A less sedentary life

brain with arms and legs walking on a treadmillI can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m convinced that lack of exercise really has a negative impact on my mental health. When I am not exercising — or at least moving — on a regular basis, I get sluggish and “stopped up” and I become more susceptible to depression and feeling badly about myself and my performance in life.

Likewise, with fatigue. When I am over-tired and not well-rested, I cannot seem to deal with anything. Fatigue can come from not sleeping enough (like the other night when I had 5.5 hours of sleep – not good)… or when I’ve had a really full day… or even when things around me are going regularly and I’m rested, but I’m mentally tired from a lot of activity.

Sometimes I get tired in situations, after just half an hour of intense cognitive activity. That’s how it is with my current neuropsych. They are completely different from the last one I was seeing for all those years. This one is FAST! and they talk in rapid-fire bursts. It’s really challenging, I have to say, and at the start, it really put me off. It still makes me feel like a failure, sometimes, when they are shooting ideas at me — bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap — like they’re firing off a bunch of rounds from a semi-automatic weapon. And sometimes it really pisses me off.

But it’s good that they push me, after years of moving at a pretty slow pace. And in the year that we’ve been working together, I have to say I’m more cognitively quick than before. I  don’t always get what’s going on right when it happens — my short-term working memory issues seem to be pretty persistent — but I’m better at thinking back on what happened and piecing it together. Also, I’m better about just dropping it and moving on, if I don’t get it all. Once upon a time, I’d perserverate for hours, even days, trying to figure out what just happened. But now I’m able to just let it go.

If I don’t get it, I don’t get it. If I do, I do. Either way, I get by, and that’s what matters to me. I used to be pretty invested in getting it right, no matter what. These days, I’m happy with good enough. As long as it doesn’t get me in trouble. Sometimes it does, but I dig myself out and move on.

Now… back to exercise… Ideally, my life would have a lot more in it. I do typically exercise for 30 minutes, every morning (today I’m taking a break, because I need to recover from over-training for the past four days – recovery time is critical, and I’ve been skimping on that).

Some days, I get additional exercise at the fitness center at work. And on the weekends, I try to get out and move a bit. On Sunday, I went for a 2-hour walk down the back roads around my house, and it was great. So, I’m probably more active than most people I know. My brain works so much better, now that I’m exercising on an almost-daily basis. My thinking is clearer. I have more stamina. My mood is better. I’m just better overall. Exercise has saved my butt.

But my job involves a lot of sitting, a lot of computer work, a lot of talking on the phone. I have to type a lot of emails. I have to do a lot of number-crunching. Much of what I do requires that I sit motionless in front of a humming machine, and although I love the work, it drains me in its own unique way. Frankly, I was happier in my work when I was on a line at a factory during college, moving regularly and cranking out product that I could see and count and know was done right. I miss that kind of work. I don’t miss the noise and the grit and the stench, but I do miss doing that kind of extended physical labor.

The trick, I guess, is to figure out how I can do more work-related activities and move at the same time.

I have options. And when I think about it, some of the stuff I do, can be done while moving. I just haven’t gotten creative about it. I’ve been to rigid. Literally and figuratively. So, I’m gonna fix that.

One of the great things about my smartphone is that I can dictate. I do a lot of dictation — emails, blog posts, notes to myself — and I can certainly use it for that, instead of sitting at my danged desk, typing it all out. My hands don’t do well with a lot of typing, anyway. It’s not good for my handwriting, and it also makes them ache and stiffen up, which I hate. So, I need to have a bit of creative, pro-active thinking and actually use the tools at my disposal to improve my exercise quota. Just start walking and talking into my phone. See where that takes me. Literally.

When I’m making calls at home, I get some exercise. I pace in my living room… walking back and forth and also following the outside line of the big area rug that covers the hardwood floor, tracing large rectangles with my steps for an hour at a time. When I’m at work, not so much. I’m usually in my cube. Even when I’m in a conference room, I sit. That’s no good. If I have a conference room all to myself, I should be walking. I have a mobile phone for work, and I can be walking while I’m listening to calls. In fact, I think I’ll start doing that — especially on the calls where I’m just listening, not talking.

I need to get my butt up out of the seat and move around more, in general. One of my boss’es complaints about me is that I keep to myself too much. I don’t reach out to others. That’s true. I get caught up in my own little world, and I lose touch with everyone else. That needs to change. And I can do it. Stand up. Move. Go talk to the people I’m supposed to be talking to, anyway. Walk up and down all the stairs in the building. Learn my way around the place. It’s ridiculous. I should be moving around a lot more.

There needs to be more exercise in my life — not only because I’m getting older and it staves off the onslaught of age-related deterioration, but also because it’s good for my mental health, it keeps the blood pumping, and it can keep me from “rusting out”. ‘Cause rust never sleeps. Aging paranoia aside, when I’ve been moving a lot, I’m in a much better frame of mind. I can sleep better. I function better, overall.

It’s April. Springtime. About time I cleaned up my act.

ON-ward…

When more stuff falls apart

1923 broken down car with wheel off
Sometimes, a wheel just comes off

I’m back.

But you probably didn’t notice, because I’ve been only intermittently blogging here for the past months – maybe a year or so? Life got… interesting. Work has been a drain and a challenge. There are multiple illnesses in my family. And I need to help out.

So, I help out.

I’ve got a disabled sibling with a child who’s in and out of the hospital. I haven’t done a good job, at all, of keeping in touch and offering support. I’ve been trying to do more of that, lately, but it really takes a toll. And now that sibling’s partner is having health issues, as well. So, that’s yet more of a drama scene.

And now my parents are having problems. Serious, possible-surgery problems. I spent the past 4.5 days with them, helping them get sorted out with doctors, getting their paperwork together, talking them through their options, and talking to a friend who is helping a lot. It’s a whirlwind with them. My parents are high-energy, always-on-the-go types, who live a very active lifestyle with lots of friends and activities. It’s exhausting just talking to them, let along living with them for a few days.

But mission accomplished (for now). We got all their paperwork taken care of, got them set up with the medical portal so they can connect with doctors and see their test results, hooked them up with a new smartphone, so they can have a GPS, and also look things up when they need to. And just reassured them that I and my spouse will be there for them when they need us. They’re a 7-hour drive away, so it’s not exactly close by. And my spouse is having a lot of mobility issues, which slows everything down.

I slow things down, too. The fatigue is just crushing, at times, and when I  push myself, I can get cranky and perseverative. I’ll start to grouse and get stuck on a single angry thought and just hammer that proverbial nail, till the board around it splinters. We had a couple of instances where I lost it over what was really nothing much, got turned around and confused, took wrong turns, got combative… mainly because I was bone-tired and worried about my folks.

On the way down, we added 1/2 an hour to our trip, because I got turned around and missed my last exit. My spouse was talking to me about a number of different things that had nothing to do with the drive, and it distracted and annoyed me, at just the time when I was trying to figure out where I needed to turn. I was tired, which makes my brain work worse, and it was dark, which didn’t help. We were also in a part of the country that’s changed a lot in the past years — and we hadn’t been in that area for over two years, so I was even more disoriented. I missed my exit, couldn’t see where to go next, and my spouse was getting really upset at me for not offering anything constructive to the conversation — which had nothing to do with driving.

I appreciate the vote of confidence, that I can do more than one really critical thing at a time, but I wasn’t in any shape to do anything other than drive the car and get to my parents’ place, so as for conversation… yeah, it wasn’t happening.

We ended up having a blow-out fight over it, which often happens whenever we make that trip to see my parents. There’s a magic point around 7.5 hours of driving, when both of us hit our limit, and any discussion we have turns into a lot of yelling.

Fortunately, we did manage to get over it before too long, and we did get to my parents’ place 9 hours after we left the house. At least we were safe, which was the whole point. And we had a good 4.5 days ahead of us to just chill out and focus on my parents.

On the way back, I got turned around again. I was tired from the trip, and I was confused about pretty much everything. I hate when that happens. It’s a little difficult to maintain your dignity, when you’re bumbling around in a fog. I felt like I was swimming through a bowl of thick tapioca pudding with ankle weights on. My brain just was not sharp. I was foggy and fuzzy and my reaction time was really terrible. I’ve been in better shape, but we had to get home, and my spouse was in no shape to drive, either. Plus, they don’t know the area we were in. So, I had to suck it up and get on with driving. Focus – focus – focus. Pay attention. Watch my speed.

And sure enough, 7.5 hours into the drive, things started to devolve. We were trying to figure out where to buy some eggs and milk and bread before going home. We didn’t have anything fresh in the house, so we had to get some groceries. Driving along, I came to a major fork in the freeway and I had to choose between the left branch or the right, so I decided on the right side, then realized a few miles later, it was the wrong choice. My spouse was pretty pissed off, and yelling ensued. Again.

But I remembered what an ass I’d been on the way down, so I pulled over on the shoulder where it was safe, checked my smartphone, found a grocery store that was open till midnight, and used the GPS on my phone to get there. My spouse was pretty anxious and turned around, too, which made them even more combative. And that wasn’t any fun. But when I followed the instructions of the GPS (almost turning the wrong way onto a one-way street, in the process — it was dark, after all), I got to the store by 10:50, which gave me more than an hour to find and buy the 10 items on the list my spouse made for me. I was in and out in 15 minutes, which was good. Heading out again, I took another wrong turn (even with the GPS telling me what to do – ha!), but I turned around and found my way back.

And we were home before midnight… without too much bloodshed, fortunately. I remembered how hard it had been for me when I lost my temper, while we were driving down. It was bad enough that I felt terrible, felt like a fool and an idiot, and my self-confidence was totally shot. But allowing myself to get angry and vent, to let things escalate with me and “defend myself” from my spouse’s “attacks” actually just made things worse. Even though I was totally justified in my response, it made everything harder for me to think, to process, and do the things that would build up my self-confidence, as well.

It’s all a learning experience, of course. So, I can’t be too hard on myself. It’s one thing, to make mistakes and mess up. It’s another thing to give in to the circumstances and let myself blow up… and never learn a thing in the process. I have to just keep my head on straight, study my situation, watch my reactions and behavior, and learn how to manage myself better. What other people do is one thing. But I need to pay attention to myself, to keep myself as functional as possible — based on the lessons I’ve learned from my past experiences.

It was an exhausting trip, and I’ll write more about that later. I’m still digesting the whole experience, and it’s clear I need to make some changes to how I deal with my parents. They need help — and they need the kind of help that only my spouse and I can offer. Everyone around them is pretty depressive, and some of their friends are distancing themselves from them, because they’re afraid of all the implications of a life-threatening condition that needs to be dealt with.

This is very hard for my folks, because they’re so social, and it’s hard for them to be ostracized, just because of illness.

It happens, of course. I could write a book about how that happens. It happened to me after my last TBI, when I couldn’t keep up with the social and work activities I’d done for years prior. People sensed a vulnerability in me, and it made them uncomfortable. They also sensed a change in me that made them uncomfortable. And since I wasn’t always up to the levels I’d been at, before, they drifted away. I talk about that in TBI S.O.S.Self Matters To Others. Who people know us to be, is also a big part of who they understand themselves to be. And when we change, a part of their world goes away. That’s not easy. But it happens. Not only with TBI, but with other injuries and illnesses, as well.

Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough in this post. I’m back from the visit with my parents, settling back into my regular routine, with some changes. I called my folks, first thing this morning to check in, see how they’re doing — and also pick them up a bit. I need to make this a regular routine, because that’s what works for them. Plus, it’s just nice to talk to them.

I also need to take care of myself, because this is even more demand being placed on my system. And it’s not going to get simpler, anytime soon. So, keeping myself in good shape, stepping up and being responsible about my issues… that’s a big part of what I need to do.

As I said, that’s enough talking for now. I’ll have plenty more to discuss, on down the line.

Sometimes the wheels come off. And you just have to figure out how to deal.

Onward.

And now winter has arrived

snow covered buildings
It’s not this bad, but this is how it feels.

It’s snowing again. It snowed a lot, the other day, and now it’s snowing again. I’ve been mainly moving snow with my shovel, this winter, pushing it aside, instead of using my snowblower. I need the exercise. I was turning into a lump. But today (or maybe tomorrow) I’ll use my snowblower instead. Winter’s got the upper hand today.

Whatever I do, I need to be smart about my choices. And that means using the resources I have – to save my back. Earlier today, I got out the snowblower, made sure it starts, filled up the gas can, and prepped myself mentally for a big day of snowblowing tomorrow. I might even do some tonight, before it gets completely pitch black. I need to move snow. And I need to use my noggin about it.

My back, shoulders, arms, and legs are all pretty sore. It’s good for me. I need the heavy exercise. It’s the one thing that actually helps me get rid of excess energy.  If I don’t do heavy exercise on a regular basis, I can become irritable – and that’s no fun for anyone.

So, this winter, I’ve been shoveling. And it’s been great.

This storm, however, seems to have other ideas. So, I’m being smart and not pushing my luck.

And that’s progress for me, because once upon a time, I would push it. I would test my luck and keep pushing myself to go-go-go, even if I was tired, even if I was getting uncoordinated. I would wear myself out and then either be at risk of falling, or I would actually fall.

I almost fell, the other day, when I was clearing my drive. Black ice underneath silky, slippery snow. It was treacherous. I was careful. I didn’t push it. And I’m glad I didn’t.

I really do love winter, I have to say. The cold wakes me up, it makes me feel alive, and the snow is great to move. I love “playing” in the snow, shoveling it and moving it around. It’s just the ticket to get me out of the house and out of my head.

Just. Fantastic.

Today, though, I’m pretty much laying low… recuperating and letting my body rest. I’ll get plenty of exercise tomorrow, I’m sure.

Nearly there – on the eve of Christmas

Christmas wrapping
The final push is on…

I’m supposed to be shopping, right now. I intended to get up early and head out to a local department store to pick up the last of the gifts I’m giving. Then I was coming back to deal with one of the cars having a nearly-flat tire. Then I was going to run some last-minute errands, followed by a nap, followed by gift wrapping, followed by making the Christmas turkey, followed by preparing the trimmings, followed by more gift wrapping… and then finally supper.

It sounds like a lot, only because I have it all broken into different pieces. But breaking things up into different pieces and then scheduling each one in its own time slot actually makes it much easier to take care of everything.

Because it’s all got to get done. It’s not like it’s optional. The gifts need to get wrapped, and the food needs to get cooked. The car needs to have sufficient air in the tires, and I have to have my nap. It will all get done… so long as I keep my cool.

Yesterday, I talked about how I need to keep my cool around my spouse when tensions get high. And it’s true. As much because of their cognitive issues, as mine. Last night, I was feeling really rushed, and I was having a lot of trouble keeping my thoughts straight. I have not been good about keeping on my sleeping schedule. My spouse has been especially needy/demanding, this year, and they have also been having more trouble thinking things through, which makes them more emotional and more volatile.

So, to calm them down, I have been staying up later in the evening, watching television, and adapting more to their schedule, as well as their eating habits (I’ve been eating a lot more bread than I should, which is messing me up, because my body can’t handle the gluten/wheat as well as it used to). It’s great for them, but it’s terrible for me. And it wears on me, after a while.

I was feeling really pressured, and I said something that my spouse took the wrong way. They took a lot of things the wrong way, yesterday, for some reason. They’re feeling depressed and isolated and not that great, physically, so that’s an added stresser for them. And they take things the wrong way, getting all riled about things I say and do, which I’m trying really hard to not do wrong.

So, painful awkwardness ensued, and it took most of the evening for things to even out again.

Man, oh man, I cannot wait for Christmas to just be over.

Well, anyway… I’ve got a week and a half of time off ahead of me (oh, except for a few hours I need to work, next week, to balance out my vacation/work schedule). And I need to be especially protective of myself, my time, and my energy, while I’m home. We have a number of scheduled activities we have to go to — doctors and social gatherings and errands to be run — so I need to keep balanced, and keep my system in good shape.

That means exercising as usual, each morning. That means being smarter about what I eat and drink (making sure I drink enough water). That means being firm about the times when I got to sleep, and not being pressured to shift my schedule later, just because I’ve had a nap.

I felt sick all during the Thanksgiving holiday, because I wasn’t keeping on my sleeping schedule. And I don’t want to do that all over again. I’m feeling a little sick, right now, actually. I just have to get everything done. And then do it.

Could be, I have to call AAA to add air to that tire, since it might not be safe to drive on it. But I can easily do that while I’m taking care of everything else at home. I just call them, and they come. Or I may need to change the tire, period. Either way… as soon as I get back from my department store trip, I’ll have the rest of the day to sort everything out. So, onward and upward. I can do this.

I just need to be diligent about it, act like the adult I am, and keep my eyes on the prize — a wonderful week off, when I get to relax and actually do some of the things I never get to do, otherwise, while I have more than one hour of uninterrupted time to focus and concentrate.

Luxury. Pure luxury.

Okay, enough mooning about this. Time to get a move on and get this show on the road. I’m nearly there… I’m nearly there…

Concussion symptoms got you down, this holiday season?

head form of metal meshYou’re not alone.

The holidays can be tough for anyone who’s got extra difficulties, due to chronic illness. And with TBI / concussion, sometimes the worst thing is being around people who don’t understand what it’s like to have your life turned upside-down by a “mild” blow to the head.

As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing “mild” about a concussion or a traumatic brain injury. That momentary alteration of consciousness means that something “in there” got injured. And no amount of positive thinking or motivation or … consequences… is going to change the functional ability, unless you have adequate time to recover and rebuild your wiring.

You have to keep the stress down, to do that effectively. It takes time and practice and sometimes a bit of luck, to rebuild what you once had. And being pushed and prodded by people who don’t understand TBI or “get” why concussion can turn your life upside-down, doesn’t help with that.

The holidays can be stressful, to begin with. Then you add all the people, the expectations, the increased pace (a lot of us are racing to finish year-end goals at work, at the same time we’re shopping and figuring out holiday party logistics), and money pressures… and it just gets worse. Cognitive reserves that were already in short supply, get even less… and meanwhile, everybody expects you to KEEP UP! KEEP UP! WHAT’S THE HOLD-UP?!

Some of my own challenges have been:

  • Remembering what I’m supposed to do at work. I’ve forgotten a bunch of stuff I was supposed to do – and I even forget to write it down.
  • Dealing with depression. It comes and goes with me. This year, it seems to be coming more than it’s going.
  • Keeping cool with my spouse, when tensions get high.
  • Staying on my exercise routine.
  • Eating sensibly, and not “stuffing my face” with all kinds of candies and cookies. I’ve done well in terms of candy, because I can’t have chocolate (sets off migraines with me), but I’ve eaten more bread and cookies than I should.
  • Getting enough rest, and keeping on my regular sleep schedule. A tired brain is an irritable brain, and boy, do I get irritable when I get tired. I’ve had a hard time keeping on my sleep schedule, these past weeks, and I really have to concentrate on getting that sorted out when I’m off work next week.
  • Not pushing myself too hard. It’s easy for me to push. I know how to do that. But while it used to work okay when I was in my 30s, now that I’m past 50, it’s just not the same. I need to remember where I am… and act accordingly.

Basically, keeping myself together during the holidays is like an extra part-time job. It helps that I haven’t spent a lot of time socializing with friends and family. That takes the pressure off. But for many, many other people, they don’t have that option. And my heart goes out to them.

Still and all, it will be over soon enough. Just a few more days till Christmas, then another week till New Years (which isn’t much of a holiday for me, anyway). Then I can get back to my regular life.

And start the year fresh.

Onward.

Finally getting into the holidays

christmas tree
It’s a modest Christmas, this year

This holiday season has been quite different from past years. Both of us were too sick to travel for Thanksgiving, so we stayed home and ate turkey in the peace and quiet of our own company. It was nice. No yelling, no screaming, no wild flurries of activity and trying like crazy to catch up with family members we haven’t seen in a few years.

There really wasn’t enough time to do everything — and my side of the family has a bad habit of trying to cram everything into a few days, which is exhausting and disorienting and sets us both up for a whole world of hurt, when we travel on to the rest of the family.

We were also a lot shorter on energy, this year, than we’ve been in the past. My spouse’s mobility issues — severe pain and limited range of motion — make it next to impossible to get around easily, and the impatience of others doesn’t help. It’s not a total disability, but it’s a significant limitation, which others cannot seem to understand. My spouse looks and acts perfectly normal when sitting down and chatting, or talking on the phone. They’re not obviously cognitively impaired. So, somehow that gets into people’s minds that they’re really not that bad off.

And that’s a problem, in itself. Because then people expect unrealistic things of you, and they don’t treat you very well, when you just can’t keep up with the frenetic pace.

Anyway, that’s only half of the problems we avoided by staying home and keeping to ourselves, this year. The other half, is my anger, fatigue, frustration, and bad behavior issues, which have been flaring up, now and then. I seem to have a shorter fuse, this year, than in the past. I think it’s really due to my work situation, which is mighty “dynamic”, these days. There are layoffs pending in the not-so-distant future. And while I feel pretty confident about my own situation — not only am I getting along with my new colleagues better than just about anybody I know, but I’m also feeling really strong about my professional prospects.

I’ve come such a long way, in the past 10 years. It’s pretty amazing. 10 years ago, I was pretty much of a train wreck — spending money left and right, completely out of control with my behavior, my anger, my self-management.

And I had no idea why it was — or that it had anything to do with TBI.

Now I know better. And now I’m doing better.

It’s just other people’s “stuff” I need to deal with. There are a lot of worried, anxious people, and that makes them difficult to handle.

But for myself, my prospects are looking good, so I’m not worrying about it. Main thing, is taking care of myself, doing the best I can, and not letting the world around me bring me down.

So, I’m finally getting into the holidays. Dealing with them as they come… and getting my shopping and decorating done, a little bit at a time. It’s taking a few weeks longer, than in past years, but I’m not worrying about it. At least it’s happening. And the way I’m doing it all — measured and gradual and not stressing about it — really makes sense for where I and my spouse are at, right now. This time is one for me to be reflective and slow down, not get caught up in everybody else’s dramas. They can go on without me. I’m fine where I am.

“Nobody explained my brain injury to me”

lightning striking inside a headJust by total chance, a week or so ago, I found myself talking to someone who had a stroke in 2007. Unless they’d mentioned it, I never would have noticed. They’d had four months of recovery, then they got back into their life. And while we didn’t talk that long about it, I got the impression that they hadn’t gotten any help with really understanding their situation after their stroke.

When they ran into their neurologist at the hospital, a few months later, they got a tip about how certain things they were doing were just not very helpful at all. Things like beating themselves up, because they weren’t doing a good job at something… things like getting angry and upset about stuff going wrong in ways that were directly related to their stroke… The neurologist gave them some insight into what was happening with them, and a better way to deal with it.

It was good that they chanced upon their neuro. It’s just too bad they didn’t get that insight sooner, so they could relieve some of their suffering — maybe even prevent it.

But they were amazed that I’d been able to find help with my own brain injury. They asked a number of questions about how I recovered, how I got myself back, how I retrained myself in certain ways. They seemed downright amazed, that my path for the last 8 years had even happened.

And it left me both happy and grateful that I found this path… and sad and frustrated that they hadn’t — that thousands upon thousands… maybe even millions upon millions of people hadn’t.

Here’s the thing that gets me about brain injury recovery — there is so much that’s known, there are so many tips and resources and a wealth of information available about what happens to the personality when the brain is injured. But there doesn’t seem to be any uniform or standard way of communicating that to people. And so, we suffer. We really, really suffer. And it’s not just the brain-injured folks who suffer — everyone around us, especially our loved ones and those who are a regular part of our lives, joins us on the big proverbial float in our Pain Parade.

It’s actually pretty bizarre, if you think about it. TBI happens 1.7 million times a year in this country, alone.  Actually, according to the CDC,

In 2010, about 2.5 million emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalizations, or deaths were associated with TBI—either alone or in combination with other injuries—in the United States.

So, the 1.7 million number (which has been used for years, now) actually looks low. Add to that the numbers for stroke (nearly 800,000 Americans have a stroke each year, and 130,000 of them die from it), and other kinds of acquired brain injury (anoxic, for example, from losing oxygen to your brain), and you’ve got in the neighborhood of 3+ million Americans who have experienced a brain injury.

That’s just in this country. And that’s not counting all their family members, co-workers, community, and extended social connections.

Brain injury is a thing. It’s a big thing. And yet, somehow, we can’t figure out to tell people who’ve just had a brain injury, what’s happened to them, what they might experience as a result, and how they can take steps to recover?

This makes no sense.

And it makes me angry. Because a lot of people are suffering needlessly. Really, really needlessly. Just having the most basic information about brain injury helps so much. Finding out what happens during concussion or stroke — and then things to NOT DO (which medical professionals know about)… as well as WHAT TO DO — many of those things are simple and straightforward, and they all help a person make sense of their situation and chart a path forward.

Maybe it’s professional caution. Doctors don’t always know what to expect, and in any case, every brain injury is different, so every type of recovery is going to be a little different. Or maybe it’s lack of time. Or maybe it’s because doctors delegate education and training to rehab and therapy folks, who presumedly have a more extended working relationship with brain injury survivors. Maybe they want to limit their liability, in case their promises don’t come true.

Regardless of why that is, the fact remains, there’s a huge, gaping hole in the support of brain injury survivors — TBI, stroke, ABI, you name it — that seems only to be filled by people in the business of doing so. And from where I’m sitting, that’s a huge problem, because the profit motive becomes the most important thing. First and foremost, if you have to make money to survive, you’re going to focus on making money. And then you end up making a lot of choices that you wouldn’t necessary make (or have to make) otherwise.

So, the care you provide is necessarily compromised.

And the slippery slide begins… and continues.

Where does that leave the survivors? Or the people around them who struggle to understand what’s happening? Where does that leave the wider community who has lost the full participation of someone who is important to others, in large or small ways?

It leaves us nowhere. In no-mans-land. In limbo. Uncertain. Without a clue. And eventually, without hope.

A lot of lives are irreparably trashed, because of lack of support — even the most basic explanation of what’s happening… simply because someone couldn’t figure out how to explain a brain injury to the survivor, as well as to their immediate circle of family and friends.

How ironic, that advertisers can figure out how to explain and sell the most inane crap to just about anybody with a pulse, but nobody can figure out how to explain something as important as the logistics of brain injury to the people who desperately need to  know.

What a waste. What an incredible waste.

And I remembered that 6-digit PIN code

binary code - lines of 0s and 1s
Slowly but surely, my ability to remember digits has returned

I just had to reset my Twitter account. I forgot my password, and I did that thing where you have them text you a 6-digit pin so you can reset your password.

I got the text on my phone, which was in another room, charging. And just to see if I could do it, I looked at the 6 digits and tried to commit them to memory. Then I walked in the room where my computer is, and I was able to put in the digits with no problem. 880-765. Just so.

Woot! That is so amazing. It might not seem like much, but seriously, this is a big deal for me. Not only does it mean I don’t have to be slowed down by having to write down (relatively) short strings of digits, but it also restores a part of myself that I was always really proud of — being able to remember strings of numbers.

I can also remember the 16-digit number of the credit card I use most frequently (no, I won’t be sharing it here). I can remember the security code, as well as the expiration date. The numbers all have a recognizable pattern to them — certain repetitions of sequences of numbers that I only recently recognized. Years ago, I would have noticed those sequences and repetitions of patterns right away, but I’ve been using this credit card for quite some time, and it only recently occurred to me that I was looking at a string of numbers that’s actually pretty easy to remember.  So, that’s huge progress for me — not only the remembering, but also being able to see the bigger picture of the overall pattern of the entire number.

Back in the day, just a few years ago, I would have been unable to remember 6 digits in a row. I couldn’t even remember 4 digits. Anything more than 2 or 3 was a stretch for me. It was a big loss for me. Even though it seems like a little thing, not being able to remember more than 2 or 3 numbers — in today’s PIN-driven world — puts a big crimp in your ability to just live your life. It’s a problem. Everywhere.

For work, when I login remotely, I have to put a PIN into the login screen, and that used to not be a problem. Once upon a time, I could glance at an 8-digit PIN and punch it into the computer with no problems. Then I hit my head in 2004, and that stopped working. It was a real problem, because I was working on highly secure systems, and a PIN was required every time I logged on in the morning. I used to get so flustered about not being able to remember the digits, but needing to write them down and then punch them in, one at a time. I also had to really take my time, because I would literally forget what numbers I’d just put in, 2 digits ago.  I got so upset. I used to be able to remember 8+ digits at a time. But that went away when I fell in 2004.

I’m still working on remembering my digits. I’m still working on my memory, period. And my progress has been “uneven” to say the least. Every now and then, though, I get a clear view of how I’m improving. And it’s not just some flash-in-the-pan exception, but something I can do over and over.

Like remembering my credit card number – all 16 digits, along with security code and expiration date.

Like remembering a unique 6-digit PIN that I’ve never seen before.

Like remembering to do things (and buy things at the store) that I would normally completely forget.

It’s a process, to be sure. It takes time. It takes practice. But all the hard work is paying off in a very big way.

And that makes me very, very happy. Just gleeful, in fact.

Onward… and upward… always.

Days of pushing, days of rest

I rested when I needed to, I did my best to fit in as well as I could. And I rested.
When I need to rest… I rest.

I’m taking it easy today. I rode my bike this morning, but I didn’t do any weight lifting. I’m still sore. Plus, I swam last evening after work, and I was still feeling it this morning.

So, I let myself rest.

I’ve made the mistake in the past to not get enough recovery time.

I paid for that.

I know better now – more importantly, I’m doing better now.

And it’s good.

Bringing light

Light is where you find it – find more art like this at http://www.atagar.com/bobsGallery/

I’ve been thinking a lot about this holiday season – and all the ways that it’s associated with light. Most of the “big” traditions I know about feature light of some kind, and no wonder — this time of year is when the days become longer, and we literally can celebrate the return of the light. It’s a physiological thing, as well as a psychological and spiritual thing. And it’s well worth celebrating.

I celebrated yesterday by walking deeper in the woods than I have in a long time. Once upon a time, when I first moved to this place, I was out in the woods for most of my waking hours every weekend, rain or shine, good weather or bad. I guess I’ve always been drawn to the forest — it was the one place I felt at home when I was a kid, and there’s something really calming about being in the woods. When I was younger, I wanted to be a forest ranger, until my guidance counselor talked me out of it because it wasn’t “practical”.

Hm.

Anyway, now I get to be my own forest ranger, and I don’t have to worry about government funding cutting me off from my livelihood, so it’s not all bad, the way it turned out. And yesterday I got a good reminder of the things that matter most to me in my life — clean air, fresh water, room to roam, and friendly, like-minded people also sharing the paths.

And I couldn’t help but think about how — for years after my concussion/TBI in 2004 — I couldn’t go into the woods. I just couldn’t. There was too much stimuli there for me. It was either too bright or too dark, or it was too quiet or it was too loud. I got tired so quickly, and when I did, I got confused and anxious. And the idea of interacting with anyone I came across on the paths, was out of the question. I panicked anytime I had to interact with someone who was out for a nice quiet hike like myself. I also got turned around and lost very easily, and since I have never had the best sense of direction to begin with, I would spend hours just trying to find my way back to where I wanted to go. I told myself I was “exploring” but the fact was, I was getting lost and had to keep walking to find my way back.

And half the time, I couldn’t remember where I’d come from. Even reading maps was impossible for me. Especially reading maps.

So, I quit going into the woods. I gave up my forest. And things were very dark and dreary for a number of years. The crazy part was, I told myself it was by choice, not something I was stuck doing, because I was so trapped in anxiety and sensory overwhelm.

What changed it? I think just living my life. Working with my neuropsychologist to just talk through my daily experience. Also, doing my breathing exercises — and exercising, period. And practicing, practicing, practicing some more at the things I wanted to do, until I could do them pretty close to how I wanted to. And learning to not be so hard on myself for being different now than I was before.

I also really paid attention to the times when I saw signs of more functionality — like when I started going on hikes again, after years away from them. Like when I was able to read an entire book, after years of only being able to read short papers — and not understand much of them at all. Like when I gave things my best shot, and found them turning out pretty darned close to how I intended — sometimes even better.

Taking the edge off my anxiety, giving myself a break, focusing on things that were bigger and more significant than my own petty concerns… those helped. Those brought light to my life.

And it continues to get better.

When I think back on how I was, just five years ago, it amazes me. I was so trapped in a dark place, confused and not knowing what was wrong with me. I didn’t understand what was holding me back, I didn’t understand what was stopping me from just living my life. I didn’t understand how confused I was or what I was confused about. I couldn’t discern the different issues I had, because it was all just a dark blob of problems that pulsed like a nebula of hurt and pain and confusion. When I think about how things are now — with so much light and so much more possibility… it amazes me.

There are answers out there, if we look… if we know to ask. There are solutions out there, if we take the time to be clear about what the issues truly are. There is hope out there, when we are willing to take a chance, have some courage, and move on — move on.

As the days lengthen and we roll towards the spring (I know, winter is just now beginning, officially)… as we take this holiday season to step away from the everyday grind and do something different with ourselves… as we try to imagine what else is out there for us… let’s all remember that as dark as it gets sometimes, the night does pass. There is always dawn and a new day, just around the corner.

Yes, let there be light.