Chronic Blogging – Getting Properly Setup – Blog Configuration Basics

I like WordPress. A lot.
I like WordPress. A lot.

The first order of the day is to get your blog properly setup and configured. This is not nearly as difficult as it sounds, and what you do here, can really help you in the long run.

The first I’ll discuss is the basics of setting up your blog to make your life easier. With technology, it’s easier than ever to complicate everything — to the point where you just don’t want to do it, anymore. I’ll keep things simple here. I also won’t cover every single topic I can think of — just the basics you should consider.

There are a lot of great books and websites out there that can offer you in-depth tips and tricks. Use them as much as you can. There are lots of smart people who share really useful info with the world.

In this guide, I’ll talk about using WordPress, because after years of blogging and using different systems like Blogger and Typepad (and some others I can’t recall the names of), WordPress is my favorite for a number of reasons.

  1. It’s stable and well-supported. It’s not just a side project of some folks who needed to do something fun and fulfilling on the weekends (that happens more often than you think). It’s managed by real people who do it for a living. And it’s actively supported. Sometimes they make changes to the interface that drive me nuts, but overall, it’s worth the hassle. There’s a ton of help and documentation about how to different things, but you can do a lot with just a little bit of information. There are many, many themes (designs) that give you a lot of different options, and they are also well supported.
  2. You can do a lot with a little — for free. You can sign up for a free blog and be publishing your work in a matter of minutes. There are a lot of different customizations you can do, but you don’t have to do many at all, to get a functioning blog that looks good. Simplicity is important, if you just want to focus on your writing, instead of configuring your “technical platform”. And it doesn’t need to cost you anything other than your time and attention.
  3. It has a lot of SEO stuff already built in – like “human-readable” urls, correct html, consistent page designs, and the ability to optimize your images so search engines love you. That is so important — I think one of the reasons I rank pretty high in Google, is precisely because I am on WordPress.
  4. You’re automatically connected with a wider community. WordPress has a ton of bloggers on it, and they’re all connected via the Reader feature. You can easily find others on WP who write about the stuff you’re interested in, and they will show you the tags that people are using, so you not only find out who’s writing, but what they’re writing about the most.
  5. They make it really, really easy. Signing up is easy. Setting up is easy. Blogging is easy – and you can also password protect and schedule your posts, if you like. Promoting is easy, too. For example, if you want to tell the world whenever you post to your blog, you can hook up Publicize to post to FB and tweet automatically whenever you publish. That’s important for your wider community.

I could list many, many more reasons why WordPress is my blog platform of choice, but the five above should be enough to convince you to give them a try.

In this section, I’ll talk in some detail about the basic things you want to do for proper setup.

  • Picking the right theme (design)
  • Setting up your blog with the most important elements – sidebars, widgets, sharing, and pages
  • Making your blog readable
  • Managing publishing, comments, and ongoing discussions
  • Making sure search engines can find you

You can read the tips and tricks in order, or you can take them piece by piece in whatever order you like. You can skip around and do what you please, and any one of these changes can make a positive difference. We don’t need to “boil the ocean” here – dealing with chronic health conditions is a big enough challenge, let alone adding a regular writing practice to the mix. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like, but even in its simplest form, a blog can make a positive difference in others’ lives.

Chronic Blogging – Good voices needed by good people

It doesn't take much to get started
It doesn’t take much to get started – you just have to keep going 😉

Dear blogger – I want to help you become better at what you do.

Especially if you blog about chronic health conditions (spanning mental health to physical conditions), you’re in a great position to help others who share your same situation and concerns. Many folks with chronic health issues are housebound and don’t have a lot of contact with the outside world. Some are isolated by their conditions, and many have lost their social support network because their one-time friends just couldn’t deal with their problems.

You know first-hand what it’s like to be hampered by chronic conditions, so your voice can help others to better understand their world, as well as feel less isolated.

When they first started picking up steam, about 15 years ago, blogs were a novelty. They were something only egomaniacs bothered writing, and only voyeurs bothered reading. They were dismissed by “serious readers”, partly because the medium had not had a chance to mature. But over time, the depth and breadth of blogs written by genuinely good writers, has won over countless readers. And some bloggers share the same regard and influence as well-known journalists – some of them enjoy even more.

I’ve been “chronic blogging” about my ongoing recovery from repeat mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI/concussion) since around 2008, and it has been a long, slow process developing both the blog and a readership. I started out wanting to just help others with information I gathered, as well as sharing my experiences. And there were times when I just didn’t write very much at all. Also, at the start, I was very verbose… rambling… overly emotional… kind of a mess. But some of my readers complained, and I stopped whining constantly.

I wanted to do something really useful, not just vent all the time. And so I changed things up, tried different approaches, and I learned from my mistakes and successes alike. As of this reading, my blog Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind (brokenbrilliant.wordpress.com) has had 433,743 views from 192 different countries. That’s a result of posting nearly every day for the past several years – 2,615 different posts since 2007.

10,000 foot view
10,000 foot view

By far, though, the most gratifying thing has been the feedback I’ve received from others. There are a lot of people like me out there, who feel isolated and alone and without access to support. Their feedback has been so welcome, so fantastic, so heart-warming. It’s not always easy to hear people’s accounts of their own difficulties, but knowing I’ve helped ease their pain – even just a little – makes all the effort worthwhile.

It’s still an occasional challenge to keep from whining – and sometimes I don’t manage to suppress it very well. But I’ve found a lot of satisfaction from researching my own health issues and sharing what I find with others, as well as publicizing the work of other brain injury and chronic health challenge bloggers. There really are a lot of great folks doing fantastic work out there – and we can always use another strong voice.

If you’ve ever thought about starting your own blog, or you’ve got one going and you’re looking for ways to increase your exposure and grow your readership, I may be able to help. I have been working with this “web stuff” for 20 years, now, so it’s second nature to me. But it’s not obvious to most folks. SEO, in particular, is shrouded in unnecessary mystery (probably to keep consultants employed), however you’ll probably find that common sense trumps gimmicks every day.

Ultimately, it’s really about building community – reaching out to others who need your help or could use a friendly voice – and making us all stronger in the process. I’ll do my best to provide truly useful tips and tricks, without overwhelming you.

Try doing some of this a little bit at a time, and really give a lot of thought to each piece of the puzzle. It’s a discovery process, and it may take months for things to turn around for you, but I believe that these changes can really help you a lot in your blogging.

If you’ve got something to say about managing a chronic health condition, and you want to help others, by all means, join us with your blog. It’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of dedication and discipline, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.

To my 24 new followers – welcome

Welcome, all! I'm glad you're here.
Welcome, all! I’m glad you’re here.

I have been looking at my WordPress stats, following up on who has recently followed this blog.

In the last 2 weeks, 24 of you have joined me on this journey (22 via WordPress, 2 via email), so welcome. I don’t mean to be rude or take you for granted — please know that I appreciate you following, and I hope I bring something positive to your life.

I’m about to go out for my morning walk on an amazingly beautiful day, and before I do, I just want to say:

Whatever brought you to this blog, was probably for a very good reason. People come here all the time, not knowing what they will find, then they discover something that helps them. It’s both by accident, and by design. I don’t have any particular “content strategy” in mind, other than writing about the things that matter to me, as a TBI survivor dealing with an invisible set of difficulties, a regular person trying to build the best life possible, and as a member of the larger community who is sure that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

There are times when I am annoying, I whine and bitch and complain and am not my best self by any stretch of the imagination. I can be petulant and cranky and self-absorbed, and I can be a real trial at times — especially to myself 😉

Be that as it may, I have an incredible amount of goodness in my life, and I want to share that experience, as well as show others how I’ve gotten there through a combination of hard work and perseverance, and using my noggin to determine if what I’m doing is actually working. The times when I fail are the biggest lessons — and at times the most valuable.

I’m not afraid to fail. I just get a little tired of getting back up all the time.

But then, don’t we all…?

I know I am not alone in my frustrations and challenges. I’m human, and whether you’re dealing with a brain injury, another sort of injury, past trauma, ongoing difficulties in your life, or a hidden condition that others can never suspect is going on, we are all in this together, and we all have so much to share, if we take the time and put forth the effort.

The effort is not easy. But it is worth it. I start most of my days on this blog, because I remember all too well what it’s like to go through life in pain and frustration and despair, and feel so terribly alone. Some days I’d rather be doing something else than typing into a machine, and I can go for days without writing a word. But I know this is important — to me as well as others who find their way here and really value hearing someone else talk about life in ways that they can relate to.

That happens all too seldom. But I hope it won’t happen here.

Joining us today from...
Joining us today from…

So, to all of you — followers, as well as new readers from all over the world — thank you for your support. I’m happy you’re here.

 

 

 

Tony Dorsett is not dead

Tony Dorsett – all those years ago

The public debate about football and its effects on cognitive health — that is to say, how all those years of head trauma can really screw you up, years later — is heating up even more. PBS ran the special “League of Denial” about the NFL’s cover-up of the brain-damaging effects of their brand of football, and now Tony Dorsett and several other former pro players have been diagnosed with early signs of CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Bleacher Report has a good write-up on it here, and ESPN has their own, which I read yesterday.

I was really encouraged to read that there’s actually a way to detect CTE in living people. Up to recently, the word was that it can only be definitively identified in the brains of dead folks. But apparently now UCLA has a fix for that. So, that’s encouraging.

But it’s never good when anyone has CTE, and both Joe DeLamielleure and Leonard Marshall were also diagnosed, but Tony Dorsett…? That was a pretty emotional discovery for me. He was one of the players who got me really excited about the game when I was a kid. I always loved football, but there was something about his performance that was even more compelling — and it almost made me a Cowboys fan, for a while. Almost.

The article over at Bleacher Report has a writeup and includes the full gamut of responses from readers — everything from “the players knew the risks, and they did it anyway,” or “they just want to milk the system” to “they’re upset because they’re not in the limelight anymore and they’re just a bunch of cry-babies looking for attention,” to “you’re an idiot – the NFL covered this up for 15 years,” to well-informed responses based on science, to flat-out denial that anyone other than linemen could sustain repeated head trauma. And here and there are counter-arguments to refute ignorance-based “rationale.”

There’s a lot of back-and-forth talk, some more useful than others, but the most important thing is, people are talking about it, and more awareness is building around the whole issue. It would be nice if folks could share information and keep an open mind without calling names, but this is the internet, after all. I do find it hopeful that people are quoting actual scientifically based facts. And what I find most interesting is how many readers are reporting that parents are not letting their kids play football.

One of the questions that comes to my mind is whether all the talk might be doing more harm than good. There’s a lot of knee-jerk reaction going on, and brain injury is such an emotionally loaded subject which hits so close to each of us, that a lot of people just stop listening as soon as they hear “brain injury”. It’s not that they don’t want to learn or understand — we’re wired to shut down our higher reasoning, when we feel threatened at a deep level, and brain injury hits a lot of us in our most vulnerable spot.

A broken bone you can see and set and watch heal on the x-rays. A broken nose you can push back into place, tape up, and wait to get better. But a broken brain? It’s invisible. It’s mysterious. You can’t even see the real issues on imaging results — at least, not those that are widely available at a reasonable cost. And you don’t have a clear-cut route to recovery. Plus, we have this really bizarre expectation (based, I’m sure on decades of science that told us it’s so) that you only have so many brain cells, that once you damage the brain, you’re done, and there’s no turning back.

Only in the past years has science amended its views — and it’s done so silently, without so much as a hint of an apology for training us all to give up on ourselves.

What’s more, I think we’re not helped by the sensationalistic (if true) focus that’s being brought to CTE and the long-term effects of repeat head trauma. All the press focusing in detail on the horrible things that happen to you after head trauma might be cementing the public perception that once you’re brain-injured, that’s it. Tony Dorsett says he’s being proactive and is going to fight this and live his life to the fullest. But given how little is generally known in the public about brain injury in general, who knows how seriously anyone is taking this? I read one article where the writer referred to his condition as his “demise” — a freudian slip, if ever I heard one.

Frankly, I’d be surprised if anyone gave him the time of day after his revelation. Yes, he is Tony Dorsett — that is, he was. Once people find out that you’ve got “brain issues,” they have a way of distancing themselves from you. It’s something they don’t want to think about. They can’t help but imagine what it would be like for them — and it scares the bejesus out of them. So, they choose not to talk about it. They’d much rather talk to Sidney Crosby, who apparently has no more head/neck trauma issues to speak of.

From personal experience, I can tell you, repeat head trauma — even mild traumatic brain injuries — can do a number on you. It can turn your emotions upside-down, trash your impulse-control, wreck your judgment, saddle you with a bunch of unpredictable and seemingly insurmountable physical sensitivities, put you in a state of constant headache and general pain… in the process destroying your relationships, costing you your job, turning your financial decision-making inside-out, and generally doing the same thing to your life that a frat party does to a frat house. And it can all happen without you ever intending it to — and never actually wanting it to.

Now, I know a lot of folks are going to say it’s a character issue, or it’s an issue of self-control or what-not. It’s not about character. It’s about how the brain works, and how our lives are ordered as a result. And when you’re brain-injured (and unaware that you’re dealing with brain injury), the very thing that’s supposed to keep everything in order is what’s the problem.

And because it’s your brain that’s impacted, you can never even realize till it’s way late in the game — for some, too late.

The thing is — if we can all get past the terribleness of it, please — there is a way out. Brain injury, even CTE, doesn’t need to be the end. The brain is an incredibly “plastic” organism that by nature re-routes its wiring and recruits other parts to take on functionality that the original parts may have lost. There have been cases of people with advanced brain degeneration never ever showing any signs of that condition — the book Aging with Grace talks about that. And you can’t tell me that all the people who have lived full lives to a ripe old age have never had any organic brain issues. The brain is a mysterious and amazing organism. Our limited understanding doesn’t change its infinite possibilities.

If there’s one thing that I hope comes out of all this — even if it’s long-term — it’s the knowledge and experience that recovery from brain injury is possible. It is NOT a death sentence. I hope someone out there gets a clue — and publishes widely on it — about how possible (even probable) it is that a person can restore quality to their life and continue to live with meaning and purpose and a sense of usefulness, even after repeat head traumas.

Making a huge issue out of football being a cause of a brain-wasting condition is only part of the story. Saying that repeat concussions is a recipe for madness and early-onset brain degeneration is not the whole truth.And focusing only on the awfulness (to raise awareness and funding) leaves me with the feeling that this terribleness is permanent and irreversible. Logically I know it’s not 100% accurate, but part of me fears might be.

Tony Dorsett is not dead. Not yet, anyway. Who knows what will take him out in the end? He says he’s got issues. He says it’s wrecking his life. He says he’s considered suicide. And he says he’s being proactive and is going to fight this thing. There is still a whole lot we don’t know about the brain, CTE, tau, and how we might be able to clear the junk out of the brain.

Personally, my money’s on exercise, sleep, a positive attitude, staying active both mentally and physically, keeping connected to a community, and solid nutrition without a ton of artificial crap crammed in between the real ingredients. But that’s just me.

Whatever other folks may choose, I hope they do choose it, and I hope they don’t give up just because things look a little grim, right now. Things always look grim, before you have a chance to do something about them. But once you get going… you never know where it’s going to take you.

In any case, the day is waiting. I have a lot that I want to accomplish today — this whole weekend, in fact.  So, speaking of staying active, it’s time for a morning walk before I get into the rest of my day. That should get things moving…

Onward.

A brilliant opportunity

I woke up today thinking that the TBI survivor community has a great opportunity before it — with the power of the internet and new electronic publishing technologies like blogs and forums and emerging print-on-demand technologies, we really do have the ability to offer each other the support that we cannot (and probably will not) find from the “system” that’s supposed to help us.

The medical industry doesn’t seem to have much interest in helping us address our issues in a consistent and substantive way.

All that some can manage to tell us is, “Every TBI is different,” without mentioning the myriad similarities so many of us have — and can benefit from hearing/learning about.

And frankly, there’s not a lot of money in rehabilitating someone who is no longer “able” to function at the same level they were before…

So many of us just get sent out to pasture. We fall between the cracks. And people who are in public positions to change that, don’t seem to care. I’m sure, on some level, they do, but so much is not known about this condition, and so many other conditions are more obvious and more easily tracked and more easily conceptualized… and are less frightening to the average person, that TBI just isn’t on the radar the way, say, cancer and heart disease are.

Now, I lost one of my little sisters to breast cancer, 2-1/2 years ago. I sat at her side and held her hand during her last hours of dying, so I’m certainly not opposed to cancer getting as much attention and funding as possible. And people close to me have had heart issues, so I’m all for addressing that, as well.

But doesn’t anyone have any attention to spare for TBI folks?

Perhaps not — but we do. We, the survivors. We, the family and friends. We, the ones with the most to lose and the most to gain. We can — and should — be there for each other and pool our resources and experience and strength and hope, for the benefit of everyone concerned.

Ultimately, the very society which doesn’t have much time for us, will ultimately benefit. But that’s not something I can prove right now, and it’s not something I can substantiate with numbers and metrics, so society at large will just have to wait and see how well we can rebound… and how well we can serve one another in the best way humanly possible.

An opportunity lies before us, to come together and pool our resources and offer one another help and support — largely in the form of information that’s distributed across the world wide web. Our info can go a long way. We can do for ourselves, what others cannot do for us. So, let’s do it!