Try, try again

Yes

So, the course I have been taking, has had some surprises for me.

First, there are quizzes. I had been watching the lectures and I’ve found them pretty straightforward. And there were some reminders about things I needed to do. But when I took another look over the weekend, lo and behold, there are quizzes I need to do, and I missed the first two of them.

The first one I can’t retake, because it’s too long ago. The second one I took, and got a 100% on it (on my 2nd try), but I’m not sure I’ll get full credit because I was late. The third quiz I took, I got 40% — which is actually good, because it is forcing me to rethink my answers and more fully understand the materials and the reason for the answers being correct.

I’m kind of upset with myself for spacing out — not knowing how things go. But that’s how things often are with me, and it’s how I learn best. I mess things up, the first time through, then I go back and take a second look and make sense of it all.

And I do much better in the end.

Ultimately, I believe that the measure of your intelligence is NOT how you do on one-time tests, but rather how adaptable you are… how well you learn and incorporate new information and adjust to changing situations. That, for me, is what intelligence is all about. And the folks with the Feuerstein Method agree with me.

I’m really happy I found them. Not because they are telling me anything I didn’t already believe in my heart, but because they provide confirmation and additional context for this way of understanding what it means to be intelligent. It’s not how you do on one single test, that you take one single time. It’s how you learn from it and apply the knowledge you gain from the whole experience.

So, I’m going back into the course and taking a second look… giving more thought to things and realizing where I went wrong. That’s half the battle – figuring out what to screen out, and what to take in.

And it often takes me a second try, before things start to make sense. So, I’ll just do that, and learn – learn – learn.

 

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Ah…. Friday

Join me as I rejoice

Before a long weekend, to boot.

It’s unfortunate that I am so elated that I won’t have to be at work for three days in a row.

At the same time, though, it just goes to show that I have better things to do with my time than deal with these [insert irritated nickname here].

It’s kind of bizarre. I’m on a contract with a company that is a wreck. As some of my fabulous friends say, they are a hot mess. The people who have been there the longest can’t seem to get anything done. They just don’t seem to want to work.

Yet the folks who can get things done — the rock stars and peak performers — are treated like crap because we expose the ineptitude of the long-timers.

Boo – effing – hoo.

It’s interesting that with each passing day, I see more clearly how well I really do work, compared to others. And how poorly others do, compared to me. I’m not getting all conceited, I just have never actually compared myself to others favorably — I always gave myself the short end of the stick, and I never thought much of my abilities.

That’s changed, in the past few years. I can see objectively now, that I do know how to be effective and efficient, while a lot of others don’t.

I had lunch with a former colleague the other day, who was recently the CEO of some hot-shot company. They left that position to go do some personal projects, and they’re fighting off executive recruiters who are trying to get them into a new CEO job at one of the region’s top companies worth something like $150 million or somesuch. They’re in demand, which is always usually nice.

The thing is…. though they are a friend and they are connected… they are not very smart. They don’t have the spark, the quickness, or the drive that you’d think a top performer would have. And yet…

Well, they did go to the right schools, and they are connected in the business community, so that works in their favor.

And they are a good friend to have, simply because of that.

It just always surprises me, when not-very-smart people who can’t do their jobs, are put in charge of big projects. Like… everywhere.

Kind of makes you wonder…

Oh, screw it. It’s Friday.

Practical training to fix TBI issues – processing speed, reaction time, memory

My n-back results today
My n-back results today – click to see a close-up

I’m doing my dual n-back training again this morning. It’s pretty awesome. I’ve already noticed an improvement in my memory and my reaction time, after just a few days of practicing.

If you suffer from TBI and have access to a computer, be it at your public library or at a friend’s house – it can even be your smart phone, if you have one – there’s no excuse not to do this. There are many, many free versions of this available. My favorite is Brain Workshop at http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/. It’s for Windows and Mac (and Linux, if you’re into it), and it works great – very customizable.

There really is no reason to not do this training. Especially if you are on disability and you are unable to work or do other things with yourself. That’s really the optimal situation for you, because this training will help you with the core issues from TBI — processing speed, reaction time, short-term working memory and recall — and the thing you need most to do this, is time.

I almost wish I were on disability, so I could do n-back training as much as I like.

Now, obviously, I don’t want to overdo it. The brain needs to have rest and also good nutrition and oxygenation to really make the most of this training. So, it’s good that I actually cannot spend a lot of time doing n-back all day. I tend to perseverate on things that interest me, and this fascinates me. So, the chances of me plopping down in front of computer all day and doing this training are pretty high.

That would be counter-productive, and my scores would likely decrease, which would frustrate me. I need to allow myself rest. And I also need to allow myself room to just play. I tend to make everything I do into a “career” and go over the top, trying to elevate it to an art form. That’s fine, for things I’m making a living doing, but I need some time to play and relax and just have fun with things, too.

I have been playing with the combinations of things to test. I started out with a triple 1-back, where I try to remember the position, color, and audio for the last element that appeared on the screen. I put myself at 4 second intervals — the computer shows me a square in a certain color at a certain position and says a certain letter… then it shows me another one that may be the same or different, and I have to remember if it was similar in any way to the last one.

To be honest, the hardest part of the training is remembering which key to press for each aspect — A is for position, F is for color, L is for audio. One of the things that slows me down, is checking to see which key I need to press. Bums me out, frankly. I feel like an idiot that I can’t remember which goes with which, but oh well. I guess it helps me speed up my processing and my reaction time, by forcing me to react within a set period of time AND have to check the keys for each piece on the screen.

I started out at 4 second intervals, till I made it to 100% accuracy. Then I speeded it up to 3.5 seconds, and made it to 100% accuracy. At 3 seconds, I’m faltering — I went from 100% to 93% to 84% in a few tries. It could be due to my brain just getting tired. So, I’m going to stop and try again tomorrow — triple 1-back with position (A key), color (F key), and audio (L key), at 3 second intervals… and see if I can’t speed things up even more.

I like working with the 1-back, because it’s something I have mastered at certain levels, and I can always go back to it. I got to 100% accuracy with dual (position – A key, and audio – L key) 2-back at 4 second intervals the other day, and I want to push myself to hold more pieces of information in my brain at any given point in time. More pieces of information… at faster speeds.

As I said, the biggest challenge for me is memorizing which key to press for each aspect. That is very frustrating, so I need to work on memorizing that. I can spend my time commuting, conditioning myself to remember those key positions. That’s the thing that slows me down… Argh!

I’ve been doing some reading online about benefits that n-back training is supposed to provide. There are individuals who say that since they started doing the training, they have been able to learn much better. Others say it has had no effect on them. One of the things that irritates me, is how so many people write about it “improving intelligence”. The whole concept of “intelligence” is broad and wide and way too general for my taste. There are specific things this kind of training can help you with. These may make you seem “more intelligent” to others, but fundamentally, it’s really about improving processing speed, reaction time, short-term working memory, and making selective choices. Improving those aspects in different combinations, will help anyone — TBI or not — navigate life more smoothly, regardless of how well they perform on an IQ test.

For myself, the change in my own memory and response time has been noticeable, even in a short period of time. I’m going to to keep on with this, because it is helping me in specific ways that have been a bane of my existence for as long as I can remember.

Those things are:

  • feeling slow, like I’m not really keeping up
  • struggling to follow conversations and instructions
  • faking my way through interpersonal interactions, because if I slow people down to repeat what they just said and process what they just told me, it disrupts the flow of the conversation — it just hijacks it
  • distractions interrupting my concentration
  • “losing” pieces of information in the course of conversations
  • not reacting quickly enough to handle social situations, discussions, arguments, debates… and so on

These have been real struggles for me — for many, many years. And they have held me back in life. That doesn’t have to be true anymore. I now have something I can do about it.

There are many ways to train your brain to handle these things. When you’re a kid, there are clubs at school, like debate club or chess club or sports or other activities. I was active in sports, and I joined the school newspaper so I could do some writing, but I secretly struggled with the social and task-oriented activities (like writing articles for the paper). And the activities which centered around games or debate situations… they were just torture for me, because I wasn’t handling them well, and I could never articulate my situation well enough to reach out for help. Even if I had been able to articulate my situation, people were not in a position to help me. It was over 30 years ago, and nobody knew anything about TBI where I lived.

I have recently joined a public speaking group at my workplace, so I can practice being put on-the-spot to talk about a topic I didn’t come up with. That has been helping, too. But there’s nothing like being able to sit down in the quiet and comfort of my own room at home, and practice n-back training, watching my scores improve.

It has made me more confident, it has noticeably improved my response time in certain situations, it’s improving my memory in ways I can already notice, and it’s providing me a new challenge and a new hope in my life that has been missing. I’m going to keep doing this on a regular basis, as well as get plenty of rest and good nutrition to keep myself “beefed up” and progressing. Considering all the different combinations you can do — up to four different pieces that change, and as many “back” as you can ask for, all at faster or slower speeds, there’s an almost infinite number of combinations I can use to train my brain.

 

Help where we can find it

You just have to keep looking till you find what will help

I’ve always been a very independent person. I think I’ve had to become this way, because I had so little help when I was younger. I had a lot of problems, when I was a kid, and everybody around me thought that I was either fine (and faking it), or I was just being lazy.

That’s a hell of a thing to put on a kid, but it happens.

It happens all the time.

And it happened to me.

Not to cry over spilt milk, I have been literally forced to become independent from a very early age, which I believe has also primed me for an excellent TBI recovery. Getting a mild traumatic brain injury was no fun, back in 2004, and all the concussions / TBIs I had earlier in my life certainly did not help.

So, I’ve gotten in the habit of just making do. I’ve been fortunate to find a neuropsych I can work with, who has helped me a lot. I’m not sure what would have become of me over the past years, if I had not found them. Maybe I would have figured things out for myself. I know I was in the process of figuring a lot of things out, when I first met them, and I have been the “driver” behind most of my initiatives in getting my life together — most of the time, our sessions consist of me just talking about what I’ve done with my life, lately, and what steps I’ve taken to remedy issues I have.

The thing that’s helped me tremendously, is having someone who is NOT mentally ill, being a sounding board for me. I have spent an awful long time — most of my life — around mentally ill people and folks who are pretty determined to prove that there is something wrong with them, they’re deficient, they are damaged, etc., etc.  So, I have not actually had a lot of really positive role models, as a kid or as an adult. Especially when it comes to TBI.

First, there is so much denial about what TBI really involves, the degree to which it affects your judgment and thinking abilities, and how pervasive it is.

Second, everybody’s TBI is different, and one person’s extreme challenges may be no big deal for someone else — who has another set of challenges, entirely.

Third, a lot more people are walking around suffering from TBI after-effects, than most of us know, so the thinking is generally clouded, out in the world.

Fourth, even the people who can help us, often can’t — because we don’t have access to them, we don’t know who or where they are, and insurance won’t cover us.

So, it’s really up to us to sort things out and figure out what to do and where to go. It’s unfortunate that we have to go it alone… but that’s where support forums like the Psychcentral TBI/Concussion forum (click here to visit) come in handy.

I have to make my own progress, which I am doing. I’ve been working on my juggling, which is going well. It is helping me learn to focus more and not get distracted, and also keep my concentration in the absolute present. I started with one ball, which I tossed back and forth from one hand to the other. Then I added a second ball, which I have been tossing in different ways. The important thing is not how many balls I am juggling – it is how long I can focus, and how well I can recover, when I drop one of the balls — or both. I’m learning to juggle, not for the sake of juggling, but for what it teaches me.

It’s helping me with my coordination, my attention, and my emotional responses. I’ll write more later about this, because it is seriously good therapy for TBI, and I think everyone should do it. There’s no reason not to.

I’ve also been doing some Dual N-Back practice. The site I found yesterday with the Silverlight plugin doesn’t work for me anymore. For some reason, the plugin has permanently crashed, and it won’t work for me. So, I downloaded an app that I installed on my laptop – http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/ – and that is working for me much better. It keeps track of my scores, which are sort of crappy — I’m in the 36.5% range. I’ve gone as high as 57% and as low as 25%, but I’m in the lower range more often.

It’s something to work towards. I’m just starting it, after all, and these things take time.

Again, it’s something to keep me engaged and learning… Something to repair the issues of my past.

That’s so important to me. Because I feel like I have a ton of lost time to make up, and there is so much I want to do in my life, still. Like so many TBI survivors, I have a sense of many “holes” in my life – gaps in my memory, gaps in my personality, gaps in my social life… gaps everywhere. And I need to fill those gaps with something positive and constructive… and rebuild a life that meets my own specifications, not everyone else’s — or the specifications of people who tell me I need to settle for less.

I’m not doing that “settling thing”.

No how. No way.

Onward

 

 

After this long week…

I am ready for a break. Not so much a break from work, as break from pointless stupidity. What is wrong with people, that they must create so much drama? I just don’t know.

But I don’t need to think about that for another two days. So, I won’t.

I really need to focus on what I want, what interests me, what I enjoy, what makes me happy, what makes me better. I have spent way too much time in my life struggling and battling my demons, working so hard to overcome obstacles, and just trying to get some semblance of normality back in my life.

I’m now dug out from under mountains of old debt that got racked up from bad decisions and lousy impulse control. I have a much clearer vision of what I can do for work, and I have some projects which are really helping me get my act together, hone my thinking, and build self-confidence and resilience.

I’m still going to work on myself — only now I’m working to get better, not just get back from being bad.

And all this work requires rest. I have been reading a lot, I have been working a lot, I have been planning and learning and dreaming a lot.

Now I need to rest. To give it all a break and let my body and brain regroup and recoup.

But before I go, let me share this with you – it’s a game that supposedly improves your intelligence. It’s called Dual N-Back, and it’s about remembering sounds and positions of items. It’s free, and it’s at http://www.soakyourhead.com/Default.aspx. You have to have a web browser that has Silverlight on it, but that’s not hard to get — unless you’re at your local library or on someone else’s computer.

I’ve been playing a little bit, and I’m surprised at how well I’m doing.

But seriously. I need to take a break now.

It’s been a really, really long week.

More later…

Onward.

 

 

 

 

Exercise and Rest – Back to the most basic of basics

It’s not going to get stronger on its own

Today’s Fog Factor: 65% of where I could (and want to) be

I’ve really been struggling, lately, with the sense that I’m falling behind mentally, that I’m not getting things I should, and that my emotional stability and ability to cope are eroding. I’ve been feeling like I’m on a downward slide for some months, now.

Small wonder, I feel like I’m slipping. Small wonder I feel dull and dense and impaired, sluggish and “fall-behind”.

I haven’t been exercising regularly for quite some time. It goes in fits and starts, and then it stops. I go in fits and starts… really sticking with my routine and doing it religiously on a regular basis. And then for some reason I stop. I get tired. Or I am rushed. Or I don’t feel like picking up the weights. Or I don’t feel like I have to. Or I feel like I need to rest for a day… or two… or three… or a week.

And I wonder why I feel so out of it all the time.

Several critical ingredients are missing from my life — adequate rest and regular exercise. On the nutrition front I’m doing pretty well, but rest and exercise… they’re a problem.

The two are really mutually constructive/destructive. When I’m doing well with one, I do well with the other, and it pays off. In the past, when I was making amazing progress and really kickin’ it with my recovery, I was exercising on a regular basis. I was actually not as strong and as limber as I am now. I was actually in worse shape, in some ways. And I was definitely less “put together” — I was pretty scattered, pretty confused about a lot of things (which I didn’t realize I was confused about), and even though I really felt like I was getting it and getting on top of things, when I look back — years later — I see how far I still had to go.

But when either exercise or rest is really lacking, it pulls the other one down, too. When I’m really fatigued, I don’t always feel like exercising. And when I haven’t been exercising, I don’t really feel like I need to rest. And when I’m not rested and I also don’t have the energy pump and improved communication of all the different elements in my system, my thinking really falters. That sluggishness pulls everything in me down, including my alertness, my processing ability and speed, my ability to just keep up.

It’s a vicious cycle, and I need to stop it.

So, yes. Stop it.

I get tired of hearing myself whine. I get tired of hearing myself bitch and complain (inside my head and on this blog) about how I’m slipping. “Mentally, emotionally, and physically, I’m declining… Oh, woe is me… What ever shall I do? Life is stacked against me, and my TBIs have ruined my life.

It’s ridiculous. I have a way to stop it, which I have in the past before with great success. I know what will slow the downward slide and get me on the good foot again. I’ve done it before — rested plenty and exercised a lot — and it helped me a great deal. It got me from struggling… to so-so… to standing on my own two feet again. And it was good.

It really encouraged me and it kept me going. And that was when I was even worse off than I am now.

Imagine what it could be like for me, if I poured that same amount of enthusiasm and intention into my recovery now… not giving up, not deciding that because I’m nearing 50, I am inevitably going to decline. That’s ridiculous. I have plenty of relatives who lived well into their 90s, and even beyond past 100 years of age, and why shouldn’t I, too? I’m not content to give up like so many others around me, and just accept that things are going downhill from here.

I guess maybe I’m at that oh-so-common juncture in “mid-life” when you have to recalibrate and refresh your world view. I’m also at the age when a lot of my peers are starting to give up on the idea of constant improvement and life enhancement. I’m at the point of the “great dividing”, when my peers peel off in one of several directions:

  1. towards sad resignation that they’re not going to live forever…
  2. towards resentful defiance that they’re not getting any younger and the young guns coming up are trying to push them out of the way, or…
  3. towards a point of redefining themselves based on new understandings of who they are and how they want their lives to be.

I seem to have slipped into the first group, without even realizing it. And I’ve spent a few too many hours in the second group, over the past couple of years. The third group is where I find myself heading, now — into a zone where I realize that I know myself a whole lot better now than I used to… even a few years ago. And into a zone where, based on that new information and understanding, I need to redefine my life and — oh, hell — just get on with it.

Get on with what?

That’s the question. I realize now that it’s been nagging at me for a couple of years, now. I’ve been struggling with my work situation, hitting a lot of dead ends, not able to make any headway with changing jobs, bumping up against all sorts of folks who are mis-matching me to what they think I should be doing, based on what I did in my past. I’ve reached a point in my work life, where I need to peel off in another direction and do something different. I’ve talked about this before, many times, and I’ve always lost my nerve — especially when under pressure by people who look at my illustrious past resume and try to fit me into a mold that they provide for me, based on limited information and their own agendas.

Now it’s time to quit losing my nerve, and just get on with doing what I want to do next.

What will that be? That is the question. And the question won’t be answered by me, based on my present state of mind. I’m too stressed by fatigue and not feeling well, to think clearly. I’m too out of shape and too “blob-like” to engage in any sort of existential self-determination. I’m just not at the level I want/need to be, and that’s got to change.

So, I’m changing it. I exercised this morning — 11 minutes on the exercise bike for 2.72 miles, followed by a “circuit” of light free weights lifted in all directions. It wasn’t the most strenuous session, but the point was to just get started, not blow the lid off. And I didn’t get a splitting headache after the fact, which was good. I just did it. And I did it for a reason — because I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired — and letting that stop me.

I need to get my head together — literally and figuratively, and exercise and rest are key components of that. I slept like the dead, last Saturday, and with any luck I’ll be able to do that again this weekend, before I fly out on my next trip. I got some exercise today, and now I’m motivated again to get myself going with the exercise. I have a reason. I have a cause. And it ties in with a larger picture that will lead me to my next steps and help me get on with my life… whatever is next. Whatever is coming ’round the corner.

Because something is coming. I can feel it. And I want to be ready — and recognize it — when it shows up.

 

 

 

Staying smart about things

Keeping my head on straight

I like to think that since I’ve experienced so many TBIs over the course of my life, and in spite of that I’ve managed to put together a life that many people would find enviable, and I’ve come so far in my brain injury recovery, I’m on the good foot permanently. I look at my laundry list of symptoms, and then I look at my life, and I think, “Damn, I’m doing great!”

It’s true to some extent, tut that’s not the case constantly. Especially lately. I have been having a ton of issues with distractability, as well as memory issues. Last weekend, I watched the second half of the last Harry Potter movie, and I enjoyed it. While I was watching it, I was tired, but I was engaged, and I was “actively” watching it, making comments, thinking about what was going to happen next, etc.

And then the next day, I could not remember what movie I had watched the night before. It was just a big blank space, and I could not find anything in my memory to tell me what I had been watching for 2-1/2 hours that night. I knew I had watched a movie, but I could not remember which one. It was just blank. Completely empty. Void.

Then I thought about what I was doing while I was watching the movie, and I remembered lying down on the couch to watch the movie from a more comfortable position, and it all came back to me, one piece at a time.

As long as I can find a way to remember at least part of something, the rest of it is often “tucked away” in the back of my mind somewhere. I just need that access point. And the access point is often not what I was doing prior to the activity I’m trying to remember, but something during the activity.

Normally, things like this don’t bother me, but this time did. I’ve been incredibly distractable, lately — walking into a room to do one thing, then getting distracted and doing something else, and then walking out of the room without doing what I went there to do. It happens to me constantly, and I fault the job I’ve had for the last three years, for making things worse.

My job has been a non-stop parade of distractions, driven by inexperienced individuals who have not been properly trained in time management and office etiquette. They think it’s perfectly okay to interrupt anyone for any reason, and they’d been doing it with me tens of times a day, each and every day that I’m at work. It’s bad. It’s really bad. And the fact that most of my coworkers are in their early to mid-20s and have probably grown up that way, doesn’t help.

The problem is not that I’m old (as old as many of their parents). The problem is that they have no ability to control their attention and their time and their energy, and they have no impulse control. It doesn’t bode well for their futures, but that’s not my problem. My own future is my concern.

In another week, I can start actively looking for a new job. I’m in a very good position — in a job where I am needed and valued, and I have no pressing requirement to leave, other than my own personal career plans. I can take my time and pick and choose from the offerings out there, because I have a ton of experience, and the economy is picking up, and my skillset will transfer across industries. So, that’s a good thing. And as soon as I am done with these deadlines and can move along, I shall.

I really need to pace myself. I have been running myself ragged (literally) for months, now, and it’s taking a heavy toll. I have known that it was catching up with me for some time, but I couldn’t stop, because there were time limitations I had to work within, and I wanted to get everything sorted out quickly.

So, I pushed myself. Hard. Too hard, perhaps. And the result has been:

  • sleeping problems — not able to get to sleep on time, or waking up too early
  • mood issues — blowing up over things and threatening my spouse
  • memory issues — not being able to remember things
  • cognitive issues — miscalculating and misjudging all sorts of things (that I should be able to calculate and judge, like the price of something I’m selling)
  • fatigue — being wiped out all the time and depending on adrenaline to keep me going
  • pain and sensitivities to light and sound and touch

Basically, I feel like I’m walking around in a fog, half the time, but I keep going. I hate feeling like this. It sucks. And I haven’t felt this foggy and out of for some time. The last time I felt this way, I hadn’t yet started seeing a neuropsychologist, and I was just muddling through everything and faking my way through.

Now I’m back to faking and muddling… not making much effort to remember exactly what’s going on around me, because it is so much effort… just turning to other people around me to clue me in about what comes next… not worrying so much about getting everything right, just getting it done. Actually, not worrying so much about that is not a bad thing — I should have stopped with the OCD stuff years ago, because so much of what I obsess over doesn’t really matter in the long term. But my filter for what I should and should not care about is pretty much shot.

I’m too tired and too out of it to pay much attention.

So, all my activity sneaked up on me and is pulling the rug out from under me on a regular basis. I like to think that once I get away from the current job situation and workplace configuration, I’ll be able to restore my ability to focus on what I’m doing. Seriously, the environment of constant interruption has taken a huge chunk out of my ability (and will) to focus. There’s just no point, anymore. There’s no point in even trying. It’s like trying to assemble a model airplane in the midst of a basket of puppies. You get the point. There is none.

So, I actually am starting to feel better, and in feeling better, I’m letting down my guard and looking at the bigger picture and seeing where things are not so great, and where they are really good. Because I’m not so focused on just surviving every day, I am able to honestly see how harmful the situation has been for me — and to get clear about what I want instead. Ultimately, I need a skillset that will not just lock me into one industry and one way of making a living, but is going to give me more opportunities with more (read, “higher”) ranges of salary. I’m headed down that road now, and I realize that I’ve been headed down that road for some time. I’m not just starting out from scratch with this; I’m farther along than I tend to think I am.

And now that I’m taking stock of where I’m at, I’m realizing just how tired I am. I’m exhausted. Wiped out. I’ve been pushing and pushing — and I’ll need to keep pushing for the next couple of weeks. Then I’m done. Out of there. On vacation. And then on to the next thing, the next job, the next opportunity. With hopefully more chances to focus single-mindedly on what is in front of me, rather than constantly fielding interruptions from others.

I just really need to stay smart about things. Not jump at the first chance that presents itself. Not fly into another situation because, well, it’s there and it will get me out of my current jam. I need to keep a level head about things, and sleep is a huge part of that equation. Sleep whenever I can, even when I’m at work. I can go out to my car and nap. I can also take a quick nap when I’m home from work. My spouse doesn’t understand about sleep hygiene and they say “It’s okay” for me to sleep for two hours when I get home… and then stay up till 1 a.m. They are wrong. That’s not OK at all. It’s a killer for me. But they don’t get that. At all.

So, I need to be smart for myself, and understand my spouse’s limitations when it comes to assessing what’s right and what’s wrong. Frankly, they seem to be sliding downwards and becoming increasingly cognitively impaired in certain ways. I can’t put my finger on it precisely, but they are definitely slipping with regard to their judgment, their memory, their processing… in subtle ways that are obvious to me after 23 years of living with them, but won’t get picked up by anyone else.

So, I have to be smart for both of us. It’s a little like being a single parent with a sick child. That’s how it’s been for years, on and off. Only now it’s almost constant.

Add “sole caregiver” to my resume.

All this means I just need to step back and be smarter about how I do things. I started out one of my big projects with a lot of assumptions and plans I thought would pan out, but they are turning out very differently. Rather than get stuck on the disappointments and frustrations, I need to treat this all as a learning experience. Treat it like school. Business school. In the real world. With real opportunities and real consequences, not just some case study or thesis.

This is life. This is for real. And I’ve got to keep my wits about me.

And get some sleep.

I had a nap yesterday, after getting a lot of things done. Today I’m going to do the same. I’m off to run some errands that will get me out of the house and get me around people — and interact. I have a lot of questions I need to ask someone, and there’s a lot of money (for me) that I’m going to have to pay in the process, so I need to keep a level head and be smart. Not go too fast, not go too slow, and keep at them till I get the exact answers I need and know I am making choices for the right reasons.

It’s all learning. It’s all growing. It’s all the stuff of life.

Onward.

Beginner’s mind all over again

I spent a little time yesterday at the library, looking through books that summarized things I knew by heart, left-right-front-back-and-upside-down in 2002, which I have really struggled with, since my TBI in 2004. It’s like I have to start from scratch.

Learning all this stuff — much of it all over again — is turning out to be a total trip. It’s like, I can remember a lot of it… faintly… and I know I used to do this on a daily basis, and it used to be second nature to me… but now it feels like I’m in fresh new territory all over again.

I can’t let myself get down about this. I truly can’t. That will stop me from where I’m going. The rest of the world – as far as they’re concerned – thinks I’ve been doing this stuff regularly, and that I’m up to speed. That’s what the recruiters think, that’s what the folks who are hiring think. They don’t see the big black nebula that sucked in my life and skills in 2005… that just got worse, over time.

The weird thing is, I didn’t have real problems thinking and focusing and producing work until around 2007… 2-3 years after my fall in 2004. From 2004 through 2006, I was faking my way through and doing a pretty good job of some rudimentary stuff, and I was passing for competent, because I was doing pretty basic, elementary stuff.

But after 2007, everything just sort of fell apart, and I think a lot of it had to do with me not keeping current on the emerging technologies, because of fatigue and confusion and fog and all the hell that was breaking loose around me. More than the injury, the chaos that surrounded me afterwards, really did a number on me.

That’s all water under the bridge, though. My main concern right now, is getting myself back on track and getting myself to a place where I can feel comfortable and confident in my skills. I’m not sure how long this is going to take. It could take a number of months. But I am focused on what I want to do, and even if I am delayed, I am not going to be stopped.

I have my work cut out for me, but I know where I’m going, and I know what skills I need to build up, so I’m doing just that. I’m keeping concentrated on the specific areas where my long-term interests lie… and that’s a good thing.

So, it’s beginner’s mind all over again. In a way, it’s okay, because a lot has changed, since I last did this kind of work on a daily basis. How can I be expected to be up to speed on it all? I haven’t been in the loop, quite frankly, and I haven’t invested the time in practice, which is what you need to do with this stuff — practice, practice, practice.

I see myself shirking, here and there, avoiding things that intimidate me. But now I see what I am doing, and this weekend I intend to just dive in and do it. Just do it. Take a chance. Re-learn much of what I have lost over the past several years. And revive some of my old projects that were pretty advanced, if I say so myself, until I got scattered and wandered off to do other things that added nothing to my life.

So, onward. Time to rekindle that old sense of discovery and fan the flames… not worry so much about struggling with things the way I do… just keep going and keep practicing. Because one of these days, I won’t struggle with it. And that will be a good day.

Less intelligent after TBI? Not even close.

You’re more intelligent than you ever imagined

I’ve been thinking a lot about what TBI does to our intelligence – if it affects us at all, if if makes us stupid. “Does concussion make you dumb?” is a frequent google search that brings people to this location.

There’s a general perception that TBI/concussion makes you stupid. When I started to tell people about my TBI issues, they often protested, “But you’re so SMART! You can’t have a brain injury!” I didn’t tell them about ALL of the TBIs/concussions I’ve sustained, once they made the announcement that they had no understanding of what is involved with traumatic brain injury, and they had no interest in learning more.

The way I see it, folks who are recovering from brain injury actually have to be smarter than most. It takes flexibility and a real ability to learn, which most people neither have nor are interested in developing, once they get to be “adult age”. When you are dealing with TBI, it’s a constant process of self-discovery and self-examination that can – and will – take you places and teach you things that you might not prefer. When you’re learning your way back to a “new normal” you have to be resourceful, patient, inquisitive, curious, and very, very persistent.

Name any regular people — any “normal” people who are ready and willing to do that?

I can’t think of many.

In fact, if anything, being “regular” or “normal” often seems to involve ceasing to use your intelligence, ceasing to be flexible and “plastic”, stopping learning, stopping growing, stopping any sort of personal development that doesn’t A) make you money or B) get you laid. “Normal” seems to me like a path down the other side of the hill… a gradual surrender to the “inevitable” decline – which isn’t inevitable at all, if you don’t think (and act like) it is.

The thing that makes TBI so difficult for some, is that it completely blows you conception of “normal” out the window, and it forces you — FORCES YOU — to become more resourceful, more open to learning, more flexible… more human… or else. If you stay stuck in the false belief that you are what you are, and that’s that… well, your goose is pretty much cooked. If you fall back on the old assumptions that how things are is just how they are, and how you are after a certain age is how you should always be… good luck with your recovery, if you have one at all.

TBI sorta kinda forces you to grow up and grow a pair. It forces you to look at your humanity in the face — right straight in its fearsome gaze — and accept that there’s a whole lot you don’t know and are mistaken about and can lose track of, and that you’ve got to work a little harder at living your life, if you’re going to do anything other than turn into a lump on the couch watching bad t.v., feeling sorry for yourself.

Facing that, and dealing with that, and taking steps to address all that… well, that takes intelligence. And if you didn’t have it before, you’d better well learn it — because intelligence, like so many other physical and mental activities, can be learned and enhanced, it is NOT set in stone.

So, if you’ve had a concussion lately, or if you’re dealing with TBI after-effects, and you’re wondering if it’s made you dumber, all I can say is, “Stupid is as stupid does. It’s time to get to work learning how to be smarter than ever.”

Nobody’s going to hand it to you a silver platter. They never were, to begin with, but you had it in your head that they were. Life isn’t going to stop to accommodate you. It doesn’t do that for anybody – rich, poor, healthy, or sick. The world won’t slow its spinning to wait for you to catch up. You’ve gotta pick up the pace, yourself. All those assumptions you were living under before — they were as wrong then, as they are now. You just can’t keep fooling yourself in your present state of mind.

So, let’s get on with life and forget all the old crap that no longer applies. You aren’t going to know exactly which crap doesn’t apply, from moment to moment.

But I can guarantee you’re going to find out.

I’m not necessarily slower – I just have more to think about

Choices, choices…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about concussion/tbi making you “dumber” – slower, etc. When I had my neuropsychological exam, it became painfully clear that my processing speed was slower than expected. And it really bummed me out for quite some time. Plus, once I was aware that this was happening, it seemed like I couldn’t do anything without being painfully aware that it was taking me a little longer to process things than I (and others) expected it to. For some reason, everybody just expected that I’d be able to respond immediately to their questions or comments or conversation starters. But it just wasn’t happening.

After thinking about this from a bunch of different angles, I had a bit of a revelation this morning. It was something I’ve thought about before (and maybe I’ve written about it before – I can’t remember), but this morning it really made a whole lot of sense:

It’s not that I’m necessarily slower or dumber than I “should” be — or than I used to be. The thing is, after my TBI(s), I became so much more sensitive to a lot of different stimuli, and my brain has to work harder to sort through a larger amount of input, than before. It’s like the injury/-ies put holes in the filters that are usually there, allowing in a whole lot more input and information — sensory, like light and sound and (sometimes) smells and touch/feeling — and all that has to be factored in. It’s like my brain has to work harder to shut those things out, and since concussion/TBI has a way of activating your sympathetic nervous system fight-flight activity, you’re even more alert to all the stimuli around you…. constantly scanning and checking things out and sensing for danger, where it may or may not exist.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this.Maybe someone else can confirm/affirm this for me?

Think about it – say you give someone a deck of cards to shuffle and sort. Then you give someone else two decks to shuffle and sort, while they’re having a conversation with someone and an important piece of news is playing on the t.v. behind them. If the two people race to get done with their shuffling and sorting, the person with the two decks of cards are is going to take longer — because they have more to sort through, in the first place. And they have these other distractions going on around them.

That’s what it’s like after concussion/TBI – so of course I’m going to seem “slower” than others — when in fact, my brain is actually working harder, and perhaps even more efficiently than others, because it has so damned much stuff to sort through.

I think this can also explain why folks after TBI have the same IQ level as before, only now their processing speed is slower. I’d like to challenge the idea that processing speed is actually slower, in fact. Because regular measures probably don’t factor in the distractions and added sensitivities that have to be filtered and processed. Heck, if you look at the sum total of all the activity, it could be that post-TBI, your processing speed actually increases — but your brain is so busy trying to sort things out and re-categorize them and figure out what it all means (all over again) and re-learn the old past familiar things… not to mention battle against the rising dismay that things “don’t work like they should” and the wondering “what the hell is wrong with me?!” … that the end result and net effect looks like you’re stupid and slow and not keeping up.

That’s my theory, anyway. Although it’s almost purely anecdotal, it’s consistent with my experience, so I’ll have to go with that.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that we go through these things that actually make us stronger and more active, but people who don’t understand and don’t share our experience (including researchers and doctors and therapists and other certified experts), will label us as “weaker” and “less active” and “stupid”… all because they just don’t get it, and they can’t see why they should change their opinions.

I’m not sure what it will take to change this, but for the time being I feel pretty good in my own changing understanding, and it’s giving me some relief from that nagging sense of being stupid and slow and (excuse the expression) retarded.

Anyway, it’s a beautiful day, it’s Memorial Day — so, here’s a big THANK YOU to all who have served, and are serving, and to all who have paid the ultimate price out of love and service and duty. I probably wouldn’t be sitting on my back porch watching the dragonflies making their rounds this morning, if you didn’t do what you do. So, again, thank you.

But enough of the talk. It’s time to get into my day and enjoy myself with friends and family. Here’s hoping you can too.