Nap a little now… Sleep a lot later

I finally was able to get a bunch of sleep over the past 12 hours. I got home from work yesterday, and I was utterly exhausted. I could barely stop at a gas station to top off the air in my car’s left rear tire (which has been low for some weeks, but didn’t fully catch my attention till I really took a close look at it yesterday). Once home, I took a long, hot shower to take the edge off the pain I’ve been in and help me relax, then I debated whether to stay up and spend time with my partner and hit the hay early, or just take a little nap to take the edge off my fatigue.

Not feeling particularly … “viable”… I opted for the nap. I would have been lousy company had I stayed up, anyway, and why do that to someone who’s also had a really long day? I crawled into my “cave” — the quiet guest bedroom that’s at the back of the house that is my own little retreat at home — and lay down around 6:30 last night. I planned to get up in an hour or so, when supper was ready, but when my partner came to rouse me, I couldn’t budge. I couldn’t even fully wake up. This was probably around 8:30 or so… My beloved decided to let me sleep, as I’ve been so edgy and antsy, and it was abundantly clear to them that I needed to rest.

‘Round about 10:30, I woke up a bit — had to use the bathroom — and I joined the rest of my household for a little warmed-up dinner. I generally try to eat supper before 8 p.m. (which I know is probably too late — should probably be before 7) but last night was different. I was a little concerned that I might not be able to get back to sleep, if I stayed up and had “dinner” and watched a little television, but I gave it a whirl.

And wonder of wonders, I was actually tired — yawning — the rest of the evening. I headed back to bed in my cave around midnight (I have a long day ahead of me today, and I need uninterrupted sleep all by my lonesome in my cave when I’m having trouble with insomnia). I did write a little in my journal about some PTSD stuff that’s been coming up for me, lately, but when I lay down and relaxed, I went right to sleep, which is nothing short of a miracle.

I did wake up earlier than I wanted to, this a.m. — I had hoped to sleep till 7:30, but I was up before 6:00, as usual. Oh, well. At least it was closer to 6:00 a.m. than 5 a.m. Maybe my body is preparing for Daylight Savings Time, which begins this weekend. And this way, I have time to post some info before my day starts. Not a bad thing. At least I got another 5-1/2 hours of sleep between my nap last night and right now.

One thing I noticed when I woke up this morning, was that I was extremely tense. My body felt like it was spring-loaded and ready to spring into action. This is not new for me. I usually feel this way when I’m waking up, and try as I might, I cannot seem to release the tension, first thing in the a.m. I think that’s what’s been waking me up — being really tense and tight, first thing in the morning. It’s almost like my body is gearing up for the day, in advance. Like it knows I’m going to be waking up soon, and it’s getting all charged up in advance.

I have a hard time, sometimes, getting out of bed. Literally and figuratively. Not only do I have to muster the courage to get out of a warm bed into the cold air, but I tend to not be very coordinated, first thing in the a.m. Especially when my vestibular system/balance is off, I can be very wobbly and sick-on-my-stomach, when I get out of bed. I am sometimes not very coordinated about it — I hit the floor a lot harder than I intend, and I wake up my partner, which is a PITA for both of us. So, I tend to tense up and gather myself physically — and mentally — before rolling out of bed.

You wouldn’t think getting out of bed would be such a challenge, but some days it’s just the first of a long series of difficult things I’ll have to do.

Another thing that I noticed this a.m., when I was waking up very tense, was that when I relaxed, my body started to ache and throb. My joints have been giving me a lot of trouble, lately, as has my lower back. It’s not really muscular — it’s along the areas where my muscles connect with my bone, like along the top of my pelvis in my lower back — the iliac crest, I think it’s called. My shoulders and neck and hips and back just ache and throb and burn. And it gets worse when I relax.

About 20 years ago, after a car accident that didn’t seem like that big of a deal (but sent me spiraling downward — I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me when they talked, and I couldn’t keep my job and I started drinking pretty heavily). I started having terrible, awful problems with debilitating pain. It started in early 1988 and persisted for about five years — eventually the pain got to the point where I couldn’t hold down a permanent job, and I literally couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. At the time, fibromyalgia (as well as chronic fatigue syndrome) was not widely recognized or well-understood, so even though I had a lot of the symptoms of it, then, I was never diagnosed. Comparing notes with others with FMS (or “fibro”), I see an awful lot of similarities, so I’m “lumping” my experience under the FMS banner, sans official diagnosis. I’m not sure I’ll be able to work up the nerve to see a doctor about these symptoms — my ordeal 20 years ago was pretty gruelling and debilitating in and of itself, and nothing the doctors told me or subscribed for me really helped. Ultimately, I made some lifestyle changes — stopped smoking, started taking better care of myself, quit pushing myself so hard all the time, changed my shoes from hard-soled boots to soft-soled loafers, and I started eating right — and the pain dissipated considerably. I’ve been in pain, off and on, over the years, and I tend to use it as a barometer for how well I’m taking care of myself. I must not be doing a very good job of that, lately, ‘cuz I’m in terrible pain, these days.

Then again, it could be the weather, too. All I know is, I’m in a lot of pain, these days, and it’s keeping me from sleeping. And relaxing. I think in some ways, the relaxing problems bother me even more than the sleeping ones.

How much does that suck… I mean, it’s bad enough that I haven’t slept, and that my days have been crazy-busy, and I’m having trouble with figuring out how to deal with my work. But when even the simple pleasure of relaxing is off-limits to me, and it actually increases my pain and discomfort, well, then I start to feel like the Universe is really out to get me.

I hate to be a whiner, so I’ll stop right now. But let the record show that I’m not really happy about not being able to relax without pain. I’ll have to work on that. Use my acupressure points, drink more water, exercise more… maybe work some exercise into my morning routine to release some of the tension before my day starts. And quit eating so much sugar!

Well, the day is waiting. I would prefer to not be in pain and to be able to get through the day without exhaustion and tension, but you can’t have everything. At least I’m able to get through the day on my own steam, and I have plenty of activities to distract me from my discomfort.

Life, on the whole, is not bad at all. Onward…

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Is it me, or is there a constant ringing in here?

I mustn’t forget to mention my tinnitus.  That constant “ringing” in my ears — which is usually more of a high-pitched whine, like a mean-ass mosquito on steroids — has been with me ever since I was a teenager.

It used to drive me NUTS when I was in high school. I couldn’t get away from it. I distinctly remember standing in my bedroom around freshman year, staring at my alarm clock, trying to get my mind off that ringing-whining-high-pitched-humming. I tried putting my hands over my ears. That only made it louder. I tried plugging up my ears with my fingers. That made it louder still. I tried humming and holding my breath. Nothing worked.

I thought for sure I was going to lose my mind… But eventually I just gave up fighting it and decided to ignore it. Listen to what else was going on around me.

That actually helped. If I reminded myself that the ringing was in the background and I didn’t need to pay attention to it, I was able to think about other things. Distract myself. Pay no attention to it. What else could I do? It wasn’t going away. It was always there.

I thought for the longest time that I had caused it by listening to loud music too much. What loud music? I didn’t even have my own stereo with headphones until I was a senior in high school, and then I didn’t listen to much music other than Neil Young, which isn’t all that loud. I did play the radio loud in the car and I turned up my clock radio, but logistically there was no way that I was subjecting my ears to tremendously loud sounds.

The whole tinnitus thing has baffled me for a long time, until I realized that it can be caused by head injury. Hallelujah! I mean, not as in Thank God, but as in, I’m not crazy, and I’m not the only one.

I’ve tried many, many things over the years to stop the ringing, all to no avail. So, I made peace with it, and I put it to good use. Now, I use the ringing as a barometer for how I’m doing. The louder the ringing, the better the chance that I’m over-tired or stressed or fighting off an infection of some kind. When my sinuses are acting up, I can have more ringing, but it’s usually fatigue and stress and an over-taxed system that sets me off.

So, when the ringing gets to be too loud to bear, I take myself to bed. Or take a break. Or just stop doing all the busy work I’ve been using to get my mind off the fact that I’m exhausted, and I’m not doing well.

2D/3D Medical Animation: TBI – Traumatic Brain Injury Part 2

I’m feeling a bit low today… tired and overwhelmed and feeling down about how much of my life has been derailed by my invisible neurological challenges. I actually had a productive day at work, but now I’m really tired, and it’s starting to show.

I do want to post something tonight, tho’… I have a full day tomorrow and may not be able to post much, but I wanted to share this with you:

2D/3D Medical Animation: TBI – Traumatic Brain Injury Part 2 on YouTube.

Somehow, it makes me feel better to know that my invisible issues are well-documented as being very real.

Still, I am tired, so I think I’ll hit the hay early.

G’night, all

The physiology of anger

Speaking of temper…  Here’s a blog post that talks about the physiological impact of anger.

This is pretty important, especially for TBI survivors. Anger and temper flares are very widespread among folks who have experienced head injury — even mild traumatic brain injury — but even so, they are woefully under-researched.

Personally, I feel there’s not nearly enough good information out there for folks to use — both survivors, family members, and the doctors who help them. It’s a problem.

I’m in the process of documenting my own anger/temper issues, talking about how I experience them, and describing ways I’ve found to deal effectively defuse — or at least deflect — the temper flares I have. And believe me, I do have them. Especially after my last TBI.

Sudden, extreme, inexplicable temper flares can be emotionally, socially, and physically debilitating. From the blog post I mentioned above, here are some of the ways anger affects our bodies:

  1. Muscles that are needed to fight or flee become very tight, causing an “uptight” feeling.
  2. Chemicals known as catecholamines are released causing us to experience a burst of energy (which causes a sugar deficiency, so that an angry person may “shake from anger”).
  3. Heart rate accelerates: Because of our anger, the usual (average) heart rate of 80 climbs to 180 beats per minute.
  4. Blood pressure rises: An average blood pressure of 120 over 80 suddenly soars to 220 over 130, sometimes even higher.
  5. As the body prepares for survival, it safeguards itself against injury and bleeding. Likewise, an angry person’s body releases chemicals to coagulate (clot) the blood, creating a situation that’s potentially dangerous. Although there is no physical injury, the clot is formed, which can travel through the blood vessels to the brain or heart.
  6. Rate of breathing increases to get more oxygen into the body.
  7. Increased blood flow enters our limbs and extremities.
  8. Attention narrows.
  9. Hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline) are released which trigger a lasting state of arousal.

Furthermore…

“If anger has a physiological preparation phase during which our resources are mobilized for a fight, it also has a wind-down phase as well. We start to relax back towards our resting state when the target of our anger is no longer accessible or an immediate threat. However, it is difficult to relax from an angry state. The adrenaline-caused arousal that occurs during anger lasts a very long time (many hours, sometimes days), and lowers our anger threshold, making it easier for us to get angry again later on. Though we do calm down, it takes a very long time for us to return to our resting state. During this slow cool-down period we are more likely to get very angry in response to minor irritations that normally would not bother us…. High levels of arousal (such as are present when we are angry) significantly decrease your ability to concentrate.”

Which means, the naturally hyperaroused, hypervigilant, brain fog state in which we already exist is only exacerbated by anger. We need to consider this. We need to see ourselves. We need to make a change.

Our bodies are already stressed, tensed and on edge any normal day. Why make it worse by not controlling our anger? It is, after all, an emotion that is within our capability to focus, modulate and contain.

Indeed.

The long-term effects of too much uncontrolled anger are in the same ballpark as the effects of long-term unaddressed PTSD, from what I can tell. In both cases, the physical system is dragged down, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year… and what do we have to show for it? Yet more stress.

That being said, I wish I could say I just have PTSD, but my TBI makes it even more difficult for me to parse things through and manage my anger at times. I have to follow specific guidelines to keep myself in check, and I need to keep an eye on myself on a regular basis, lest my anger/temper/freak outs get way out of hand. I’ve lost jobs because of temper flares. And I’ve hurt a lot of people  I care about. Uncontrolled temper flares have done plenty of damage to my heart and the hearts of others. So, I owe it to myself to keep my anger in check.

And I owe it to myself to keep in mind the physical effects that uncontrolled anger has on me. Somehow, my brain finds it easier to wrap itself around objective, non-emotional reasons for staying chilled — like the physiological effects  listed above.

Objective data is one more tool in my toolbox for living well, despite multiple TBIs.

Oct.9.2011 – And here’s one more tool I’ve discovered since I first wrote this: TBI/PTSD anger management by using the breath

Hello, Officer… A Temper Flare (Almost) Gone Wrong

What a beautiful day it was! The mid-winter sky was bright and blue, and the sun was finally showing its shining face after days of inclement weather. Driving home from work, I gazed around me at the gorgeous landscape. A thick blanket of fresh new snow covered the fields on either side of the back road home, softening the stubble-covered terrain. Intermittent stands of woods were silent with insulating white, trees sleeping silent beneath a delicate frosting that broke loose in passing breezes and showered to the forest floor in a sparkling cascade. Babbling brooks flanked the country road, here and there, cascading cheerily down rocky beds, icicles dangling from sticks and grasses which hung close enough over their splashing course to catch — and instantly freeze — splashes from the snow-melt swollen streams.

I was on my way home from my new job to my new house, and as I gazed around me at the beautiful scenery, it felt as though my life were being made new again. The stress and strain from the recent move from the suburbs to the country had tested my endurance sorely, and all but exhausted my strength. The transfer from my old job had not been without some challenge, as well. Change is never easy for me, and adjusting to not only a new home in a new place with new neighbors, but also a new job with new responsibilities and new coworkers, had turned my post-holiday season into a see-saw of elation and despair.

But after weeks of settling in, getting acclimated, developing my new routines, and finding better ways to drive to and from work than the freeway filled with aggressive drivers, I was finally starting to feel my balance returning.

That day, as I motored happily across the countryside, making it home before dark (for once), everything seemed like it was falling into place. I had the radio on — loud — and my spirits rose with the energetic dance beat. My little car — a late model hatchback with a funky heater — had finally warmed up, after running for 10 minutes. I was making good time, and I’d be home soon.

Or was I? I suddenly looked up at my rear-view mirror, and lo and behold, there was a local cop with his lights flashing… coming on fast. I instinctively took my foot off the gas and glanced down at the speedometer. The needle drifted quickly south from around 45 mph… and I looked up as I passed a sign that said I was in a 20 mph speed zone. Shit! I had been so busy listening to music, and thinking about getting home, I hadn’t even noticed the speed limit. Maybe he was after someone else, I thought for a moment… But no, as I slowed down, so did he. I braked, signalled, and pulled over to the side of the road, and he pulled in right behind me.

*&%! I thought to myself. How could I do something so stupid?! I knew that this stretch of road was where the local cops hung out. I’d passed them plenty of times before, as they lay in wait of commuters taking the back way home. A wave of angry frustration welled up in me, and my head began to spin as the officer got out of his car and approached. I could feel my pulse quickening, a roar in my ears starting, and my gut churned as I started to build up a head of steam. All I wanted to do, was get home. All I wanted to do, was get through this town. All I wanted to do, was put the tough day behind me and relax in front of my fireplace. I didn’t ask for much. And I didn’t mean to speed through this town. I just lost track of how fast I was going! What the hell was this cop pulling me over for? Didn’t he have other real criminals to catch? What the fuck?!

I could feel the indignation rising in me, with every approaching step of the cop. Strings of profanity coursed through my head, and my gut continued to constrict as my hands tightened around the steering wheel. I couldn’t believe I’d been stupid enough to speed. I couldn’t believe this cop had been that stupid to pull me over. Everybody was a fucking idiot. Jesus fucking Christ.

The cop reached the side of my car, and I rolled down the window.

“Do you have any idea how fast you were going?” he asked.

“Too fast?” I heard myself say. It sounded smart-assed, and he didn’t like that.

“License and registration please,” he said, and I pulled my license out of my wallet and handed it to him. Still seething, I reached into the glove box to find my registration. I always kept it in the same place — in a long sleeve that held my insurance papers as well. But as the crashing ocean of agitation crashed in my head, I had trouble finding my papers. I couldn’t find my registration. I couldn’t find my insurance stuff. I couldn’t find anything… and I started to lose it. The cop at my window was getting impatient, and when he prodded me to come up with my papers, I snapped at him that I was looking as fast as I could. I finally just pulled everything out of the glove compartment and spread it across the passenger seat.

“Is this your car?” the officer asked, with a wary edge in his voice.

“Yes, it’s my car!” I barked. “I’ll have the registration in just a minute. I know it’s in here somewhere…”

My vision was getting cloudy and blurred, as I sorted through the mess on the seat beside me. Finally, I found the sleeve, pulled out the registration paper, and handed it to the cop. But after taking a look at it, he handed it back to me.

“This isn’t current,” he said. He sounded like he was talking to a criminal.

A wave of resentment washed through me, pushing to unleash some crack or curse.

I took the paper from him and examined it more closely. Sure enough, it was from a few years back. Consternation welled up in me, and I bit back the curse that sat on the tip of my tongue. I ran through the rest of the contents of the sleeve — there were plenty of registration papers there, but none were current.

The cop pressed me for the papers, and I snapped at him again, “I’m working on it!” I couldn’t believe this shit. I rummaged once more through the pile of stuff on the seat beside me — ice scraper, breath mints, tissues, various receipts, notepads, souvenirs, tools, more papers… where was my goddamned registration!?

“Are you sure this is your car?” the officer asked.

“Yes, it’s my car!” I snapped. “Just give me a second…!” I cringed at the edge in my voice, knowing — from past experience — that police officers don’t respond well to aggressive disrespect. I’ve had several run-ins with cops over the years that escalated when I spoke out of turn or got verbally aggressive with them. A few times, I came close to being arrested, and I couldn’t afford to have something like that happen today. Not when I had this new job and a new house. I just couldn’t afford to get on the bad side of the local cops.

If only he would give me a second. Just one more moment…

But he wasn’t having it. I heard him turn and go back to his car, and when I looked up in the rear-view mirror, I saw him back in his car punching something into his onboard computer. He kept looking at my license plate and then back at his computer, and it looked like he was talking on his radio, too.

What the hell…? I couldn’t believe I’d gotten pulled over… I couldn’t believe I couldn’t find my registration papers. I distictly remembered renewing my registration just a few months before, and I distinctly remembered putting the papers in my glove compartment. Where the hell were they? Where the fuck had they gotten to?!

Suddenly, as though by magic, an envelope from the Registry of Motor Vehicles appeared before me. Inside was my current registration. It wasn‘t in the sleeve where I always put it. It wasn’t in the one place I was sure to find it. Like an idiot, I had just tossed it in the glove compartment. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I pulled out the paper and double-checked the dates to make sure I wasn’t going to make an ass out of myself — again. Then, I waited for the cop to return.

He did… with a citation in hand.

“Here’s my registration,” I said, using as neutral a tone as I could muster. I handed him the delinquent paper.

He took a long look at it and then took a longer look at me and my license.

“You should have found this sooner,” he said, handing them back to me, along with the ticket. He sounded like he wasn’t sure what to do with me — let me off the hook or cuff me and haul me into the station.

I shrugged, biting back words that I was afraid might provoke him even more.

“I had to run your plates, so now I have to have a record of this stop. I’m just giving you a warning, this time, but it’s on your record.” He sounded a little regretful, but also irritated with me. “If you had gotten your registration, I wouldn’t have had to run your plates.”

I wanted to say, “If you hadn’t been in such a godawful hurry and had given me a minute or two, I might have found it in time!” But I held my tongue and just nodded.

As he drove off, I started to shake, my stomach in knots and my torso damp with sweat. I felt like I’d just dodged a bullet… a bullet I’d stepped right in front of.

Mind Over Body? Body Over Mind?

The other evening, some friends came over for dinner, and we got to talking about psychotherapy and trauma. One of my friends is a therapist who works with at-risk teens and adults, and they were telling me about how they approach dealing with trauma in their clients. I was getting tired, as the conversation was towards the end of the evening… I got a little turned around (and upset with myself) when I couldn’t figure out how to respond quickly to what they were saying. I felt like I was starting to sink underwater, with their words rolling over me. So, I just sat back and listened. I did learn something in the process.

They told me that they have a really high success rate with at-risk teens, and they’ve gotten plenty of support from state agencies that see the good results. There’s no disputing their effectiveness, and I wish more therapists had their gifts at assessing the needs of folks who are in real trouble and helping them through tough spots and post-traumatic stress.

They talked about how there is a lot of “really awful” trauma work being done, and how they are just so turned off by therapists forcing folks to recount their traumatic experiences, as though that will change anything. “Any idiot can get someone to tell their story!” they said, and I had to laugh. It’s probably true. Especially since a lot of traumatized people are just itching to tell the world about their horrors, for validation, support, whatever. There are a lot of therapists running around, in my experience, who are quite pleased that their clients have confided their awful experiences to them… as though getting them to talk is a sign that they’re helping them get better.

Maybe it does… or maybe it just re-traumatizes them all over again.

Interestingly, the way my friend was talking about trauma made me a little uncomfortable. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and I started to get upset with myself. I managed to calm myself down and pull back and listen more carefully. I had to remind myself that this person didn’t know that the inside of my head was a jangled tangle of sensory overload, so they probably didn’t think less of me — the way I thought less of myself. I had a feeling that they were sorta-kinda pushing an agenda or a way of dealing with trauma that worked for them, but didn’t quite fit for me. I felt like there was a missing piece to our discussion, but I was so out of it and so tired, I couldn’t figure out what it was.

One thing they said struck me, though… while we were talking, the subject of how we take care of our bodies came up. I was talking about dealing with doctors and physical issues, and they started telling me about how they hadn’t been to a doctor in 10 years, and they weren’t really interested in going anytime soon. They said that they had never paid that much attention to their body… they were more connected with their mind and spirit… and they were fine with that.

I wasn’t quite sure what to say. I’ve always been very much “in my body” and I’ve been really active in sports and other physical activities, all my life. For me, the body is an essential and central part of my life that I need to take care of, if my mind and spirit are going to be healthy. I am not in the shape of my life, by any stretch, but I’ve noticed a real connection between how my body is doing and how my brain is working.

And since I’ve been reading Rober Scaer’s book The Body Bears the Burden, I am even more convinced of the importance of the body connection with adequate cognitive functioning — at least, for me — especially with regard to trauma and post-traumatic stress. And when I look at the biggest contributing factors to my own cognitive-behavioral issues, they often turn out to be physical problems. Big physical/sensory problems.

My hands and wrists are starting to tire, after writing so much this morning, but I’ll just post this piece as a “flag” of sorts about this issue — the body-mind-brain connections that make my life so interesting… challenging… frustrating… and fulfilling.

My friend the psychotherapist may be able to live their life quite well without needing to pay attention to their body, but that’s not how I can live my life. For me, there’s a lot more to it than tending to my spirit and psyche alone. If I neglect my body and don’t pay attention to what it’s telling me, well, I just get into a whole lot of trouble.

Tired of being tired

I don’t like being as tired as I’ve been for the past week. I started losing sleep last weekend in anticipation of my testing results. And then when I had my neuro visit, that threw me off, too. So either way, I can’t seem to catch a break. Even though I got good news, I had been keyed up to possibly getting bad news — I like to be prepared. But when things came back inconclusive, well, my system was still on high alert, I wasn’t sure what to do with all that energy. I think it might have been easier, had I gotten something definitive, even if it were less than positive news. At least then I’d have something to focus on, to aim towards, to measure myself against. Even if it’s problematic, it’s at least something.

But this “we couldn’t get anything definitive” trip has been quite demanding. I’ve got all this energy, all this readiness, all this alertness… and nowhere to go with it. My body has been in a state of high alertness, on and off, for many years, and now it’s starting to really take a toll. I should probably exercise to work it off, and I have been trying to get myself to do just that for months — no, years. But one of the things that my TBI in 2004 did was making me really nervous about being around other people, so going to the gym has not been an option for me. That’s bad. I’m not in as good condition as I should be, and I have a hard time getting motivated to GET in better condition.

It’s a problem. It really is. But at this point, I’m more concerned about my sleeping — ‘cuz if I can’t sleep, then everything goes haywire, and I end up in this downward spiral all over again.

You wouldn’t think that sleep would be such a big deal, especially considering how exhausted I usually am. But I’ve had to really work at figuring out how to sleep, as well as get naps in. It’s wild, how napping feels like my new “hobby”. I do it whenever I can… and I’m actually enjoying it. I’ve been “off” my sleeping patterns since my fall down the stairs in 2004, getting anywhere from 3-6 hours on a regular basis, and rarely getting more than 7 at a stretch. It was such a departure for me — for most of my life I craved 8-9 hours each night, without exception. It was what I used to aim for, even when I was a kid. But I didn’t even fully realize just how bad it was, until the past year or so.

The other crazy thing about my sleeping change, was that for some reason I thought it was an okay thing to do without sleep. I guess I would just get so jazzed up and so charged and so whacked out with agitation and nerves, I would think I needed to work off my nervous energy and “get things done”. Well, news flash — I wasn’t really getting much of anything done. Just spinning my wheels. How crazy is that — I would just start all these writing projects, work like mad on them, write and edit, write and edit, write and edit, but then I would get distracted and go do something else, and completely forget about what I had been so determined to do.

Madness. I was just running like a blind fool, spinning my wheels, just being busy for the sake of being busy. Geez! I wasted so much time imagining myself pursuing success, but I was just churning. And exhausting myself in the process.

I have to say, post-traumatic stress may be a significant factor in all this. I’ve been reading so much about traumatic stress, thinking about it, talking about it with psychotherapist friends, pondering it, looking at it, I’m pretty sick and tired of it always being on my mind. But PTSD must be playing a role in my sleep conundrum. After having gone through so much over the past year, tracking down my tbi and other neurological issues, going through all the testing, changing jobs, dealing with family stuff, having various neurological complications, and trying to put two and two together and make sense of it all… not to mention the hard, hard winter we’ve had… I’ve probably got my fair share of PTSD to deal with. I’ve just been so tapped, week after week, month after month, and it’s taken a big toll on me and my already sensitive system. No, I haven’t been at war, and the past year hasn’t been as hellish as it could have been, but stress is stress, and I have been “on and off” about how well I’ve dealt with it all.

Oh, God, I am so tired. It’s crazy. I can’t even figure out how far behind I am on my daily quota. All I can do, is try to catch up when I can. I had a 2-hour nap Saturday afternoon, and I slept for 3 hours on Sunday. I was still really groggy after both naps, and I didn’t feel like I had caught up as much as I needed, but at least I did manage to lie down for a while, and it feels so good to relax.

This is relatively new for me, in the past years. I have gotten worse and worse at relaxing, especially after each TBI I went through. With each accident, I became a little more wound-up, a little less inclined to sleep. I think it’s become a lot more noticeable in the past years, as the cumulative effects of my injuries is catching up with me, and I’m getting older, too.

When I was a kid, I remember having a lot of trouble relaxing and falling asleep. It was very on-again, off-again. I tended to get tired and go to bed earlier than other kids, but I often had to sleep in a specific position, holding something close to me, like my blankets or a pillow (not so much stuffed animals). I also couldn’t sleep if there wasn’t a blanket over me. I was kind of high maintenance when it came to falling asleep, but at the same time I really craved a good long nap, a good rest, something that would recharge my waning batteries.

I still have trouble falling asleep, if I’m not in a certain position or if I don’t have blankets on me. And I’m still exhausted… by myself and my crazy brain. Some people call me a Type A personality. I am driven. I do push myself. I do tend to get aggressive. And I generally go full-force after whatever I want, not letting anyone come between me and my intended goal. But it’s not all psychological/ego drive that moves me. There’s more to it than that — and sleep plays an important role. In fact, the more closely I examine my life and pay attention to what’s going on with me, the more clues arise about what makes me do the things I do — including not relaxing. And in some ways, it has as much to do with physiology as psychology. In some ways, I’d say it has even more to do with the state of my body than the state of my mind. (I’ll write more on this in a bit — it’s actually a pretty important realization/development for me, and it might help others to understand and accept themselves better, too.)

But I’m operating more and more from a deficit, and it’s just not good. Nowadays, I’m trying to learn how to relax. I used to know how, but I seem to have forgotten in the past years. It helps me to listen to some guided imagery for “training” on how to do this. I’ve lost a lot of my former ability at it, so I have to have someone else walk me through the steps of relaxing… progressive body relaxation, deep breathing, letting myself “go” to an imaginary place where I’m safe (which, for me, is a made-up, imagined place I’ve never physically been to — very few of the places I’ve been in real life are places I can relax in)… At first, I felt kind of inept. I mean, who doesn’t know how to relax? What a strange concept. But when I think about it and am totally honest about it, no, I actually don’t know how to relax. Not anymore. And I need help.

I also need help falling asleep. I have noticed, over the past year or so, that when I have the worst insomnia or am waking up way before my alotted 8 hours, I am often very tense, like I’m spring-loaded. Instantly ready for action. Always on alert, because something might come up that I need to react to. My broken-brain reaction time tends to be slow to begin with, so I compensate by always being on-guard, on-point, on-alert. It’s fine when I’m going through my days, but when I lie down to sleep at night, it makes it mighty difficult to relax, let alone fall asleep. But once I let go of the tension in me… once I relax, I can start moving towards sleep.

One thing that’s really helped me, is starting to go to bed before I “have” to. If I wait until 11:00 to go to bed, and I have to get up by 7:00, I feel like I’m under tremendous pressure to perform — to get to sleep promptly and stay asleep for eight hours. I actually put pressure on myself to relax and sleep. But if I head to bed around 9:30 or so, putter and futz around and take my time getting to bed… and if I can get in bed by 10:30 or so, I have a lot less pressure on me, because I am pretty sure I’ll be able to get my hours in.

I’ve been using some guided imagery to get me “down” too. Fortunately, I get so relaxed by the initial cut on the CD, that I usually get to sleep before the “restful sleep” part starts. So, while I’m sure that it helps me, I’m not entirely sure how. Supposedly, it helps even when I’m asleep and am not actively listening. I’ll just trust that, I guess.

Diving Into My MRI

I spent time yesterday studying my MRI, comparing my brain with pictures of normal MRI’s I found online at Google images. What a treasure trove Google is! Just being able to find pictures of what “normal” looks like has been a great boon to me.

Looking at MRIs can be very trippy, and looking at my own brain is kind of spooky. From looking at it, the untrained eye could easily become very disoriented and alarmed. But knowing what other normal MRIs look like is very helpful. How else would I know that I’m not a freak of nature? The brain is just so fascinating!

It’s so great to find descriptions of the normal brain MRIs, since it can be hard to figure out what you’re looking at. I’ve got a used textbook on neuroscience I picked up, as well as a copy of Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy, which is a hefty tome of highly detailed drawings (done by Dr. Netter) of virtually every part of the human body, which also have every little piece clearly marked and labelled. I look at my MRI, then I consult my Netter’s book, then I Google the part of my brain that I think I’m looking at and read about it, and then consult my neuroscience textbook, to read more in-depth information that’s at a student level. Fascinating.

But I’m surprised to be having such a hard time finding information on reading MRIs. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places. Maybe that type of information is too advanced to be safe to release into the public, lest we all fire our radiologists, start reading our own MRIs, and jump to conclusions about ourselves. I’ve already had people look askance at me, when I told them I was going to be studying my MRI. They clearly seemed to think that I’m not qualified to do it, but I figure, why let that stop me? I’m not getting paid by anyone to ply that trade, and I’m only interested in my own situation, and it’s really just for my own gratification, so I’m not letting their skepticism stop me. It’s my body. I’ll study it to my heart’s content.

I know there’s no substitute for a qualified neurologist or radiologist, but I really need to understand what’s going on with me, and nobody seems to have the time to spend with me to make sure I’m clear on what’s going on. It’s very discouraging to have this level of testing done, only to not be able to find someone to help me understand it. The neuro I saw a week ago wouldn’t give me any more information, other than that my tests read as normal. I asked if they could show me the film, but they brushed me off. Maybe they thought I’d be looking for something that doesn’t exist… malingering and all that. I’m not malingering. I’m curious! And honestly, I don’t want to milk this and make myself out to be sicker than I am. I just want to know why my life experience is so different from what I hear everyone else describing. I want to know why I have the many, many issues I’ve got. I want to know what makes my brain unique — and treat that uniqueness as a strength, not a weakness. And having MRI images to help me gain just a little more insight into my situation seems like a great opportunity to learn more… even/especially if what I learn is that my variations on experience are “within normal range” and not the sort of thing I need to be concerned about.

I did find some pictures of my brain that I have questions about. Places where there are asymmetries and/or dark/light spots that might be old injuries or some abnormality. The part of me that’s been on high alert — or hovering around there — is eager to run off to a neuro to get the spots and dots and bright places explained… to explain how the asymmetries in my brain might translate to some irregularities in how my mind works. I know I need to calm down, get some rest, let it all sink in. There’s no tremendous hurry, now that I know that I’m not in imminent danger from a brain tumor or MS or some other terrible neurological condition. I can relax, now. And I need to make more of an effort at doing that.

In the meantime, while I recover from my over-excitabilities, I’ll think about my next steps. Study normal MRIs online, look around, just do the whole visual image thing, getting my eyes used to the sight of MRIs, so when I do get a chance to talk to a neuro about my results, I can sound at least moderately intelligent. I’m thinking about contacting that last neuro I went to see — the one who treated me like I was looking for drugs, who has since apparently recanted their attitude towards me and offered to help me “in any way” they can. I may give them another chance — but next time, take someone I trust with me, and ask the neuro to just walk me through the high-level points of my MRI. There are some things that are grabbing my attention, and I would like a little bit of an explanation.

I really need someone to read it who knows how to interpret the orientation of the images. I think MRIs may give you a mirror image of a body part, so the left side of the picture is actually the right side. At least, that’s the impression I get from reading descriptions of MRIs that show clear anomalies on the left side… but the text talks about right-side issues. It gets confusing. One side of my brain is shaped a little differently than the other, and I’m not sure if my right side is lop-sided, or if it’s my left. I think it makes a difference, too, which side is varied from the “norm” — left and right sides have different functionality, or so I understand, and if I’ve got developmental issues with one side of my brain, then knowing about them might help me better understand and manage my own issues.

It could be that I’m on some wild goose chase, and that all the differences in my brain are in fact quite normal. But looking at my pictures and comparing them with other MRIs, my head is kind of lop-sided, and one side of my brain has a noticeably different angle than the other side — between the lower frontal/parietal lobes and the temporal lobe that sits beneath it. I’ve got some asymmetrical bulges, and in some places, one part of my brain looks like it’s been crowded by another part that is not shaped the same way as others’ normal pix. It is considerably wider and looks bigger than I’ve seen elsewhere, so that just makes me wonder.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing, having parts of my brain differently arranged than the norm. If anything, it’s probably an advantage. Even if my brain developed differently over the course of my life, it hasn’t completely stopped me from living my life, and no one would probably ever guess that it’s developmentally different. I’ve been far too successful in my life, far too resilient, far too capable, far too adaptable, far too effective, all across the board, for any sort of developmental differences to be a liability. If anything, my differences are a strength. And I’d never part with them. Not at all.

Looking at all these “normal MRI” pix, I have to wonder… What is normal, anyway? If you think about it, the chances of anyone turning out the same way as other people are just so slim. The human body is an amazingly intricate and sensitive system that can be impacted by unseen, invisible forces that we don’t recognize for a long time, if we recognize them at all. We’ve got billions and billions of cells constantly growing and changing and multiplying, we’ve got tons of distinct body parts, we’ve got so many different bodily functions, many of them invisible to us. And we’ve got not only our internal world but our external world to deal with and factor in. Some days, I’m amazed that the human race — or, for that matter, any living creature — makes it through a single day.

Lots can go wrong. Lots can change us. Lots can affect us and our development. But variations are what keep the human race viable. The healthiest living systems have a lot of variety in them, and I would expect that variations in brain development are critical for a healthy system, as well. Even if those variations appear to be “disabilities” or some other sort of rare deviation. The human brain is an amazing organ, and not only can it do things we cannot even begin to imagine possible, but it can also accommodate a whole lot of additional variations and bounce back from injuries, with neuroplasticity and remapping functions and other mechanisms we haven’t even begun to name. (I haven’t done a plug for The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, in a few months, so I’ll mention it here — if you have doubts about the ability of the brain to adapt, then you should definitely check it out.)

So, even if my brain is developmentally anomalous, and even if it got broken along the way with those hits and falls and accidents, and even if it gets tired and overwhelmed and doesn’t know where it is, sometimes, it’s still mine. It’s what I have to work with. And so far, injuries and accidents notwithstanding, it’s still going strong.

Got a copy of my MRI on CD

Hallelujah! At last I have pictures of my brain.

And now it’s time to explore it.

I got the images on CD yesterday, but I had company last evening, and this is the first I’ve been able to take a look at the images. My computer keeps locking up on me, tho’, so I have to reboot every now and then. The GE program that displays the MRI slices apparently requires more power than my laptop has. Oh, well. At least I have the images and I can look at them.

Already, I’m seeing interesting things that might explain a thing or two with me. In addition to the TBI-caused difficulties (which aren’t immediately visible on the pictures, at least to me), it appears that my brain is not entirely symmetrical in every way.

Interesting…

I’ll write more later, when I have been able to digest this a bit more.

Mind-brain-body-stress connections

I’ve been reading Robert Scaer’s book The Body Bears the Burden, about how the brain and the body interact in times of stress and trauma. It is absolutely fascinating reading, and I’m surprised it’s not a best-seller. It really clears up a lot of confusion for me and gives great insight into how the body’s experiences can shape the brain’s activity. He talks about the fight/flight response and the body’s instinctive freeze response, too. I’ll have to write more about it, when I go through it again. My head’s kind of whirling right now.

One thing that I immediately got… After reading just a bit of his book, I can now let myself off the hook for freezing “like a deer in headlights” when I’ve been in situations of high-threat. I am usually pretty hard on myself for being a ‘wuss’ when I freeze up in times of intensity. It doesn’t happen all the time, but now and then it does, and then I tear myself a new ___ (well, you know) for days after, beating myself up for not speaking up, not stepping up, not being as capable as I would have liked to have been. Turns out, I don’t necessarily have any control over freezing up. It’s instinct. Instinct that’s designed to keep me alive.

Yeah, I’ll have to write more about this later. It also ties into my paper about A Perilous Relief, which I’m in the process of researching. (See the link on the left for a current table of contents that will take you to what I’ve written so far.) There’s only one problem — I have to keep going back over it to re-read sections, because my attention span leaves a little to be desired… but I don’t realize I stopped understanding what I just read, until a few pages past the point where my brain stopped parsing the information.

Apparently, according to my neuropsych, this is not uncommon with TBI. So, I’ll just have to factor it into my research and leave myself plenty of time to digest everything I’m taking in. Lucky for me, it’s fascinating stuff, so I don’t mind taking my time with it. I don’t mind at all.