Rehab of the everyday

Source: W.I.P.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought, lately, to my recovery. I’m going to call it a recovery, because I do feel that’s what’s been taking place with me over the past years. I know that some ascribe to the idea that an injured brain cannot fully reverse its damage — what’s lost is lost. But I’m not entirely convinced. And I hope I never will be. As long as there is a shred of hope that the functionality I once had can be restored, I’m sticking with that.

One of the big reasons I’m sticking with the concept of recovery is what I’ve read about individuals who have sustained serious — even catastrophic — brain injuries, through stroke or accidents, and still came back to do amazing things. There’s the story I’ve read about the man in his 60’s who suffered a stroke, and then worked his way back from not being able to even crawl, to hiking and doing mountain climbing regularly — to the point where his final hours before he died were actually spent mountain climbing. When they autopsied his brain, it was discovered that the  region responsible for motor control had been severely damaged and 97% of the nerves that run from the cerebral cortex to the spine had been destroyed.

Yet, he managed to work his way back after a year to teaching full-time at the college level, and he remarried, kept working and hiking and traveling.

His brain and nervous system had sustained tremendous damage. Yet, he was able to get back on track and on with his life.

He recovered — his functionality, his participation in life, his physical capabilities… things and activities he desired and loved to do. He may not have been “the same person” he was before the stroke (not knowing him, it’s impossible to say), but he nevertheless restored his life to a fullness  that most — with or without brain injury — would value.

What struck me about this recovery, which I read in Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself, is how he worked his way back — with the help of others — through doing the everyday things. Learning to crawl after paralysis… then learning to walk again. Learning to type, one finger at a time, then with a whole hand. Bit by bit, gradually, with determination and consistency, he worked his way back. And he eventually ended up mountain climbing at 9,000 feet in Columbia, where he had a heart attack and died not long after.

I contemplate that man’s example, and I wonder how I can apply it to my life. I also see how my path runs parallel to his — despite what’s happened to me, despite the injuries and the setbacks, despite the false-starts and disappointments, I keep going. And I keep intent on my life. The thing with me is to not dwell so intently on my injuries or my difficulties, as I did before. The thing with me is to not get caught up in constantly second-guessing myself and trying to sort out what went wrong. I did that for years — decades, even. And all it got me was more self-doubt and insecurity. Now I have a much better understanding about the true nature of my difficulties, and I can see past the cloud of confusion and doubt, and focus on the goals, rather than the difficulties.

And in focusing on the goals, in focusing on the step-by-step process of getting from one place to the next, going from one phase of my progress to the next with deliberate mindfulness, I find myself getting better and better at the business of living my life. It’s like starting out with anything new — you have to really pay close attention to little details and little signs and signals, in order to refine and develop your technique. It’s like beginning a new sport — you have to pay such careful attention to your form and technique, sometimes for years and years, before you finally get to a place of mastery.

I’ve read that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. 10,000 of focused attention and practice on what it is you do. That’s 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for about 5 years. Or 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, for about 10 years. That number is pretty widely agreed upon, and it’s the figure I’m using for my own purposes. In my case, it’s been over 5 years since my last injury, and I haven’t devoted 10,000 consistent hours to my recovery. I only really started focusing on it — realizing what it was — a couple of years ago. So, I’m feeling a bit behind. But I can’t let it get me down.

No, I need to just keep on keeping on. The things I want to re-learn and/or recover — my composure, my ability to manage my anger in positive, productive ways, my interactions with others, my ability to sustain relationships with people I care about, my ability to stay with a job, even when I’m getting pulled in a hundred different directions… those things take practice. It’s like starting over, in some ways — except that in some cases I never really had a first starting place. Those abilities never got fully and consistently developed with me, since I’ve had so many injuries throughout my childhood, youth, and adulthood. Arrested development? Perhaps.

But you know what? I’m still here. And I’m still willing to work to get to the place where I want to be. It’s tiring, often boring, frustrating, irritating work. But the payoff is huge. I want to recover the things I’ve lost — composure, focus, regular sleep and rest, physical fitness and strength — and it’s going to take work.

So, I’ll work. {shrug} I’ll pay close, even rapt, attention to the little things, put myself in situations that stretch me and teach me about myself, and I’ll leave time to recover, as well. I’ll treat this like any other sort of training — athletic training, especially — and follow the same guidelines I followed when I was first learning to run races and throw the javelin in track. You have to start somewhere, and it’s no good to blame yourself for not being an expert when you’re just starting out. Like it or not, in many ways, I am just starting out with recovering things I’ve lost. Patience is key. Yes, patience.

It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. In the end, I get what I pay for.

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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.

68 thoughts on “Rehab of the everyday”

  1. Hi. I think you’re right in keeping up the hope of recovery. I have a friend who suffered a massive stroke when he was only in his 20s and was told he’d never do much of anything again. Within a few years he was driving and back to teaching piano, though he still mostly lacked the use of one arm and one leg (and that may have improved if he’d stuck with his physical therapy, but he didn’t). He took piano lessons from a master teacher to learn to play well one-handed and became a hit at events and weddings. Right now, I’m recovering from the recent death of my husband. It’s a different kind of recovery, of course, but it helps me understand more deeply what others are going through as they face very hard challenges. We may not come out in the end being what we had in mind starting our recovery process, but then we may come out something better. My best to you.

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  2. Thank you. We could all use a reminder that it is hard work to be an “expert” on anything. And we may not see any payoff till we take the time do the work.

    Melissa

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  3. We’re all just starting out and learning the basics. There’s no such thing as an “expert” when there is so much unknown in the world. How much and how fast you learn just depends on how well you pay attention. I love your positive attitude. It’s inspiring. 🙂

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  4. Keep going! I’m sure you will get to be an expert eventually! Patience is so important in life. I am learning that in my own way too. I really liked your stats on becoming an expert at something – that is really encouraging and makes me feel its not too late to learn something new!

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  5. 10,000 hours? Well I don’t know that I have ever committed that much focused attention to anything in my life, except maybe parenting my sons. But here I am, in my 50’s and I’m kind of at a turning point. I can sit down and behave old and get cranky and fat or I can remind myself that I have plenty of life left to live. So I will devote myself to improving myself just like you are, because you are inspiring me. I know you can improve because I work with a man who suffered a stroke 10 years ago. He couldn’t speak for quite a while, now he is back to work full time at his insurance agency. Progress, not perfection that can be our goal.

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  6. Great post! It’s very true that the best way to recover from anything is simply to go back to living your life…to do the things you’ve always done, no matter how hard those things might seem, now. I had developed an intense, crippling anxiety problem a few years ago. It was crippling to the point where I was in a doctor’s office..or hospital..almost every week. I couldn’t do the simple things anymore..couldn’t live life essentially. And only now really….this past year..maybe starting last year actually, that I’ve felt like I’ve been able to recover and do the things I’ve always done.

    Good luck..and keep working hard!

    http://thenoniche.wordpress.com/

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  7. This is such an inspiring story. I’ve never broken down the 10,000 hour thing before: 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for about 5 years. Or 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, for about 10 years. It’s much more doable presented like that! Keep up the great work with your blog.

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  8. Dear Mending Mind, Brilliant Brain
    Your focus is splendid enough to compose this piece. Your determination, patience and positive frame of mind will see you through.
    The brain is resilient – according to Richard Restak, M.D. in “Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot” – and malleable.
    I would say you are, in your own way, an expert. Physician, heal thyself. Best to you,
    Allison Huyett

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  9. soon, this place will be flooded with well-wishes and maybe even sympathies. But do know that whenever vulnerability hits, folks like me are rooting for you!

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  10. I think our worst enemy is regretting what we haven’t done or haven’t done YET. We just have to focus on what we’re doing now and keep at it! I have an uncle that my brother and I laugh at how “normal” he is, versus our father who is sooo cautious and has so many regrets. Hang in there with the hard work and keeping at it. You will reap the benefits and feel better – emotionally and physically.

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  11. Perhaps the 10,000 hours you refer to is from the “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. I remember he rounded it off by using “20 years” and then went on to point out others who had achieved mastery in their various fields in somewhat fewer years. It is supposed that they put in more hours per year.

    Our nature is to resent or “hate” any activity which we are compelled to do, for whatever reason, when we feel numbed or unchallenged or simply uninterested in that activity.

    My idea is that you have to lose yourself in the activity which might become tedious and feel pointless. If you develop an activity with is both productive in terms of rehabilitation and engrossing as well, your 10,000 hours will not be wasted repetition but an exciting occupation.

    Your enjoyment of the activity is critical to life quality during this period of time. It would be a shameful waste to look back on the 20 years and realize that the only satisfaction you had derived was your rehabilitation and recovery of your faculties. While that obviously your worthy goal, enjoyment of life will help get you to that goal.

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  12. Good luck!
    I’m sure you’ll be able to do it. You seem like the type of person who is fully capable and willing to go through with something like this.

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  13. Hi there! I just want to come into Agreement with you because you are right! Patience is key, to me is the key that opens every door, and that is regardless of any other opinion. Having a great attitude is the thing that attracts the real power which is found in not other place but in Love. Call it God, faith, hope, whatever. At the end the source is the same, ‘coz love when is mature can erase fear, ansiety, all. I am glad that you are writing this fantastic peace in the midst of your recovery, that says a lot about how much you are approaching toward total deliverance from whatever you’ve experience. Having issues right in that esphere in life is never fun, but once you are totally heal you can guide some others that could experience the same. So, keep the great work! You are IN!
    ~Great Love to you,
    Mirian from peelingtheorange. “)

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  14. Fascinating! I’ve also started to focus on brain retraining and have Doidge’s book on order. Good luck with your continued training. I have no doubt that you can retrain your brain with all the determination you have.

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  15. With everything the medical profession has learned about the human brain over the past hundred years, there’s still much more they don’t know. The brain’s ability to heal and compensate is a great mystery to doctors, which is one of the reasons they occasionally use the word “miracle” to explain a patient’s recovery. If there are limits, no one really knows where they are.

    Whatever your injury, it doesn’t seem to have affected your ability to write. Great post! And good luck to you!

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  16. Bravo. You can achieve this goal in stages, just as you have written, and I am cheering for you. Have you ever tried Yoga Nidra? I think you might find it very useful. If you are interested in checking it out, feel free to contact me. Take care!!!

    –Kelly

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  17. You seem to be thinking rather well. Your an inspiration to us all. I had a similar incident ten year ago .I Never stopped reading and writing . I think it saved me . I see people all the time that just gave up and it became permanent. Its a lot of hard work but Its worth it . Your strength is truly remarkable. A brain friendly diet and a lot of work keep it up .

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  18. How beautiful your writing is – and how profound your ability to consolidate your experience and amplify it for so many others! Funny, I can’t remember how I ended up here at your blog in the last few minutes, but it has unleashed a torrent of feelings and memories of my own mtbi in a rollover car crash in 2003. And, then, yes, the fall from the horse (similar to yours) approximately 45 years ago. My experience seems so mild (no pun intended) compared to the severity of yours and other Commenters. Post-car crash (I never will refer it to as an “accident”), I always felt that my brain was different than, but no “less than” what it was previously. New wiring; certain areas shut down so that other new areas could come forth. I also felt that I had been catapulted into an accelerated realm of spirituality and expanded consciousness. I can see how easy it is to want to write a book here (esp. since I am, indeed, a person who writes books)! Your sentence, “..I’ll pay close, even rapt, attention to the little things” is an exquisite universe unto itself. As I have synchronistically met people w/tbi, closed head injury, etc, I have always seen us a special breed, and that, in some twisted way, we have been given a special blessing by God. In this frenetic, multitasking world, we must go gently. There simply is no other choice. Thank you, thank you.

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  19. I salute you for your high spirits.
    “with determination and consistency” Yes, I so agree with you.
    Wish you all the best

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  20. That was really inspiring to read. I’m absolutely sure of our power to change things when we truly believe in their meaning. And the most difficult situations in life often bring out the meaning of it, that’s good. We have the amazing ability to constantly transcend ourselves.

    I hope you get to the better roads.

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  21. I wish you strength in your recovery. Everyone proceeds at their own pace, take your time, and remember- never lose hope!

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  22. Bravo to you! I admire your strength and determination. You are absolutely right that overcoming brain trauma takes a lot of work, but you have the mindset to do just that.

    My mother is a woman very much like you. She had a severe stroke at the age of 57 about six years ago and lost all speech and all movement of her predominant (right) side. Her doctors said they didn’t think she would recover any of what she had lost.

    Since then she has been in physical and speech therapy, slowly regaining abilities that have long been cut off from her. She can compose full sentences and get around with the use of a walker. About a year ago she became able to move her right leg out of the blue. Our family has not given up hope of even more recovery, and it’s a good thing that she’s as stubborn as they come.

    I’m happy to know there are others who have the same strength of will to keep trying. I’ve seen how hard and tiring this kind of progress is, and all the frustration that comes with it. I wish you strength, hope, and luck. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  23. Thanks! Your mother does sound like a fighter. The human brain is an amazing thing, and the human spirit is even moreso.

    Never give up hope – it can be very tiring and dispiriting, but just at the time when you’re about to give up, life has a way of sending you a positive sign. Plus, there are more and more therapies available to people to get back on track. It can be a confusing mass of information — I guess the thing to do is keep trying.

    Thanks again and best of luck to your mother and your whole family.

    BB

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  24. Thanks for sharing Rachel –

    It’s so true, what you said. Going gently through the frenetic, multitasking world… I think most folks would benefit from that.

    Be well
    BB

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  25. joehuman –

    Thanks for writing. Absolutely, refusing to stop doing what you love to do and want to do, is so important. We may have to re-learn things, but we all have to learn a ton of things in the course of our lives, anyway, so why not do that, too?

    Thanks again
    BB

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  26. kmariej –

    Thanks – one step at a time, it all comes together. I have not heard about Yoga Nidra. If it’s something I’m interested, I may contact you.

    Thanks again

    BB

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  27. bronxboy55 –

    Yes, isn’t it amazing? What gives me pause all the time is the relative “youth” of the medical profession as we now know it. The human brain is a whole lot older than western medicine, and its secrets are both well-concealed and very much out in the open.

    I’m not sure there are any limits… just our limited understanding.

    The writing is one of the things that’s helped me really keep functional, through thick and thin. Even when the rest of the world wasn’t “interfacing” with me very well (and vice-versa), as long as I had my writing, I felt okay.

    Lined notepad: $2.49
    Blue ink pen: $.99
    Ability to figure out what’s going on (more or less) : priceless

    Have a good one

    BB

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  28. Sandra Lee –

    I really think you’re going to enjoy the Doidge book. It’s full of fascinating stories — all true — about what is really possible.

    It was what made it “safe” for me to start looking into my own long-term issues, and approach them not as barriers, but as bumps in a road I was going down, come hell or high water.

    Be well
    BB

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  29. Mirian –

    Thanks for your kind words. I do believe that “total deliverance” is possible — maybe not from all of the individual small problems with memory and attention, but certainly from the problems that arise from them. We are all works in progress, and having a brain injury — or two or three or more 😉 just makes us all the more human.

    May your doors continue to open
    BB

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  30. Johnnie –

    Yes, I have read the Gladwell book, and I really enjoyed it.

    I totally agree – losing yourself in an engrossing attitude towards what we do not only make the time fly by, but it also amps up our focus and our intention — all good.

    I agree about enjoying the journey. It would be a shame to look back and say, “Well, I learned how to keep my act together each morning while I was getting ready for work, but it sure was a drag!”

    Here’s to recovering and having fun while you’re at it.

    Cheers
    BB

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  31. Thanks Erica –

    I know a lot of people who are so very careful, as well, and I have to say I worry about them. An old friend of mine from high school was telling me about their dad, who was always so careful and made ‘right’ choices, but now he’s deeply unhappy with many regrets. We can always replace money and jobs and things, but opportunities passed up may never return. Personally, I’d rather come to the end of my days knowing I’ve really lived, and lived to the fullest of my ability, than sit back and think about how safe I played it.

    Even safety isn’t always safe.

    Be well.

    BB

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  32. Hey Sam –

    Anxiety is a trip, isn’t it? I’ve battled it for some time, tho’ I wasn’t fully aware of it being anxiety. For some reason, that wasn’t clear to me till the past year. Being able to go out and do things you thought were gone for good, sure feels great, doesn’t it?

    Best of luck to you — keep on keepin’ on

    BB

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  33. letterfrommom –

    Why get old and cranky and fat right away? You can always do that when you’re 95. Or, you may get to 95, and decide you don’t feel like doing it then, either.

    There’s plenty of life to live and plenty to experience, still — and at 50, you’ve made enough mistakes and learned enough to know how to try things and get away with them — or at least not end up in jail (I’m guessing 😉 )

    Go for it — life is waiting.

    Cheers
    BB

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  34. Abby –

    It’s never too late to learn something new. Our brains are constantly changing and growing, and our minds are, too. There’s so much to experience, so much to enjoy, so much to learn — we practically live in a huge laboratory/amusement park… depending how we look at it. That’s how I choose to look at it.

    It’s my adventure. I can make of it what I please — and so can you.

    Cheers
    BB

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  35. tdbwd –

    Wow, what a great story about your friend. He may very well have regained the use of his arm and leg — but then he might not have been such a phenomenon at events and weddings, so it sounds like he made it work for him.

    I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s passing. That is very difficult. Each loss we experience gives us a chance to find out… “what else?”

    I hope your own “what else” is as positive as my own has/have been.

    All the best
    BB

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