Starving today

bone with gristle on itI’m hungry today. As in, ravenous. I had my usual breakfast egg with some coffee, but that wasn’t nearly enough. So, I finished off a sandwich I’d made yesterday. I’m still hungry. This feels like the start of a migraine coming on, when everything feels weird and trippy, and I’m hungrier than usual.

It wouldn’t surprise me, if that were the case. It would make perfect sense, in fact.

Yesterday was a long day. I had to work, starting at 6 a.m., then I had to run some overdue errands. I had to prep for a trip to the next state, where my spouse and I were attending an art show by our friend who is literally on their deathbed. We were all hoping they’d be there, but they couldn’t make it.

Dying takes precedence. Especially doing it well.

I’ve had a lot of people pass in and out of my life. Death was a regular visitor to my family, when I was growing up. That’s what you get when you have a large family and you stay in touch with a wide array of second and third cousins (many of them once or twice removed). Grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends of the family… every year or so, somebody who meant something to me died, while I was growing up.

So, yeah, I have some familiarity with loss.

Plus, a lot of people have come in and out of my life through job changes, relocations, and just the usual migrations of people in these times. Whenever someone moved away, never to be seen or heard from again (this was pre-internet times), it was just as if they’d died. And that happened to me a lot.

It’s happened so much, that when people die, I don’t have the same level of devastation that others do. To me, dying is a mystery — which I’m not qualified to understand completely. I leave it up to The Great Almighty to work out. I don’t believe in hell, anymore, so I’m not really torn up when people die, thinking they might burn in fire and brimstone for all eternity. I tend to think of death more as a transition to a different state of being. The body dissolves, but it continues on. We’re breathing air that contains tiny bits of Beethoven, from what I’ve heard.

Anyway, yesterday was a marathon of sorts. I didn’t realize how tired I was, until I’d done my mid-day errands and had my shower… then started to crash. But there was no time to crash. I had to keep going. The 90-minute drive to where we were going took 2 hours (because my spouse forgot some stuff and we had to improvise & make stops at stores along the way). And when we got there, I couldn’t find parking. I couldn’t even find the venue where the art show was… it was really disorienting, and I was tired, so that was exciting.

I did find the place, though, and the evening commenced with way more social activity than I’ve seen in quite some time. I saw a number of people I used to hang out with a lot, and I did a lot more talking to like-minded people than I do on a daily basis. It was a very artsy crowd, which was a very different “feel” than the mainstream suburbanites I’m usually around. It wasn’t better, it wasn’t worse, it was just different. And doing “different” takes effort for me.

The ride home was trippy, too. I was even more out-of-it than I was driving there, and I nearly ran a red light. But we got home safe and sound, and I got in bed at a fairly decent hour. Slept like a rock. Strange dreams, though. To be expected.

Anyway, I have another full day ahead of me — a bunch of stuff to do this morning, then I crash this afternoon. All afternoon. The plan is to have a hot-hot shower at 1 p.m., then go back to bed and not set an alarm. Just sleep.

And that’s what it takes: a good balance between doing and not-doing, between going and resting. I’m at my best, when I’m hyper-engaged and keeping really busy doing things that matter to me. I haven’t done as much of that in the past couple of years, as I would have liked to. For some reason, everything felt like it was stacked against me, and no matter what I tried, nothing really worked out. But now this sense has unaccountably changed, and I’m feeling more optimistic and practically directed, than I have been in a while. It feels pretty good. I just need to remember to take good care of myself. When I’m starting to get signs of a migraine, take some time off to recover… and then get back into the flow with a good balance of what-is and what-will-be.

It’s always a balance, and now that feels even more important.

I’ve got stuff to do. I’ve got a life to live. There’s nothing like having someone close to you die, to remind you of how short life can be, and how important it is to bring your best to each and every day.

Duly noted.

Now, it’s time for another glass of water.

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It doesn’t have to be that difficult

Back into the everyday…

So, yesterday we had company – the friend who visited us over vacation who’s looking for a place to live. The morning started out good and we were just hanging out, talking everything through. By mid-afternoon, they had driven us crazy enough for us to ask them to leave. Seriously, they were spinning their wheels, back and forth all over the place, and cancelling out all their progress with a single simple statement.

Holy f’ing crap – how maddening. I mean, it’s not like they can afford to dick around with things, but they just kind of flit-flit-flit all over the place from one idea to the next. I get it, that they’ve got intense ADD, dyslexia, and a bunch of neurological issues from having been beaten a lot as a kid. But holy crap. They were just all over the map.

Then I come downstairs this morning after waking up earlier than I wanted to, and I fin the downstairs in a bit of a shambles, because my spouse was up till god-knows-what-hour just hanging out, watching t.v., and probably snacking, too. It would not have taken much for them to just pick up after themself. Just a little.

But I guess that was just too boring. Not very exciting at all. And who wants to bother with that?

I’m guilty of that, as well, though. There are things that need to be done, to just take care of everyday life, that I just don’t do. So, there are two of us in the house who slack off… just ’cause.

That being said, I got my ass in gear and did some exercises this morning. I mowed yesterday and tended to the plantings and trees in the front yard and back. I also realized that my grass is in really bad shape, which is not good, because that’s what keeps my leachfield together for my septic. I’ve been saying each year in the spring that I was going to take care of that… this year. And then the summer comes and the summer goes, and in the fall I’m looking at the sad state of my grass, wishing I’d done more for it.

But like cleaning up the living room, somehow it’s just not that exciting, so I get distracted by other things, and then everything falls by the wayside.

The ironic thing is, it’s really not that difficult to keep up with stuff, so long as you do a little bit at a time, and you do it regularly. Consistency, practice, application, repetition — those are the keys to keeping things going. And those are the things where I (and most people I know) fall down the most.

So, it starts with the little things and it moves from there. Little things, done everyday, stay little things in the short term, but turn into big things over the long term. That’s also true of the little things that are NOT done everyday, which then turn into big regrets later on. So, keeping steady is the thing. Keeping motivated. Seeing the point to it all, and keeping focused on the future direction you’re headed.

How to stay motivated? Well, that’s the question. I think for myself it needs to be a combination of work and rest — intervals of activity followed by a chance to recoup and regroup and really digest what’s going down. I have to be careful that I don’t get caught in a vortex of rumination, of course. I have to keep things moving — but in a good way, not in some crazy manic numbness-inducing grind that just dulls the pain of daily existence.

It’s important to have a life.

And it’s important to enjoy it and not get hung up on all kinds of crap and bogus drama… for nothing other than entertainment value, as well as getting yourself to feel more “alive” because you’re all amped up with adrenaline and all the rest of the stress hormones that are designed to dull pain so that you’re not suffering so terribly when you die.

I’ve got no intention of going down that route. There’s no point to it. It’s such a simple thing, to just do a little bit everyday on the things that mean something to you. It’s not always a simple thing, to keep up the motivation and inspiration and keep those things in mind. Sometimes I just get tired, and nothing means anything to me at all. But if I can find ways to keep myself even vaguely interested in what I’m doing with my life, then so much the better.

And this applies to the things I want to do with my workaday life, as well as the things I do outside my workaday world. I’ve realized that I’ve been investing waaaay too much time in work-and-work-only (9-to-5 work, that is) and I’ve not allowed my life to be full and well-rounded. I’ve poured myself into my day job, and utter exhaustion is the result — exhaustion of body, mind, and spirit.

Does it have to be this way? Oh, hell no. One thing that this vacation brought front and center is how much I miss my contemplation time. Back in the day before I got sucked into the whole career focus, got all those awards and rewards for being so dedicated to my employer, and made my workaday world the primary focus of my life, I used to spend a lot of time just sitting and thinking and letting stuff sink in. It wasn’t so much processing… it was just sitting and being, listening to music, reading, and taking time for myself. Just soaking up whatever life I could experience.

Actually, come to think of it, what took me away from that contemplative way of life was the mild TBI I had in 2004, which send me reeling… and sent me spiraling off into this hyper-drive state of constant alert and constant fight-flight fever pitch “living”. Prior to my TBI, I could sit and read and write, look at art and listen to music for hours, and lose myself in that world. I was pretty much of a hermit, and I liked it that way. Then I fell and smacked my head a bunch of times on a staircase, and I decided I had no use for that kind of life – the reading, the contemplation, the writing. All along, it was because I couldn’t read, I couldn’t keep my attention focused on anything for long, and my restlessness was off the charts. So much for a contemplative lifestyle, right? The change was really dramatic, and I can hardly believe I used to live that way.

Well, now things are different. I am really noticing this, lately. It’s like a switch got turned on with me again — a chute got opened, and all the old ability to just sit and be and make sense of my life, has started to flow in again. And that’s good. Because I sorely need that. And I needed that vacation last week like nobody’s business, because until I was able to completely unplug and step away. I had no access to the internet in the condo where I was staying, and until I had the choice to do whatever the hell I wanted to do, I didn’t realize how much I have been needing that quiet orientation, that focus, that perspective.

And now that I’m back to everyday life, I really want to keep that going. I need it. And I don’t want to sink back onto that massive fight-flight mode that keeps me so much on edge. I need to re-learn how to get back that sense of peace in the midst of the storm.

Concussion can be such a bitch, because it can fray the pathways that make it possible for you to be how you need to be. It can “reroute your wiring” and make you into someone you don’t recognize. And you can spend a whole lot of time chasing that person you used to be, trying the same old routes in your neural pathways which just are not working like they used to. And when you don’t let go of the old routes, and you don’t try to find new ones, it can be a very discouraging and self-defeating process that puts you under such stress that you develop PTSD… and maybe some other neuroses and mental illnesses to boot.

See, that’s the real danger of TBI — not the initial damage that happens. The brain is capable of creating new neural pathways to do the same kinds of things you’re used to doing. It’s the long-term disruption of your life that does the most damage. It’s the confusion that arises that keeps you trying to go down the same old pathways to get where you’re going. It’s the rigidity that keeps you stuck in old ways of thinking and doing, for fear of anything else. It’s the brittleness that comes with anxiety and fear and lack of insight and control over your emotions and behavior.

TBI is just the start — the real problems happen after rehab, after discharge, after the doctor has given you a clean bill of health. And those problems can persist for years. Taking their toll.

But it doesn’t have to all be that difficult and painful and frustrating… we have other options. We can look for different ways of doing things. We can accept that things have changed in our brains in ways we cannot detect — and we’re going to make a bunch of “mistakes” and take some “mis-steps” along the way, in the process of learning how to live life in new and different ways.

But we have to be willing to step out on a limb and take some chances. We have to be willing to endure the embarrassment of our mis-steps and our mistakes, and learn something from it all. We have to be willing to let go of preconceived notions that are holding us back. Those notions can be old ones we are accustomed to and are still holding onto. Or they can be new ones that we developed about ourselves after our injuries, which we are allowing to limit and define us in ways that are less than true about who and what we are.

I must admit, I struggle with both — but the latter more than the former. Since my fall in 2004 (and in fact throughout the course of my life, when I got hurt and then revised my view of myself), I have been in the habit of deciding that such-and-such was true about me, and then letting that define my personality and my destiny. The real truth of it was that I was going through a rough patch, and I was going to come out on the other side, but I had it in my head that I created the problems I was having and — clearly — I was somehow deficient.

I was crazy.

I was lazy.

I was stupid.

I was error-prone.

I was doomed, no matter what I might try.

None of that was true, but enough things happened that “confirmed” these suspicions, so there you go — I magically turned myself into someone I was not.

Thank you TBI. Not.

But that was then, and this is now. I really have a very different perception of myself, and coming off this vacation, I have a renewed understanding of who I am and where I fit in my world. I also have a renewed understanding of what I want to create in my world — and chasing fabulous career success in technology is not at the top of my list anymore. Getting away from it, I realize that that’s just one part of my life, and I have given up a lot in my life for its sake, while losing out on some things that were really important to me. I also realize that that tech career focus was very much about proving to myself and the world that “I can do it!” and I’ve invested so much of myself in just proving things to everyone that never needed proving, that I’ve lost perspective… and also some of the things that have meant the most to me in my life — reading, writing, reflection, contemplation… The outside world prizes highly social, outgoing, extroverted behavior. But guess what — that’s not me.

And I don’t have anything to prove to anybody anymore. I’m doing so much better with the many aspects of my life. My issues are still very much there — the 84 ways that TBI can make my life really interesting are still very much in evidence in my life — but I’ve found a way to live with them, to manage them, not try to control and stop them.

I’ve given up the tries at stopping them. They’re just there. They may always be there. But they’re also lessons I need to learn. And I know — TBI or not — there are plenty of other people out there who struggle with these same issues, on some level.

We all struggle. We are all human, after all. And if we’re living life to the fullest, we tend to get hurt. We fly… and then we often fall. It’s not the falling that’s the challenge — it’s the getting up that tends to be so hard. But when we work at it, we can learn a lot. And when I think about it, getting up doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t have to be hard. If I just accept that I’ve fallen and I need to pick myself back up, and get on with it, I can get my head off the whole mess and get on with living. Just living.

It doesn’t have to be that difficult, if I just get out of my own way, and remember — there’s more life where that came from.

Which mistakes do I keep?

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. – Scott Adams

I just came across this quote, while poking around various blogs. I had intended to write something else… but I forgot what it was, so I’m going to go with this idea.

On the loooooooong road to mtbi recovery (which seems like it is never over), I have made plenty of mistakes along the way. It sorta kinda goes with the territory. I mean to say one thing, but then I say another. I mean to do one thing, but then I do another. I mean to accomplish one thing, but then I mess it up and it doesn’t get done. Along the way, it’s easy to get turned around and confused and lose my place. I do it all the time.

So, why am I not worse off in my life? Okay, I admit, my life is not a template of the American Ideal. I don’t have the perfect spouse and perfect 2.4 kids in a perfect house with perfect cars with a perfect job and a perfectly fat wallet. I don’t drive a Prius or a Hummer or a pickup truck or a motorcycle or any other vehicle that would indicate I am a Person Worth Knowing. I don’t have a closet full of tailored clothes with different well-polished shoes for every occasion. I don’t have many of the signs of success that one would expect from someone who is Doing Extremely Well For Themself, and frankly, some days it’s just a constant struggle to get by.

But in spite of all my struggles and screw-ups and messes I’ve made, I’m doing okay. I’m happy, I have love in my life, and I like what I do for a living. In spite of all the jobs I’ve totally messed up, the situations I’ve blown to hell, the relationships I’ve trashed, the money I’ve lost, I’m still standing. And my life — oddly enough — keeps getting better.

Why?

I think it’s because I don’t let the screw-ups keep me from pursuing my version of success. I learn from my mistakes — actively, intentionally, regularly — and since I make lots of mistakes, I tend to learn a lot. And since I’m so friggin’ tenacious and indomitable (bad days notwithstanding), I never stop, till I get where I’m going. Sometimes it takes an awfully long time for me to get where I want to go, but eventually, I get there… even if my definition of “there” changes along the way.

For years, I’ve focused on what I call “the art of living” — making my life into an intentional expression of my individuality, rather than abiding by some standard-issue cookie-cutter stereotype. Long before I knew why I couldn’t fit into the “norm”, I realized it wasn’t a good fit for me, and I resolved to find other, better ways to live my life, in spite of my oddness. I’ve made a point of not forcing myself into a narrow definition of success, and I’ve really worked at taking what good I could find from all the wreckage of my life around me.

There have been intense internal conflicts, to be sure, and I’ve been lower than low many, many times. But when the dust has settled, time after time, I’ve always managed to figure out a way to use what I learned for my benefit.

When I was younger, I was bound and determined to be a writer — to be the best writer of my generation — and I channeled all my energies into being open to the full range of what life had to offer me. I didn’t care so much about achieving and accomplishing and being The Best in others’ eyes. It was more about being the best in my own eyes. I kept open to the full range of life experience. I didn’t worry so much about whether or not things turned out the way I’d planned. For me, it was all about the experience. Learning what it meant to be human, so I could write believable stories about believable characters.

Of course, a whole bunch of mild TBIs kind of put a damper on my literary aspirations – it’s difficult to get published, when you can’t figure out how to communicate with publishers and editors and you alienate just about everybody who reaches out to help you without understanding how or why you’re doing it. And I’ve had to seek out alternative ways of getting published, essentially letting go of that childhood dream. I realize now, it’s probably not as plausible as I once thought it was.

But my orientation towards life remains the same — it’s an experience to be had, not a task to be completed. The full range of what life throws at us is a smorgasbord of sensations, a veritable feast for all five senses — six, if you count the one you can’t put your finger on. All of life is this amazing cornucopia of events to be lived, experiences to be had, lessons to be learned. For me, it’s less about specific outcomes, and more about the quality of the experiences I’m having. Quality of life… that builds quality of soul… and character.

I came across an interesting blog post over at Daily Strength today:
How Important is Resiliency in Trauma Recovery?

It talks about how folks in the mental health field used to think that once traumatic damage is done to a person, they’re damaged for good. But that ain’t necessarily so. A person who is abused as a child isn’t necessarily going to be either an abuser or a perpetual victim as an adult. Human resiliency also plays a role, and people can — and do — overcome nasty crap all the time.

Given the course of human history, I have to say I agree. If everyone who got beaten up and mistreated as a child turned out to be either a perpetual victim or a perpetrator for the rest of their lives, I think we’d all be dead by now. There would be no one left, for all the killers would have killed the victims… and then wiped each other out.

No… that hasn’t happened (yet).

Yes… there’s more to the story than our past.

And there’s more to screwing up than making a mess of things.

Sometimes, the mess can be quite instructive.

Sometimes, a royally mucked up situation can be even more valuable than total success all the time.

Which, for someone like me, means that my chances of ultimate success are actually better than for someone who gets things right all the time.

Think about it —

If

as Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm,”

and

I have been uniquely shaped to not only go from one failure to another, but also keep going, keep diving in, keep forging ahead, no matter what (due at least in part to my head-injury-diminished aversion to risk and danger, as well as my intensely stubborn streak)

then

it stands to reason that I am uniquely positioned to have a very successful life, despite my injuries, despite my deficits, despite my history, despite my muck-ups.

In fact, one might say that my injuries and deficits even contribute to my success.

Not that I’m saying that mild traumatic brain injury is a ticket to the Good Life. Far from it. But if I can figure out a way to make it work for me sometimes, instead of constantly against me, then things don’t necessarily have to turn out badly.

Ultimately, getting back to Scott Adams’ quote above, creativity is not about never making mistakes, it’s about allowing myself to make lots of them — and art is about being able to tell which “mistakes” are worth keeping.

Personally, I’d rather have an artful life than a carefully checked-off list of t0-do items.

But that’s just me.

‘Thirst For Knowledge’ May Be Opium Craving

I found this the other day, and I think it explains a lot (at least for me). I’ve always sort of wondered why I’m such an info-junkie, and now I can see why. I’ve snagged the text of the article in its entirety, so you/I can read it below in perpetuity, without the danger of it being taken down/moved.


Neuroscientists have proposed a simple explanation for the pleasure of grasping a new concept: The brain is getting its fix

The “click” of comprehension triggers a biochemical cascade that rewards the brain with a shot of natural opium-like substances, said Irving Biederman of the University of Southern California. He presents his theory in an invited article in the latest issue of American Scientist.

“While you’re trying to understand a difficult theorem, it’s not fun,” said Biederman, professor of neuroscience in the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“But once you get it, you just feel fabulous.”

The brain’s craving for a fix motivates humans to maximize the rate at which they absorb knowledge, he said.

“I think we’re exquisitely tuned to this as if we’re junkies, second by second.”

Biederman hypothesized that knowledge addiction has strong evolutionary value because mate selection correlates closely with perceived intelligence.

Only more pressing material needs, such as hunger, can suspend the quest for knowledge, he added.

The same mechanism is involved in the aesthetic experience, Biederman said, providing a neurological explanation for the pleasure we derive from art.

“This account may provide a plausible and very simple mechanism for aesthetic and perceptual and cognitive curiosity.”

Biederman’s theory was inspired by a widely ignored 25-year-old finding that mu-opioid receptors – binding sites for natural opiates – increase in density along the ventral visual pathway, a part of the brain involved in image recognition and processing.

The receptors are tightly packed in the areas of the pathway linked to comprehension and interpretation of images, but sparse in areas where visual stimuli first hit the cortex.

Biederman’s theory holds that the greater the neural activity in the areas rich in opioid receptors, the greater the pleasure.

In a series of functional magnetic resonance imaging trials with human volunteers exposed to a wide variety of images, Biederman’s research group found that strongly preferred images prompted the greatest fMRI activity in more complex areas of the ventral visual pathway. (The data from the studies are being submitted for publication.)

Biederman also found that repeated viewing of an attractive image lessened both the rating of pleasure and the activity in the opioid-rich areas. In his article, he explains this familiar experience with a neural-network model termed “competitive learning.”

In competitive learning (also known as “Neural Darwinism”), the first presentation of an image activates many neurons, some strongly and a greater number only weakly.

With repetition of the image, the connections to the strongly activated neurons grow in strength. But the strongly activated neurons inhibit their weakly activated neighbors, causing a net reduction in activity. This reduction in activity, Biederman’s research shows, parallels the decline in the pleasure felt during repeated viewing.

“One advantage of competitive learning is that the inhibited neurons are now free to code for other stimulus patterns,” Biederman writes.

This preference for novel concepts also has evolutionary value, he added.

“The system is essentially designed to maximize the rate at which you acquire new but interpretable [understandable] information. Once you have acquired the information, you best spend your time learning something else.

“There’s this incredible selectivity that we show in real time. Without thinking about it, we pick out experiences that are richly interpretable but novel.”

The theory, while currently tested only in the visual system, likely applies to other senses, Biederman said.

* * *

Edward Vessel, who was Biederman’s graduate student at USC, is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Neural Science at New York University.
Vessel collaborated on the studies and co-authored the
American Scientist article.


This really adds nicely to my understanding of my own internal systems, in that it shows how me going out and learning things — about myself, about my world, about my body, about my brain — actually helps me get through the day. Endogenous opioids, the “natural opium-like substances” the article mentions, have a number of functions, one of which is to cut pain. They also induce euphoria. I have a lot of problems with pain — in my joints, my tendons/ligaments, my back, my neck, my head… just about everywhere you can have pain — so needless to say, life isn’t all a bed of roses for me. I’m not complaining — today, anyway 😉 — because I’ve grown accustomed to it, pretty much, and it’s just something that’s there in the background of my life.

But while I have acclimated to the pain, I’m also not opposed to a bit of relief, now and then. That relief comes to me, I realize now, when I am learning something new or I am wrapping my head around a novel concept. I really get a charge out of it — I always have — and now I understand a little more about why that is.

Fascinating stuff!

Lost to TBI: My Lifelong Love of Reading Fiction

One of the things I have progressively lost over the past several years since my tbi at Thanksgiving, 2004, is something I never, ever thought I’d part with: my love of reading fiction.

I grew up reading and loving to read. My parents were — and still are — avid readers. Especially fiction. My mom leads the way with fiction, but my dad is usually not far behind. He’s more partial to personal accounts of adventure and exploration, but he still goes for fiction at times — preferably with a moral to it. Mom doesn’t care whether there’s a moral or not. So long as it’s a book, she’s happy.

So was I. I always shared my parents’ love of books, especially fiction. I grew up with my nose buried in a book, and I actually learned more about life and language and what it means to be human from books than from real people and events. I adored fantasy fiction. Stories about ordinary people in extra-ordinary conditions. Short stories, long stories… novellas and novels and epics (I used to love James Michener, especially). I would tear through books, when I was kid, like a starving kid with a sack full of Halloween candy. Many of my favorite books I’ve read over and over and over again, not caring if I recognized the plot and knew how it ended. I just loved to read!

Until the past few years, that is. Since my fall down the stairs in 2004, this has changed dramatically.

Now reading just about anything that’s over 10 pages is a chore. It’s difficult for me to do. What was once effortless when I was younger, has become very time-consuming and resource-intensive. I really have to work at following the sentences and words and remembering, from one chapter to the next, what’s happening.

It’s disheartening and frustrating, and it embarrasses me. It didn’t used to be like this. But now it is.

I try to carve out time for reading, but I always seem to get pulled off to something else. I get distracted and I cannot finish what I start. Or, I try to read while my partner is watching t.v.,  but I cannot focus, and I get very upset with myself.

I check out lots of books from the library (on impulse) with every intention of reading them, but I only get part-way into them, before I either get distracted or I get overwhelmed with the information, and I have to step away

I tend to forget I have a certain book on hand, then I’ll remember that I have it and get excited and start to read it… but I won’t finish it, because I get overwhelmed with the details, I lose track of what’s going on, and the disorientation ruins whatever soothing effect the book might have for me.

My friends and family, knowing the old me, give me books for the holidays and my birthday, but I can’t get through them. I feel awful because they really want to give me presents I’ll enjoy, and they want to share their experiences with the books with me, but I can’t manage to finish them, or even read enough to hold a decent conversation with them. I might enjoy having the books they give me, but I often cannot seem to bring myself to read – it’s too frustrating and disheartening. My home and my study are full of books I’ve only partly read.

Nowadays, it’s very seldom that I’ll actually finish a book I start, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Every once in a while, I’ll manage to complete a non-fiction book about something that affects me personally. Fiction is pretty much out of the question for me. I become highly agitated by the characters’ experiences and choices, and it’s uncomfortable for me to be subjected to their drama. I become impatient with them and cannot sustain an interest in anything that happens to them. Non-fiction gets my juices flowing, but I often get turned around and can’t keep the facts straight, and I end up confused and frustrated and down on myself. Even topics I used to love and authors I used to read voraciously, hold my attention for only so long.

Because my attention tends to wander (if I lose interest or I lose my “info buzz”), I try to stick with higher level research, since it holds my attention and really stimulates me. I do a lot of research on the internet – medical, especially. With the world wide web, I can bookmark (or save) the pages I’m reading and come back to them later. I can print them, too, for future reference, which is important to me. Although, after I print them out, I often forget that I have them, and I’ll end up printing out multiple copies of the same article that really excited me when I first found it. My hard drive is my saving grace. Having copies on my computer reminds me where I’ve been and what I’ve been reading, and when my bookmarks get to be too much to sort through, I can look at my carefully organized hard drive folders and see what I’ve already got in there. Then I can make a note that I don’t need to save another copy.

I still love to read… some things, anyway. I stick more with magazine articles and research papers and web pages. And even with them, I often need to go back and re-read them. It’s not that I don’t understand them. I do! I just get the facts and figures turned around, and I need to refresh my memory and make sure I understand what’s in them.

This is a huge loss for me. Or, rather, it would be if it still meant something to me. Nowadays, I’m happy just to get through the day without a major catastrophe. Reading — which used to be a necessity I could not survive without — has become a luxury for my leisure time… whenever I have it.

I have started an art gallery to explain my tbi experiences

In the course of working through my tbi issues over the past year, I’ve realized that words alone aren’t always the best way to communicate what’s going on with me. I grew up in a very verbal household — both of my parents are avid readers, and I was often found with my nose in book. I never thought of myself as an artist — my younger siblings were the “artistic” ones. I wrote stories and I focused more on words (perhaps because the act of hand-writing uses parts of the brain that are related to impulse control, and I instinctively new I needed to develop that part of my brain).

What I didn’t realize (till my mother told me within the last year) was that as a child, I had a very advanced visual “intelligence”. I drew pictures as a young kid that incorporated elements that weren’t usually seen until later in one’s development. In some ways I was a prodigy… but I think that changed, when I started to have head injuries… so that my skills and abilities were hidden behind the difficulties I had, and they were not actively developed.

In the past year, I’ve found myself drawing and painting A LOT. And I’ve found that when I draw and paint, I am actually better able to think about certain things, than if I just use words. I’ve also found myself remembering events from my life that had escaped me for many years. There’s something about the color and shapes that triggers my memories. And it also brings up a lot of emotion.

I’ve started an Imagekind Gallery (tbi-survivor.imagekind.com/art/) where my artworks can be found. I only have one piece up there, right now, and it shows how I see my back yard. But there will be more coming.

I’m pretty excited about this new development — both as a way for me to express myself and show the world I live in, and to help educate people about what it’s like to live with the after-effects of mild traumatic brain injuries.

Imagekind offers prints of my work on paper and on canvas. I hope you’ll pay a visit.