#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.

Double-whammy

Double-whammy

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

Top-10

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.

The #1 Failure of TBI Rehab?

We need better ideas about TBI / concussion recovery

We need better ideas about TBI / concussion recovery

I woke up thinking about the BBC documentary “Me And My New Brain“, and I quickly got very angry.

It’s early here, so I know I need to be careful about letting my anger get the best of me. I sometimes use it as a mechanism to wake myself up, and that’s not a great strategy.

The thing that gets me, however, is not a trivial thing. And someone needs to take issue with it.

The #1 Failure of TBI Rehab (which I have heard about many times), is only taking care of the brain on a physical level – only patching things up and sending people back out into the world to fend for themselves without an understanding of how the TBI affected them, and how it can cause them to make poor decisions and take risks, which can ultimately lead to additional injuries — the latter ones even more serious than the last.

I am thinking especially of Kevin Pearce’s parents (see The Crash Reel), who let him back on the slopes after he nearly died. I haven’t the faintest idea why any parent would do that. But maybe they just didn’t know. Just like they probably had no idea what repeat falls and knocks to the head would do to him, in the first place.

It’s unconscionable. Inexcusable. A way needs to be found to communicate with people the gravity of their situation. Even if they are supposedly unable to understand their own injury (which I think may be debatable), the other people around them need to be educated. Parents. Teachers. Friends. The whole community around them needs to be educated.

And the fact that this is not being done is a travesty and one of the biggest damagers to community that I can imagine.

It also sets everyone up for more pain and additional TBIs / concussions. Because the kinds of problems you have with brain injury make you even more disposed to getting into situations that will cause more.

It makes no sense to me. None, whatsoever. It’s not like we don’t have this information on hand. It’s not like nobody knows this. But where’s the uniform approach to treatment — just like you have a uniform treatment for a subdural hematoma — bleeding into the brain. You remove part of the skull, remove the hematoma,and when the bleeding has stopped, you put it back together (or thereabouts).

The crazy thing is, getting education out to people is a very inexpensive and straightforward thing to do. It’s not like conducting brain surgery on the whole population. Why is that millions of people know about the Kardashians in excruciating detail, but precious few know about brain injury? It makes no sense to me. The right educational materials, placed online, can get into the hands of millions. Seriously, it happens everyday. Why not do it with brain injury education?

Instead, we have organizations spreading fear — terror — about the dangers of repeat concussion. We have individuals with high profiles taking extreme measures. We have people who live in extreme conditions (pro football players) acting as role models for people who will never, ever reach the level and frequency of head trauma that NFL players do… yet who have considerable and serious issues because of “just a bump on the head”. We also have folks out there raising awareness about the problems that come from TBI – but where are the solutions? Where are the strategies? Where are the detailed stories of people who have really overcome? We live in a world of soundbites and personal branding. What can we expect to accomplish in an initiative that demands more than 15 seconds of thought and objective, pragmatic information?

As for those businesses that DO create the information, they tend to do it for a premium — and the costs are prohibitive for everyday folks who are struggling to get by. It’s one thing to create materials for doctors or other providers who can expense it for their business. But the legions of everyday people who can’t… it’s just not going to be accessible to them.

And considering how much TBI and concussion costs us as a nation — and a world — you’d think that someone would have done something about that, by now.

Well, I’m still tweaked — that’s just gotten worse. And I need to go to work. I’m giving myself a headache, so it’s time to breathe and relax and get on with my day.

But really, something needs to be done.

TBI Haiku – sort of

No seed in the birdfeeder.
The hungry chickadees
are safe from the hunting hawk.

I know this short poem doesn’t meet the requirements for haiku – it has too many syllables.

But it says what I need it to, in 3 lines.

When the birdfeeder has seed in it, the hawk comes and picks off the chickadees who feed at it. It’s amazing and terrible. I haven’t been able to fix the feeder since I took it down to keep the squirrels off it. I still need to put it back, but it’s a multi-step process, and I’m too tired, these days, to do much about it. Maybe this weekend I will fix it.

Much of my passion is gone – that fiery Will To Do has tempered. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s wisdom. Maybe it’s perspective. It seems more like confusion to me.

Before my 2004 tbi, I had so much enthusiasm and passion for life. Then everything fell apart, and my passion was replaced by rage.

Now, I’m more happy to have nothing “going on”.  Passion and enthusiasm get me turned around and confused, and they don’t last long. I frankly lose the spark pretty quickly and then forget what I was so excited about. Some things come back, but a lot of it doesn’t last.

I just don’t have the stamina I used to. Not when I’m so tired… as I often am.

But that keeps me from dissipating all my energy. It keeps me grounded and focused. And I see past the shiny facade of raw passion, to find what is truly useful and valuable to me.

And that keeps me safe.

No, more than that. It keeps me stable and helps me to learn anew each day, who I am — and am becoming.

After so many years in confusion and pain…

coming out of the dark

It’s been a long time coming… but it’s here

I can honestly say that life is leveling out for me, and I now have what I would consider a “regular” life. And starting from there, things are becoming truly exceptional.

The “regular-ness” is amazing and phenomenal in its own right. I have been thinking about how many years I spent in confusion and frustration, always playing catch-up, always struggling to keep up appearances of normalcy, always feeling — and being — so behind. And never knowing why that was.

Little did I know, concussion / mild TBI had knocked the crap out of me. I’m not like folks who go through their lives at a normal pace, then have a concussion / mTBI screw them up. I was always screwed up by brain injuries. I started getting hurt when I was very, very young (maybe even having an anoxic brain injury – from having my air cut off – when I was an infant, according to my mother), and I continued to get hurt regularly over the years. I never got hurt badly enough to stop me from diving back into things. And nobody around me knew that I was hurt badly enough for it to throw me off.

I kept all that pain and confusion inside, for as long as I could remember. It was just one day after another of working overtime, trying to keep up with everything… and failing. Always coming up short.

Now, suddenly, I feel like I’ve come out of a long, dark tunnel into the light. No, not suddenly… It’s been a gradual process, so my eyes have adjusted to the light. But the realization of where I am and how I am now, is sudden. It’s like I’ve at last joined the land of the living.

And I am amazed.

How did this happen? How did I get here? It’s been a slow building process, with pieces of the puzzle floating around in the air… taking their sweet time getting plugged back together again. But once they click into place, they click.

Phenomenal.

So, now I have to ask myself — how did I get here? How did I manage to do this? I had all but given up on myself and figured I’d just be struggling and battling, all my born days. But I don’t feel like that anymore.

How did this happen?

I think there were a number of factors:

  • Having someone to talk to on a regular basis – first, my neuropsych, then another counselor who has been able to talk me through stickier emotional things that I don’t like to discuss with my neuropsych. Having someone to just listen and then get to interact with, has had a hugely positive impact.
  • Deciding that I needed to get better. Even when everyone was telling me I was fine, and I didn’t seem at all strange or brain-damaged, I could feel that something was off. I just wasn’t myself. Nobody else seemed to get it. But I did, and I was determined to do something about it.
  • Getting my Sense-Of-Self back. This was the biggest piece of things, by far. It’s been the key, because restoring my Sense-Of-Self makes everything else possible. It absolutely, positively, is the biggest piece of the puzzle.

How did I do that? I’ll be writing about that in the coming days and weeks, as time permits with my schedule. But basically it’s this:

  1. Find a small but significant way I am struggling — a day-to-day required activity that “shouldn’t” be difficult for me, but which is a huge challenge. Getting ready for work each day is a perfect example for me.
  2. Develop a system and a routine for doing that small but significant thing the very same way, each and every day. Making this system into a routine not only makes it predictable and comfortable, but it also keeps my brain from being overtaxed by having to reinvent the wheel each and every day.
  3. Really pay attention to that routine, and really dive into it with all I have, sticking to it like glue.
  4. That routine then “rewires” my system — brain and central nervous system and autonomic nervous system — with familiar and recognizable patterns.
  5. These patterns become something I can then rely on, to know who I am and what I am about… and what I can reasonably expect myself to do under regular circumstances.
  6. In times of uncertainty and insecurity, I can go back to those patterns and find comfort in their familiarity. So that not only gives me confidence in myself, but it also gives me a refuge where I can find some self-assurance again — even in the smallest of ways.

It’s all about building confidence over time.  Predictable patterns. Predictable behaviors. Predictable reactions. And that can lead to predictable outcomes.

Our brains are pattern-seeking by nature, and when we don’t have predictable patterns, we have the sense that we are in chaos — we are threatened. Building in predictable patterns is the key, for me, to a healthy recovery from PCS / mild TBI / other brain injury issues. And anybody can use this. Anybody can do it.

That includes you.

Gearing up – got my bag packed, and ready to roll

I wrote this early this morning.

Checked my calendar, put my necessary paperwork in a folder to take with me, got my numbers to call, once I’m all set, got directions to the place where I’ll have orientation. And I’m running pretty much on time. And yes, I do have clean socks.

So far, so good.

It’s a new chapter to a new day.

Onward

Then my computer froze. G*dd@mn Google was trying to update Chrome in the background again. I  *&)#$(%* hate when they take liberties like that. Just sail right on in and take over my system, like it friggin’ belongs to them. Makes me want to uninstall Chrome, actually.

Bad things come to mind, when Google hijacks my system. I think very uncharitable thoughts about that pack of 20-something ignoramus nincompoops in Palo Alto.

No, I didn’t get to post that note.

My first day went really, really well. The one thing that went wrong, was that I ducked out of the room to empty my bladder at the time they were wrapping up and doing a group photo. So, I didn’t get in the group picture. But that’s okay, I guess. I hate getting my picture taken. Still, it would have been nice to be involved… Bad timing, but not the sort of thing that should ruin my day.

My head is full — so full — of a lot of stuff. I’ve got to get to bed early tonight. I’m incredibly excited about this new job. I’m being introduced as the new “resident expert”, which is phenomenal. I’ve worked for this. I’ve earned it. I’ve saved my past — and my future — from being permanently ruined by TBI. I have another chance. It’s taken me 10 years to get to this place… no, 40-some years, considering all I have been through.

And I’m owning this. Because no doubt about it, I have earned my place.

I have earned this, for sure.