So, how can I incorporate this finding about gist reasoning in my own life?

Get it?

So, apparently, Gist Reasoning [is] Indicative of Daily Function in Traumatic Brain Injury. Check it out (bold emphasis is mine):

People with traumatic brain injury may have more difficulty with gist reasoning compared to traditional cognitive tests. This cognitive assessment may in turn be a clearer indicator of a person’s ability to succeed at a job or at home after injury.

A cognitive assessment developed by the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas, Dallas evaluates the number of gist-based ideas participants are able to extract from several complex texts. The test provides a more clear assessment of cognitive abilities for patients that are considered “normal” following traditional cognitive testing.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, included 70 adults aged 25 through 55, 30 of which had traumatic brain injury one year or longer prior to the study. The subjects went through a series of standard cognitive tests to assess memory, inhibition, and switching.

The group had similar IQ, reading comprehension, and speed of processing scores, however nearly 70% of the TBI subjects scored lower on gist reasoning than controls.  These decreased gist-reasoning scores correlated with self-reported difficulties at work and home. Additionally, cognitive tests alone predicted daily function with 45% accuracy, while the addition of gist-reasoning scores boosted accuracy to 58%.

The impairment of gist reasoning could reflect a loss of flexible and innovative thinking in patients with traumatic brain injury. 

Gist reasoning is the ability to “get the point” of something. It’s being able to extract the unimportant details from a narrative and figure out the salient / important / significant details… and the “get the gist” of the story.  It’s being able to look at a picture and tell what’s really going on — or what other people think is going on, so you can discuss with them.

Gist reasoning is turning out to be a better indicator of impairment after TBI / concussion, which is encouraging to me, because showing up for neuropsychological testing and being told, “Hey, you’re really smart in a lot of ways!” is hugely deflating when you’re struggling with day-to-day issues. Knowing you’re smart just rubs it in, and it makes you feel even more lame and damaged. But being able to measure gist reasoning and see that there’s significant impairment in that… now that’s something to sit up and pay attention to.

After reading about the Center for Brain Health’s published research on improving TBI recovery with certain types of brain training, I’m wondering how I can incorporate that into my own life and ongoing recovery.

My own test results, with two passes divided by 4-5 years of active rehab work, show that I’m way smart in some areas, but I struggle in a few respects. And in 5 of 6 areas of deficit, my deficits have not changed significantly. I guess that’s where Muriel Lezak would say I have not recovered.

On the other hand, the area where I have changed, is how well I’m living my life. And that’s what really matters to me. That, to me, is what recovery is all about, not reversing deficits which would probably change over the course of my life, anyway(!)

I can still tell I’m slower than before. I can still tell I struggle with many things, including fatigue and irritability and fogginess. But these things aren’t wrecking me, the way they used to.

I still need to work at things on a daily basis. And I need help, here and there — although I’ve learned how to behave in a way that doesn’t look like I’m disabled and in need of assistance. I still struggle with things that “should” be easy for me, but haven’t gotten that way — if anything, some of them have gotten harder. Getting going on things can be a huge challenge, when I’m not motivated. And stopping things that I need to stop, to do other things I need to do (like stopping surfing the web in the morning so I can get to work on time), is as hard as ever — maybe harder. My memory is still Swiss-cheesey — especially when I’m tired. And although my temper has calmed down immensely in the past 7 years, I still have my moments, when I just Go Off the rails. Likewise with emotions like sadness and  despair.  I generally keep those in check, because I can go down a rabbit hole that is terribly difficult to pull out of.

I think those times when I am less effective, are when I am overwhelmed by everything that seems important. And I think — from just a cursory reading of literature — that has to do with my “gist reasoning”, or my ability to pick out the salient / important / significant details from a situation and focus on them.

I’ve been doing a bunch of online research about the SMART training that the Center for Brain Health does, and I found that they’ve actually patented it (thank you Google patent search). If this is indeed intellectual property, and it’s controlled by them, then it’s more valuable to them in terms of money and quality control, than it is to the general populace.

And telling everyone Woo Hoo! You Can Recover From TBI With Our System! … only to say, “Oh yeah, it’s proprietary… but you can visit us and get training here — or at another one of our approved affiliates”… well, now I’m less elated.

Yes, it’s hugely encouraging and motivating to see their research that it’s possible. The thing is, it’s equally out of reach. I am not within easy striking distance of Dallas, TX, nor do I have the time and the money to take 8 weeks to retrain myself on the Strategic Memory and Reasoning Training© (SMART©) program.

Oh, well.

Not that this is going to stop me trying to employ their techniques, however. I’m crafty that way, and because I’ve always been on the fringes of the medical/rehab establishment (first because of lack of information in the world I grew up in, and later due to lack of money and resources and my diminished ability to communicate with healthcare providers, thanks to a slew of unaddressed issues)… I’ve had to take a lot of my recovery into my own hands.

Of course, it helps to have access to a competent neuropsychologist to consult with on a weekly basis, but even they are a bit flabbergasted at my recovery. They say they’ve “never seen anything like it.” Woot.

So, yeah. I think I’ve got an approach that works for me – and it may work for others.

I’m going to be doing more research over the coming week and see if I can’t come up with some practice exercises for myself and others to use to improve gist reasoning. I mean, how hard can it be? It seems really fundamental to me — it’s just been hidden behind all the Wizard Of Oz machinery of the medical establishment. Hidden in plain view, all this time.

How can I improve my gist reasoning? How can I strengthen my ability to screen out what doesn’t matter, in favor of what does — and move forward?

Figuring this out — I believe — will help me prioritize my activities better, help me determine the things that matter and the things that don’t, and help me stop wasting so much time on chasing distractions for the sake of distraction. I have a handful of projects I need to finish, and I’m hoping this will help me do just that.

This is going to be interesting.



Watch… and learn

Watching what happens

I’m having a strange morning. I got up a little later than usual, and I worked out — got in my five mile bike ride and did some stretching. My spouse woke up nervous and started to pull on my attention, which got me a little pissed off. I needed to concentrate, I hadn’t had my coffee yet, and they kept talking to me and asking me questions and haggling with me over various things, like what to eat for supper, what we’re going to do later for shopping, and how we’re going to manage our day. They’ve got a business thing they’re doing tomorrow afternoon, and I’m helping them with it. That will get me out of the house and give me some time to go do other things while they’re having their meeting. So, we have a fully weekend ahead of us, and they’re anxious. So am I. I hate to admit it, but I’m quite anxious about the prospect of spending a lot of time with them over the next two days. I really don’t want to do all of it. I want to just move at my own pace and not be pressured. I don’t want to deal with crowds and stores and all of that. It’s overwhelming, and it gets to be too much for me during Christmas shopping season. But it’s all got to get done. So, I’ll do it. I’ll do it, and be done with it. And try to have a good time, in the meantime. Keep my sense of humor. Not take things to heart. Keep it light. And watch my sh*t. I noticed that I was getting really bent out of shape with my spouse — I was getting very tense and irritable and starting to do little things to provoke them. Not good. It was not helping.  So, I backed it off and changed the subject. I told a joke. I quit doing those little things that I know bother them. I got a grip and extracted myself from the conversation before it escalated — as it so often does — into a full-blown argument that throws us both off for the rest of the day… sometimes longer. Backing off works. So does taking a close look at how things are happening with me… to make sure I don’t fly off the deep end and dig us deeper into a hole of antagonism and anger. The good news is, it worked. Backing off and changing the subject and making a joke, all really helped to diffuse the tension. And we are back on track to having a nice day together, without all the drama and agitation. If I can pay attention to what’s happening with me and modulate my behavior and responses, so much the better. I’ve been doing better about that, lately. Part of the impetus is that I’ve been mentioning my behavior issues to my healthcare providers, and they are all looking at me with that “meds” look in their eye. I don’t want to go on meds. I have nothing against other people using them. But I don’t want to have to take pills to keep myself on track. Sometimes they are medically necessary. I don’t believe they are for me. Or maybe they are, and I’m just digging in my heels and resisting the inevitable. I’ve never been comfortable with drugs — even when I was drinking heavily and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, I wasn’t into drugs. They make me feel weird and off, and they mess up my head. So, no thanks. But if I become a danger to myself and others because of my volatility and aggression, then someone may put me on something. And I don’t want that. Because taking a pill for something makes it possible for me to live my life without developing the skills I need, in and of myself. If I have attentional problems, I want to solve them by developing my innate ability to attend to things. If I have cognitive issues, I want to develop my brain and my thinking techniques to improve. I believe that a whole lot can be achieved by developing the human system — the one we already have — and drugs distance us from that possibility. They relieve us of the duty to do so, as well as the impetus to change. We can take a pill and be done with it. No more work needed, other than remembering to take your meds. I’m oversimplifying, I know. There are many, many people who cannot help themselves or who just need meds to keep things sorted. And I’m really glad they have that option. For me, I’m just more comfortable working on things myself. That way, I won’t be dependent on insurance to get me my medications. And I have more freedom of choice about what I do for work and what benefits I need. I am fiercely independent, and it makes me really nervous to depend on anyone for anything.  Self-sufficiency is the way for me. Like I said, everyone has their own way of doing things, and I have no problem with people doing things differently. Whatever works for you… I’ve got no argument against it. And I reserve the right to keep my independence and improve where I can, as best I can. I watch. I learn. I adjust and fix what appears to be “wrong”. And I move on. Life goes on. Yes, it certainly does. Onward.

Reset NOW

I just came across this video – pretty inspiring

No matter what people may offer you, if it means you have to sacrifice yourself or abandon your convictions, no way no how is it worth it.

Back from my trip to see my family, I am reminded yet again of why I left. The price of admission to the community my family is part of, is way too high. You have to abandon your individuality to be part of a larger group, and that doesn’t sit right with me. My siblings have all pretty much kept the continuity going, living their lives as my parents expected them to — with a few minor exceptions, here and there. I’m the black sheep. I have broken out. And looking at how things have developed, back there, I’m so thankful I stepped away when I did, and managed to keep my individuality intact.

My family and their community have specific ways of doing things that they believe are correct and right. Everything from how you tend your garden, to how you maintain your home, to how you walk and talk, and when you light the first wood fire of the year, are watched and commented upon by the neighbors. Almost every aspect of life is dictated by a combination of religion and tradition, and those who “buck the system” are not welcome. Tolerated, but not warmly welcomed.

And while that rigidity gives them a sense of continuity and comfort, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for growth and positive change — unless that growth and positive change is part of their world view.

If there is a problem in front of them that can’t be solved by the same old thinking, then that problem stays stuck.

Like the problem of the hoarder in the family that nobody ever talked about. And nobody could ever help.

Hoarding is a complex issue, and it has a lot of different aspects and causes. There’s the perfectionism, the personalization of objects, the inability to let things go, because of the emotional connection to them, the inability to see a problem (on the part of the hoarder), and the inability to creatively think about options and choices for how to live differently.

I never realized, till this last weekend, just how badly off “our hoarder” was. Nobody ever talked about it in depth, nobody ever took steps to address it directly. The standard response was through prayer and support and trying to talk sense into the hoarder — and to model a better way to be.

Nobody ever addressed the neurological issues they had — which are obvious and several — and nobody ever addressed this in a systematic, scientific way.

What a friggin’ waste of a life. “Our hoarder” is well into their 70’s, and they have lived in the midst of their own filth for some 30 years. And I never fully realized the extent of the issues. Had I known, I might have been able to do something. But now the past is done. The wrecked house has been cleaned out. And “our hoarder” is in a retirement home, where it is literally impossible for them to collect any more crap or allow their space to become trashed. Cleaning folks come in every week like clockwork. So, with any luck, the will get the help they needed all along.

30 years have gone by, leading up to this moment, and my relative has lived in their squalor all that time, unbeknownst to me. I have never been in a position to actually help them before, because I had so many issues of my own. And now that I am on my feet again with a much more robust set of tools and skills, I am in a position to help. But their situation has changed, and help with that part of their life isn’t necessarily needed anymore. At least from me.

There is literally only so much I can do for my own family. They are set in their ways, and I’m not sure they will be able to change. Outside my own family, however, I can do some things. Like living my life to the fullest, showing others how hope is possible, and keeping the faith each day in my own way.  I can reach out when and where it’s possible, and hope that I have a positive influence. I wish it were possible for my own family, but sometimes it’s just not possible.

So, I do what I can, where and when and how I can. And do my best to not take responsibility for others’ choices and actions.

You can’t save everyone.

But you can save yourself.

And it’s time for a little reset in my life — to take what I’ve learned from the past week, and put it into positive action in my present and coming weeks, months, and years. I need to sleep… and hope that my system will “integrate” the info from the past days into something useful in the future.

No sense in letting all the lessons go to waste, right?

Okay, time for a nap.

Fine when I get there

In praise of stillness
Peace be with you.

So, I’m back from my trip to see my family. My grandparent has not yet passed away, and I got to say good-bye to them while they still recognized me, so that is a real blessing.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that. It’s deeply personal, and I don’t have words to express everything I’m feeling.

What I will talk about, is how things turned around once I was there. It can be so difficult for me to get going with new undertakings — including making a sudden trip to go see my family during an emergency. And it was so difficult for me to let to of the reins on my projects at work, so other could step in and pick up the slack during the final days before these deadlines. It’s a tough one, to A) of all get my head around everything that is going on, put it in some semblance of order, and B) communicate what needs to be done to people who are helping. I’ll head into work early tomorrow to get a jump on the week.

I’ve got some additional work to do today, connecting with my siblings about the situation and next steps. And resting up from the trip. It was pretty grueling — a lot of driving, a lot of dealing with people’s “stuff”, a lot of food that bears no resemblance to what I choose to eat on a daily basis. It’s the world I left behind… and I left it for a reason. So going back to deal with folks when they are arguably at their worst, and I am certainly not at my best… that’s a real learning experience.

But in the end, that’s what it all is — it is all a learning experience, and as long as I continue to look at it that way, there can’t be anything wrong (or even right) about what I’m choosing, what I’m doing, what I’m going through. So long as I keep going and continue to learn and grow, what can be wrong?

It’s the giving up that’s wrong. It’s the quitting that’s wrong. And now that I have tools and skills built up from the past years of active TBI recovery, I don’t have to quit anymore. Once upon a time, that’s almost all I did — start, and then quit.

Not now. Not anymore.

So, today being Sunday, it’s a day of Rest. Thank God we moved our clocks back, so I get an extra hour today. Good timing. I got a bunch of chores done last week before we left, so I wouldn’t have to worry about them when I got back, so my day is all clear of any regular requirements  — except getting dinner. I’ll need to go get that. But I need to get out in the day, so no biggie.

The main thing, is to really take good care of myself today. Countless times, when I have pushed myself to overcome challenges, I’ve worn myself out and ended up really shredding my most important relationships with the aftermath — when all has settled down, and I’m starting to get some strength back and I’m not just on autopilot, my system backfires, and I end up flipping out over every little thing, saying things I can’t take back, and basically being a terror to everyone around me.

I do NOT want that to happen to me over the next week. It’s going to be grueling, with work being extremely pressurized over deadlines for the next two weeks, and some pretty significant projects that are coming down to the wire.

So, I’m going to do the following to make my life easier and improve my chances of success:

  • Make lists, so I don’t have to think about things.
  • Pace myself – keep an eye on my schedule, give myself extra time to do complicated things, and jettison some of the pointless “recreational” things I don’t need to bother with.
  • Get plenty of rest – sleep when I can and take frequent breaks.
  • Get more exercise – to keep the lymph moving and loosen up my stiff, painful, creaky bones, after all that driving and sitting.
  • Drink plenty of water – practically flood my system, in fact. Flush it out and get the junk moving through and OUT.
  • Do the things I know are good for me, and avoid the things I know are bad for me. Enough said.

So, I have a plan. After I finish my coffee and check my email, I’m going back to bed. I’ll get up this afternoon to check in with my parents and talk to my siblings. I really need to pace myself, today — and all this week and beyond. It’s bad enough when sad things happen, but mismanaging myself just makes matters worse.

The main thing is, keeping my head on straight and not getting all freaked out over anxiety and fear about what I may or may not do properly. The most difficult part of the trip down, was all the uncertainty, and not knowing if I’d be able to handle myself well, in the face of death and sadness and tragedy. But once I was in the midst of everything, I was actually fine. The added demands really pushed me to step up — and step up, I did.

The most significant danger is actually not when things are getting tough — it’s before, and then after. Before, I am anxious and have no idea what’s to come, exactly. After, I am dog-tired and am short on impulse control and emotional management abilities. In the thick of things, I’m actually fine. It’s getting there — and out again in one piece — that’s the problem.

On the bright side, it’s a really nice fall day, overcast and moody and perfect for resting and relaxing and reflecting. I’m back in my own home, sleeping in my own bed, and I get an extra hour to rest today. I think I’m going to do some reading… pull out some of the books I haven’t had a chance to read, poke around a bit… and just settle in for a long day of good rest.

I really am very fortunate.

Crushing. Just crushing. And yet…

The week ahead of me is one of those one-foot-in-front-of-the-other types of weeks. I can’t think too much about things, because inside my head, it’s a swirling mass of panic, rage, fear, anxiety, frustration, and a whole lot of other stuff that has no business coming to the surface.

I’m working my ass off, keeping positive and moving forward. It is a herculean effort, and when I think about how f*cking hard I have to work, to keep myself on track, I’m actually really proud of myself.

Because how things are on the outside is nothing like how they are on the inside.

And to all appearances, I’m succeeding, I’m doing well, I’m holding my act together.

While inside, I’m absolutely dying — or bordering on aggressive rage.

One thing that TBI has taught me, is how to not get sucked into the turmoil that seethes beneath the surface. There is *always* turmoil beneath the surface with me. I walk around looking quite calm and collected, while inside I’m anything but that. I know the chaos is there. It’s like having a Tasmanian devil creature living in a sound-proofed back room of my house. From the street, you can’t see it, you can’t hear it, and you’d never know it’s there. But inside my house, I know it’s there. And even though I can’t hear it tearing around shrieking and howling and slamming into the walls, I can still feel the thud-thud-thud of the creature throwing itself around.

It’s there. I’m not sure it’s every going to go away. And yet, I don’t have to let it out of its room. I don’t have to let it into the rest of the house. I can live my life, sliding food under the door now and then to keep it satiated and a little calmed down. I can go about my business, taking care of that side of me, to make sure it doesn’t get too wild, too out of control. I know it’s there. I’m not sure it’s ever going to go away. The confusion, frustration, fear, anxiety, panic, anger…

Whatever. I have a life to live, and I have tools in place to keep me balanced and steady, no matter what.

In a way, learning to manage my own internal state is helping me manage my external state. It’s pretty depressing, sometimes, thinking that this crap may never go away. But when does it ever — for anyone? We all have to deal with it. We all have to handle it.

It’s crushing. It’s demanding. It sometimes feels like too much.

Then I realize there’s more to the picture. There’s the amazingly beautiful weather today. There’s the wonderful day I spent with my spouse, yesterday. There’s the camaraderie of my coworkers waiting for me. There’s the calm I feel as I settle in for a good night’s sleep on the weekend, when I don’t need to set my alarm. There’s all the amazing beauty and inspiration I find from so much of life.

Yes, it can be crushing. And yet… there is more.

After TBI you’re still human

And you still have the same types of interests and desires and needs that you had before your injury/-ies.

You want to be fully engaged. You want to be involved in your life. You want to have hopes and dreams and to follow those hopes and dreams.

Why should any of that change after TBI? Some days, it’s like the world just expects you to stop being interested in the things that mean the most to you — to anyone. Like it should be so easy to let go of the old ways that were so familiar and made you “you“. And you’re just expected to do it. To adjust. To deal with it and move on.

This is something I really struggle with on a regular basis. It’s bad enough that I have to deal with the confusion and disorientation and not feeling quite “here”, half the time. It’s bad enough that I have to think through every friggin’ thing that used to come so easily to me, lest I get hurt or screw something up. It’s bad enough that everything feels like such a CHORE, and even the fun things are hard for me to do, sometimes.

But through all this, I’m expected to do it without any recognition or support. That just sux.

Even my neuropsych isn’t much help to me in this respect, because comparatively speaking, I’m not nearly as “bad” as their other patients. I’m high-functioning. My IQ is still up there. I have a good job and a house and all the trappings of modern success. I’m in a stable marriage of 23 years. I have a bank account and a plan for how to live my life.

What could possibly be wrong?

Yeah, well, I’ll spare you the details. The bottom line is, half the time I feel like crap. I don’t feel like myself. I can’t recognize the person who’s walking around in my shoes, wearing my clothes, doing my job, driving my commuter car to and from work each day, running errands on the weekend. Who IS this person, and how did they get in my life?

Addressing this is so difficult for me. I rarely bring it up with my neuropsych, because they don’t really seem to think it’s that big of a deal, and they don’t seem to think it should impact me. After all, compared to their other patients, I’m doing grand.

Oh, except for flirting with danger on a regular basis, and being totally oblivious to what all could go wrong in an instant.

To be truthful, I have not discussed everything with my neuropsych that I could. Over the years, there have been a lot of things I haven’t brought up, because they are way too upsetting for me, and it’s more important to me that I have a regular conversation with a regular person and be able to relax, instead of plunging into that infinite, bottomless black abyss that takes me over when the emotions run too high. I have to stay functional. I have to hold my sh*t together. I can’t be sitting around spilling my guts, and then getting so freaked out and upset that I can’t even see or walk straight. My neuropsych has seen me overwrought a handful of times, and they don’t seem to understand what all is going on with me. They got exasperated, as though I were not trying.

So, I just don’t go there with them. I keep things positive and talk about the progress I’m making. I don’t have many words to explain the way it feels inside. Plus, when I get to their office, I’m ALL THERE, and nothing else outside the office exists. There are so many pieces of my life that feel like a shambles to me, even though on the surface they look good and they are holding, I don’t have much hope that a strong wind wouldn’t blow them all down. In all honesty, I’m not even sure how they’re holding together. They just are. I’m just lucky, in so many ways.

That, and people are so consumed with their own lives, they don’t notice the chinks in my armor.

It all just feels so precarious.

And it’s a strain. Because I want to have a life I can be proud of. I want a life I actually feel like I choose, and I’m involved in, not just one that other people tell me I should have, so I go ahead and go for it.

So much of my life has been about just getting by… because I was the only one who could see what kind of crap I had to deal with inside. And nobody seemed to take seriously the challenges I had to overcome on a regular basis.

Oh well. I’m still here, and I still have my hopes and dreams to follow. I’m still a human being with my fair share of challenges, and I can’t lose sight of that. It’s all a massive discovery process, and in the meantime I might just learn a useful thing or two.

So long as I don’t get myself killed, chasing danger and risk, to remind myself that I’m alive.

I didn’t fail. I just got tired.

So much depends on your outlook

I had a revelation this morning, as I was waking up. In the space of a few seconds, it turned an imagined failure into a chance for long-term success.

It was the realization that when I started to lose my temper with my spouse last night, it wasn’t a sign that I was failing at my attempts to be more level-headed and calm, no matter what the situation. It was a clear sign that I was tired, and that my brain needed sleep.

I have been working on being more level-headed — no matter what the situation. This is a lifelong pursuit, actually. I saw the need for it, when I was a teenager and a young adult… as an adult in the working world… and it continues to be important to me. It’s not that I want everything to be perfect for me all the time and give me no trouble. What I want, is to be able to handle my circumstances, be okay with them (within reason), and make the best of any situation’s opportunities, no matter now “bad” it may look at the time.

I have had some good success with this approach over the years. After all, I have seen the ill-effects NOT having a level head in challenging circumstances, and the results are rarely pretty. I have had plenty of opportunity to witness this in the people around me — in my family, especially, when my parents could not hold it together with one of my “problematic” (that is — drug-addicted, alcoholic, sleeping-with-anything-that-moved, drug-dealing) siblings. It was bad enough that my sibling had all those problems (which were signs of something far deeper going on with them). But my parents could not maintain their composure or clarity of thought when it came to my sibling, so that made a bad situation even worse.

I’m not judging my parents — they were not equipped to handle it, and we lived in an area where any problem with kids was a reflection on the parents, so they went from being respected members of society to being “those people” who everybody handled very gingerly.

Anyway, I’ve seen many examples in my own life, where keeping a level head and a calm demeanor helped me through tough times. I actually credit my many TBIs (I’ve had 9+) with helping me with this, because they slowed down my processing speed. When your processing speed is slowed down, it makes it pretty difficult to get on the same wavelength with everybody else… and in case you haven’t noticed, being on the same wavelength as everybody else leaves a lot to be desired.

Everybody gets so worked up over things. But when you’re not thinking as quickly as everyone else, you can’t jump to the same conclusions and get to those snap judgments that can send you careening into HOLY SH*T WHAT THE F*CK land. Everybody else is freaking out — oftentimes about something that isn’t worth freaking out about — and you’re still trying to figure out what just happened…

So, if you think about it, slower processing speed isn’t always a bad thing. And equanimity… peace of mind… level-headedness in the face of a crisis is a definite advantage. Especially when everybody else’s “normal-fast” thinking is vectoring off in a really unproductive direction.

Anyway, that’s one half of the story. The other half of it is less cheery — that’s the aspect of my thinking that is WAY more reactive than others’. It’s the instant-freak-out part of my experience that has made me nuts for years. At an instant’s notice, I’ll suddenly FREAK OUT over something. It can be a dropped spoon, or a missed channel that I’m trying to change with the clicker, or something my spouse says or does that rubs me the wrong way.

When things go haywire in my head, they go really haywire. There’s no middle ground. Everything goes nuts. I know I’m being unreasonable, I know I’m being crazy, I know there is no logical reason for me to be freaking out, but it’s happening anyway. And it’s never good for anyone. I’ve lost more relationships than I can say, because of this. That includes a really good job I lost in 2005 after my TBI in 2004.

People are afraid of me, when I start to get agitated and aggressive — which may have to do with me, or may have to do with them. I don’t want to give anyone any reason to be afraid of me. It’s counter-productive. And it hurts everyone involved.

So, there’s all the more reason to keep tabs on myself and foster a calm demeanor, a cool head, and a self-possessed state of mind. And with that goal in mind, I have pursued a number of different practices and philosophies that might help me with that. I have worked on practices that emphasize acceptance, calmness, not reacting to things around me, and philosophies that teach about how transitory life is, and how important it is for us to understand what we can and cannot change, and not make ourselves nuts trying to alter things that can’t be changed.

Like the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.

This has been a very powerful concept in my life, and I have it displayed in my kitchen where I will see it each morning when I get up and make my coffee.

Along the way, I have had many surges in interest in deepening this practice — in really getting to a place where I can make peace with the things I cannot change, and make the most of the opportunities that are hidden there. I’m a big believer that some of our worst hurdles and challenges offer us the greatest rewards — and when we resist those challenges, we miss out on the chance to become bigger and better than ever before.

Some things I can accept and work with — political changes, cultural changes, relocations from one area to the next, and small-scale changes at work. Other changes I have a harder time with — job changes, especially. The ones that make me the craziest are the ones I feel like I cannot understand or control — or that go off in a direction that is completely different from the direction I see myself headed.

Other things I cannot seem to accept, are the foolishness of others — the stinkin’ thinkin’ that my spouse indulges in, their constant anxiety, their devotion to drama, their bad habit of telling everyone exactly what they want to hear instead of the constructive truth. I have trouble with the attitudes of people at work, who can be cliquish and juvenile. I have trouble with the judgment of Management at work, when their decisions seem counter-productive and get in the way of us doing our work. My siblings also depress the sh*t out of me, with their choices and their prejudices and their holier-than-thou attitude. My parents are a little easier to deal with, because they are many hours away, and I don’t see them that often.

It’s the people who are closest to me, who I have the greatest investment in, that get me with their unhealthy habits of thought and action, their outlooks, their attitudes, and their behavior that seems to serve no useful purpose, other than to make them feel good about themselves — at the expense of everyone else.

The thing is, their behaviors and beliefs and actions have almost nothing to do with me. Even my spouse’s bad habits have more to do with them, than with me — no matter how much they may blame me for their anxiety. I am making myself unhappy over things that are far beyond my control, and it’s not helping me at all.

So, there is all the more incentive for me to calm myself down, not react to what they are doing, and step back and look at them and everything from a distance.

I have found some philosophies and outlooks that can help me do that, and I have pursued them eagerly, on and off, over the years. The thing is, I get to a certain point, then everything falls apart. My equanimity dissolves. I melt down, inside my head and heart. My temper explodes. And I end up feeling worse off than when I started. I feel like I’m back to Square 1, without having made any progress at all.

But in fact, I have made progress. My meltdowns and explosions do not mean that I have utterly failed at learning a new way of thinking and being and relating to others. They do mean that my brain has been working hard, so it is tired. And I need to rest it.

Because changing yourself and your brain and your patterns of thought and action and attitude is hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight. And the fact that I am getting frayed and losing it, actually means that I am making progress — I just need to take a break, rest up, learn what I can about what sets me off, and resume learning again, once I am rested.

This realization is just what I’ve been needing — for a long, long time. Getting frayed at 10 p.m. over someone being a pain in my ass is NOT a sign that I’m failing. It’s a sign that I’ve been working hard all day at changing my mind and my brain, and that it’s time to rest. It’s not a condemnation — it’s a diagnostic tool. And far from being an indication of my inferiority, it’s evidence that I’m actually making progress.

The simple fact is, I’m a brain-injured human being. If you think about it, there are a lot of people who are injured in one way or another, and we are all working our way through the maze called life, trying to find a better way to live. And because of my injuries, because of my history of experiences, my individual makeup, and all the different things that have made me what I am today, I have certain limitations I need to be mindful of and accommodate, so I can work around them and not let them get to me.

Fatigue and the irritability that comes from being tired are a couple of those limitations. So is:

  • a sharp tongue — over little things
  • a hot temper — at an instant’s notice
  • slower processing speed than one would expect
  • the almost constant pain that I’ve become resigned to living with, the rest of my born days
  • perpetual, never-ending tinnitus
  • light-sensitivity
  • noise-sensitivity

And so on.

It’s not that my life is awful. It’s pretty sweet, to tell the truth. I just need to be aware of these issues, not forget them — or when I do forget them, find a way to remember that the things I’m doing and saying are about my brain injury, NOT about my character.

So, there is hope. There always is, so long as I don’t give up.

And speaking of not giving up, I’m going to get ready for work and get into my day, knowing that I didn’t fail last night, when I got cross with my spouse. I was just tired, and no animals were hurt in the filming of that movie.



The magic koosh ball

When it comes to TBI/concussion recovery, we are so very often on our own.

We frequently don’t get the rehab help we need because:

  1. we don’t realize we need it
  2. we under-report our symptoms so they go unaddressed
  3. the people around us don’t recognize the signs
  4. our medical care providers don’t have a clue
  5. long-term options for ongoing treatment aren’t always great
  6. different sorts of therapy can’t go on as long as we need them (insurance won’t pay)

Now, most of us reading this know that. What we don’t always know is what to do about it.

I have found a number of “occupational therapy” (OT) solutions for myself that — in addition to getting regular feedback from a trusted source — have really moved me ahead in my life. They are simple, they address basic issues I have (but nobody realizes this, or they think I “shouldn’t” have), and they are practical — and fun — things I can do for myself, each day, to get myself on the good foot.

Some of these things are:

  • Making lists of what I need to do — especially things that I do regularly, that I screw up regularly, like get out of bed and get ready for work each day. When I started my TBI recovery process, just getting from the bed to the office each day was a bit of a gauntlet. I began using a list of all the things I needed to do — in the order that I needed to do them — and it solved a lot of issues for me. Things as simple as the order in which I brushed my teeth, showered and shampooed, got all jumbled up, and I spent way too much time thinking about “what comes next?” to have a very relaxing morning. A list of the most basic activities solved that for me. Even though people around me said having a list was too “remedial” for me — I knew it wasn’t. It truly helped me.
  • Cooking — breakfast and dinner. Again, this is about doing things in order at the right time. I have been the main cook of the house for years — ever since my spouse got seriously ill in 2007 and could not function as well as they used to. I started my TBI recovery about a year after that, when I realized that there was something very wrong with how things were fitting together in my head. Cooking helped me with organization, and timing things out. It also helped me with my emotional regulation. Years ago, if I was in the kitchen, nobody could talk to me because it would throw me off and I would mess up what I was doing. It’s been several years, since that stopped. Now I can have a conversation while I am cooking, most of the time. And when I can’t, I now know enough to say I can’t talk now, but can later.
  • Dual N-Back training — helps with response times and short-term working memory. It helps me think more “fluidly”, and it helps me follow conversations better. It also helps me interact with others more easily — and I am noticing this after only a week’s worth of work — so that is a huge help to me socially and in general. It gives me more confidence, it improves my self-image, and with my Brain Workshop program, which I have on my computer, I can do it whenever I like, without needing to be on the internet. I also have one for my smartphone, and I need to get one for my tablet, so I have it on the go, as well. It has really helped me, and I keep doing it each day.
  • Juggling — this is also a new one for me, which is a welcome addition to my daily routines. It helps me with
    • eye-hand coordination
    • timing
    • being able to pick up quickly after mistakes and move on without getting bent out of shape
    • dealing with frustration — not getting so upset over disruptions
    • physical stamina
    • left-side abilities
    • left-and-right-side coordination
    • sustained focus
    • resistance to distraction

    Probably more than anything, juggling has helped me gain a new balance and poise in my outlook and abilities. After just a couple of weeks of training, I am really enjoying it AND I am seeing the benefits in my outlook and my fluidity. It is helping me to keep calm in situations which normally fluster me, and that did wonders for me at my interview — which turned out successful on every single count. Six out of six people want me to join the company, and that’s a great testament to the power of just some simple exercises I do for fun and conditioning.

These four things are all DIY — Do It Yourself. They are also either free or extremely low cost, and some of them are part of everyday living — like cooking and making lists.

The one thing that determines the success of these approaches, I believe, is motivation and consistency. You have to do them, and you have to keep at them. You can’t just do them now and then, and take a long break to do something else. You have to really commit to them — like anything important — and be willing to learn the lessons they teach.

That commitment to work and to steady improvement — more than anything — is probably the biggest ingredient in all of this. Without that, none of these DIY techniques would work. In fact, it’s probably even true that just about any activity in the course of the day-to-day can be DIY TBI OT.

But juggling is a fun break.

And dual n-back has specific things it trains in your brain.

So these are good foundations to get the brain rewired in a positive direction.






TBI Anger Hack – from has a great piece on 5 Brain Hacks That Give You Mind-Blowing Powers. The title is a bit overblown, but it hooked me, so I picked up some tricks… and found this useful piece of info. I’m going to add it to my collection of lifehacks to deal better with all the crap that gets sent my way. The principle is the same as with intermittent fasting — which helps me with my self-discipline and helps me learn to better manage my internal state when I’m just a little stressed. Here’s what they have:

#2. Control Anger by Using Your Less-Dominant Hand

Hemera Technologies/

Everyone knows at least one guy who hulks out over the stupidest things — a messed up coffee order, a red light, global warming. Usually these people are just harmless joke fodder until they road rage on an elderly person over a politically charged bumper sticker. If you don’t know one of these people, consider that it might be you.

Of course, there are all these tricks that your mom taught you that are supposed to calm you down (“Stop and count to 10!”), which of course don’t work because in the moment you’re enraged, you can’t think logically anyway. What you need is to beef up your anger defenses before it gets to that point.

Hemera Technologies/
“Somebody stop me before I rob a sperm bank and make this town disgusting.”

The Hack:

This one comes from the University of New South Wales, who found the perfect anger-management trick, and it wasn’t cool jazz music or playful kittens wearing sunglasses. People who had anger issues were asked to spend two weeks using their non-dominant hand for anything that wouldn’t endanger anyone: opening and slamming doors, writing hate mail, pouring coffee, and other dirty activities that are now crossing your mind. After two weeks, the subjects could control their temper tantrums better, even when other participants deliberately insulted them to get a reaction.

Why would this possibly work? Well, looking at angry people under brain scans shows that outbursts are less about too much anger and more about depleted self-control. That’s both good news and bad news. The bad news is that self-control is a finite thing, and you can run out of it. The good news is that it’s a physical mechanism of how your brain works, and you can strengthen it (or hack it into working better).

Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images
“Fudge you, mother lover!”

Now, you’d assume that the only way to do that would be some kind of meditation or long classes in anger management. Or maybe to pay somebody to make an annoying noise in your ear for hours at a time and slowly decreasing the frequency with which you punch them in the head. But it turns out it doesn’t take anything like that — just asking these people to use their clumsy hand to do everyday tasks forced them to deal with hundreds of tiny, totally manageable moments of frustration. But that was enough to make them somewhat immune to it.

So, when things got ugly, suddenly they found that the walls around their internal anger demon were stronger. And it’s probably also calming to know that if things get so bad that a gunfight breaks out, you’re now capable of dual-wielding that shit.

BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images
“Oh, hey, you are totally correct. The grass is indeed purple. My mistake.”

Breaking my fast

I get to eat the good stuff again

I had a good fasting day yesterday. I managed to get through the entire day without blowing up. I got a little frayed, at a couple points, and I got pretty revved over some things. But then when I stepped away from the situations, I was able to calm myself down and chill.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes for me — removing myself from the tense situation (if I can) and chilling out. I check Facebook or look at my email or I read one of the books I’m working on.

Part of my irritability was fatigue-related. I only got 5-1/2 hours of sleep the night before. I just woke up at 5:30 and I was awake. I didn’t feel really tired or out of it. I was just awake. So, I got up and got on with my day. I lay down later and took what was supposed to be a 1-1/2 hour nap, but I slept through my alarm and my spouse woke me up an hour later. So, I added 2-1/2 hours to my sleep quota. And I even got to bed before midnight last night. too.

Breaking my fast was interesting. I was starving by the time I had supper at 7 p.m., but I didn’t go wild with stuffing myself with all sorts of junk. I had a decent sized dinner with meat and starch and vegetables, then I had a piece of chocolate, a natural fruit popsicle, and some frozen cherries. I’m finding that frozen fruit really does the trick for me, as a snack. It’s not full of processed sugar, and since it’s frozen, it takes a little “doing” to eat it. It’s not like I’m just pushing cheap carbs into my face. I’m actually consciously having a snack — that starts out too cold to eat (I’m very sensitive to cold)… then it melts gradually, and I can slowly eat it. Not only does the slow pace curb my hunger, but it also gives me something to do with myself and my attention while I’m snacking.

I did quite well with breaking my fast, and I’m very happy about it. I’m even happier that I didn’t spend the day in emotional turmoil, the way I did, last time I fasted. The last time I fasted, I felt like a raving lunatic all day, and all I could think about was when I was going to get to eat next.

Yesterday, though, I kept it together pretty well. And I had a lot of energy. It was intense, focused energy that makes me feel a bit like the posters I see of Bruce Lee — coiled, intent, and ready to spring into action. This kind of energy makes my spouse nervous, and they switch to “high alert” when I get that way — even if I’m not going to do anything frightening, they are still on alert around me.

I probably need to learn how to manage my energy levels when they are that high, and that intense. I know I can get pretty revved at times, and I don’t always handle myself well. I fly off the handle, I say and do things that I regret later. Fortunately, I didn’t act on anything yesterday.

And that’s good. Because last night there was a situation that could have gotten out of hand, had I given in to the impulse that came up in me. I was in heavy rush-hour traffic, and some a-hole was riding my ass for a ways. I pulled into the right lane to let them pass, and they pulled up beside me. Then they came over on me, like the were trying to push me off the road. I honked and fell back and let them get ahead of me, and I put my brights on, so they would get the message that I was not pleased. And then they turned off to the right into a parking lot.

At the time, I wanted to follow them into the parking lot, pull out my jack, and break out their headlights, smash their windshield and beat them senseless. Insane, right? Well, it’s one thing to think it — lots of people do. But last night, I did NOT do that. I wasn’t even close to doing it, as I just let that thought come up… and then disappear. I did not follow the thought, and I did not follow that person into the parking lot and I did NOT assault them. Not even close. The idea came up, and I let it go.

This is progress. Just a few weeks ago, I got into a verbal confrontation with a police officer for legitimately pulling me over. They had every right to pull me over, and they were actually really decent with me, giving me just a verbal warning. This time, I had every right to be angered by the behavior of the other driver, but I did not put myself into a situation that could have gone really badly. I didn’t even take that thought all that seriously. It’s just what came to mind. And it went away because I didn’t give it any more thought. I just let it come up… and I let it go.

After all, who knows why that person was behaving the way they were? Maybe they were an a-hole, or maybe they were a frightened parent, rushing to their sick child… or a newly single parent whose own parents were not well, and who needed to catch a flight out of town to get to their bedside. Maybe they had a really bad day at work and weren’t thinking properly. Maybe they had been drinking and were dangerous, themself. Maybe they were just intensely distracted, being on the phone and not paying attention to what was going on around them. There are a million different explanations why they might have acted as they did. But I picked the worst case scenario and could have gone for it, had I actually held onto that idea and focused on it and made it into a “thing”.

Instead, I was able to just watch it come up, and let it go… And away it went. So, here I am, a free person, walking around without having to post bail. 🙂 As Martha Stewart would say, “That’s a good thing.”

This is where the mindfulness / sitting / za-zen / breathing meditation stuff comes in handy. Also the exercise, which helps me direct my energy somewhere positive, instead of getting “backed up” to where it’s making me crazy and dangerous. Meditation and weight training trains my system to not follow every single impulse that comes up. It keeps me focused and grounded and level-headed. That keeps me out of trouble. It keeps me out of jail. And that’s a good thing.

The last thing I need, is for my impulses to land me in trouble with the law — and ruin the life of someone who may have had a family emergency they needed to handle. That’s not how I want to start the year. 2014 needs to start on a good note, and me not giving into that road rage was an excellent start.