Getting back the calm – regardless

Photo credit: Myshelle Congeries
Photo credit: Myshelle Congeries

Before my TBI in 2004, my weekends were a combination of busy-ness and calm. It seemed like I had unlimited energy, and I could pack a lot into each weekend, including studying things that fascinated me and taking long walks in the woods and working in my yard and doing chores around the house and working on my personal projects and cooking a nice supper.

Yesterday, I did two of those things – a few chores around the house and yardwork. My lawn desperately needed to be mowed. I had not taken a mower to it in over a month. The grass was high. But perhaps waiting so long was for the best, because at the beginning of the summer, huge patches of grass were gone, thanks to grubs. I’ve had grub problems for a number of years, but this year it was particularly bad, with much of my front yard bare patches of dirt. I can’t use any pesticides on my lawn, because I am on a well, and I don’t want it getting into my drinking water. Plus, I tend to spaz a little bit, when I am handling poisons and dangerous objects. I have sudden spasms that make me jump, and then I hurt myself or get the chemicals on my hands or on my face. Not good.

So, I looked around online and found a recipe for mixing mouthwash with alcohol and water and laundry detergent, and I sprayed the grubby patches liberally. Then I put down grass seed and watered it a little bit, and let nature take its course. Within a month, I had a lawn full of thick grass, which I just let grow, to get its root system in place. I didn’t want the grass to have to put a lot of energy into regrowing the blades, and use more of its energy for growing roots.

So, I let it be. And the results are pretty danged good.

No more bare spots.

Of course, yesterday I was sure I’d wrecked my mower a couple of times, as it stalled on the thick, high grass. It must have stalled at least 5-10 times, and each time I wasn’t sure it would start again. But it did. And I was able to cut my lawn relatively even, in the end. I’ll need to make another quick pass today, but I got the job done as I could, under the circumstances.

No 8-inch mohawk.

I also did some cleaning around the house. My spouse has mobility issues, so they can’t do a lot of cleaning, so that falls to me. I did a thorough wipe-down of the half-bath downstairs, and I cleaned the grungiest parts of the full bathroom upstairs. I was seriously low on energy, yesterday, but I did get something done. I also did some more organizing in my study — to the point where I’m comfortable being in the room again. It’s been so messy for so long, I haven’t wanted to spend any time here. That’s different, now, though. And I’m much more comfortable here than I’ve been for quite some time.

I also have more ideas for how to better organize it – I have the right sized boxes that I can slide under my bed to keep a lot of my books that I don’t want to look at anymore. I don’t want to get rid of them. I just need more space. Having those boxes gives me more options. And I can use more options.

The question is – and book-lovers will totally get this – which books do I put away? They are all my “friends”  that have special memories associated with them. I’m not sure I want to make those memories disappear from sight.

Alternatively, I could get bigger bookshelves for my study. That might be a good idea.

Book decisions aside, today I am focusing seeking calm. Chilling out my system, so I can relax. I have been pretty uptight for the last couple of weeks – partly because I’m back to helping my spouse with packing and planning for their events every weekend, which can be pretty stressful for me. It’s putting an even bigger load on my system than usual, and I need to find ways to offset that. Things like getting back into my sitting practice… making sure I stretch… getting out in nature when I can… and keeping their crazy-nuttiness from affecting me.

I’ve gotta work on that “CN (Crazy-Nuttiness) Defense” pretty actively. Because it’s really all around me. CN is around me at work, it’s around me whenever I interact with other people. And if I’m not careful, it drives my blood pressure up, which gives me a headache. I’ve been getting more headaches, lately, which is disappointing. But it also shows me that I need to take corrective action.

After all, I can’t expect the rest of the world to accommodate me. And if I know what to do, to keep myself healthy and safe and sane, then it’s really on me to do just that, whenever the situation calls for it.

I also need to be mindful of those times when I am tired and out of sorts and I am more likely to respond intensely to something that normally wouldn’t bother me. My spouse has a habit of starting really energized conversations about good experiences, and then when the conversation is just about to conclude, switching gears to be critical or find fault or start getting really negative about someone or something. They don’t see it as negative – they get a big energy charge out of it. But to me it just sounds like they’re exhaling smog, and I start to choke on it.

I know why they do it – neurologically, they rely on a “negative” charge to get their adrenaline going, so they feel more alert. They are feeling good when they’re talking about good things, and when they start to run out of energy, they resort to negative criticism and adrenaline to “keep the party going” — predictable standard-issue behavior for them.

And if I’m tired (from the animated conversation we just had), I get really angry and upset when they start being critical and talking about behaviors and choices I don’t agree with. It’s insidious — and it always catches me by surprise, just how quickly they can change gears. And it’s a sign of their cognitive issues that they do this — which makes me even more upset.

End result: migraine.

So, I need to step away and catch my breath, slow down my racing heart and calm down my over-wired system. I have to get away from them as soon as possible, so I can breathe freely again… and when I’m calm, I can come back, but not before. Sometimes that takes a while. And that makes my spouse very anxious. They see it as having to do with my brain injury, rather than their own cognitive impairment. Their perseveration seems completely justified to them, and it makes me physically ill to think about what’s causing that — and how they’re not doing all that much to slow down the process.

Cerebrovascular dementia is not much fun. Especially watching it happen to someone you love who is unable to help themself deal with it. Add to that panic-anxiety issues, and it makes it all but impossible to discuss. And if you can’t talk about it, you can’t figure out what’s really going on — and you can’t do anything about it. It’s so critical to control your blood sugar and your moods, so you don’t “blow out” your system. Long-term elevated blood sugar compromises the vascular system. And high blood pressure puts additional strain on an already weakened system. NONE of this is good for the brain.

My spouse also believes that they only have a few more years to live, so they are putting a lot of pressure on me to travel with them before they die. I don’t have a million hours of vacation saved up, so there’s only so much I can do. It’s actually the pressure of them constantly talking about where we’re going to travel and when and how we’ll do it, that weighs me down.

It may be a vacation for them, but it’s an awful lot of work for me. They don’t see it, however. All they see is what they want and how they can get it. Nobody else really matters that much to them, when they’re locked on the target of getting what they “need”.

I have a feeling I’m going to be blogging about my spouse’s decline a good deal, in the coming years. It’s ironic that, no sooner do feel like I’m back on track with my life and I feel like myself again, than my spouse begins to decline. But it does put me in a better position to A) respond appropriately to them, and B) try to educate and raise awareness with others about what the deal is with stroke, vascular dementia, diabetes, and how they all conspire to ruin lives.

Bottom line: Diabetes weakens the vascular system. It weakens the walls of the blood vessels over time. Unregulated blood sugar can make you get crazy about little things, which drives your blood pressure up. That doesn’t bode well for blood vessels that are weakened. And since the brain has so many, many blood vessels, it’s one of the first places that things start to break down, small bleeds happen, cells die, and your cognition gets f*cked. Lack of exercise doesn’t help. The body needs to be moved and challenged to stay strong, and it also needs exercise to clear out the gunk that builds up from stress and other environmental “pollutants”. So, if you don’t ever move, your body isn’t going to get the movement it needs to keep healthy.  And if you never move, you can’t keep strong so that you’re able to keep your balance — that puts you at risk for a fall, which may include a bone break or a TBI. None of this is good.

But I’m getting off a tangent. More — much more — on that later.

Anyway, like I said, I can’t expect the rest of the world to accommodate me. Life will run its course. I just need to find calm in the midst, find ways to keep the joy in the midst of others’ pain… to keep calm in the center of the storm. My own internal life is my own space – and that is the only space I have any control over, whatsoever.

fukitolI need to make a point of taking very good care of myself. Take my dose of “Fukitol” and head for the great outdoors. Or, if I have to stay inside, keep that mindset of being outdoors and not really giving a damn about what other people do, say, or choose to do with their lives.

That being said, it’s time for a walk in the woods. I do have the energy for that, this morning. No guarantees on what’s happening later today.

For now… off I go.

Onward!

 

 

mother dementia temper

Source: Clinton Steeds

So searched one of my readers yesterday. Three words that say a whole lot.

My guess is that someone’s mother is starting to fade, cognitively, and she has been blowing up at them…. and they’re trying to decide what to do — to keep coming around and visiting/helping mother, or to slowly distance themself from her tirades and protect what sanity they have left in life.

One can hardly blame them.

I think it’s particularly difficult, when you’re an adult child, you have plenty of responsibilities already, and you are keenly aware that you don’t have tons of time left on the planet to just enjoy yourself. It’s hard, having a parent who’s declining. You don’t want to just “dump” them, but you also need to have a life. It’s an impossible quandary, from which no one escapes unscathed.

I haven’t been thrust into the midst of that terrible What To Do With Mother/Father quandary, just yet. And it’s a good thing. I’m just now starting to really enjoy my life. After 40-some years of confusion and some pretty tough times, I’m coming out of a long, dark tunnel into light.

About the last thing I want or need (selfishly, perhaps) is a parent in decline who is my responsibility in some way or another.

I am indeed blessed. For the time being. And I’m savoring the moments of blissful normalcy while I can.

Because you never know when something unexpectedly awful will come ’round the corner. And then the recovery starts all over again. Some kind of recovery or another. Maybe it’s physical. Neurological. Emotional. Or just plain logistical. Terrible stuff happens. We all know that. What we don’t know is whether or not we’re going to survive it, the next time.

The odd thing is, sometimes we have a much clearer view of our difficulties in advance of them, as well as afterwards. While we’re in the thick of things, we can get so focused on just dealing with what’s in front of us, we don’t realize what a big chunk the situation is biting out of us. We’re intent on survival — pure and simple. Only later, do we fully realize just what a steep price we paid for our survival. And then the post-traumatic stuff sets in, with you feeling awful and inadequate and jumpy and itchy, ready to leap out of our skin at the drop of a hat, or pick up a stick and go racing down the street threatening anyone who looks at you the wrong way.

Kind of like

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temper

How’s that for dysfunctional haiku?

And so our lives unfold. We value our ties with the ones we love. We see those ties unravel. And we lose it over the littlest things. In the midst of it, in the thick of it, we shore up our resolve and tell ourselves we’re Good People who mean only to Do Good, chasing our gumption with a stiff shot of the hard stuff or a strong helping of whatever rationalization fits us best. We’re so irreversibly human, so fraught with limitation and trepidation. Yet, somehow, we continue to Do Good — or at least intend to.

And we mourn the missed chances, the lost causes, the opportunities we now value but passed up before. We shed a few tears into our pillows before falling asleep, we brush the tears from our eyes as we drive home from appointments with care providers and experts whose primary purpose is to help us and our loved ones through the day. We ask for help. Or we turn offers away. We do what people do — strange, inexplicable things that somehow serve to dull the pain of daily existence.

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None of it seems to make much sense, some days. And yet, we go on. We continue. We put one foot in front of the other. We double-tie our shoelaces so we won’t have to stop too often to re-tie them… so we don’t trip over a shoelace.

We mourn for Haiti. And Louisiana. We rue the dark schmutz on the Gulf coast of Florida. We rail against The Powers that refuse to let good-hearted citizens save sea turtles and pelicans. We watch for the inevitable lawsuits that may — just may — dispense a version of justice in this terribly unjust, benzine-fumigated world of ours.

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And part of us doesn’t blame Mother Earth for throwing all that oil up on the shores during storms and hurricanes. Because we’re the ones who loosed it from Her deep, to begin with. Part of us doesn’t blame the birds for just dying — who could hold up under that terrible dark weight? Part of us loves Tony Heyward for giving us a single figure on whom we can fixate the full brunt of our anguished disgust. Tar and feathers is for BP execs, not endangered species.

Or so we would like to think.

It’s all so fragile, isn’t it? Our connections strengthen, then fray and dissolve. The small chirping creature in the woods outside our living room window pips melodically… then starts to shriek, and then goes silent. A tree comes down and the electricity goes out, and someone slips in the dark, hits their head, loses a part of themself in the process. A certain part in a car fails, an accident happens, and the driver is injured invisibly… for a few months, till their life starts to come apart at the seams for no apparent reason.

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temper

Google soothes, as only Google can.

Though I can’t say all the changes have been bad…

Thinking about my little enneagram test, I am actually glad that I’ve had to change in some ways. I am MUCH more organized than I was before I realized that if I’m not, I get into big trouble. I am a whole lot more present, in my daily life, and I’m a lot more cautious about things that I used to be very cavalier about.

In some ways, my personality changes have been in response to the TBIs and coping with them — versus them being due to the fall down the stairs… the car accidents… the sports concussions… and the attack. And that’s helped me, more than it’s hurt me.

I really shouldn’t boo-hoo over it. Change can be very good, and everybody encounters stuff they need to overcome. We change in response to the shifting demands of the world around us. And the world changes in response to us, as well.

It’s just interesting to see and consider the kinds of differences that emerge in my life over time. And to remember that deep down inside of me, there is a part that loves to pity itself and cry “poor me!” when better reason would tell me to buck up and just get on with it.

Heck, considering that I’ve been dealing with cognitive-behavioral issues practically my whole life, and I’ve done pretty well for myself, then if I start to decline cognitively in my advancing age, I already have coping skills in place that can serve me in good stead.

I know — I’ll consider myself ahead of the game, and call it a win.

Does blogging make me brilliant?

It’s quite possible…

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what can be done to help myself not end up like football players described in Malcom Gladwell’s New Yorker piece on Football, Dog Fighting and Brain Damage. I must admit, it wasn’t the best idea to read that story before going to bed last night. It kept me up, actually, which wasn’t good.

Anyway, it’s Saturday, so I can always sleep later to make up the time. And there’s something about drifting in that in-between place, that gets my mind turning in different directions for the answers it craves.

A few years ago, I heard about The Nun Study (by the Universities of Minnesota and Kentucky) which followed an order of nuns in Mankato, MN, who lived longer — and better — than was typical of the average population. They found some interesting things in their study — including the fact that some of the sisters’ brains (after they had passed on and their brains were donated and studied) were chock full of signs of Alzheimers. Yet, they had exhibited none of the symptoms we associate with the degenerative disorder.

In The Magnificent Minnesota Nun Brains Ken Korczak writes:

Most of the Sisters of Notre Dame stay vital and active well into their 90s. There are almost no symptoms that are typical of age-related brain disorders, such as senile dementia, strokes and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Amazingly, some of the nuns maintained clear healthy minds even though their brains showed the scars and deterioration characteristic of severe brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and strokes.

In the case of the brain of one Sister Mary, who died well into her 100s, scientists were astounded to find large-scale deterioration of brain tissue, and even lesions associated with strokes and progressive Alzheimer’s Disease — yet she remained clear-headed and lucid to the end of her life.

Sister Mary’s brain apparently defeated the effects of these brain diseases by countering them with an unusually rich growth of interconnection between her brain cells, or neurons. Her extra dendrites and axons were able to bypass damaged areas of her brain to keep her lucid and healthy.

. . .

After examining and dissecting dozens of brains, scientists have come to several conclusions. Interestingly, the secret to the long lives and clear minds of these nuns may be attributed to a couple of simple things.

After looking at dozens of different variables, researchers discovered that the Sisters of Nortre Dame all did one thing that the majority other people do not do — they kept a daily personal journal recording their deepest thoughts, emotions, impressions and ideas.

Also, the Sisters Of Nortre Dame condemn “mental idleness” as sin. They did not allow themselves the frills of mental down time. Most of the Sisters have college degrees and some graduate degrees. They also play a lot of brain teaser games, solve puzzles and engage in rigorous debates at weekly seminars.

Keeping a rigorous daily journal is also required by the Order, and is considered as important as daily prayer, work and devotion to their primary vocation, the education of children. The Sisters believe in thorough, critical self examination.

The journaling aspect of the nuns intrigued scientists so much, some went looking for independent confirmation that daily journaling or diary keeping may be the secret to defeating the brain diseases of old age, and longer life.

Well, they not only found confirmation, but some scientists determined that frequent journaling may be a sure way to raise the IQ of any person, and may even springboard some people to genius level.

. . . (more here)

… researchers pointed to many other facets of their lives which may have contributed to their longevity:

• They belonged to a religious order and prayed daily. Recent independent studies have suggested that people who go to church or belong to any kind of religion, tend to live longer and be happier than those who do not.

• They felt comfortable in the fact that they “belonged” to a supportive group of like-minded human beings. This longevity factor has also been noticed in independent studies on peoples in Japan, Pakistan and Crete.

• They stay physically active as well as mentally active, not slowing down when reaching ages 70s through 100s.

• They actively cultivated positive attitudes.

• They lead selfless lives, and devote themselves to caring and giving to others.

• They rarely worried or fretted over material things such as money, mortgages, taxes and the like.

• They accept death as being a part of life. Funerals for the nuns are said to be almost occasions for joy among the Sisters.

Most of the above, I can relate to. I tend to substitute “spirituality” for religion, but the concept of being part of an organized, regularly scheduled spiritual practice strikes me as being very beneficial. And different people have different definitions of religion and spirituality, so I would imagine that avid readers who are passionate and disciplined about their reading could substitute weekly book club meetings for church. I don’t mean to be sacreligious. Different people just relate spiritually to different things, so those of us who are not regular church-goers shouldn’t be condemned to dementia by association.

Also the journaling aspect of things really caught my attention. Over the course of my life, I’ve kept journals regularly, even when they were full of gibberish and meant nothing to me later on. The simple fact of writing — in longhand — my thoughts and impressions and hopes and dreams and fears and frustrations, may have helped me overcome at least eight distinct head injuries, to the point where my life is unmarked by those injuries to the eyes of the outside world (my inside world is another story). Ultimately, for the sake of my own survival, what the outside world thinks is waaaay important. I can always address my internal issues on my own time and in my own way. But I do need to keep a job.

It’s interesting that I’m coming across this today. A few days back one of my neuropsychs was telling me that keeping voluminous journals is not the best use of time. They would like me to spend my time more fruitfully, making my  mark in the world. Well, sure, I would too, but it’s a good thing to read that keeping a lot of journals is not actually a waste of time.

Now I need to arrive at their office with this article in hand, and hopefully they will revise their opinion. If not, it’s of no consequence to me. I’ll keep writing, regardless.

Interesting — since my fall in 2004 (I’m coming up on my 5-year anniversary of the mild TBI from hell), I have not written much in longhand. It’s like, I just stopped. I told myself I didn’t have any use for my journals, anymore, but the fact was, I was having a hard time writing. I had suddenly become a bit dyslexic, after nearly 40 years of never having that problem. And I was having trouble focusing and concentrating long enough to get words on paper.

Now, it seems, I need to get back to that. Not only because it’s good for my brain, but also because I need to discipline and I need to exercise those parts of myself that are helped by writing in longhand:

  • discipline (the ability to put words together in a meaningful way, as well as keeping myself on topic)
  • impulse control (the ability to slow down and gather myself when I need to)
  • eye-hand coordination (keeping my writing on the lines — or practicing writing on blank paper and keeping my writing in straight lines)
  • focus (keeping my mind on the page in front of me)
  • checking in with myself in a deliberate, measured way

Yes, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes for me to do this. Not so much for the old reasons — before, I thought I was helping myself realize truths about myself, when I was really wandering around in a fog, much of the time — as for the new ones I’ve listed above.

Also, my writing needs to change. It  needs a new focus. Not this old rambling, wandering, free-association stream of thoughts all the time (though sometimes that may be good to do), but a more focused, more deliberate kind of writing that doesn’t take me away from my life, but brings me into the midst of it.

And all the while, I am continuing to blog. Continuing to share what I’m finding. Continuing to reach out and relate what I’ve found to be useful — or not helpful — in this path of recovery, which is as much about just living my life, already, as it is about specifically addressing TBI-related weaknesses and problems. There’s a whole wide world out there, and there’s lots to talk about. Blogging gives me a chance to do it in a way that isn’t as insular and as esoteric as my own private journaling, and with any luck, it does others some good, too.

And if I do it often enough and with enough focus and discipline, it can help me think better and write better, which in turns helps me feel better about myself, focus on solutions rather than the endless stream of problems that follow me around like so many crying, swooping, begging seagulls following a fishing boat. I’m at the wheel of my own fishing boat, and I’m the one at the helm of my life. I can choose to pay attention to the gaggle of hangers-on and let them distract me from my activities, or I can pay attention to my boat and my nets, and haul in whatever catch I can get.

My choice.

Bottom line is, this writing activity of mine is actually a good use of time, and I need to value it. Even though it’s seemed like an exercise in futility (to myself and others), that belief has been based on incomplete information, and those beliefs can change. Beliefs can change, and so can behavior. I can “bump up” the activities I’ve followed “just for fun” — and practice them as regular parts of my active recovery from mild traumatic brain injury. I can use them as opportunities not only to heal from my recent damage, but also to ensure my long-term cognitive health and happiness.

Fact: I have sustained at least 8 (possibly more) mild (and some possibly moderate) traumatic brain injuries throughout the course of my adventurous life.

Fact: Plenty of people get hit on the head or sustain some other sort of brain damage or degeneration, and some of them live long and happy lives, devoid of any signs or symptoms of their hidden issues.

Fact: Some of those asymptomatic survivors do specific things that appear to help them. Studies have shown correlations between certain behaviors and choices and long-term cognitive health.

Fact: Those activities are things I can do, myself. They are not mysterious or beyond my reach. They include activities like faithfully keeping a daily journal, cultivating a positive attitude, and maintaining a disciplined way of life that is devoted to service to others. I can do them, too. In fact, I have been doing many of them for many years, and this may account for my tremendous success as a long-term multiple head injury survivor.

If the simple act of blogging about my own life doesn’t make me brilliant, alone, certainly learning from the blogs of others — and blogging in turn about it for others to read — can’t hurt.

Onward, upward. And outward. The world is waiting…