Into the bleak mid-winter

winter sunset with geese flyingI have a confession to make. I love the bleak mid-winter. There’s a hymn about it, that sounds like a funeral dirge. The first verse starts off with a not-so-perky extended complaint:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow…

It’s actually a religious hymn about the birth of Jesus Christ, and I don’t want to get too faith-based here, but the bottom line is, the start of the song sounds pretty dire, but it ends up in a happy, light-filled place. If, that is, you’re a Christian believer. Everybody else will probably be left as cold as the first verse sounds.

Regardless of religious conviction, however, the point of the song is that despite the cold and gloom of the winter months, a light comes into the world. And that transcends it all.

Personally, I like the bleak mid-winter, because it slows everyone down. All the running around and chasing after things during the spring, summer, and fall… well, it all gets a little tiresome, after a while. Our systems aren’t really built to keep going at top speed, all year long. Or even all day long. We need our sleep. It cleans out the gunk that builds up in our brains, and it helps our systems restore their balance.

The idea that you can get up at 4 a.m. and push-push-push for 18 hours, till you collapse, and then get up and do it all over again, is a dangerous concept. Some people can do it, sure. But they’re the exception. The vast majority of us really need our sleep to function. And that includes me. A lot of us could also use a nap, each afternoon. That includes me, also. But I only get that on weekends and my days off. All the other days, I have to keep up with others.

Of course, getting enough sleep is more easily said than done for me. Lately, I’ve been pretty anxious about some work issues, and I’ve been waking up at 5 a.m. instead of 6:30 or 7:00. So, I’ve been losing sleep. I’ve also been staying up later than I should, watching the tail-end of movies that I really like. It’s irresponsible, I know, and I need to stop it. And I will. But right now, my focus is on making sure I’m functional for today… not focusing on the evening at the end of my day.

But I’ve digressed. I love the bleak mid-winter for its cold, which slows us all down, as we have to deal with more layers of clothing. I love it for its long nights, which help me rest and relax. I love it for its crazy weather that keeps me on my toes. I don’t even mind the snow so much, because it gets me active and out and about. And I love how other people slowing down makes it easier to shop and go to the gym, because people are not feeling up to working out (especially after the initial rush over their New Year’s Resolutions has passed), or going to the store at early/late hours of the day.

The bleak mid-winter solves a lot of logistical issues for me, slows things down, gives me a break from the onslaught of constant go-go-go, and it gives me space to move and think instead of having to constantly negotiate the world around me.

And that’s fine. It’s just fine with me. So… onward.

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.

More morning brain boosts

I came to my senses and rode the exercise bike again this a.m., before I did anything else. It’s amazing to me, how much more awake I feel, after I finished my (relatively short) ride.

One of the things about TBI is that it can slow down the brain’s processing. That makes total sense, if the usual connections are sheared and the impulses need to hunt around for other ways to get where they’re going. It’s like the Loma Prieta earthqake in the SF Bay area back in the late 1980s – a former co-worker of mine spent 4 hours trying to get home from work, when the drive usually took them 45 minutes, tops. All the usually routes were washed out or diverted. And when they got home, their apartment was fine and there was no sign of anything having gone wrong… but all the dishes and glasses were lying smashed on the kitchen floor. Apparently, the building had rocked one way far enough to open all the cupboard doors, empty the shelves onto the floor, and then it rocked back and closed all the doors neatly.

I tend to think about TBI the same way — especially Mild TBI. Our world is rocked, and things get broken inside, but then we get rocked back into place, and as far as anyone can tell, we’re just fine. But all our dishes and glasses are lying smashed on the floor — and we have to tread carefully to not cut ourselves.

And the routes our thought processes normally take to get to and from where they’re going are also diverted and changed. So, it takes us longer to get where we’re going.

Absent restoring my brain to its original condition — as if there ever was such a thing, as I’ve been having mild TBIs since I was 7 — I can do some things to help it along.

This morning, I did some of those things — exercised, and then had a big glass of water, ate my breakfast, and took my vitamins. I am religious about breakfast — high fiber cereal with rice milk, a cup of coffee, and a piece of fruit. I’ve really cut back on coffee — I have a mug in the morning and another in the afternoon (no longer the 3-4 big mugs each day). And when I have it, I make a point of eating something while I’m drinking it, so it doesn’t upset my stomach.

This morning, I had a banana with my breakfast. I’ve read that a banana and coffee will help your brain work better. The potassium in the banana helps, and the caffeine helps with the absorption. Or something like that.

I also (amazingly enough) remembered to take my supplements.

  • B-Complex for my nerves — very important
  • Chromium Picolinate — helps my body manage insulin production and helps with how I use glucose in my system — also very important
  • Fish oil from Norwegian salmon — deep sea, algae-fed fish which have lots of good fatty acids and Omega-3’s
  • Evening Primrose Oil — for the Omega-6 essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA), that is said to “support the body’s heart, nervous, immune and reproductive systems. The GLA contained in Evening Primrose Oil is a nutrient used by the body to maintain healthy cells and vital body functions. Evening Primrose Oil enhances the health and strength of cell membranes throughout the body, and promotes a proper inflammation response. Evening Primrose Oil is also used by the body to maintain healthy hormone levels.” (Note, I’m not including an attribution here, because it comes from a sales site… nevertheless, I think it’s interesting information. If you really want to know what site it comes from, you can Google the above sentences in double-quotes.)

Basically, my morning brain boost is about helping my brain get going in the morning and stay that way. I take the B-Complex to help my nerves, so I don’t get physically taxed by stress, which then fogs my mind. I take the oils for the brain and cellular support, and I take the chromium picolinate to help with how my body handles glucose.

The brain is the Number One consumer of glucose in the body. It needs it to survive — to think properly and to keep its energy level up. There’s good reading over at http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/carbs.html — I’ll post a tiny bit of it below, but please follow the link to get the whole story.

Brain Energy Demand

Your brain cells need two times more energy than the other cells in your body.

Neurons, the cells that communicate with each other, have a high demand for energy because they’re always in a state of metabolic activity. Even during sleep, neurons are still at work repairing and rebuilding their worn out structural components.

They are manufacturing enzymes and neurotransmitters that must be transported out to the very ends of their– nerve branches, some that can be several inches, or feet, away.

Most demanding of a neuron’s energy, however, are the bioelectric signals responsible for communication throughout the nervous system. This nerve transmission consumes one-half of all the brain’s energy (nearly 10% of the whole body’s energy).

Read More…

Interestingly, one of the points of this web page is that the brain needs carboyhydrates to function properly. It pretty much pointed me away from those low-carb diets that everyone is crazy about. Especially with my head injury history, I’m not going to deprive my brain of its primary source of energy — carbs. I’m just going to be smart about it.

As in, balance my carbs with other things — if I have bread, I’ll have it as part of a sandwich that has plenty of protein and extras on it, like lettuce and tomatoes and other stuff, if possible. If I have crackers, I’ll have an apple (fresh with the skin on) to complement it. And if I’m really craving carbs, that won’t be the only thing I have.

Well, anyway, I have a full day ahead of me, and I’m off to a good start.

It’s wild, how much of a difference just 15 minutes of aerobic exercise helps me. That, and my brain boost breakfast.

Stay strong everyone — and eat right!