life I would have if I weren’t at all anxious and agitated and filled with nervous energy.

It truly is amazing.

And what’s even more amazing is that it’s happening at a time in my life, when so many of my peers are starting to head downhill, starting to slow down, starting to ratchet back their activities, in expectation of the eventual disintegration of age. This change, this transformation, is happening to me at a time when the window for that kind of change is “supposed” to be closing. And the amazing part of it is, I feel like I’m only just beginning.

Indeed, I am.

How? Why? I think it’s due, in no small part, to the fact that I trust my body. I trust my nervous system and I trust my plastic brain. I trust my body to make the changes I need it to make, and I believe that it’s possible for it to change. And I’m learning about it more and more, so I can give it what it needs to sustain the changes — good sleep, good food, good exercise. All good.

Well, another good thing is that my wrists are telling me to take a break. I need to just publish this and get on with my day. It’s Sunday, and it seems like all the world is wet. It feels like nothing is going to dry out till August — if it even does it by then. But it’s good. It’s growing.

Like me.

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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.

4 thoughts on “Chillin’…”

  1. Thank you for sharing your blog. I’m a 40-something returnee to grad school (becoming a speech-language pathologist), and I have the opportunity to choose a medical focus instead of working with children. I’m interested in TBI, especially since I believe I sustained two mild concussions at 5 and 12 with no follow up. I have thinking problems and confusion and language difficulties that I didn’t really own up to until I realized that the program I was in placed me in the position to be a language model.

    I like this blog because I’ve found exercise to have very positive effects on me, even in the absence of weight loss. 🙂

    I bought myself a mild TBI recovery workbook, but I haven’t really had time to read about anything to help myself – textbooks only so I can help others. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    Sorry for the poor organization. I look forward to reading the rest of your blogs and following a few links.

    Like

  2. Greetings –

    Yes, isn’t it odd to figure out that you had a brain injury (or two or more), and that’s probably why you’ve got issues? I found it both relieving and frustrating. Why didn’t anybody TELL me? That’s easy — nobody understood much about it when it happened to me 30+ years ago.

    Exercise — you bet. Can’t beat it. I try not to think about the weight loss thing — anyway, that’s tricky, because fat weighs less than muscle, so if you add just a little muscle, you’re going to weigh more. It varies from person to person, but the scale is a terrible way to gauge your progress. We need fat in our bodies to keep us warm, store energy, etc.

    That’s great about becoming a speech-language pathologist. We need more TBI-aware health care pros. As for your own recovery, you may be interested in Give Back Orlando — a group of brain injury survivors who teach others how to understand and overcome brain injury.

    Their resources page http://www.givebackorlando.com/resources.html has a lot of great resources to help you understand and respond to brain injury.

    Check ’em out — I think you’ll get something out of it. One of the best things is that a lot of what they write is in a single-page format, so you can take it in without getting overwhelmed. That’s been good for me.

    Best of luck!

    BB

    Like

  3. I haven’t read enough of your posts yet to find out how you finally got treatment. That’s been a question for me, with decades between the injury and the intent to find out if it has affected me like I think it has. I never even told anyone at the time when I was 12… I was in a closed waterslide going down backwards on my knees, and there was a hairpin turn that caused a huge impact that nearly blacked me out. I avoided a blackout somehow by convincing myself that if I did, I would drown in the pool at the bottom.

    I know of a clinic that I can begin with SPECT scans for analysis and continue with treatment, but they accept no insurance, and I have to wonder if it’s really necessary to know for sure. If I can read and help myself, I should. But I also think that validation is worth its weight in gold. I have spent too long wondering why I can’t seem to succeed when I’m an intelligent person.

    I will definitely check out your recommendations. It’s always good to hear, too, that there is a need out there, and that I should persevere. Thank you!

    Like

  4. jnarama –

    I finally got treatment the long, hard way… by talking to a lot of doctors, talking to the Brain Injury Association in my state, and going through a lot of trial and error (including several really terrible neurologist visits), and navigating a truly tangled insurance system. I would suggest you contact your local Brain Injury Association chapter and talk to someone there. At this point, many years down the line, your injuries may not show up on imaging — even after a recent injury, many scans come back looking “normal”. It’s the mircotears and shearing in the microscopic axons and connections that do the damage, and they can often not be seen at all.

    A competent neuropsychologist can help you identify the areas where you have trouble, as well as help gauge the extent of your injury. It’s good you didn’t black out on the slide – you might have drowned. Then again, you might not have…

    The process of finding out about your injury can be frustrating and confounding, and a lot of people give up. It’s good to learn as much as you can about the after-effects of mild traumatic brain injury (aka concussion) and do some thinking and reflection on if/how those have affected your life. It can be a long process, but in my case, it has been very liberating (although maddening at times).

    One book I found helpful is “Copy with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury” by Dianne Roberts-Stoller (?) — another great site that got me jump-started is Dr. Glen Johnson’s TBI Guide – http://www.tbiguide.com/

    And of course, there’s Give Back Orlando – http://www.givebackorlando.com/resources.html

    Confirmation and validation can be very affirming. It can also be a double-edged sword. It can explain so much… the trick for me is not letting my injuries define (and limit) who I am, and/or give me an excuse to do less with my life than I’m capable of doing. I did that for so many years, without knowing why I was having difficulty. Now that I know why, I’m determined to not let it stop me.

    Best of luck.

    BB

    Like

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