The biggest barrier to progress, is being convinced that you KNOW

Imagine what’s possible, when you just let it go — and grow

Okay, so here’s my question of the day:

In the land of mindfulness-oriented behavioral health providers, how is it that the concept of Beginner’s Mind gets lost?

I’m specifically talking about my own experience with behavioral health folks, including friends who are psychotherapists, counselors I’ve seen, as well as my neuropsychologist. In all my years of seeking out help for my issues, I have but rarely encountered individuals who were really able to suspend judgment and not get stuck in the trap of continually seeking out ways to reconfirm their own world views.

And how many times have I sat across from someone who was professionally trained to help me, watching them not listen to me for what I was saying, rather for confirmation of what they believed…?

I think it’s wonderful that there are professional tracks for people to go down, to learn how to help others. At the same time, though, people also need to not get stuck in thinking they have it all figured out.

Because the behavioral health landscape is changing dramatically, especially compared to where it was just 10 years ago. We know so much more about the brain and its mechanisms than ever before. Yet we have just only begun to scratch the surface. So, let’s not get all hoity-toity about how much we know and how clued-in we are, thanks to our specialized skills and whatnot.

To me, orthodoxy (being convinced that you’ve got THE SECRET to how things work) and rigidity (never, ever changing your world view) are even worse liabilities than a brain injury. They make it extremely hard to adapt — which is precisely what we need to do as TBI / concussion survivors. We may be changing and growing and whatnot, while our providers are still stuck in their own versions of reality — which may or may not be useful to us.

It really is a problem. But I’m not the one to run around telling people that they’re too stuck in their ways. They have to see and realize it for themselves, and let go of their pride, arrogance, hubris. I’m sure it can be very, very difficult, dealing with brain-injured folks and their families/loved-ones, not to mention the healthcare system. It can put you into a state of perpetual fight-flight, which makes you even more susceptible to egotistical tendencies, arrogance, and prideful blindness.

I think especially for those folks who have been on the leading edge for many years, who were ridiculed and marginalized and made to feel “less than” because of their forward-looking stance. When you’re continually attacked and thwarted, it can do a number on you. I know how that is, and it’s no fun.

So, that cannot help but affect you. It cannot help but color your world view and make you biochemically and neurologically inclined to behave in ways that are defensive and self-supporting. Especially if you’ve had to shore up your own self-confidence and self-image and professional reputation, lo these many years, that can train you to be a certain way… a way which is intent on finding proof that you’re right, that you were right all along, and “they” were all wrong to doubt and thwart you.

Yes, I get how that shapes and conditions you.

At the same time, the higher purpose (of being of genuine help to others) needs to trump the hunger of your ego.

In the end, isn’t it more fulfilling to continue to learn and grow, rather than being someone  whose main purpose is to ease the pain of the daily stresses of life and prove their “rightness” to themself and others?

I’m not a behavioral health provider, but personally I think I’d rather be learning and growing than constantly being on the defensive about my own convictions.

In the end, it can much more interesting to find out you’re wrong… and expand your concept of what’s right. There is so much more to discover about the human systems, the brain, and how they all interact.

I hope I’m not alone in this.

Advertisements

St. Barbara of Arrowsmith-Young

Thanks for the help this past Sunday

So, on Sunday I spent the afternoon reading Barbara Arrowsmith-Young’s “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain”, about how she learned how to identify the underlying issues beneath her severe learning disabilities, which had made her life a living hell for 26 years of her life. I found the book for free on Scribd.com — my new favorite place of all time. You can read the book for free here: https://www.scribd.com/book/224350322/The-Woman-Who-Changed-Her-Brain-And-Other-Inspiring-Stories-of-Pioneering-Brain-Transformation – you just need a free login.

Anyway, I am finding a lot of similarities between her situation and mine, despite obvious differences. And it occurs to me that after hearing a number of accounts of her hitting her head (running into things, banging her head before she started to study, etc.) TBI might just factor into her account. She focuses on the learning disabilities parts, rather than the root cause, so that makes the book more accessible for folks who have had any kind of difficulty with learning and understanding and communicating — me included.

One section in particular jumped out at me yesterday:

I recall a twelve-year-old student with average intelligence but whose severe weaknesses in both the left and right prefrontal cortexes left her as compliant as a young child — so compliant that other children would toy with her and order her to stand and sit on command or to stay in the schoolyard long after recess was over or to surrender her Nintendo game. Her neurological weaknesses had robber her of her ability to evaluate a command and decide whether it should be obeyed. She addressed her problem areas and eventually was able to say no.

That’s pretty much me — but in very different kinds of situations. I didn’t have a problem with being compliant and going along with others as a kid. If anything, I was defiant and went against what anyone and everyone told me to do (except for my love interests — they could always boss me around).

The compliance and obedience and lack of questioning happened in adulthood. And I wonder if the three car accidents, the fall off the back of the truck, and the occasional head-banging — all in my early adulthood — might have affected my prefrontal cortexes to the point where I would just compliantly do whatever my spouse told me to do.

If that’s the case — and my compliance has been neurological, rather than emotional or character-based — then that’s a huge relief. And it means I can do something about it. For close to 20 years, I pretty much went along with whatever my spouse told me to do. It wasn’t so pronounced in the beginning, but then it got worse.

I had a car accident in 1997 where I was rear-ended, and I couldn’t read for several days. The letters swam on the page, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I recall feeling weird and shaky and being a bit “off” for some time after the car accident, and I wonder if maybe that affected my prefrontal cortexes and made me more compliant. People around me thought my spouse was bullying me, that they were being abusive and domineering, but honestly, I just went along… because it was the only thing that seemed useful to me.

I need to check around to find out more.

Anyway, that’s just one part of the book that I’m really enjoying. There are a number of different places where I recognize myself — the hesitance, the inability to get things done, the self-regulation problems… I’m not sure I want to think about them in terms of learning disabilities, but rather brain capabilities. And they apply to all kinds of situations, not just educational ones. That’s something that the author talks about a lot — how addressing these learning disabilities will improve functioning in the rest of life.

What Barbara Arrowsmith-Young has done is remarkable. She’s really figured it out — and from the inside, not from the outside. It’s amazing. I’m a huge fan, and if I were religious, I’d recommend her for sainthood. Her story is one of the reasons I got myself into neuropsych rehab, in the first place — when I read Norman Doidge’s “The Brain That Changes Itself” her story stood out for me more than any others. Because she took it on herself, and she did the work, instead of having someone else do it for her. And now she’s passing it on to others. She does public lectures. She has her Arrowsmith School. She’s written a book.

Unfortunately for me (and probably many others), the Arrowsmith School is expensive. And it’s in Canada, which is not an impossible distance from me, but still… I have to go to my job each day, I don’t have a lot of money to spend, and I’m thinking there must be another way to get this kind of help without being locked into a specific location, or paying someone to get me on track.

Again, I come back to living my life as the best recovery. Living fully and reflectively. Mindfully. Engaged. All those catchwords that basically say,

Do the best you can each and every day…

Be honest with yourself about what’s going on…

Learn from books and movies and the world around you, your experiences, your teachers and your mistakes…

Change what you can so you do better next time…

And share what you learn with others.

Absent the resources to enroll in the Arrowsmith School for months (if not years), and with the help from a handful of competent professionals, I seem to be making decent progress.

Speaking of which, I’ve got some chores to do.

Onward.

Amiss, but getting better

On second (or third) thought… no thanks

I’m scrapping the idea of going to the ER today. I stretched and moved yesterday, and I took a real break — spent the afternoon napping, reading Barbara Arrowsmith-Young’s “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain” (more on that later), and just puttering around the house, taking it easy. I’m going to mention the left-side weakness to my counselor, just so someone else knows about it. And I’m probably going to check in with my neuropsych on Wednesday. I do feel better, after taking some time off, and now the idea of embarking on a medical adventure doesn’t seem like a good use of energy.

Oh. My. God. When I think about having to explain my situation to doctors all over again… Yeah, no thanks.

So, a big shout-out to those of you who talked me back from that edge. I owe you.

It’s Monday. Only two more days in the office 20 miles from home. Then I move to the office 5 miles from home. It’s exciting. Also, I’m barrelling down the road towards a couple of big-big deadlines this week. That makes things easier.

It’s interesting — I’m gradually getting the hang of living by deadlines and holding people to them. In past situations I’ve worked in, there were two kinds of situations. Either

  1. The deadlines were fluid and there wasn’t a hard-and-fast rule about when things got done, and in what order. People were sort of lackadaisical about doing their jobs, and if it got done, then woo hoo. But if it didn’t get done, oh well.    Or
  2. Deadlines were in place, but everybody was a top-notch over-achiever who would have sooner cut off their left hand, than not do their job.

Now, everything is about the deadlines… but I don’t have a top-notch gang of over-achievers available to me, to get the job done. I have maybe one or two, who are usually overworked.

Sigh.

Well, it’s all very educational. Now I get to learn how to motivate people who have no real reason to be motivated at all. They don’t report directly to me, they aren’t all that thrilled about their jobs, and the burning desire to excel doesn’t seem to light up their days and nights.

Interesting.

So, now I get to learn how to make it all happen. And in the end, that’s going to be a valuable skill. I just have to acquire it.

I’ve got some more work to do on restoring a sense of self after TBI. I’m also restoring a sense of my own self — as much by slogging through the tough times, as experiencing the good times.

In a way, slogging through the tough times is even more useful to me than having everything go well. It shows me that I can do this thing, called adapting and overcoming. And it teaches me valuable skills along the way. I am extremely rigid and uncompromising in some ways, which can come in handy, when it has to do with personal integrity and delivering on my promises. When things come up to oppose my grand plans — as they invariably do — I can either buckle and fall to pieces (that sometimes happens), or I can learn from it and add to my overall knowledge and skill in handling those types of situations.

I choose the latter. And instead of tearing myself down — e.g., beating myself up for going off the deep end yesterday with the sensations I’m having on my left side — I can learn from the experience, chalk it up to, well, being human, and move on with a little more information under my belt.

And when I focus on learning and growing from experience, that builds up my feeling about who I am and how I handle myself.  Getting bogged down in despair and frustration is not how I want to be. It’s now how I understand myself to be. So, I have to find a better way. And recognize my limits — my tendency to go all catastrophic on things that happen with me — so I can keep them from taking over my life. I have limits, just like anyone else, and they are part of me — but only a PART of me, not all of me.

Having a broader sense of myself as a collection of many features and qualities, as well as a lot of strengths along with my weaknesses, makes all the difference in the world. I can’t gloss over the tricky parts, but I sure as hell can emphasize the cool stuff, and make the most of that.

Speaking of making the most of things, I need to really focus on getting into my day. It is SO HARD to get going for work, this morning. Mondays have been very difficult for me, lately. Transitioning into work and really getting invested, has been a monumental task. I dread everything about it, and I can’t seem to get into the day, no matter what I do. I know why, though. It’s old patterns from many years of bad experiences that are cropping up again, just at this point in time. Four months into just about every endeavor, this happens with me. Like clockwork. More on that later.

Anyway, the day is waiting, and I have a lot to get done today. Things are looking up, and that’s a good thing.

Onward.

What they don’t know about mild TBI is a lot

I recently started seeing an acupuncturist to help with pain and mobility issues. I’ve been wanting to have some acupuncture done for some time, but I never got around to it until recently. My neck is messed up, and so is my lower back. I also have a lot of pain in my hands, and my carpal tunnel is acting up again with all the typing and computer work I’ve been doing, lately. I’ve been going about 13-14 hours a day, sometimes longer, and it’s taking a toll, all over. I know that getting some exercise and moving will do wonders for me — and I have been doing that — but I have some longstanding issues with a lack of “flow” and I know people who have had good experience with acupuncture, especially the particular person I’ve gone to see.

So, I had an intake interview with them this past Monday, and we ran through my medical history, which is largely uninteresting, other than all the various injuries I’ve had, including my mild TBIs. The acupuncturist was interested to hear about my history, but they didn’t seem to put much stock in the neuropsychological aspects of it, and they talked about resolving my TBI issues by balancing my polarity, so my body can repair itself.

They also talked about how my fatigue and irritability are related to my meridians and somesuch, and they said that me getting 6-7 hours of sleep a night should be sufficient.

Well, okay. That’s fine. I appreciate their point of view, as they are a very experienced acupuncturist. However, they didn’t seem to pay any attention at all to the neurological aspects of it, as though the thing that really matters is meridians and energy flow. I didn’t want to get into it with them, because they were pretty locked on target with their outlook, and when people are that wedded to their point of view, there’s not much sense in trying to enlighten then.

This can be frustrating, though, because people in all healthcare fields need to have an appreciation of how altering the ways your brain’s synapses are connected can really screw up your life. So much begins and ends there, and unless that’s considered centrally to your whole experience, a lot of suffering can continue unaddressed  — and unabated. But here I am, with a counselor who helps me work through the daily business of just keeping things together — who doesn’t know much about TBI and doesn’t pretend to — and an acupuncturist who knows a whole lot about Chinese medicine, but has a more “energy work” approach to TBI issues. And then I’ve got my neuropsychologist, who understands how everything is put together and knows how to identify the core neurological issues that are causing me grief.

So, my strategy for dealing with this acupuncturist, is to focus on the areas where they have expertise, and also to not let them dominate the discussion about how to address my overall health issues. It’s fine if they have a certain outlook, and they approach things from their point of view. But there is a whole lot more to my situation that is directly related to neurological issues from all my mild TBIs, that needs to be addressed at a neuropsychological level.

I can’t get hung up on people not fully appreciating neuropyschology. Even if they are trained healthcare professionals. They know what they know, and they specialize. I just can’t get caught up in relying solely on one individual for my overall health and well-being.

That would be up to me.

So, onward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brain Injury and Lying – The Rest of the Story

Summary: Brain injury and lying can go hand-in-hand. First, there is confabulation, where the brain-injured individual genuinely thinks they are telling the truth, but they have their details confused. Second, there is the outright lying, which can come from experiencing an intensely emotional “catastrophic response” to situations which seem insurmountable. This is an account of how a good friend of mine changed from a basically honest person to a compulsive liar after experiencing several strokes.

It seems so innocent...
It seems so innocent…

I’d like to write this morning about a friend of mine who had several strokes back in 2007, a couple years after I had my last TBI. In fact, I’d say that working with them after their strokes really make me aware of brain injury issues… so that I could recognize and deal with my long-standing issues, at last.

I have known this individual for more than 20 years, and we’ve worked together on a number of occasions. We have common friends and we have similar senses of humor, so it’s been pretty easy to become – and stay – friends with this person. I am friendly with a lot of people and I make a lot of effort to really be a good person, but this particular friendship is closer than most others I have. This individual knows things about me that I wouldn’t tell most other people. And I know more about them than most others do.

The one exception to this is TBI. When they had their strokes – two of them, a week apart – in 2007, I was one of the few people who didn’t back away from them and run. I have actually known a number of people who had strokes and TBIs, and even before I knew that I myself had traumatic brain injury issues, I was willing and able to hang in there with them. So, this time was no different really. Different strokes for different folks, y’know? 😉 But when I was dealing with my TBI stuff, they just couldn’t deal with hearing about it. It was like they thought that it meant I couldn’t be there for them – and since I was one of their main supports after their strokes, the idea that I had neurological issues must have been pretty frightening for them.

Anyway, despite not getting any support from them, I really went out of my way to make time for this friend, to help them get back on their feet and rehabilitate. I have always been a firm believer that the human brain and body and spirit are incredibly plastic — and they can and will recover to a much greater degree than the “experts” believe, if you give them a chance, keep working, and don’t give up.

Working with this friend, we got them on a regular eating and sleeping routine… we got their weight down about 30 pounds… we managed, changed and then regulated their meds… we restored the strength and coordination in their right side… we got their speech and organization together… and – together – we got them back to functioning again.

We had to do it ourselves, and we had to do it alone. Because even though the MRI showed even more damage to their brain than “just” the strokes — they had other evidence of brain injuries that they couldn’t remember having — the doctors never gave them any indication that they needed any neurological or neuropsychological help, and their strokes weren’t “disabling” enough to warrant official rehab.

The impact was pretty noticeable to me, though. Their processing speed had really slowed down. They got confused a lot more than before. They had extreme emotional reactions to things that are sad or frustrating but aren’t exactly the catastrophes they thought they were. They had trouble keeping a conversation going. Their ability to multi-task was pretty much out the window. They basically went from having six gears, to having two, one of which was reverse, and when pressed to do more, they blew up or broke down in tears.  But since I’m not an “official” family member, there was only so much the doctors could offer me. Unfortunately, they and their family weren’t really emotionally or logistically able to deal with all of it. They just wanted things to go back to normal.

Out of everyone, I turned out to be the only one who was A) able to deal with the fact that they’d had several strokes (and evidence of previous TBI), and B) willing to do something about it. I’ve worked with relatives who had strokes and TBIs in the past, and this time was a repeat of those past experiences.

It took several years to get them back on track, but we did it.  And it was really gratifying to see. Plus, in the process of helping them, I realized I had my own set of issues I needed to deal with — which I’ve written about plenty in the past. Again, it’s taken me years to get back on track — more years than my friend, actually — but I’ve done it.

The only thing is, this friend of mine didn’t continue to take care of themself. They didn’t have the support of their family and friends, and I couldn’t be with them 24/7. One of the reasons that I’ve “gone off” on therapists in the past, was that I was being actively undermined by their friends who were therapists, who kept telling them that their issues had to with their terrible father, their hell-on-wheels mother, or other past relationship issues. When I tried to get support from these therapist friends, to deal with the neurological issues, I got either blank stares or active opposition, because they were so sure it was an emotional thing, not a neurological thing.

So, with family pressuring them to just get back to how things were, their friends telling them that they just needed to make peace with their parents, and me not being able to be around as much as I wanted to, because I had a lot of work commitments, they just went back to how things were before.

They stopped eating the right things and they stopped eating at regular hours.They started eating the wrong things, too — lots of sugar and fats and junk food, which has put the weight back on them — and is how they got into their situation to begin with. They let their sleeping schedule go all to hell, and by now they are pretty much nocturnal and they are rarely available during daylight hours.They stopped cleaning up after themself, and they live surrounded by piles of stuff that they can’t seem to figure out how to clear away.

It’s been really weird — it’s like they just got to a point where they decided, “Oh well, I’ve had some strokes, and I’m getting old like my parents did (my friend is  now in their 60s, and their parents both died in their late 60s/early 70s)…. so I really don’t feel like doing all this work anymore. I’m going to take a break, because I’m going to die pretty soon, anyway.

And it hasn’t had good consequences. A lot of times when I see them these days — which is more rarely than before, because I’m on a “real world” sleep-wake schedule — they look more and more like a “stroke victim” — and less and less like the person I know they are. I try to bring up their progress with them, but they always shut me down. I try to hint that they may want to take better care of themself, but they either start to yell at me, or they change the subject, or they start to cry. It’s that catastrophic response, for sure — a reaction that is just dripping with the emotion of fear and overwhelm.

Fear that there is something terribly wrong with them.

Fear that they are damaged beyond repair.

Fear that others will hate and look down on them because of the strokes.

Fear that they will never be “normal” again.

Fear that they’re going to die a horrible death and go to hell forever.

Fear that it is all TOO MUCH to handle.

So, even though I have seen changes in their behavior and their functionality, I am helpless to change any of it. I can’t even bring it up – not with them, not with their family, not with their friends. People tell me that I have no control over others, and that I should take care of myself first, but it is so painful to watch them do this to themself. Not only do they have physical and logistical issues, but there’s more.

There’s the lying.

I’ve written before about confabulation and how traumatic brain injury can mix things up in your head and make you think you’ve got it right, when you have it completely wrong. I have a had a long history, myself, of accidentally “lying” about things  — it wasn’t my intention to lie, and I didn’t actually think I was lying, but I had my facts all turned around… which looked a lot like lying. I still do it today — I miscalculate, or I get things turned around — but fortunately I have a lot of people around me who genuinely care about me and want to help, and they don’t hold it against me. So, the consequences are less, even if the problem persists.

I have seen confabulation happen with my friend, as well. They were so sure they had things exactly right… but they didn’t. Not even close. Over the past few years, however, I have seen their accounts turn into outright lies — some of them more extreme than others. They know they’re lying, but they either can’t seem to help themself or they just LIE, and then make excuses.

It’s getting really bad. On a number of levels.

First, there’s the routine lying to people about what they do with themself all day — they paint a picture that makes them look quite functional, when the opposite is true. They talk about doing things that they aren’t even close to doing — like running errands or working on important projects and going about their business like they’re “supposed to”. They’re just thinking about doing them, but they tell others that they actually have done them.

And then there’s the deeper sorts of lies — the adulterous affairs, where they aren’t only sneaking around behind their spouse’s back and flirting with people who seem intriguing, but they are actually having sex — a lot of it, and really wild stuff — with these adulterous interests, lying about it, getting hotel rooms, visiting the long-time family vacation spots with the object(s) of their adulterous affairs, and openly talking about their affairs with people who know both them and their spouse. I found out about it by accident, and I got a lot more details than I wanted to. I almost wish I’d never found out, to tell the truth.

And that’s a pretty extreme turn of affairs. Not only are they spending money that they (and their spouse) cannot afford to spend on hotels and meals and entertainment, but they are also doing it in plain view of people who know them and their spouse. But when I have confronted them about it, my friend has lied right to my face about what was going on. They have sworn – up – down – left – right – that there was nothing untoward happening, just a “close friendship”, and when I have pushed them, they claimed it was just for “emotional support”.

Right. Emotional support. Unfortunately, I know differently.

This, dear readers, is very out-of-character for my friend. For as long as I have known them, they have been stable and loving and committed to their spouse. And they’ve at least tried to be honest. Until the strokes. Since the strokes, and especially they stopped taking care of themself, their behavior has become so erratic, so chaotic, so extreme — with the cursing and laughing and crying and lying — that I frankly don’t want to be around them much. I can’t just abandon them, but it’s hard to be around it all. And when I try to bring this up and discuss with them, they just can’t hear anything about how their strokes have affected them. It’s too much. It’s just too much for them to handle. And they pitch headlong into yet another mother-of-all-catastrophic-reactions. Yelling, cursing, crying… and more lying.

Watching someone who used to be level-headed, strong, secure, and self-confident burst into tears or blow up in a rage or come up with some cockamamie fantastical version of “reality”, because you’ve drawn their attention to something that everyone else on the planet can see clearly… something that is really and truly wrecking their life (how long till their spouse finds out about the affair(s)?)… well, that’s a pretty bitter pill. Trying to reach out and help one of your best friends — only to have them freak out on you and become threatening… it’s a hard one.

And it’s complicated. There are a lot of factors in play. And I can understand why a lot of this happens. But the lying doesn’t help matters any. It’s one thing to confabulate, but outright telling a falsehood deliberately is something that doesn’t sit right with me.

It’s just wrong. And to see them do it so compulsively… that’s pretty hard to take. I am almost neurotic about telling the truth — I get myself in trouble all the time, because I’m not willing to lie to people. And when someone who matters this much to me just runs around lying through their teeth, left and right, to everyone — including their spouse — it really works on my nerves.

But when I look at this in terms of catastrophic reaction, it starts to make sense. It’s like there’s all this conflicting stuff rattling ’round in their head that they can’t make sense of, and it puts them on edge. They have a history of trauma, too, with a father AND a mother who were each a real piece of work, so that personal history has biochemically primed them to go into fight-flight over just about anything that looks like a threat. From what I’ve seen, they are geared towards a fight-flight response to life in general… and their blood sugar is out of whack, so that it’s making that fight-flight even worse, and every little uncertainty looks like an enormous THREAT!!!

So, being on edge, and having the perception that there are things that are too big for them to handle, and they’re not going to be able to handle them, and they are in DANGER because they can’t handle them… well, that sets up the perfect “petri dish” for growing lies. Because lying is the one (and only) way they can immediately cope with an imminent threat — which of course everything looks like, especially when a social situation calls for the kind of quick thinking they cannot do anymore.

When I look at this whole business through a neuropsychological “lens”, I can understand the reasons for their behavior. And bottom line, knowing what I know, I actually don’t blame them. Yes, they are an adult, and yes they are responsible for their actions, but this is a neurological condition, not a psychological or emotional one. I’m not letting them off the hook — lying is still wrong, and I am still very uncomfortable with it.

At the same time, I’m seeing the real reasons behind it. I’ve discussed this a few times with my neuropsych, and they propose that their brain might be experiencing further vascular damage, because not only do they have a history of strokes, but their blood sugar is on the diabetic side, as well, which can cause more vascular “insults”. And that’s a whole other ball of wax to deal with.

But still, the lying… I keep coming back to that. It’s really tough to watch, really hard to handle. One of my best friends is self-destructing before my very eyes, and I am helpless to do anything about it. All I can do, is learn from their actions and their mistakes, and do what I can to help them as best I can. To be honest, it motivates me to take even better care of myself and better manage my physical and neurological health, because I don’t want to end up like them. I have noticed myself lying at times, when I felt cornered and felt I couldn’t handle everything that was coming at me. That is something I DON’T want to make a habit of, and seeing my friend go through everything they’re going through, is lighting a fire under me to do better. To be better.

None of us has control over others, which is probably a good thing. But we do have control over ourselves, which is an even better thing.

Here’s to life – onward.

Trauma + TBI = Trouble

I am writing this after several conversations and some reading — one conversation with a former soldier who was in Iraq during the first Gulf War, several conversations with a friend of mine who sustained a brain injury about three years ago, but has never gotten help for their injury — and is making increasingly poor choices about their life, their relationships, etc… all the while saying they need to find a therapist to help them deal with childhood trauma. They need a neuropsychologist, more like… As for the reading, check this out: Two Must Reads: The struggle for comprehensive PTSD and TBI treatment. I skimmed through it quickly, but I’ll have to go back to it. And I recommend you check it out, as well.

In thinking about the conversation I had with the ex-Marine, what struck me is how he talked about dealing with the incredible challenge of having to do things that were against his own morality, like kill people and destroy things. I was reminded of my post a while back about how war damages the souls of soldiers when I was talking to him, and he said there were several things that he and other military members of his family have done to cope.

The first is talk to somebody who understands — veterans in the family with whom he and other soldiers in his family can talk, have been so critical. The other is to find a way to make peace with things. Find a way to make it okay, on some level, that this is happening. Through faith. Or some sort of belief system.

In thinking about the conversations with my BI friend, I am starting to take notice that all their talk about trauma and dealing with it, is set against a backdrop of the BI they sustained five years ago. We have mutual friends who are therapists who are convinced that a lot of people are walking around with suppressed memories of terrible abuse in their childhoods, and that those repressed memories are making them do the things they do. With my BI friend, I suspect that they have been getting the “party line” that they are dealing with old memories coming up, and they don’t know how to emotionally deal with them. Now, I know for a fact that this friend didn’t just sustain a BI three years ago… Back around 1999, they also slipped on some ice, fell and hit their head pretty badly. They were dizzy and disoriented after it, and I noticed them being more volatile afterwards. Then they seemed to get better (although their marriage has been a bit rocky over the years). In the past three years, they’ve made an amazing recovery, and if you didn’t know them before, you probably would never guess that they have this going on with them. But I can tell. Maybe because I’m more sensitive to it — and better educated.

Anyway, this friend of mine is in pretty bad shape, financially, yet they don’t quite seem to get it. They have serious impulse control issues with money, and their spouse doesn’t actively monitor what they are spending on, how much, and how often. So, they have ended up in a jam that might cost them their car or their house. But they keep going along just doing what they do. Whenever I suggest that they might want to take a look at their spending, they get defensive, aggressive, combative. Not pretty. They just blow up like crazy. So, I stopped talking to them about it. They think they’ve found a good therapist, but like the others they have gone to in the past, they may end up not mentioning the BIs, and they may start treating their symptoms as purely psychological or emotional ones.

I really need to say something more to them about this. I think I need to discuss it with my neuropsych. My NP is probably not going to be able to say much, but I do need to ask them if they know anyone like them who has the same orientation towards healing and recovery. I suspect that along with my friend’s childhood trauma, there are some neuropsychological issues that need to be addressed — and it could be that by simply changing a few of the ways they go about doing things, they could benefit immensely.

I just need to find a good way to bring up the subject. They know about my recovery, and they have said many times that they are amazed by how far I’ve come. And, come to think of it, they have also said they wished they could find someone who is like my NP for themself. The thing they have going for them, is they have documented medical evidence of their most recent brain injury. It’s all there, complete with MRI showing the places where they have lesions. So they could get medical coverage to help them defray the costs. That’s huge, considering they have almost no money. Maybe getting some help will help them change that.

So yes, I do need to bring up the possibility of them seeing a neuropsychologist. They can get pretty paranoid, so I need to be careful how I phrase things. But I at least need to try. They need help. And I might be able to help/support them.

One of the things I hear them say is that they’re “too old”. They’re in their 60s and they feel like they’re getting old. But I really believe that they can turn things around. With some basic logistical changes similar to what I’ve done, I suspect they can revitalize their life and not only add years to their life, but add life to their years.

I just hope they don’t end up with a therapist who stirs everything up, tries to get them to “feel their feelings” (trust me, they have no problem doing that), and disregards their TBI history, because they are convinced that all their problems are trauma related.  They might only be partly right — trauma includes traumatic brain injury, and I would hate to see that piece of their puzzle ignored.

Therapy + TBI = Disaster

"My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far today, I have finished 2 bags of M&M's and a chocolate cake. I feel better already"

I’d like to propose something controversial here that probably won’t be well-received in psychotherapeutic circles. I’ve said it before, I believe, but I’m going to say it more emphatically now. Someone recently commented on another one of my posts, right when I’ve been thinking about it a lot, so I’ll say it again:

Therapists/mental health counselors (without a strong grounding in neurological information) are about the last people who are able to effectively deal with mTBI. And in the early stages of recovery, seeing a therapist to “figure things out” can do more harm than good. Much more harm than good.

It’s unfortunate, and I hate to say it, but I believe it to be true, based on personal experience with therapists and with friends/acquaintances who are therapists. What I’m about to say comes from years and years of observation, and no matter how seriously therapists may question my point of view (after all, I might be mentally impaired), I still believe it and I stand by it.

See, here’s the thing — TBI seriously screws with the functioning of your brain. Even a “minor” concussion and shear and shred axons and synapses and all those connectors that you’ve built up over the years to learn to live your life. Plus, it releases interesting chemicals into the brain that kill cells. Don’t be alarmed – the brain is a marvelously resilient organ that ingeniously figures out how to re-route connections, recruit other parts of the brain to do the jobs of parts that can’t do it anymore, and generally adapts to changing conditions in ways we are only beginning to recognize and understand.

The thing is, in the early stages of injury (and by early, I also mean the first couple of years after the incident — TBI is a gift that keeps on giving 😉 ) your brain is still trying to figure things out and it is organizing itself around a new way of needing to live your life. Generally folks with TBI don’t have a full and complete understanding of how they’ve been impacted and how it’s affecting their life – we just thing that the world has suddenly gotten all screwed up for no apparent reason. So, our brains are floundering and confused and not quite sure how to find their way out of the messes we’ve gotten into.

And the reorganization that normally takes place as a natural part of recovering from an injury — the reorganization of our brains along certain lines, so that we can resume some level of functionality — can be a bit haywire. The “plastic” brain is a lot like modeling clay. If you press it into a certain mold and leave it there, it will assume that shape and become like its environment. If you leave a lump of it lying on a table and walk away, when you come back a week later, it will be hardened into a chunk that may shatter if you drop it. If you stretch it into lots of thin, haphazard shapes and you leave it that way, it will harden into those thin and haphazard shapes.

So, when your brain is coming back from an injury and it’s looking for different ways to reshape itself, it can get all pulled in a gazillion different directions, because in the aftermath of TBI, things can be crazy and confusing, and we can come up with all sorts of skewed perceptions of ourselves. And if those perceptions are not questioned, challenged and corrected, they can harden into “truth” — which leads us even further down an erring path — into yet more trouble.

Hm. So, the crazier things get, the crazier you feel, and you wonder if you’re just plain losing your mind. You feel depressed and confused and out of sorts, and you don’t know why. So, you do the “logical” thing and you seek professional help. Your friends and family applaud you, because you’ve been getting harder and harder to deal with, and it seems like you have “emotional problems”. (Well, duh – emotional lability and impulse control are often “bundled” with TBI, as a neat little package of insult, injury, and humiliation for everyone involved.)

The only problem is, the therapist you start to see doesn’t know jack about TBI, and they come from the camp of “repressed memory” and how an unhappy childhood marked by long-forgotten/denied/overlooked abuse and neglect is to blame for adult issues. They believe with all their professional soul that most people are walking around in life cut off from their emotions, and that the true path to happiness is to connect with your inner hurt, name your pain, confront the things you are avoiding, and learn to love your demons.

There’s only one problem — none of what they say actually applies to you. The issues you have didn’t start until after your traumatic brain injury, and prior to that head injury, you were a reasonably happy and functional person with their share of troubles, but no “ticking time bomb” of forgotten abuse and neglect to throw you off course. They think that like certain childhood abuse survivors, you have been in denial most of your life, until you reached a certain point in your life when you had “advanced” enough to confront the challenges of resolving a difficult childhood… and they’re going to help you do just that — get in touch with your repressed memories, love the shadow, dance with your demons, and ultimately come to accept and love yourself, no matter what.

Great.

What they don’t realize, however, is that your brain is still recovering, still changing, still modifying itself to the world as it now is (rather than as it was before your injury). It’s volatile and highly subject to suggestion, and you’ve been wrestling for so long with not knowing for sure what’s going on with you or how best to deal with it, that your system is highly tweaked and on an emotional hair trigger. They think you’re in need of emotional “tough love” — but what you really need is some good regular exercise, a daily routine to take the guesswork out of your life, and extra patience and rest.

So, they push you. They challenge you. They test your limits. They try to get you to open up to them… pushing and pushing to get you to “admit” what’s going on inside of you, when internally, you’re in storm of emotion that’s neurologically based and totally inexplicable from a purely psychological point of view. They think you’re in denial and resisting necessary change, and you’re sitting there, week after week, looking at them like they’re from another planet, wondering “What’s wrong with me?!” and getting more and more confused and depressed by the week. You take it out on your friends and family, who have really had it with you, by now, and pull even farther away from you than before, thinking you’re just not trying hard enough.

Your therapist thinks you’re making great progress, getting in touch with your feelings and emotions, letting them come up and processing them. But you’re sinking farther and farther into a morass of emotional confusion, volatility, self-doubt, even desperation. Of course, this is all helping to create repeat business for the therapist who is “helping” you, and they can add even more diagnoses to the insurance bill, so what do they care? (Okay, in fairness, I’m sure that not all therapists are interested in creating repeat business, but any time you combine “care” with making a living, you get into gray areas and tricky territory.)

You’re increasingly worried about your emotional and mental health, and that’s keeping you stressed. You’re not sleeping well, which is taking a toll on your ability to self-regulate — your ability to do, well, everything. You’ve got all of the following TBI after-effects in abundance:

emotions, moods, agitated, can’t settle down, anger, anxiety, feeling vague fear, worry, anticipation of doom, depression, feeling down, excitability, everything feels like an effort, feeling unsure of yourself, feelings of dread, feeling like you’re observing yourself from afar, feelings of well-being, feeling guilty, feeling hostile towards others, impatience, irritability, no desire to talk or  move, feeling lonely, nervousness, feelings of panic, rapid mood swings, restlessness, tearfulness, crying spells, feeling tense, feeling vague longing/yearning, etc…

And according to your therapist, it’s all due to mental health issues. Not brain issues. Emotional ones. It’s not your body that’s the problem. It’s your soul. You’re screwed.

Your brain is getting a steady stream of messages from your therapist and from yourself about “the way things are” — which is that you’re screwed up and in need of some serious intervention — and it’s causing your very plastic brain to re-form itself along the lines they’re suggesting. You feel like you’re getting worse, so your therapist dials up the intensity … and tells you all the drama is good — you’re “feeling things for the first time” (which is total, utter crap) and you’re acknowledging the difficult-to-handle aspects of your life (which really only emerged after your TBI). It throws you into even more of a tailspin, and before you know it, you’re planning on breaking up with your partner/spouse/lover, you’re riding the roller-coaster of withdrawal on one hand and aggression on the other, and you’re more and more convinced that you can’t live without your therapist, who is the one person who will sit in a room with you for more than a few minutes, as you’ve effectively chased everyone else away.

Anybody else have this happen to them? It happened to me, and looking back, all the advice from my friends and family about getting professional help from a licensed psychotherapist, was about the worst I could have gotten — and followed. It almost cost me my marriage, it turned my life into an extended experience in chaos, and the only reason I managed to escape the bogus-psychotherapy merry go round, was that I ended up seeing a truly well-meaning but neurologically clueless psychotherapist who scared the crap out of me because they had connections at a local mental hospital who could have me committed (against my will) at their say-so. A narrow escape, but an escape no less.

In fairness, I do believe that a lot of therapists are well-meaning and they are acting on the information and the training they have. But too often that training does NOT include a neurological element, and/or they decide that the awful ills of the world have psychological roots.

Another thing that makes it difficult is that a lot of therapists have mental health issues of their own. A lot of my therapist friends got into therapy because they were helped by counselors, themselves. While I applaud their eagerness to help others, it puts up a huge red flag for me. Because the nature of their mental health issues — incest or eating disorders or some other awful trauma — caused them to distance themselves from their bodies at a fairly early age, and they have grown up living outside their bodies. My therapist friends are by and large antagonistic towards their own bodies. They don’t really exercise, and if they do, it’s “gentle stretching” or yoga or something really non-challenging. They are not on friendly terms with their own physical selves, which closes their minds when I suggest that exercise and taking care of your body (as if your life depends on it, which it does) is key to mental health.

It’s all “mind over matter” for them — and I’ve witnessed the same mindset in other psychologists and therapists I’ve met. Not physically vigorous. Not physically healthy. Sitting all day in small rooms, gaining weight, losing muscle tone, planning on knee and shoulder replacements to repair the damage that their sedentary lifestyles have done to their bodies. And complaining all the while about stupid little things that a little exercise would make seem inconsequential.

Good grief.

Anyway, I’ll quit ranting, now. It’s a beautiful day, and thank heaven I remembered I need to move money into my bank account to cover a monthly autobill. Just to wrap up, when it comes to deciding whether or not you really need therapy, consider your neuropsychological state, and make sure you don’t get stuck with someone who doesn’t have a clue about how neurology can make you a little crazy… but that passes with time, and with the proper training and reinforcement for what your life can really be like.

‘Cuz if you aren’t crazy when you start seeing them, regular visits can make sure you really get there.

Caveat emptor.

Is EVERYBODY in love with their therapist?

I checked my stats, and there are all these search engine searches in my stats results for about the past year having to do with people looking for info on being in love with their therapist.

The malady seems to be going around…

Personally, I’m highly suspect of therapists. This is because I know a lot of them, and I know for a fact that none of them are any more mentally healthy than most “unhealthy” people I know.

The fact that they are dispensing mental health care to others worries me a little bit. It truly does.

One thing I’m not overly fond of, is the tendency of therapists to simulate parents or significant others, so they can establish an intimate bond with their clients.

It seems downright creepy, in fact.  I suspect it happens more with opposite-sex situations — female client, male therapist — but maybe it happens the other way around, too.

Either way, the dynamics are just too weird. Therapists need to get their own lives and stop using their clients as pseudo-lovers. And clients probably need… well… less therapy. Maybe?

The whole business of transferrence and regression raises lots of red flags for me, but it seems to be quite widespread. It’s just not the right thing to do, in my opinion, especially considering that lots of therapists have their own screwed-up issues, and it’s a rare individual who can actually manage their intimacies. When you get into a position of such power and influence over another — which therapists often do — it opens the door to a whole world of hurt that is downright dangerous.

Of course, the therapists get to charge you money for it, and they can always walk away from the situation using their “professional” discretion. They’ve been taught how to ply a powerful trade, but very few clients actually know what they’re up to.

Until it’s too late. And then, well, it’s too late.

Mind the body… mend the mind

I have been having some excellent hours, today. I had an okay morning, talking to people who are interviewing me to see if I can do the job that I’ve been looking into.  I met with the main hiring manager last Friday, and it seemed to go well. But I’m not sure I want the job. And the folks I talked to today were a far sight less amicable than the manager.

But then, they do live on other continents (it’s a “distributed” team) so it’s not like I have to share a cubicle with them, or anything.

All the same, though, I would like to be part of a team that is on good terms, and all on the same page.

I may not take the job, even if they offer it to me. Frankly, I’d rather be doing something closer to coding, and this is a managerial type position.

Anyway, enough of that. I had the good sense today to take a nap this afternoon. I worked from home, and I had the house to myself after about 1 p.m. I lay down for maybe half an hour, but it was good. I woke up feeling human again, which is a slight change, compared to how things have been, lately.

My cardinal sin (if I’ve committed any) in the past week, has been not getting enough sleep. I had meant to rest over the weekend, but events conspired to either wake me up too early or keep me from catching up on my rest, both of which were BAD. And it’s taken its toll. Major meltdown on Sunday, followed by days of feeling hungover and feisty and cranky and damaged. Not at my best. When I really need to be at my best.

All over lack of sleep. Seriously sad.

It’s really quite ridiculous that I would come to this, but I’m a master at complicating every friggin’ thing in my life. How many times do I have to learn AGAIN that I have to sleep, or else? I’m like a bipolar/ schizophrenic/ generally mentally ill individual I knew years ago, who got it in their head on a regular basis that they didn’t need to take their meds. They’d be fine while they were on them, then they’d get off for a while, and they’d end up doing wild things like chasing their partner out of the house and chauffering them several states away to drop them off with friends who would come pick up said rejected partner and escort them to safety. It just wasn’t pretty.

I’m happy to report that my own temporary insanity didn’t result in complete domestic collapse. But it didn’t make matters any easier at home.

So, once again, I have the opportunity to learn that sleep is the ultimate cure for my mental ills. After feeling truly bent for days, now that I’ve had some sleep and I’ve taken some of the pressure off, with regard to my job situation (I just can’t do the pressure cooker thing anymore, like I have been), I’m feeling much better.

And my spouse can quit hounding me to find a therapist. For now, anyway. I know I need to find a counselor of some kind, but for now, I just want to go about my business, regain my even keel, and re-discover the things I love about life. I want to get familiar again with the feel of life without inner turmoil… life without intensive anger management… life without drama… life with just a mellow evening at home after a good supper… life that’s thoughtful and mindful and present and aware. And properly rested.

Heck, it’s springtime! It’s time to enjoy my life, not get bogged down in all sorts of crap and drama and wailing and gnashing of teeth.  I really just want to enjoy myself. Do good things. Write good words. Make a decent contribution to the world around me. Just get on with it.

And that goal is a whole lot more attainable, when I take care of myself, my life, my work, my body. When I take care of my body, especially — when I stretch and lift weights and just move… well, my mind seems to take care of my brain. The intensity subsides, the pressure lifts off me. When I am comfortably  “in my body” as someone once described it to me, I feel fit and worthy and capable and full of enjoyment and satisfaction. And that’s a great thing. Being in good relationship with my body is by far the best way for me to be in good relationship with my mind. Funny how that works…

Personally, I think a whole lot of mental illness issues could be cleared up with proper physical maintenance and care.  Eating the right foods has a way of regulating your mood, as does exercise and movement. And certain types of movement, like tai chi and qi gong and yoga, have actually been shown to benefit the brain. They have images to prove it. MRIs or somesuch. Very cool. That, and meditation of certain types also helps.

On the other hand, eating crappy food, stressing your body with all sorts of sugars and processed ingredients, not eating enough of the right kinds of nutritious stuff, and loading up on high-carb, high-sugar foods, has a way of putting a strain on the body that truly affects the mind in a sickness-producing way. Just the wild sugar fluctuations, the highs and lows and foggy haze that comes from a dietetic roller coaster, takes a toll on the mind and the brain, as well as the body. It throws off your moods, it makes you hard to live with, and it doesn’t benefit anyone in the long run — except the ones who are selling the “food products” we’re eating, as though they were actually food.

For today, I’m eating real food, I’m getting real rest, and I’m not stressing over the future. My job situation will even out. My money situation will resolve. I’ll get myself back on track, and I’ll even enjoy the spring and summer. I know what to do, and I’m determined to do it.

That’s a good thing. A very good thing indeed.