Unless we understand #TBI / #Concussion, we can’t really treat it

I’ve been more absent from this blog, this month, than I’d intended. Life… you know? It’s been very busy at work, and things are shifting with my role. I’ve had some additional training and workshops, and I’m still trying to figure out where I fit in.

Fortunately, I have help. There are a lot of folks at work who are eager to step in and pull people up to the level they need to be at. I’m not the only one who’s having some challenges navigating the new organizational structure, but fortunately, the expectation is that each and every one of us is going to have challenges and struggle somewhat.

So, that’s helpful, overall.

Getting support at work frees me up to get back to my mission: To write about long-term recovery from concussion / mild traumatic brain injury, and show that it is possible to restore your life after you’ve sustained a brain injury. There is a real dearth of information about this out in the world, and I’m (still) on a mission to do something about that.

I realize that all my … “gyrations” at work have distracted me from this mission. It’s been siphoning off all my energy and distracting me, which is the opposite of what I want and need. So, I’m settling down in my job, chilling out, and looking to my long-term future… 10… 15… 20… 30 years in the future.

And that frees me up to concentrate on the here-and-now with greater focus. It lets me get back to my mission.

The other day, while researching a post, I came across this article:

New Advice to Move More After a Concussion

When young athletes sustain concussions, they are typically told to rest until all symptoms disappear. That means no physical activity, reading, screen time or friends, and little light exposure, for multiple days and, in severe cases, weeks.

Restricting all forms of activity after a concussion is known as “cocooning.” But now new guidelines, written by an international panel of concussion experts and published this month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, question that practice. Instead of cocooning, the new guidelines suggest that most young athletes should be encouraged to start being physically active within a day or two after the injury.

“The brain benefits from movement and exercise, including after a concussion,” says Dr. John Leddy, a professor of orthopedics at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, and one of the co-authors of the new guidelines.

And it makes sense to me. Because when you think about concussion / TBI in terms of what it is (an injury that disrupts connections and releases a bunch of “gunk” into the brain that shouldn’t be there), and you think about the brain in terms of what it does (processes information based on connections and makes new connections where none existed before), and you think about how the body works (moves all of that information through  – mentally and physically), then cocooning probably isn’t the thing to do for long periods of time.

TBI is a tricky thing. It’s different for everyone, of course, and something that works for one person might not work for another. But we’re all walking around in human bodies, and those human bodies function pretty much the same way.

So, if we use the principles of how the body and brain work, and we understand the nature of concussion, and we understand the dynamics of the whole scenario, new treatment approaches become clearer.

It surprises me a little bit that it took till May, 2017, to figure out how to better treat concussions. Then again, until the past 10-15 years or so, people didn’t really take “mild” traumatic brain injury that seriously. Everybody just laughed it off like it was no big deal.

Then we started to realize that onetime football players were ending up in a bad way — worse than the general public. And football players and their families started going public about their struggles. And people started talking — out loud — about stuff that used to be a source of terrible shame and embarrassment. The kinds of stuff that “you just didn’t talk about”, back in the day.

A lot has changed, thanks to research and increased awareness.

And we’re making progress in many areas.

But still, it surprises me, how much we don’t know… how much we still overlook… and how many people continue to struggle, months and years after a concussion or mTBI.

I have my own struggles, sure. A lot of the problems I had haven’t gone away completely. But after all these years of actively working on solutions, I’m doing a whole lot better at managing them, and that’s made all the difference. Maybe it’s true that brain injury can never be reversed, but then, life can never be reversed, and if we treat concussion issues as just another aspect of life that needs to be taken seriously and managed appropriately, it is very possible to have a “regular” life afterwards.

Sure, you’ll have to change some things. You’ll have to adjust. But life is full of those kinds of requirements. We don’t get a “pass” when we get injured, and the world jumps in to protect us. We just get a different set of challenges and difficulties and benefits to work with.

That being said, mental rigidity is probably one of the biggest hurdles to TBI recovery. The very black-and-white thinking that takes over when your brain gets injured can cause the injury to become even worse. Because you’re locked in a straitjacket of limited thinking. Getting your mindset out of the box and trying different things, living differently, getting on with your life, and being mindful about stuff… that can help hugely. I know it helped me more than I can say.

So, there are just a few more days left in Brain Injury Awareness Month. I’ve fallen far short of my stated plan to focus on brain injury recovery for the duration. I had such great plans… But of course… life. And my limits.

Turns out, what I’m taking away from Brain Injury Awareness Month is a reminder of how — yet again — I need to adjust my commitments and expectations and go a bit easier on myself. The thing to remember is that life goes on. And while I didn’t live up to my own expectations, the world keeps turning, the sun rises and sets, it snows and the snow melts, and the songbirds return to my bird feeder.

For today, that’s enough. It’s more than enough.

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Adding back coffee – a little at a time.

Kim-Sutton-Positive-Productivity-Coffee-and-ComputerI’ve been “off” coffee for a couple of years now.

Well, not entirely off, but severely curtailed. I went from drinking 3-4 cups a day (starting with two big cups in the morning) to barely one cup a day.

I’d start with 1/3 cup of really strong coffee, and then I’d have another small cup of strong coffee in the afternoon — preferably no later than 2 p.m., because if I drank it later, it would throw off my sleep schedule, and then I couldn’t get to sleep.

And in between, I’d eat chocolate to keep myself going. Because… chocolate. Caffeine. Sugar. Other tasty anti-oxidants in there to pump up my flagging energy.

But I had to give it up. Chocolate. Especially coffee.

What would make me do such a thing as give up my regular flow of dark and lovely caffeine? Well, all those cups were contributing to migraines — constant headaches that rarely went away. I had a non-stop headache, it seemed, for years. And I didn’t even realize it could be any other way. I figured it was just how my life was going to be, for now and evermore.

Untrue.

When I was told by a neurologist that caffeine (which includes chocolate) can actually trigger migraines, it amazed me. Here, I’d thought they actually reduced headaches. That’s what I’d been told, anyway. But the science is there — with some kinds of migraines, caffeine can actually make things worse. And discontinuing can help.

That’s what happened with me.

But lately, I’ve been reintroducing a little more caffeine (and occasional chocolate) into my days, without too much adverse effect. I’ve been having slight headaches, but nowhere near the intense ones that used to be constant with me. And since I notice them more, now, than when they were non-stop, those headaches are a good signpost for when (and how) I need to make different choices and do things differently.

Just the other day, someone had left some candy on the counter near the coffee maker at work. It was a kind I used to really love. Couldn’t get enough of it. I was able to walk past both the coffee maker and the candy all morning, but in the afternoon, as I was making my 1:30 p.m. 1/2 cup of espresso, I nabbed a few pieces and ate them slowly.

Sweet. On so many levels.

And then I drank my 1/2 cup of coffee. And I had another 1/2 cup a few hours later. No immediate headache. At least, not that I could tell.

I’ve been drinking a little more coffee, nowadays… and while I have developed low-level headaches (I have one right now), they’re not so awful that I can’t function. I’m keeping an eye on it, but so far, so good.

And the other good news is that with my regular daily exercise and eating a really healthy diet, I have been able to get to sleep, even if I have a little caffeine after 2 p.m. Sometimes I’ll have some at 4:00, and I’ll still be able to get to sleep. I think it’s because I’m really actively living my life. I’m “all in”, each and every day, and I also usually finish up the day with stretching and relaxing before I go to sleep.

That last bit — stretching my back and legs before I tuck in for the night — has actually done me a world of good. If I don’t stretch, I often find myself waking up at 3 a.m. in pain, and I can’t get back to sleep.

So, stretching before sleep is really helpful. As is relaxing before I turn off the light. Just consciously relaxing makes a huge difference. Until I learned how to do it (it didn’t come naturally), life was a whole lot harder than it needed to be.

Well, it’s Friday, and that’s a good thing. I’ve got a full weekend ahead of me, and I’m working from home today to get myself geared up. Relax a little bit. Tie up loose ends from the week. And get ready for what’s next.

It’s all good.

Onward.

Getting Off Coffee — Whom do you believe?

Would you trust this man with your love life?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how I want to live my life, lately. I want to be free. I want to be healthy. I don’t want to kill myself through neglect and laziness. I want to eat well, live well, recover well, and have the best life I can have under the circumstances.

I’ve been changing up my diet — adding a whole lot of fresh fruit and cooked (and raw) vegetables to the mix. I feel great. My spouse feels great. It makes a difference. I can’t say I’m that keen on getting really orthodox about what I eat and don’t eat.

For about the past year, I’ve been trying to eat more “Paleo” with lots of meat and vegetables, but not a lot of carbs. Lots of healthy fats and oils. The Paleo diet is big, just like all the other diets that have come along over the years. It makes logical sense to me, and it has emotional appeal.

But does my body like it?

Not so much. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but it’s not panning out over the long term. It feels foreign. Our ancestors may have eaten this way, but they weren’t living under current conditions. They didn’t have constant energy demands. They didn’t go-go-go from morning till night. They had a completely different lifestyle, which bears no resemblance at all to the lives we live now. I would think that would disqualify the Paleo diet from being even remotely considered, but there’s that emotional appeal of “getting back to basics” and ditching all the unhealthy modern habits that have gotten us into the messes we see around us. Countless religious movements have produced lots of different denominations precisely from this mindset. Now health and fitness seem to have taken the place of religion.

For me, if I were living on the savannah, hanging out around the fire, collecting berries whenever I felt like it, and going on occasional huts, yeah — I’d be total Paleo. But my energy demands are many hundreds of times greater than that lifestyle requires, so Paleo makes no sense at all, in my book. That’s not to keep folks from making plenty of money off the illusion that we can ever go back — or that we should, to the extent we can with things we can control… like our diet.

Now, I’m no doctor or nutritionist. I’m just an everyday person who thinks for themself. And I’m thinking that carb restriction and calorie restriction over the long term is just not healthy. If you do it for short periods, it can be very beneficial. But as a continued way of life? No way. Under-carbed people are unhappy people. They are aggressive and combative, in my experience, and arguments with people who are hypoglycemic generally don’t go well.

The other thing is, since I started supplementing my diet with healthy fats and oils, I’ve gained weight. And while I do get a lot of energy off the grass-fed butter and coconut oil, and it keeps me going through the morning, my metabolism doesn’t seem to want to let go of the fat. And it’s storing it up. Supposedly, you can reach a state of ketosis where you’re burning fat instead of sugar in your body, but you have to be so strict with it, and so completely cut out carbs as an energy source, it can take you years to get to that point. And you’ve got a lot of interim pain and suffering to get through.

Plus, if you know about physiology, you know that glucose is a critical energy source for every cell in your body, so if you avoid sugar and carbs like the plague some folks say they are, you’re literally starving your body. And when you starve your body, it turns around and produces more of the glucose it needs from inside — the liver. So you’re stressing your system. That sucks, all around.

And all sorts of interesting things happen to your insulin resistance, etc. You have folks like Dave Asprey (the “Bulletproof Exec”) on medication for Diabetes 2 — an acquired condition that’s often directly related to diet and exercise habits — or the lack thereof.

So, I’m going to take nutrition advice from a guy who’s given himself Diabetes 2 and who says that fruit is like candy — a shot of pure sugar — and should be avoided like the plague?

He’s not the only one out there coming up with all sorts of ideas about how we should eat. There are tons of experts who are infopreneurs making good money off their educational-slash-marketing efforts. And we just eat it up. Literally and figuratively.

Whom do you believe? Whom do you trust?

Personally, I am getting more and more impatient with people who study things in a lab and then turn around and insist they can be applied to real life.That, and folks who insist that correlation implies causation — because two things occur together, then one must be the cause of the other.

It’s patently untrue. Studies are done all the time with too small a selection of people, and the only things that they’re looking at are what’s on their radar. They pick out 5 overweight adults and 5 normal weight adults and give them food choices. They look at who chooses what, and then they say that certain foods will make you fat. Or that certain foods will keep you slim. There’s no gathering of data about the states of mind of the test subjects, there’s no information on who’s been overweight their entire life and who lost the weight or who gained it. The foods they put in front of the participants may or may not have been selected according to broad criteria, and they may or may not have good quality foods, or even foods that taste good and are appealing. There are a million different variables that come into play, including time of day, the current physical/mental health status of the participants, and what happened with them over the long term before they ever participated in the study.

And yet, we’re expected to trust those results, and we’re supposed to believe the folks who are quoting their interpretation of the results — usually for a price.

Yeah, I’m not really feeling that.

Anyway, I digress. I guess my point is, a lot of people get really alarmist about nutrition and fitness. For good reason — there’s an obesity and Diabetes 2 epidemic going on in the western world, and it’s spreading to other countries. Like Japan — check out the article. And when you’ve been unhealthy for a while, your reactions are going to be skewed to the extreme. Especially if you’ve had physical injury or mental health issues that either came from trauma or traumatized you (usually works in a vicious cycle – cause and effect feed the trauma imbalance), you’re going to react more precipitously — FREAK OUT — a lot more quickly.

Plus, you’ve got a lot of people haggling and arguing and jockeying for position in the health and fitness field, so you’ve got a higher pitch overall to the conversations — especially with folks who are fundamentally unhealthy (overweight, with terrible bloodwork numbers, and very de-conditioned) who are trying to keep up with the rigors of an active infopreneurial lifestyle.

So, the tone of the discussion is more like a heated argument.

All. The. Time.

Which just clouds the issue for those of us “on the ground” — or as the marketers say, those of us in the target audience.

So, what about this “fast” business (as in quick, not fasting). Make changes fast. See results fast. Expecting things to change for you right away is unrealistic and unsustainable. It takes years and years to see substantive health and fitness changes, and it takes ongoing commitment and discipline to make those changes stick to where you don’t have to deliberately think about it and focus on it.

It takes time and effort to get things to improve. It takes time and effort to heal injuries and get to a point where you are fully functional. Especially with mild traumatic brain injury (concussion, if you will), where the brain — which is constantly working for us — committing to a program of recovery and sticking with it, day in and day out, over the course of weeks, months, years… That’s something our fast-oriented culture just doesn’t know what to do with.

It really doesn’t.

But all the voices in the marketplace are screaming at the tops of their lungs about how damn’ URGENT everything is. Yeah, okay, it is. No doubt about that. But all too often, the ones pushing us to change our ways are only in it for the short-term. They’re with us long enough to make their case and collect our money, then they move on to the next target audience member who hasn’t yet signed up for their life-changing program.

I have friends who are devotees of some famous health gurus. The experts have them jumping through hoops to mix up specific types of smoothies and avoid sugar in all its forms.Their trusted leaders have them so freaked out about the dangers of certain foods, that they’re willing to completely rebuild their lives around this new program — which is expensive and is coming to them later in life, when they are heading into retirement and will not — I repeat NOT — have significant sources of income within a few years.

It kind of freaks me out. Their orthodoxy and strict adherence to this “life-changing program” is well nigh complete… except for when they “slip” and end up bingeing on crap that their bodies would have no interest in eating, were they adequately nourished, to begin with.

All this, because they feel the need to make change FAST, and stave off the demons of their impending demise.

On top of it, these folks look miserable. Every time they post a new picture to Facebook, they look more haggard and drawn… puffy and stressed. It’s just not good.

But they did get their 10 days at “the institute” in Florida, and now they have their special powders and potions to mix up and tell themselves they’re seeing transformational results more quickly than they’d realize them on their own.

As for me, I’ve been a devotee of plenty of independent researchers and health/fitness educators. I sign up for their newsletters. I read their blogs. I watch the videos, and I’m usually impressed by their passion and the way they communicate. But there’s a whole lot they don’t say, and if you look behind the scenes, you see that there’s even more that goes unsaid. Like the Diabetes 2 diagnosis. Like the lousy bloodwork. Like the failed relationships and the weight gain.

It doesn’t take long for a lot of these folks to fall out of favor.

Which brings me back, time and again, to myself. How does my body feel? How does my head feel? How does my life feel? When I use that as a guide and check in on a regular basis, that tells me everything I need.

Like I need to cut back on sweets.

Like I need to cut back on coffee.

Like I really need to eat some red meat.

Like I need to eat chicken or fish or not have any meat for one day.

Like I need more fruits and vegetables.

Like I need to not eat that cake and ice cream.

Basically, I’ve found that following the advice of gurus works best when I do it intermittently, but not constantly. Destabilizing myself with bad science and treating it like gospel is no way to go. I need balance, and I need exercise, and there is usually much behind the scenes of what gurus teach, that we’ll never learn and never know.

So, when I follow my own path and get more information and apply it sparingly, so much the better. Some things work for some people, based on their chemistry and a host of other factors. Some things don’t. Ultimately, it’s up to me, and the proof is in the pudding.

And now it’s time for a walk.

Onward.

Getting Off Coffee Day 7 — Going better than expected

Can I replace this drug with something else? Should I?

I’m about a week into drastically cutting back on my coffee. I didn’t keep notes on when I started cutting back. I just did it. I think I’m a week in… though it could be 10 days but let’s call it Day 7 to put a line in the sand and have something to compare it to.

It’s going pretty well. Better than expected, actually. Instead of having 2-1/2 cups each morning, I’m down to 1/2. I did that gradually, going from 2-1/2 cups to 2 cups to 1-1/2 cups to 1 cup, to 1/2 cup. I’ve been doing that most mornings. Some days I’ll shift back and have a full cup, but I’m actually feeling better with a half a cup, now.

I’ve also been putting butter and oil in it to ease the withdrawal, but today I’m doing 1/2 cup of straight coffee. Black. No sugar. It’s how I used to always drink it, and it’s fine.

I had a full cup yesterday morning, and I have to say, it actually felt like too much. I only needed 1/2 a cup, and contrary to every usual habit, I threw out the last few sips instead of drinking them down. That’s unlike me. Especially with coffee.

Now I’m looking at my half-drunk half-cup of coffee, wondering if I really need to finish it. There’s something a little invigorating about the withdrawal process. I’ve got a headache, but I usually do, so there’s no change there. And I’m cranky at times, but I know what that’s about, so it’s not too intrusive or disruptive. I just keep my mouth shut and let the freak-out pass. It eventually does.

And when I’m really feeling frayed, I have some fruit or a drink of water. The fructose soothes that savage beast, and since the fruit is full of fiber, the sugar shock is buffered. It’s not like having a spoonful of sugar or honey. There’s fiber in there to give my body something to do while getting that sweet boost.

I also hit the roads, going for long walks to get my system calmed down. I took two walks in the woods yesterday, and it was fantastic. I had a lot of energy, although I was in a bit of a fog. That will pass, I’m sure. I just have to give it time and retrain my body to wake the heck up.

So, the whole thing about getting off coffee is a lot less odious than I thought it would be. I’m probably still going to have my 1/2 cup in the mornings. Or not, if I don’t need it. And I’m probably still going to use a shot in the early afternoons at work, to keep myself from falling apart in the afternoons. Ideally, I’ll find another way to wake myself up — get some exercise, perhaps? But there’s nothing like a shot of caffeine around 1 p.m. to carry me through.

So, I may or may not give it up entirely. Plus, supposedly there are benefits to coffee… they’ve done research (though I wonder how many coffee-abstainers worked on the studies). Who knows? All I know is, my neuro is telling me to get rid of it, so I may need to do that.

I’m well on my way. We’ll see how this goes.

Onward.

Getting off coffee – as quickly as I can

Say it isn’t so

So, my new neuro encouraged me to get off coffee to help my migraines.

Oh, great wailing and gnashing of teeth!!! How can anyone expect me to do away with coffee?! It’s ridiculous. Why would I do away with my last real vice (aside from super-dark chocolate)? It’s the only thing that helps my mood and thinking when I’m dragging — which is a lot — generally within 4 hours of waking up and living my full-tilt-boogie life.

I scoffed at the very thought of it. Give up coffee. Yeah, right. Not gonna happen.

Why would anyone ask me to do such a thing — especially for headaches? I always thought that caffeine helped headaches, since so many headache medicines (including “Migraine formula” versions) have caffeine in them.But apparently, it’s the other way around. It doesn’t help. It hurts.

Here’s how I understand things now, based on what I’ve learned in the past 48 hours.

I found an article over at Lifehacker.com What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain and it was kind of sobering for me.

I’ll quote from the article:

Right off the bat, it’s worth stating again: the human brain, and caffeine, are nowhere near totally understood and easily explained by modern science. That said, there is a consensus on how a compound found all over nature, caffeine, affects the mind.

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

Every moment that you’re awake, the neurons in your brain are firing away. As those neurons fire, they produce adenosine as a byproduct, but adenosine is far from excrement. Your nervous system is actively monitoring adenosine levels through receptors. Normally, when adenosine levels reach a certain point in your brain and spinal cord, your body will start nudging you toward sleep, or at least taking it easy. There are actually a few different adenosine receptors throughout the body, but the one caffeine seems to interact with most directly is the A1 receptor. More on that later.

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

Enter caffeine. It occurs in all kinds of plants, and chemical relatives of caffeine are found in your own body. But taken in substantial amounts—the semi-standard 100mg that comes from a strong eight-ounce coffee, for instance—it functions as a supremely talented adenosine impersonator. It heads right for the adenosine receptors in your system and, because of its similarities to adenosine, it’s accepted by your body as the real thing and gets into the receptors.

Update: Commenter dangermou5e reminds us of web comic The Oatmeal’s take on adenosine and caffeine. It’s concise:

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

More important than just fitting in, though, caffeine actually binds to those receptors in efficient fashion, but doesn’t activate them—they’re plugged up by caffeine’s unique shape and chemical makeup. With those receptors blocked, the brain’s own stimulants, dopamine and glutamate, can do their work more freely—”Like taking the chaperones out of a high school dance,” Braun writes in an email. In the book, he ultimately likens caffeine’s powers to “putting a block of wood under one of the brain’s primary brake pedals.”

It’s an apt metaphor, because it spells out that caffeine very clearly doesn’t press the “gas” on your brain, and that it only blocks a “primary” brake. There are other compounds and receptors that have an effect on what your energy levels feel like—GABA, for example—but caffeine is a crude way of preventing your brain from bringing things to a halt.

So, basically, it’s keeping my body from putting the brakes on, disguising fatigue from the receptors that are built to realize when there’s a bunch of adenosine in my system.

That can’t be good, if I’m running out of steam and genuinely need to rest. Basically, it sounds like caffeine is tricking my body into picking up speed, when it should be doing just the opposite.

I kept reading… and when I Googled “coffee neurotoxin”, I came across this article: Coffee, caffeine, performance and you.

I quote again:

Caffeine is neurotoxin alkaloid. It stops insects eating plants. It works by being a very similar shape to adenosine, a nucleotide which is very important in energy transfer and neurotransmission. Adenosine inhibits nerve firing because it prevents the release of excitatory neurochemicals such as serotonin and acetylcholine.

The structure of caffeine as elucidated by Hermann Emil Fischer.

Caffeine settles into the adenosine receptors in the surface of neurons and in doing so, prevents adenosine itself from getting in there. Therefore no receptor activation can occur and the effect is just the opposite. With no adenosine in place to tranquilise the nerve, excitory neurochemicals will be released. Blood vessels constrict in your head and neck, the rate of nerve firing increases, your blood pressure and heart rate may rise and you experience a renewed interest and vigour when it comes to your Excel document.

Your higher cognitive function is now improved. Even what you can see is enhanced. The stimulation of nerves which use acetylcholine to send their messages affects a variety of areas in the body and brain. The visual cortex is one such area and drinking coffee causes an enhancement in our ability to process the shape, colour and location of visual objects.

 So, here’s this neurotoxin getting into my system, pumping me up and cranking out those neurochemicals. It might not seem like such a bad thing, but I’ve also heard that part of the excitory activity actually comes from the body’s defense response to a perceived threat from the caffeine, which some have called a natural pesticide. So, my system is getting a dose of pesticide and going into fight-flight mode to defend itself from this threat I’m introducing on purpose, which then makes me feel like I’m doing better, when it’s really the adrenaline that’s coursing through my veins that’s telling me that.

I don’t actually become better. I just feel like I am.

So, here’s what I take from this whole little 48-hour research investigation of mine:

Caffeine is bad stuff — especially if you have issues with fatigue and TBI. I mean, seriously, when I’m fatigued, I need to rest and recuperate, not push myself through like I always do. That fries my system and makes sure I’m in a persistent state of fight-flight. I know for a fact that that’s no good — it makes it difficult to learn and use higher cognitive functions. And the longer and more intensely I use caffeine, the more I’m stressing my system and whacking it out and jeopardizing my recovery.

In TBI recovery, you need to rebuild connections in your brain and re-learn things your system has (in)conveniently forgotten. Fight-flight marination in adrenaline impairs learning. So, if TBI recovery is dependent on learning, then coffee, tea, caffeine, even chocolate, are all a threat to my successful progress.

I had no idea.

It would have helped, had my neuro actually explained all this to me in a way I could understand. But it really took a passionate raw-food vegetarian fruitarian Australian dude living(?) in Thailand to make it clear. Here’s his expose that started turning things around for me:

Anyway, there it is. More to come on this, but for now,  it’s time to seriously cut out the caffeine.

 

All’s well

The sun rises on a great opportunity

Doctor appointment went great yesterday.

My doctor says I look 10 years younger than when they last saw me. They asked me what I’ve been doing, and I told them about my rocket fuel coffee that I drink every morning. They said they’ll try it, because they get up in the morning and they feel terrible. Wiped out. Low energy.

They see the energy I have, and they want what I have, so I told them about what I do – and they said they were going to get some MCT oil at lunchtime to add to their coffee in the morning.

I hope it works for them. I really like my doctor, and they really like me, and we have a great working relationship. I just hope they can get some energy and relief.

I’m watching a squirrel eat bird seed at the base of my bird feeder. I’ve got a pair of binoculars, and the view is great from my desk. I cleaned my study again last night, instead of going to a movie. I bought a burrito, threw it in the oven, and then cleaned up the mess I had created in my office a few months ago.

Now I’ve got room to move, and I can feel the pressure lifting off me, with this 4-year job disappearing in the rear-view mirror.

I am so relieved to be QUIT of that place. I’m almost there. I should contain my glee at work, over the coming week, and just buckle down to take care of business. It’s been hard, this past week, because everyone has had so much they wanted to talk about. Now that’s out of the way, and I can focus in more on what’s to come.

I’m getting a new lease on life. I have worked so very hard for this, I have paid so dearly for years, now, and at last I am coming into a situation that fits me that much better than where I’ve been, for what feels like an eternity. Now I can free myself up — my time, my energy, my attention — to accomplish some great things. I will have more time in my day for the different projects in the back of my mind, and I will have more energy because I won’t be driving all over creation to get to and from work.

The closer I get to the transition, the lighter I feel. Expansive. Generous. Blessed. It’s been an amazing run, where I’ve been, and I’ve accomplished a lot. But it’s largely been for the corporation’s benefit, not so much for mine. And the fact that they don’t “get” that taking care of your employees is a key component of your success… well, that’s soon going to fall into the category of Not My Problem.

All’s well. And it’s only 8:02 on a Saturday morning, with two full days of open space ahead of me.

Onward

An hour is about enough, either way

I’m working on my learning skills, these days, brushing up on things I need to know to be competitive in the workplace and move on to my next job. I’ve been working with some new approaches to old ways of doing things, and I’ve been poking around at a few other techniques I need to learn.

One of my big issues is time. I don’t have an unlimited amount of it, either in terms of available scheduled time, or available energy / attention time. I push myself pretty hard, so I can run out of steam and I end up reaching a state of diminishing returns… which then turns into a roiling, churning downward spiral of defeat and dejection, because I just can’t seem to muster my energy to learn and do anything else.

No matter how I try.

So, rather than demanding there to be four hours of unlimited time at my disposal, to work and practice and learn, I am breaking up my sessions into 45-60 minutes at a time, several times a day. I start out my days with an hour’s worth of reading and practice. Then while I’m driving to work, I think about what I’ve learned in the morning and rehearse the patterns and syntax that I need to use. If I can find the time I work on things a little bit at the office, just to refresh my memory a bit. On my way home from work, I think about things a little bit more — less than earlier, because I’m running out of steam. Then I work on things at home in the evening, mostly while I’ve got supper on – that usually takes about an hour to cook up.

So, this way, I can have 3-4 hours – and good hours, at that – of practice each day. Giving myself a short period of time to focus in really intently ensures that I will have the proper focus to really laser in. And doing it several times a day will give my brain the opportunity to train itself to see and think and do the way it needs to do.

This is how I learned how to code, 20 years ago, when I was working a “good job” that I hated. I studied on the train to and from my job, and that gave me the time I needed to learn — twice a day. I was extremely motivated, and I learned quickly that way. I also practiced on the weekends, too, and I put what I learned into action… so that I eventually found a new job in this new field that suited me. And it was good for 10 years of really nice paychecks and excellent experience.

And if I take things one little bit at a time, I can really master the individual pieces I need, and then put them all together as I go along.

And by the end of the day, I am really wiped out and ready to sleep.

So, this works out well all across the board.

And all the while, I’ve got my rocket fuel coffee and tea to keep me going. This stuff is seriously good. And the best part is, I get good energy from it, but it doesn’t keep me up at night. If anything, it eases off just about the time I’m really running out of energy and need to call it a day.

Ever since I’ve been drinking it, I’ve found it easier to get in bed before 11 p.m., which is a huge win for me.

Last night, I got about 7-1/2 hours of sleep. Up from 5-1/2 that I’d been getting earlier. Things started to turn around, when I got this extra boost from my butter-fat-charged coffee. (Make two cups off coffee, then take 2 teaspoons of Kerry Gold grass-fed butter and 2 teaspoons of coconut oil, blend them up with either a hand blender or an electric mixer until there’s a frothy foam on the top, then drink both cups of coffee – preferably slowly, because it can really give you a jolt, and some people actually get panic attacks from it – tho’ that’s more psychological than anything.)

Speaking of reading and learning and practicing, it’s time for me to focus in on my lessons for the day. I have about 45 minutes to do this.

So, onward. I have a feeling it’s going to be a pretty great day.

The TBI/Concussion Energy Crisis – Part 2 of 2

This is Part 2 of a long post that I’ve split into two parts. The first part is here:

Running on empty?

Long-term outcomes after mild traumatic brain injury — and persistent post-concussion syndrome that doesn’t resolve in the usual couple of weeks — have baffled researchers and practitioners for a long time, but to me it makes perfect sense. There is a cumulative effect of stress and strain that comes over time. There’s plenty of research about the long-term effects of chronic stress. But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of research about the levels of stress among mild TBI and concussion survivors.

Everybody seems to think things just resolve. And they don’t seem to think it matters much, that we are no longer the people we once were. They don’t seem to realize what a profound and serious threat this is to our sense of who we are, and our understanding of our place in the world. At most, it’s treated like an inconvenience that we’ll just see our way through with time.

But it’s bigger than that. Losing your long-held sense of self when you’re a full-grown adult, with a full docket of responsibilities and a whole lot invested (both by yourself and by others) in your identity being stable, is a dire threat to your very existence. It is as threatening to your survival, as surviving an explosion, a flood, an earthquake, or some other catastrophe that nearly does you in.

It’s traumatic. But because it’s not over the top and in your face and dramatic — and it doesn’t register on most imaging or diagnostic equipment — people think it just doesn’t matter.

Or that it doesn’t exist.

Frankly, the professional community should know better — especially those who work with trauma. They, of all people, should know what trauma does to a person — in the short and long term. I suppose they do know. They just underestimate the level of stress that comes from losing your sense of self and having to rebuild — sometimes from scratch. I’m not even sure they realize it exists.

But they do exist. Dealing with the daily barrage of surprises about things not working the way they used to… it gets tiring. Trying to keep up, takes it out of you. I know in the course of my day, I have to readjust and re-approach many, many situations, because my first impulse is flat-out wrong. I have to be always on my toes, always paying close attention, always focused on what’s important. Always reminding myself what’s important. I have to perpetually check in with myself to see how I’m doing, where I’m at, what’s next, what I just did, how it fits with everything else I’m doing… Lord almighty, it takes a lot of energy.

What’s more, those stresses and strains are made even worse by being surrounded by people who don’t get how hard I’m working. I swear, they just have no clue — my spouse and my neuropsych included. They seem to think that this all comes easily to me, because I do a damned good job of smoothing things over and covering up the turmoil that’s going on inside of me. I have trained myself — through a combination of techniques — to at least appear to be calm in the midst of crisis. Even when things are falling apart around me and inside me, even when I am at my wits’ end and am about to lose it, I can (usually) maintain a calm demeanor and chill out everyone around me.

Heaven knows, I’ve had plenty of practice over the years. If I hadn’t learned to do this, I would probably be in prison right now.

No, not probably. I would be in prison. I like being free and un-incarcerated, so I’ve learned to hold my sh*t.

Which is where sleep and proper nutrition and exercise come in. Because after years of thinking that sharing my experience with the ones closest to me would enlist their help, I’ve realized that doing that will never ever achieve that goal. People just don’t get it. Even my neuropsych doesn’t get it. Everyone has this image of me as I present to them, which is totally different from what’s going on inside of me.They seem to make assumptions about how I am and what I am and what life is like for me, that have nothing to do with how things really are.

Inside, I have a ton of issues I have to manage each and every day. Today, it’s

  • confusion & disorganization
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • neck, back and joint pain
  • noise sensitivity
  • dizziness
  • ringing in my ears that’s not only the high-pitched whine that never goes away, but is now accompanied by intermittent sounds like a tractor-trailer back-up alert beep. Nice, right?

And that’s just for starters. Who knows what will happen later today.

But I’ll stow the violins — the point is, I really can’t rely on others to figure things out for me — even the trained professionals. I can’t rely on them to understand or appreciate what my life is like from day to day. I need to rely on myself, to understand my own “state” and to manage that state on my own through nutrition, adequate exercise, rest… and to advocate for myself to get what I need.

I have to keep those needs simple — rest, nutrition, exercise — and not complicate matters. Getting more elaborate than that just works against me. It’s hard to explain to people, it gets all jumbled up in my head, and the other people try to solve problems they don’t understand, in the first place.

On the one hand, it can get pretty lonely. On the other hand, it’s incredibly freeing. Because I know best what’s going on with me, and I know I can figure out how to get that in place.

The bottom line is — after this very long post — TBI and concussion take a ton of energy to address. It’s not a simple matter of resting up till the extra potassium and glucose clear out of your brain. There are pathways to be rewired, and they don’t rewire themselves. Depending on the nature of your injury — and a diffuse axonal injury that frays a ton of different connections, even just slightly, can introduce a wide, wide array of frustrations and hurdles — you can end up spending a ton of time just retraining yourself to do the most basic things. Like getting ready for work and making yourself breakfast without missing any important steps (e.g., taking a shower or turning off the stove).

And when you’re trying to rewire your brain and retrain yourself to get back on track, at the same time you’re trying to maintain your life as it once was… well, that’s a recipe for a whole lot of hurt, if you don’t give yourself the energy stockpiles you need to move forward, and if you don’t take steps to regularly clear out the gunk that accumulates in your physical system, as a result of the stresses and strains of the rewiring process.

That being said, I wish that someone would do a study on the stress levels of concussion and other mild traumatic brain injury survivors. We need to collect this data, in order for professionals to better understand us and our situations, and to better know how to treat us.

For the time being, however, I’m not holding my breath. I know what works for me, with regard to my recovery — having someone non-judgmental to talk to about my daily experience, keeping records of my daily life so I can self-manage it, regular exercise, pacing myself, good nutrition, intermittent fasting, keeping away from junk food, adding more high-quality fats and oils to my diet, and getting ample sleep with naps thrown in for good measure.

Those are really the cornerstones of my recovery. When I do all of them on a regular basis, I get better. If I overlook any one of them, I slide back in my progress. It’s an ongoing process, for sure.

The TBI/Concussion Energy Crisis – Part 1 of 2

This is Part 1 of a long post that (out of consideration for your time) I’ve split into two parts. The second part is here:

Running on empty?

I’m having my butter-fat coffee this morning, thinking about how I’m going to plan my day. I have some back taxes work I have to do — I need to refile from prior years, because I messed up a couple of times and I need to make it right. Fortunately, I erred to my own disadvantage before, so fixing those errors and refiling will bring in a little extra money, which I can really use.

I had a pretty restful sleep last night. However, I woke up at 5 again, which I did not want to do, and I was pretty stiff and sore from all my activity yesterday. That’s the thing about getting a sudden burst of energy — I want to use it, I want to experience it, I want to feel what it’s like to really move again. So, my body ends up moving more than it has in a long time, and then I get sore.

Fortunately, it’s a “good sore” which is a sign that I’m getting stronger and more active. This is one of those rare cases where “pain is weakness leaving the body”.

I considered getting up, because I would love to have an extra useful hour or two in my day. But I was still pretty tired, so I stretched a little bit, then relaxed with my guided imagery recording, and went back to sleep with earplugs and eye mask. I have light-blocking curtains in my bedroom, but sometimes the light gets in, so I use an eye mask. In the winter when it is cold, I wear a winter cap in bed to keep warm, and I pull it down over my eyes to block the light. But now that it’s warmer, I can’t use the cap. So, the eye mask it is.

Something about the eye mask helps me sleep — it’s a Pavlovian response, I think. I usually use it when I am trying to fall asleep during the day, and it works.  So, I have an ingrained response to relax when I put on my eye mask. And it worked. I got another hour of sleep, and I woke up feeling much more human.

Yesterday I had written about how it’s energy shortages that make me so tired, rather than lack of sleep. Well, let me just say that it’s really both that get me. If I’m over-tired, no matter how many high-quality fats I put in my body, I’m going to run out of steam. And if I don’t have enough high-quality fats in my system to convert into energy, all the sleep in the world isn’t going to fix me up.

One of the things that I think really bites mild TBI and concussion survivors in the ass, is also probably one of the most overlooked — The Energy Crisis. I think that people (especially health care providers) really don’t get how hard we have to work to reorient ourselves and retrain our brains after a mild TBI or concussion. There are so many subtle ways that our regular routines and regular thinking patterns are disrupted, and we can totally miss those subtle disruptions until they balloon in to bigger problems.

One thing after another goes wrong. Sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we catch it in time, sometimes we don’t. But so many little tiny things can be so different from before — even just feeling different — that it’s overwhelming. And the end results can be devastating — failing work performance, failing relationships, failing finances… failing everything.

For no apparent reason.

So, we end up either being hyper-vigilant and always on guard. Or we just give up and go with the flow, because who the hell can keep up with everything that’s getting screwed up? We go into either crisis prevention mode or crisis response mode. In either case, our lives are marked by crisis. One. After. Another.

And that is tiring. It is SO tiring.

So, we run out of steam. It can happen from just being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of adjustments — large and small. It can happen from feeling like we’re under constant attack from within and without — which we often are, as our internal systems are disrupted and the “ecosystem” we have been operating in starts to rag on us because we’re not keeping up. It can happen from being on a constant adrenaline rush, just trying to keep up and respond. It can come from crashes from all the junk food we eat to make ourselves feel less pain… to have more energy… or just take our minds off our troubles.  Usually, it’s all of the above.

On all levels, we’re getting hit — our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual existence is in turmoil. And it takes a huge amount of energy to keep up.

If we don’t get enough of the right kind of sleep, and we also don’t have the right physical support to keep going, our systems short out. I believe this is why mild TBI folks can actually see worse outcomes over the long term, with problems showing up years on down the line. All the little “hits” we take in the course of each day all contribute to our biochemical overload. There’s more and more “sludge” in our system, in the form of waste from stress hormones processing, to buildup from the junk foods we eat to keep going, and that sludge adds to our overall stress levels, causing us physical stress and strain — which then contributes to our mental and emotional instability.

And years on down the line, when we “should be fine”, things really unravel, and we end up in terrible shape, without any clue how or why — and nobody there to support us, because they don’t know why either, and they probably wouldn’t believe us if we told them.

Keep reading here >>

TBI Energy Hack – A different kind of coffee

I tried it – I loved it

Yesterday, while I was fasting, I was pondering how much it sucks to be tired all the time and how I want to change my life but tend to run out of steam.

A lot of different things come to mind when I’m fasting (I’ll go without food for 18-20 hours, once a month or so, to “reboot” my system, give my metabolism a break from processing food, and help me increase my self-control. I was feeling pretty good all morning, then around noon I started to fade big-time (probably also because I was overtired), and I needed a little boost.

So naturally I started surfing around the web for ideas about how other people handle intermittent fasting. I came across information on “Bulletproof® Coffee” which is a special blend of high-quality coffee with a couple of unexpected ingredients that are supposed to enhance your brain function, give you more energy, and support your system – especially if you’re doing intermittent fasting.

I read up on it a bit over at Bulletproof Exec, and it made sense to me. Add a few unlikely ingredients to your morning coffee, and you can give yourself a much-needed boost that won’t fry your system like straight coffee does.

Those ingredients:

  • Butter from grass-fed cows. A big hunk of it.
  • MCT Oil (some folks use coconut oil, but you have to be careful you don’t get kinds that may have mold in them from the coconut pressing process).

You take the butter and the oil and you blend it together with two cups of coffee. You can use an electric blender or you can use a hand blender.

Reading up on how the fat in the butter and MCT oil supports your brain function, I was pretty intrigued. Plus, grass-fed butter and oil aren’t pharmaceuticals. They’re naturally occurring (well, the MCT oil is synthesized from coconut oil, but it’s not a concoction that originates only in a lab), and they work with your system, instead of overriding it. Plus, they’re freely available without a prescription.

I happened to be going food shopping last night, and I have some coconut oil in the cupboard, so I picked up some unsalted Kerrygold butter (grass-fed — it’s in tiny print on the label, so I had to look for it). And I prepared myself for a slightly different coffee experience this morning.

I sorta kinda followed the instructions — I don’t have “high quality” coffee in the house yet — I ordered some off the guy’s site, and I’m looking forward to getting it soon. I used only about a tablespoon of butter and coconut oil, not the globs of stuff the Bulletproof guy suggests. I also couldn’t use the electric blender, because that would have woken up my spouse, which is never a good idea — it’s best not to poke a sleeping bear. But I made do with what I had.

I tossed a little blob of butter and some coconut oil in a small metal mixing bowl, sat it in a larger pan of hot water to let it melt, then I made my coffee (which I always brew with a drip filter using brown paper filters anyway). Then I poured my first cup of coffee in with the butter and oil in the mixing bowl and got out my trusty hand blender. I mixed up the butter and oil with the coffee until it was well blended and there was a little froth on top. Then I filled my one coffee mug as far as it could go, and poured the leftover mixture into the second cup of coffee I had waiting. I wanted to try it in different strengths, just in case I hated one. I didn’t want to waste two perfectly good cups of coffee.

I usually make two cups of coffee in the morning anyway, so it wasn’t a change in the volume for me. I wasn’t in danger of getting wired. I must admit I was skeptical about this actually working for me. I wasn’t sure it was worth the extra effort, but I coordinated the Bulletproof coffee prep with frying up my morning egg, and by the time the egg was done, the coffee was ready, too.

Now, I’ve been a hardcore black-and-bitter coffee drinker for years. I cut out milk and sugar about 6 years ago, and I haven’t looked back since. So, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this new concoction. Putting butter and oil in coffee? Who does such a thing?! I was also concerned about the drink getting cold and turning into a fatty glob that I couldn’t get down. Sometimes I get caught up in my work before I finish my coffee, and both the butter and the coconut oil are not cheap, so I didn’t want to waste them.

However, I was really pleasantly surprised by the effect. It didn’t taste bad, actually. It was pretty good. In fact, my body really seemed to crave it. I had a hard time waiting for it to cool, actually. I kept wanting to drink it. I got a pretty good kick from it. Maybe it was the reading I’d done that suggested I’d feel sharper from this stuff, that made me feel… well, sharper. But whatever – I did. I got this real boost of energy that was nothing like I’d known in quite some time. It was this steady flow of energy — not like rocket fuel Red Bull.

And you know what? 2-1/2 hours later, I still feel really great. All through. Not just my head, but my whole body.

Verdict after Day One with Bulletproof® Coffee?  Holy smokes. This is really good. I haven’t felt this with-it in the morning for a really long time, and mornings are the sharpest time of the day for me (which says a lot about how pitiful my afternoons and evenings are). They’re also the time when I need to be the most “on”. So, this new approach to coffee, with grass-fed butter and coconut/MCT oil is a keeper.

This one is a “go”, for sure. I’m doing it again tomorrow.  And I’ll keep doing it, till it stops doing what it does.

Onward.