A good night’s sleep… and a new direction

zelinsky-eye-info
Eye-opening info on the visual systems and the brain-body connection – click to read this

I had a very taxing day, yesterday. In the midst of telling my manager that I was leaving (and having them freak out, albeit in a professionally muted way), and also trying to get work done, so that I can wrap everything up for folks before I go, I had the constant interruption of people stopping by or sending me messages or emails or whatever, so that they could find out what was up… process… congratulate me… etc.

Everyone has been really great about it. Of course, we’re only in the early stages of grief.

Denial… Anger… Bargaining… Depression… Acceptance.

We’ve only gotten to the first stage (though I know everyone handles loss differently, so the order can be mixed up), and I’m expecting anger, bargaining, and depression to ensue before long.

As long as I’m prepared, that’s the main thing.

The issue is, all the interruptions, all day long, the emotion, the storytelling — getting the sequence of things correct, so that I’m telling a consistent story and don’t sound like I’m lying to people — it’s exhausting. Trying to focus, while people are all worked up and want to talk… good grief, it’s tiring. And by the end of the day, I was wiped.

Which is part of the reason I burned supper… then had a minor meltdown when my spouse started yelling at me… then got all bent out of shape about that signalling the permanent end of my marriage, because I just couldn’t take being yelled at when I’d had such a demanding day…

I felt a nasty migraine coming on, and retreated to my bedroom with the lights off and focused on my breathing and slowing my heart rate, to head the migraine off at the pass. It worked. And my spouse came to find me to talk things through because it made no sense for me to go to bed angry. And then I went downstairs and watched “Happy-ish” which is my new favorite show, because there are so many parallels between the main character and myself.

In the end, we finished the evening on a much more normal, loving note. I got a good night’s sleep and woke up to a glorious day. Glorious! as my elderly aunts used to exclaim, when I was a kid.

I miss those venerable elders. I miss them a lot.

Anyway, while reading The Ghost In My Brain, I found a lot of similarities to the author’s experience and my own — the nausea that sets in when people are talking to you… the balance problems… the fact that driving is actually okay, when you’re not cognitively drained (it’s actually a relief)… preferring blurry eyesight to glasses that make objects sharper, but don’t address the full spectrum of vision issues… and having everything be in slow motion when talking, because there are all sorts of additional processes that need to take place in the background, while you’re working through what someone is saying to you… and then there’s the trouble planning.

The author talks about how he had regular appointments with a Dr. Miller to work through daily logistics with TBI, and he was often not 100% sure he was supposed to be there. I used to do that all the time with my neuropsych, for a number of years. I was pretty sure I was supposed to be there, but I wasn’t 100% confident, so I just went — and if I was supposed to be there, then that was cool. If I turned out to be there on the wrong day, I was prepared to turn around and go home.

Fortunately, we always had appointments on Tuesday afternoons, so it was consistent. If it was Tuesday, then I’d go to their office and wait in the waiting room. Sometimes I would sit in the waiting room for quite some time, if I got there a little late. I wasn’t sure if I should go knock on the door, or if they would come out to find me. Eventually, I got in the habit of knocking on the door — the thing is, I now realize, I would avoid it, because it hurt my ears when I knocked. Driving an hour through evening rush hour traffic really took it out of me, so my hearing was on HIGH. I’d just suck it up, though, and knock. The discomfort of the knocking, though, was actually preferable to the auditory shock of hearing their door open suddenly. It always startled me, because they have one of those noise-dampening brushes across the bottom of their door, and it makes a really loud noise when it opens.

At least, it’s loud for me.

Anyway, all the discomfort aside, I’m considering following up with a neuro-rehabilitative optometrist to see if I actually have vision issues that are making my symptoms worse. After I was hit in the head with the rock when I was 8 (a year earlier I’d fallen down a flight of stairs and temporarily lost the ability to speak), I developed double-vision (diplopia, I think it’s called). I was taken to an eye doctor who prescribed reading glasses, and I’ve worn them ever since.

In recent years, I’ve actually opted for not wearing my glasses whenever I can. It’s more comfortable for me. My glasses help me see things in the distance just fine, but I prefer to do without them. Sometimes I will even drive for short distances without my glasses (if no one is around and the road is empty and runs straight ahead). I have been thinking it’s because I just can’t stand having them on my face… but now I’m wondering if maybe they are actually making it harder for me to see, because they are not allowing my eyes to get the kind of light I need to get.

Reading The Ghost In My Brain, I am finding so many similarities — especially with how vision and balance are so closely connected — that I think it makes sense to follow up with my vision. Just get my eyes checked out for that other aspect. Apparently, there are three ways our eyes help us — regular straight-ahead vision, peripheral vision, and then connections with sleep-wake cycles, balance, hormones, neurotransmitters, posture, etc.

And I wonder if maybe so many of my logistical problems — which I have never been able to articulate well to anyone, because they make no sense to me or anyone else — might have to do with vision issues. From the time I was 8. So, for over 40 years. If this is true, and my visual systems have been impacted, then it makes a lot of sense why I perform so high on visual-spatial tests. I’ve had to develop more abilities to offset the deficits I got from those TBIs. Add to that even more blows to the head, and you’ve got yourself quite a recipe for a very interesting life.

Additionally, I’m looking into the Feuerstein Method, which is a way of “learning to learn” — finding your strengths to offset your weaknesses, and restoring functionality that I really need to have, but which has eluded me.

My neuropsych has been incredibly helpful to me, in terms of helping me sort through all the psychological clutter, helping me retrain my executive function and beefing up my gist reasoning. The thing is, they take that approach, which is psychological, and the physiological aspects fall by the wayside. At least, that’s how it seems to me. And anyway, I do a really poor job of communicating everything that’s going on with me, at times, because I have a long drive to get to them, at the end of usually challenging days, and I’ve been so stressed out over the years with all my old sh*tty jobs, that I haven’t had as much bandwidth as I’d have liked to.

I do a danged good impression of someone who’s got their act together. Because I have to. If I don’t, I can lose my job. I can lose my house. I can lose everything, and my spouse will lose it all, too. So, keeping up the appearance of being on top of everything is my top priority.

Of course, that can backfire, because then you can’t always reveal the areas where you need help, when someone is there to help you.

But anyway, that’s another blog post for another day.

Right now, I’ve got some new lines of inquiry to follow, and that’s super cool. I also have some exercises I can do to help me — Designs for Strong Minds (the site of the rehab person who helped Clark Elliott retrain his brain) has a bunch of exercises at http://www.dsmexercises.com/, and I went ahead and paid the $13.99 for the full suite of exercises. It’s easier and quicker than trying to piece things together for myself. Plus, it’s a deal, because individually, the collections of challenges are $9.99 each.

Even the most basic ones pose some issues for me, although I’ve been scoring 87% or better. A number of my choices have been lucky guesses. I won’t be happy until I can score 100% without doubts. Then I can move on to the next batch. There are exercises for NASA rocket scientists, and other pattern matching things.

And that reminds me about my Dual N-Back training I used to do regularly. I need to try that again. I was doing Dual N-Back training when I was learning to juggle. Now I know how to juggle, and I wonder if my Dual N-Back training is “sticking” as well.

New tests for a new day.

Interspersed with lots of rest.

I’m pretty happy about the progress I’ve made in my life, relative to where I was 10 years ago. Relative to where I believe I could be — and should be — I’m not happy. I know I can do more and I know I can do better. Getting there is the challenge.

And it finding out if I have vision issues that can be fixed, could be an important next step.

Onward!

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Gist reasoning experiment – What’s going on here in this scene?

When I was first tested on my “gist reasoning”, I did extremely poorly.

I didn’t learn till later, that I was supposed to answer a certain way. This next exercise is similar to the test I failed badly, the first time I took it.

Look at this picture – what’s happening? Choose below:

What's happening here?
What’s happening here?
  1. They are having tea
  2. They are in a stage play
  3. Older woman is ignoring the girl in the pink shirt
  4. Three people are sitting, one person is standing
  5. There are a lot of blue items – shirts, jeans, book, sofa, seat cushion
  6. The flowers on the table in the background almost match the youngest woman’s shirt
  7. The girl with the neck collar is getting all the attention
  8. The family is playing out an unhealthy dynamic that it always does, and it’s bothering a number of people here

Each choice is technically correct.

Which one summarizes what’s going on, at a high level?

Or do you have another perspective?

Write it down, if you have trouble figuring out “big picture” ideas on a regular basis, and check in with someone you know who does a better job of it, than you.

See what they have to say about your interpretation.

HERE are the Gist Reasoning Exercises

Source: http://www.traumaticbraininjury.net/

Gist reasoning is all about picking which pieces of information matter, and which don’t.

Gist reasoning strength is a better indicator of how badly someone has been impacted by TBI, than just about any other measure. Intelligence tests and memory tests don’t do it. It’s how we put it all together, that shows how well — or poorly — we do.

I have created some Gist Reasoning Exercises – a Gist Template – for TBI recovery and Some Gist Reasoning exercises to “Bounce Out” Items that Don’t Belong

Like I’ve said, posting materials online for people to use and improve is NOT rocket science. You just have to put something out there. But this kind of instruction seems to be tied up with folks who have certain professional credentials or special training.* For me, as a person who has been profoundly impacted by multiple undiagnosed and unaddressed TBIs, it makes my heart ache to think of how many others like me are out there not getting the help they (and their families) desperately need, and I cannot just stand by without doing something about it.

So, I’m building tools, based on gist reasoning information I am finding online. Below are links to some scenarios and collections of terms — some of the items matter to the Scenario, some of them don’t. Follow the instructions for each Scenario.

You can either print out the pages, or you can just write it all down — writing it out by hand is good, because it exercises your brain in helpful ways. You may want to show it to someone who has better daily functioning skills than you, to see if you’re on track.*

Check back again in the top menu and also on the Scenarios page for added tools and exercises. Some of them may seem quite rudimentary, but it is what you make of it. You can really “play” with some of them! So, have fun with it.

Just so we’re clear, I have to say the following, so I don’t get in trouble for claiming to fix brain-type things without proper credentials… I don’t have the money to defend against a lawsuit.

*Please note: These exercises are for “entertainment” purposes only, and no guarantee is made about their ability to improve your gist reasoning abilities. I am not a formally trained educational instruction designer. I have conducted trainings for many people in professional settings, as well as taught individuals how to use software. But I’m not formally trained or certified in this kind of work. Like many things in my life, this is an experiment intended to help people like me who have been left behind or overlooked by the established rehab industry.

To medicate or not to medicate

Choices, choices

I’m doing my leg lifts a little differently this morning. I’m going slowly, and I’m not holding onto something for balance, unless I need it. I’ve been having balance problems, lately. Or rather, my usual balance problems have been more of a problem, lately. I’ve almost fallen a number of times in the past few months — while standing up from a table and having to catch myself before I hit my head on the table and/or a nearby chair and bookcase… while starting to walk down a flight of stairs… even while just standing.

So, after talking to the neurologist and my neuropsych and making an effort to notice when I’m dangerously off balance, I’ve realized this is actually an issue. And I need to get it checked out.

So, I’m going to get some autonomic system testing done. I know that it’s been an issue with me, lo these many years, and I need to collect some actual data about it, rather than relying solely on my own observation — which tends to be spotty, because of my Swiss-cheesey memory. If I don’t write things down, it’s like they never happened. And I can’t always take the time to write everything down.

It would just start to get a bit hypergraphic, methinks.

Anyway, over the weekend, I also took some Sumatripan (generic Imitrex), which did knock out the migraine I felt coming on. But it also left me feeling drugged and dopey. I felt “off” all weekend, like I had chemicals in my system. It wasn’t like I was looking for that. I will take meds when I have to. The thing was, I was definitely feeling “synthetic” for a few days. Monday I started to feel better, but Sunday it was like I was in a druggy fog.

I can’t remember if I took the migraine meds before or after I had my dizzy spell, but as it turns out, dizziness is one of the reported side-effects of Sumatriptan. And when I looked at the list of side-effects with my neuropsych yesterday, it turns out that it’s probably not a great idea for me to be taking it, due to possible effects on my autonomic system.

See, here’s the big issue I have with meds: They are dispensed from on high, and unless I have access to someone with an advanced database of indications and contraindications, as well as sensitivity to my situation and an understanding of how things might affect me, I’m pretty much a guinea pig for finding out what’s going to happen with me. And doctors (in my experience) routinely prescribe things that they don’t fully understand. They figure they’ll have me try it out and see — essentially turning me into a science experiment.

I’m extremely sensitive to medications, but nobody seems to take that seriously. Meds disrupt my attention and concentration with the feeling they often give me. Unless I am completely laid out by illness, such as bronchitis or some other major infection that I can’t fight off on my own, the cure can be worse than the illness it’s supposed to fix.

I need to figure things out up front as much as possible, not just find something that’s worked for other people, give it a whirl, and then have my life disrupted by exciting discoveries.

Not when I can take another route to dealing with things.

So, as for the autonomic testing, both the neuro and the neuropsych are thinking I could take a pill to deal with the situation. Please. Another medication? If there is any way on God’s good earth that I can find another way to strengthen the underlying structure of my system, and build myself up that way, I’ll do that. I mean, seriously. Say I do go on a med for my balance. Is that going to help me strengthen my body to maintain balance better? People often have falls — especially later in life — because their systems are weakened, they don’t have the muscular control to catch themselves, and their reactions are slowed. If I use a pill to fix my issues, then where is the incentive to strengthen the underlying “framework” that keeps me upright?

The direction I want to take with the autonomic testing is NOT pharmaceutical. It’s structural. I don’t want additional chemicals coursing through my veins, when I can offset the issues I have with strength and balance exercises, eating right, and getting adequate rest. I need to approach this systemically, not have an intervention which may actually weaken me.

It’s pretty irritating for my neuropsych and my neuro to be so pill-happy. I’ve been on this rehab quest for about 7 years now, and my neuropsych says they’ve never seen a recovery like mine. Okay, out of all their other patients, how many of them are on medication?  I’m not. I refuse to be — especially for things that I can address and strengthen myself — or compensate for (by strengthening other aspects of my neurology).

It’s frustrating and alienating for them to be so eager to prescribe meds. Maybe they just want a quick way to relieve suffering. That impulse is noble, but the pharma aspect of it doesn’t sit well with me.

Anyway, we’ll see. I know where I stand, and I can’t let them bring me down.

Gotta get moving again

Ouch. The past short week with all the long hours — 5 a.m. till 7 p.m., most days — has been kicking the crap out of me, and I woke up this morning feeling like I’ve been beaten with a stick. It’s all those old sports injuries from my past, including a very sedentary lifestyle in my present. I do manage to get up and move, throughout the course of the day, but lately I’ve had to do work that has me sitting for long periods of time, just hunched over the keyboard, and that just plain sucks.

So, I’ve got to do something about it. I have been going to physical therapy to help with my neck and shoulder, which I injured a few months back and has not quite healed yet. I’ve learning some exercises to do, and I have a printout to follow. Now, I just need to put it where I can find it and remember it. I got it a couple of weeks ago, but it ended up on a pile underneath some other papers — out of sight, out of mind. No matter now often I tried to remember to dig it out and consult it, I kept forgetting.

That being said, I just retrieved it from my pile and it’s sitting here on the desk next to me. That’s an improvement already.

I also did some exercises this morning while I was making my breakfast — not the usual exercises 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 and repeat… that gets boring — but just moving around, loosening up, getting my bones cracking and my blood pumping. I get a little too staid with my exercises, first thing in the morning, and they don’t feel that great, so I back off. And then I end up doing nothing… Unless I’m doing chores around the house and yard, in which case I’m moving a lot, lifting and pushing and pulling and really testing myself.

Feast or famine. And then I end up with a lot of pain and stiffness and I get sedentary… and I end up like I am now — stiff and sore and one bit instance of ouch.

Ah, well. So it goes. At least I know I’m alive, right?

I’ve heard a lot of friends say that this is the year they get their act together, health-wise, and I’m in the same boat. I feel like the last few years were just all about survival — hunkering down and keeping a low profile and just soldiering through. Just staving off disaster, nothing more, nothing less.

This year, it feels like things are loosening up, all the upheaval in Ukraine and Venezuela notwithstanding. All kinds of crap is breaking loose all over the place, but in my little corner of the world, things are actually normalizing. Granted, I have come to detest my job all over again, and I can’t even begin to say how crazy it makes me to work with people who are arrogant, entitled, and utterly incompetent because their bosses have been letting them slide, lo these many years. It’s truly pathetic. There is a cost for coddling slackers. And I’m sick of paying someone else’s bills.

On the bright side, this motivates me all the more to step up and actively manage my own career and make some inroads where I can. I’m just going to keep steady with my own work and my own path, and let everyone else figure it out. Seriously, it’s not my job to win the hearts and minds of everyone around me. They can manage their own damn’ selves. I’ve got work to do, and I’m going to do it.

Now that I’m looking at my printout of exercises, it’s coming back to me… my physical therapist showed me some good stretches to do, and some of these I can do at my desk, as well as in the car while I’m driving. Or I can just step away from my desk for 10 minutes, every couple of hours, and do them. It actually wakes me up a bit, to stretch, and it frees up the blood flow and energy — gets everything “talking to each other” much better. So, it should help me in the course of my daily work.

Despite my bitching, the simple fact remains that people who can do difficult work get paid the big bucks. Those who can take on impossible challenges and deliver, are the ones who are most valued in a large company, and rather than dreading and avoiding challenges like the ones I face each day, I should be welcoming them as a chance to grow and improve. There are a number of things I really dislike about this job — the workforce, the arrogance of management, the overwork and underpay, as well as the travel which destroys my quality of life. But if I can work around those things and focus on the parts of it that I want to really emphasize, then I can make this work for myself.

Having to soldier through all the muck and weeds is incredibly taxing, but that’s just part of living and working. I need to just suck it up and get moving, make the most of the situation where I find myself, and really focus on the gratitude for what I do have.

And take care of my health. I’m going to see my doctor today about my headaches. I suspect they’re just tension headaches, but it could be something else. And they come on when I exercise — I can start out feeling pretty decent (headache at a 2/10). Then I’ll start to exercise, and when my heart rate goes up, my headache kicks in harder — going up to a 6 or a 7 out of 10. It makes it a little difficult to get excited about exercising. I thought it would just go away over time, but it hasn’t. And so I need to check with my doctor.

This coming June, it will be four years since I started at this company. It has been a wild ride. I’m not sure how much longer I should stay, actually. And later this year, when I have revised my resume and goals and objectives, and I am more clear about the new direction I want to go in, I can start looking. Right now, it makes no sense for me to move. I just need to stay focused on what I am doing and stay true to myself.

And not let others hold me down or cloud my judgment. I’m surrounded by people whose judgment doesn’t seem to be that sound. I can’t let that affect me and blur my own vision.

So, yeah. Onward.

 

 

Full-range motion… in slow motion

I’ve been changing up my morning exercise routine, over the past week, after realizing that the exercises I’ve been doing have not been strenghtening my whole system. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been doing “weight lifting” exercises, which isolate certain muscles. That’s how I was taught to lift, both when I was an active athlete and later in life when I hit the gym regularly.

In the process of isolating muscles, however, I’ve realized that I’ve produced a kind of “lop-sided” fitness which actually undermines my whole structure. If a handful of muscles are stronger than others, and they don’t have strength through their full range of motion, it actually makes it easier for me to injure myself and be in more pain. Because the stronger muscles will be taking over and pulling more weight, while the less strong ones — including my tendons and ligaments — will be unevenly stressed.

Not good.

Also, I’ve noticed that the weights I’ve been using, while not terribly heavy, have actually been stressing my joints. Part of the problem is form. I have a tendency to stoop, which is not good. I need to keep mindful of my alignment. But the thing that comes to mind — in no small part as a result of reading crossfit information which talks about how life is not a controlled situation, and you can never tell just how you’re going to be physically tested in life — is that doing simple movements with light weights should NOT be painful and stressful to me.

Something is lacking, here, and that is full-range fitness.

So, I’m expanding my exercises to incorporate full-range motion. Not just curls, but curls and stretches. Not just presses, but extensions, too. I have stopped limiting my movement to “the exercise” itself, and I’m completing the motion that I begin, to come full-circle.

It’s hard to explain in words, but basically, if I hold weights and stretch out my arms in one direction, I complete the full range of motion to bring the weight back – under very conscious control.

Instead of doing linear exercises:

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I’m doing full-spectrum exercises

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|                                                   V

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Another aspect of this, is that I move much more slowly than I am accustomed to. Slow movement has always made me NUTS — I can’t stand it! But you know what? I need the practice at impulse control. And I need the practice at mindfulness. I also need to build some really quality muscle, to support my joints. That is done quite well by slow lifting. Also, slow lifting cuts down on wear and tear on your joints. Between the mindfulness and the measured motion, by the time I’m done with my workout in the morning, I’ve gotten some good practice at paying very close attention to what I’m doing. And that sets the stage for the rest of my day.

This is a new thing for me, but it’s long overdue. And it not only represents a shift in my workout, but a shift in my approach to life, as well. Whatever I start, I complete. I don’t just go in one direction, I complete the circle. I also move much more slowly than before, where I can feel every motion, and I am mindful of every movement. It’s not just a change to my exercise routine. It’s actually a change to my way of relating to the rest of my life.

Speaking of the rest of my life, I’ve gotta run – I’ve got full-range activities to attend to.