Drink water, eat regularly, get exercise, rest

Soon...
Yes.

My sleeping has normalized, at last. After 3 days of vacation, I finally got to bed by 10:30, and I slept till 7:00. That’s progress.

I’ve been getting good exercise, getting out in the mornings to walk the beach or roam around town, and I’ve been able to nap… and relax.

Nice.

It’s really important for me to keep on a schedule. If I’m not, I can get tired. When I get tired, I get cranky. I’ve had to catch myself a number of times, yesterday, to keep from getting “snappy” with my spouse. I hate when I get short-tempered… especially when my spouse needs my help. I seem to get more short-tempered more quickly when they really need my help. That’s the worst time of all. I want to be patient and helpful, but my patience runs out when they are most in need.

That’s something I’m working on. It’s come up drastically in the past, and it weighs on me with the guilt. It was worse when I was first dealing with my TBI stuff and wasn’t getting any help, yet. My spouse had fallen and hurt their back, and I was so angry and confused and turned around, that I just walked up to them, yelled at them, and walked away in a rage. I couldn’t figure out how to handle the situation, and I left them lying by the road in pain.

I’m not proud of that. But I know now it was the TBI that made me do that. I would never do that myself by choice. And I think of that situation often, when they are truly in need of help with something, and I am feeling short with them. I don’t want to be like that ever again. The injury they sustained that day has worsened over time, and now they are nearly disabled by it at times.

I sometimes blame myself for that — especially because I didn’t help them in the following days and weeks and months… as their injury worsened and their back ache spread down their legs to their knees and the whole way to their ankles, but I couldn’t figure out what to do about it — and neither could they.

At least I got some help, when I did. If I had never gotten help, things would be even worse now, I’m sure. But it’s hard to face my own role in making this situation what it is. Fortunately, my spouse is getting physical therapy, but it’s been years since they could walk and move without pain.

Of course, they’re responsible, too, for much that happens in their life. They make unhealthy choices and resist common sense, so it’s not all on me. Still and all, I do feel a responsibility for this situation. And it’s incumbent upon me to manage myself properly, so I don’t pose a risk to them anymore.

I’ve had enough of that for one lifetime.

This vacation is about us being here together. Being a couple again. Being partners again. This is the first vacation we’ve had all to ourselves in a long time — for the past several years, they’ve always wanted friends to join us. But this year, no one can come, so it’s just us. And that’s fine with me. It’s easier for me to take – and it’s more of a vacation for me.

Drink water, eat regularly, get exercise, rest… and reset.

It’s important.

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Getting my body back, too

balance-figuresI’ve been concerned about falling, for some time, now. I get lightheaded and dizzy, and I sometimes lose my balance when I’m tired or I’m distracted (which is often how I feel). I’ve seen a neurologist about possible neurological bases for this, but the MRI didn’t come back with anything meaningful that they could do anything with. Also, I don’t have a condition they can diagnose, so they can’t bill the insurance company, which means I can’t get much in-depth help from them. They need to pay their bills, and if the insurance won’t cover what they’re doing for me – and I certainly can’t cover it all – then nothing’s going to get done.

Which kind of sucks.

But frankly, it doesn’t surprise me. I have been steering clear of neurologists for some time. Only after my neuropsych encouraged me to dig deeper, did I agree to try again. And the one they referred me to moved out of state, so that’s that. This one was another good prospect, they thought, but my experience is turning out different from their expectation. No surprises there.

I’m going back in another week to follow up and put this whole thing to rest. All they can tell me is that I’m probably not sleeping enough, which my old neuropsych thought was “preposterous” – but I can kind of see their point. When I’m tired, my brain doesn’t work as well. And balance is very much handled in the brain. So, fatigue could conceivably be a source of imbalance.

Still, there’s no guarantee that I’m going to ever actually catch up on my sleep and feel fully rested. I wear out easily, and I don’t have a life that allows me to get naps when I need them. Not yet, anyway. I’m working on that.

Anyway, I’m not going to get all bent out of shape about it. I’m meeting with a wellness coach/personal trainer at work today. That’s one of our employee benefits – an on-site wellness consultant – so I’m going to take advantage of it. I’m going to see if they can tell me some things I can do to strengthen my overall system, to give me better balance, physically speaking.

Think about it — the body moves as a result of muscles coordinating their movement. And keeping your balance really involves a lot of muscles. I sit and stand — stationary — for most of the day, every single day, so I don’t use those muscles as much. And that’s no good. So, I’m hoping they can show me ways to strengthen, as well as get more flexible — that’s another piece of keeping your balance.

I’m also working on really improving my sense of my own body and where I am in space. I get pretty banged-up from doing yardwork and chores around the house, because I run into things (but don’t realize it), and then I end up with bruises from impacts I can’t recall. I’m so focused on what I’m doing, that I don’t even notice the impacts. So, yeah, there are two things going on there, but I’m thinking that if I can at least improve my sense of where I am, relative to sharp objects and hard surfaces, I can possibly look a little less like I got in a bar brawl, after I’m done cleaning up the yard 😉

The way I’m working on that, is by really paying attention to my body during the day – noticing where I’m tense, and focusing on relaxing it. I’ve been watching videos of Systema — a Russian martial arts practice that centers around breathing, relaxation, and body awareness. Some of the things that they do in the videos are amazing — and the folks doing it aren’t these monster-ripped superheroes who overpower their opponents with sheer force. They’re average-looking folks who you’d never expect to be able to do the things they do. Because they know their bodies, and they relax and let themselves just respond to the situation.

I don’t think I’d ever do Systema training, because of all the hits and the falls. I’ve had enough of them in my life, already, and I don’t want to push my brain’s luck. But I did get a book from them a while back about breathing and improving your body sense, and I’ve been reading that on and off, over the past year. I’m getting back to it, now, and it feels pretty good. Just getting a better sense of my body, how it moves, how it feels when it moves… when it’s tense… when I need to breathe… it’s good.

It’s also helping me sleep. I get so caught up in my head, that my body can’t catch a break. So, focusing in my breath and also trying to feel each and every bone and muscle in my body, and relax as much as possible… that gets me into a relaxed state that gets me “down” before I can get halfway through. I’ll start at my toes, and by the time I’m at my knees, I’m out.

And that’s great. I used to do this all the time, then I stopped… and I forgot about doing it. That’s one thing I’m working on, these days — trying to follow through and not drop things before I finish them. Or, if I do get interrupted, make a note of what I’ve been doing, and keep that note where I can see it and remember it. I just remembered another project that I was making amazing progress on… then I got interrupted, and I forgot about it… and I ended up heading in a completely different direction.

Months later, I suddenly remembered it last night, and sure enough — there it is, waiting for me to continue working on it.

The breathing and relaxation stuff is just the same. I’m making great progress, then I get distracted, and I head off in a different direction. And I forget about what I’d been doing — and it ceases to exist for me.

So, I lose the benefits I’ve been getting from it. And I lose that part of my life. I slowly drift back to my old ways. I start having the same problems that I had before, and I wonder why I keep ending up back where I started… all over again… when I was making so much great progress.

It’s discouraging. So, I need to do something about that.

And so I shall.

Onward…!

Ha! The extra exercise worked

It's important to keep the right balance
It’s important to keep the right balance

So, yesterday, I exercised twice — once in the morning, and again later in the afternoon at work. There’s an aerobics room at the gym at work, and it’s walled with mirrors. That’s exactly what I need, so when I’m doing some movement, I can work on my form and be mindful of how my body is actually positioned as I move it.

I picked up a lot of bad posture and positioning habits when I was younger, and that’s cost me valuable time later in life when I pulled or strained muscles, due to bad form. And then I had to sit out for a while, till they got better. And by the time they got better, I had forgotten about doing them at all. And I lost more time, till I got inspired to do them again.

So, keeping myself in good form is important. And I had the chance yesterday afternoon to spend about 20 minutes moving and watching myself move, making sure I wasn’t moving in ways that strained my back and hips and knees, and all the other connections that have given me trouble over the years.

I didn’t spend a ton of time on it, yesterday, but it was enough to wake me up, and also give me a bit more of a workout. I had been planning on getting an extra exercise session in, when I got home from work. But to tell the truth, I’ve got to make supper, and I’m so done with the day, by that point, that I just want to make supper, talk to my spouse, and chill out.

So, exercising for 30 minutes during the day is really a good option for me. It breaks up my afternoon, and it also wakes me up.

And last night I went to bed by 10:00 and I woke up close to 7:00 a.m. — nearly 9 hours of continuous sleep. Amazing. Just amazing. I’m still feeling a bit fuzzy and groggy this morning, but the fact that I got that much sleep makes it all the better.

Plus, this afternoon, I have no meetings, so I can do it again. I moved a little bit this morning, to work on my balance, and also get a sense for where my body is in space. With my balance issues — which are the one outstanding remaining danger for me and my physical safety — I have to do something. The neuro I went to see to help me with it, doesn’t seem to take my situation all that seriously. Hell, they don’t seem to take ME all that seriously. So, I’ll just have to take care of this all, myself.

I can probably do a better job of it, anyway, because I know what my issues are. I have no trouble articulating them, because I don’t need to — I’m walking around in a body that’s got movement and balance challenges. I already know first-hand what the deal is, and I don’t have to convince anyone of it.

And that makes it a whole lot easier to deal with.

Personally, I’m sick and tired of people not taking me seriously, not believing me, and dismissing me — or brushing me off with some bogus explanation, because they can’t be bothered to look deeper. Maybe it’s a function of the medical system (I won’t say “healthcare”, because there’s something else driving it than “health” and “care”), which routinely traumatizes and exhausts its members, and then expects them to turn in stellar performances. I have to factor in that I’m dealing with professionals who are A) impaired at a functional level — and have been, since they started med school, and B) honor-bound to flatly deny that lack of sleep, secondary trauma, and the pressures of the insurance companies could have a negative impact on their performance.

So, I have to take it all with a grain of salt. And just use them for what they’re good for — prescriptions, if I need them. IF I want to take them — which I usually don’t. They’re gatekeepers for insurance companies, and little else, from what I’ve seen. Just as many financial advisors are little more than highly compensated sales reps for financial services companies (I know, because I was recruited by a fin svcs company many years ago, and I got an inside look at how things work — and I opted out).

So, all that aside, it feels great to be doing something for myself. I forgot to contact that trainer at work again, to go over some complex movements and strength training approaches. I’ll make a note to do it today. I’m feeling a lot of anticipation about this spring… I think it’s going to be a good one. And an old project I had put aside, years ago, has now suddenly shown itself to be feasible, as a solution to one of the big conundrums I couldn’t sort out before has suddenly become obvious to me. So, that’s a nice thing. Very nice indeed.

It’s amazing, what 9 hours of sleep will do for you. I’ll have to try for this again… and again… and again…

Onward.

And suddenly, it is fall

Autumn coming... time to bring back the reservoir
Autumn coming… time to bring back the reservoir

I have been so preoccupied this week with the work changes and catching up with old friends whom I haven’t seen in over a year, that I have not directed much energy towards noticing this season.

I’ve been tired — with that kind of cognitive and physical fatigue that is particular to brain injuries. My head has been looking for ways to make sense of it all… past, present, future… and that’s been taking up a lot of my time and attention.

It’s a double-whammy. On the one hand, opportunities like I’ve had in the past weeks are rare — having three days of solitude to clean out my garage and basement… having friends from overseas come to visit… being part of the beginnings of a corporate merger… These are over and above the usual speed bumps and wrinkles that populate my days and weeks. These are different, and they demand a special kind of attention — the sort of attention I actually try to avoid: drama, excitement, speculation, intense work for 12-14 hours straight, without much of a break.

Rapid-floating-in-FinlandBut because of their nature, I have to  just go with it. Get into it. Be a part of it. Allow myself to be swept along in the current – like a proverbial kayaker who gets dumped from their craft in the rapids — as you get washed along in the current, keep your head above water, keep looking forward, and keep your ass up and out of the way of rocks.

The main thing is to keep your head up. Don’t drown. Keep looking forward.

One thing you learn from TBI, is that when it comes to activities, you have to pick and choose. I suppose it’s true of anyone who expends a lot of energy in their activities… or who is very effective in what they do. You mustn’t squander your energy on things that don’t matter. But especially with TBI, you have to be extra careful.There is literally only so much you can do, and if you try to do it all, you end up wiping out your reserve of extra energy — and then you have to spend even more time building back those reserves.

Because lack of energy and fatigue just make everything worse. It siphons off your cognitive abilities, it depletes your stores of happiness and joy, and everything can feel like a slog.

Even the good stuff, the fun stuff, the stuff you know you should be grateful for and happy about.

For me, that’s probably the most depleting thing — knowing that I should be happy about things, knowing I should be pleased and excited and uplifted… but just not having the energy for it. Even energy spent on good things, is energy spent. And building it back is not a simple matter of sleeping in on the weekends. For every two days of extra energy I burn through, it takes two weeks to build it back. And if I don’t have two uninterrupted weeks (like this past month) and exciting things keep happening to me, well, then everything gets that much harder.

In what ways?

  1. distractionI get more distractable. I lose my focus and find it next to impossible to concentrate on the tasks in front of me. I get caught up in all sorts of side activities — which seem so important at the time, but are not actually relevant to what I’m supposed to be working on.
  2. I get more irritable. I can’t deal. I get cranky and snappy like an arthritic terrier. I get anxious and difficult to live with — with others, and with myself.
  3. I get less attentive. My attention gets fuzzy, and I stop noticing details – like the leaves turning outside, or just how beautiful everything has suddenly become. Everything around me seems wrapped in hazy gauze, and my senses are not sharp. My sense are so busy just trying to attend to the basics, that the extra special things in life slip by me very easily.
  4. Joy sorta kinda evaporates from my life. I know (intellectually) that I have a lot to be grateful for, and I know there is so much that I have to be glad about, but I just can’t find the joy. It’s nowhere to be found. And any attempt at reasoning with me to get me to find that joy… well, that just makes me feel stupid and ungrateful. My neuropsych tries to do this all the time, and the net result is that I feel stupid and short-sighted… rather than realizing that I’m simply tired, and letting it go at that.
  5. It gets hard to sleep. The more tired I am, the harder it is to relax and sleep. When I should be getting to bed early, I end up getting on Facebook for 90 minutes — and completely blowing past my normal bedtime. And you guessed right — fatigue becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where I get more and more tired and wired, as the days wear on. All of the above continue to escalate. It’s awful, and it’s very difficult to stop it.
  6. I end up in a downward spiral. Unless I can get a bunch of good nights of sleep, I’m toast. Things get worse and worse, until I finally just  Give Up. And it turns out, giving up is the best thing for me. Some nights, I go to sleep hoping I never wake up again — I am feeling that depleted and used-up. But the very act of completely abandoning hope actually makes it possible for me to rest. And in the morning, everything looks quite different than the night before. Usually, anyway. Some mornings, I’m still not convinced I want to keep going.

So, fatigue is a thing. It’s a very real thing. And if I don’t stay alert to it, and recognize when it’s getting to me, it can get the better of me, which is never good.

For today, I know I’m tired. I have a full day of things to do, but I can pace myself and take my time… really soak up this fine fall day, and enjoy what I come across, as best I can. Seasons change. It would be a shame to completely miss this one, because I’m distracted.

After the Hit – Age 4, Possible Fall Off a Chair

big-chairThis is an injury I cannot 100% confirm, but much about what I recall fits the description of what happens to a kid before, during, and after a concussion from a fall.

I was placed in a daytime childcare setting with another one of my siblings, when I was about 4 years old. Both my parents were working to make ends meet, so I was in childcare till I entered kindergarten.

This fall happened in a house that was filled with kids. The big kids went up stairs, and the little ones stayed downstairs where the caretaker could keep an eye on us. I always wanted to be upstairs with the big kids, but I knew I wasn’t allowed up. One day, one of the “big kids” encouraged me to come upstairs and join the fun. I was a small kid for my age, but I had a big heart, and I wanted to be part of the fun. So, I snuck upstairs with the other kid, and I got to play.

The game that day was climbing onto chairs and jumping, as though we could fly. I had always been a climber (I climbed onto the top of our refrigerator when I was 2, and I downed a whole bottle of tasty orange-flavored baby aspirin). So this came naturally to me. Along with the other kids, I climbed up as high as I could go, and I jumped. One time, I landed wrong – maybe my head hit something? And the next thing I knew, one of the big kids was running downstairs calling for our caretaker that I needed help.

I remember a lot of confusion and yelling. I wasn’t supposed to be up there. I dimly remember getting a concerned talking-to, but most of the yelling was at the other kids for inviting me up there. My mother was called, and she came to pick up my sibling and me. There was worried, hushed adult back-and-forth talk, with a lot of apologies from my caretaker. Then I was taken home.

After that, I was determined to go back upstairs and join the big kids again. I couldn’t get it out of my head. My caretaker had to keep an eye on me, or I’d be back upstairs. Nothing they said to me would stop me from wanting that. I wanted to climb. I wanted to jump. I wanted to fly. If it’s possible for a young kid to perseverate (get stuck on one idea and not be able to let it go), I fit the bill. In addition, I was subject to crying fits, where I could not let it go. I just could not. I would cry and cry and cry inconsolably. Nothing could stop me. I would just cry.

This happened at the caregiver’s place where I’d fallen. And it happened in other places and times when I was tired and overwhelmed, too. Once, my mother had to pick me up from childcare and take me home, because I was impossible to calm down and I was being too disruptive.

I didn’t want to be in that house, filled with all those rowdy kids, all that noise, and all that activity. But if I had to be there, I wanted to be upstairs with the big kids — jumping off chairs and getting as close to flying that a 4-year-old can imagine.

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.

Taking a break, breaking it up

All the colors are brighter, these days

This has been a heck of a fall. And winter is on the way. But now with my new job, I can take a bit of the logistical pressure off, and I can focus on projects that I haven’t been able to make good progress with.

I’ve really chafed under the “stranglehold” my commute had on my life, for what feels like so many years. That, and the frantic-ness that came with handling all the stressors from my attention problems, sensitivities, etc.

It’s amazing what extra sleep and a shorter commute will do for you. Simply amazing.

It’s giving me time to think… and dream… and plan… and take action.

Imagine that. After all those years of really battling to keep my dreams alive, it turns out that the missing piece was really reclaiming the time and energy that got sucked into my commute.

It’s tough to dream and plan and follow through, when you’re exhausted all the time. It can be done, but it’s better with rest.

So, this is good. I’m taking a break from some of the crazy appointments I’ve had to drive to, after work, and I’m taking time to read and write and just chill out — no pressure — make a nice supper … do some yard work … lift weights in the morning before getting into the day … rekindle my interest in different meditative practices that fell by the wayside.

Nice.

In a way, it’s like I’m on a sort of vacation. Being able to get the sleep I need, and not be stressed out about when I get to work… being able to take time to run errands during my lunch hour… and knowing that I can get where I need to go in 15 minutes or less… it’s absolutely priceless. And it frees me up to break up my routine and “paint outside the lines” of my life. I can try new things, read new books, chill… and also spring into action whenever something interesting comes up.

It’s better than a vacation in some ways, though, because it’s structured and it’s social. It gives me the chance to be around people for a set time each day, to orient myself outside my own head, and have meaningful interchanges with others. Left to my own designs, I tend to pull back and keep others at a distance. At work, that’s not possible. I have to talk to people, and they have to talk to me, so it’s good for us all.

Of course, I’m not opposed to a real vacation — and that will be coming during the week between Christmas and New Years, when things quiet down, and my spouse and I stay home instead of driving all over creation to see family, many states away.

This is good. It’s shaping up nicely. The colors are brighter, the day is looking better with each passing week.

And now, off to work I go.

Onward.

Aaaannnnddd… Problem solved.

Like mine, but in better condition

I’m glad I didn’t get rid of my old bike — “Old Ironsides” I call it, because it’s an ancient three-speed similar to the one my dad used to ride to work each day. I guess I hung onto it, because it reminds me of those days when my dad was still young and vigorous and had the energy to bike to and from work — and come home for lunch in the summers so we kids could spend time with him.

Anyway, I picked up Old Ironsides one day when I was out doing errands. Where I live, when people don’t have use for things that haven’t yet worn out, they put them out on their curb with a ‘free’ sign, so people will help themselves. I threw Old Ironsides in the back of the van, and it’s been in my basement for the past 11 years or so.

I’ve pulled it out, now and then, to ride around, but it’s an old rattle-trap, with a slightly bent wheel in the front, and a bit of of bumpiness when you ride along. But the brakes work, and the gears still shift. It’s still a solid bike, and I’m glad I hung onto it.

I have been really challenged with my physical fitness, lately. I am lifting weights more deliberately now, and I also spend time each day juggling, which is good for my coordination — and my frustration tolerance. I have an exercise bike, and I ride it sometimes. I also take long walks on the country roads around my home, as well as hike in the woods. But sometimes I need more.

I used to have a really awesome bike — a Specialized Roubaix road bike, which was so light, and so good on bumpy surfaces. It was easy to ride, easy to handle, easy to put in the back of my little car and take wherever I wanted. The thing was, when I had it, I was struggling with balance issues, and I was not doing well with being out and about on my own. Riding my bike on back roads really concerned me, because of traffic and distractions and the potential of falling.

So, I sold the bike to someone who would love and care for it very well. It was a wise choice. But I have missed that bike ever since.

In the past years since I sold it, I have gradually gotten better about my balance and my ability to stay focused on what’s happening in front of me. I am still uncomfortable with the idea of ranging far and wide beyond my home on a bike, because I can’t afford to get hurt and not be able to get home. There are also lots of hills around my house, so it’s a killer workout to ride bikes around here.

But within two miles of my house, there are enough gently rolling hills and enough untraveled back roads that I can ride Old Ironsides on. It really gives me a workout, just pedaling up gentle inclines — let alone the 45-degree slopes not far from my front door. I have enough road to ride, just within a 2 mile radius, to get some exercise, get my blood pumping, and feel the wind rushing past me. Also, my bike is not good enough to go that fast, so the issue of velocity is… negligible.

So, this afternoon, I dragged Old Ironsides out of the garage, hauled it down to the gas station, filled up the tires, found my good bike helmet, threw on a fluorescent orange t-shirt, and took the bike out for a spin. I didn’t have to go far, to tucker myself out — but I also had a good time pedaling and covering some ground. I know it’s not the most advanced piece of machinery, but it got me exactly where I wanted to go, and back, so that’s good.

I’m feeling really positive about this. Another fall is not something I care to experience, and that chance was always in the back of my mind with the other bike. This one is literally incapable of moving at the kind of speed that’s a danger to me. It’s sturdy, solid, and it does the job it’s meant to do — move a person from one place to the next quicker than they could go on foot.

So, I’ve had my exercise for the day, and I’m looking forward to doing it again, when I get some time. Safety first. And then plenty of fun.

Well, it’s time to get some supper.

Onward.

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.

After the Crash

RIP Sarah Burke (September 3, 1982 – January 19, 2012)

The Concussion Blog had a good post the other day — Action Sports an Issue Too — with a couple of videos that have really haunted me since I watched them.

I’ll show them again here:

There’s some mention at The Concussion Blog about high impact falls and the fencing response (which everyone who plays sports and is concerned about concussion should be aware of), which is good food for thought.

And it really did get me thinking. Because looking at Mr. Huston taking those falls, then lying there for a while and shaking himself off and jumping up to have another “go” at it is exactly the kind of behavior that gets so many of us into trouble.

I’m not sure if it’s the sudden release of glucose into the brain cells, or the whole rushing extended metabolic cascade of concussion that makes those neurons fire like crazy, but there’s something about getting hit on the head — and I hate to say it — that makes you want to go at things even harder. Perhaps it’s an evolutionary development from days of yore when warfare was largely hand-to-hand, and head trauma was just another part of the fight… and if you got hit, you couldn’t just lie there and wait for your opponent to make mincemeat of you. You had to jump back up and go at them even harder than before. Consider the eons of warfare humanity has been embroiled in, practically since the beginning of time. If darwinistic evolution has anything to do with how we’ve evolved as a species, and if the ones who could rebound after a blow to the head and keep fighting to the win, no matter about the dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, light sensitivity, cognitive deficits, poor risk assessment, etc…. and procreate along the way… and if the children inherited the qualities of their warfaring sires… then it makes sense that we would be in the situation we’re in.

‘Cause people have been running around, getting in fights, slugging each other over the head with sharp and blunt objects, and basically, wreaking havoc with the hidden grey matter since before recorded history. And if we as a species are conditioned to bounce back up and head back into the fray, well, then, it makes sense that Nyjah Huston is falling and hitting his head, apparently sustaining obvious concussions in the process (as indicated by the “unnatural position of [his] arms following a concussion. Immediately after moderate forces have been applied to the brainstem”), lying there for a moment or two to collect himself, then hopping up, grabbing his hat and board, and heading back up to the top of the stairs to try again, regardless of the “overt indicator of injury force magnitude and midbrain localization”.

Says Nyjah, “It normally takes that one fall in a trick like that to, thought, ride away and kinda like realize what you have to do to actually land it. And yeah then after that one that I rode away on, the next one was perfect, and it felt so good riding away from it after that battle.” (See the Berrics video at 2:19 to hear the roar of the crowd — which is really what so many of us want, right?) And all the while in the background, a band is playing “Well, you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone / But you went on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on…”

And so it goes. We fall, we get hurt — sometimes seriously (whether we know it or not) — but we get back up and run right back into the fray, regardless of possible consequences.

And the crowd cheers.

Because we value “resilient” athletes of all kinds, and we applaud them to no end when they actually succeed at the things they’ve practiced, over and over again. We value “resilient” employees and individuals who can “take a licking and keep on ticking”. We reward people who make sacrifice after sacrifice for the greater good, even when that “greater” isn’t so good. Even when it’s something as transitory and non-essential, like a Saturday afternoon ball game. Not that sports don’t matter – they certainly do. But is the temporary distraction of fans from the humdrum, sometimes uncomfortable facts of their lives as equally important as the long-term health and well-being of the athletes at play?

At what point does entertainment — and that’s what so much of it is for spectators — become more important than the health and safety of the entertainers.

Granted, entertainers and performers of all kinds have a long tradition of taking risks for the enjoyment of the crowds. Think high-wire acts, trapeze artists, bullfighters, bull riders, and people who play with fire to please an audience. In some ways, entertainment and distraction are as vital to human survival as food and air and water. We have to have them, or we wither amidst the constant rigors of the everyday. Something has to keep us going through it all. So, we have our sports and our games and our shows and YouTube and Twitter and so on.

And in watching those games and shows and performances, we learn lessons about what it means to be human, what it means to struggle to overcome adversity, be resilient, and keep on. We get reinforcement for our values, and we cheer on those people who support our values and demonstrate successful practice of the qualities we value most — the ability to take a hit, the ability to jump back up after a particularly hard fall, and get back in the game, not letting anything stop us.

Once upon a time, I was like that. I would get hurt, and I would jump right back into the fray. I wouldn’t take any time off, I would just push myself, no matter what. I would crash — and sometimes burn — but I’d be back eventually. Before anyone even really noticed I was down for the count. And I kept getting hurt. Like Nyjah Huston, I would lay low for a short while, then gather myself and plunge right back in. I kept recovering as best I could, then rush back into the action — in sports as well as in life. Knocked down and way woozy for a while? No problem. Just prop me up and turn me loose again. Smashed up in a car accident and unable to read with comprehension or understand what people were saying to me? No worries. Just give me a few days and a job change, and I’ll be right as rain before you know it. Went down a flight of stairs and smacked my head hard and can’t talk or think straight? Forget taking some time out. Let’s just get going — and move even faster than before.

That was pretty much the story of my life until 2007, when I started to notice that things were falling apart, and I didn’t understand why. Then it all caught up with me. And the rest is history. Here I am, working at rebuilding my life as best I can — and finding ways to do even better than rebuild — to actually build from the ground up, in so many ways.

In a way, what I’m doing now is a long, protracted rebound from the extended fall(s) I took over the course of my life. And this time I’m doing it a lot better than ever before.

Because I’m taking time off. Not 100% out-of-commission time off, but I’m stepping back from the crazy rush of everything, moving at a more sensible pace, and I’m not letting everyone else drive my action. It’s been an incredibly difficult change to make, but it totally makes sense for me. It’s a shift away from the reactive to the active, a move away from letting others define me and my life goals, and going with my gut — what I want and need, not what other people tell me I want and need. I’m not pushing to reach some brass ring that’s forever out of reach. I’m backing off… being more introspective about my approach… and giving myself time to come up with answers that make sense to me, not just the rest of the world.

It’s an entire life change, which hasn’t been easy. But it’s been necessary. And long overdue.

After the crash, when you take a hard hit, it can be a really good idea to step back, reassess, and only return to play after getting to a place where you’re truly good to go. If you got injured pretty badly, it may take some time to get back to that place, but you’ve got to resist the temptation to race right back into the fray without giving your body and mind some time to recover. If you take time off, you may actually figure out if you’re hurt, and how badly, and what you need to do to get back into decent working condition. But you’ve got to give yourself a chance to catch up with yourself. You’ve gotta be smart and self-defensive, not succumb to the pressure of the cheering crowds which can push you out into dangerous situations all over again.

Now, you can’t just sit out indefinitely, losing your conditioning and your abilities by being over-protective. And you can’t run away from the urgings of others, who may actually see things in you that you don’t see in yourself. That’s another danger that’s very real and present, and I’ve seen a lot of people pass up great opportunities in life because they were afraid they weren’t ready or up to it. At some point, you’ve got to find it in yourself to move on and act on opportunities as they arise, provided you’re up to it.

If you don’t, then brain injury has taken over your life, and you’re a hostage for as long as you let your fears dictate your future.

Now for the disclaimer: For brain injury survivors, self-assessment and accurately gauging the levels of your abilities can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. So, you may find yourself in “interesting times” as the Chinese phrase it, with all hell breaking loose, thanks to disconnects in your abilities vs. interests. It can be helpful to have the input of others who are realistic as well as supportive. Indeed, taking steps to get back in the game may in fact reveal that you’re better off not getting back in the particular game you want to rejoin. Self-reflection and objective observation of real feedback about your life and your abilities may show that you should find a different game — metaphorically choosing tennis or golf, instead of ice hockey or football. Whatever you find and whatever you choose, the important thing is to not get STUCK in one place, and to NOT GIVE UP trying to find a different way. The brain is a big place with tremendous plasticity. And history has shown that even significantly injured individuals have recovered and developed abilities that nobody expected or realized they had.

It’s a balance. And it’s a very hard balance to strike.  Especially after the crash, when your brain is telling you go-go-go… not necessarily for any particular reason, just to GO… and the rest of the world is cheering you on, urging you to get up, dust yourself off, and jump back in the action ASAP.