Emotional/Behavioural Changes after Brain Injury – Part 1

lightning striking the ground under dark clouds
Sometimes the storm seems to come out of nowhere.

From The Toronto Acquired Brain Injury Network.

My comments are in bold like this.

Emotional/Behavioural Changes

Some people are left with changes in emotional reaction or behaviour after a brain injury. These are more difficult to see than physical or cognitive changes. However, they can be the most difficult for the person and their family to deal with.

BB: I had no idea that a TBI would affect me emotionally, or change the way I acted. Like so many people, I figured that a bump on the head was just an external thing. I'd feel pain on my scalp, and maybe I'd feel a little woozy, but it would clear up in a few minutes... or hours. How wrong I was - so many times. Emotional and behavioral issues have been the bane of my existence (and my family's) for years and years, starting back in my childhood when my behavior was erratic, and my emotions were volatile.

Not everybody will experience these problems and their severity will also vary.

BB: The severity can vary from person to person, as well as from situation to situation. With me, I can be fine, one day... be not-so-great (but seem fine), the next... and then completely lose it a few days later. It's often cumulative, but nobody on the outside sees it building up. That happens inside. Where nobody can see. And when it erupts... hooo boy.
fireball explosion
The problem for me, is that when I blow up, it puts people off, and then they think that's how I always am... and then they walk on eggshells about it, all the time.

And I sometimes never get a second chance, because they've made up their minds about me in a negative way.

Agitation

This frequently occurs at a very early stage after the injury. It can be a coping mechanism for the person, who may be disorientated and very confused. It is most often a stage a person passes through, rather than a permanent change. Examples include: restlessness, pacing and pulling at intravenous tubes.

BB: I've been extremely fortunate to never having had intravenous tubes to pull at, but I know the feeling of not being able to sit still, being extremely agitated - especially after a TBI. A number of times, I can recollect getting hit in the head, and then being flooded with agitation and an overpowering need to MOVE! Like when I got hurt during an informal pick-up soccer game in high school, after the hit, when I was lying there, dazed and confused, I suddenly felt like I'd been given super-powers, and I leaped up and started playing like a crazy person. I don't think I played better than I had before I got hit, but I felt like I did. And I was ON FIRE - or so I thought.

In another soccer game, when I got my bell rung, I knew I'd been hurt, but I felt this incredible urge to GET UP AND GO!!! And I started racing around the field -- in the wrong direction, no less. I nearly scored on my own team, which I think was a red flag for everybody on the sidelines. I did get taken out of that game, and I paced the sidelines in confusion and anger, because I NEEDED TO BE IN THERE! But it was wise to pull me from the game. I was not in good shape, at all.

So, while agitation may be a coping mechanism for some, as they say above, I suspect it also has to do with the mechanism of the brain - the release of all those chemicals, and the general confusion that causes. The brain is trying to figure things out - plus, it's firing on ALL cylinders, like there's no tomorrow. In addition to being a behavioral coping mechanism, it's a result of the brain's basic function.

Explosive anger and irritability

If there has been damage to the part of the brain that controls emotional behaviour and the ability to tolerate frustration, emotions can swing to extremes. The stress of coping with even minor crises, such as misplaced shoes or a noisy vacuum cleaner, can be too much and trigger an angry outburst. If these stresses can be identified, it may be possible to reduce them.

BB: Amen to this. The part of the brain that controls emotions is particularly susceptible, as it's out in front and there are so many types of injury that can affect it. Car accidents, where your brain slams up against the inside of the skull... or tackles that snap your head back and forth... falls, etc. Minor events can turn into crises -- just being blindsided by a sudden change or something unexpected happening, can set me off. Little things can turn into huge things, in an instant. One minute, I'm fine, then all of a sudden, it's off to the races with emotional overload and over-reaction.
galloping horse
Prolonged stress will also do a number on me, as will fatigue. The more tired I am, the more irritable I get - a tired brain is an agitated brain. And when I get too agitated, it's not cool.

Sudden outbursts... extreme reactions... it's all part of a day in the life for me, sometimes. Unless I can get enough sleep and take good care of myself. If I can keep on my schedule and be smart about eating and drinking enough water, that helps. So does meditation and just taking time to chill out. 

Lack of awareness and insight

The ability to recognize your own behaviours and change them when needed is a sophisticated skill that can be affected by brain injury. This can affect someone’s ability to: be self-aware; have insight into the effects of personal actions; show sensitivity; or feel empathy. It also means that a person may not fully appreciate or understand the effect that the accident is having on their life, health or family.

BB: I honestly had no idea how my TBI was affecting my household, back in 2005. I'd gotten injured at the end of 2004, and 2005 was the start of the downhill slide. I became incredibly self-centered and obsessed with myself. Small wonder - I had to recover and build myself back up, as my Sense-Of-Self had taken a huge hit. I didn't know who I was or what I was about, anymore, and it was devastating. I didn't recognize myself, and I was so caught up in figuring it out inside my head, that I never realized the extent of the changes on people closest to me (who were outside my head).

It took talking with someone on a regular basis about what was going on with me, to help me see what an ass**** I was being, and to do something about it. Until I started talking to a neuropsych on a regular basis, I had no way to understand myself and objectively examine my behavior, because nobody I talked to actually understood how TBI affects the mind, body, and spirit... so they made all kinds of flawed assumptions about who I was and how I was. It was incredibly unhelpful for me, and it did more harm than good. 

I got lucky. A lot of others don't have that opportunity. And that's a damned shame. It's criminal, really.

I’ll continue this post in Part 2. Watch this space for notifications.

Source: www.headway.org.uk

Source: Emotional/Behavioural Changes | ABI Network

Emotional Problems After Traumatic Brain Injury – Temper outbursts and irritability

aggressionFrom MSKTC

Temper outbursts and irritability

Family members of individuals with TBI often describe the injured person as having a “short fuse,” “flying off the handle” easily, being irritable or having a quick temper. Studies show that up to 71% of people with TBI are frequently irritable. The injured person may yell, use bad language, throw objects, slam fists into things, slam doors, or threaten or hurt family members or others.

What causes this problem?

Temper outbursts after TBI are likely caused by several factors, including:

  • Injury to the parts of the brain that control emotional expression.
  • Frustration and dissatisfaction with the changes in life brought on by the injury, such as loss of one’s job and independence.
  • Feeling isolated, depressed or misunderstood.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, expressing oneself or following conversations, all of which can lead to frustration.
  • Tiring easily
  • Pain

What can be done about temper problems?

  • Reducing stress and decreasing irritating situations can remove some of the triggers for temper outbursts and irritability.
  • People with brain injury can learn some basic anger management skills such as self-calming strategies, relaxation and better communication methods. A psychologist or other mental health professional familiar with TBI can help.
  • Certain medications can be prescribed to help control temper outbursts.

Family members can help by changing the way they react to the temper outbursts:

  • Understand that being irritable and getting angry easily is due to the brain injury. Try not to take it personally.
  • Do not try to argue with the injured person during an outburst. Instead, let him or her cool down for a few minutes first.
  • Do not try to calm the person down by giving in to his or her demands.
  • Set some rules for communication. Let the injured person know that it is not acceptable to yell at, threaten or hurt others. Refuse to talk to the injured person when he or she is yelling or throwing a temper tantrum.
  • After the outburst is over, talk about what might have led to the outburst. Encourage the injured person to discuss the problem in a calm way. Suggest other outlets, such as leaving the room and taking a walk (after letting others know when he/she will return) when the person feels anger coming on.

Read the rest of this article at: Emotional Problems After Traumatic Brain Injury

Emotional Problems After Traumatic Brain Injury

From the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC) comes this great information – which especially pertains to me, today.

My comments are in Bold like this.

Brain injury and emotions

A brain injury can change the way people feel or express emotions. An individual with TBI can have several types of emotional problems.

BB: Fantastic (sarcasm). There's not just one, but several emotional problems I can have.

Difficulty controlling emotions or “mood swings”

Some people may experience emotions very quickly and intensely but with very little lasting effect. For example, they may get angry easily but get over it quickly. Or they may seem to be “on an emotional roller coaster” in which they are happy one moment, sad the next and then angry. This is called emotional lability.

BB: This just happened to me this morning. I'm still fatigued from my trip, and while I was making my breakfast, my thoughts were interrupted, and I blew up. My spouse really wanted to talk to me, go over what we were going to be doing today, plans for how to organize the house, etc. And that's completely understandable, because I've been away for four days, and they had a lot of time to think. Plus, they missed me. 

I got overloaded and blew up, slammed around in the kitchen, broke down and cried for a few minutes, then regrouped and managed to eat my breakfast in peace, then joined them in the living room to talk about the day and our plans. 

Roller coaster, for sure.

What causes this problem?

  • Mood swings and emotional lability are often caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls emotions and behavior.
BB: Brainline says:  The frontal lobe ... helps govern personality and impulsivity. If damaged, there might be no “braking mechanism” for self-control. A person may find [they] cannot control [their] anger or aggression. 

That's what happened to me this morning. I got irritated, and my irritation picked up speed like a freight train until I was pretty upset... then really furious. And then I got furious at myself. And then I got furious at my spouse for not cutting me a break. And then I felt generally broken and useless, which spiralled into a bit of a freak-out meltdown. A small one, but still a scary one, because I was slamming stuff around, and that makes my spouse feel unsafe in our home.
  • Often there is no specific event that triggers a sudden emotional response. This may be confusing for family members who may think they accidently did something that upset the injured person.
BB: It can be hard to know when I'm going to "go off", because I'll be working hard to keep it together, and I'll seem to be fine, then all of a sudden, I'm blowing up, apparently "over nothing". There is a sequence of events that sets me off and triggers that sudden emotional response, but it's all internal, so nobody can see it building up.
  • In some cases the brain injury can cause sudden episodes of crying or laughing. These emotional expressions or outbursts may not have any relationship to the way the persons feels (in other words, they may cry without feeling sad or laugh without feeling happy). In some cases the emotional expression may not match the situation (such as laughing at a sad story). Usually the person cannot control these expressions of emotion.
BB: I hate the episodes of crying. That's what happens to me most. I don't cry or laugh unless I'm feeling sad or happy, but it can come up very quickly, and it's not always clear to others just how or why I'm reacting the way I am.

Come to think of it, there have been an number of times when I've laughed for no apparent reason -- usually under the worst of circumstances... usually when an authority figure is either nearby or the "target" of my laughter. I've laughed at people telling me how their child was diagnosed with a terrible, life-threatening disease (and my boss was standing nearby and got so pissed off at me that they had to walk away). I've laughed at things bosses have said, seeming to ridicule them. I may have misunderstood their meaning, to begin with, but it could also be due to my brain mis-firing. The really noticeable times when that happened, were within a few weeks of having had mild TBIs from car accidents. I could read and write normally again, but my inexplicably jocular emotional lability was a real problem. For me and everyone arounnd me.

What can be done about it?

  • Fortunately, this situation often improves in the first few months after injury, and people often return to a more normal emotional balance and expression.
BB: I found this to be true. I did start to act and react more normally over time. However, if I don't get enough sleep, I'm back to where I was before -- sometimes worse. Sleep is the key for me. If I don't get enough of it over an extended period of time, I suffer, along with everyone around me. 
  • If you are having problems controlling your emotions, it is important to talk to a physician or psychologist to find out the cause and get help with treatment.
BB: For me, talking to a neuropsych on a regular basis really made all the difference. It was bad enough that it happened, but not understanding why it was happening, and not having a clue about how to help it made things worse. But when I learned that I need to get more sleep and cut myself a break, it really put me on the right path.
  • Counseling for the family can be reassuring and allow them to cope better on a daily basis.
BB: My spouse has a therapist they talk to, and that therapist has dealt with brain-injured people in their own practice, so it's really helpful for my spouse to have access to that information. It's rare, to find a therapist who really understands TBI, and we're both lucky that this person came into our lives. My spouse has become so much more tolerant and understanding of me, as well as appreciative of the progress I've made over the years. And that appreciation has made a lot of things easier for both of us.
  • Several medications may help improve or stabilize mood. You should consult a physician familiar with the emotional problems caused by brain injury.
BB: The problem is, brain injury can affect how you react to medications. It can make you more sensitive, or less, and some of the medications (Benzos) actually make things worse. Some mood stabilizers can make the brain more tired -- and that's a recipe for more emotional outbursts, and the pain and suffering that follows. So, your doctor needs to know about TBI and its effects on how the brain handles meds, before he/she prescribes them to you. And if you're not feeling right or you're having more trouble due to meds, let your doctor know. Be smart. Protect yourself.

What family members and others can do:

  • Remain calm if an emotional outburst occurs, and avoid reacting emotionally yourself.
BB: This is one of the biggest challenges for me. I always prided myself on how even-keeled I am, and how I kept my head on straight during a crisis. Watching myself get all emotional and overwrought over things that I don't believe warrant all that emotion can be very upsetting for me. And I know I'm not alone. We may have injured brains, but we still have our pride.
  • Take the person to a quiet area to help him or her calm down and regain control.
BB: I have to take myself to a quiet area and let myself calm down. I need to remove myself from the situation and get my system leveled out. Then I can rejoin civilized society. But not before. If I go back too soon, I can freak out even more, the next time.
  • Acknowledge feelings and give the person a chance to talk about feelings.
BB: I need to talk about my feelings in terms of "I". As in "I feel upset because I feel like everything is spinning out of control, and my brain can't keep up, and then I feel stupid and helpless."
It does no good to lay blame -- to say "You made me feel bad because ____________" Especially because the other person usually has NO idea what they did to provoke me. The fact is, they may not have provoked me - my brain provoked itself, and I need to talk about how I feel in a way that doesn't blame the other person who already feels defensive and vulnerable to my emotional over-reaction.
  • Provide feedback gently and supportively after the person gains control.
BB: It often helps, if I can come up with a clear explanation of why I freaked out (I'm tired, I'm frustrated, I'm overworked, I'm hungry), and then I come up with clear steps to fixing that. I tell whoever I freaked out at, what I'm going to do, to stop my behavior ASAP. And I make sure they know I'm going to take more steps to fix it over the long term. Sometimes it helps if I tell someone how they can help me in the future. Like my spouse helping me to get to bed at a decent time. And take naps during the day, when I can.
  • Gently redirect attention to a different topic or activity.
BB: I just shift my attention to other things. I do something I've been wanting to do for a while, and that makes me feel better, because I'm using my overabundance of energy for something productive. It always helps, when I channel my energy into other things that have productive uses, like cleaning and organizing. And when I'm done, I have something to show for it. 

I just need to make that shift, which isn't always easy.

Read the rest of this great article at: Emotional Problems After Traumatic Brain Injury

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Extra sleep – the key to my future plans

brain-interests
Roughly – this is how my thinking has been prioritized

I keep sleeping in past 8 a.m. This is new, since I returned from my business trip. This morning, my spouse had to wake me up at 8:15, asking if I was planning to go to work today.

Well, yes, I had planned on it. But if I don’t have to do it, so much the better 😉 No, really, I hoisted myself out of bed, did a shortened version of my morning exercises, and made my breakfast. Now I’ll do a quick post before taking off for the office.

I got 9-3/4 hours of sleep last night. I think that’s a record, of late. The last few nights, I’ve been sleeping from 10:30 till 7:45 — even past 8:00 — which has been putting me at close to 10 hours, for the past three nights.

And I didn’t even realize I was that tired.

I guess it’s all catching up with me — and not only from the business trip last week, but from the past 10+ years of grappling with sleep issues. I’ve been exhausted for so long, I don’t even know what it feels like to be fully rested. And my neuro thinks that it’s one of the root causes of my dizziness and lack of balance. My old neuropsych said that sounded “preposterous”, but if the brain is in charge (at least in part) of your sense of equilibrium as well as coordinating your movements, and your brain is tired, then doesn’t it make sense that a tired brain would lead to an un-balanced body / proprioceptive sense?

That seems common-sense to me. But I’ll let them fight it out on the experts front.

As for me, I’m actually sleeping, and while I do wake up during the night many times, I’m able to get right back to sleep and stay that way… and for 2-3 hours longer than is typical with me. It’s either that, or take a sleeping pill, which has been shown to cause rebound insomnia and is strongly cautioned against for people with brain injury. Now, that apparently happens after extended use, but even so. Why chance it?

Plus, not everyone metabolizes it the same way, so saying it’s benign in every single case — especially mine — is pushing it. And that’s beyond pointless. And a little worrying.

But on the bright side, my own situation is worlds better — at least for now. I may have to start setting a clock to wake me up by 8:30, if I don’t wake up, myself. I’m accustomed to waking up at 5:30, but I can do with out that, for sure.

Aside from the jet-lag and time-shift that came with the business trip, I think another thing that’s really helped me relax and sleep more, is taking some concerns off my plate. I’ve decided I’m not going to go back to school to finish up the B.A. I failed to get, 30 years ago. I was in trouble with the law, I was in trouble with my family, I couldn’t stay steady with anything I was doing, I was with a bad group of people who were very self-destructive, I was out of money, and I was too booze-addled to make good decisions. Finishing my degree just wasn’t possible.

My current employer pays for both graduate and undergrad education, so this would have been the perfect opportunity for me to finish my degree. But let’s be honest — there is no way I can hold down a full-time job, take care of my spouse, and take care of my own health, AND go to school, even part-time. Even doing one course, would be too much for me. Two to three hours of classes a week plus reading, plus studying for tests… with my learning differences, and my crushing fatigue… there is no way that could work.

So, after having this bright hope that I might be able to do it, I let that go a few weeks back. It feels like a surrender of something I’ve wanted with all my heart for so many years, but it just doesn’t make any sense. If I ever find a way to support myself that doesn’t involve being at an office and constantly dealing with people for 8-9 hours a day (and beyond that, considering all the emails and texts that come in at all hours), I’ll consider going back to school. But not if it puts me in debt. And not if it destroys my quality of life.

The wild thing is, ever since I let go of that plan/dream/ambition, I have felt so much more relaxed. Yes, it’s a loss. Yes, it’s disappointing. Yes, I kind of feel like I’ve failed. But this frees up that part of my brain that has been connecting my future success to the way I was always taught I could succeed – through getting degrees and adding qualifications and certifications that come from others.

As it turns out, I realize that I really am on a different path than that. I belong on the frontier. My great-great-grandparents were pioneers who traveled to the West when it opened up, and they paved the way for others to follow them. I’m actually not happy about some of the things they made possible — the Dust Bowl, rounding up Native Americans and putting them on reservations as well as genocide against this country’s first residents. That’s a hard legacy to carry. But at the core, at the center of it all, I am essentially a pioneer, not someone who settles spaces that others have opened up. And I’m the kind of person who thrives in unstructured environments where the rules have yet to be written.

brain-interests-new So, I’m freeing up my “brain space” to make room for my new work direction. I’m making the most of my current job stability to really think about where and how I want to work in the future. I’m not rushing out to find a new job, right now, because I need time to think and really get clear about what I want to do. After years of hard work and sacrifice and doing a lot of jobs that I didn’t want to do because they were good experience, I’m finally at a place where I can literally pick and choose the direction I want to go in. I have the experience that others really, really need, and after years of rehabbing with a neuropsychologist, I once again have the temperament and behavioral control to work effectively with others.

I was this close to being able to do that, back in 2004, when I fell and got hurt. I was 18 months away from cashing in on my shares, that would have let me pay down my house and refinance the remainder at a very attractive rate. I was 18 months away from financial independence, which was no small feat for someone without a college degree, who everyone said would never get far in life because of my failure to complete pretty much anything I started. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn’t an oncoming train. It was my future – the future I had worked so hard for.

Then I fell, and everything fell apart.

I’ve been rigidly locked onto the idea that I had to finish my degree, in order to get anywhere in life. But in fact, that falls back on thinking from when I was a teenager. As an adult, I’ve always been a pioneer, a leader, someone who ventures into spaces that haven’t yet been explored. The things I’ve done, have been things that nobody else thinks are possible.

But I know they’re possible, as do the others I work with.

Now I need to look again to the future and find where I need to be. Not just where I am right now, but where I need to be, on down the line. I want to make the best of everything I’ve got, and take it to the next level.

And so I shall.

Onward!

Holy smokes, it’s amazing what some extra sleep will do for you…

Up early… and making the best of it

fatigueSo, I had a long day, yesterday, and I got home late. Which means I ate late. Which means I went to bed late… and then I couldn’t sleep. I was pretty emotional and uptight, and I couldn’t shut my mind off.

I finally got to sleep.

And then I woke up around 3:30 a.m. So, I’ve had about 4 hours of sleep, or thereabouts.

Not my favorite thing.

I know I’ll be fine today. Just dragging a bit, and uncoordinated. And that means I need to be extra careful on stairs, and while driving. And I need to get in bed early tonight.

But for now, I’m making the most of my time and doing something productive with myself. Working on my “chronic blogging” writing. I’ll be posting something shortly.

If I’m going to feel like crap, I might as well do something productive. I’ve already had my morning exercise and now I’m working on my breakfast. And I’ll get an early start on the day… and make an early night of it, tonight.

Work is actually going really well, right now. I’m making huge progress, which I can document (and have been). And I have three more days of an open schedule ahead of me.

The contact from my old job who contact me, hasn’t gotten back to me. I’m not holding my breath. I have plenty of other options out there to work with, and I know what I’m going to do.

So long as I’m not laid off, I’ll keep steady where I am, unless something really promising comes along. If it does, I’ll consider it. But I’m not making myself crazy over it.

And if I do get laid off in this merger, then I’ll contract for a few months in a role that I know I can do with my eyes closed, while I look for a permanent position that gives me everything I’m looking for.

So, let’s just take that off my plate, why don’t we? Just keep on keeping on. Keep my resume updated, keep my LinkedIn profile tidy. And document the progress I’ve made at my current job. Just in case.

Now, on to the “chronic blogging” guide.

How may I dismiss you? Let me count the ways…

blah-faceI read something really bothersome this morning – so bothersome, it’s tweaked my last raw nerve and put me in a mood.

It’s an article entitled “Top Ten Psychosomatic Symptoms” and apparently, it takes ~1 minute to read.

That should have been the first red flag. Nothing good can come of a diagnosis “aid” that takes 60 seconds to read.

Lo and behold, here are the top 10 symptoms created by your mind when the brain “attempt[s] to throw a person’s consciousness off guard by inducing physical changes in the body, in order to prevent the person from consciously experiencing difficult emotions, such as rage, sadness, and emotional distress.”

Oy. Here we go… all the ways that we’re not actually suffering from a real illness. The following may be all in your head:

  1. Chronic Pain Syndrome – not real pain… you just don’t want to deal with your emotions
  2. Fibromyalgia – odd… I thought it was settled, that it’s a real thing.
  3. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – because repetitive stress injuries… nah, not really a thing.
  4. Gastrointestinal syndromes – maybe you should just try to relax
  5. Migraine headaches – apparently, the top-trending medical issue on Twitter is a chimera
  6. Frequent need for urination – because yer innards would never shift south and put pressure on your bladder, now would they?
  7. Tinnitus and Vertigo – okay… clearly the person writing this has never dealt with this crap on a daily basis… for years. I invite them to walk a mile in my shoes.
  8. Allergic phenomena – ’cause, like, our world is completely hypoallergenic. Not.
  9. Skin rashes (Eczema, hives, acne, etc.) – okay, possibly…
  10. Eating disorders – it’s been a long time since I read a more gross oversimplification

So, that’s the Hall of Shame for today, folks.

Be glad you don’t have the author for your therapist.

I sure am.

They say it’s the brain, but it’s also the body

It's ALL connected
It’s ALL connected

TBI can seriously mess you up in the head. That’s a given.

But it can also seriously mess with your physiology.

In fact, out of all the problems I’ve had over the years, the physical issues I’ve had have far outweighed the cognitive ones – if anything, they contributed to my cognitive and behavioral issues.

  • Fatigue – bone-crushing, spirit-sapping exhaustion;
  • Problems keeping my balance, which messed with my moods.
  • Heart rate increase – or decrease, as well as blood pressure changes.
  • Light and noise sensitivity.
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Sensitivity to touch, which really messed with my head, as well. Imagine never being able to have human contact… it’s not much fun.
  • Constant adrenaline rush that wired me out, something fierce.

When your brain gets injured, it can affect your whole body. Because as we know, the brain is mission control for the rest of the works below the neck.

 

Endless headaches … continual symptoms… life goes on

What lies beneath – I live down there

For the past several weeks — on and off — I’ve been pulling together descriptions of what my symptoms are, Headaches, dizziness, nausea, feeling drugged and “doped up”, tremors and twitching in my face and hands… I usually don’t think about these things. I just get on with my life and don’t let them stop me.  Now that I’m putting them all down on paper to discuss with the new neuro, as well as review with my neuropsych.

You know, it’s funny… all this time, I’ve been really actively involved in my own recovery from TBI, and my neuropsych has had a very big positive influence on me, but not in ways that they probably intended. I think they’ve been thinking they’re helping me develop better skills and approaches — and they have.

But the real way they’ve helped, has been just being there reliably for me each week, to turn to and discuss matters of importance to me. Just being able to talk about my life to another person who can get it, is hugely helpful.

The only thing is, now I’m going down this path of digging into all these symptoms and complaints, and it feels very foreign to me. I spend so much of my time looking past the problems, disregarding the issues, coming up with ways to not have to deal with them explicitly – just work around them or do a variety of things to relieve them – that now I’m feeling the burn pretty intensely.

All the things I don’t talk about with others — because A) they can’t believe that it’s true, and B) they get all freaked out that I feel the way I do — is getting put down on paper. And it’s a trip.

God, I have a headache. And I’m sick to my stomach. Migraine? Who knows? And who cares?

There’s no sense in getting all depressed and upset about it. I can’t always do anything about the headaches — they don’t always respond to Advil, and the rest of the supposed “headache medicines” are like sugar pills to me. I’m much better off, just finding something I can focus my full attention on, and sticking with that.

Like my writing projects. Like the books I’m writing. Like the variety of things I have to occupy my attention. Fun things. A heck of a lot more fun than thinking about my headaches.

Anyway, life goes on, regardless. Or it doesn’t. Who knows how long any of us has, and why not make the most of it, while we can? I have my ways of dealing with headache that may even be more effective than medication. If you can’t feel the pain, you don’t have pain. So, if I can keep my focus on something that really captures my imagination and lifts my spirits, why not do that… instead of fretting about the headaches that never go away?

So long as it’s not something that’s life-threatening, why let it wreck my days? There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to experience… why let headaches stop me, when I know how to stop them?

Onward.

Stopping. Just stopping.

Sometimes you gotta hit the button

The holiday season is upon us. All the pressure to BUY-BUY-BUY and run around doing what everyone else is doing, is at an all-time high.

I feel unusually immune to it, this year. Nothing much has changed outside of me — the commercials on t.v. are all the same, the urgency is the same as in other years, and everyone is as busy as ever for this time of year. The world is the same as it ever was, things are just as messed up, we’re getting just as much news about how sh*tty the world is, along with a lot of pleas for financial help (that — just to be clear — is tax-deductible), and pressure to use the last weeks of the year to make up for the last 11-1/2 months of general negligence.

But while everyone else is running around like a chicken with their head cut off, I’m not. I feel pretty calm, actually, and I’m not running around to all the latest sales, spending hours online looking for presents, and going from party to party.

Even if I wanted to, I can’t run around and buy-buy-buy. I don’t have the money, which is kind of a relief. I’ve got to improvise. Come up with other ideas. And I will. I received a book in the mail that looks like something my mother would enjoy. And I’ve got some other ideas for things I can get for other family members for very low cost. I’m not worrying about it. I know how to handle things. And I am. Just handling them.

I also think it has a lot to do with the everyday pressure being off me, thanks to my short commute. I now have the time to get up in the morning and do what I please for an hour or so, before I start doing what the rest of the world wants me to do. I can move about, run errands at lunchtime, come and go as I please, and still get all my hours in at work. I can live my life without having to plan and think through everything I do in detail. And since I’m not a permanent, full-time employee, I don’t have to be existentially affected by changes at work and what they mean for my future.

I can just get on with my daily life and not worry about things like that. I’ll be updating my resume over the next few days, just to log the different thing I’ve accomplished at work, and make sure my resume is current and in good shape. And I’ll be taking time to just relax and enjoy myself.

Having a long commute, along with a demanding job, is a killer for me. I realize that now. I’ve had to work so hard for so long, to get where I am, but now I’m finally at a place where I’m comfortable with myself, professionally and personally. I realize that I’ve been in a good place for some time, now, but for the past number of years, I’ve been really on edge and nervous about where I am and how I’m doing.

Part of that nervousness was due to all the debt I was carrying and the pressures of just paying bills on time. I wiped out my debt over the past four years, so that pressure is off.

Another problem was that I was in a line of work that pays really well, but is inherently tension-producing, high-pressure, and precarious. Just the nature of the work — which is all about keeping current with the latest technology developments — was personally and professionally pressurizing. I got out of that side of the industry, turned my focus to people management, and now I’m in much better shape, overall.

And of course there’s the commute. I keep mentioning it, but it was such a huge factor in my life, I can’t even begin to say. Other people just take it for granted — and in fact so did I, for the last 25 years. But now that I don’t have to travel 45 minutes to an hour (or two) each way, every day, my life has literally turned around. I can rest. And even when I don’t get a full night’s sleep, it doesn’t wreck me like it used to. Long commutes used to seriously mess with my head.

No more. No more to all of the above.

The wild thing is, so much of what was making me miserable, I just took for granted. I figured that was how things were supposed to be. That’s what I knew, and that’s how I figured things were supposed to be. It wasn’t until I was pushed to my utmost limit, that I changed things up. Lots of suffering, lots of years of pain. Lots of change — needed change.

Ultimately, I’ve come out on the other end feeling strong and clear. It’s just such a huge difference. Even when my head is fuzzy and foggy, like today, my ears are ringing, my body is wracked with pain, I’m off balance, my thoughts are jumping all over the place like little jumping beans, and every little sound and light hurts me, I still feel strong and clear. And I know I can adapt and deal with the things that are getting in my way.

I’ve got a lot to do this weekend, but before I do, I’m stopping — just stopping — to take a breath, to get myself in a good frame of mind, and get clear on what needs to happen, before I charge forward into the fray. I’ve got my list — I wrote it out last night, while I was waiting for supper to warm up — and I’ll organize it for the best and most sensible direction to take, so I don’t waste time, and I can really focus on what I’m doing.

And I may even get a nap in there, somewhere.

This is good. This is very good.

Onward.

Back again… and landing on my feet

The Thanksgiving holiday was good. Traffic was insane, as just about anyone who drove during the past week can tell you. I traveled close to 2,000 miles, going from state to state to see extended family, and it was good. A lot of driving… and now I’m pretty sore from all the sitting… but it was good to break out of my routine for once.

Sometimes you just gotta trust (this guy landed on his feet, by the way)

I was really “off” my routine — I did almost nothing similar to what I normally do. I felt a little bit like the guy who jumped out of his space capsule a few years back, and fell 23 miles to earth. Like him, I had my reservations.

I ate different foods, I did different things, I had a different schedule, and I slept different hours. I didn’t sleep nearly enough, that’s for sure, but I managed. I got pretty sleepy when I was driving a few times, but I did things to wake myself up, and I took breaks when I needed to. Got out in the cold air, stretched, did jumping jacks, swung my arms around and sprinted a little bit. Whatever it takes to get there safely.

And like Felix Baumgartner, I came through okay.

I’ve been feeling pretty depressed, over the past month or so. I had a death in my family that has shifted the family dynamics. The person who died had a very complicated relationship with just about everyone — in some ways they were very loved, in other ways they were very feared. They were a challenge to deal with, although they had many, many fine qualities that we loved.

Their passing was actually a blessing for some folks in our family, and now they can rest and take a break and get on with their lives. For others, it was a deep loss, and now they don’t know what to do.

I didn’t expect this death to affect me as much as it has, but it’s changed my status in the family — it’s made me more “senior” in the generations, and my parents are now leaning on me, more than ever. Death brings that out in some people — we all become more aware of our mortality, and my folks are certainly more aware now.

So, there’s been more demands on me and my time and attention, and I believe that’s what was pulling me down. Just the demands. Being so tired. Having people relying on me, and feeling a little overwhelmed by everything. I know I can handle it. I just get very tired, and even when I’m doing well, I feel beaten down and low, when my energy is tapped out… which it was.

The other thing that’s been bothering me, is the sense that I haven’t accomplished the things I’ve intended to accomplish in life. I’m not talking about being a millionaire or being a powerful player on the world stage. I’m just talking about simple things like New Year’s resolutions and other projects I’ve started and could not finish. There are a lot of little things I have started and have not completed, and it was really pulling me down — especially since I’m that much more aware of death and how close it is.

It’s been pretty tough… but then again, it hasn’t. The tough part is not having the energy I usually do — feeling so blah and bland, like nothing really matters and there’s no point to anything. I haven’t had that steady “pump” of exuberance I usually do. And people have noticed it — tried to cheer me up, tried to get me all perky and what-not again.

I’ve noticed that people around me really do rely on me being positive and pro-active, and when I’m not that way, they get a little irked. Like I’m raining on their parade. Sorry, folks, I’m just not feeling it.

And I’ve noticed that I’m sort of the same way — I need that burst of positive energy, a certain perkiness, an “up” sense of myself, in order to get through the day.

But is that actually realistic? We can’t always been “up” and perky and feeling fit as a fiddle. Sometimes we’re tired and depressed and troubled by things that really should trouble us. It’s a little mentally ill to NOT be troubled by so much that’s going on in the world.

The thing is, I can’t let the down times derail my life. And what I’ve been working on, over the past couple of weeks, has been functioning very well without a sense of being “up” or pumped or pro-actively positive. Life goes on, even when I’m not emotionally euphoric. I can’t let my moods stop me from living my life. And in fact, when I get myself going, despite feeling down and depressed and defeated, before long, I feel that much better.

My moods follow my activity, as often as not. They shouldn’t set the stage and make or break me. I should be able to choose what I do and think and accomplish, each and every day, regardless of my emotional state.

That’s my goal, anyway.

And somehow, it’s strangely freeing. I’m off the emotional roller coaster, and I’m going about my business as I see fit. I’m not held back by feeling down and confused and depressed. I’m keeping on. Even if it doesn’t feel so fantastic, that actually doesn’t need to matter. If anything, it makes me feel better to be able to continue on in living my life, even if I’m feeling down.

As a TBI survivor, my moods come and go very abruptly. In one day, I can feel a thousand different ways, and each one would be true. My mood swings can be very extreme, as well. I can be euphoric one minute, and in the emotional basement the next. There’s not a lot of rhyme and reason to it — although being tired plays a big part in it. Things just come up, and I need to deal with them. I need to deal with my life in a constructive way, even if my emotions are running wild, and/or the rest of my system is a bit whacked.

That’s where I am, right now. I’m still really tired from the driving, I’m still overwhelmed from the family visits, my world is still evolving after the death, and my whole system is a bit “on the fritz”. I’m having trouble typing and putting words together, the ringing in my ears is pretty intense, and my main issues — fatigue, tinnitis, sensitivity to light and noise and touch, insomnia, general pain, headache, attention issues, emotional lability, panic/anxiety, anger spikes, raging behavior, confusion, difficulty understanding, trouble hearing, slowed processing speed, limited short-term working memory, balance, vertigo, difficulty reading and learning new things, nystagmus, and tremors — are being a real pain in my ass.

I don’t quite feel like I’m “here” yet. That will come, in the next days of getting rest, getting back to my routine, and eating the right foods. It will all come.

It just takes time.

It’s just good to be back home again.