Mind the Bump – Mindfulness and how the brain works

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Of MLK Day and Migraines

ON THE MOVE: Dr. Martin Luther King, lower right, holds hands with his wife, Coretta, during an Alabama march. -- PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press
ON THE MOVE: Dr. Martin Luther King, lower right, holds hands with his wife, Coretta, during an Alabama march. — PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, everyone. If anyone deserves a holiday commemorating their work, it’s him.

What I love about this picture is that it shows that he was not alone in his work and his belief and his actions. He’s surrounded by a whole lot of people, some of whom look nothing like him.

That speaks to the power of A) someone who has a very, very clear vision of how things could be — and is willing to put themself on the line for it, and B) a cohesive group of committed people who support that cause and are willing to put themselves on the line, as well.

I grew up in the late 60s and early 70s, when students were bused in the small city we lived in, and the Black Power movement was on the rise. Those were the days after Dr. King’s life had ended, and I watched the Civil Rights Movement devolve into fractious fighting and chaos. I was attacked by other students a number of times because I didn’t look like them, and one of my most significant TBIs came at the hands of some of those kids. It was a violent time, a messy time, and there was a lot of harm done.

Of course, the pendulum tends to swing in different directions, so maybe that was to be expected. I’m not sure what would have happened, had Dr. King not been killed. There’s no guarantee things would not have descended into chaos, in any case. All I know is, those years of my childhood were extraordinarily tough, due to race relations, and I’m still dealing with the fallout.

Today is a holiday for many folks, including the schools. I actually don’t have the day off work. It’s an elective holiday for us, which means that office is going to be very quiet, as everybody with kids takes the day off to be with them. That also means there’s no point in me going into the office, and I can work from home.

That’s good.

I’m not in the mood to deal with people today. I’ve had a sick headache for days, now. It’s getting better, but it’s still around. Yesterday was better, probably because I got plenty of sleep over the weekend, I took it easy, and I cut out all that chocolate that I’ve been eating since the holidays. I’ve had at least 2 pieces of chocolate in the afternoons, for months. Sometimes I’ll have a bunch of it over the course of the day — to keep myself going. The amount has steadily increased, and I think it’s contributed to my migraines.

Chocolate has caffeine in it. Sugar, too. I’ve been using it as a substitute for coffee for those afternoon lulls. But that makes no sense — it’s still caffeine, which has been linked to migraines. I’ve also been drinking black tea (with honey) and yerba mate, both with caffeine. Come to think of it, when I started drinking more black tea (Red Rose is my favorite), the headaches started to come back.

So, I cut it all out for the past two days, and I’m feeling much better. I bit withrawal-ish, but better.

I had planned to get off caffeine completely, back in May, but that didn’t work. I have to have at least a little bit in the morning — I cut back on my amount drastically. The month of May came and went, and over the months, my headaches really subsided. But now, eight months later, I’ve slipped back into my old ways, and the headaches are back. So, I’m taking corrective action. And I’m just doing the smart thing — the thing that connects the dots.

I think there’s more to my headaches than just coffee. There’s usually more than one thing, with me. I ask myself: What all have I done differently over the past few months, that might have given rise to increased migraines?

  1. I was really off my regular diet over the holidays — eating a lot more sugar and carbs than usual, and not watching my portion control. I ate a LOT of candy, although I justified it by only eating chocolate, rather than a lot of other junk food. I told myself that dark chocolate is good for me, and it’s been linked with longevity. Who doesn’t want to live longer… all thanks to dark chocolate?
  2. I also stopped exercising regularly. I had a project in November that consumed my attention and kept me off the exercise bike, first thing in the morning. It also kept me off the trails on the weekends, and it consumed every spare moment of my time. Consequently, I lost muscle tone and strength and gained weight, and my energy level dropped. Not good.
  3. I was also pretty stressed at times over the holiday break. I got pretty bent out of shape about all the changes happening – work changes, doctor changes, etc. It got to me more than I care to admit, and it was definitely a factor in increased irritability. I wasn’t sleeping great, the stress was throwing me off, and I just didn’t feel like I could handle anything.
  4. Also… I worked from home for the week and a half around Christmas and New Years, and my spouse and I got irritable from being underfoot with each other. We had a couple of blow-ups, which shot up my blood pressure. I’ve been really struggling with my anger — and my heart rate — ever since. My headaches come on when my heart rate goes up, so it’s actually a helpful reminder to keep it down. And since I know how to lower my heart rate, I need to go back to just doing that. And so I have been. It takes time and practice — and I’ve been a bit out of practice.

think this is all inter-related, so I need to do something about it. And I’ve been doing just that. Laying off the chocolate. Doing my breathing exercises. Being extra-mindful about what’s going on around me and how I’m reacting to it. And taking action to reduce the stress. And making more of an effort to peacefully co-exist with my spouse. They’re making more of an effort, too. They actually asked me to work from home today, which is a huge change.

The most important thing for me is support. It make everything easier. I hadn’t mentioned my migraines to my spouse, during the holidays — I just did my usual shut-out thing, where I ignore the pain and hope it’ll go away. It didn’t, though. It just got worse. And of course, my spouse couldn’t figure out why I was in such rough shape, all of a sudden.

When I told them about my headaches, last week, suddenly there was support — compassion — and extra help with doing things like getting to bed at a decent hour and not overeating. They don’t do great with the whole TBI issues thing — it freaks them out, even to this day, and we can never discuss them without them going into some form of panic/anxiety. So, that’s no good. But they can deal with the idea that I have migraines. It doesn’t make them question their own safety and sanity.

If they think my brain is not working properly, they get frightened and combative, because it threatens their existence. But if they think I “just” have a sick headache, that poses no threat to them, and they can think clearly about how to help me. Migraines are less intimidating. Headaches are something they can relate to, without it turning into a life-and-death struggle… or pointing to a future filled with dementia and diapers.

So, “playing the migraine card” is a useful way to get the help I need, under these conditions. It helps, that it’s true.

And that’s good. Because all alone, dealing with all of this is a tough go.

Bottom line: when you have support from other like-minded individuals who share your vision and your dreams, you can actually achieve a thing or two.

Onward.

No harm, no foul

You don't have to be a pushover to do no deliberate harm
You don’t have to be a pushover to do no deliberate harm

Okay, I’ve disconnected this blog from my Twitter account, so that makes things simpler. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… they all have their different rules for how to format your writing so that you can get visibility, and I just don’t have the time (or interest) for doing anything special, other than writing.

I have no desire to accommodate other “platforms”. I have no desire to use/create hashtags, so I can be in on the larger conversation. The larger conversation tends to not be a conversation at all — rather, a shouting match. Especially with all the events of the past week.

Count me out of that particular exchange.

What we need now, more than anything, is a lot less yelling, a lot less attacking, a lot less blowing people up over differences of opinion. Whether it’s literal or metaphorical, trying to destroy other people never, ever has the intended results. If anything, it just makes things worse and perpetuates the exact problems we’re grappling with, to begin with.

It’s just common sense that a living, breathing human being who is attacked, is going to strike back. So, why would we think that attacking our enemies — even with a superior show of strength — is going to settle the matter?  Those attacks can be with bombs or words or social policy, but in whatever form, they strike at the humanity of others and threaten their existence.

What do people do when you threaten them? What do they do when you humiliate them? What do they do when you blow them and their families up? They fight back. Of course they do. We do it, too. No self-respecting individual or culture is going to just roll over because someone overpowers them at one point in time. Things change. Power shifts. Someone takes control of an arsenal of weapons that used to belong to someone else, and the balance of power shifts against whoever was the aggressor, the last time.

Fantasizing that it’s anything different from that, is not helping, in the current “wartime” situation.

All our our intentions to “settle the matter once and for all” do nothing of the kind. What do we think? That others are just going to sit back and say, “Oh, you’re right – you’re much stronger than we are, so we’re not going to do anything to you anymore!  You’re the MAN!!” ….? Have we lost our minds? No self-respecting individual is going to do or say that — and mean it. They may pretend to surrender, they may retreat for a while, but they’ll be back later to try to hurt us again. And there will be someone out there who’s willing to sell them all the right weapons to do exactly that. That’s just human nature, and anybody who thinks that shock-and-awe force will “settle” any issue for all time, has not been paying attention to, oh… just a few millennia of human experience and history. Even looking at the past 20 years will show you that.

Of course, if you’re in the arms business, life is pretty sweet, right now. So, it’s not all bad — for some people, anyway. I’m sure there are plenty of mutual funds out there that are invested in arms manufacturing, which means all the retired school teachers and civil servants and countless folks drawing on their 401(k)s can avoid eating dog food and living in a cardboard box under an overpass for at least a few more years. It’s all interconnected, and we’re all complicit in this arrangement. As long as any (all) of us are benefiting from our perpetual state of war, there’s only so much we can say about it. Even if you move off the grid, you’re still probably going to be using things that were created, thanks to the system we all live in. So, none of us is without blame in creating this situation.

Of course, I’m never going to convince the People In Charge that running around blowing up your opponents is going to solve anything. Everybody who talks in these terms just looks like a bit of a passive, utopian twit on Facebook. Or Twitter. Or whatever social media outlet they prefer. In these days of escalation, anyone who talks about de-escalation seems soft and out-of-touch with the necessities of the situation. Blinded. We’re all blinded by trauma and passion, and even though I agree with the words posted about how to relieve conditions of war, all those pictures of East-Asian gods and goddesses and the Dhali Lama just make me angry.

As far as I’m concerned, the only thing for me to do is get out of my head. Get out of my fear and anxiety, to just get on with my life. Get active. Live my life. Live it fully. Don’t sit and stew. Get going and take positive action.

“No harm, no foul,” seems like a pretty good philosophy and life approach to me.

It’s about not letting myself be harmed by what others do. They will do what they please, and they won’t necessarily give a damn about how it affects me. It’s often up to me, to decide what I’ll do with the experience — if I’ll get carried away by insult and perceived hurt, or if I’ll let it slide and get on with my life. There are many, many things that are done “to” me, that I can either notice and turn into a terrible offense… or I can just ignore them as moments of stupidity that mindless people are doing because they don’t know any better. It’s my choice, what I do with all that.

Probably the best thing that anyone can do these days, is do no harm. That, and make a positive difference in the world. Pay close and considerate attention to what’s going on around you, so you can be strong from moment to moment. Be alert to opportunities to be a little better at what you do than you were, just a moment before. So many things are happening at a “macro” level that are beyond our influence and understanding. There is so much we do not know, so much we cannot control.  What we can control is how we relate to others… how we take care of ourselves… how we mind our own behavior and keep it as clean as possible.

There is only so much we can influence, on a day to day basis. But the things we can influence for the better, could make all the difference in someone’s life, or a troubling situation that has the possibility of escalating.

I have to admit that, for myself, I bear a lot of responsibility for having caused others harm. Many times in my life (usually shortly after a TBI, or later on because of brain injury and PTSD), I struck out and harmed others. I broke things. I attacked people. I did my share of damage, being deliberately hurtful — because I, myself, was in pain. For many, many years, this went on. Hurting people — family, friends, loved-ones… saying and doing the kinds of things that were intended to cause pain — to make sure I wasn’t the only one who was hurting.

I wasn’t fully aware of what I was doing, when I was doing it. And while I was doing the damage, I believed I was entitled to do it, because, well, I was hurting. And I needed some relief. Hurting others was the only way I knew how to relieve that pain, that hurt. It was the only way I could figure out how to not be the only one in the room in excruciating  discomfort.

And it took a toll. It trashed so many friendships, so many relationships that have not been able to recover in many, many years — even after I got my act together. There is little to no trust between myself and some of my siblings. There are old, once-close friends I have not spoken to in 25 years. There were family members who had to turn their backs on me, for their own sake, and who died before I could make amends. My past is littered with broken relationships and fractured trust. I am still paying for it, and some debts I will never get to repay.

Which is why I now feel like the best thing I can do, really, is be kind. Be gentle. Be generous. Be strong. Be fierce, when it’s called for, but don’t let that be my default mode. There’s a difference between being a pushover, and standing your ground firmly  with a disarming smile on your face. The people who can do the latter are the true bad-asses of the world.

And that’s what I strive for: To stand firmly, but to not let others get the better of me because I’m an easy mark. Also, to not be a mindless jerk who unconsciously messes with other people. Being aware of my surroundings and responding as who I am, rather than what the situation turns me into, is a true martial art. Being able to absorb the hits of the world, and not fall to pieces… not take it out on others… that’s my ideal. When I can do that — just let the world be its crazy place, deflect its blows,and keep going with my life, calm and collected — there need not be any blood, there need not be any foul.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

It just means that I don’t hurt others, as a result of my own pain.

It’s a goal, anyway.

Onward….

Magic rest – it must be there somewhere

I’ve got to put all my notes in order. After just a few days of talking to people, I have a bunch of notes that I wrote on scrap paper, and I now need to sort through them and put them into my regular notebook.

I need to do this soon. It’s tiring me out, keeping everything sorted just in my brain, and halfway through Week 2, I’m getting fatigued and a bit turned around. My schedule is different, now, and I’m a heck of a lot more active than I have been in a long, long time.

So, yes indeedy doo – my system is pretty taxed, right now.

Not that I’d want it any other way. Doing things piecemeal — don’t fill up your schedule till you get accustomed to getting up 2 hours earlier each day… don’t start exercising till you settle in at work… — that doesn’t work for me. I need to test myself all at once, right from the get-go, because all the changes are consistent with each other, and I want my system to acclimate all at the same time.

And of course there is the danger. There is always the danger of getting too tired, or getting too overwhelmed, or pushing too hard. But I’m at a good place, right now, with everything happening at once. I’m not over-doing it. I’m just doing a lot. And it’s pretty awesome.

Now, for sleep. It’s important. For years, I thought, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” but that actually just makes me feel like I’m already dead. And it doesn’t help me function.

My head was spinning last night, and I couldn’t get to sleep when I intended to. My mind was filled with all the ideas from work, all the opportunity, all the excitement, and me getting home late after having to work around my grocery store losing power and not being able to sell me half the things I wanted because they were perishable. And then there were the storms that wreaked havoc in the towns around us, but somehow passed us by. And then there’s Facebook. I spent 15 minutes checking people’s posts, and that woke me up even more. Bad choice. No more tablet in my bedroom. That’s enough.

I finally managed to get to sleep by relaxing and breathing. Doing some muscle exercises that release the tension. I’m pretty sore from working out — today is a rest day — and my muscles are definitely adjusting.

But it’s good.

And today / tonight, sleep is a priority for me.

Today, relaxation is a priority for me. Keeping my inhale and exhale regular and the same count of 5 seconds each, is what I do to balance out my fight-flight adrenaline rush, and it really helps. Remembering where I am, and periodically remembering to stretch and relax and release… that’s so important in the course of each day. It keeps me going and it keeps me present.

Rest… relax… It’s not just about sleeping at night. It’s about how I go through my life. For so, so many years, I was wound tight as a spring. Never relaxing, never letting down my guard, always ON. It’s fine, if the situation calls for it, but I was wound way too tight for regular situations.

I think that’s why I gravitated towards tough jobs — the adrenaline and pressure calmed me down, and I actually felt normal. The stress made all the noise quiet down, and I could finally think, when I was solely focused on the One Single Thing I needed to accomplish.

But all that wound-up stuff takes a toll. For sure, it does. And I don’t have to do it, anymore. I have other ways of sharpening my attention and blocking out distractions. Single-minded focus.  Born of a my own brand of za-zen meditation — picked up from stories of old Samurai zen masters of years gone by. Somehow, I always seem to connect with old zen-typed warriors from all over the world who (either living or dead) talk about the exact same state of mind that I’m looking for — single-minded focus in the midst of chaos.

Without that focus, I’m toast.

And on that note, it’s time to get ready for work.

To rest while working… to relax while acting… and to get a good night’s sleep tonight… those are my goals.

Transformation: Benefits of mindfulness meditation for fellow head-injury survivors

Gold Mind Meditation Project or my life experience with TBI, for over thirty years now.

(Transformation: Benefits for fellow head-injury survivors) By Had Walmer

Brain-injury is an invisible disability, not easily noticed from the outside like a wheelchair or crutches. It’s a complex injury to the our brain and associated neurosensory systems. Known profoundly from inside each survivor experiences a unique array of symptoms. Gold Mind Meditation Project empowers you to transform your relationship with this changed condition and actually thrive in life through learning the Power of Mindfulness.

I speak from personal experience. Returning to college years ago, I was involved in a serious car accident. Jaws-Of-Life were required to free me from the vehicle. I got a skull fracture and was in coma for seven days. My brain swelled in my skull causing much secondary damage after the crash impact. When I came to I had severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), diplopia (double-vision) and amnesia. In an instant I was not who I used to be.

Since that time I’ve lived with continuing challenges of TBI. I struggled to complete my university degree and to get on with my life. I graduated from the university and then within a few years experienced frustrating failure in the loss of several jobs due to cognitive deficits:
weak learning and memory, poor boundaries and speech pathology. Often my perceptions were very cloudy – I was very unaware of what I could do or be. My friend who is an Occupational Therapist pointed out that this condition was the direct result of TBI, what TBI is, and that I can actually have a powerful say in the process and success of my rehabilitation.

TBI has often been misdiagnosed and thus poorly treated. In expensive and top-of-the-line rehabilitation programs I learned of my ‘cognitive-deficits’ and ‘compensatory coping-strategies’ for those deficits. These strategies are well-intended rehab but fell short of knowing and actually addressing the best possible well-being for me. I had to learn this inner transformation for myself. In my own explorations I have learned to sift gold (possibilities) from the gravel of my life experiences in order to find meaning, value and purpose for myself. Mindfulness Meditation is the key, learning to be brightly alive and awake in the present moment.

I’ve learned the meditation practice called Insight Meditation. Regular practice helps me be concentrated and focused, capable of sustained attention to chosen activities and to hold said purpose in mind. With Mindfulness practice we take a stand for our inner wellness, solidly at peace beyond the damages of our trauma and change. This is a path of being at peace with and authentic in your life, now. You can be ready to pick up whatever is next in your life path, with greater ease and joy, skillfully. You will get back benefits in proportion to the time that you put into the practice of mindfulness mediation, empowered to strongly face challenges.

Mindfulness practice can lead to brain healing (‘neuroplasticity’- the brain can heal itself). I am now choosing to live my life intentionally and more skillfully – making peace with this malady and finding the healing I need with present moment awareness. You can do this too. This is the start of a new path for you! Being calm and clear – activating your mind’s inherent strengths. Loving the life you live now.  Really!
Had C. Walmer hwalmer@gmail.com (503)332-3046

The biggest barrier to progress, is being convinced that you KNOW

Imagine what’s possible, when you just let it go — and grow

Okay, so here’s my question of the day:

In the land of mindfulness-oriented behavioral health providers, how is it that the concept of Beginner’s Mind gets lost?

I’m specifically talking about my own experience with behavioral health folks, including friends who are psychotherapists, counselors I’ve seen, as well as my neuropsychologist. In all my years of seeking out help for my issues, I have but rarely encountered individuals who were really able to suspend judgment and not get stuck in the trap of continually seeking out ways to reconfirm their own world views.

And how many times have I sat across from someone who was professionally trained to help me, watching them not listen to me for what I was saying, rather for confirmation of what they believed…?

I think it’s wonderful that there are professional tracks for people to go down, to learn how to help others. At the same time, though, people also need to not get stuck in thinking they have it all figured out.

Because the behavioral health landscape is changing dramatically, especially compared to where it was just 10 years ago. We know so much more about the brain and its mechanisms than ever before. Yet we have just only begun to scratch the surface. So, let’s not get all hoity-toity about how much we know and how clued-in we are, thanks to our specialized skills and whatnot.

To me, orthodoxy (being convinced that you’ve got THE SECRET to how things work) and rigidity (never, ever changing your world view) are even worse liabilities than a brain injury. They make it extremely hard to adapt — which is precisely what we need to do as TBI / concussion survivors. We may be changing and growing and whatnot, while our providers are still stuck in their own versions of reality — which may or may not be useful to us.

It really is a problem. But I’m not the one to run around telling people that they’re too stuck in their ways. They have to see and realize it for themselves, and let go of their pride, arrogance, hubris. I’m sure it can be very, very difficult, dealing with brain-injured folks and their families/loved-ones, not to mention the healthcare system. It can put you into a state of perpetual fight-flight, which makes you even more susceptible to egotistical tendencies, arrogance, and prideful blindness.

I think especially for those folks who have been on the leading edge for many years, who were ridiculed and marginalized and made to feel “less than” because of their forward-looking stance. When you’re continually attacked and thwarted, it can do a number on you. I know how that is, and it’s no fun.

So, that cannot help but affect you. It cannot help but color your world view and make you biochemically and neurologically inclined to behave in ways that are defensive and self-supporting. Especially if you’ve had to shore up your own self-confidence and self-image and professional reputation, lo these many years, that can train you to be a certain way… a way which is intent on finding proof that you’re right, that you were right all along, and “they” were all wrong to doubt and thwart you.

Yes, I get how that shapes and conditions you.

At the same time, the higher purpose (of being of genuine help to others) needs to trump the hunger of your ego.

In the end, isn’t it more fulfilling to continue to learn and grow, rather than being someone  whose main purpose is to ease the pain of the daily stresses of life and prove their “rightness” to themself and others?

I’m not a behavioral health provider, but personally I think I’d rather be learning and growing than constantly being on the defensive about my own convictions.

In the end, it can much more interesting to find out you’re wrong… and expand your concept of what’s right. There is so much more to discover about the human systems, the brain, and how they all interact.

I hope I’m not alone in this.

Whoa – tired

I dunno what it is, this week, but I am wiped out. There’s more drama at work, And the weather-related disruptions have not helped any. I’ve also been working crazy-hard on my projects, studying and testing the limits of my brain and attention.

So, of course I’m tired. I’ve been getting up early, and going to bed early, too.

As it should be.

And I have to always remember what fatigue can do to me. It clouds my judgment and makes it very difficult to think clearly. It makes me cranky and ill-mannered, and it makes me a little paranoid, too. I start to think people are saying and doing unkind things to me on purpose, instead of just being mindless.

It’s good to remember these things… so I don’t try to make people “pay” for things they haven’t even done.

Just a few things to keep in mind.

The foundation of TBI (or any?) recovery

I’ve been thinking about my next steps in my TBI recovery. Logistically, I have been pretty consumed with just keeping thing together on a day-to-day basis for the past 7 years.

So much that I really took for granted had gone away — jobs, money, credit score, friends, daily routines, level-headedness, technical skills, harmony in my marriage and so many other relationships… and the loss of those basic features of my life — my foundation — left me floudering.

So, I had to really focus on the basis for a number of years:

Finding a job that suited me and keeping it.

Developing good working relationships that doubled as “friendships” (because I didn’t have the time and energy, when all was said and done, to have more friends than that).

Getting my financial affairs in order, paying down massive amounts of debt, and not getting into any more trouble with spending.

It’s been a very rough seven years — especially the past four — but I’m out on the other side, with my debts settled, my mortgage current, my credit score pretty good — almost on the verge of being excellent — and a regular job under my belt to keep my bills paid.

And I am saving up for doing some long overdue repairs to one of the bathrooms. We can’t afford to do both, but the one needs to be done, so…

Anyway, the point of all this is, looking back and what I’ve accomplished, the main thing that has carried me through all these years, has been learning to keep an even keel and not get thrown by every little thing that comes along.

For somebody like me with TBI issues and a pretty volatile temper, this has not been easy. It has taken a huge amount of work, and learning to breathe and calm down my physical system has been the lion’s share of the task. But as I look at my life of the past years from a distance, I can see how just doing that — learning to keep my system stable and not (too) reactive — has made my recovery possible.

It’s very simple, really.

When I am worked up and bent out of shape, my brain does not function well. I have a harder time learning, I have a harder time thinking, and the connections I need to create in my brain to get me back on the good foot, are being made in all the wrong places — if they’re getting made at all.

But when I can stay calm and not get caught up in the storms of life, then my brain has the chance to make the right connections in the right way, and “re-learn” how it’s supposed to do things.

Of course, knowing this and doing it are two completely different things.

Yesterday morning, when my parents were here, I was starting to feel really down on myself, stupid, useless, and overwhelmed. Whenever I am around my parents, I feel that way, because both of them are very heady and intellectual, and in a lot of our conversations, I feel like I’m barely keeping up. They do try to be kind — nowadays… it wasn’t always the case — but I really feel stupid sometimes, when I am with them.

I started to cry because I felt so stupid and so bad. Broken. Displaced. Useless. But then I stopped myself from the downward spiral, and kept repeating to myself, “I am smart in other ways. I am smart in other ways.” I just kept telling myself that, over and over again, and before long, I wasn’t in that dark hole anymore, and I could think clearly again.

And I had another good couple of hours with them before they took off for home.

Being able to talk myself away from that edge, and getting my system calmed down, was the key. It usually is. And looking back on the past seven years, I can see how much it has cost me, when I was not keeping a good handle on my “internal state”.

So, there it is — the foundation of my recovery from TBI has been keeping in state of mind steady and learning how to not let things get hold of me and carry me away.

When I am stable and present and I am not being pushed about by every last wind, my brain has a chance to make good connections that give me a solid bedrock to build the rest of my life on. It takes time, of course, and there are times when I slide back and have to make up lost ground, but that’s how it is with everything. There is no such thing as a straight line in life, as well as brain injury recovery.

You just have to keep going. You just have to keep moving and learning, keeping a level head and not getting derailed by little things that come along.

Speaking of not getting derailed by little things that come along…. I’ve got to go off to work in a little bit, and I’ll be dealing with my boss again, who tends to be petty and divisive and plays all sorts of mind games. They’re not nearly as smart as they think they are, but I still have to keep my wits about me, when they are up to their tricks.

So, that being said, I’ll practice my steady breathing again today, hopefully get a break in the afternoon, and just keep keepin’ on.

Life is waiting. Onward.

 

Fasting day today

Every now and then, it’s really good to go without

So, now that I’m exercising again, I’ve had some time to read — while I’m riding the exercise bike, first thing, before lifting or doing resistance exercises. I’ve been combing the Web for material on the benefits of exercise for the brain, and I’m rediscovering a lot of pieces I read a few years back that slipped into the nether regions of my memory. Yes, BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is stimulated by exercise. And intermittent fasting can be good for your brain.

I have an easy day today — I’m telecommuting, and my afternoon appointment will probably be cancelled — so I don’t have a lot of energy demands on me, and I can safely get through the day without being in danger from hypoglycemia or not having enough energy to get by. When I’m commuting and I’m on my regular schedule, I need to have all pistons firing, which means I need a steady flow of energy to my brain, so fasting is not possible.

Today, though, I’m good to fast. I’ll drink my water and tea, get some intermittent exercise, and probably take a nap later this afternoon. Pace myself, and let my body take a rest from eating. I won’t fast into the evening. I just need to be without food till about 8:00 tonight, which probably won’t be a problem. I usually don’t eat until after 8:00 anyway. I ate my last snack last night around 10:00 p.m., I think — a natural fruit popsicle. So, a 22 hour fast will do the trick.

I learned about intermittent short-term fasting at the blog Getting Stronger, which discusses hormesis, or making your system stronger by introducing small bits of stress that test your system and increase its capacity for performance. I have tried to fast in the past, but it went poorly — probably because I had issues with behavior and emotional regulation, and my diet was pretty crappy, so I was all set up for hypoglycemia that made me a bear. So, I never did much with fasting after a few little tries.

Intermittent short-term fasting, which is where you go without food for about 20 hours, every now and then (some people do it monthly), actually offers a lot of benefits, without the intense stress and strain of prolonged deprivation. I aspire one day to being able to fast longer than 22 hours, but that may actually never be necessary, as reduced calorie intake is also a proven way to help you be healthier.

Anyway, I have been looking for opportunities to fast, but I’ve either been pretty active, or I have completely forgotten (like over the week between Christmas and New Years) that fasting might be a good idea. So, now I am remembering it, and it looks like this is a really good day to do this thing. And I shall.

I know this may prove challenging later today, when I am looking for my lunch around 11:30 a.m. – that’s when I usually eat. And then there is the afternoon snack that I usually have around 2:30 or so… Doing without them, especially when I am working at home with lots of good, healthy food within easy reach, may be a challenge. But I have to keep in mind that I am doing this for a good reason — and it won’t be forever.

I’ll break my fast tonight, and that will be that.

The big challenge today will be keeping my mind on my work and not getting pulled in a bunch of different directions. I’ll spend some extra time today exercising or sitting and breathing, instead of eating. At times when I am usually having snacks or lunch, I will do a little stretching or sit and count my breaths. This could be a really good way to get that extra meditation time I’ve been wanting.

I’ve felt myself jumping quickly into a state of knee-jerk reactiveness, over the past months, and that has not been good. I can’t just snap over every little thing. I need to be more mindful and also better about managing how I behave with regard to my emotions. I know this is an issue for me. So, sitting and breathing and working on my self-restraint while not eating will be a great opportunity for me.

I just need to keep focused and remember why I am inconveniencing myself — and really celebrate at the end, when I get to eat again. It’s only 11 hours and 16 minutes away 😉

Considering TBI : Staying safe during the holidays

This looks familiar – and not in a good way.

Well, I almost did it again. I almost fell down some stairs while rushing around during Thanksgiving activities. Nine years ago tomorrow, I fell down a flight of stairs while packing to home after Thanksgiving. I completely screwed myself up. Trashed my life. Almost lost everything. And I didn’t even realize what was happening, while it was happening.

That fall in 2004 happened because I was standing at the top of some stairs and I turned around to do something, then my feet went out from under me. The same thing happened yesterday, while I was getting ready to head out to Thanksgiving dinner. I was starting to go down the stairs, when I remembered something I needed to take with me, and I turned around, while my body momentum was moving forward. My feet slipped on the stairs, and I stumbled down a couple of steps, before I caught myself. Fortunately, this time I was wearing shoes. When I fell in 2004, I was wearing socks. And I managed to stop myself from going head-first down the stairs, when my feet went out from under me.

Hm. Wake-up call. Time to slow down. Pay attention. Take things one at a time, instead of doing a couple of things at one time — like going down and up stairs at the same time.

Slow down. Don’t do everything at once. Just chill.

I paused for a moment and caught my breath and realized what had almost just happened. Then I slowly turned around and went back upstairs — much, much more slowly than before.

And I got through the day without getting hurt.

Even better, I had an amazing day, and everything turned out well, for a variety of reasons — including not falling down stairs and hurting myself.

As the holiday season officially kicks off, I have to really pay attention to things in the coming six weeks, to get through to the other side in one piece. I know what sets me off, and I know what makes things more difficult for me than usual, and the holidays are just the time when all those things come together in a perfect storm that aggravates my TBI symptoms and also puts me at risk for another injury (like yesterday).

  1. I need to remember that I’m dealing with TBI issues, and I can’t just push myself blindly like I have no limitations. We all have limitations, and mine are especially pronounced during the holidays. I need to be uber-mindful of my issues — not in a way that holds me back, but in a realistic way that keeps me from doing serious damage to myself.
  2. Make sure I get plenty of rest. Nothing kills the joy faster than fatigue-induced irritability. And given my history of melting down and flipping out during many holiday seasons past, my spouse is particularly on-guard around me during this time. So things can escalate quickly. And that’s not good. Shouting matches and flip-outs just because I’m tired, are no way to spend the holidays. Fortunately, staying rested takes care of a lot of this. Naps help, too, so I’ll be doing a lot of that this holiday season. Whenever I can.
  3. Eat smart.  When I get tired, I tend to boost my energy with sugar-containing foods, and the holidays are chock-full of them. Pies, cookies, candy… it’s all around me, and since I need to push harder to do everything, I fall back on them. A lot. Which just makes things harder in the long run, because it throws off my sugar and it makes my joints ache, which then makes me more irritable. AND sugar feeds infections, so I have more trouble with colds and sinus infections. I have to have a lot of willpower to avoid that stuff – and it doesn’t always work. But if I can enjoy with moderation… it’s not so terrible.
  4. Give myself time. Don’t rush around with everyone else. Give myself more time to do things like go to the library or food shopping or running errands. Just take my time, so I don’t get trampled by everyone else who’s stampeding around. Do I need to go out to the store today? Not one bit. Black Friday will be fine without me.
  5. Take frequent breaks. I get very irritable for a bunch of reasons during the holidays, so it pays to just take a break regularly, let me catch up with myself, and simmer down if I’m getting revved. It really helps for me to cut myself a break and give myself some extra time off by myself when I need it. Planning my breaks helps, too, because then I can keep from getting stuck in a “loop” and pushing myself past where I should be backing off and taking a break.
  6. Get a lot of exercise. I start my days with movement and stretching, and I get out and walk whenever I can. I also try to do some heavy lifting, now and then, as well as working around the yard and house. Yesterday I got a workout with roasting that turkey — a lot of lifting and bending and reaching. I’m actually sore, which is a good sign for me. This helps my body process all the extra stuff I’m putting into it, and it also helps clear my head. Both of these are important for being happy during the holidays.

These are things I can do, in general, to make my life better during the holidays. Not doing these things can result in experiences like falling down stairs, having confrontations with police officers, and losing it at work — none of which will add to my holiday cheer quotient.

It’s all a big-ass learning process. Onward.