Someone reviewing books about brain injury

Here’s the latest entry — one of my favorite books, and one that made all the difference in my being able to address my own TBIs.

The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science


Never quit!


… is what the fortune cookie I just cracked open tells me. The second one I cracked open says, “Share your happiness with others today.”


Huh. I’m home alone tonight, with all my friends and immediate family out at a party. I am sitting this one out, after having had a very long and arduous week, and looking forward to a get-together with another set of friends tomorrow evening. I need to save my energy so I don’t flame out next week. It promises to be another big one. Two deadlines in the works on Monday and Wednesday, and then my parents coming to visit next weekend. Preparations and work-work-work.  There are worse things than having a life full of productive activity. But right now, what’s uppermost in my mind is the fact that I’m home alone while my friends and loved ones are out on the town.

Which leaves me feeling broken and deficient and inclined to eat dirt or something equally self-debasing. I wallowed in my self-pity after I woke up from my nap earlier, lying in bed listening to the mice in the walls, tempted to just stay in bed all weekend and not go out tomorrow night.

But then I heard another noise that sounded significantly larger than a mouse. I couldn’t tell if it landed on the roof, or if it was outside. And that woke me up. And I realized I was hungry. And I made myself a spaghetti supper, which got me feeling better. Dunno why spaghetti does it for me, but it does.

Anyway, the fortune cookie seems to think I have some happiness to share with others, so I’ll see what I can come up with. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about suffering. I haven’t had a lot of time to write, other than technical documentation for work, so my mind has had to mull over this topic while driving to and from work, without the benefit of written words to help sort it out. I’m still mulling. A long way from sorting…

Bottom line is, I’ve been encountering a tremendous amount of suffering, of late. People have been writing to me or talking to me or talking near enough for me to hear them. Brain injury survivors. Trauma survivors. Crime victims. Surgery candidates. People in tremendous emotional pain over family problems. Pictures of my extended family show up in my email, courtesy of my mother, and nobody looks very happy. Pain. Everybody is in pain, it appears.

Maybe it’s the holidays coming up. That always sets people off. Maybe it’s Halloween, which is a sort of new year for people who follow the natural cycles of the seasons. Maybe it’s the changing of the seasons and the relatively swift death of leaves on trees and all those plants and insects that were in such profusion over the summer. For whatever reason, this year the change of seasons feels much more extreme, and it seems like everybody around me is feeling the ache of this collective death.

And yet, in the midst of it all, there is so much beauty. A clear blue sky animated by birds swooping from nearby pines to the birdfeeder, and clouds passing over the colorful treetops… A crispness in the air and that dusky scent of dried leaves crunching underfoot… A favorite song that magically gets played on when I most need to hear it… The honest tiredness that drags down muscles after a long day of yard work… And the scent of warm soup on the stove on a fall evening, as the sound of a football game down at the high school stadium echoes through this side of town… So much beauty. And so much pain.

I’m not exempt from it, myself. The holidays are always reminders of family members who were with us not so very long ago… but have since passed on. They’re also reminders of seemingly irreconcilable differences that prompted me to settle a long day’s drive away from my family, when I moved back across the country, 15 years ago. And inevitably, there are the reminders of what a disappointment I have turned out to be for my family, who had such high hopes for me.

It’s not easy being a relative failure by their standards. Especially when I’m such a success, by my own measure. And it’s not easy to have this time of year remind me, all over again, of what a mess I’ve made of so many things.

And here I am, starting to wallow in self-pity again. I’m supposed to be contemplating pain and suffering, not indulging in it. Heck, the holidays haven’t even started yet. There’s plenty of time for self-flagellation over the coming months 😉

Anyway, I guess the emotional ups and downs are standard fare for just about everybody, this time of year. The days are getting shorter, and for some reason, I miss the daylight a lot more than I remember doing before. Maybe it’s the elections coming up that promise to resolve absolutely nothing, and may serve to do little more than drive us all apart even more than we already are. All these illusions are getting me down.

But it’s all part of it, isn’t it? Everything has two sides, everything has dark and light, upsides and downsides, pros and cons. We can’t escape it, and surely as summer was amazing and wonderful and lush and full, now comes the autumn with its exacting due, and the eventual onset of winter. No matter how dark things may seem at certain times, sure enough, something happens to draw my attention to the the light. I hear a sound I don’t recognize… and I realize I’m hungry and I make myself some pasta, and suddenly all is right in the world. Emotional volatility has its benefits — I can cycle up just as quickly as I can cycle down.

See, the thing is, pain and suffering notwithstanding, there is still a whole lot in my life that I can appreciate and engage with. I do get pretty down, at times, dragged down by complications from my injuries, but I rarely stay there. Especially when I can get out of my head and get moving at some sort of activity. I might not be able to go out and party till the wee hours of the morning, but I can turn up the music at home and have my own party. With spaghetti. And get to bed at a civilized hour.

Plus, the other fortune cookie said “Never quit!” so I guess I’ll hang in there.

No, I’m not changing my theme

Be what you are

As much as I appreciate the hard work of the folks at WordPress, and as impressed as I am (and I am) with their recent additions to the theme “family”, I’m not going to change the design of this blog… yet, anyway. I’ve been sorely tempted, but so far, I haven’t found anything that does the trick for me like this “old” theme.

Not that you stopped by to hear me say so… I just thought I’d put that out there.

Actually, I’m writing in a larger context. I’ve been thinking about what I write about, and why. I’ve also been thinking a lot about my family and what life is bringing their way. I was just on Facebook, checking up on one of my sibling’s kids (who, in a moment of unexpected trust, allowed me to “friend” them). Their teenage adventures have, from what I can tell, been fairly benign. So far, anyway.

But I had a shock when I saw some recent pictures they had taken and posted of their parent — my sibling. Man oh man, do they look a whole lot older than when I last saw them! It’s startling. It’s like life took out its mean-stick and smacked them around a bunch. I had no idea. And the fact of my overwhelming fatigue and how it gets in the way of so much in my life — not to mention the difficulties I have with staying in touch with my family — hits me once more. I wish to heaven I could just pick up the phone. But with this sibling, it’s never a good time, they’ve got to round up the kids or take care of some neighborhood task or head out to an appointment… or they’re just not around… And so it goes, till the next holiday season rolls around and maybe, just maybe, we get to be in the same room together again.

Thinking about this sibling, who is younger than me but looks a hell of a lot older, I’m struck by the thought that — fatigue and pain and confusion aside — perhaps I’m doing something right. Maybe, just maybe, I’m making the kinds of choices and participating in the kinds of activities that sustain me and keep me healthy and hale and hearty. Maybe I am getting enough sleep, after all. Maybe I am taking care of myself properly. Maybe the theme of my life is a good one, and it’s paying off…

One thing I have to say about this sibling of mine — nobody ever talks about it, but it’s my belief that they have been clinically depressed for about 20 years. They put on a good show, and they do well with staying reasonably functional, but the inside of their house looks like hell, and their spouse is on perpetual alert with them. It’s like they’ve gone to all this effort to keep the outside of their life together, but inside it’s a wreck. And now the inside is starting to show on the outside.

I wish I knew what to do. This sibling has been beyond my reach for as long as I can remember. Hell, they’ve been beyond their own reach for as long as I can remember. They act like they seem to think they should, but they just never seem, well, there. And I count myself unbelievably fortunate that the injuries and hurts and drawbacks I’ve sustained have not devastated me, the way my sibling’s have.

Heartbreaking. Infuriating. Puzzling. I’ve healed from so much… why are they still suffering? Why is anyone still suffering? Mind-bending. Heart-breaking. Oh…

Someone once said to me that the best way I could help others who were unhappy was to model being happy. That the best way I could support other people to be healthy is to be the healthiest I can be. I guess, absent a visit and a chance to talk with my sibling, I’ll focus this effort on whoever else is listening/watching out there. I have a bunch of co-workers to model for. And I have plenty of people I come across in the course of each day/week/month who can use a little lift. My sibling may be unhappy and unable to emerge from under their dark cloud, but I don’t have to go there with them. I’m allowed to be happy. I’m allowed to be healthy.

No, I’m not changing my theme.

Shout out to an excellent blog

Just want to give a quick shout out to The Concussion Blog (, which is run by a certified athletic trainer in central Illinois. His blog is informative, insightful, current, and has just the right amount of information to raise awareness about concussion.

Thanks very much, Dustin Fink, for your excellent service. We need more trainers like you — those who are genuinely concerned about concussion, who are in a position to do something about it, and who are willing and able to speak about it in terms that the rest of us can hear and understand.

It’s truly refreshing to find a blog like this. In the online world of infopreneurs and salesmen/women and people looking to use the web or their blog just to make money, Dustin is providing the best service of all — information and insight into real-life circumstances that the rest of us can put to use.

Thanks very much Dustin — I hope that more people will bookmark your site or subscribe to RSS feeds and learn from you and the things you write about.

Making do

Well, my windows laptop is making very strange, loud, alarming sounds — a squealing, grinding, belt-slipping sort of howl — so rather than take my chances, I’m switching over to my old iBook, which I got back when I had money to purchase more than one laptop. I never used the iBook much, because it’s a Mac, and I’m not that familiar with Macs, and never before had the urge to be. Fortunately, my work laptop is still alive, so I’m not completely dead in the water for completing some windows-based work I need to get done today, but switching over to a Mac after being accustomed to Windows, is a challenge.

I’m up for it, though. Heck, if this works out, I may just make the switch permanently. For my own work, that is. Work-work is another story.

This iBook is probably at least 7 years old, with a version of OSX that won’t support the newer browsers and their display. Oh, well. I need to wean myself off broad-spectrum technology dependency, anyway. What is it that I’m trying to do with my life, anyway? Live for machines? Live through machines? Live because of machines? This is an ongoing conversation I have with myself on a regular basis, for which there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer.

I will say this, though. I’m a lot closer to finding an answer that’s appropriate to my current life, than I was just a month or two ago.

At this point, having come into this new job where it’s clear folks are still sorting things out, and the modus operandi seems to be to point fingers and lay blame, rather than approach the situation(s) from a systemic point of view (thus repeating cycles of poor performance and unsatisfactory results), I’m going into self-preservation mode. Like so many others I work with, I’m focusing more on my own self-betterment and my sanity, instead of getting caught up in the churnings of middle management, which seem primarily designed to disrupt the processes of others and get in the way, so that middle management (which in truth doesn’t fully understand the work we do, and in fact can’t possibly be expected to), doesn’t have to look completely culpable for the screw-ups that occur regularly.

That being said, the strongest focus of my self-preservation lies in improving myself. Improving my performance. Improving my ability to deal with what arises in a helpful and productive way. All too often in the past, I’ve gotten up in my head about things that went wrong, telling myself it was me and my brain that was a mess. I was all too eager to blame myself for the issues around me… all too quick to blame my brain for tripping me up again.

To be fair and accurate, I have had long-standing issues with getting turned around and not realizing it till much later. On the inside of my head, everything looks fine and dandy, while on the outside, things are getting progressively more mucked-up, with possible solutions getting farther and farther from reach. (Not that they can’t be achieved, but they get harder and harder to see clearly.) Still, I need to be wary of my tendency to fault myself for every issue that comes up — and I need to be careful that I don’t blow my interpretations out of proportion. I have a tendency to do that, and I know it. I need to go gentle. Go easy.

So, going easy… how to do it? First off, I need to give myself a break from all the busy-ness I’ve concocted over the course of the past six years or so. After my last TBI, I plunged into a flurry of frantic doing-doing-doing, thinking that I was going to revolutionize this, that, and the other thing. A lot of it was based in a deep-seated agitation and constant restlessness that my neuropsych has cautioned me about. Ultimately, all I ended up doing was making myself nuts and digging a lot of holes that led nowhere. They were deep enough for me to lose sight of the world around me, but not deep enough to take me very far in any particular direction.

Now, how do I give myself a break from all of that? This computer switch seems to be a good start. I’m forced to pull all the documents I MUST have off the dying laptop and put them onto this “new” one. I need to change document formats in a lot of cases, turning .doc and .odt (OpenOffice document format) into .rtf’s that my iBook can read. I also need to really scale back on the sorts of online activities I do, since this laptop doesn’t have the same wireless connectivity that my other machines do. This is not actually a great hardship for me. Ironically, although I’ve been online since 1995, I am moving farther and farther away from the online media. I’ll check it for news and interesting blogs posts, and I’ll post to this blog, too, but I don’t spend nearly the amount of time online that I used to. Even my online studies have fallen away, as I’ve realized I actually do better with books, and anyway, the things that I thought I was understanding online weren’t actually sinking in. I just thought I was getting it. What I’ve found, after spending more and more time slowing down and taking time to think things through, breathe intentionally, and focus on my physical health, is that I actually don’t like to spend a lot of time online. I’ll check my email, and I’ll post to this blog, but I don’t actually care for the online environment the way I used to. What’s more, I find that the more time I spend online, the more wired I get, and the less I actually get out of the experience.

It’s not like sitting down to write at my computer. Far from it. It’s more like wading into a crowd of people talking in very loud voices, not many of them saying things I care about, and precious few of them listening to each other.

Indeed, the amount of content that actually interests me online is quite limited. But I know what I like, so I can spend what time I can, reading/browsing/digesting that — all at a leisurely pace, not the frantic go-go-go of the mainstream online media.

It’s funny – I’ve been a diehard PC person my entire career. I started out on old IBM PCs, and I’ve stuck with Windows through thick and thin. But the more complex things become, the wearier I get of all the bells and whistles, and the more inclined I am to seek out technology that just works without me having to think about it to figure it out. Maybe I’m getting older… or maybe I just have better things to do with my time than hassle with operating systems and maintenance and configurations and whatnot. This, I now see, is the profound allure of Macs, which has lured in so many of my friends and family, never to return to the “wild west” of windows glitches.

Now I get it. And as I focus more and more on hassling less and less over details… streamlining my life and making choices that will let me focus on the most important aspects of my life (rather than the non-stop avalanche of details)… I find it wonderfully relieving to be getting away from that crazy-ass directory structure glut that was gumming up my life. It wasn’t just the sheer mass of crap on my old laptop that was slowing my down, it was the time spent wading through it all, figuring out what was the most important to me, from moment to moment, day to day.

Moving off that old computer and onto this new one — with less disk space, but so what? — and making choices about what I will devote my attention (and disk space) to, is a good and worthwhile exercise. It’s something I should have done years ago, but never needed to, till my laptop started making those godawful noises.

Sometimes, that’s what it takes.

Enlightening Athletic Warriors

Xenith, makers of protective headgear for football, have published a great paper on the shift taking place in concussion awareness in sports, and the changes they believe are necessary to keep generations of athletes safe — and potentially healthier for the long-term, after they are finished with their student athletic careers.

From the paper:

Playing through an ankle sprain is understandable, but this mentality has been carried too far with regard to concussive episodes. Nerve cells do not heal the way other body tissues heal. In short, no one’s brain is “tough”. Players may come forward to reveal symptoms of a concussive episode, but it remains likely that players will work to stay on the field. It will be up to those around the players to recognize and report injuries.

Certified athletic trainers are often closest to players regarding physical injuries, and are therefore in a logical position to spot concussive episodes, or elicit honest information from players. Efforts to increase or mandate the presence of athletic trainers are certainly likely to result in better injury recognition.

In the absence of certified athletic trainers, coaches, officials, parents, and players still have a role. One concept, promoted by Dr. Gerry Gioia of Children’s National Medical Center, is called “Carry the Clipboard.” The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers free materials, designed to attach to a clipboard, providing a helpful checklist for awareness and management of concussive episodes. Carry the Clipboard suggests that one adult at each sporting event be assigned to carry the CDC information on a clipboard, designating that adult as responsible for recognizing players who appear to be debilitated, and for contacting a local expert.

Even though players may attempt to conceal their own symptoms, their teammates may be valuable partners in reporting a concussive episode. This unique form of honor code creates a team approach to risk reduction. Parents being attuned to their child’s behaviors may be the most critical element.

A major cultural shift is underway, which should lead to increased recognition of concussive episodes. As the veil is lifted on this injury, a significant short term increase in diagnoses may result. Over time, a corresponding decrease in actual injury risk and diagnoses should occur.

Read all of it here:

Doing what it takes

Another weekend with some office work in the cards for me. I got slammed with some surprise projects that had to be done ASAP, this week, so the time I had allotted to doing some extended thinking about overdue projects — once again — got pushed off. And that’s not good.


At work or at home, you too can experience the joy of excessive paperwork


This keeps happening, week after week. I have my time planned out, then my boss declares that the top priority is this other collection of things… or it turns out that one of the other projects I’m trying to nail down hit a snag, and I need to pitch in and help clear the way for folks who need more information. The Must-Do things keep piling up, backing up. Ugh.

I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong. But asking around, other folks in my group are in the same boat — we’re all struggling awfully with meeting our dates. Part of the problem is that the system for estimating delivery dates is broken. Actually, it doesn’t exist. There is no system. Just arbitrary wishes from either business partners or the programming group — or, worst of all, the VP of Marketing, who has a way of striking fear in the hearts of everyone around them with their demands, their yelling, their intimidation. I’m not the only one running from here to there, constantly playing catch-up. People around me are in various states of melt-down over how things are being run.

I am so sick and tired of playing catch-up. I need some dedicated time to do a “deep dive” into my work, so I can better understand it — and get back to enjoying it. Careening from one task to another with no time to think about what I’m doing… that’s no way to live.

So, I did what everybody at work has been telling me not to do — I brought the work home with me. I have a short-list of things I had at the top of my priority list that I need to get done, so I can get on with the rest of my life at work, and so I can get more of my projects rolling in the right directoin.

A lot of people I work with adamantly refuse to do this. They hold out for family time, or personal time. Some of them flatly refuse to spend more than 7 hours at the office, and of that time, I know for a fact not all of it is actually spent working. There are few things more maddening than having to chase people down, day after day, week after week, only to find them checking sports scores or reading personal email during the time when they actually are in their office/cubicle.

Maybe I’m a little overly committed to my work(?) but I’m not the sort of person who can afford to take for granted anything that I know (or think I know) or do (or think I can do). I’ve had to work incredibly hard to get to this point in my life, overcome significant obstacles, and compensate for invisible issues that nobody outside my head has been able to help me with — until about 3 years ago, when I found my current neuropsych. And now that I am in this place in my life, I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it slip away because of time management issues.

On the one hand, part of me thinks it’s my TBI’s acting up and making my life more difficult. Why do I have to work so hard — and so much? It hardly seems fair. Other people I work with are able to come and go and do what they please without a lot of apparent guilt or regret. They seem so happy, and they have no apparent trouble leaving stuff undone for indefinite periods of time.

But on the other hand, maybe it’s also me being intensely motivated and driven to be the best at what I do. Maybe it’s not just compensation for my weaknesses that’s driving this behavior. Maybe it’s the drive to do better, be better, to be the best that I can possibly be. And maybe — just maybe — people who are as driven as I am, just take work home and don’t think twice about it.

Via the WordPress landing page, I found a post about work-life balance that references this post:
Why we decided to offer unlimited vacation at Social Media Group

And it gives me hope. Because there is someone else out there — besides me — who makes the connection between working long, hard hours, and being the best. Social Media Group says:

Our business is extremely fast-paced, and while we are relatively small, we are mighty – working with huge organizations . . . and one of the top three global banks. We’re playing with the “big boys” and our incredible team has to deliver their A+ game – Every. Single. Day. (and sometimes after the day is technically over). . . . we are not interested in the adequate – our team is made up of exceptional, hard-working individuals because that’s what it takes to be the best.

There we have it. Hard work translates into being the best. Now, granted, it does help to work smart, as well as hard, but it’s nice to hear someone extolling the virtues of hard work, these days. Time was, when a lot of people treated hard work like a sign of mental incompetence. If you had to work hard, it meant you didn’t have the smarts to do the job properly. Well, I’ve got news for those folks (who, by the way, went out of business and were forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy) — hard work is sometimes the only thing that will haul your ass out of the fire.

And my own ass has been setting off the smoke alarm for a few weeks running, now.

So, it’s time to do what it takes and get down to work. I worked over the weekend a few weeks ago, and while I was utterly wiped out by Sunday night, it still felt great to have gotten everything done. I actually really love what I do — and the work I’m doing this weekend is much more autonomous, challenging, and stimulating than the grunt work I did several weeks back — so it’s not a terrible hardship. The main hardship is in the minds of others who don’t particularly like their jobs and don’t see a connection between what they do at work all day and how the rest of their lives are constructed.

With me, it’s all connected. The things I learn in the course of doing my job help to  strengthen my brain and refine my coping skills. These aspects of my life can use some help — and I’m sure lots of other people, TBI or no, will say the same thing. I can’t even begin to tell you how much work has rehabilitated me. Socially, cognitively, personally, it’s been a saving grace. I’ve had a lot of missteps through the years, a lot of botched jobs, a lot of needing to move on, but each time I learned a ton, and while I do have plenty of regrets, I am not worse for all those experiences. I am better.

So, now that I’m at this job (which is arguably the best job I’ve ever had at one of the best companies I’ve ever found), I need to put all that experience to work and dig in, do what it takes, and get my ship righted, so I can get on with my work on Monday, not looking over my shoulder about what didn’t get done by Friday.

Excellence doesn’t take time off. Accomplishment doesn’t go on vacation. If I want to improve — and I do want that — I need to work at it, and do what it takes to move forward. So I spend extra time on the weekend squaring away work… that’s time I’m investing in my future and my present skills and abilities. It’s not a waste of time. It’s an investment which is bound to pay off.

So long as I get ample sleep. That’s a hard-and-fast requirement. All this learning takes a ton of energy, and if I’m not rested, it’s that much harder for me to function.

It’s all a balancing act, of course. A constant learning experience. The more I learn, the more my brain develops and heals and becomes the brain I’ve always wanted. The more I push my limits and take time to recover from my slip-ups and shortfalls, the better and more capable I become, all across the board. Taking work home isn’t a terrible thing, when it’s for a good cause. And improving myself, my skills and my abilities, is about the best cause I can think of.

A better way to approach trauma recovery

In my travels, I tend to come across people in helping professions. I meet them at social gatherings, at conferences, even just standing in line waiting for coffee. I have a large number of friends who are in corrections, social services, or in the therapy field. Hearing them compare notes

In my travels, I have also encountered a fair amount of research written about trauma. My friends recommend it to me. I hear people discussing the books and the research. And I read them. Well, some of them, anyway.

But one thing really gets to me — the focus that people seem to have on the psychological aspects of trauma, as though that’s the only real problem that trauma brings with it. Every once in a while, I come across someone talking about the physiological results of being traumatized (as in, being helpless and thinking – seriously – I’m gonna die! and having your body flood with the biochemical lubricants that make the experience of being eaten by lions somewhat less awful than normal).

Another thing that really gets to me is how much focus is placed on sexual trauma. Incest. Rape. Molestation. Okay, I understand that this is a terrible, terrible aspect of life that is indeed traumatizing. I know too many people — both men and women — who have been raped and/or molested. It makes me physically ill to think what they’ve been through.

They’ve been traumatized. But they’re not the only ones. And the discussion of trauma and its aftermath and how you heal from it shouldn’t only revolve around sexual abuse.

An awful (and I mean awful) lot of people have experienced trauma. Motor vehicle accidents. Surgery. Catastrophes. Other accidents. Assaults. Drive-by shootings. You name it. This world seems tailor-made for trauma. But when we narrow the focus on the phenomenon of trauma survival and recovery to include primarily sexual experiences, not only do we shut out a lot of folks who need to be considered, but we make it all the harder for sensitive, caring, impressionable people (not unlike myself) to approach the topic of trauma as something that pertains to them.

Don’t get me wrong – I fully support sexual trauma survivors who need to tell their stories. I just think that those aren’t the only stories we should be hearing about. And the trauma recovery research and learning that’s out there should extend beyond the domain of base defilement.

Furthermore, can we please discuss it as a physiological phenomenon that has a tendency to hijack psychological and cognitive functioning? Please?

If we can figure out  a way to talk about trauma in more objective, less emotionally triggering terms, and we can view it in light of a whole-person (and whole-body) point of view, the field — I suspect — can jump ahead by leaps and bounds and help more of those who need the help.

That’s what I think, anyway.