More low-cost ways to get my act together

I’ve been thinking a lot about what a wreck my life was, for so long.

To this day, I find it hard to believe how messed up I was – from just a bump on the head. Some days, I find it hard to believe that I ever had those kinds of problems.

But I did.

Crazy wild emotional swings. Violent outbursts. Meltdowns on a semi-regular basis.

Pain and light and noise sensitivity and headaches, as though the world were ending.

A terrible, terrible memory, and a nominal level of interacting with others.

Holy crap – things are so much better now.

I am so much better now.

The things that have helped me, have been very low-cost (in terms of money), but they demanded real dedication and discipline.

  • Making up lists for what I was going to do each day, and sticking to those lists.
  • Getting enough exercise by moving as much as I could, when I could – and doing it regularly, so I had a cumulative benefit.
  • Eating good food that I fixed myself. It was cheaper, and it trained me to sequence and handle things in logical orders. It also taught me to keep my cool under pressure.
  • Being honest with myself about my shortcomings.
  • Being willing to try again, each day.

I’m tired. I’m running out of steam.

That’s it for today.

Good night.

A little pain… for a lot of gain

The more you put into things, the more you can get back

The more you put into things, the more you can get back

Sorry in advance for the rambling nature of this post. I’m very out of it — haven’t been sleeping well, and lots has been going on.

I’ve been watching videos and listening to podcasts by Dr. Rhonda Patrick while I work out, lately, and I’m learning a lot – especially about the biochemistry of the brain and how to augment it. She talks a good deal about brain health, nutrition, exercise, the benefits of sauna, and hormetic stress (where you introduce a bit of stress to your system to kick in adaptive responses that actually make your system stronger).

I’ve been a big believer in the hormetic approach for years – stress inoculation fascinates me, and hormesis really appeals to me, as well. And then you have the Stoics, who were all about training your system to not get worked up over the things that don’t matter, so you can better attend to the things that do.

It’s just common sense to me, and it’s great to find people online who are on the same wavelength.

I got a good dose of stress yesterday. But it looks like it’s going to pay off in a big way.

I’m kind of wiped out today. Yesterday I bought a new (to me) car — it’s a small 2006 SUV that lets me sit up higher than I have been in my little compact commuter car. It’s got everything I need — which is not terribly much. The biggest change is that it has power locks and windows, as well as A/C. My old car has crank windows, manual locks, and no A/C, and it rides very low to the ground. It hasn’t been a huge problem, over the past 10 years that I’ve had it, but when it’s been a problem… it’s been a problem. There’s only so much you can do on hot-hot days — and when you’re driving through the heat to important appointments, stopping along the way to pay tolls or just get out and stretch your legs, not having any A/C or power windows and locks and having to climb in and out of your car, can be pretty taxing.

In a way, it’s been good for me. It’s forced me to work at things that others take for granted. And it makes me appreciate luxuries like a good view of traffic and air conditioning, all the more.

But it’s also been a pain. Literally and figuratively. It’s so low, that I had to build up the seat with folded towels and a pillow, to keep my hips and legs from cramping in excruciating pain.

It’s become increasingly clear to me that I need a “grown-up” vehicle. And I got one on Saturday. I now have a car payment, after 10 years of being free of that. So, that’s a change. But with the money I’m saving on insurance and other cost savings at work, it’s not going to sting terribly much. It’s going to set back some of my home improvement projects, but that’s okay. I needed a new car.

So, today I need to clean out my old car, find the title to hand over (I’m trading it in for a pittance – but then again, there are a ton of issues with the vehicle that all add up to thousands of dollars of work), get the garage cleared up, so I have a place to park, and make sure money is in the right account(s). I have to shuffle a bit of dough between the mortgage account and the everyday expenses account, which I’ll take care of later this morning when my bank opens at a local supermarket. I love these 7-days hours. It really saves my bacon.

Anyway, that’s the excitement. I’m pretty wiped out from yesterday, because it took a lot out of me. And then I found some pieces of furniture that were on sale at an antiques place for a fraction of what they usually cost. That involved more running around, making arrangements to move them, etc. I got them home, at last, and I need to clean them up in the coming days. But that may need to wait till next weekend when I have the house to myself for 3-4 days.

With all the activity that’s been going on, I am really looking forward to a few days of solitude and peace. As much as I love and adore my spouse, they are a lot of work, and it’s going to be great, not being the one and only person who has to do all that work.

It will also be nice to catch up with myself and kind of level-set on my life. Getting this new car is like another piece of proof that I am getting better, and that I have something to show for all the work I’ve done. I’ve had this car about as long as I’ve been struggling with TBI issues after my fall in 2004, and there are many, many parallels between driving that car and keeping it on the road, and recovering from TBI. All the challenges, the difficulties, the extra work I’ve had to do… It’s been very much like driving a car without any power controls or A/C or reliable heat, and needing to go about your everyday life.

Getting this new (to me) car is yet another sign that I really am getting better, and that I am able to recognize and enjoy that for what it is — real progress. And that’s hugely gratifying.

Best of all, the vehicle is rich gold color, which makes me feel rich in countless ways.

Well, it’s turning out to be another beautiful day. I think I’ll go for a walk in the woods before I run my banking errands.

I physically feel like crap from being so wiped out from yesterday, but I know things are going great, so that balances it out. And I’m hoping a walk in the woods will clear the cobwebs.


Yes, indeed, onward.

TBI Treatment Coverage Should NOT Be “Optional”

Lt. Cdr. Scott Mitchell, officer-in-charge of the Carl R. Darnall Traumatic Brain Injury clinic at Fort Hood, Texas, helps a patient practice with a balance board at the clinic’s Functional Rehabilitation Center

Unless people are living under a rock – which I guess a lot of people are – the question of whether or not TBI treatment should be accessible to all should NOT be optional.

Neither should it be at the discretion of insurance companies.

I know that we’re “still learning” about effective treatments, and the science is still out on some of them, but there are enough approaches out there that have shown great results, that it should NOT a question of whether or not to treat TBI — rather how best to treat TBI.

Of course, no insurance company is going to go for this, right now. But at the same time, I would think that some private foundation or non-profit would realize how important it is to pony up the funds to treat this very treatable condition. Yes, it can be chronic and long-term. Yes, there will likely be ongoing needs and maintenance activities. But it is manageable with the right approach(es), and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t simply be done.

Let’s do the math around this.

Say you’ve got a qualified, productive worker who holds down a job that makes them $50,000 a year. They participate in life, with their income flowing back into the economy, and their presence contributing to society’s overall health. Say they have a family — a spouse and a couple of kids, a mortgage, a college savings / retirement fund, and a couple of cars in the garage. Their spouse has a job that earns the same $50,000.

All in all, their total “dollar value” to society is around $100K – plus the interest from their credit cards and the long-term value of their college expenditures. And that’s not including the intangible value they bring to their community. They contribute to the well-being of their employer, and they make their company’s ongoing success possible.

Now, let’s throw TBI into the mix.

Long story short, they lose their job in the six months after their injury. The employer is in it for $100,000 (which is the cost to replace a seasoned worker), and they’ve also lost a top performer who contributed a lot to their ongoing success.

The spouse is now carrying the whole financial burden for the family, as well as everyday logistics, which puts a strain on them and makes it practically impossible for them to function at their customary level at work. The spouse’s employer has now also lost a valuable member of their workforce, and between the time lost to caring for the now-disabled spouse and their reduced productivity, the employer has taken a hit.

Our TBI survivor goes on disability, which costs the government x-number of dollars, and their behavioral, cognitive, and other related problems at home cause their kids a ton of problems, so they end up acting out at school, which puts another drain on the overall system. The kids need counseling, which puts another strain on the system, and given the hell that goes on at home, it’s anybody’s guess whether it’s actually going to work.

Eventually, the TBI survivor does something really “brain-injured” in the presence of the wrong person, and they end up in jail. They go into the legal system, and eventually they end up in prison. That’s another $100K per year society needs to spot them for. And that’s not even accounting for further problems with the kids.

Any number of wretched scenarios can come out of this. And it happens everyday. With people of all walks — and especially veterans (why, by the way, sacrificed so my for US, so that WE can live in peace and prosperity).

All this happens because TBI treatment is in the dark ages… and the techniques that have been shown to work — or at least show promise — have been marginalized as “fringe” so that self-respecting doctors everywhere shy away from them.

As a society, we get what we deserve when we allow this to persist.

But the TBI survivors and their loved-ones? What exactly did they do to deserve it?

The idea that treatment is “unavailable” and inaccessible because of cost is unconscionable.  Yes, some of the treatments are expensive. But people pay far more for things like cars and bottles of wine, than TBI recovery for one person would ever cost. The money is there. And the opportunity for a real “return on our investment” is there, as well.

It just needs to be a priority.

There’s a reason I’m different – and doing better than expected

Piecing it all together

Piecing it all together

Last week was a busy one. From what I’ve been told, this is only just the beginning. As soon as I lose track of what day of the week it is, and I can’t recall when I had a conversation with someone, I’m told that will show that I’m officially one of the gang at the office.

A lot goes on there, each and every day. And what happens is very involved and intricate, a world within itself, so you can easily get lost. I have the advantage that I already know what that’s like. I already know how it is to not know where you are or what day it is or when something important happened — and still stay fully functional. So, I figure I’m ahead of the game.

It’s all experience. Just that. Experience. And I’ll be able to put it to good use, on down the line, I’m sure.

Of course, I’m playing along, pretending to be less adjusted than I am. People are surprised that I’m fitting in as well as I am, already. I don’t want to freak them out by showing them just how acclimated I am.

See, this is one of the benefits of learning to live full-on with TBI. In my case, I got used to lack of precision. I’ve gotten comfortable with gray areas. I’ve figured out how to function through the fog and the exhaustion and the frustrations. I’ve learned how to keep from losing my mind in the face of my own persistent limitations and shortcomings, as well as the pathological unhelpfulness of others.

I’ve had to. I didn’t have a choice, if I wanted to live my life. I’m not in a situation (or a country) where I can actually go on public assistance. And my verbal abilities are so remotely disconnected from what is going on in my head, that even if I could get some help, I doubt I would get the right kind at the right time.

People are surprisingly ignorant… dangerously so. And they never think to try harder, because they don’t know enough to realize they don’t know enough.

Living with TBI is one of the loneliest things you can ever experience. Lonely within. Lonely on the outside. Lonely all around. And for those who don’t do well with solitude, it’s like living in one of the lower rings of hell.


Fortunately for me, I am fine with solitude. I prefer it, actually. People exhaust me with their poor choices and their complete unwillingness to question those choices or try harder. When I am alone, I can sort out my thoughts and go about my business without criticism or judgment. I used to get down on myself for not doing things the “right” way. Now I’ve give that all up, because I realized that the harder on myself I was, the more energy I was using up — energy I could have used to try again and get it right the next time.

I also made peace with the fact that I usually screw things up royally the first time… which frees me up to make all kinds of mistakes early on, so I can learn from them and get it right the next time.

When you quit judging yourself,  you win back a ton of energy. And you also get to have a lot of good laughs over the course of your adventurous life. In retrospect, shying away from mistakes robbed me of a lot of interesting lessons. And dropping the self-recrimination has been wonderfully freeing.

The other thing it does for me, is get me out of the fight-flight cycles that I used to use to keep myself going. My brain gets tired and then it gets foggy, and I turn into a smaller version of the Hulk, so keeping my brain sharp has been an imperative for me, lo these many years.

And nothing does it quite so well as adrenaline that comes from The Fight.

The only thing is, the long-term stress of fight-flight running my system is actually really bad for my overall functioning, so in the end it isn’t quite the silver bullet I always thought it was. I was instinctively seeking out and creating situations that would demand more of me than I thought I had… but it was taking a toll. It was really stripping the paint off my peace of mind.

So, I had to stop that. I had to get in the habit of just going to bed when I was tired, and slowing down my system when it was thrown out of whack.

My autonomic nervous system (ANS) — the system that moderates our fight-flight as well as our rest-digest — needed a tune-up. So, I’ve really been concentrating on that for the past number or years. Sometimes I would lose sight of it for months on end and not do anything with my breathing or heart rate. But I would always come back to it — and feel stronger than before.

Which is good. Especially since I continued to learn what to do with that strength.

So, the busy schedule and fatigue aside, I am doing quite well. I have my down days, and I have my up days, and all the while I keep coming back to a place where I am steady and solid. That’s because of my ANS work, actively slowing down my system with intentional action and deliberate choices.

And on top of it, the lack of psychopharmaceuticals has probably been very beneficial. Rather than masking the symptoms of my issues, I’ve been forced to deal with them head-on, so to speak. And the results have amazed the people around me. I’m not the same person as I was, 8 years ago. People notice this. At least, the ones that are still around after all this time, do.

More than handling TBI with psychotherapy and meds, I’ve had a strong focus on my physical fitness. Exercise has done wonders to level things out for me, and eating the right foods has helped, as well. I take a full-system approach to my recovery, and I use my cognitive state as a barometer to see how I’m doing.

Not all days are stellar, to be sure. But they’re a hell of a lot better than they were for most of my life. I’m here now. I’m actually here. And that’s pretty cool.

Speaking of being here, I’m about to be not-here. It’s time for my Sunday morning walk.


#5 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

5. You are probably going to be more distracted than usual.

Everything looks important

Everything looks important

Brain injury can make people very distractable. In my case, I am very light and noise sensitive, so on bad days, every passing shadow or bright light or sound catches my attention. With all the excitatory neurochemicals loose in our brains after concussion, our brains are on high-alert, and that can make us instantly notice tons of details that don’t mean a thing.

Your brain can get confused and not always know what details it should be paying attention to. It can get confused about what it really important and what it can safely ignore.

And because you have so much rattling ’round in your head, you might have more trouble remembering things — especially important things, like dates and schedules and appointments.

It actually takes a lot of brain power to notice lots of details and know what to pay attention to, and it takes special attention to commit things to memory. If your brain is so busy noticing everything and categorizing it without understanding what’s really going on, it’s not going to have a lot of bandwidth to devote to memorizing critical things.

Concussion / TBI is stressful, and stress make us more distracted than usual. It puts us on “high alert” where we think everything is important and needs to be noticed. This is a huge energy drain, and it tires you out even more.

A tired brain is a distractable brain.

And distraction makes the brain work harder, as it tries to “track” all the different pieces of information and put them in some kind of order – which makes it even more tired.

See the irony?

Yes, you’re right. It does suck.

What to do?

Again… sleep. Get plenty of rest. Your brain needs to heal, and pushing the envelope isn’t going to help. A tired brain is a distractable brain, so the less tired it is, the better your chances.

There are exercises you can do to increase your focus. Puzzles can help, and some online training supposedly helps, as well.

Meditation and mindfulness are highly recommended. They can literally alter the structure of the brain and strengthen the areas for focus.

Be careful of medication. Some meds actually make the brain more tired (some anti-depressants), which doesn’t help with concentration after a brain injury. Other meds will get you cranked up to high speed, which can fry your system. Be careful with meds, even over the counter ones. And talk to your doctor, if you’re concerned.

#4 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

4. Your ability to plan and follow through may be affected, and you might not be able to make good judgments.

You may think it's safe to drive... when it's not

You may think it’s safe to drive… when it’s not

One of the worst things about TBI is that it can hide itself very well from the very people who are having trouble. An injured brain doesn’t always know it’s injured, and it usually wants to jump back in the action before it’s ready.

But it doesn’t know it’s not ready, because it can’t tell that it’s injured.

If you remember nothing else, at least remember this:

... And then this happens

… And then this happens

After concussion, your brain will usually over-estimate your ability to do regular things again. And it will often tell you that you can do things even better than before… but you can’t.

I wish someone had told me about this danger after so many of my concussions.

Of course, even if they had, I probably wouldn’t have believed them. I interviewed for jobs that were far, far above my professional grade. Somehow, I was convinced that if another person could do the job of a C-level executive, I could, too. I told interviewers that I was capable of becoming an executive at companies where I had little to no experience because, “If they can do it, so can I.”

If you think I got a lot of strange looks at job interviews… you’re right.

I also had many close calls after making poor judgments around people carrying guns.

I nearly got myself killed while walking down a deer path in the early morning hours during deer hunting season, wearing no bright colors, and actually wanting to blend in like deer, so I could catch sight of one. I was nearly shot by a hunter, who pulled up before he pulled the trigger.

I also got into numerous scrapes with police officers, because I misunderstood what they were saying to me, and I got aggressive in response. I’ve resisted arrest, went out of my way to get confrontational with armed officers, and I’ve barely escaped a number of close calls with jail, thanks to lack of impulse control and terrible judgment – thanks to all those TBIs I’ve sustained.

And that’s just scratching the surface. I can tell you from plenty of personal experience that brain injury screws with your ability to think clearly and make good decisions.

This is to be expected. It’s completely normal for people who sustain concussions / TBIs.

Planning and good decision-making are some of the top casualties in brain injury, for a number of reasons:

A) You’re not getting all the info you need to make good choices.

B) The thinking process that decides what’s good or bad may be impaired.

C) You might not have the energy or patience to sort through all the details and come up with a good plan.

D) Your impulse control might not be great, so you jump into things before you think them through.

E) You may be extremely anxious, which makes you do things too quickly – or not at all.

There are plenty more reasons, but these are the Big Five that cause many problems.

Basically, you may find pieces of information missing, here and there… or you may not pick up on every detail that you need to make the right decisions.

It’s kind of like a contestant in a beauty pageant who has a salad for lunch and then is so caught up in thinking about her hair and her dress, that she doesn’t check her teeth in the mirror before she goes out for the next round on stage. The camera pans across the line of smiling contestants, and there she is with a big piece of dark green spinach on her teeth.

Not good. Chances are, her shot at the title is gone.

Even if you really, really want to do the right thing in the right way, your brain might not be up to the task of doing it… yet. Here’s why:

The frontal lobes – the very front of the brain in your forehead above your eyes – is the part of the brain that helps us plan our lives, follow through, and make wise decisions. And because it’s out there in front, it’s especially susceptible to injury.



Even if you get hit in the back of the head – like when you get rear-ended in traffic – your brain can smack up against the inside of the front of your skull. This is not good news for anyone, because the inside of the skull is sharp and bony, and the brain is soft like Jell-O.

When your executive function is impaired, your brain can get you into a ton of really bad scrapes. That includes telling yourself that you’re ready to get back into playing, working, or learning long before you’re ready to. It also includes telling yourself that you’re a lot better at something than you are.

Impaired executive function can go hand-in-hand with impaired risk assessment (where you can’t really tell how dangerous a situation is before jumping in), so you can put yourself in real danger without realizing it.

Some examples:

  • Getting back into extreme sports when your coordination and timing are not nearly as good as they used to be.
  • Starting classes again and taking even harder ones than before, when your brain isn’t processing info as well as it once was.
  • Taking up a new sport you never played before and trying to jump to expert level participation right away.
  • Getting involved with illegal activities.
  • Confronting an armed motorist who’s caught up in road rage.

These can all get you hurt. They can also get you killed. But if your executive function is impaired, you’re not exactly qualified to make those kinds of decisions.

One of the biggest problems with brain injury / concussion is that it also tricks you into thinking that there’s no problem at all with your thinking. You’re sure that you’re fine!

This special brand of confusion is so common that there’s even a word for not knowing that you don’t know you’re impaired: anosognosia.

Your brain can be so injured that it’s literally incapable of telling how good or bad it is at…well, anything. This is common after stroke, as well as more serious brain injuries.

And it’s very, very dangerous. Combine poor judgment with the impatience and anxiety that often comes with TBI, and you have a powder keg just waiting to go off.

It’s nobody’s fault, and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, if you keep making bone-headed mistakes.

It just means that part of your brain that’s responsible for “executive functioning” is impaired and needs some help.

What to do?

In many concussions, poor judgment is either temporary or it can be offset by some help from other people or tools you can use.

The most important thing is to understand that your brain can – and will – play tricks on you after a concussion or TBI. It doesn’t mean you’re permanently damaged, it just means you need to re-train that part of your brain to A) slow down to notice the right details, and B) get in the habit of thinking things through.

If you’ve got friends to bounce ideas off, this is the best time to use them.

If you don’t have friends in the “real world” (they may have ditched you after your injury, or you might be isolated by your problems), you can find online support groups who can help you sort things out.

Also, there are professionals who can help you with your decision-making. You may be able to find a counselor or neuropsychologist who can help you retrain your brain to think more systematically and come up with better solutions to problems.

The best thing you can probably do, is reach out for help. Because your brain is going to tell you some interesting things – many of those things may be 100% wrong… but you’ll never know it, because your brain doesn’t.

#3 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

3. Your brain has changed.

It's like this

It’s like this

Concussion changes the brain.

First, it floods it with chemicals that aren’t supposed to be where they go. And sometimes those chemicals can actually damage healthy cells.

The connections that used to get information from one place to the next can be altered.

Depending on the type of concussion, there can be bleeding, twisting, or shearing of connections, that make it harder for information to get where it needs to go.

Concussion is like a microburst that suddenly appears in a normally quiet neighborhood, blowing out windows, uprooting shrubbery and trees, pulling down power and cable lines, tossing lawn furniture into the street, and seriously rearranging the garbage cans that were neatly lined along the driveway. Even a quick hit or a “ding” can do some real damage.

Clearing out the gunk that gets loose in your brain is a lot like clearing the wreckage after a microburst. First you have to pick up all the loose trash, then you have cut apart the trees that pulled down the power lines. Only after you get the big trees out and stand up the poles, can you tell if the electricity and phone lines are still any good.

Maybe some of them are fine.

Maybe others got pulled out of their connections, and utility crews need to just tighten them up.

And maybe some of the wires got so frayed and torn that they need to be replaced. That replacement takes time. New crews need to be called in. Maybe a crew isn’t available, or they don’t have the needed parts. The neighborhood is going to be out of power and cable for a bit.

That’s basically how it is after a concussion / TBI. Sometimes that proverbial microburst does damage to the actual connections in your brain.

And if you’ve had a prior concussion (or two or three – or nine, like me), your brain can have an even harder time getting information from one place to the next.

Imagine a neighborhood that’s had a lot of storms that knocked out power. Utilities crews have patched up the connections many, many times – and each time the connection gets a little easier to damage, because all the loosening and tightening and adjusting puts a strain on the materials used. Screws get stripped. Casings on cables get thin. Wires get twisted and re-twisted, weakening them in the process. Connectors get overloaded with additional cables. And while the system does restart, with each new storm, the power goes out that much more easily.

That’s pretty much what it’s like with repeat concussions.

Connections in the brain aren’t the only thing that can suffer after getting your bell rung.

When the information crosses the wires and actually gets where it’s going, the “microprocessors” that used to figure out what to do with it may have altered.

Our brains are incredibly complex, and they process billions upon billions of pieces of data on a moment-by-moment basis. When our neurochemical process is messed up, it can make it harder to figure out what to do with the information that comes through over our stressed “wiring”.

Too much for our systems to take at one time

Too much for our systems to take at one time

Let’s go back to that neighborhood that got hit by the microburst.

When the utility crews finally have the electricity back on, and cable is restored, can life go back to normal immediately?

Not if everyone in the neighborhood is exhausted from the cleanup. Even if you do have electricity and cable, surfing the channels is going to be a challenge, if you’re wiped out from all the hauling and cutting and cleanup efforts. You’ll have cable back, but when you use the remote, you fingers will hit the wrong buttons and you might have trouble reading the listings on your t.v. screen. If you’re getting on Facebook, you might have trouble typing or understanding what others have posted, because you’re so tired.

Even though you have electricity and cable, you still have trouble using them.

And that’s how it can be in your brain after concussion. Even if the information is getting through from synapse to synapse, once it gets there, the synapses may not know how to handle the info correctly.

As a result, your noggin isn’t processing things the way it used to.

It can feel a lot sssssllllllllooooooowwwwwerrrrrrrr.

You can feel like life is moving in slow motion.

And in a way, it is. Because the thing that observes and interprets your life is not firing on all cylinders. Not yet, anyway.

You can feel like you’re walking around in a fog. And you are. Remember the “gunk” that got released in your brain? It takes a while to clear it out, and in the meantime, your brain is struggling to connect the dots in your daily life – with connections that don’t work like they used to.

What to do?

Again, getting plenty of sleep, water, and nutritious food are really good for you.

Probably the most important thing is to avoid stress.

Stress is a killer. It limits the brain’s ability to learn – which is exactly what it needs to do after a concussion / TBI. Stress can put you in fight-flight mode that makes you aggressive and combative – which can get you into even more trouble with people like the authorities or other people who just want to fight.

Whatever you do for yourself after concussion, you’ve got to take it easy on yourself and give yourself plenty of time to get back. You can get back. Lots of people have gotten injured like you, and the majority of them have returned to their regular lives. TBI and concussion are extremely common, so rest assured you’re in good company.

Unfortunately, stress goes hand-in-hand with TBI and concussion. I can’t tell you how to stop the stress, but I can tell you how to limit the negative effects.

Deep Relaxation has been unbelievably helpful for me, over the past years. For a long, long time, I had no interest in relaxation. I hated to relax, in fact. Turns out, I just didn’t know how. But I found a recording for progressive relaxation that I could listen to, and it helped me train myself to let go of all the stress and feel normal again.

You might not be able to stop the stresses of life, but you can stop the negative effect it has on you.

Take your injury seriously and give yourself time to recover. And learn to offset the stress to your system with rest and relaxation.

#2 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

2. When the brain is injured, it can release a lot of chemicals that do strange things to the connections that help you think.

Everybody up and out there! GO-GO-GO!!!

Everybody up and out there! GO-GO-GO!!!

Concussion / mild TBI causes the brain to go hyperactive. It’s been injured, and it starts sending out all sorts of messages to the cells without any particular order. It “knows” it’s been injured, and it starts telling itself it needs to Get Going! Go! Go! GO!

It’s like a commander in war, or a coach in a critical game shouting at the team. The cells themselves start firing on all cylinders – in any and every direction – like soldiers pinned down and desperate to fight their way to safety, firing their guns in all directions with no thought of who or what they might hit. The panicked cells start sending out impulses and communications to each other in no particular order.

In the process, a lot of chemicals that should really stay inside cells, get on the outside. And a lot of chemicals that should stay on the outside, get inside the cells. It’s like a panicked football coach telling every single player to get on the field for a play – offense, defense, special teams, and even the kicker, athletic trainers, and support staff end up on the field, running in all directions, none of them quite sure what’s supposed to happen, or what they’re supposed to do.

All they know is, the coach is yelling GO! GO! GO! and they’re going.

Scientists call this process a “neurometabolic cascade” — a chain reaction that releases all sorts of interesting biochemical substances into places of the brain that normally shouldn’t have them there. Cell walls get “breached” and the stuff that used to be inside gets outside, and the stuff that used to be outside gets inside.

In concussion / mild TBI, your brain is literally flooded with chemicals that shouldn’t be where they are. If you’ve ever had your basement flooded, or you’ve seen pictures of a flood aftermath, you get the general idea of what happens to the brain.

Even after the initial excitation is over, it takes a while for the brain’s processes to return to normal. Just like a flood leaves a coating of gunk behind it, all the chemicals in the wrong places leave gunk on the connections in your brain.

Depending on the concussion, there may be a lot of “gunk” that your brain needs to clear out before its connections can begin to heal and be repaired.

During that time – sometimes it’s days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months (it varies from person to person) – your brain has to work extra overtime to clean up its act. The problem is, it takes extra energy for it to do that – and the metabolic energy-producing process involved is negatively affected by concussion.

So, just at the time when the brain needs more energy to clean out and heal, it’s less able to produce the energy it needs.

Feels like a fog - 'cause it is

Feels like a fog – ’cause it is

The net result? You may feel like you’re walking around in a fog. And you are.

Your brain’s connections are “fogged up” by the extra gunk that got released when you got “dinged”. It’s a terrible feeling – especially if you’re the kind of person who’s always on the go, always active and involved in life. If you “just bumped your head”, it might not make any sense to feel the way you do – but you feel this way for a very good reason: your brain is still trying to clean itself out, so it can get on with the healing process.

You’re not stupid – it just feels that way. And chances are good that you won’t feel that way forever.

Think of what happens when water gets in your gas tank. The engine doesn’t much like it, and it lets you know. It sputters and coughs and can sound like it has a nasty cold. Likewise, when all those neurochemicals clog up your system after a brain injury, the engine inside your head starts to behave strangely, too.

Depending on your injury, some of the connections themselves might actually be frayed or broken… but you won’t be able to tell, until after the neurochemical gunk has been cleared away.

What to do?

Sleep, clean drinking water, and nutritious food have all been shown to help.

Some people take supplements like fish oil to help, but some people (like me) have reactions to it, so it’s really best to keep things super-simple.

Just resting and taking a break from all the screens, and not doing a lot of mental activity are highly recommended. T.V., reading, video games, Facebook, surfing the web, emailing… all those things get your brain riled up, so you need to step away from them for a while, so your brain can catch up with itself.

Sleeping is actually one of the best things you can do for yourself, because it’s been shown to help clear out gunk from the brain. While we are asleep, the brain is literally washing itself, so one of the smartest things you can do after a concussion is give it plenty of opportunity to do the work for you.

Trust me, it’s no fun. Your brain is telling itself (and your body) to Go-Go-Go, but remember, it’s been injured, and it has no idea what you’re supposed to do. That’s just the neurotransmitters talking.

#1 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

1. You’ve had a brain injury.

There's a lot going on in "command central"

There’s a lot going on in “command central”

A concussion is a brain injury. A mild TBI is a brain injury. You don’t need to get knocked out. You don’t need to have amnesia. If you get dazed for even a few seconds, your brain can be injured. It’s very simple and very complicated at the same time.

Our brain is “command central”of our bodies and and minds, and an injury to the brain can affect physical systems, as well as mental ones. Vision, balance, hearing, coordination, taste, touch, pain sensations, digestion, sleep/wake cycles… and more… can be screwed up by a brain injury.

So, it’s not just about what’s in your head – it’s about everything that’s connected to your brain… your whole body and whole experience as a living, breathing human being can get messed up after a concussion / brain injury.

Even a “mild” TBI can do some serious damage, if you don’t treat it properly from the start. If you don’t take time to rest and you put extra stress and strain on your system, your body and brain may not have enough time to heal, and you can end up like me – with a lot of personal and professional problems that you have to sort out later.

Things get a little frayed...

Things get a little frayed…

The connections that help your brain think and messages to the rest of your body may have gotten disconnected and necessary information isn’t getting to the right places. Think of what happens when electrical wires get frayed and don’t let enough electricity through. The toaster starts making funny noises. The vacuum cleaner just stops for no reason. The cable to your smartphone starts making sputtering noises when you’re charging.

Just like the lights get dim when there’s a brown-out, your brain is having its own brown-out.

What to do?

Stop. Just stop. You may feel like you need to keep going at top speed, or you’re driven to go-go-go, but your brain has been injured, and you need to give it a break. This is serious business, and you need to take a pause and take good care of yourself.

People around you may claim you’re “faking it” or you’re just trying to get attention, but that says more about them than you. If you skimp on recovering from your concussion / brain injury now, you may end up paying for it later. I know from experience what it’s like to pay later, and it’s no fun.

Do yourself a favor and take a breather. Just stop. Rest. On the next page you’ll find out why.

10 things I wish someone told me after my TBI


If only I’d known…

Update: August 24 – I have written expanded explanations of each of the 10 points below. They are linked, so you can read them as I post them.

These things took me years to learn. Actually, people knew them, but nobody thought to tell me. And the people who knew them, either didn’t tell me right away, or were not within reach of me.

Now, thanks to the interwebs, I’m passing them along. And I’m writing a short guide for people who also need to know this. It’s not long. It will have pictures. It will be basic and (hopefully) easily digestible, so even a “freshly” concussed person can use it.

Here they are:

  1. You’ve had a brain injury. The connections that help your brain think may have gotten disconnected and information isn’t getting to the right places — like when electrical wires are frayed and not enough electricity gets through. Just like the lights get dim when there’s a brown-out, your brain is having its own brown-out.
  2. When the brain is injured, it can release a lot of chemicals that do strange things to the connections that help you think. There may be a lot of “gunk” in your brain that needs to be cleared out, so that your connections can heal and be repaired.
  3. Your brain has changed. The connections that used to get information from one place to the next have changed, and your noggin isn’t processing things as fast as it used to.
  4. Your ability to plan and follow through may be affected — you may find pieces of information missing, here and there, and you may not pick up on every detail that you need to make the right decisions.
  5. You are probably going to be more distracted than usual. Your brain will get confused and not always know what details it should be paying attention to, or remembering. As a result, you might have more trouble remembering things — especially important things, like dates and schedules and appointments.
  6. All of this is going to make you feel very, very tired. You may need to sleep more than usual. Sleep also helps your brain clear out the gunk that gets released when it gets injured.
  7. Being tired makes you cranky. It also can make you more emotional than usual. You may find yourself behaving in “strange” ways, or thinking “strange” things. You may also find yourself getting much angrier than before — and much more quickly than before.
  8. You might feel like you are crazy… like you’re losing your mind. You’re not. Your brain is just “recalibrating” and figuring out how to do the things it used to do so easily.
  9. You may feel like this for a while. The best thing you can do is be patient with yourself and be aware of the ways that you are not functioning as well as you would like. Don’t rush it. These things take time. Eat healthy food, stay away from a lot of junk food, sugar, caffeine, and stress, drink plenty of water, and get lots of good sleep.
  10. Plenty of other people have had brain injuries / concussions, and most of them are getting on with their lives. You may notice some changes in your personality and abilities, but some of the changes may be for the better. Be patient. Pay attention. Be the best person you can. This is not the end.