Heart is just as important as brainpower

Perhaps even moreso.

In this day and age of neuroscience, and boiling the sum total of human behavior and experience down to neurological processes…

In these times of experts deciding that certain types of injuries render you “unfit” for regular life…

In this era of  the “information economy” when brainpower is touted as The Singlemost Important Thing in the world…

It’s easy to lose sight of the heart.

And the soul.

If we only had our brains to get us through the day, how far would we get? How far would I get? Not very far.

But if we have heart, we can do a whole lot.

We can do a whole lot of good.

Tired of being tired

I don’t like being as tired as I’ve been for the past week. I started losing sleep last weekend in anticipation of my testing results. And then when I had my neuro visit, that threw me off, too. So either way, I can’t seem to catch a break. Even though I got good news, I had been keyed up to possibly getting bad news — I like to be prepared. But when things came back inconclusive, well, my system was still on high alert, I wasn’t sure what to do with all that energy. I think it might have been easier, had I gotten something definitive, even if it were less than positive news. At least then I’d have something to focus on, to aim towards, to measure myself against. Even if it’s problematic, it’s at least something.

But this “we couldn’t get anything definitive” trip has been quite demanding. I’ve got all this energy, all this readiness, all this alertness… and nowhere to go with it. My body has been in a state of high alertness, on and off, for many years, and now it’s starting to really take a toll. I should probably exercise to work it off, and I have been trying to get myself to do just that for months — no, years. But one of the things that my TBI in 2004 did was making me really nervous about being around other people, so going to the gym has not been an option for me. That’s bad. I’m not in as good condition as I should be, and I have a hard time getting motivated to GET in better condition.

It’s a problem. It really is. But at this point, I’m more concerned about my sleeping — ‘cuz if I can’t sleep, then everything goes haywire, and I end up in this downward spiral all over again.

You wouldn’t think that sleep would be such a big deal, especially considering how exhausted I usually am. But I’ve had to really work at figuring out how to sleep, as well as get naps in. It’s wild, how napping feels like my new “hobby”. I do it whenever I can… and I’m actually enjoying it. I’ve been “off” my sleeping patterns since my fall down the stairs in 2004, getting anywhere from 3-6 hours on a regular basis, and rarely getting more than 7 at a stretch. It was such a departure for me — for most of my life I craved 8-9 hours each night, without exception. It was what I used to aim for, even when I was a kid. But I didn’t even fully realize just how bad it was, until the past year or so.

The other crazy thing about my sleeping change, was that for some reason I thought it was an okay thing to do without sleep. I guess I would just get so jazzed up and so charged and so whacked out with agitation and nerves, I would think I needed to work off my nervous energy and “get things done”. Well, news flash — I wasn’t really getting much of anything done. Just spinning my wheels. How crazy is that — I would just start all these writing projects, work like mad on them, write and edit, write and edit, write and edit, but then I would get distracted and go do something else, and completely forget about what I had been so determined to do.

Madness. I was just running like a blind fool, spinning my wheels, just being busy for the sake of being busy. Geez! I wasted so much time imagining myself pursuing success, but I was just churning. And exhausting myself in the process.

I have to say, post-traumatic stress may be a significant factor in all this. I’ve been reading so much about traumatic stress, thinking about it, talking about it with psychotherapist friends, pondering it, looking at it, I’m pretty sick and tired of it always being on my mind. But PTSD must be playing a role in my sleep conundrum. After having gone through so much over the past year, tracking down my tbi and other neurological issues, going through all the testing, changing jobs, dealing with family stuff, having various neurological complications, and trying to put two and two together and make sense of it all… not to mention the hard, hard winter we’ve had… I’ve probably got my fair share of PTSD to deal with. I’ve just been so tapped, week after week, month after month, and it’s taken a big toll on me and my already sensitive system. No, I haven’t been at war, and the past year hasn’t been as hellish as it could have been, but stress is stress, and I have been “on and off” about how well I’ve dealt with it all.

Oh, God, I am so tired. It’s crazy. I can’t even figure out how far behind I am on my daily quota. All I can do, is try to catch up when I can. I had a 2-hour nap Saturday afternoon, and I slept for 3 hours on Sunday. I was still really groggy after both naps, and I didn’t feel like I had caught up as much as I needed, but at least I did manage to lie down for a while, and it feels so good to relax.

This is relatively new for me, in the past years. I have gotten worse and worse at relaxing, especially after each TBI I went through. With each accident, I became a little more wound-up, a little less inclined to sleep. I think it’s become a lot more noticeable in the past years, as the cumulative effects of my injuries is catching up with me, and I’m getting older, too.

When I was a kid, I remember having a lot of trouble relaxing and falling asleep. It was very on-again, off-again. I tended to get tired and go to bed earlier than other kids, but I often had to sleep in a specific position, holding something close to me, like my blankets or a pillow (not so much stuffed animals). I also couldn’t sleep if there wasn’t a blanket over me. I was kind of high maintenance when it came to falling asleep, but at the same time I really craved a good long nap, a good rest, something that would recharge my waning batteries.

I still have trouble falling asleep, if I’m not in a certain position or if I don’t have blankets on me. And I’m still exhausted… by myself and my crazy brain. Some people call me a Type A personality. I am driven. I do push myself. I do tend to get aggressive. And I generally go full-force after whatever I want, not letting anyone come between me and my intended goal. But it’s not all psychological/ego drive that moves me. There’s more to it than that — and sleep plays an important role. In fact, the more closely I examine my life and pay attention to what’s going on with me, the more clues arise about what makes me do the things I do — including not relaxing. And in some ways, it has as much to do with physiology as psychology. In some ways, I’d say it has even more to do with the state of my body than the state of my mind. (I’ll write more on this in a bit — it’s actually a pretty important realization/development for me, and it might help others to understand and accept themselves better, too.)

But I’m operating more and more from a deficit, and it’s just not good. Nowadays, I’m trying to learn how to relax. I used to know how, but I seem to have forgotten in the past years. It helps me to listen to some guided imagery for “training” on how to do this. I’ve lost a lot of my former ability at it, so I have to have someone else walk me through the steps of relaxing… progressive body relaxation, deep breathing, letting myself “go” to an imaginary place where I’m safe (which, for me, is a made-up, imagined place I’ve never physically been to — very few of the places I’ve been in real life are places I can relax in)… At first, I felt kind of inept. I mean, who doesn’t know how to relax? What a strange concept. But when I think about it and am totally honest about it, no, I actually don’t know how to relax. Not anymore. And I need help.

I also need help falling asleep. I have noticed, over the past year or so, that when I have the worst insomnia or am waking up way before my alotted 8 hours, I am often very tense, like I’m spring-loaded. Instantly ready for action. Always on alert, because something might come up that I need to react to. My broken-brain reaction time tends to be slow to begin with, so I compensate by always being on-guard, on-point, on-alert. It’s fine when I’m going through my days, but when I lie down to sleep at night, it makes it mighty difficult to relax, let alone fall asleep. But once I let go of the tension in me… once I relax, I can start moving towards sleep.

One thing that’s really helped me, is starting to go to bed before I “have” to. If I wait until 11:00 to go to bed, and I have to get up by 7:00, I feel like I’m under tremendous pressure to perform — to get to sleep promptly and stay asleep for eight hours. I actually put pressure on myself to relax and sleep. But if I head to bed around 9:30 or so, putter and futz around and take my time getting to bed… and if I can get in bed by 10:30 or so, I have a lot less pressure on me, because I am pretty sure I’ll be able to get my hours in.

I’ve been using some guided imagery to get me “down” too. Fortunately, I get so relaxed by the initial cut on the CD, that I usually get to sleep before the “restful sleep” part starts. So, while I’m sure that it helps me, I’m not entirely sure how. Supposedly, it helps even when I’m asleep and am not actively listening. I’ll just trust that, I guess.

Thoughts on the importance of a gender-free TBI blog

I’ve had different people who read this blog take guesses at whether I’m male or female. Some folks deduce that I’m male, perhaps because of the types of injuries I talk about — sports concussions sustained during soccer and football — or perhaps because… I’m not sure why else they think that. Others assume that I’m female because of the words and punctuation I choose to use.

To be honest, I had agonized over whether to blog “less anonymously” from the viewpoint of a specific gender. It seems to me that some men can better hear about certain kinds of information from other men, while some women are more comfortable hearing about experiences from a woman’s point of view. (Sorry if I’m being sexist with my generalization…) And certainly, each end of the gender spectrum has its specific challenges with respect to getting along in the world, so identifying my gender when I blog might help one side, while it might put the other off a bit — or at least shade their perception of me.

But the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that gender can really get in the way when talking about TBI — and considering that there does seem to be such a discrepancy between the numbers of men/boys who sustain head injuries and the numbers of women/girls, I didn’t want to serve one side, and possibly detract from the other. Both sides have needs as TBI survivors which are largely misunderstood and unmet in today’s American society.

Traumatic brain injury is an equal-opportunity destroyer… and at times the way it changes the brain can kind of cancel out the societal/cultural training we have as men and women, when it comes to social interaction and personal habits. Slowed processing speed is slowed processing speed, whether it happens to a girl or a boy. Increased distractability is still a problem, whether you’re male or female. And a damaged short-term memory will impact you no matter what your biology is.

Certainly, each gender with its relative socio-cultural imprinting will respond to TBI differently. Men are trained to behave in ways that can really help you function in spite of mild TBI — the habit of just keeping going, no matter what, which is pounded into men’s minds from an early age, certainly makes it possible to keep soldiering on through after a head injury. And women are taught to interact with others in ways which can offset the impact of brain injury — being taught that it’s okay to be vulnerable, to reach out for help, and “tend and befriend” can really go a long way towards lightening the burden of a cognitive deficit.

But it’s my experience — and my observation — that for all our external/public/social/cultural training about how to go through life, TBI (even mild TBI) can wreak untold havoc in your internal world, where all the cultural conditioning in the world can’t reach. When your brain is broken and things are not firing as they should, even the most ingrained culturally conditioned processes can break down. What’s even worse is when on the surface you appear to be dealing just fine, ’cause you’re following rote social protocol with other people, but inside you’re a tangled mess of emotion and confusion and nothing makes any friggin’ sense.

In fact, what (I’ve found) makes surviving a TBI the hardest is being completely and totally unable to deal (on the inside) with the things life throws at me on the outside. Here, I’m falling to pieces, trying to just keep up, while everyone around me is crowing about how cool I look, ’cause I’m behaving like a typical person would. It drives me nuts. I’m following the rules of engagement to keep socially viable, and it’s working, yet inside I feel like I’m losing my mind… no, wait… like I’ve already lost it. But nobody notices, ’cause I’m behaving like they would expect someone of my gender to behave… or at least a fully functioning adult with a few slight gender variations.

So, in the spirit of respecting and honoring the mystery of the brain … and recognizing that what goes on inside our injured heads is often quite different from what we present outside our bodies … I’m going to keep this blog gender-free and talk about my experiences not as a man, not as a woman, but as a person. Someone who may seem quite “together” on the outside, but has a heck of a time keeping things in line on the inside. Someone who has a lot in common with millions of other TBI survivors — be they men or women — because my gourd got rattled pretty badly a bunch of times and shifted the direction of my life irrevocably. And someone who has something to offer — tales of survived experience, regardless of the body I was born in.

Thoughts on the importance of a gender-free TBI blog

I’ve had different people who read this blog take guesses at whether I’m male or female. Some folks deduce that I’m male, perhaps because of the types of injuries I talk about — sports concussions sustained during soccer and football — or perhaps because… I’m not sure why else they think that. Others assume that I’m female because of the words and punctuation I choose to use.

To be honest, I had agonized over whether to blog “less anonymously” from the viewpoint of a specific gender. It seems to me that some men can better hear about certain kinds of information from other men, while some women are more comfortable hearing about experiences from a woman’s point of view. (Sorry if I’m being sexist with my generalization…) And certainly, each end of the gender spectrum has its specific challenges with respect to getting along in the world, so identifying my gender when I blog might help one side, while it might put the other off a bit — or at least shade their perception of me.

But the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that gender can really get in the way when talking about TBI — and considering that there does seem to be such a discrepancy between the numbers of men/boys who sustain head injuries and the numbers of women/girls, I didn’t want to serve one side, and possibly detract from the other. Both sides have needs as TBI survivors which are largely misunderstood and unmet in today’s American society.

Traumatic brain injury is an equal-opportunity destroyer… and at times the way it changes the brain can kind of cancel out the societal/cultural training we have as men and women, when it comes to social interaction and personal habits. Slowed processing speed is slowed processing speed, whether it happens to a girl or a boy. Increased distractability is still a problem, whether you’re male or female. And a damaged short-term memory will impact you no matter what your biology is.

Certainly, each gender with its relative socio-cultural imprinting will respond to TBI differently. Men are trained to behave in ways that can really help you function in spite of mild TBI — the habit of just keeping going, no matter what, which is pounded into men’s minds from an early age, certainly makes it possible to keep soldiering on through after a head injury. And women are taught to interact with others in ways which can offset the impact of brain injury — being taught that it’s okay to be vulnerable, to reach out for help, and “tend and befriend” can really go a long way towards lightening the burden of a cognitive deficit.

But it’s my experience — and my observation — that for all our external/public/social/cultural training about how to go through life, TBI (even mild TBI) can wreak untold havoc in your internal world, where all the cultural conditioning in the world can’t reach. When your brain is broken and things are not firing as they should, even the most ingrained culturally conditioned processes can break down. What’s even worse is when on the surface you appear to be dealing just fine, ’cause you’re following rote social protocol with other people, but inside you’re a tangled mess of emotion and confusion and nothing makes any friggin’ sense.

In fact, what (I’ve found) makes surviving a TBI the hardest is being completely and totally unable to deal (on the inside) with the things life throws at me on the outside. Here, I’m falling to pieces, trying to just keep up, while everyone around me is crowing about how cool I look, ’cause I’m behaving like a typical person would. It drives me nuts. I’m following the rules of engagement to keep socially viable, and it’s working, yet inside I feel like I’m losing my mind… no, wait… like I’ve already lost it. But nobody notices, ’cause I’m behaving like they would expect someone of my gender to behave… or at least a fully functioning adult with a few slight gender variations.

So, in the spirit of respecting and honoring the mystery of the brain … and recognizing that what goes on inside our injured heads is often quite different from what we present outside our bodies … I’m going to keep this blog gender-free and talk about my experiences not as a man, not as a woman, but as a person. Someone who may seem quite “together” on the outside, but has a heck of a time keeping things in line on the inside. Someone who has a lot in common with millions of other TBI survivors — be they men or women — because my gourd got rattled pretty badly a bunch of times and shifted the direction of my life irrevocably. And someone who has something to offer — tales of survived experience, regardless of the body I was born in.

ptsd & mild tbi

I haven’t posted for a few days, and I’m feeling remiss. Very, very tired… but also remiss.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the connections between ptsd and mild tbi, and sure enough, someone found this blog using this combo of words.

I’m probably too tired to come up with anything useful at this point, but I do want to say this: having a mild tbi can be extremely traumatic. And in my experience, it induces post-traumatic stress by heightening your perceptions of danger… and at times causing the body to over-respond to perceived threats… thereby flooding your system with fight-or-fight red-bull-type biochemicals which do a number on your nervous system.

And if your nervous system — which has two parts, the sympathetic, which gets you going, and the parasympathetic, which gets you chilled out — keeps pumped up all the the time, the part of it that’s supposed to chill you out, so you can recover from your shock/stress/trauma, just never gets a chance to do its job.

So, you end up with this ever-increasing burden of stress and this ever-decreasing ability to deal with it.

And all the while your brain is mis-firing and sending you signals that may or may not be accurate, but sure as hell feel like they’re for real.

I know I’m tired, and I know that is a total over-simplification of a complex and (when I have more energy) highly fascinating neuro-physiological phenomenon, but I have to post at least something today. And somebody was looking for ptsd and mild tbi info, so there ya go…