Here’s a little food for thought: Diagnostic overlap between Asperger’s and ABI

brain-ImageI just found this on the Autism Support Network. Read the full article here: http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/news/diagnostic-overlap-between-aspergers-and-abi-667654

I must admit that this interests me, because a number of people (including strangers) have suggested I might be “slightly Aspergers”. Years ago, I did a ton of research about Asperger’s Syndrome and the autistic spectrum, but after I found a neuropsych to help me with my multiple mTBI issues, I turned my full attention to that recovery. Still, the connections between ASD and brain injury intrigue me. More on this later….

And now, the article Diagnostic overlap between Asperger’s and ABI:

There is a significant diagnostic overlap between ‘mild’ acquired brain injuries and Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. While confusion is possible, the dual diagnosis can help recovery from ABI, writes our man at the frontal lobe, Jason Copeland.

I discovered at age 54 that I had been twice brain-injured, at three and at six. My parents knew this, but they didn’t tell me: they let me thrash about unknowingly, upsetting people with challenging and then ‘inappropriate’ behaviour, rude and unempathic speech and actions, driving away friends, lovers, jobs and opportunities right, left and centre. In 2008, aged 60, I found out that I have all along had Asperger’s syndrome, and may have had it since before the brain injuries.

The way I arrived at the correct diagnosis of my problems, after decades of thrashing about in therapy with psychologists, reveals much about these overlapping categories. After we had been together for five years, my Missus read Ratey and Johnson’s Shadow Syndromes. She formed the view that I had mild or ‘shadow’ autism spectrum disorder, which amounts to Asperger’s syndrome, a recently defined neurodevelopmental disorder.

Madame’s reasons made up a clear, albeit unwelcome, commentary on how I present to others. She said I had empathy deficit, I wasn’t good at reading non-verbal signals, and I interrupt a lot, among other things — all known signs of ‘mild’ autism. I was also, she said, rigid in some of my mental habits, and highly critical of other people, notably about language — grammar, syntax, usage, pronunciation, spelling, and the implications of these things for the telling of clear, literal and unambiguous truth. My attitude to communication was simple. A word means what the dictionary says it means: people should use words correctly to say what they mean, and mean what they say. All else leads to chaos. Evidently though, such straightforwardness and honesty are pathological symptoms on this planet.

All those items were cited in Madame’s readings about Asperger’s. I resisted her view at first, but later agreed to consult a neuropsychologist; and I was devastated when that one diagnosed childhood brain injuries.

As you can imagine, trying to understand, later on, the effects of brain injuries acquired early in life, is harder than when you have an adult ‘before’ to compare your post-injury self with. You have to do a lot of introspecting, humbly accept feedback from your nearest and dearest on what isn’t working, and put those together with a new, critical slant on memories of what has gone wrong in your life. By 2008, after six years of reading everything I could find on aquired brain injury (ABI), I thought I had the measure of the damage.

I accepted, with pain and grief, that I had been substantively impaired by my first brain injury at age three, and even more by the second, at six. I had obviously suffered, all along, things like loss of emotional self-regulation and cumulative damage to the learning of socioemotional skills; dyssemia, and badly impaired theory of mind; executive function deficits and learning difficulties; memory problems; mood disorders, and marked damage to the self-awareness. A double dose of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD, type IIB[nR]) and prolonged duress stress disorder (PDSD) from ten years of emotional, mental and spiritual abuse, completed the picture, explaining other emotional issues, neurotic symptoms and behavioural oddities. A lifetime of personal disasters, from age three to 54, came into focus for me. I had been consciously asking what went wrong since age seven; now I had a clear and nasty answer.

Good-bye chocolate. :( It’s been great… kind of

Shot down... again! Augh!
Shot down… again! Augh!

This is terrible. I have to stop eating chocolate. My go-to for those times when I need a pick-me-up and I want to avoid coffee, has now officially failed to serve its purpose.

I’ve had a steady headache, now, for many weeks. And after taking a close look at my past several months of diet and exercise patterns, I found a number of things that I started doing over the holidays, which probably contributed to the headaches.

First of all, I started eating more candy after Halloween. We don’t get trick-or-treaters at our house, but we bought candy anyway, partly to take to other events we were attending. I didn’t overdo it too terribly — I had a couple of those little Hershey’s mini candy bars during the day, and then again in the evening when I got home from work.

Then I ate like crazy from Thanksgiving, on. It wasn’t like I binged on cookies and cakes and junk food (although I had a lot more pie than was good for me). I was good about it, overall, steering clear of the junk food and Christmas cookies. But I did have two full Thanksgiving dinners, with a ton of carbs, and lots of sweets, and more coffee than I was used to (I had to keep going, after all). And again, the chocolate candy became a staple at our house, with a bowl in the living room being almost constantly filled… being emptied… then filling up again.

Then, over Christmas, I continued to eat chocolate. Not bingeing, but a steady flow — a couple of pieces (or 3 or 4) in the early afternoon, a couple (or 3 or 4) later on, then another couple (or 3 or 4) in the evening while I was making dinner. Just to keep going. I didn’t want to drink more coffee, because my headaches have been so much better since I cut down drastically to 1/2 cup in the morning and 1/2 cup in the afternoon.

Christmas was a sleepy time, and I started drinking regular black tea again. Red Rose is my favorite. Especially with a lot of honey and some butter. Just the thing to pick me up.

But then the headaches started again. And a lot of things started getting worse, too. My balance has been off. The ringing in my ears… deafening at times. Light and noise sensitivity… much worse, lately. And my ability to attend to things happening around me really tailed off during the week between Christmas and New Years. I started to snap at my spouse. Freak out over little things. Get aggressive and hostile, like before. Not good. And a lot of the progress we’ve made over the months before, really suffered.

I got better, behaviorally, after I went back to work with my regular hours. But the migraines continued. Along with them… Nausea. Tingling and tics on the left side of my face. My left eye weeping. The tremor in my right thumb.

So, last week I decided to get OFF the caffeine and chocolate completely. I just stopped eating chocolate for a few days. I stopped drinking the tea and sneaking extra coffee when I felt a little low. I started keeping my energy up by eating healthy snacks — coconut milk yogurt, fruit, nuts, and gluten-free stuff. And I drank more water.

At first, I didn’t feel much difference. But after a couple of days, the migraine really subsided, to the point where it was … gone! As long as I kept my blood sugar up and drank my water, I was in a good place.

Then, last week, there was a lot going on, and I “fell off the wagon”, so to speak. I didn’t go back to the tea and excessive chocolate, but I started having extra pieces of chocolate in the afternoon. And when I was short on sleep, I had some extra coffee in the afternoon.

And I paid for it. At first, I didn’t feel anything. I actually felt great, to be eating chocolate again. And I was actually awake, thanks to the extra coffee.

But then the headaches returned. And with them the nausea, the facial ticks and tingling, the tears in my left eye, and an overall sense of sh*ttiness that I’d thought I was past.

So, again, I’ve cut out the afternoon coffee and all chocolate — and just when I’d stocked up on “healthy” dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt… Augh! I didn’t see changes right away — I only just stopped it, in the past day or two (I can’t remember exactly when), but I can tell a difference. I don’t have as much of a sick headache. I have a bit of one, but when I drink my water and keep my blood sugar up, and I don’t have the chocolate that is calling to me from the cupboard, I don’t have the same level of pain as I did before.

Plus, I need to keep my schedule steady. I find that if I laze around, I feel worse. I really do. And if I sleep too long on my naps, when I wake up, I’m in ragged shape and tend to snap out at my spouse, which is never good. I am groggy and confused, which makes them anxious, and our arguments escalate very quickly.

Like I said – not good.

So, there it is. As much as I love chocolate and have happily used it as a substitute for coffee, it’s still got caffeine in it — as well as other substances which I’m told contribute to migraine. None of this is good for a person like me, so it’s good-bye to chocolate.

And black tea.

And that afternoon coffee.

Fortunately, I still have my coconut milk yogurt, fruit, and nuts to keep me going and keep my energy and blood sugar levels up. I also keep an eye on my heart rate, and when it (and my blood pressure) rise to an intense level over events happening around me, I lower it with the system I devised over the years. That’s also an important consideration — and during the holiday blow-ups and meltdowns, my HR and BP was definitely elevated.

Enough of that, already. Enough.

So, I’m on the mend. The headache is much less than before, and I’m feeling more functional than last weekend, for sure. It does make me feel better, to have identified what the heck causes the misery. It lets me do something about… which I do.

As always… Onward!

More clarity – yes, more clarity

clarity-of-thoughtSo, I posted a TBI injury and recovery story from a reader, the other day, and it seems like a lot of people think her story is mine. Not at all.

Well, of course, there are some similarities, but it’s her story, not mine. I’ve just gone back and updated it with a notice at the very top and quotes around the story — it was easy to fix.

I wish all misunderstandings were that easy to fix.

I’ve also been fielding some comments in Twitter about things I’ve said, that apparently came off wrong. It is really, really easy to be misunderstood on Twitter. I’ve had people thinking I was attacking them, or their sport, or something else they held dear… and then they “fought back” with both barrels blazing, when all I was doing was raising some questions.

All around, it seems like the online world is just primed for misunderstanding — and consequently, a fight. All around us, we are trained to see opponents and aggressors. And that’s a huge problem, when you can’t even disagree with someone and/or challenge their thinking without being seen as an aggressor (or micro-aggressor). There’s a fantastic article in The Atlantic about this (click here to read it), which I came across a while back. It explains a lot — especially with regard to the younger generation who seem to have amazing potential, but also seem incredibly hung up over every little thing.

All the fighting… good heavens. There’s a reason I backed off Twitter for a while. But there’s so much good research coming out that gets posted there, I have to check it out. There’s seriously some great reading available, thanks to all the tweets flooding my feed. I think the key is to not follow a lot of people who get snarky and vicious and outraged. Especially about politics. ‘Nuff said about that.

Anyway, I’m taking more time to think things through before I say / post / tweet them — or trying to, anyway. It’s hard, when the moment to respond presents itself, and there’s something in your mind that seems 100% appropriate and on-point.

I should know by now that that feeling of 100% certainty is a tip-off to the exact opposite being true. The more convinced I am of something, the more likely I am to be very much mistaken. So, I do know that. But that doesn’t always rule how I react and interact. Impulse control issues and all that.

I guess that’s what keeps things exciting. I just have to keep revisiting things that need a little tweaking… making sure I don’t do more damage along the way. I also need to know when to let it go. Not everything needs to be fixed the way I want it to be. It’s also important that I hold my ground and not give into bullying. Just state my case, say my piece, and leave it at that. If people understand, then great. If not, there’s no guarantee I’ll convince them.

Sometimes it’s best to just move on and leave it at that. Or just stop following some people… which I have been doing regularly, when their tone gets too unremittingly intense.

Anyway, it’s a new day. It’s Saturday. I have some time to myself today, and my headache has abated somewhat. I’ve got some reading I want to do, as well as some thinking. “Tinkering and thinkering” as I’ve heard it described in something I read recently. I’ve always got to be careful when I have free time, because I can very easily get carried away in all sorts of distracting directions.

Last week, I was caught up in researching mind-control techniques of expensive large group “personal growth” programs… and a week before that, I was caught up in some fringe neuroscience that is so far beyond me, it became apparent after two days of compulsive reading that I couldn’t even scratch the surface enough to wrap my head around the name of the phenomenon. Admittedly, it is good for me to range a bit farther afield in my reading and studies, but I can get too caught up in too many fringe activities, and then I lose valuable time for the things that I really do want to work on.

Like the handful of books I’ve started to write and got 3/4 of the way through, but are all waiting for me to pay attention to them again, so I can finish them up.

Anyway, today is different. I’m not feeling great — and ironically, not feeling great is a key factor in how well I am able to focus. When I’m feeling rested and fully functional, I get pulled off base very easily — all that energy gets spread too thinly — and I get nothing done.

But when I’m not feeling great — I’m at maybe 65% today — I know I have to be more deliberate in my activities and pick and choose. So, more gets done. And oddly, I have more clarity when I’m under the weather, than when I’m feeling at the top of my game.

I wouldn’t mind feeling just a little better today. Who knows? Maybe I will by the time the game is on this afternoon. I’ll pace myself. Take naps when I need to. And pick and choose the things I want to do.

That should be good.

Onward.

Helmets will not keep you from getting concussed

brains-in-helmetsTBI is real for folks who play collision sports. Call it “concussion” or “mild” TBI or whatever else you will. Call it “character building” and “just part of life”.  But brain trauma goes hand-in-hand with slamming your body into other players on a regular basis.

Helmets will not keep brains from slamming against the insides of skulls. They literally can’t.

Coaches and parents need to get real about this, and understand the conditions they are helping to create.

Truly, I do not understand the rationale behind keeping kids playing collision sports — whether they’re young OR older. Helmets give you a false sense of security — which actually makes the situation worse, because a concussed brain can feel like a great brain. I know from many personal experiences, when I hit my head hard enough to alter my consciousness, after an instant of feeling like the lights went dim, when “the lights” came back up, I felt fantastic. Like I was superhuman. I’m not the only one.

As Riki Ellison, a former teammate of Junior Seau who like Seau played middle linebacker at USC and in the NFL, put it:

The fact is that when you receive what I would refer to as a partial but playable concussion, there is a unique feeling of being high, of floating, of being numb to pain and unaware of other distractions. This produces a happy state that translates to a belief of invincibility and a superman complex. In some ways, it acts just like a drug. You become addicted to that feeling and want more of it. And when you get another hit, it feels even better. (read more here)

And as long as kids are wearing helmets, and parents and coaches are thinking that they’re safer because of it, we’re just creating more opportunity for kids to injure themselves — in the short and long term.

I’ve been accused of attacking football. Not really. What I’m guilty of attacking is our willful ignorance about what role concussion plays in our youth sports… and how that affects the well-being and futures of kids who are “safer” wearing the latest headgear.

It’s one thing to not know about the dangers. But when people tell you, plain as day, and you refuse to take note — or do something about it — well, that’s something else, entirely.

And that goes for all collision sports where headgear is supposed to protect the players.

Find a New Neuropsych Step #3: Scout around for neuropsychs

I want to do more than keep my head above water.
I want to do more than keep my head above water.

Step #3 in finding a new neuropsychologist is : Scout around for neuropsychs, looking online and also touching base with my local Brain Injury Association chapter. If they have websites or blogs, read those to get a feel for what kind of people they are. See if there are any testimonials or recommendations from patients which will tell me more about them.

Now that I’ve got my list of issues to track, and I’m thinking about what they really boil down to, I need to look around for who can help me.  Years ago, when I was scouting around, I did not have the level of information and familiarity I do now, and it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Not only were there so many details to consider (and my brain made it even worse by complicating everything and taking in every single detail without distinction), but it was treacherous going. Like a needle will jab you if you’re not careful, a neurologist whose agenda is to prove you do not have any problems, is also a hazard.

Because there are plenty of them out there.

So, first, I have to screen out the folks who could be dangerous. I’ve come across local brain injury support groups who actually keep a list of those kinds of docs — they can ruin your life.

And then I need to find friendly faces — again, there are local groups that have contacts and recommendations. My local BIA chapter actually has a list of neurologists and neuropsychologists who “get it” and have proven helpful. I have an old list from before – but I may reach out to get an updated list.

I also need to check around with other people to see if they have any recommendations. I’m not very well connected to the brain injury scene in my area, because I can’t take the chance that my anonymity will be breached. I have to keep my semblance of normalcy together, and not let word get out that I have a history of brain injury. That could sink me, and as I’m the sole provider for my household… well, I’m not all that keen on being homeless and pushed out of society, which is pretty much what would happen. I don’t have a lot of folks in my life who are fine with brain injury — I found that out, when I was disclosing to friends who I thought would understand. They didn’t. They’re not my friends, anymore.

So, I need to make sure I’m smart about this and keep things simple. I also don’t want to go chasing the wrong things, as I feel I sometimes have with my current neurospych.

As I track my issues, I am actually seeing that my sensory issues and physical issues are a major contributing factor to my difficulties. Fatigue is the #1 complication I have with mild TBI, and it complicates everything. Being on constant sensory overload, day in and day out — with the fluorescent overhead lights, the busy-ness and activity at work, noise, the deodorizer in the rest room that’s as nasty and pervasive as perfume being sprayed on you in a department store — it’s exhausting. It really takes a lot out of me, and whatever cognitive reserve I’ve got on hand, depletes rapidly when I’m overwhelmed.

So, I need to look around and find someone who can help me with my sensory issues — not just cognitive ones. It might actually be the case that while I test fine under rested conditions, when I am tired and overwhelmed (which is usually the case), that all degrades. So, perhaps it would have made more sense to evaluate me when I was exhausted, since that’s my “default operating state”.

And it could be that my neuropsych has not gotten a full view of the impacts to me, because we’ve been meeting (by my specific choice) on a day when I am about as close to “on” as I can be — Tuesday afternoon, when I’m warmed up for the week, but not completely wiped out. So, that’s prevented them from getting an accurate view of how I’m really functioning.

Anyway… I need to find a neuropsych who is familiar with sensory processing issues, as well as other physical issues. Because I swear to God, I struggle so much with them, and my physical symptoms are so intrusive and corrosive, I don’t feel like I can actually make any progress, anymore. If anything, I feel like I’m going backwards. Being exhausted, day in and day out, is an issue. Eventually, it will beat the life out of you. It’s just a matter of time.

So, my hope is that I can find someone who more fully understands these problems all across the spectrum — physical first, then mental, then emotional — and who can help me work through all of this in a common-sense fashion. It would be nice to feel like I’m making some progress again.

See more steps here : https://brokenbrilliant.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/how-to-find-a-neuropsychologist-a-step-by-step-plan/

Oldie but goodie – Brain Injury Rehab Ideas from Harriet Katz Zeiner

I came across this several years ago, when I was traveling and needed to fill my mind with things other than overseas business. I enjoyed it (still do) and hope you do, too.

Find a New Neuropsych Step #2: Be clear about what I want to achieve from working with someone.

checklistStep #2 in finding a new neuropsychologist is : Be clear about what I want to achieve from working with someone. I need to make up a short-list of my issues — a condensed version which will communicate to the neuropsych the nature and extent of my issues.

The last time I was looking for help for my persistent TBI/concussion issues, back in 2008, I did a lot of things in ways that kept me from getting help. One of those things was bombarding potential docs with a whole binder full of information about my history, my present, and more. It was seriously a sheaf of papers I had to hold together with a binder clip. And when I showed up to talk  to neuros about my symptoms, they just looked at me like I was insane.

Because I sort of was. TBI had so scrambled my brain, had so confused my ability to think clearly about, well, anything, and it had really decimated my ability to see the forest rather than all the trees. It also exaggerated just about any perception I had, distorting it like a funhouse mirror. So, of course I looked and sounded a little crazy. Of course I did.

And accordingly, I was dismissed and treated like a malingering drug-seeker — and I didn’t get any help at all.

So, I had to take care of it, myself.

This time, I don’t want to repeat that, so while I am collecting details on my current situation, I’m thinking about how that actually affects my functioning, what impact it has to myself and my environment, and how I want it to be. Cliff notes. Boil it down. Now I can actually boil things down to their most basic essence, so I’m going to do that.

This morning, I am extremely dizzy & lightheaded, feel like I’m going to fall over, my head feels like it’s in a slowly tightening vice, and I’m pretty foggy today. I’m having a heck of a time getting started. It’s holding me back, because I need to be up and at ’em, not puttering around the house, fiddling with this and that. I know better. I’m just having trouble doing better, and I’d like to fix that.

I really need to be “on”, these days, because my year-end self-assessment and performance reviews are happening now. Unlike days of yore, when your boss rated you, nowadays we have to do assessments on our activities and report on what we’ve done. This is one of those times when I can’t fake my way through — I need to be clear and concise, and I need to represent myself well. If I’m foggy and can’t get started (I’ve had real problems with initiation for a couple months, now), I can’t do my level best on my self-assessments or my future goals. I’ve struggled with just getting myself to figure out the self-report form, and I’ve messed up a couple times, putting comments in the wrong fields (of course, it would be nice if the app let me move things around, but no).

And these difficulties directly impact my ability to earn a good living, advance in my career, and be the best that I can be.

So, in order to get help with this, I need to be able to succinctly state the issues I’m having, how they are affecting me, and state clearly what I want to have happen instead. I need to give enough information that it makes sense to someone, but not so much that they glaze over.

I also need to use these notes to practice talking to someone about my issues, so I can communicate clearly and have all the right information to give them. I’ll use my notes as talking points — and possibly make up a separate bullet point list for myself — no, it will be more helpful if I am referring to a copy of what I give to the other person.

Armed with this tool, I hope to find someone to help me “hack” these problems. That would be great.

See more steps here : https://brokenbrilliant.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/how-to-find-a-neuropsychologist-a-step-by-step-plan/

Find a New Neuropsych Step #1: Record the issues I’m currently having

The pieces are all there. We just have to put them in their places.
First, I need to collect the pieces.

Step #1 in finding a new neuropsychologist is : Record the issues I’m currently having and how they impact my life. Wherever possible, have real data behind my rationale for seeking help.

So, if I’m going to work with a new neuropsychologist, I need to be able to tell them why I need help. That means tracking the issues I’m facing on a regular basis, and figuring out if they are significant enough to warrant getting help.

In my case, there are certain things I would like to address, because they directly impact my personal and private life on a regular basis.

At the top of the list is the processing speed that seems to be getting slower.

Next, is my increasing difficulty with comprehending what’s being written (in emails and notes) and said to me. I am having a lot of trouble taking it all in the way I used to.

And then there’s the trouble I’ve been having with increased distractability and getting much more scattered than before. As is often the case with new jobs, about four months in, I start to lose focus, get scattered, and I lose ground. I had a very foggy/fuzzy couple of months behind me, which is patently clear as I attempt to piece together my end-of-year self-assessment for work. I am having trouble putting it all together — much moreso than three months ago.

I’m also having trouble getting started with things. This has been an ongoing issue with me, and I’ve tried to get help for it, but I’ve consistently been told (in so many words), “Your test scores don’t indicate difficulties with that part of your brain, so it really is a willpower thing.” I dunno. I really want to get started on things, but I sometimes have trouble figuring out how to get started — so I don’t. It’s becoming more and more of a problem, and I can’t seem to get help with it.

I’ve been organizing my study, and I came across an old performance review from two jobs back. My boss back then (about 4 years ago) warned that I was late finishing my projects, and that was tarnishing my otherwise stellar reputation. My performance review was also acceptable, rather than exceptional (which it should have been).

Part of that was the fact that my boss really didn’t like me and was threatened by me.  Part of it was that lateness and never finishing anything on time was a pretty big issue — which affected my performance, as well as my income. So, even if I did feel better about myself and my abilities to deal with life (as my neuropsych noted), the fact of the matter was, I simply wasn’t delivering on time.

Feeling good is great. Delivering on time is even better. In fact, I would have settled for being unhappy but more productive. That would have made a big difference for me professionally. Ultimately it would have reduced stress… and contributed to my happiness.

Anyway, these are some of the specific things I need to address on a neurological level. I need to know how the brain works with these things, and I need to understand how to tweak my performance – what, if anything, can I do to improve in these areas?

I need to map out exactly how these issues are getting in the way, list the things I have been doing on my own to address them, and talk about the results I’m getting (or not getting) that are affecting my performance at work and at home. I would feel a whole lot better, if I could take some positive steps toward fixing these issues.

  • Processing speed
  • Comprehension issues
  • Distractability
  • Getting Started / Initiation

If I can find someone to help me “hack” these problems, that would be great. It would be a step in the right direction.

See more steps here : https://brokenbrilliant.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/how-to-find-a-neuropsychologist-a-step-by-step-plan/

Ah, Groundhog Day…

I have a feeling I’ve been here before…

I’m not talking about the recent event when the behavior of a groundhog (or groundhogs, depending on your regional preference) determines our future. I’m talking about the movie,”Groundhog Day”  where Bill Murray’s character goes through the same day over and over and over again.

This is my life in a nutshell. I cycle through the same experiences / crap / joys / sorrows on a regular basis, each time without much active recollection of how it was before and what my experience was then. It applies to the good things, as well as the bad things, and my neuropsych is repeatedly surprised that I’m wrangling with the same issues that I was wrangling with, several weeks, months, or even years ago. Sometimes I have “new” experiences that are repeats of what I experienced only the day before, and I have to go through the whole learning process all over again.

One example I can think of was back in December, when I had that business trip overseas. Each day, I got up with this terrible, terrible dread — almost crippling anxiety over what was going to happen that day. It was awful, and I literally did not want to leave my room. I just wanted to stay behind closed doors, where I had no interaction with anyone, where I couldn’t possibly screw things up, and where I could move at my own pace and not adapt to anything new or different around me.

And each day, I literally forced myself to get dressed and go out into the world. Each day, I rediscovered that I was able to communicate, that I was capable of understanding what others were saying, even if I didn’t get every single word, and that the world outside was something to be explored and discovered, not dreaded and avoided.

Then the next day when I got up again, it was back to battling the crippling dread, the fear, the anxiety… the monumental effort of getting myself OUT the door… and the happy discovery that I could indeed handle myself well in the world beyond the hotel room. And at the end of each day, I was able to kick back and really enjoy myself in that space, just reveling — all over again — in the “discovery” that I was really going to be okay.

Now I have another business trip coming up that will take me overseas. This time I am going to a country where I do not speak the language. I have been studying a bit, which has been kind of funny — I found some audio files to learn from, but when I started to listen to them, it turned out to be all “Stop or I’ll shoot!” and “Put down your weapon!” and “How many armed men are there?” — apparently a law enforcement or military training course. At least I know how to say “Don’t shoot!” if I get into any trouble while I’m on my trip. You never know… there are some pretty rough neighborhoods where I’m going.

Anyway, the point I’m making is that for some reason, I seem to have just a terrible, terrible memory for things that have happened to me before. This is true of good things… and bad things. I seem to get myself into situations, over and over again, doing the same thing and expecting different results, and then I suffer and chafe when things don’t turn out like I think they’re going to.

Like trying to get out of the house to get to work… Time and time again, I get up thinking that I can just take a little time to check my email and/or do some little things around the house, and then I’ll be able to get to work on time. And time and time again, I get sidetracked on one thing or another… and I end up rushing and being later than I wanted to be. I make up the difference at the back end, of course, staying late — even later than I would have to, actually, because I start to warm up around 6 p.m., and it’s hard for me to take a break when I’m finally making good progress. Even so, even if I do make up the difference in the hours, the simple fact is that I do this over and over again, thinking that this time it will be different.

Insane? Well, according to some, it is. Whatever you call it, it gets frustrating, and I feel like a complete idiot.

I guess part of the equation of this apparent failure to learn, is the fact that I have to stay very present in the current moment, or I can really lose my bearings. I think this 100% here-and-now mindset has developed over years of having to navigate so many issues — light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, exhaustion, vertigo, nausea, pain of all kinds, headache, distractability, and more — but still needing to be functional. I think I just developed the habit of focusing so completely on the present so that I could function in that moment, that everything else — before and after — just disappears. Or it never has a chance to get set in my mind.

I think also the stress of daily living over the years has impaired my ability to learn. Just having to deal with all the sh*t of my issues and symptoms and the screw-ups and the adjustments and the confusions and distractions… it can get pretty stressful, and I’m sure it’s had some impact on my ability to learn.

Then again, in other areas I learn extremely well — like this language thing. I’m actually picking up a lot of good stuff, and I think I’ll be able to at least ask people for help and understand basic numbers and directions, and be able to thank people for their help, without too much struggle. Languages seem to come pretty naturally to me, and it surprises me how much sense they make to me after a relatively short period of time.

So, it’s not like I’m completely disabled with my learning. But experiential learning? There, again and again, I end up going through the same things, as though it were the first time ever.

Well, I can’t worry about it. If I approach it like it’s a grand adventure of constant discovery, and I treat each situation like a fun opportunity to have a “new” experience, it’s fine. It keeps me fresh, actually. It keeps me interested in my life. It’s never boring — that’s for sure. The worst thing I can do, is treat myself this means there’s something wrong with me, that it means I’m somehow damaged. If I don’t judge myself and I just accept that about myself — and come up with ways to work with/around my very limited memory… and I don’t get it in my head that this means I have early-onset dementia and I’m losing my mind…. I can work with this.

Hell, I’ve been working with it for as long as I can remember. I just “get lost” sometimes and I have to find my way out of the shadows and dead-ends… which I can do pretty well. I’ve had plenty of practice, you see.

Anyway, life goes on. I have a number of very interesting projects I am working on, and that’s keeping me interested and engaged in my life. I’m learning new things pretty well, and I feel good. I also got a lot of sleep yesterday afternoon, after I was done with my work. I worked from home, so I was able to just crawl into bed when I was done for the day. That was nice. I got about 7 hours of sleep last night, so that’s good, too. And I have all day today and all day tomorrow to kick back and take care of myself. Because I’m flying out in another week, and I need to be healthy and whole to make this trip.

So it goes. Part of me would like to have a better recollection of the things that I have experienced in the past, so that I don’t keep making the same mistakes, and I don’t keep pushing myself and wearing myself out. And I’m thinking about ways I could do that — maybe keep a log of what works for me in different situations, so I can draw on what has worked for me in the past… I had that kind of a log going, about 3 years ago, and it was working well for me. I think maybe I need to resurrect it, so I can continue to draw on my experiences and get my sh*t together better than I currently am. It’s an idea….

Anyway, the day is waiting, and I’ve got to get a move on. It’s always interesting and never boring… and I need to remind myself of how things have been in the past, as I work through my present and into my future.

I’ve been here before, I’m sure… now I need to figure out how to make the best of it.

 

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.