The way the brain really works

Time to upgrade the system – because I can

So, something has occurred to me over the past years, with all the new neuroplasticity writing coming out.

At last, science is catching up… which is helpful.

And folks are publishing well-researched work, which is both informative and often entertaining. Plus, “citizen journalists” are spreading the word about breaking stories and fringe reports about things that you don’t normally hear about in the mainstream. And YouTube has stories about people who plainly beat the odds. So there.

Like the woman in China who was born without a cerebellum, but is still walking around like a normal person. She’s a bit unsteady on her feet, but she’s still walking around, which she supposedly would not be able to do without a cerebellum.

Or the Israeli soldier who lost the part of his brain that controls speech… talking into the camera like a regular person. Of course, it would be easier for me to assess his skill, if I spoke Hebrew, but he sounded pretty articulate to me.

Or the young many who had half his brain removed by surgery, who is walking and talking and living his life, albeit a little less smoothly than “normal” folks, but still…

What occurs to me, as I see and hear stories of people whose brains have re-routed the activities of damaged/lost portions of their brains, is that all the parts we think are solely responsible for certain functions — like speech and motor control — may actually be primarily responsible for those functions, but not exclusively. It’s like the brain has main thoroughfares for signals — like a freeway heading to the airport — along with a network of service roads that parallel the freeway and can get travelers to the same destination, albeit a bit more slowly and with perhaps a few more bumps along the way.

The idea that specific areas of the brain are the only sources of certain types of processing and control, is being trumped by emerging data that different parts will “light up” in different ways for different people. The basic functionality is the same, but how it’s done varies from person to person.

It’s just like the shapes and sizes of our organs. People have all sorts of variations in their livers, kidneys, spleens, lungs, heart, reproductive organs, muscular structure, brain… you name it. The pictures we see in the anatomy books are “common denominator” depictions — standards which can vary from individual to individual. And it seems more and more like the same holds true of the brain’s functions.

We’re still learning a whole lot, of course, and more research comes out every year (month?) to update our understanding. And we see more and more evidence that it is indeed possible to retrain the brain to do things it’s not “supposed” to be doing.

So there.

What I take away from all of this, is that I need to not settle for a “new normal” that leaves me exhausted and dull at the end of each day. I’m looking into ways to strengthen my thinking and improve my endurance, and also to find better, more efficient ways to think. I’ve been adjusting to head trauma since I was a young kid, and I believe it’s led me to use thinking processes that aren’t quite as efficient as they could be. And there are definite areas of deficit that have been with me for a long time — like being very distractable and losing track of where I am in an extended process.

I’ve got this new job ahead of me, and I want to do my best.

Time to recruit more parts of my brain to do the thinking job better.

Onward.

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Type A Personality with a TBI? You’re a GREAT candidate for recovery – Part 1

rat-brain-dendridic-changes
If rat brains can change, due to environmental enrichment, so can ours — click to read about helping with stroke (which also applies to other sorts of brain injury)

I’m pretty much of a Type A person — although my competitive streak targets myself, rather than others.

Wait, no… I do instinctively compete against others, as well.

I must admit, I’m happiest when I’m Alpha. This is not in a mean-spirited way or in a way that is driven to destroy everyone around me. I’m just happiest when I’m at the top of my game, and the person I compete against most, is myself.

Anyway, I believe that Type A personalities have a special proclivity to TBI / concussion, because we push it. We take chances. We test the limits of the envelope. And we do it with a single-minded focus that blocks out all dangers… sometimes till it’s too late to protect ourselves.

And then we can get hurt. Frequently. We can end up with persistent symptoms, because on top of getting hurt, we haven’t taken time out to rest, and that concussion / TBI is telling us to keep going at an even faster pace.

See, that’s the thing with concussion / mild TBI — all those chemicals released in the injured brain are inciting an organic fight-flight response that impels us to go-go-go. I personally believe that response is due to an evolutionary advantage that preserved the human race over the ages. Once upon a time, when everyday life was a lot more physically dangerous than it is today, our brains had to evolve to get us up and out of dangerous situation ASAP. And those who didn’t adapt to switch into get-the-hell-going hyperdrive, ended up stuck at the bottom of the pile of rubble. Or they got the rest of their body chopped in half by that sword-wielding opponent who gave them a whack the first time.

Back in the day, being overrun by invaders, going to war with hand-to-hand combat, being charged by a predator, and extracting yourself and your loved ones from a natural disaster were all more frequent than they are today. And those whose brains got them UP and OUT — who kicked into GO-GO-GO-GO!!! action, got to live to see another day. I’m no evolutionary biologist, but I suspect that those whose instincts did not get them moving ASAP probably died out a long time ago.

So, small wonder that when you get hit on the head, your brain/body drives you on and on and on, without any apparent reason. The brain is trying to get away from danger. The only problem is, the danger is inside the skull. And there’s no escaping that.

Anyway, in terms of being a Type A personality, we can really harness that drive, that ambition, that impetus, to recover from our injuries. Even if you can’t get access to a neuropsychologist to consult with, there are a number of other options available. Of course, part of the problem is that there are so many options, and not all of them are reliable or credible. Concussion has turned into big business, and there are plenty of people ready and willing to make a ton of money off it. But not all of them know what the hell they’re talking about. As long as they sound authoritative, that’s all that matters to some people.

So, what do you do and where do you turn?

I think a good place to took, is to other folks who have experienced successful recoveries from concussion / TBI. There are books out there, along with blogs. Unfortunately, the discussion can often drift towards commiseration, rather than remediation. People want to be supported and know that they’re not alone. Of course they do. We all do – including me. Unfortunately, a lot of times (and I’m guilty of this), the discussion ends up mired in detailing all the issues, rather than how to fix them.

Now and then, though, you can come across stories of success and triumph. Here’s one paper about success stories you may like. Models of Exceptional Adaptation in Recovery After Traumatic Brain Injury: A Case Series (click to download the PDF). It shows quite clearly that recovery after brain injury is possible, and it’s not a death sentence.

No matter what others say.

This discussion to be continued – click here to read on…

Here are the materials I downloaded in 2010, which you may find useful:

 

 

Type A Personality with a TBI? You’re a GREAT candidate for recovery – Part 2

Improvements in total time to complete the pin-plugging test using long pins for subject CC. Improvements were found after 9 weeks of intervention for the affected hand.

This is a continuation of an extended thought process – click here for the first part.

Science (especially imaging) is starting to reveal what has always been true of the human system. It changes over time, responding to stimuli. The idea that brain injury is permanent and can’t be overcome is hogwash, as evidenced by research, studies (like the one referenced in the image on the right, which shows how Long-term sensory stimulation therapy improves hand function and restores cortical responsiveness in patients with chronic cerebral lesions), and recorded experience. The weird thing is, despite all the studies that are coming out (and have come out for decades) about how the brain does change and adapt, if challenged, there are still those who believe that brain injury is irreversible, and once you lose certain functions, you’re screwed.

Oh, hell no. Sorry, I don’t buy it. I don’t care what anyone says.

Brain injury survivors do NOT need to resign ourselves to living less-than. We do not need to “adjust down” our expectations to a “new normal”. That’s ridiculous. And the fact that so many people have been told they had to do that, and have just given in to doing that… it makes me a little sick to my stomach.

Of course, there are many reasons for this. Lack of information. Overwhelm. Cynicism. Defeat. Lack of imagination. Rehab industry bias against brain injured folks. Etc.

Also, Type A people tend to intimidate people. And Type A people with unresolved TBI issues can be a real terror — hell on wheels. So, small wonder that folks in the rehab business so often encourage us to just accept the “new normal” as “what it is”. We can scare them. Accepting our limitations is sometimes their way of telling us to back the f*ck off and quit intimidating us. It’s a way of seeding doubt in our minds that makes us less confident, less sure, less cocky. It’s a way of making them feel less inadequate — and shifting the power structure of the working relationship from Alpha Us to… them.

Plus, all too often, they have lacking information and poor practices, so they are unable to produce the kinds of results their clients/patients need. They keep trying to achieve results with crappy tools and partial information, which is like trying to run a marathon wearing on sneaker and one roller skate. They keep trying, of course, because that’s what the insurance companies tell them they have to do, and that’s what their peers are telling them to do, and that’s what their industry is instructing them to do. But they can never get the results they’re looking for… which is no wonder, if they’re not willing to test the limits of what is “known”.

So they give up. Because they won’t look any further. Maybe they’re actively discouraged by the insurance industry, which only trusts “tried and tested” approaches. Maybe they’re put off by their peers who are jaded and cynical and uninformed. Maybe they lack intelligence and imagination. Or maybe they just get tired.

Personally, I suspect it has more to do with belief system and poor information, than it has to do with malicious intent. People are just ignorant, in the objective sense of the word. They just don’t have the right information. And not all of them are Type A personalities. So, good luck getting help from someone who is not Type A, when you are a person who’s ambitious, driven, and bound and determined to succeed…

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way — or stay that way — if you’re a  Type A personality.

The Give Back program, which I discovered in December, 2010, has played an important part in my recovery. Just the stated belief that it is possible to recover from Brain Injury was a revelation, after being immersed in a sea of depressing messages like “Well, the brain can’t be changed past a certain point in childhood”… “You might get some of your functionality back, but don’t expect much more” … “You’ll just have to lower your expectations from life” and “Just be happy you’re doing as well as you are.”

It sorta kinda makes my blood boil, hearing all that weak-ass drivel.

Because none of it is true. Just because the charter members of Underachievers Anonymous can’t figure out brain injury recovery, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

The Give Back materials really overcame those lame objections with actual case studies of folks who recovered successfully and went on to achieve great things. The program also gives you specific information and things you can do to recover. The most helpful tip had to do with building in a feedback loop for my daily life — recording things that didn’t go so hot, and figuring out how I could do them differently next time. I was really into that, for the first few years after I found the materials, but then I backed off on it. I’m starting up again, now that I’m beginning a new job that’s going to put new demands on my system, because it really helped me a great deal in the past, and I have every expectation that it will continue to help me as I move forward.

If you’re a Type A person with drive and ambition and the need to be constantly improving, you’re a perfect candidate for taking your recovery into your own hands and actually succeeding at it.

One of the things that’s really bothered me, over the past several years, is how people tell me now that I’m more mellow than I was, less edgy, less “Type A”. Now, I get that it’s an improvement that I’m not always gunnin’ for a fight, and I’ve backed off a lot of the aggression. But I have also lost the edge that used to keep me on top of things and moving forward. This, to me, is not an improvement. And the longer I recover, the more functionality I get back — and the more I realize I still lack — the more motivated I am to really kick it up a notch.

Discovering Reuven Feuerstein and the Feuerstein Method has been just the boost I’ve been needing to really move forward — possibly by leaps and bounds. Fundamental to the system is a “belief system that holds individuals to be modifiable, as well as amenable to registering and detecting adaptive changes.” That’s a belief I share — it’s more than a belief, it’s a known fact for me. It has been since 1983, when I came across a picture of rat brains that had been changed by being in an “enriching” environment. I’ve been convinced of the mutability of the human system for over 30 years, and I’m living proof that positive change — recovery — is possible.

And just as it’s possible to positively impact our own recovery, it’s also possible to impact others’ recovery, as well. It’s possible to create positive change — transform our surroundings — by our direct engagement. We have to know what we’re looking at, of course, and we have to know how things work. And we have to know how to effectively act for change. The beauty part is, by observing and being open and objective, we can learn as we go and adapt ourselves to our surroundings.

When you’re Type A, you have a certain kind of personality. You have a proclivity for achievement. Why the hell any non-Type-A person would tell a Type A person that something like brain injury recovery isn’t possible, is beyond me.

Never mind all that — On-Ward!

Here are the materials I downloaded in 2010, which you may find useful:

 

Well, I got THAT done… finally

I thought it would never end – what I filled out was 50-times longer – took me houirs

So, I got this new job offer, right?

And I was told I’d get a link to an offer letter that I would sign.

Well, it didn’t happen exactly that way.

Instead of an offer letter, I got five different emails from two different sources, each having between 1 and 4 links for me to follow to forms I needed to fill out.

Some of the forms were quick and easy. I did them on my tablet at lunch yesterday.

Some of the forms were exhaustive. Oh my God, was there a lot of information I had to plug in. On top of it all, my laptop was freezing up, because I had do sort through a whole bunch of past emails and documents to find the details on the exact days when I started and ended jobs, as well as the exact amount I was making. At my last full-time job, the number was not an even amount, and the bonus I was eligible for (max) was also not round number.

Holy crap. Panic. I don’t know why I thought I could escape filling out all that paperwork. Maybe I just forgot what an exhaustive thing it is. Or I figured that since I’m contracting, I would never have to do it again, because they don’t need so-so-much info on you, when you’re marginal.

But I was clearly smokin’ bananas, and last night, starting around 8:15, I commenced on what I thought was a simple task. It ended up being almost a 3-hour project, and I only got done at 11:00 p.m.  I triple checked all my information — and I saved a copy of it, dammit. What a pain in the ass.

On the bright side, I now know where to find all the information, and thank God I did actually save it. In the past, I just flitted from job to job and didn’t give it much thought. I could dredge up that info without too much trouble. But my brain isn’t as facile / speedy / nonchalant about details / effortless as it used be, and this was a slog.

Or maybe it’s always been a slog, and I just conveniently forgot. Like people tend to forget horrible, traumatic experiences. Like childbirth. I’ve never done it myself, but I have women friends who swore, immediately after their first one, that they’d never do it again… only to have another child two years later – and do it without hesitation.

Not that I’m comparing filling out employment forms with bringing new life into the world, but you know what I mean.

Anyway, that’s done. I emailed the recruiter about that offer letter, which I suspected I’d missed. I did, after all, completely miss the first email with the massive 10-page form that collected all my vitals, including details on my last three jobs, which I just wanted to put behind me. Clearly, you can’t just discard the past. It follows you everywhere.

Especially when you want to get a new job.

So there it is.

And now I’m holding steady, waiting for the offer letter and confirmation that we’re good to go, so I can get on with the rest of my life. I know how I’m going to play it — I’m going to ask for 4 weeks to get everything squared away, and then set about putting together a “playbook” for transition, to show people how to do the things that I’ve been doing.

It’s not rocket science. The main ingredient is willingness. If people are disengaged and in self-protection mode and unwilling to even try to learn new things and do what’s right… or they’re just plain lazy… then all the preparation in the world won’t help them get it done. But for anyone who is willing to learn and has the right attitude, this can be done.

In any case, staffing is not my responsibility. Making sure there is redundancy is not my responsibility. That’s handled at a completely different level.

My job is to show up and perform. And since I can’t really do that to the extent possible in my present job, I’ll just take my business somewhere else.

Oh, and make a copy of everything I filled out, so if I ever need to do it again, I’ll have the information.

Onward.

5 ways mental slowness is less of a problem

Source: http://www.braininjury-explanation.com/unseen-consequenses-of-brain-injury/brain-injury-and-cognition

For the past month or so, I’ve been feeling mentally slower than I’d like. Almost as though I was wading through mud. I tried explaining it to my neuropsych, but I didn’t do a very good job of it.

This week, though, things have seemingly lifted off me. And while I’m not feeling 100%, per se, I’m not feeling as burdened by my slowness as I was before.

First, I’m not feeling as slow as I was a few weeks back.

I started exercising again. That might have something to do with it. Either it’s getting my mind off things, or I’m genuinely feeling healthier. I think it’s the latter. In addition to not feeling as slow I as I was… I’m also feeling comparatively sharper than a lot of people around me. I’ve been watching others around me, and they are not holding up very well. So, I know it’s not just me. And that makes me feel a lot less self-conscious.

Second, I’ve got too much going on, to notice how slowed down I am.

I am doing so much that’s new for me, these days — or that is a combination of old things that are showing up in new ways, that I almost have no way of knowing if I’m actually thinking more slowly than usual, or if I’m just taking my time to make sure I don’t miss anything.

Third, I realize that my old “need for speed” was pretty much of an illusion.

I had it in my head that I needed to be going 500 mph all the time, when in fact “haste makes waste” and I was bumbling all over the place, screwing up, messing things up so royally that I was constantly scrambling to catch up. I wasn’t necessarily operating at a higher speed, I was having to back-track and retrace my steps a whole lot, which had me in a frenzied panic state, a lot of time. I thought it was speed, but it really wasn’t.

Fourth, I’ve realized that while my processing speed may be slower than it used to be, that has its advantages – namely, that I can slow down to sift through more information.

I’m 10 years older than I was when I had my last TBI. And a whole lot has happened to me, since that time. I’ve been through a lot of upheaval and struggle, and I’ve had some big wins and losses along the way. I now have more “data” to sift through in my head, and that means it’s going to take me longer to put things in order and make sense of them. Even if I’d never gotten clunked on the head along the way, I would still need more time to parse through everything and make sense out of it.

Fifth, I may feel slow today, but I am pretty sure that can change.

I haven’t been sleeping as well as I should, and I know that has an effect. It’s also been a long winter, and I’m foggy and dull. I have seen my mental performance turn around in the past, and with the right hygiene and exercise and just getting all the gunk out, I know from past experience that that can have a positive effect on me.

I’ll just keep trying. Everything changes, and this can get better. I just need to keep a positive attitude, use my head, not be stupid about my sleeping habits, and do the best I can each day.

Somehow, it works out.

Correction: I’m done feeling sorry for myself

Time to look on the bright side – the day is waiting

Had a few minutes to decompress and re-adjust. I can see how the new version of this day will work in my favor, compared to what I originally planned.

Originally, I planned to spend hours at certain jobs around the house that need to be done. I was going to take my time and really dig in.

Now, I don’t have that kind of time, which might actually make it easier to do them. Less chance for me to get worn out. Less time for me to spend getting all OCD about things.

No matter what, our circumstances always hold the seeds of success.

So, I’m going to find them, and just do it.

I have another weekend in less than a week, after all.

The northeast is closed for the day (or two)

I’m sure some places look much worse than this

Okay, the snow has arrived. After all the fanfare yesterday, it looks like this is going to turn into something. I was supposed to have meetings today with folks from the northeastern corridor, who were flying into town, but obviously that’s not happening. Nobody from the northeast is going anywhere. And it’s surprising just how much weather in one part of the world can affect everywhere else.

Especially when you can’t get to work. Or fly. Or drive. Or take a train.

So, I guess it’s an extended snow day for many of us. I have a lot of business dealings with a lot of folks from the northeast. May everyone stay safe.

Days like this are a welcome change for me (provided I stay safe and sound, as well). It’s Mother Nature’s way of doing a reality check for us and forcing us to   s l o w   d o w n.   Do we really need to be racing around all over the place? That gets old.

It will be good to take a break from the usual routine today. I have some things for work that I want to take care of, and I need some concentrated quiet time to do them. Without everybody knocking on my door (figuratively speaking), it will be easier. I’m going to just work from home and buckle down. Nice. Productive. Satisfying.

And no drama.l

 

Focusing on our strengths

Pick your direction

TBI is a funny thing. It can take so much away from us. And it can also add more things that we never had before.

I’m not sure if it’s me or my brain or just the normal parts of ageing, but I seem to remember less and less of my past, as time goes on. I can’t really remember what I have talked about with my neuropsych, in the past. I don’t know what I’ve mentioned to them, what issues I’ve worked through… it’s kind of fading away in a fog.

And I’m not sure I care. Because at the same time I’m losing connections with that not-so-happy past, it sorta kinda frees me up to enjoy a much happier present. And it’s the things in front of me — the blue sky overhead, the warm temps today, the taste of my tea saturated with butter and honey (it’s completely awesome – you should try it sometime), and the feel of just having time OFF from the grind for a week and a half.

All the aches and pains of my day-to-day haven’t disappeared. In fact, they’re coming on pretty strong, now that I’ve started stretching and exercising more. It’s been tough getting to sleep with all the pain in my lower back going on. And I’ve been dizzy and off balance and have had these headaches… but what-ever. That’s not the only thing I have to pay attention to.

So, I don’t. I look elsewhere. And I can find so much more else to focus on. How amazing is that.

And I think about how incredible it is, that I was raised in a time when the main goal of educators and people who were sent to help others, was to get everybody in a central zone of ability — to bring the weaknesses up to snuff, and not focus so much on the strengths — just fix what was wrong, and leave the rest alone.

But now I’m living a life that’s focused on the strengths I have — making them better, and not letting the weaknesses dominate my life. We all have strengths and ways we can contribute in the world… we just get caught up in trying to fix the things that are wrong, and we end up having our lives revolve around them.

The thing about focusing only on all that’s WRONG in the world (and our individual lives), is that we can always find something that’s wrong. No doubt about it. But while we’re concentrating on what’s WRONG, we so often miss what’s RIGHT. And then we miss out on the chance to strengthen the good, while we’re chasing down the bad that never ever seems to end.

I’m feeling pretty fortunate, actually. Looking around, I can see a lot of my peers who have been held back by that old mindset we were raised with. So many of them are still caught up in negativity and trouble-shooting states of mind, while the good they have right in front of them is rarely seen and fully appreciated. A lot of people my age still think of themselves as deficient… chasing after accomplishments and trophies to smooth over their lingering sense of inadequacy and prove to themselves that they’re okay after all.

And I totally understand how and why they feel that way. I’ve been there, too. Especially me, who has so many things I can quickly and easily point at and say, “Ah ha! That’s messed up!”

I guess I just count myself as incredibly lucky that I don’t always feel that way anymore. Some days I do, but on the whole… it makes more sense to me to focus on the things I can change for the better and move ahead… instead of just running around filling up the divots on the proverbial golf course of my life.

Well, it’s all a process and a journey, and I may feel completely different tomorrow. For today, though… right now… I’m feeling pretty good, and I’m not going to wreck it by hunting down what might be wrong that needs fixing.

Onward.

Why wait till the New Year? Change for the better – now!

Let’s see what will hatch in 2015…

Like so many people, I am looking back at the past year, thinking about what’s gone right, what’s gone awry, and what I want to accomplish in the coming year.

I’ve had a very full year, with plenty of experiences (for good and ill), and I feel lucky to have come out on the other side in one piece. I’ve “course corrected” a number of things — including my poor exercise habits, the crappy job I used to have, I’ve cleaned up my diet a bit, and I’ve done a lot of work on my marriage to make it stronger. I’ve also figured some things out in my head that are really helping me get through.

I still feel pretty dull and slow at times — I can sense a difference between how fast I expect myself to go, and how fast my brain is actually moving. And I’ve come to terms with that and quit letting that make me crazy. I’ve also gotten better about focusing on what I want and getting on with the things I want to do, rather than putting them off till they are “perfect” and I understand 100% where they’re going.

My memory… I’m not sure if that’s getting better or worse, but if it’s getting worse, it’s not really impacting my ability to just live my life.

I’ve gotten a lot better about detecting when I’m not quite 100% and giving myself some more time to figure things out…. or simply abandoning things that aren’t going anywhere fast. I’ve backed away from a number of “friendships”, because the folks I was involved with are catch-as-catch-can, fair-weather friends who keep in touch whenever it suits them, not when I need them to.

The thing I’m liking about my New Year’s resolutions for this coming year, is that I’ve already started a lot of them. I’ve already taken some good steps towards some projects I want to complete in the coming months. I have a good foundation. I’m not waiting till 1/1/2015 to start down the path. I’m already headed down. And I think I found some good reading material to keep me motivated and increasingly educated.

It’s good.

So, here I am in the final days of 2014, very grateful for all that this past year has brought me. A needed job change. A shorter commute. The eradication of my massive debt. A fresh start, in so many ways.

Seems to me, the big undertaking for 2015 is to keep steady on, and make the most of what I’ve got — stay focused, keep reminding myself of what’s important, and move forward. Sure, I’ll slip back, now and then. That’s to be expected. But I am really on much firmer footing now, than I have been in a long, long time.

And the best part is — because I was in such dire straits before, now I really, truly appreciate it, like never before.

So, yes… onward.

 

 

Sweet life – very sweet

The weekend is working out well for me. I’m resting, and I’m also getting a lot of things done… one at a time. Without rushing and without making myself nuts.

I’ve got things pretty well planned out, so I can take them one step at a time, getting it all done in a systematic and calm manner.

I’ve also had time to kick back and relax and look at the big picture of my life… where I want to be in the next six months, the next year, and beyond. What kind of life i want. Where I would like to improve, and where I want to keep steady.

I’m feeling really positive, these days. Better than I have in the past few months. There’s a chance I’ll be able to connect with a neurologist who can help me with these headaches and all the other stuff that goes on with me.

It’s not horrific, but if I could get a little help dealing with my physical symptoms (which all exacerbate my thinking and behavioral issues), it might be nice.

Anyway, it’s a beautiful day, and I know a back road that has my name on it. Time for a nice long walk.