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…!

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How to fall properly

I recently came across this video, which features footage from one of Joseph Kittinger’s high-altitude jumps from the stratosphere. Yes, that’s outer space. He rode up on a balloon-lifted gondola, and then jumped from about 75,000 feet. (Planes fly at about 30,000 feet, just as a point of reference.) So, this guy is up in the stratosphere in a space suit, and he jumps off a platform, falls thousands of feet (the first attempt, his main chute didn’t open when it should have, and he almost died). He does it three times. And he lives to tell the tale. He’s now living in Florida, actually.

And then you have the parkour folks. The guys (and some gals) who have learned how to hurl their bodies over and under and around urban barriers (and some rural ones, too), to get from one place to the next as quickly as possible.

None of this should be possible, as far as I’m concerned. It’s sick, phat, whatever people call it these days. And people are doing it.

How?

Proper training. A lot of training. Proper equipment. Sometimes lots of it, too. In the case of parkour, the only equipment you have is your body and your environment (the more challenging, it seems, the better). In the case of high altitude jumps, you need a lot more equipment — and a military-grade budget — to get anywhere near a truly high altitude. Sure, you can skydive. Or you can basejump. But in both cases, you still need equipment.

Even in Kittinger’s case, you need a tremendous amount of expertise to do that sort of thing. You need equipment that’s been created by geniuses, training that’s provided by professionals, and a willingness to just do it — from 76,000 feet. You need to have the confidence in the systems around you as well as your own abilities — confidence in your preparation on all levels — and the opportunity to take a shot.

In terms of parkour, you need a physically hostile environment — filled with hard, fixed physical obstacles that make organic life impossible. You also need years of training, and a bit of luck. Years of training can, I imagine, produce concussions and other injuries. So, if you manage to get years of training under your belt without getting seriously injured (and that includes brain injured), you’ve gotten pretty luck, as far as I’m concerned. (As an aside, I understand that the parkour/freerunning community is fraught with dissent, infighting, rigidity, and feuds. Sounds like TBI-central, to me — yet another reason why it’s strictly off limits to me, except in a metaphorical sense.

Likewise, base jumping, skydiving, high altitude jumps, and extreme sports are off the docket for me (unless I become terminally and incurably ill, and the only alternative the doctors are offering is dulling my pain with morphine as I slowly slip away, haggard, jaundiced, and wasting… much to the horror and dismay of my family, and the destitution of what worldly wealth I have — in that case, I’m taking up extreme sports with a vengeance. I may even go to sea…)

But in a metaphorical sense, on a higher, more abstract level, they offer me a whole lot of inspiration. Because they show me what’s possible, if you properly train. If you properly prepare. If you focus all your attention on a single activity, and you acquire skill through practice. And when circumstances arise, you don’t hesitate. I’ve never been one for heights, and my balance issues preclude doing parkour-like things, so leaping from tall buildings and bouncing off moving cars doesn’t appeal to me. But the idea (and the physical evidence) that practice and preparation can help you overcome seemingly impossible odds — and get you places you could otherwise never go — does appeal to me. Very much so.

This applies quite well in my own life, and it’s been a great help to me. Seeing people do things they “should not” be able to do convinces me that many of the things which I consider “impossible” for me to achieve, might actually be within reach, if I just apply myself consistently and with single-minded focus. Overcoming my anger/rage issues is possible. Dealing with my fatigue issues isn’t impossible. Piecing back together my life after a series of traumatic brain injuries is within reach. I don’t have to stay bound to my old limitations. I don’t have to stay stuck in my ways. Even the ways that seem so fiercely entrenched, like dragons holed up in the side of a mountain I am trying to climb, don’t have to hold me back. I can find ways to go around them, over them, under them. And get where I’m going.

Granted, taming my tongue and keeping a grip on my temper are not nearly as aesthetically pleasing as the sight of a triple-twisting vault across a series of obstacles followed by a jump from one high rooftop to another in a gray industrial city, but they can be just as challenging to master. Plenty of religious and spiritual teachings point out that the tongue is the hardest beast to tame, and mastering your own mind is one of the most difficult challenges a person can take on.

Whatever the nature of the challenge or activity, the fact remains that people do impossible things every day. And many of the most “impossible” things are considered such mainly because nobody’s figured out how to do them, yet. But that’s not to say they’ll be impossible forever.

Or that they were impossible in the first place.

Which brings me to a quote I recently came across:


“My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.”

William James, American psychologist

The blog post where I found this talks about mindfulness and neuroplasticity… about how what we focus on shapes us, and shapes our mind. Given that I’ve seen with my own eyes how people can — and do — engage in seemingly superhuman activities, it’s easier for me to imagine that I myself can accomplish things that I never before dreamed possible. I’m not talking about physically perilous activities that invite death or permanent disability with one wrong step. I’m talking about things like managing my anger, getting a grip on my time management problems, and turning my life around against the odds (and contrary to the expectations of a lot of people around me). I’m talking about living the most life possible to me, despite all the messages I’ve ever been given about being a loser, being lazy, being a waste of time and energy. I’m talking about being as fully human as I can, even though many others are willing to give up — on themselves, on life, and on me. I’m talking about being able to participate in social events and cultivate relationships with people. I’m talking about being able to stay financially solvent, even when things are not looking good at all. I’m talking about overcoming multiple traumatic brain injuries that have brought different challenges at each stage of my life, and beating the odds when others have been so willing to assign me to a lesser place in life.

We all fall. How our falls affect us is largely a question of how we do it. If we’re prepared, it doesn’t need to maim us, it doesn’t need to finish us. If we are conditioned to roll… and then pick ourselves up and move on… a fall can be little more than a bump in the road. And even if we are taken off guard… even if we aren’t fully prepared and fall flat… as long as we don’t give up and keep trying, we can get back up and keep moving. We can get back.

I’m convinced of it. I’ve seen evidence of it in my own life. And I’ve seen evidence of it in others’ lives. I’ve also seen it on YouTube.