Here are the results of my testing yesterday. I got my test sheet and folded it in fours, then I studied the image below, committing it to memory. I traced the lines with my finger, and I also stood with my shoulders wide and my hands on my hips, to have a kind of physical memory of it, because it looks almost like a robot standing with its hands on its hips. I tried to take my time, but I was distracted by my busy day ahead.
I noticed when I was starting out, I was a bit impatient. I was tired (still am), and I was running behind schedule. So, I felt very antsy while I was studying the image
About four hours passed until I did my first attempt at recollecting.
I did pretty well, getting the lines and all the pieces correct. However, I was a bit rushed, and the proportions were not correct. The top bar was too “chunky” (even though I remembered that the bar doesn’t go the whole way across). And I remembered the location of the circles in the middle. But I crowded them, and the bottom squares are too small. For some reason, I start out big, then I get smaller. I get nervous. I get rushed. And it shows.
At the end of the day, I took another shot:
I was clearly tired and rushed — I started drawing the bottom squares too quickly and forgot that I needed to leave room for the circles. Then I caught myself and course-corrected. The bottom squares are still too small, proportionately speaking. And the right one is smaller than the left. When I’m tired and nervous, I draw smaller. And I was rushed. I didn’t take my time — I think because I was nervous about possibly forgetting what I had in my mind.
So, what does this teach me?
Mainly, that I need to come up with a more effective technique for remembering things and keeping them in mind. I also need to relax and not rush. Because that gets me in trouble. It might not seem like that big of a deal here — it’s just a drawing — but that generalizes to other parts of my life that I really need to keep clear and steady. The skills I build while doing this can come in handy in other ways.
It’s a PDF you can download and print out. It’s 17 different versions of the circles and bars and squares training I’ve been doing. From the introductory text:
This collection of geometric shapes is designed to help train memory and attention to detail.
How does it work?
First, you fold the paper into four sides – in half in one direction, and then in half in the other direction.
Then, you study the image for a while, committing it to memory as much as possible.
Then you put the image aside and go do something else – you can think about the image a lot, occasionally, or not at all. You just get on with your life.
After an hour, or several hours, or maybe a whole day, you draw what you think is an exact replica of the image on one of the blank sides of the paper.
Then, you open up the sheet, so you can see your image beside the original, and you study it to see where you got details wrong, as well as where you got things right.
You can write down notes about your observations of your memory – what you remembered, what you forgot – and if anything “jumps out at you” about your drawing.
Repeat this process again, drawing what you think is the right image on the other blank part of the paper. Then open up the sheet and compare what you drew with the original.
Writing down notes can be a good way to train yourself about the kinds of details you missed. Nobody’s perfect, and some of the images are trickier than they seem.
Also, the images on all the pages look enough like each other that, as you do this exercise each day, you may find yourself remembering things that you committed to memory from before. This is on purpose. It’s meant to test you, to get you to really focus in on the unique and original image in front of you – not something you saw before.
At first, it may be tricky. And you may find yourself noticing things or forgetting things that surprise you. Let yourself be surprised. Learn about your mind and how it works. And learn how to memorize, one day at a time.
This collection of sheets is meant to be printed out, and each one used separately. You can re-print sheets to re-try. You can also make modifications to the original images to make them your own. You can also color in the sections of the original image and work on your color memory, too. It’s up to you.
You can use this however you want – just use it. Get better. Be better. And have fun, while you’re at it.
I hope this helps you and you find it useful. Just after doing my memory training for a few days, I was able to remember three items on a shopping list I’d left at home that morning. There were three items on the list. And I remembered them all. I was able to recall them mainly because I was able to visualize the writing — I didn’t remember the things, as much as I remembered the look of the writing of the list. But either way, it’s good. And it was such an awesome feeling to be walking through the grocery store with my other list (which was pretty long) AND remember the three items on the little list I’d forgotten at home that morning.
Obviously, I can’t guarantee results for everybody else. We are all very different from each other, and I’m a very visual thinker. So, my results are going to be probably be different from someone who is a verbal thinker, or someone who needs audio prompt.
But my philosophy is that every little bit helps, and strengthening one part of your brain can — and will — strengthen other parts as well.
So, give these exercises a try. I’ve made it easy for myself — and others — to use this. It’s not cumbersome. You have a rectangle of paper you keep around for as long as you need it. And then when you’re done with it, you can either toss it in the recycling (please don’t just throw it away – recycle, please), or you can keep it in a folder to track your progress over time.
It’s funny – when I think about my test the other day, I never even realized that the two squares underneath the bar were supposed to be separated. I totally missed that, both when I was drawing, as well as when I was reviewing. It took me a day to realize that. And then it was so obvious! Duh! But that’s how it goes with me, sometimes. So, I’ve gotta cut myself a break. For sure.
I hope you find this tool useful. I will absolutely be making more. It’s fun! And it helps! What could be better, than making life better for everyone?
I had an inspiration, a few days ago, with regard to my memory testing and training. I think this will work.
See, I have a bit of a problem. I need to find a way to do these exercises without depending on my computer. I also need a way to do them that’s simple and clean and convenient. I would like to be able to re-test myself throughout the day – and do it in an easy and non-disruptive way. I need to put these designs on paper, and I need to work with them in a way that 1) gives me a chance to study them for a while, 2) have a clean slate to start with, 3) have a way to compare them side-by-side, 4) write notes about what I got right and what I got wrong, and 5) keep them for future reference, so I can look back on how I did, and how I’m improving.
My solution? Print them out on sheets of 8-1/2 x 11″ paper, with the image on one quarter of a sheet. Then I can fold up the sheet and carry it with me, to pull out and practice on, any time I like.
And then I can collect them in a standard-size folder, an archive, if you will.
So, that’s my plan. Put this all on paper, and work with it that way. I’ll still do it here, but I need more practice throughout the day, and I don’t have access to this blog at work.
I’m going to create a collection of these images in a document for myself — and others — to use. Stay tuned. It’s going to take a little while to get this going. But it’s definitely going. I know what to do, I know how to do it, and I’m highly motivated.
Watch this space for your own downloadable version.
Work has been such a challenge, lately. It’s just one mess-up after another (created by other people) that I and my team have to clean up. And also, my piece of things has been really flagging, as well.
I do know that I’ve contributed to this, in my own way. I was not as engaged as I should have been, early on. At the same time, nobody running the show ever explained to the whole team what the depth and scope of the whole project was, so I had literally no way of knowing just how far-reaching and pervasive the issues would be.
It’s a case of people managing the present situation, but not leading into the future. That’s where things fell down. There was no over-arching leadership.
Regardless of what the cause was, now we have to deal with the situation and make it right. Because a lot of people are being impacted by the snafus, and there are a lot of angry customers.
What’s required, under these conditions, is to keep a cool head, stay locked on the target(s) in front of me, and continue marching forward… without getting caught up in the drama. There’s too much drama. I haven’t heard back from my old company about my job application (I suspect they’ll take a pass, because I don’t have a college degree — I have 25+ years of solid experience in my field, and many different key positions, but I was unable to finish my degree for a number of reasons). The company before was fine with me trading on my experience, but now the management is different — very European, which is very focused on higher education (because in many cases, it’s basically free there) — so my lack of a degree may work against me.
Well, whatever. I’ll just keep slogging, one day at a time, and keep looking around, on and off. I’ve got an updated resume, so that’s a big plus. I also have my many different projects to keep me busy. So, I’ll channel my frustrations into them, and also work at keeping a level head, keeping my system from going haywire. That, alone, will pay off.
It’s all a process. And I can get set back at any time, if I let myself “drift”. Brain injury recovery doesn’t just happen and then stop, when “you get there”. It’s an ongoing thing, just like life. And I have to keep reminding myself that I need to keep retraining my brain to handle these novel situations. Because the way I think has changed. The way I am has changed. The way I adapt has changed. So, I need to adapt to my adaptations.
Well, it keeps me on my toes.
OK, here’s my attempt at the image:
Okay, not too bad. I got the general orientation right, but I’m missing some circles – the white one at the top center, and another black one at the bottom triangle. I also extended the angled line on the right beyond where it should be. And I reversed the black and white circles at the top. Overall, I have to say it’s not that bad. I’ll try again later today, to see how I did.
Here’s a shape I’m going to study for a while… then write a post… and then see if I can replicate it from memory. I’ve found that this helps me really improve my ability to notice details and also remember things. I used to do it a lot. Then I got distracted by other things, and I stopped. I think I’ll start again. Like… now.
In the midst of just going about my life, I’ve gotten to a point where a lot of things I used to really struggle with, have now become rote. I’ve put a ton of energy into developing routines and also getting the discipline together to follow them.
And now I need to shake things up a little bit.
This past weekend was such a shaking-up time. I spent a day and a half going at top speed, helping my spouse with an out-of-town event. Originally, they were going to have friends help, then that fell through.
Rather than leaving them to their own defenses, I agreed to go along, drive the long hours, and help them with prep and wrapping up after the event. I’m actually glad I went, because it got me out of the house and it got me out of my rut. Now, I’m exhausted and I had to take the day off work to recover, but I’m still feeling pretty good, overall. And it was a good exercise for me — good training to work on my composure and ability to plan and follow-through.
I do need to work on a number of things:
My memory, which I’ve gotten a little complacent about. I’ve gotten used to forgetting things and then scrambling to make up the difference. I’d like to do better about remembering, to begin with.
My planning, which I’ve gotten lax about. I like to “go with the flow” at times, but that tends to get me in trouble, and I lose track of what I’m doing.
My follow-through, which doesn’t always happen… thus screwing up the plans I had made, in the first place.
Keeping things clean and tidy. It’s not that I’m dirty — I just let things get a little disorganized at times, and that makes everything more complicated than it needs to be. I’d like to simplify my life, which means I need to tidy up more often. So I don’t need to expend energy figuring out what’s where, and how I can find it.
Simplifying things by just saying “no”. I expend an awful lot of time deciding between competing priorities. I used to have a “never gonna happen” list, and I put a whole bunch of projects on it. But I still need to do more pruning, and not get pulled off-track by different ideas and intriguing pastimes. I need to just turn down offers from folks who want to collaborate, and stick with My Main Activity, till that’s done.
All in all, I’m feeling pretty positive about my life and the changes I’ve made over the years. Now it’s time to bump it up a notch. I need to test myself more than I have been. I feel as though the rest of my life has taken off without me, and I’m riding in a wagon with a team of galloping horses. I’d like to have a better handle on the reins, if that’s how it’s going to be.
I also need to spend a lot more time thinking about what I’ve done right, after I’ve done it, than get bogged down in the things I want to do better… eventually… whenever I get around to it. I tend to get so caught up in making lists, that I lose sight of actually just doing the items on the list. So, I need to focus on the completion of items, and thinking about them after the fact, rather than planning ahead and getting myself all psyched up … that tires me out. And then I have no energy to just get everything done.
Okay, now for my attempt at recreating that image…
Mostly, it’s right. I’m feeling pretty positive about it. The places where I messed up, are with the direction of the “flag” on the left, as well as the sizes of the circles, relative to the lengths of the lines. The circles need to be a little bigger. I often seem to under-size the circles, for some reason.
Yesterday was a tough day. I was booked all morning, noon, and evening. I had to pace myself, because I was going from 6:30 a.m. till 8:30 p.m. I had to be ON the entire time… and I had to get my spouse to a couple of appointments. Doing my own thing was pretty smooth, but it was extremely difficult going, pretty much the entire time we were together.
First off, my spouse was late. We had to leave promptly at 12:45 to make it to the dentist in time without speeding or cutting it close. I had to lead two meetings at the office, first thing in the morning, so I couldn’t be at home to get them out of bed in time. They assured me that they’d be ready when I got home, but when I got there a little after 12, they were still in the shower. They’d just gotten up. And then they were in the shower for something like 20 minutes. So, by the time they got downstairs, it was already 12:40, and they had to collect all their stuff, put on their shoes (which I have to help them do), and I had to make them something to eat, which took a little time, as well.
So, we didn’t actually get on the road till 1:00, which put a lot of pressure on me.
They have been really bad about getting to the dentist, over the years. They’ve lost a tooth, had to have multiple root canals, they have ongoing trouble with plaque buildup, which pushes their teeth apart and causes their gums to recede. It’s not good. Their one saving grace is that they have very, very long roots to their teeth, so they’ve only lost one tooth in the process (towards the back, where you can’t see it). It’s like dragging a heavy wagon through mud in a pouring-down rainstorm, trying to get them to the dentist, and while yesterday was a bit less dramatic than usual, it was still a challenge.
I’ve been working really long hours, so I was already taxed. And I was fuzzy, foggy, not thinking properly — generally bumfuzzled. My spouse doesn’t take kindly to me when I’m in that state, and it didn’t take long for them to start yelling at me about doing this wrong, doing that wrong, etc. It certainly didn’t help that I nearly rear-ended a car that stopped short in front of me. That was close. But it didn’t happen. And the rest of the ride to the dentist (who’s located in a nearby city, about an hour away), was pretty challenging.
I’ve been more sensitive to pretty much everything – lights, noise, the feel of textures… and that puts me on edge. I haven’t been sleeping well. I’ve had a low-grade headache for days. We did get to the dentist on time, but I was in a daze the whole time, and it was pretty miserable for me. I made a wrong turn, which became a Major Deal — rather than getting back on track and just getting where we were going, I was reminded again and again about what I was doing wrong. And my spouse was ordering me to do things that just didn’t make any sense. We were both off-base, but they were absolutely convinced they were right.
So, the dentist happened. And that was fine. I got a chipped tooth fixed, as well as a filling replaced. After that, we had to rush to the post office to pick up a package. Then I had to get on a conference call with my team at work, to find out what’s happening with our jobs. Basically, there’s a new direction for our team, but it’s going to take a couple of years to get sorted out. I haven’t heard from my old company about the resume I submitted, and I’m up in the air about that – on the one hand, it would be great to work with everyone there again… on the other hand, there were significant challenges that took a pretty big toll.
I’m fine with what happens, either way. At my current employer, the role they have me in is pretty constrained, and I don’t have the opportunity to contribute as much from my full range of experience… as well as use that to grow — and earn — more. But it is what I make it, so I just have to make more of it, than I have been.
For the conference call, I had to drive while I was listening to the call, because my spouse had to be at another appointment for physical therapy. They haven’t been doing great with regard to their PT. They feel uncomfortable, so they just sit around (or sleep) and then their symptoms get worse. I get pretty frustrated with all that, because I’m in almost constant pain, myself, and I don’t have the leisure to lie around — because my spouse does so much of it. It’s pretty irritating, hearing them complain about how awful they have it and how they need to take it easy, when I’m in the same boat, and if I take it easy, we don’t eat… or have a place to live.
Anyway, the drive to the PT session was an even more pungent steaming pile of doo-doo, because traffic was bad, and my spouse kept demanding that we take “the back way” as if that would solve everything. But the “back way” was twice as far, and all we had to do was stay steady in traffic and just get there. It’s bad enough when conditions are challenging, but when you’ve got someone sitting beside you constantly berating you and distracting you, it’s even worse.
I dropped them off at their session, then drove to a far end of the parking lot to chill out, decompress, and check my work email.
It was a much-needed break, because I had to get back home and get ready for a town meeting scheduled at 7. I’m on a town board that has intermittent meetings, and wouldn’t you know, it happened on one of the busiest days I’ve had in a long, long time. Of course it did. That’s how it usually goes, right?
Anyway, the board meeting went fine, and I got back home about 8:00. My spouse had gone out to pick up dinner, and they said they’d be back by the time I got home. But they were nowhere to be found. They called a little after 8 and said they’d be home shortly. But a good 30 minutes passed, and we actually didn’t eat dinner till 9:00, which totally screwed up my sleeping. Going to sleep on a full stomach is not a great thing, but I had no other choice.
No, I did have a choice. I could have just eaten half my sub and saved the rest for the next day.
I didn’t sleep well last night. Well, I slept, but I woke up after 6-1/2 hours, which is not good. I need 8 hours to function. So, now I’m going into another day with hours less sleep than I should be getting. This weekend, I hope to have some downtime. I have to help my spouse with an event this weekend — driving them to places they need to reach. I don’t trust them to drive on their own. They don’t do well, driving at night, and their judgment is not good. It’s not safe. It’s rapidly becoming less and less safe for them to drive, so I have to figure out a better way, than constantly either worrying about them, or doing the driving, myself. I have my own limits, and I have to take care of myself. This past time has not been helpful at all, and I see that I need to be smarter and more proactive about how I manage my time and energy.
I need to be able to look ahead, realistically estimate the level of effort required, and then plan ahead for when things are going to get tricky.
I am in a better position to pay someone to help out. And since I don’t need constant help, it would only be a couple times a month, probably. So, I could actually hire someone to help out. I’m starting to look around for that, now. I’ve got some ideas — and I’m pretty clear about when it needs to happen, so I can start laying the groundwork for it.
Speaking of groundwork, I need to get my own act in gear. I need to find a new doctor. My old doctor died, a little over a year ago, and now their office is pressuring me to keep being their patient — even though I really dislike the doctor who’s in charge, and we’ve had some heated “discussions” that left me feeling really disrespected and expected to just bow down and comply with everything the doctor was telling me to do.
I’m not going back there again. I need to find a better situation, for sure.
So, I’ll do that. I need to get my act in gear, in that regard. It all keeps coming at me… pretty fast, actually. And I need to step up.
It’s no secret to people who read this blog regularly, that I’m not a fan of the “you’ll never recover from brain injury” proponents.
I mean, sure, there skills and abilities that will change — some of them drastically. And we may never be able to do certain things again.
But how damaging to talk about “recovery” only in terms of those things.
Recovery is about more than motor abilities. It’s about more than cognitive abilities. And behavior. It’s about quality of life, adjustment, getting yourself back, regardless of how much of a stranger you may feel like.
In fact, I would say that brain injury recovery is far more about recovering your Sense Of Self, than it is about re-learning how to walk and talk and do the things you used to do.
Because think about it — throughout our lives, we change. Our capabilities change. Our capacity changes. Our cognitive reserve changes. But we don’t declare ourselves disabled and incapable of having a real life, when our memory starts to “sputter” and we’re not able to run a 12-second 100-meter dash anymore. When we start to creak and ache in the morning or after a long day’s work, we don’t say, “Oh, well that’s it. I’m done for. I’ll never be any good again!” and give up our humanity, or our aspirations to living our lives.
And yet, that’s what we’re expected to do, when our brains change after an injury.
Because supposedly “there is no full recovery after brain injury”.
I don’t even want to think about how many people have been deeply harmed by this statement… how many people have been stripped — from the inside out — of their dignity and hope, because some individual in a white coat had a skewed vision of what “recovery” is all about.
We can recover from brain injury.
We DO recover from brain injury.
I — and many, many others — are walking, talking proof of that.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. No – wait – three weeks, actually. Ever since the middle of September, things have been… exciting.
And I’ve been getting emotionally overwrought over little things that shouldn’t even be “moving the needle”. It’s costing me sleep. And it’s very intrusive. I’ll be going along, going about my business, just living my life… then all of a sudden, this rush of thoughts and emotions over stuff I have no control over (and don’t really understand) wash over me, and I’m hijacked by all that.
I’ve tried tamping it down, but that’s not working very well. It’s really bothering me, too. So, I have to do something different.
And I’m using that rush of emotion, the intrusive thoughts, the “riled” state I get into as motivation and propulsion to do good things. There’s a lot I want to do with my life, and there’s a lot I can do. So I’m using that unwelcome energy in welcome ways.
Getting my act together — cleaning up my work spaces… doing fall cleaning around the house… working out… really kicking it at work… being incredibly productive — far more than in the past… and finding ways that I can elevate myself. Somehow. Some way.
And also doing my mindfulness meditation, my zazen, just sitting and breathing, slowing down my racing mind and focusing on the in-breath and out-breath.
I can’t always control my thoughts. I can’t change what’s happened to me. But I can control what to do with it, and I can use the energy to accomplish things that I’ve been wanting to do. There are a bunch of things I’ve been wanting to do, so now I can use this rush that I get for something productive.
It’s all a learning process, of course.
This isn’t my favorite thing, but at least there’s something I can do with it all.
I had a good session with my new neuropsych on Monday. They’re a little concerned about all the stress going on in my life. Between job craziness and the challenges my spouse is having, and the ever-present danger of me actually injuring myself… sheesh, I’ve got a few things to manage.
And they’re not alone – I’m worried, too. Not so much worried… no, actually worried. I have to stay steady, I have to keep my act together. This is no time to fall apart. The thing is, life isn’t going to get any less exciting anytime soon. Everything feels like it’s ramping up, and I’m being forced to learn a lot. I’m not adverse to learning. I just get very rigid and brittle when I am under pressure, digging in my heels, walking away from challenges, and being generally difficult with others — who are relying on me to step up and play my part. On the outside, I seem fine, but inside, I’m freaking out, going through all kinds of mental “gyrations” over how unfair everything is, how much trouble I’m having, and how nothing ever works out in my favor. It’s a pity-party extraordinaire.
And that makes it difficult to change and adapt to the extent I — and others — need me to. I need to be there for people. I need to step up. But I get tired, and that rigidity kicks in. I push back. That’s not helpful. I need to just go with it.
That rigidity and brittleness is such a problem. But I know what can help assuage it… take the edge off… relieve the pressure. It’s called extreme self-care.
As in — doing my stretches each night before I go to bed. Doing some modified yoga stretches for my back and stretching my legs and arms and shoulders. If I don’t stretch, I wake up in the wee hours in all kinds of contorted pain.
As in — doing my intentional breathing after I’m done stretching. I sit on the edge of my bed and focus my attention on a spot on the wall across from me, and I do slow breathing — 5 seconds in, 5 seconds out — for a little while, till I feel my system relax and my breathing becomes easier. When I first start out, my system is all tight and tense, and I have a hard time just breathing regularly. But after about 10 in-and-out breaths, my system starts to relax, and I can actually do it without forcing myself. It doesn’t come automatically. It takes a while to get going. But it happens. And then I can relax.
I have also started doing measured breathing in the morning when I wake up. I don’t want to get out of bed, anyway, so I might as well work on my breathing and also relaxing. I lie there and relax my body and breathe. And after a while, I’m not as stressed out, and I actually want to get up. Then I go downstairs, get my exercise (cardio every day, weight lifting every other day), have my breakfast, and get into my day.
So, I have my ways of dealing with my situation — regulate my fight-flight response and keep my heart rate in a healthy range. Strengthen both my body and my mind, and keep making continuous progress.
One thing that is throwing me off, is that I have to do this at all. Most of the people I know don’t have to go to great lengths to rise to the occasion and deal with these crisis situations. They just do it. And they adapt without a lot of apparent pain and suffering. It seems like everyone else in my group is able to adjust and “jump on it”, while I’m still struggling to just get out of bed in a proper frame of mind.
It’s a little discouraging, but I’ve got “stuff” going on with me that nobody can see, and I know how much it affects me. So, I can’t lose sight of that — of my own issues, as well as my spouse’s issues. I’ve got a lot on my plate, even when everything isn’t falling to bits around me. And when everything gets that much more “exciting”, I have to take extra steps that others seem to not have to bother with. They can skip their exercise. They can eat anything they want. They can go without more than 4 hours of sleep, night after night, and it never seems to block them. They keep on.
Of course, it only goes for so long… No matter what, the human body can only take so much abuse. But in the meantime, they’re quite unaffected and love to wax eloquent about how much abuse they’re taking, and how much they’re getting done, regardless.
It’s all a smoke-screen in many cases, of course. At least I know my limits and I know how to work around them. It’s just a little demoralizing that I have to, while others can sail along without problems — getting the favorable attention of everyone who makes decisions about promotions.
In the end, though, all I really want is to lie down in peace at the end of the day. And that’s something I can control and manage on my own. The fact that nobody else really knows I have as many problems as I do, is testament to how well I’m doing.
And I want to keep it that way.
Because letting everyone around me know how much I’m struggling isn’t good for my career prospects, position on my team, or my life in general.