The up-sides of the down-sides

construction worker with ratchet on a steel beamIt’s been a wild couple of days. I had to work overtime twice in two days, which meant I was up from 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning till 3 a.m. yesterday, and I was working intensely for most of that time. We had a big project we had to get done, and we were missing two people on the team, since they had previously scheduled vacation and the big project’s schedule got changed to the worst possible dates.

Oh, well. We just had to deal with it.

And deal with it, I did.

I got 90 minutes of sleep between the two marathon testing sessions, and that was it. Half the time, I felt like I was dead on my feet, and my brain was mush. I was doubled over in pain, part of the time, because of eating the wrong stuff to keep my energy up, which led to digestive problems.

I have to be honest – it was pretty rough. But I got through it. And I ended up lasting longer than just about everybody else, which is typical. One of the upsides of dealing with fatigue and confusion and pain all the time, is that when things get really rough, all across the board, I can  — and usually will — persevere. I can stick it out and still perform. Because I’ve had plenty of practice. I know how to do it, because I do it, every single day, pretty much.

I’m usually tired, usually brain-fogged, usually struggling a bit at something or another. That’s pretty much the cards in the hand I’ve been dealt, because even if I weren’t dealing with TBI issues, I’d still be pushing myself — always harder, always farther, always faster. That’s just how I am. I’m not all that competitive against others. I’m mainly competitive against myself, and I always want to see how much better I can be, how much I can improve.

That’s just how I’m built.

So, of course, I’m going to experience these kinds of stresses and strains, these challenges, these difficulties. And when I’m called upon to kick in and contribute, I’ll do that to the max. To the utmost. I’m not going to hold back. It can be a problem, of course, because I can push myself too hard and overextend myself, but I’m aware of that risk, so I do something about it.

Bottom line, all the difficulties I’ve been up against, over the course of my life have strengthened and sharpened and honed me to this point. And even if I’m not as sharp and strong and honed as I’d ideally like to be, I’m still able to persevere, to hang in there. To stick it out and really do my best, no matter what.

That’s a huge up-side, for me and everyone around me.

And it makes the down-sides manageable.

It’s all part of it.

Onward.

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Unless we understand #TBI / #Concussion, we can’t really treat it

I’ve been more absent from this blog, this month, than I’d intended. Life… you know? It’s been very busy at work, and things are shifting with my role. I’ve had some additional training and workshops, and I’m still trying to figure out where I fit in.

Fortunately, I have help. There are a lot of folks at work who are eager to step in and pull people up to the level they need to be at. I’m not the only one who’s having some challenges navigating the new organizational structure, but fortunately, the expectation is that each and every one of us is going to have challenges and struggle somewhat.

So, that’s helpful, overall.

Getting support at work frees me up to get back to my mission: To write about long-term recovery from concussion / mild traumatic brain injury, and show that it is possible to restore your life after you’ve sustained a brain injury. There is a real dearth of information about this out in the world, and I’m (still) on a mission to do something about that.

I realize that all my … “gyrations” at work have distracted me from this mission. It’s been siphoning off all my energy and distracting me, which is the opposite of what I want and need. So, I’m settling down in my job, chilling out, and looking to my long-term future… 10… 15… 20… 30 years in the future.

And that frees me up to concentrate on the here-and-now with greater focus. It lets me get back to my mission.

The other day, while researching a post, I came across this article:

New Advice to Move More After a Concussion

When young athletes sustain concussions, they are typically told to rest until all symptoms disappear. That means no physical activity, reading, screen time or friends, and little light exposure, for multiple days and, in severe cases, weeks.

Restricting all forms of activity after a concussion is known as “cocooning.” But now new guidelines, written by an international panel of concussion experts and published this month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, question that practice. Instead of cocooning, the new guidelines suggest that most young athletes should be encouraged to start being physically active within a day or two after the injury.

“The brain benefits from movement and exercise, including after a concussion,” says Dr. John Leddy, a professor of orthopedics at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, and one of the co-authors of the new guidelines.

And it makes sense to me. Because when you think about concussion / TBI in terms of what it is (an injury that disrupts connections and releases a bunch of “gunk” into the brain that shouldn’t be there), and you think about the brain in terms of what it does (processes information based on connections and makes new connections where none existed before), and you think about how the body works (moves all of that information through  – mentally and physically), then cocooning probably isn’t the thing to do for long periods of time.

TBI is a tricky thing. It’s different for everyone, of course, and something that works for one person might not work for another. But we’re all walking around in human bodies, and those human bodies function pretty much the same way.

So, if we use the principles of how the body and brain work, and we understand the nature of concussion, and we understand the dynamics of the whole scenario, new treatment approaches become clearer.

It surprises me a little bit that it took till May, 2017, to figure out how to better treat concussions. Then again, until the past 10-15 years or so, people didn’t really take “mild” traumatic brain injury that seriously. Everybody just laughed it off like it was no big deal.

Then we started to realize that onetime football players were ending up in a bad way — worse than the general public. And football players and their families started going public about their struggles. And people started talking — out loud — about stuff that used to be a source of terrible shame and embarrassment. The kinds of stuff that “you just didn’t talk about”, back in the day.

A lot has changed, thanks to research and increased awareness.

And we’re making progress in many areas.

But still, it surprises me, how much we don’t know… how much we still overlook… and how many people continue to struggle, months and years after a concussion or mTBI.

I have my own struggles, sure. A lot of the problems I had haven’t gone away completely. But after all these years of actively working on solutions, I’m doing a whole lot better at managing them, and that’s made all the difference. Maybe it’s true that brain injury can never be reversed, but then, life can never be reversed, and if we treat concussion issues as just another aspect of life that needs to be taken seriously and managed appropriately, it is very possible to have a “regular” life afterwards.

Sure, you’ll have to change some things. You’ll have to adjust. But life is full of those kinds of requirements. We don’t get a “pass” when we get injured, and the world jumps in to protect us. We just get a different set of challenges and difficulties and benefits to work with.

That being said, mental rigidity is probably one of the biggest hurdles to TBI recovery. The very black-and-white thinking that takes over when your brain gets injured can cause the injury to become even worse. Because you’re locked in a straitjacket of limited thinking. Getting your mindset out of the box and trying different things, living differently, getting on with your life, and being mindful about stuff… that can help hugely. I know it helped me more than I can say.

So, there are just a few more days left in Brain Injury Awareness Month. I’ve fallen far short of my stated plan to focus on brain injury recovery for the duration. I had such great plans… But of course… life. And my limits.

Turns out, what I’m taking away from Brain Injury Awareness Month is a reminder of how — yet again — I need to adjust my commitments and expectations and go a bit easier on myself. The thing to remember is that life goes on. And while I didn’t live up to my own expectations, the world keeps turning, the sun rises and sets, it snows and the snow melts, and the songbirds return to my bird feeder.

For today, that’s enough. It’s more than enough.

No sooner do I say I need more movement, than my day fills up with meetings

brain with arms and legs walking on a treadmillToday there is not one minute of my day that is not scheduled for a meeting. Non-stop. Eight hours. No fun.

But that’s the deal, today, so that’s that.

Fortunately, I’ll be working from home today, so I can walk around the house while I talk on the phone. I can’t do that at the office… at least, not on the scale I can do it here. I can’t walk around the halls, talking on the phone. I can reserve a conference room and then walk around it, while I’m listening. I could even project the meeting proceedings on the big screen, so I can watch what’s happening as I pace. But it’s not the same as being able to walk around my house.

So, at least there’s that.

And man, do I need that today. Yesterday I was stuck in an all-day workshop where we just sat… and sat… and sat. It started early, so I didn’t have time to exercise in the  morning before I went. But it ended earlier than my normal days typically do, so I was able to get to the pool and go for a swim. That was productive. And much needed. So, it’s all good.

I noticed that I was getting really tired towards the end of the day, and I was starting to get cranky and a little confrontational. But I managed to pull up and not blurt whatever came to mind. There was this module we were working through that just seemed like such B.S., and I wanted to say so. But I held my tongue and said nothing. Mission accomplished. I got out of it without wrecking my reputation, which is what I often do at those kinds of things, towards the end of the day when I’m tired. I blurt out crap that makes me look belligerent and confrontational, when I’m just tired.

And then all the work I put into cultivating rapport with others goes out the window. Fly away, little reputation. Fly away.

But yesterday, I held my tongue, and that was good. It was very, very good.

And today… Well, I’m looking at another day of non-stop paying attention to important stuff, and potentially being virtually motionless the whole time. I can’t let that happen. Not two days in a row. I just have to get creative and think outside the box. Find ways to keep myself moving. Heck, maybe I’ll even ride my exercise bike while I’m on a call — except that I get out of breath, and speaking up when I sound like I’m in the middle of an exercise routine is not the most professional thing to do.

So, scrap that. No riding the bike while I’m on a conference call.

I’ll just pace in my living room, walk around the downstairs. Do some movement… knee bends… stretching… anything to keep my body awake. ‘Cause if my body isn’t awake, neither is my brain.

And not-so-great things happen when my brain is foggy and asleep.

Onward.

Move movement

shotput athleteAll this immmobility is seriously giving me problems. My day job is very sedentary, and I don’t move nearly enough. And it’s been taking a toll on me physically.

If I’m going to last for the long run, I absolutely have to get moving more often. Even if it’s just adjusting my posture or moving my shoulders, I must move on a regular basis.

I’ve been doing a bit better with that, lately. I do my morning exercise bike ride, then I do some new movements, similar to martial arts and Qi Gong, that wake me up. In the past, I’ve done a lot of weight lifting, in combination with my bike riding, but the repetitive motions actually worked against me, and I developed back and shoulder problems as a result. Now, I’m doing more natural, more complex movements, to stir the energy and get my body woken up.

The way I see it, the real danger of brain injury is to the body. We can become so stressed, so preoccupied with what’s wrong with us, that we stop living our lives, we stop actively taking chances, and we stop learning. We can also stop moving. It’s so easy, these days, to “veg out” in front of the television and not do anything, or lie in bed looking at social media on your phone. Plus, the cocooning that’s often recommended after a concussion encourages immobility.

As it turns out, cocooning might not be the best thing for folks after a concussion, after all. We need to move more. And if you think about it, it makes sense. Concussion releases a lot of chemicals into the brain that need to be moved out. How does the body move things — by moving itself. Increased blood flow. Increased circulation. Increased breathing. Over-exertion isn’t a great idea — in fact, it may expose you to additional injuries, because your coordination may be impacted, and you may also not be able to gauge risk, or react to the environment as quickly.

You need to be careful. But you also need to move.

But I digress. This is really about me and fixing decades of sedentary life. I’ve allowed myself to get comfortable in non-movement, and now it’s almost like my body seems to have forgotten how to really move freely. In fact, that’s what happens. You get muscle amnesia, and your brain stops understanding how to move your whole body.

I need to do something about that. I look around at my peers, and I’m not impressed by how non-active they are. It’s pretty bad. They can’t move freely. They might play sports, go skiing, or run, but they don’t have fluidity of movement. They’re too busy looking the part of a respectable adult — and it amazes me, just how restricted your movements have to be, when you’re doing an impression of a respectable adult. Especially for women. Don’t run, don’t spring into action, don’t move in unexpected ways… No wonder our bodies run out of juice. We don’t use them.

Well, I for one am not going to end up like that. Yeah, I’ve got some pain going on. I messed up my shoulder again over the weekend. But I’m working through it. I’ve got my movements, I’m getting into motion. I’m also using my stand-up desks at home and at work, to get me off my a**. I’m going up and down stairs at work, instead of taking the elevator. Even if I’m carrying a heavy load — especially then.

And that’s good. It’s helping. It’s working itself out.

Onward.

When you find something that works… work it

railroad tracks leading into the distance with "start" painted on a tieI’ve been having a lot of trouble with my shoulder and back, over the past months. Dealing with all the snow, along with spending a lot of time being sedentary — alternating between slothfulness and frantic activity — has done a number on me.

I’ve been trying to get my shoulder to loosen up, so the pain in my arm eases up. I’ve got a lot of shooting pain, tingling, weakness, etc. in my left arm, and sometimes it also goes over to my right side.

And that’s no good.

I need to keep myself in good working order. Life goes on, and I absolutely need to be up for it all. I can’t afford to get waylaid, especially when we’re talking about just regular life. I know I’ve got some disabilities, and I know I need to make accommodations for myself, but once I do that, I need to stay in the game. I can’t use my intermittent issues as an excuse. No way, no how.

After months of wangling with this pain, I finally found something that really seems to work. I’d been doing stretches and trying to release the tightness in my muscles with movements designed to lengthen them. But that seemed to be doing the exact opposite.

So, I tried something that’s worked for me in the past — doing muscle releases by doing slight tightening and then relaxation. Apparently, a muscle contraction will actually loosen the muscle, where a stretch will shorten it. So, I did some exercises I’d read about (and used with some pretty amazing success) a few years ago.

And lo and behold, I’m finally getting some relief. It’s pretty amazing, actually. The sense of relaxation that comes from it, is a welcome change, compared to what I’ve been dealing with for months, now. It’s not always perfect, and I still have to refine my technique, but I’m learning how to move so that my body isn’t at war with itself.

That’s huge. Immense.

So, now it’s time to get moving, and get on with my day.

Onward.

Hardy for the long haul

bridge leading to mountians in the distanceOne of the benefits of getting older, is that I’m finding out what assumptions I made about my life and future prospects were correct, and which ones were wrong.

One of the things I’ve realized is that it’s not solely IQ-type intelligence, it’s not raw physical strength, it’s not talent, it’s not social connections, and it’s certainly not money alone, that keep a person in the game for the long haul.

It’s a combination of all of the above, which add up to a sum total of hardiness. Just being able to stick it out, no matter what happens, and persevere. It helps to be smart, and you definitely have to learn from your lessons, as you go along.

Live and learn, or you don’t live long.

… as they say.

You need some measure of physical strength, and you need a talent for something. You also need social connections, and you need enough money to get by. It’s the combination of all of the above, plus a certain sense of purpose, an ability to find meaning in your life, that keeps a person going, growing, lasting over the long haul.

And that’s what I’m going for, these days. The whole package. Sum total. And then some.

For years, I thought the secret was to have one of the above in over-abundance, and it would make up for shortfalls in the other areas.

If I had extra intelligence, it could make up for lack of money and social connections. If I were socially connected, it would make up for lack of money and physical strength. If I had talents of some kind, it would cover for my IQ shortcomings post-TBI.

But chasing after “highs” in certain areas actually made things much more difficult for me. Because I was burning out, and my focusing on one area only (making money), I was coming up short with my strength and social connections.  Concentrating only on building my physical strength also cost me extra money and took time away from building other talents.

A balanced approach is better, by far.

And that’s where I’m headed — especially in light of my TBI issues. Recovery is an additive thing; different parts of life combine and augment each other, and if I’m not getting the full range of exercise in my life, the whole deal suffers.

And that’s no good.

TBI recovery is a whole-person activity, and it continues through your whole life. I don’t think there’s every one time or place where we’re necessarily “recovered”. We can so easily slip back into thinking that our brains are still wired they way they used to be. Muscle memory, and all that. So, we have to keep on top of things and continue to adapt through the years.

But that’s a good thing. And if you think about it, that’s pretty much how life goes, no matter what your status or station in life. It’s just got to be more deliberate with us TBI survivors. See, we can have really excellent lives, even if our brain have been permanently changed. Life goes on. The human system continues to evolve.

Onward… Yes. ONward.

Brain: Yeah, that’s enough. Body: Nope, we’re just getting started

human body with swirls of light
It’s ALL connected

Life has thrown me a bunch of curve-balls, lately, and I’m feeling it physically. It’s been a while since I’ve been this sore — lots of lifting and carrying and pushing and pulling, over the past few days. And despite the pain, my body is actually responding well to it.

I’m sleeping better. I’ve been getting about 8 hours a night, for the past few nights, where I was stuck at 6 hours for quite some time. I need 8, or I can’t function well, and things start to fall apart.

I’m also thinking more clearly, with less static and “clutter”.

I’ve been doing more stretching, which has really helped, too.

Spending less time in front of the computer has been great. Because let’s be honest, not that much changes, from day to day, despite the steady stream of sensational headlines and “news” stories that are all just different angles about the same-old-same-old.  I can literally check in every week or so, and the story will still be the same. So, I’m leaving it alone, and that’s making me happy and freeing up a lot of time.

Also, spending more time exercising is helping. I’ve been riding my bike for 20 minutes a day for years, but now I’m changing things up and focusing on burning calories. I’m keeping at it, till I burn 400-500 calories, and not stopping before then. That’s making a difference, I think. Ultimately, it’ll help my weight (I’ve regained weight I thought I could keep off). And it’s also good for my mental health, because I feel like I’m actually doing something. Plus, I can be more involved with my diet and its effects, overall. I need to do that. Eat more variety. Get better nutrients in me.

It’s funny, yesterday I was feeling really hungry, and I started to go after my usual crackers and cheese (protein helps). But then I stopped and decided to take some of my multivitamin “gummies”. And when I did that, it cut my hunger. I suspect that craving feeling is my body telling me it needs more nutrients, but when I go for the cookies or crackers, instead of actual vitamins, it just disguises the need and distracts my system with the sugar rush.

So, now that’s going to be my go-to. Instead of snacking, take some vitamin gummies. Not overdose on them, but just the usual recommended amount. I’ve got a number of different types that have been sitting in my cupboard, instead of me taking them. So, now I can take them. I just need a way to work them into my life, in order to get with the program.

Huh, it’s funny. My brain very quickly decides that it’s done with stuff — exercise and physical activity, especially.  But my body wants to keep going. Like with the bike riding. If I can just get my mind off its desire to go do something else, I can keep going with my workouts. And when I’m working hard, my distractable brain can come up with all kinds of other things it’d rather be thinking about. But I need to keep working. Keep my body going.

So, I just need to keep this in mind, when I’m trying to keep myself on track. Keep my mind out of the picture, and let my body continue on its pace. And watch what happens. To my health — physical and mental.

My brain wants to quit, but I should know better than to listen to it.

I should know that by now. And yeah, I do. I just need a reminder. Like now.

Onward…

Ouch – time to get back to my regular exercise

mechanical torso skeleton of King KongOkay, enough work. Time to get some balance back in my life.

Last week was incredibly busy. I had meetings for work from dawn till dusk, and beyond, and I spent a lot of time hunched over my computer or sitting at a table concentrating on what was being said, not to mention the ramifications of what people were saying.

I was so intent on keeping up, I didn’t keep up with my exercise, and now I’m feeling it in a big way. My bum shoulder is acting up again, and so are my elbows, back, and knees. I’m in a fair amount of chronic, low-level pain that keeps flaring up at odd times. It’s tiring. And it puts me in a bad mood.

Typically, I start the day with exercise. I ride my bike for 20 minutes (sometimes more), then I lift weights. If I don’t, I start to feel the ill-effects within a few days. And last week was so packed, I didn’t do much of anything in that department for over 5 days. Not good.

What I notice most is the drop in my strength. I lifted a little this morning, but the weights felt much heavier than usual. And it humbling, to feel that. They shouldn’t feel that heavy to me. Not under normal conditions.

But these aren’t normal conditions.

Well, anyway, enough regrets. I know what to do, and I can do it. Now I can get back to my regular exercise — and then some. I really need to do more, anyway. I used to swim several times a week, but that dropped off, for some reason. I need to get back to that, if only because it exercises my entire body all at one time, instead of just focusing on one muscle group at a time. It also feels good to be less weighted in the pool.

And on the weekends, I need to move more, do more lifting, do more … period. I’m here in the house. And I need to get out, go for the kinds of walks I used to. Get myself moving. Get myself up and at ’em.

It’s kind of strange, how I’ve gotten away from being as active as I used to be. I don’t go out for those time-honored walks, like I used to. I don’t putter around outside, like I used to. I don’t do as much physical activity as I need to — I’ve been working on thinking projects for the past couple of years, sitting at my desk or the dining room table, coming up with ideas. And that’s fine. I’ve made a lot of progress. But I can also think while I’m walking — in fact, I’ve had some of my best ideas while hiking through the woods.

So, it’s time to get back to that. It feels like a New Year’s resolution, but it’s really just common sense.

And not wanting to be in so much pain…

That, too.

Onward.

Done worrying about stuff — for the time being

man and woman jumping for joy on a beach

It’s Friday. Woot.

Ha – that’s pretty much of an ingrained response, just one of my habits that usually serve me well. Today, I don’t actually have a lot of reason to say “Woot!”, because this day is no different than most of the days of the past week. I haven’t been working my a** off all week, so I don’t have a ton of reasons to be jumping for joy.

It’s another day. But come to think of it, that in itself is worth a “Woot!”

I’ve got some appointments this afternoon, and then we’ll get some Chinese food and watch a movie. Nice and drab. Boring is lovely. Not a lot of drama. Just taking care of business. Maybe I’ll have a nap later, probably I won’t. That’s fine. Because I’ve been catching up on my sleep, and I don’t have a very busy day today.

At all.

Woot.

Yeah, thinking about my day, it’s pretty sweet. I have time this morning to catch up with some reading and writing, and just putter around the house. I’ll contemplate my life, think about the coming New Year, maybe take care of a few little things here and there, and get the ball rolling this afternoon.

Check the news… read some websites I’ve started following… and not worry about much at all.

And this is actually a slight change for me, since I’ve been a bit anxious over the past few days. Plans didn’t work out, or I got stir crazy, or I forgot to call people I promised to call… A while series of little annoyances set me off, and since all the Christmas activity wore me out more than I expected, the fatigue got the better of me.

But today is different. I’m just kind of hangin’ out. I’ll make those calls I forgot earlier, and I’ll go pick up the neighbor’s mail from their mailbox while they’re out of town for the next few days. Just get myself sorted and situated and settled. Enjoy the day, don’t make a big deal out of stuff… just kind of roll along and listen to some music I love. It’s not every day I get the chance to just chill out, so I’m taking advantage.

Looking back on the last year, I see I’ve spent way too much time worrying about stuff. For sure. It worked itself out, even though I was so focused on individual details — losing sight of the big picture, and getting swamped in minutiae. Maybe it’s just me getting older… maybe it’s looking back with hindsight (not exactly 20/20, but close)… maybe it’s just a shift in my priorities and interests… but I’m a lot less concerned with stuff outside my immediate control, than I used to be.

There’s only so much I can control or influence. I can certainly try, but my abilities are, of course, human, so…

The best thing to do is really take care of myself and figure out how I can make stuff work for myself. The rest of the world will figure itself out. Or it won’t. Either way, my life goes on.

And on.

And on.

Woot.

Tending to my present… Kick-starting my future

road leading into the distance, with country landscape surrounding it

Well, that sounds dramatic. And I suppose it is.

Taking care of the present sounds so formal. It seems common-sense. And I suppose it is. But we live in a non-sensical world, these days, so it’s a lot more difficult than it seems like it should be.

Kick-starting my future is something I do — or don’t do — each day, with every choice I make. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds, and it’s a lot more complicated than it seems.

The thing is, we do this each and every day with the choices we make. We define our lives by our choices, and we further our plans with our actions. It’s not mysterious, it’s not magical. One thing leads to another, then another, then another. And all along the way, we have the chance to change direction, even slightly.

If you’ve ever thrown a ball, you know how wide of the mark you can go, if you alter the angle of your arm just a little bit. The same is true of our lives. One slight change in “angle”, and you can end up in a very different place than you originally intended.

A “little” slip on some stairs… a “minor” bump on the head… and your life can change in that instant. You can find yourself waking up each day, not knowing where you are, exactly, or where you want to go. Or you may wake up each morning wondering why the heck you didn’t get to where you were going the day before.

The brain is an amazing thing, and it’s surprisingly easy to disrupt in life-altering ways. We constantly take it for granted, like electricity or hot-and-cold running water. They’re all supposed to just work, just be there. And when they don’t… when they’re not there, we’re thrown into a state of chaos and confusion that blocks our ability to deal with anything.

The thing is, we tend to get stuck at that place of chaos and confusion. Perhaps because brain injury “rehab” is big business, with plenty of facilities billing plenty of hours to insurance companies, we don’t see a wholesale rush towards figuring out brain injury the way we should have long ago. Too many facilities make their money from people in need of help, rather than getting people back on their feet, never to need them again, so where’s the impetus to properly serve the brain-injured population? There are lot of us, with over a million TBIs added to our numbers, each year in the United States, alone, so I’d expect someone, somewhere to figure out how to end the suffering and teach people how to get back on their feet.

But no.

Well, never mind. Because there’s nothing I can do about that. What I can do is share my own experiences for everyone who’s interested in actually doing something about their situation, rather than staying stuck in something that can actually get fixed.

We all need a good dose of reality, when it comes to brain injury. That goes for health care providers, as well as those of us who get hurt. The brain is highly vulnerable. And the ways it’s most likely to get hurt are ways that hit us where it hurts the most — in our executive functioning, in our ability to plan and follow through, in our accustomed patterns that fall apart and plunge us into a steady state of anxiety… which builds up over time and impairs our ability to heal over the long term.

When we understand the true nature of brain injury (and don’t just get caught up in recycled notions that came from investigations done back in the infancy of brain research), we can also see that it is survivable.

We can — and do — recover from brain injury.

No one can take that from us. No one. Not any of the “experts”, not any of the scientists or neuropsychologists or psychiatrists.

The thing is, “recovery” means more than just restoring prior functionality to the injured brain. ‘Cause people, once the connections in your brain are disrupted, they stay that way. You can’t rewire broken connections. But we can — and do — create new connections that may function a little differently, but are still every bit as useful (sometimes more useful) than the old ones. And ironically, in my case, I find that some of my new connections are much, much better than my old ones, because I formed them with more life experience than before.

What we’re recovering is our personhood. Our dignity. Our self-respect. Our individuality. I think the brain injury rehab industry lacks an understanding of how much more important that is, than any level of physical or cognitive processing. People get hurt all the time. We break bones. We get cut up. We get smashed and smooshed and crushed. And then we recover. We may not have full range of use after we heal, but we get on with our lives. We may limp along or not be able to reach over our heads to get stuff or have to stop shoveling our own snow, but that doesn’t keep us from living our lives.

Same thing with brain injury. We may not restore our brains to their former glory, but we can adapt. Losing certain brain functionality is not the problem with TBI recovery. It’s losing our Sense-Of-Self that does a number on us. It’s the panic that sets in when we find ourselves doing things that are “unlike us”. It’s the repeated little shocks of being surprised by one thing after another that didn’t used to surprise us. It’s the gradual disappearance of our friends and family who used to know us as one person, but can’t adjust to the new person we’ve become. That loss of the Self, that erosion of security about who we are… that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome with TBI.

Because if you don’t deal with that, your functional recovery is going to lag. Brain injury recovery is a re-learning process. It’s all about re-training the brain. And if you’re totally stressed out over everything, you can’t learn properly.

It’s that simple. And it’s that complex.

And it doesn’t need to be the big-a** mystery that we make it out to be, because it has to do with the braaaaiiinnnn.

Brain injury recovery is a matter of living your life. Learning to live your  life. Teaching yourself how to get on with things, when everything looks different, feels foreign, and doesn’t square with how everything used to be.

It’s about choice. Action. Reaction. Learning. Adapting.

And when we tend to our present, choosing to learn from each and every conscious moment, we move ourselves towards a future of our own making.

As the current year winds down and the new year approaches, I hope you can own that, yourself, and — whether your brain is injured or not — take responsibility for a future you can absolutely positively make up as you go along.