Considering TBI : Staying safe during the holidays

This looks familiar – and not in a good way.

Well, I almost did it again. I almost fell down some stairs while rushing around during Thanksgiving activities. Nine years ago tomorrow, I fell down a flight of stairs while packing to home after Thanksgiving. I completely screwed myself up. Trashed my life. Almost lost everything. And I didn’t even realize what was happening, while it was happening.

That fall in 2004 happened because I was standing at the top of some stairs and I turned around to do something, then my feet went out from under me. The same thing happened yesterday, while I was getting ready to head out to Thanksgiving dinner. I was starting to go down the stairs, when I remembered something I needed to take with me, and I turned around, while my body momentum was moving forward. My feet slipped on the stairs, and I stumbled down a couple of steps, before I caught myself. Fortunately, this time I was wearing shoes. When I fell in 2004, I was wearing socks. And I managed to stop myself from going head-first down the stairs, when my feet went out from under me.

Hm. Wake-up call. Time to slow down. Pay attention. Take things one at a time, instead of doing a couple of things at one time — like going down and up stairs at the same time.

Slow down. Don’t do everything at once. Just chill.

I paused for a moment and caught my breath and realized what had almost just happened. Then I slowly turned around and went back upstairs — much, much more slowly than before.

And I got through the day without getting hurt.

Even better, I had an amazing day, and everything turned out well, for a variety of reasons — including not falling down stairs and hurting myself.

As the holiday season officially kicks off, I have to really pay attention to things in the coming six weeks, to get through to the other side in one piece. I know what sets me off, and I know what makes things more difficult for me than usual, and the holidays are just the time when all those things come together in a perfect storm that aggravates my TBI symptoms and also puts me at risk for another injury (like yesterday).

  1. I need to remember that I’m dealing with TBI issues, and I can’t just push myself blindly like I have no limitations. We all have limitations, and mine are especially pronounced during the holidays. I need to be uber-mindful of my issues — not in a way that holds me back, but in a realistic way that keeps me from doing serious damage to myself.
  2. Make sure I get plenty of rest. Nothing kills the joy faster than fatigue-induced irritability. And given my history of melting down and flipping out during many holiday seasons past, my spouse is particularly on-guard around me during this time. So things can escalate quickly. And that’s not good. Shouting matches and flip-outs just because I’m tired, are no way to spend the holidays. Fortunately, staying rested takes care of a lot of this. Naps help, too, so I’ll be doing a lot of that this holiday season. Whenever I can.
  3. Eat smart.  When I get tired, I tend to boost my energy with sugar-containing foods, and the holidays are chock-full of them. Pies, cookies, candy… it’s all around me, and since I need to push harder to do everything, I fall back on them. A lot. Which just makes things harder in the long run, because it throws off my sugar and it makes my joints ache, which then makes me more irritable. AND sugar feeds infections, so I have more trouble with colds and sinus infections. I have to have a lot of willpower to avoid that stuff – and it doesn’t always work. But if I can enjoy with moderation… it’s not so terrible.
  4. Give myself time. Don’t rush around with everyone else. Give myself more time to do things like go to the library or food shopping or running errands. Just take my time, so I don’t get trampled by everyone else who’s stampeding around. Do I need to go out to the store today? Not one bit. Black Friday will be fine without me.
  5. Take frequent breaks. I get very irritable for a bunch of reasons during the holidays, so it pays to just take a break regularly, let me catch up with myself, and simmer down if I’m getting revved. It really helps for me to cut myself a break and give myself some extra time off by myself when I need it. Planning my breaks helps, too, because then I can keep from getting stuck in a “loop” and pushing myself past where I should be backing off and taking a break.
  6. Get a lot of exercise. I start my days with movement and stretching, and I get out and walk whenever I can. I also try to do some heavy lifting, now and then, as well as working around the yard and house. Yesterday I got a workout with roasting that turkey — a lot of lifting and bending and reaching. I’m actually sore, which is a good sign for me. This helps my body process all the extra stuff I’m putting into it, and it also helps clear my head. Both of these are important for being happy during the holidays.

These are things I can do, in general, to make my life better during the holidays. Not doing these things can result in experiences like falling down stairs, having confrontations with police officers, and losing it at work — none of which will add to my holiday cheer quotient.

It’s all a big-ass learning process. Onward.

Baker’s dozen

All the proper ingredients – very few of which I can actually eat

I did a bit of cooking yesterday — and I even baked up a bunch of cookies. I find that baking is actually really good practice for my short-term memory issues, as well as my sequencing.

And with cookie recipes, there are so many slight variations between the measurements — 1/4 cup of this, 1/2 cup of that, 3/4 teaspoon of this, 1/3 teaspoon of that — it keeps me on my toes.

I got into this baking thing over the past couple of years, when I found myself surrounded by bakers at work, and the neighbors were also giving my spouse and me some “friendship bread”, which keeps growing and increasing, so that you have to keep giving it away, if you don’t want to throw it out. My spouse doesn’t bake, and my mom used to bake all the time, so I have a lot of great memories of the scent of fresh-baked pies and cakes and cookies. I figured, why not – I’d give it a whirl, baking up some friendship bread and also making cookies for our annual holiday cookie swap at work. Everybody gets in on the holiday cookie swap at work — men, women, bosses, underlings… it’s the one thing we all have in common, and if you don’t pay, you can’t play, so only those who actually bake something can get samples of everyone else’s work.

I went for the old standard peanut butter cookie – two batches with a twist, one creamy, the other crunchy —  and they turned out great. So that was something else I could add to the list of new things I’ve discovered I can do.

To be honest, I’ve never thought of myself as much of a baker, but when I think about it, it’s actually the perfect activity for me. It requires sustained attention to detail, it’s very specific, with things that have to be done in a certain way, in a certain sequence. It requires that I really think things through and understand what I’m doing, and when. It also demands that I stay present and not space out and wander off while cookies or bread are in the oven. And the payoff is great, in terms of the delicious smell of fresh cookies or bread.

The one drawback about it is that I can’t eat a lot of what I make — it’s got a lot of processed sugar and flour, both of which are on my “NO” list. Bread is out of the question (for the most part), and cookies are strictly limited.

On the other hand, this is a really good thing, because it means I have more to share with others who are not on restricted diets. It’s not expensive, it is excellent practice for my brain and skills, and I always have something to show for it. I can learn as I go, too, finding new techniques and approaches as I go, and fine-tuning my activities.

All in all, baking is incredibly good for me.

I used to bake bread a lot, 25+ years ago, during my first marriage. Many a Saturday, I baked up two loaves of incredibly delicious bread. I did it all by hand, the old-fashioned way as I’d always seen my mother do it, kneading it, covering the bread bowl, and letting the dough rise on a warm surface, then punching it down, shaping it into loaves, and letting it bake. It was my Saturday afternoon ritual. Something that connected me with one of the happier aspects of my past.

Then I split up from the person I was first married to, and I quit baking — probably because I associated baking bread on Saturday afternoons… the scent of yeast and rising dough and the sensation of punching it down and kneading it… with that old life I was trying to get away from.

Now I’ve had sufficient time to mend whatever was busted from those early years, and baking has a new meaning for me. I got busy yesterday, so I only did one batch of peanut butter cookies — I made “fingers” and the dipped one end in melted chocolate and rolled them in finely chopped peanuts. Holy crap — if I weren’t so sensitive to the sugar, and if I weren’t battling a cold, I would have eaten all of them. But I exercised restraint and managed to eat only one.

Now I’ve got the rest of the dough to bake up today. I will probably do that in a little bit, just so I can get it done and clear out the rest of my day. Or maybe I’ll wait till the afternoon so I can have the smell of fresh-baked cookies in the house. Yes, that seems like a better plan. Right now, I’m a bit foggy from the cold, and I haven’t quite warmed up for my day, just yet. In any case, I have options.

That’s really all I ask.


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