Another five-hour drive, followed by more family, then one last day of family and an eight-hour drive home. Holding steady, just want to not let the challenge get the better of me.
So far, so good…
Another five-hour drive, followed by more family, then one last day of family and an eight-hour drive home. Holding steady, just want to not let the challenge get the better of me.
So far, so good…
Just woke up from a 4-hour nap. Have been driving a LOT through some bad traffic and borderline tornado weather that looks a lot like the YouTube tornado videos I watch.
Seeing many family members, some of whom I have not seen in decades. And connecting with cousins I have never met before but who are very much like me.
Interesting, how family works.
Only a few sparks flying during the long drives. I may have convinced my spouse to drive a shorter route, next time. After nine hours in the car, they started to see the light. But why must logic be so hard to convey?
Nothing is easy, when you are dealing with entrenched anxiety that expresses as aggression.
Main thing is to keep trying. And never give up.
More to come…
I’ve got a busy day ahead of me. Lots to do. I took a look last night and realized how much is going on, so I shuffled some things around, I’m planning to cancel my evening appointment, and I’ll make time to rest at mid-day. Very important. If I don’t, it could spell trouble.
Years ago, I would have tried to pack everything in, and it would have gone poorly. These days, I’m being smart about it. Don’t need to be all things to all people, especially to myself.
I’ve got a big trip coming up next weekend — I’m taking nearly a week to go see family in several states… kind of a follow-up trip to make up for not having been there for the holidays (I was sick and couldn’t travel). There will be lots of driving, lots of activity, lots of interacting with relatives I haven’t seen in many years. There will be a family reunion with relatives, some of whom care about me, others of whom couldn’t care less about me. There will be time with siblings as well as aunts and uncles and cousins. All together in one big melting pot for the weekend.
This is coming on top of some very busy times at work. I’m a bit apprehensive, because I’ve been tired and I’ve had trouble sleeping, and I am concerned that it might affect my ability to deal with my family. I also worry that it will affect my ability to deal with my spouse, who is not a big fan of most of my family. We come from very different backgrounds, and my spouse is not always the most open-minded individual when it comes to differences.
I know I shouldn’t stress over this, but I am a little bit. I have to get a bunch of things done for work before I go — it’s really BAD timing, but there it is. My workload is just crazy, these days, and it will be until mid-September. Then it will probably pick up again through the end of the year. It’s hard to believe July is almost over. August is so packed, it might as well not even exist. Just busy, busy, busy all around.
But it’s a good thing. It beats the alternative. I’ve become a key contributor on some important initiatives, so that keeps me going and it gives me a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself. And I have to keep that in mind. It’s another way of looking at it — it’s a good thing, that going away for a few days is a problem. Because if it weren’t I’d be in trouble.
Likewise, if I think about the upcoming trip with my relatives, one of the reasons it promises to be so full, is that so many people want to see me. They want to talk to me, to find out how I’m doing, to tell me about their lives. They want to share a lot with me, and they don’t realize how overwhelming it can be for me. Over-stimulation has resulted in me going temporarily deaf and blind — I was with extended family members who were very high-strung, and there was so much going on, my system just shut down, and for a short time (maybe 10-15 seconds), I couldn’t see or hear anything. Everything just went silent and black. I came back (of course) and felt dazed and confused. I suspected it might have been some sort of seizure, but then I got checked out, and everything seemed to be fine, actually. So, it was probably just the overwhelm.
Thinking back on that day, which was about six months before I figured out the TBI connections to the difficulties I’ve had in my life, I can think of a number of things that made it more difficult, overstimulating and overwhelming:
Looking back, I can see how I’ve really come a long way in the past 4 years. I’m nowhere near where I used to be, and I have to remember this as I prepare for this next trip. My anxiety levels have decreased dramatically since I started exercising on a daily basis. And my whole world view has changed as a result. My neuropsych has been a huge help, keeping me honest and realistic — in a good way. They don’t let me get away with the old “stories” about how debilitated I am by my TBIs. They don’t let me easily jump to conclusions about being incapable and incompetent, just because I happen to be human. And they don’t let me make excuses about poor choices I’ve made and things I’ve done. They don’t beat me up over it, but they also don’t let me write myself off with some easy excuse about being impaired.
And that’s quite a feat to accomplish. Because I have a lifetime of experience of reaching the “logical” conclusion that there is something wrong with me, and I am less capable than I actually am. I’ve had plenty of people telling me there was something wrong with me. I’ve had plenty of people “protecting” me from myself. I’ve had plenty of people ditching me or taking me off tasks when I didn’t perform as expected.
It was all a crock, but when you hear it often enough and everyone seems to agree, it starts to sound like the truth.
But it’s not. It’s the farthest thing from the truth.
The real truth is that I have the tools and the experience and the proper mindset to approach this coming weekend in a stable, productive frame of mind. I’ve managed equally — if not more — challenging situations quite well, and I’ve come away a better person as a result.
I know from experience that I don’t have to bury myself in work in advance, trying to keep my mind off things. I don’t have to run away from it, drive myself with all sorts of stress that takes my attention off my anxiety. I can rest and relax and also get good exercise in advance. Eat well and take care of myself, and remember that I’m going to meet and greet people who actually love and care for me, even if they don’t always agree with how I live my life and vote.
That might actually be the hardest thing to handle — that anyone could actually love and care for me. That all my injuries and my issues and my supposed shortcomings might not matter nearly as much as I think they do. It could just be that I have a great time when I go on this trip. It could just be that the only over-stimulation is actually in my mind. And that if I can tame that, all the rest will come naturally to me.
It could be…
In the aftermath of the recent terrible events in Oslo, my thoughts go to the survivors of the city blast and camp shooting as well as their families. The blast that tore apart the government building in Oslo and the shooting that took more than 90 lives at a youth camp, are going to leave indelible marks on the Norwegian spirit, I’m sure.
One thing that I hope people pay attention to is the hidden effects of TBI in all of this. There was a massive blast in the city, which knocked out windows blocks away and also knocked people down. At the camp, people were injured just trying to escape the gunman disguised as a policeman.
Like the terrible events in Japan this past March, as well as the massive earthquake in Haiti, I suspect TBI is going to play a role in the aftermath. It’s probably not going to be well-understood, or even easily detected. People may think it’s the trauma that’s bothering people. But there’s more to it than psychological trauma.
TBI — even mild TBI — affects the brain in profound ways. New research is coming out that shows the mechanics of it, which is promising. Even without direct head impacts, blast waves may cause human brain injury, so it may be that people who were in the vicinity of the blast in Oslo could be affected. They may not fully appreciate how much and to what extent, but it could come to pass.
This is not to say that I wish it on anyone. Far from it. But even if there’s a slight chance of it happening, it’s worth mentioning so that people can read up on it and learn about blast injuries and TBI — as well as TBI that comes from smashing your head against a hard object while fleeing a gunman driven mad by fear and intolerance.
In the coming months and years, I suspect it’s not only going to be emotional trauma that sets people off — TBI could play a role, as well.
Somebody found their way to this site with this search string the other day. Needless to say, they’re not alone. Balance is a big issue for me. It’s been this way for a long time, to the point where I sometimes hardly notice it anymore. It’s just always there, to some extent or another.
The times when I do notice it are when I’m really tired or I have an ear infection, and it’s worse than usual. When I’m really tired, I tend to not only get off balance, but also get distracted when I’m moving around. So, I don’t see the things right in front of me, and even when I do notice them, I sometimes have a hard time adjusting my balance to go around them. There’s not much I can do about the balance problems when they’re happening, but I’ve noticed that if I get more rest, my issues ease up after a few days. It’s never an easy fix — I need to pay attention to when and under what conditions I’m having issues, and then take appropriate steps.
For example, if I’m having trouble with balance alone, I probably just need to get more sleep. But if I’m having trouble with balance and light-headedness/vertigo, then I may have a slight ear infection. Either I’ve gotten water in my ear while swimming, or I’ve been eating too much sugar and junk food, which really throws me off. (Note to self – I have been eating too much sugar junk food, lately, to keep myself going, and I’ve gained about 10 lbs that make me feel sluggish and lard-like. I’m not worried about my looks, just how I feel, and I don’t feel that great.)
But no matter what I do, the balance issues always seem to come back — or at least, never leave completely. They’re a part of my life, like headaches and pain tend to be. I just take them all in stride, when I’m feeling good and strong. When I’m feeling down, it does bother me, and I tend to go into a funk (which causes me to eat more junk food). But for the most part, if I can stay rested and involved in my life and focused on the future, I can handle it.
One way things have gotten better is how I respond to my issues. I now recognize them for what they are. Time was, I was so caught up in just keeping going, I never stopped to take a look at what was driving me. Anxiety and agitation and constant restlessness had a hold of me, and I didn’t fully understand how or why. And my reactions to losing my balance or being light-headed were pretty intense at times. I used to flip out over feeling dizzy, when someone was trying to talk to me. I would get disoriented and anxious and I would snap at them. Sometimes, it was all but impossible for anyone to talk to me, it was that bad.
But since I’ve come to realize what the source of my issues is — that lightheadedness, that vertigo, that sense of losing my balance, that loss of balance — I can better manage my reactions to it, and I don’t have to snap and have a full-blown temper tantrum at the people around me who are just trying to talk to me.
I take a deep breath and count to five before I say or do anything. And that helps. It helps a lot.
Another thing that’s helping me is doing physical balance exercises in the morning. While I’m waiting for my coffee water to boil, I do leg lefts, and when I can, I don’t hold onto anything while I do them. When I first started doing the leg lifts, I couldn’t manage without holding onto something. But now — about a year later — I can tell I’m physically stronger and more balanced. I am able to stand in the middle of my kitchen and do those same leg lifts without any external help. When I’m healthy, that is. When I’m tired and/or have an infection, I need to hold one. I don’t beat myself up — I just notice what is going on with me, and I hold onto something. And I make necessary changes to my diet and daily routine, so I can catch up with myself.
More and more, those changes are involving added rest. For many, many years, I was driven by an almost overwhelming drive to DO. To achieve. To experience. To make things happen. I was always on the go, and nothing could hold me back. Unfortunately, I spent a ton of time wasting energy and effort because I was so busy running from one thing to the next. I couldn’t seem to make much progress. D’oh – I wasn’t consistent with my activities, and I often gave up just before I was about to succeed.
Looking back now, I can see how so much of that was driven by anxiety and agitation — which were not only fueled by my balance issues, but they also fueled the balance issues. It was a self-perpetuating cycle that kept me going, and making no progress. I was so busy fighting those invisible demons that were creations of my own behavior and habits, that I never gave myself a chance to get ahead. Now, I’ve addressed the old behavior and habits, so there’s less fuel for that driven-ness. And I can relax. And I can rest.
Amazing. Relaxation and rest actually feel good. Who woulda thunk it? Most of my life, I treated rest and relaxation as necessary evils that kept me from doing the things I wanted to do. Now, they’re activities I enjoy in their own right — just last night, I had trouble getting back to sleep after waking up at 3 a.m., but when I lay down and just let myself relax enjoy the sensation, I drifted right off to sleep. The funny thing was, I wasn’t even focused on going to sleep, rather on enjoying the feeling of relaxing and resting. I was caught up in the experience itself, and the result followed.
That approach seems to work well for keeping my balance, too — both physical and mental. When I focus on the process of moving from Point A to Point B, I can keep my balance much better. It’s when I am focused on reaching the goal in the fastest way possible, that I find myself in trouble. Falling over. Bumping into things. Getting turned around and flustered. Granted, it takes longer to get from Point A to Point B, but I enjoy myself more. And in the end, I want that. Even more than I want the achievement of Point B.
To those who are suddenly bumping into things after their head concussion, take it easy. Rest and relax. And pay attention to what you’re doing, while you’re doing it. The ride can take longer, but you may find you enjoy it all the more.
This concludes my little series of quick answers to queries people have entered into search engines to get here. You can read the previous posts here:
Someone found their way to this blog by this search question today.
“after 6 brain concussions should i do pot or any drugs?”
Short answer — Probably not. The thing is, concussions/brain injuries can change how your body responds to drugs of all kinds. My neuropsych has repeatedly cautioned against me just taking whatever my doctor prescribes, because it can affect my cognition — often in unexpected ways. Certain antibiotics can actually trigger seizures, which I never heard of till they told me. Also, some meds can dull your thinking, which can make you more irritable and agitated, which isn’t good for anyone, including all the people you deal with each day.
As for pot and other controlled substances, if you have to, you have to, and there’s not much anyone can do for you, unless you seek out some help. But if you don’t have to and you can do without, it may be a good idea to lay off them. Brain injury can make the body even more susceptible to drugs — you may find that you react more to them, that you get a bigger high off less… or that you have less of a high off a larger amount. It’s tricky. You have to be careful.
Of course, once you’re off to the races, caution has a way of flying out the window, but it may be good to keep in mind up front.
One of the big problems many people face is that they have friends and family and drinking buddies who are way into drugs, alcohol, and weed. So, they keep going along with them, and they get in trouble, because they’re much more susceptible, while everyone around them is partying at the usual rate.
Jail time, anyone? I have a theory (unconfirmed as usual) that our prisons are chock full of TBI survivors who did drugs and alcohol, were affected intensely by them, and went out and did stuff that got them arrested.
6 brain concussions and pot and drugs… Warning Will Robinson! Danger! Danger!
If only the weekends were a little bit longer…
This is new for me. Up until about the last year, I almost disliked weekends a little bit because they interrupted my progress over the week.
That was before I learned how to relax. It sounds strange to say it, but until about the last year or so, I really didn’t care much for relaxing. Even during my “down” time, I was going-going-going. It seemed like fun at the time. Now I realize it was all about dealing with anxiety. And while I did a lot of things, I rarely accomplished anything. But then, the point wasn’t to accomplish — it was just to do something.
Now that I know how to relax, I actually enjoy my weekends. I actually get things done. I do less, achieve more. And I can actually rest. This is new.
What’s also new is taking the pressure off myself to achieve — and supposedly get a ton of things done over the weekend. Ironically, the less I push myself, the more I get done. It just doesn’t feel that way, a lot of the time. I’m accustomed to feeling stressed and weary after a lot of effort. But being productive doesn’t have to feel that way.
I’m learning. Bit by bit. Little by little. But at least I’m learning.
I’d like to propose something controversial here that probably won’t be well-received in psychotherapeutic circles. I’ve said it before, I believe, but I’m going to say it more emphatically now. Someone recently commented on another one of my posts, right when I’ve been thinking about it a lot, so I’ll say it again:
Therapists/mental health counselors (without a strong grounding in neurological information) are about the last people who are able to effectively deal with mTBI. And in the early stages of recovery, seeing a therapist to “figure things out” can do more harm than good. Much more harm than good.
It’s unfortunate, and I hate to say it, but I believe it to be true, based on personal experience with therapists and with friends/acquaintances who are therapists. What I’m about to say comes from years and years of observation, and no matter how seriously therapists may question my point of view (after all, I might be mentally impaired), I still believe it and I stand by it.
See, here’s the thing — TBI seriously screws with the functioning of your brain. Even a “minor” concussion and shear and shred axons and synapses and all those connectors that you’ve built up over the years to learn to live your life. Plus, it releases interesting chemicals into the brain that kill cells. Don’t be alarmed – the brain is a marvelously resilient organ that ingeniously figures out how to re-route connections, recruit other parts of the brain to do the jobs of parts that can’t do it anymore, and generally adapts to changing conditions in ways we are only beginning to recognize and understand.
The thing is, in the early stages of injury (and by early, I also mean the first couple of years after the incident — TBI is a gift that keeps on giving 😉 ) your brain is still trying to figure things out and it is organizing itself around a new way of needing to live your life. Generally folks with TBI don’t have a full and complete understanding of how they’ve been impacted and how it’s affecting their life – we just thing that the world has suddenly gotten all screwed up for no apparent reason. So, our brains are floundering and confused and not quite sure how to find their way out of the messes we’ve gotten into.
And the reorganization that normally takes place as a natural part of recovering from an injury — the reorganization of our brains along certain lines, so that we can resume some level of functionality — can be a bit haywire. The “plastic” brain is a lot like modeling clay. If you press it into a certain mold and leave it there, it will assume that shape and become like its environment. If you leave a lump of it lying on a table and walk away, when you come back a week later, it will be hardened into a chunk that may shatter if you drop it. If you stretch it into lots of thin, haphazard shapes and you leave it that way, it will harden into those thin and haphazard shapes.
So, when your brain is coming back from an injury and it’s looking for different ways to reshape itself, it can get all pulled in a gazillion different directions, because in the aftermath of TBI, things can be crazy and confusing, and we can come up with all sorts of skewed perceptions of ourselves. And if those perceptions are not questioned, challenged and corrected, they can harden into “truth” — which leads us even further down an erring path — into yet more trouble.
Hm. So, the crazier things get, the crazier you feel, and you wonder if you’re just plain losing your mind. You feel depressed and confused and out of sorts, and you don’t know why. So, you do the “logical” thing and you seek professional help. Your friends and family applaud you, because you’ve been getting harder and harder to deal with, and it seems like you have “emotional problems”. (Well, duh – emotional lability and impulse control are often “bundled” with TBI, as a neat little package of insult, injury, and humiliation for everyone involved.)
The only problem is, the therapist you start to see doesn’t know jack about TBI, and they come from the camp of “repressed memory” and how an unhappy childhood marked by long-forgotten/denied/overlooked abuse and neglect is to blame for adult issues. They believe with all their professional soul that most people are walking around in life cut off from their emotions, and that the true path to happiness is to connect with your inner hurt, name your pain, confront the things you are avoiding, and learn to love your demons.
There’s only one problem — none of what they say actually applies to you. The issues you have didn’t start until after your traumatic brain injury, and prior to that head injury, you were a reasonably happy and functional person with their share of troubles, but no “ticking time bomb” of forgotten abuse and neglect to throw you off course. They think that like certain childhood abuse survivors, you have been in denial most of your life, until you reached a certain point in your life when you had “advanced” enough to confront the challenges of resolving a difficult childhood… and they’re going to help you do just that — get in touch with your repressed memories, love the shadow, dance with your demons, and ultimately come to accept and love yourself, no matter what.
What they don’t realize, however, is that your brain is still recovering, still changing, still modifying itself to the world as it now is (rather than as it was before your injury). It’s volatile and highly subject to suggestion, and you’ve been wrestling for so long with not knowing for sure what’s going on with you or how best to deal with it, that your system is highly tweaked and on an emotional hair trigger. They think you’re in need of emotional “tough love” — but what you really need is some good regular exercise, a daily routine to take the guesswork out of your life, and extra patience and rest.
So, they push you. They challenge you. They test your limits. They try to get you to open up to them… pushing and pushing to get you to “admit” what’s going on inside of you, when internally, you’re in storm of emotion that’s neurologically based and totally inexplicable from a purely psychological point of view. They think you’re in denial and resisting necessary change, and you’re sitting there, week after week, looking at them like they’re from another planet, wondering “What’s wrong with me?!” and getting more and more confused and depressed by the week. You take it out on your friends and family, who have really had it with you, by now, and pull even farther away from you than before, thinking you’re just not trying hard enough.
Your therapist thinks you’re making great progress, getting in touch with your feelings and emotions, letting them come up and processing them. But you’re sinking farther and farther into a morass of emotional confusion, volatility, self-doubt, even desperation. Of course, this is all helping to create repeat business for the therapist who is “helping” you, and they can add even more diagnoses to the insurance bill, so what do they care? (Okay, in fairness, I’m sure that not all therapists are interested in creating repeat business, but any time you combine “care” with making a living, you get into gray areas and tricky territory.)
You’re increasingly worried about your emotional and mental health, and that’s keeping you stressed. You’re not sleeping well, which is taking a toll on your ability to self-regulate — your ability to do, well, everything. You’ve got all of the following TBI after-effects in abundance:
emotions, moods, agitated, can’t settle down, anger, anxiety, feeling vague fear, worry, anticipation of doom, depression, feeling down, excitability, everything feels like an effort, feeling unsure of yourself, feelings of dread, feeling like you’re observing yourself from afar, feelings of well-being, feeling guilty, feeling hostile towards others, impatience, irritability, no desire to talk or move, feeling lonely, nervousness, feelings of panic, rapid mood swings, restlessness, tearfulness, crying spells, feeling tense, feeling vague longing/yearning, etc…
And according to your therapist, it’s all due to mental health issues. Not brain issues. Emotional ones. It’s not your body that’s the problem. It’s your soul. You’re screwed.
Your brain is getting a steady stream of messages from your therapist and from yourself about “the way things are” — which is that you’re screwed up and in need of some serious intervention — and it’s causing your very plastic brain to re-form itself along the lines they’re suggesting. You feel like you’re getting worse, so your therapist dials up the intensity … and tells you all the drama is good — you’re “feeling things for the first time” (which is total, utter crap) and you’re acknowledging the difficult-to-handle aspects of your life (which really only emerged after your TBI). It throws you into even more of a tailspin, and before you know it, you’re planning on breaking up with your partner/spouse/lover, you’re riding the roller-coaster of withdrawal on one hand and aggression on the other, and you’re more and more convinced that you can’t live without your therapist, who is the one person who will sit in a room with you for more than a few minutes, as you’ve effectively chased everyone else away.
Anybody else have this happen to them? It happened to me, and looking back, all the advice from my friends and family about getting professional help from a licensed psychotherapist, was about the worst I could have gotten — and followed. It almost cost me my marriage, it turned my life into an extended experience in chaos, and the only reason I managed to escape the bogus-psychotherapy merry go round, was that I ended up seeing a truly well-meaning but neurologically clueless psychotherapist who scared the crap out of me because they had connections at a local mental hospital who could have me committed (against my will) at their say-so. A narrow escape, but an escape no less.
In fairness, I do believe that a lot of therapists are well-meaning and they are acting on the information and the training they have. But too often that training does NOT include a neurological element, and/or they decide that the awful ills of the world have psychological roots.
Another thing that makes it difficult is that a lot of therapists have mental health issues of their own. A lot of my therapist friends got into therapy because they were helped by counselors, themselves. While I applaud their eagerness to help others, it puts up a huge red flag for me. Because the nature of their mental health issues — incest or eating disorders or some other awful trauma — caused them to distance themselves from their bodies at a fairly early age, and they have grown up living outside their bodies. My therapist friends are by and large antagonistic towards their own bodies. They don’t really exercise, and if they do, it’s “gentle stretching” or yoga or something really non-challenging. They are not on friendly terms with their own physical selves, which closes their minds when I suggest that exercise and taking care of your body (as if your life depends on it, which it does) is key to mental health.
It’s all “mind over matter” for them — and I’ve witnessed the same mindset in other psychologists and therapists I’ve met. Not physically vigorous. Not physically healthy. Sitting all day in small rooms, gaining weight, losing muscle tone, planning on knee and shoulder replacements to repair the damage that their sedentary lifestyles have done to their bodies. And complaining all the while about stupid little things that a little exercise would make seem inconsequential.
Anyway, I’ll quit ranting, now. It’s a beautiful day, and thank heaven I remembered I need to move money into my bank account to cover a monthly autobill. Just to wrap up, when it comes to deciding whether or not you really need therapy, consider your neuropsychological state, and make sure you don’t get stuck with someone who doesn’t have a clue about how neurology can make you a little crazy… but that passes with time, and with the proper training and reinforcement for what your life can really be like.
‘Cuz if you aren’t crazy when you start seeing them, regular visits can make sure you really get there.