What I really seek is character. Not just reward.

character-may-be-manifested-in-the-great-moments-but-it-is-made-in-the-small-ones-quote-1Character is what you do, when no one is looking.

It’s why you do things, irrespective of reward.

I don’t want my life driven by asking “What will I get out of it?” but by answering “How will I contribute to others through this?”

Character is what gets you out of bed in the morning at a decent hour, so you get the exercise that you really don’t want to do, but must.

It’s what keeps you on schedule to you eat the breakfast and take the vitamins that your body needs to be healthy and productive throughout the day.

Character is what makes it possible for you to do all the things in the course of the day that need to be done, even though you don’t really want to do them

It’s what teaches you your place in the world, in society, in the grand scheme of things… and reminds you that your own personal comfort and convenience must sometimes often take a back seat to the Greater Good.

Rewards are great. They’re the fodder of some great marketing campaigns, and they do motivate people.

But Character… now, that’s something that lasts, even when there are no obvious rewards in sight.

New direction – old faithful direction

Reaching out to others is what brings us back to ourselves
Reaching out to others is what brings us back to ourselves

I’ve been excited about different new career directions, over the past years. The only thing is, I found out I wasn’t fully qualified to go in those directions, and I’ve been increasingly “outclassed” by folks with pretty heavy-duty qualifications who have the certifications needed to make it all happen. This system I’m learning really ties together my experience in technology, past experience I’ve had, and it keeps me going in the direction I need to go. It’s a certain way of working with teams, and a certain way of getting projects done, and it really fits me to a “T”.

It’s a system that was invented by people like me, for people like me — and it’s the darling of all those C-level executives who want to tell the world they use this methodology.

So, that’s good. And I really feel as though I’m set with this. My retirement savings all went away after my TBI in 2004, and I’ve been really struggling financially for quite some time. There’s been a huge amount of uncertainty in my financial life, and a big part of that was around job uncertainty. I haven’t been totally clear on the direction I need to go, in part because I haven’t been totally clear about the kind of work I can/should do, and the types of people I can/should work with.

As it turns out, after doing a fair amount of thinking and reading online, I’ve realized that high-high tech is really my “tribe” — and that’s in large part because of the neurodiversity. I’ve always worked with people who could be called “Aspies” — folks on the “high-functioning” end of the autistic spectrum, whose ways of communicating and thinking are quite different from the norm. I’ve got my own set of communication and thinking differences, and there’s something really soothing about working with folks who not only know what it’s like to be out of synch with the rest of the world, but also have a thinking and communication style that’s got pauses and different sorts of pacing all tied together.

Back in the day, when I first worked in high tech, I was surrounded by very strange and wonderful people who were very, very different from the rest of the world. I joined them not long after I’d had a car accident, and my thinking and coordination were pretty screwed up. I wasn’t particularly good at making small talk and following conversations with people, and I kept to myself. They left me alone, and they let me do my programming work, and I did it extremely well. They never pressured me to be super-social, and even when I committed some major social faux-pas because I was overwhelmed and couldn’t handle myself socially, they didn’t hold it against me.

And after about 6 months of working with them, all of a sudden, I got my sense of humor back, I was able to handle the pacing of conversations — and with more than one person — and I became an important part of their little tribe.

They gave me the room to heal and work my way back from the effects of that car accident. I never discussed the accident with anyone — and didn’t even realize was affecting me — all I knew was, I didn’t want to deal with anyone, didn’t want to talk to anyone, wasn’t comfortable navigating the social sphere, and all I wanted to do was sit in front of my computer and code. But after a while of being left to my own devices and gradually and slowly brought into their midst, I healed. I was able to chat again, talk again, interact again, in a much more fluid way than I had, when I first started.

And a lot of those folks could easily be labelled as “Aspies” or on the autistic spectrum. They were an odd crowd, for sure — in the best way possible.

I’ve been struggling in my work situation for a number of years, primarily (now I realize) because I’ve been surrounded by so-called “neurotypical” folks who have been extroverted and really interactive, with average sorts of thinking and communication styles. And that’s been a huge struggle.  It’s been years since I’ve worked with a hard-core gang of Aspie folks in a really high-performance work environment, and I realize now that the problem hasn’t been with me — it’s been with me being in the wrong kind of environment. I need to work with a close-knit group of neurodiverse folks, in a situation that makes the most of everyone’s abilities.

That works for me. It makes the most of my abilities, which include motivating and including people who may feel marginalized and pushed aside. I’ve had some great success doing that, in the past years, at various jobs. But my current situation doesn’t really allow me to do that. I’m too isolated. I’m too blocked off from a real team. And because we’re all battling the same lack of resources,

And the beauty part is, this new system I’m learning will give me the skills and the cred to “slot” right into that sort of role.

So, yeah – it’s becoming a lot clearer to me. I need to work with hard-core technical folks, and I need to do it in a capacity where I can add value. I used to be a damn’ good programmer, but after my accident in 2004, I haven’t been able to work reliably. I’m good for maybe a few weeks, then I crash and can’t function. On the other hand, I’m an excellent team leader and I know how to include and motivate people and bring together disparate types of folks to achieve a common goal.

And that’s worth a lot in this high tech world. It’s not about your plan and vision – it’s about execution and delivery. And that’s where I excel – helping a team to execute and deliver. To be their best. To really rise above and beyond and do amazing things.

I never thought I could do that before, because it didn’t feel like I was being effective. I would be so wiped out after the intense work, I was sure I’d failed. And I didn’t understand my communication and thinking challenges. I didn’t realize that I had problems, and I had to do something about them.

Once I realized that I did have issues with slowed processing, and I realized I could actually do something about those things — and I got the chance to work with people who had communication issues, themselves (as in, the international folks I used to work with) — that really turned things around for me. Thanks to my old neuropsych, I got my head around that, and voila! Magic happened.

Now I need to make more magic happen.

And so I shall.

Onward.

Great weekend… and a big week ahead.

Calming it down, one breath at a time
It’s all coming at me pretty fast, but if I keep relaxed and keep breathing, it can all happen. It can all turn out pretty well.

I had a full and productive weekend. I caught up on a number of things I’ve been needing to get done for weeks, now. I also got some things done around my yard that HAD to get done before it rains later this week. I feel pretty good about getting those things done. It was not a small task, but I did it.  Woot.

Some important-but-delayed things I did not get done. But I got enough important things done, that it offsets the disappointment. And it gives me more motivation to get moving on those things I didn’t finish (or even start).

I’ve also been working on my breathing. Focusing on relaxing and feeling where my body is “at” — where I’m tense, where I need to loosen up, where my breath seems to have stopped. I need to keep it moving, not get stuck in fight-flight, which is what happens at times, when I hold my breath unconsciously.

Years ago, I was very intent on working with my breath and getting in touch with my body, so I could more effectively manage stress. It was a regular part of my daily practice, and it did wonders for me. Somehow, I got away from that. I got caught up in everything else, and I was in serious survival mode for several years, while I dealt with creditors and paid down my years-salary-worth-of-debt. I lost sight of the big picture with my approaches, and while some things improved in my life — like my job situation and my perception of myself in the professional world — other parts fell by the wayside.

Including my breathing. I’m working on that again. And swimming is a big part of it — since it involves both movement and breathing. And it’s great exercise. Just great, great exercise.

This week is a pretty big one for me. I have my weekly neuropsych appointment, when I work on problems with making progress and getting things done. I have a whole lot of things I need to get done on a regular basis. I’ve been doing them for years, I just haven’t been doing them as efficiently as I should – and it shows. I may need to take some of them off my to-do list and put them on my ‘would be nice to do’ list… and then not worry about them till later.

One project, in particular, has been drawing a lot of energy off the other projects I really need to do. It’s training materials for people who are in a certain part of the job market and don’t understand how things work.

The thing is, if I start on that, it’s going to be pretty all-consuming. It’s not just some training materials — the whole plan also involves public speaking, public appearances, and a lot of writing and publishing and networking. And I just don’t have time for that, now.

It’s a great prospect for me, and it could bring in a fair amount of money for me, but I have so many other things I want to be working on, I can’t really afford to spend the time on it, to do it full justice.

So, I’m tabling that — putting it on the “back burner” to simmer for a while. I’m really treating that like my backup-plan “B”, in case I lose my job or the 9-to-5 thing doesn’t work out for me. That would be the ideal time to cut this project loose and set it free — when I actually have time to fully devote to it.

I’m in the process of cooking up a number of other projects, many of which I find really inspiring and motivational. So, I need to make room for them, and find where I can fit them, while not burning out. I’ll work through this with my neuropsych this week — and in later weeks, as well.

In addition to that, I’ve got a town meeting this week, when we’ll discuss the fate of a company that wants to expand. I’ve had my ups and downs with the board I belong to — they don’t always seem to respect me, and they sometimes ignore me or talk over me. People in town have laughed at me, when I asked one of my “stupid” questions, which was completely disrespectful (and ill-advised, since the board I’m on makes decisions about what people want to do on their properties, and I’m not the sort of enemy you want to have). I let that go, though, and I continue to serve on the board. It connects me with the larger community, and it also puts me on good terms with the local authorities. It’s a lot easier dealing with the local police, when they run my personal details and realize I’m also an “enforcer” who serves the public good.

I probably would have gotten in more trouble, had the friction not dissipated when the cops realized who I was and what role I play in local government.

Another thing is, I’m seeing my neurologist later this week to talk about the headaches and my other issues. Actually, I’ll be seeing their assistant, as the neuro proper has kind of washed their hands of me. They didn’t find anything on the MRI (even the DTI-MRI) that gave them any clues about what was going on with me, and since they can’t diagnose me with anything, how are they supposed to treat me (and bill the insurance companies)? I feel for them, but I don’t appreciate being pushed aside.

Fortunately, while I was sorting through my stack of insurance statements and various papers and notices, I found a promotional flyer for one of those services that gives you access to second opinions by highly qualified physicians and healthcare experts. I’m going to check in with them, to see if they can help me, because this current neuro approach is not working. I really don’t need to take hours out of my day to drive to an office where I’m just going to be brushed off, and my concerns aren’t going to be taken seriously.

Just as an example, the neuro-in-charge told me that my concerns about falling and having a worse TBI than the one I had before, were unfounded. They told me that concussions are NOT cumulative, which contradicts just about everything I’ve read… and after weeks of consideration, I have a lot of reservations about their abilities and willingness to be of help.

Then again, I do fit the profile of someone in the “miserable minority” — I’m very much like the first individual profiled in that seminal 1996 paper, which touched off a chain-reaction of further studies and diagnostic / treatment approaches to folks with lingering post-concussive symptoms. So, maybe the neuro was referencing that profile.

My own feelings of insult and dismissal aside, the “miserable minority” approach may have done more to perpetuate misery, by steering away from the functional and structural issues that come along with traumatic brain injury, and focusing so deeply on the psychological factors.

I’m not saying psychological factors don’t come into play. I’m saying there’s more to it than that, and it’s my belief — after many, many years of unfruitful and counter-productive therapy approaches, followed by amazingly fantastic progress after far fewer years of basic functional retraining — that a focus on psychology, without addressing the underlying neurology, has done more to perpetuate PCS than anyone would guess.

Of course, people mean well. They’re just misguided. And they’re so caught up in proving that they’re right, and they deserve a place at the rehabilitative table, with all the respect due highly trained professionals, that they “circle the wagons” and get Balkanized — cut off from others, hostile and uncooperative and territorial, and always ready to battle over some piece of territory.

Unfortunately for those of us who need their help, we get sucked into that dynamic, and that’s no good for anyone.

But there it is.

There it is.

Friday is free and clear for me — no meetings, no appointments. I do need to do some shopping this week to pick up some black pants for my business trip next week. I’m going to be presenting at a client conference, and I need some black pants. Or maybe I don’t need to go shopping. I have a couple pairs of black pants I can probably wear. They’re just not as casual as the conference wants us to be. It’s definitely “dress down” — although we still need to present in a professional manner.

I also need to practice my presentation. I’m doing one technical talk that’s only about 10 minutes long, and I’m going to be “on call” to answer questions about the company’s full product line, which is a pretty extensive collection. I just need to  have a quick 2-minute “spiel” I can launch into, for a variety of topics. That’s probably the biggest undertaking of this week, and I’ll be practicing while I’m driving to and from work, as well as to and from my appointments.

Memorizing things used to be easy for me as a kid. I can still memorize things, if I go over them 30+ times. 35 times seems to be the magic number, but I don’t have that kind of time — 35 times for each of the 10 different spiels is 350 separate practice sessions. At 2 minutes apiece, that’s 700 minutes (11.66 hours), minimum. I can break it up, sure, but it’s still a lot of time to spend.

So, again, I’ve got to pick and choose.

And so, I shall.

Onward.

Sorting out my weekend

house-scaffoldI’ve got a bunch of stuff I need to do around the house, this weekend. A number of things are leftovers from past weeks, when I didn’t follow through and do what I was supposed to. A number of things are leftovers from past years, when I was too “taxed” to get it all done.

And it needs to get done.

I’ve got to clean. I’ve got to organize. There are things I started over the winter, that I planned to finish up… and then never did. My basement is almost un-navigable, because of all the stuff I left out. I re-organized and re-boxed a bunch of items, and I left just a handful of things out on a table, to wrap up later. But for some reason, that never happened.

So, it’s got to happen this weekend. I have to be able to walk through my basement. Especially because I went to so much trouble to clean it up, in the first place. Now, it’s even harder to get through than before I “fixed” it. And this will never do.

Just gotta suck it up and dive in. Just do it. Start somewhere – anywhere – and make at least some progress.

There are a lot of things I have let slide, or just didn’t do thoroughly, because I wasn’t systematic about it — or disciplined. I get tired, then I get distracted.

And things fall apart.

And then I feel like an idiot (yet again).

And it seems the world is re-confirming that I’m really not all that competent, and any sane and normal person would be able to do what I can’t, so what the hell is wrong with me?

What the hell is wrong with me?!

Of course, this sort of self-talk is all very counter-productive and pointless. It’s not a good use of time, and I know it.

So, rather than getting caught up in that, I’ll do something about the situation. I’ve got my list of things I need to do on the house, and I’m going to take them one at a time.

That’s the way to do it – one thing at a time, with complex things broken down into smaller sections. I am a very visual person, so I can “see” how it should all happen. It’s just translating that vision into action that gets me.

It’s made me feel stupid for far too long. Time to do something about it — just get going, and be proud of myself for simply starting.

Onward!

Getting past the energy crisis

Proper form is essential to avoid injury and build strength
Proper form is essential to avoid injury and build strength

I’ve been in a bit of an energy crisis, over the winter. I just haven’t felt like doing anything much, and I’ve felt my energy waning. I haven’t been exercising as I should. I do ride my exercise bike in the mornings pretty regularly (it’s rare that I don’t, which is good), but I haven’t been lifting or swimming as much as I should be.

I start, then I feel tired and sore, and my motivation gives out.

So, I stop lifting… I stop swimming… and then I feel even worse.

The thing is, when I DO exercise — lifting and swimming and stretching — I actually feel great all day. And my energy is great. It’s just getting myself to actually do the initial work, that’s the problem.

But now it’s springtime. And with the days being longer, I feel my energy returning. I’m a real “sun person”. I love to be in it (within reason, so I don’t get sunburned or drained by the heat). And despite my sometimes painful light sensitivity, I love the sight of sunlight brightening the world around me. It just makes all the difference, as does a few extra hours of sunlight each day.

But with my energy being as low as it has been, it’s hard to work up the enthusiasm to make the most of it. Energy is a self-fulfilling prophecy — the more of it I have, the more I get… the less of it I feel, the less of it I can generate. And even if I want with all my heart to “kick it”, if I don’t have the strength and the energy and resources to do it… well, it doesn’t happen.

So, I have to do something. I need my physical body to support the wishes and desires of my mind and heart, and without conditioning, that’s not going to happen. Keeping in shape is about more than keeping the pounds off and looking good. It’s about keeping myself as functional as possible — getting myself to a place where the strength of my body is on par with the drive of my mind. It’s about never giving up, never quitting, always keeping myself functional in ways that actually let me live the life of my choosing.

Just an example: I have water delivered. In those 5-gallon bottles. A gallon of water weighs 8 pounds, so that’s a 40-pound weight I need to lift intermittently, when I change out the water cooler. It’s never really been a problem for me in the past, but over the last year or so, I’ve had less coordination and strength. It’s been an interesting challenge to A) hoist the weight up, and B) flip it over onto the top of the cooler without dousing everything around it with water.

Normally, I can do it fine. But the last couple of times, I’ve given the nearby shelf a good splash. It’s not that big of a deal, because everything can be dried off. But then it’s one more thing I have to do, and that puts a crimp in my flow. It also annoys the crap out of me. I hate that. I hate being weaker than ever. I hate being uncoordinated. I hate the disheartening sound of water splashing out of the well where it’s supposed to be.

It’s not the end of the world, but it bothers me. And it’s something I can actually fix.

So, it’s time to do something about it. I need to get my behind in gear and get serious about my strength routine. It’s for the sake of being more conditioned and capable, as well as better balance. Plus, I need to be smart about it and not injure myself by doing too much too soon.

Now I’m adding another aspect to my workouts — the mental warmup in the morning, before I get out of bed. I’ve read in a number of places how visualizing physical activity actually primes you to do it properly. The brain simulates the activities before you do them, and that gets the right connections firing.

Here’s an excerpt from Visualization in Sport

Visualization in sport is a training technique that forms a part of the larger science of sports psychology. Visualization is also known as mental imagery and rehearsal. Visualization is used primarily as a training tool, one that improves the quality of athletic movement, increases the power of concentration, and serves to reduce the pressures of competition on the athlete while building athletic confidence.

Visualization occurs when athletes are able to create an image or a series of images relevant to their sport, without any external prompts or stimulation; the images are mentally generated by the athlete alone. Visual images are usually the most important to athletic training and may be employed as the sole mental training method. Athletes may also depend on auditory images (sounds), kinesthetic images (movements), tactile sensations (touch), and purely emotional stimulation, in combination with visualization or as freestanding training aids, as may be appropriate to the effort to elevate the performance of the athlete.

There is a powerful relationship between mental and physical performance in sport. The development of a wide range of mental powers, such as focus and concentration, elevates athletic performance; over-analyzing detracts from the athlete’s ability to react instinctively, an attribute that is usually a more desirable quality than the ability to reason through every sporting circumstance.

Visualization is intended to take the athlete to an image that conveys what perfection represents in the particular aspect of the sport. During visualization, the brain is directing the target muscles to work in a desired way. This direction creates a neural pattern in the brain, a pattern identical to the network created by the actual physical performance of the movements. A neural pattern is similar to diagramming the specific wiring and circuits necessary to transmit an electrical current. Alexander Bain (1818–1903) of Great Britain was the first scientist to develop a theory as to how the brain built such patterns to direct and control repeated physical movement. Numerous researchers since that time have expanded on the concept. Visualization alone will not develop the most effective mechanisms in the brain to later perform the desired action, but physical training coupled with visualization will create better recognition of the required nervous system response than physical training alone.

This technique has been around for a long, long time. And I used to do it, when I was competing in high school sports. Somehow, the practice didn’t always translate properly to my regular life away from sports, and somehow I thought that because my non-athletic visualizations just weren’t working, I was either doing it wrong… or it just doesn’t work.

I’ve modified my beliefs about visualization — down-sized them a bit, you could say. Now, instead of using it to shape my entire life, I’m focusing on visualization of basic physical activities, those very kinesthetic behaviors that actually respond to the brain’s visualizations.

I’m visualizing proper form while I lift weights. I’m thinking about the feeling of my body as it moves the weights up and down, back and forth. I’m visualizing workouts, and I’m imagining how good it feels to do it. And this morning, after I lay in bed for 20 minutes, waking up gradually and thinking through my workout, I felt really good, doing the workout itself. And at the end, it was even more satisfying than ever.

So, this is good. I know I’ve done it before — I’ve started out strong, then I lost my focus and stopped doing the visualizations… and some of the exercise. Part of the problem in the past, is that I would get over-tired, push myself too hard, then get injured, and I’d take time off to heal… and then I’d never get back to my former practice.

I’d just forget about it. As though it didn’t even exist.

And by the time I remembered it, I would be de-conditioned again, and have to start all over.

How demoralizing.

Now, though, it doesn’t feel demoralizing. I feel energized. And I know I’m doing the right thing by taking it easy and just getting used to the motions again. I am working with either very light weights, or no weights at all, to re-develop my kinesthetic and proprioceptive sense. I also have access to a strength trainer at work who consults with employees about exercises and nutrition. So, I’m going to take advantage of that benefit.

I’ll carve out time in my schedule, and I’ll just do it.

Because I can.

Spring is here. Summer’s coming. Then fall. Three seasons — followed by winter, which I actually love. All of them ready for me to get moving into.

Onward.

Ooops! I forgot…again!!

TBI Myth #4: The Lourdes Phenomenon (or... Don't Expect Miracles)I just read a great post by Jeff Sebell on his TBI Survivor blog  – here’s an excerpt:

The aftermath of forgetting also has a familiar ring. When you’re asked about something you were to do, or someone refers to it, expecting it to already be done or for you to be familiar with it, you get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as you think, “Oh no. I forgot again!”

You are left speechless, and all you can do is shrug your shoulders and sheepishly say, “I forgot.” Your body language communicates defeat. Maybe you make a joke about it as a way of coping and moving on.

What is behind those two words: “I forgot?” Saying these words, although completely accurate and not intended to be for this purpose, are a way of placing blame on your brain injury. You are telling people that it’s this “damn brain injury” that is responsible for your behavior. You are telling them this by your words, body language, facial expression, and voice inflection.  Implied also in the words, “I forgot,” is the idea that if you hadn’t experienced a brain injury, this wouldn’t be happening.

To read the rest visit his TBI Survivor blog – he’s got lots of great writing and insights there.

Thank you. All of you. For your support.

thank-youI’ve been doing a retrospective review of all the comments and feedback I’ve gotten over the years at this blog.

I started writing here in late 2007, after I realized what a huge role TBI had played in my life, how much it had cost me, and how it had influenced me — not for the better. I had been so confused and lost and turned around for so long, and I hated to think that others had the same experience as I.

I needed to do something about that.

I decided to put together a resource for others like me, who were struggling with hidden brain injury issues that no one seemed to understand, and who couldn’t get access to reliable medical and rehab care. I wanted to share what I’d found and provide some insight (and possibly answers) to folks who were struggling and needed to know some key things. I also wanted people to know that recovery from traumatic brain injury is possible, and that it isn’t the end.

At the start, the blog was a bit “clunky”. I was sort of a mess, to tell the truth. But I figured it made sense to just show it all, because that’s what happens sometimes with TBI. And my own experiences and ramblings might strike a chord with others who shared those same feelings.

As it turned out, it was the right thing to do. This blog has played an enormous role in my recovery, and so have all of you who have commented, offered feedback, called me on my B.S., and kept me honest. Seeing the readership numbers each day — even if it’s just a few — has really spurred my motivation. And hearing that what I’ve written echoes what others experience (and often cannot put into words), is a balm to my frazzled nerves.

I believe that each and every one of us has our own set of challenges. We never know what others are going through, although it may be very similar to what we’re experiencing. The world doesn’t always tolerate vulnerability, and so often we’re all expected to just “suck it up” and keep going.

I do believe that sucking it up is important. I, for one, can’t sit and stew in my own crap, day in and day out. I’ve got to keep moving, keep making progress, and I must never give in and give up. At the same time, we do need to have our pain recognized, our struggles identified, and our strengths validated. It’s all a process — and an important one at that. So this blog has enabled me to do a lot of that exploring, without having the rest of my life trashed by emotional lability and psychological dramas.

So, yes. This place has been a sort of refuge for me. And the folks who have joined me here have been most welcome and appreciated.

For all you say, for all you write, and even for all you think — even if you never write it down — thank you.

 

 

Getting it all connected

enrichment-changes-brain-structure
Comparing connections between an enriched brain and an impoverished brain

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, lately. Now that I can read again — and remember what I’ve read beyond the space of a few pages — I’m just enjoying it so much. It’s awesome.

Anyway, one of the things that I keep coming across is how our brains are quite “plastic” — subject to change, based on need — and how different parts can be recruited to do the job for other parts that have been injured or damaged. Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, people believed that certain areas (and only those areas) took care of specific tasks. There was a “speech” area… “emotional arousal” area(s)… “motor control” area(s). And if they got injured, you were sh*t outa luck.

Now, of course, we know better. And we’ve found out that areas that aren’t supposed to have anything to do with speech or emotion or motor control, are actually pitching in to help out. In some cases, if a part of the brain is completely fried, other networks can jump in to take over (like the massive amount of damage done to the brain of a university professor, discussed in The Brain That Changes Itself — he re-learned how to walk and function, despite losing “all” his ability to coordinate movement, and he actually passed away from a heart attack while hiking in Peru).

So, even if there is substantial damage to a part of the brain, it still has the capacity to right itself and restore itself to functionality — some of which is about as good as before, and some of which is even better than before.

One of the things that bothers me about all the concussion discussion, these days, is that it focuses so intently on CTE and the potentially fatal results of mild traumatic brain injury. There’s a real atmosphere of critical concern — and rightly so. People suffer terribly and die miserable deaths, with their families suffering right along with them, thanks to the denial around repeat head trauma, particularly in the world of professional sports.

 

The thing is, CTE isn’t the only issue at stake. And while the potentially lethal effect of thousands of subconcussive and concussive hits is something to be reckoned with, all the intense & furious fear-vs-denial arguments are drowning out the rest of the conversation – about concussion and mild TBI as the rest of us experience it. And in the process, I worry that we’re not only sending the message to concussed kids and their parents that their lives could be in danger, but we’re neglecting talking about how to successfully recover from concussion / mild TBI.

After all, if we figure out how to recover from it successfully, then people might continue to bash their heads, thinking that they’ll just be able to fix them later.

In the words of that little old lady in the commercial, “That’s now how this works. That’s not how any of this works.”

There’s an awful lot of head trauma going on — there always has, and there always will be, so long as humans have heads — or we all get our consciousness transferred to robotic brains that don’t have the same organic vulnerabilities we do (that’s not something I ever want to do, but it will probably be an option, someday). Dealing with concussion / mild TBI is about more than preventing the injuries and doing immediate medical interventions. There’s a whole process involved in recovery. And a lot of that process involves reconnecting the parts of our brains and our lives that have gotten frayed or ruptured or otherwise broken.

See, the connections that get damaged are not just the ones in our brains. There’s also our social connections. And our connections with ourselves. Our brains are “central processing hubs” where information comes in, gets processed, and then directions are given for how to work with it. When our brains get injured, they don’t necessarily make the right connections — and some connections may even be lost. Our sensitivity to light and sound can change. Our coordination, which lets us interact with the physical world, can be changed. Our ability to hear or read and understand language can be changed. And our response time can be changed, as well.

It can be incredibly disorienting. And it can feel like the changes are permanent and will never get fixed. When you’re in the midst of your “acute” post-concussion phase, and everything is fuzzy and foggy and slowed-down, it’s hard to see past that initial fog bank. The thing to remember is that, with the brain — as with everything else in life — things change. Some things get better, some things get worse. The important thing is that we get involved in the change, ourselves, and do what we can to make it better — or at least more like how we want it to be.

This is not only possible, it’s probable.

We are in constant connection with the world around us — through our senses, through our interactions, through our very thoughts — and we were constantly adapting to our environment. So, to say that damage from a TBI / concussion is permanent is, well, not accurate. In fact, it’s completely INaccurate. Unless we are dead, our brains continue to change and adapt, based on what’s around us.

Our bodies don’t stop taking in sensations. Our nervous systems don’t stop transmitting stimuli to our brains. Our brains don’t stop taking in and interpreting that data. Granted, everything may work differently than before — in some cases, making us feel completely unrecognizable to ourselves, and making us behave like a different person around others. But the end of the story doesn’t come, until we draw our last breath.

As long as we’re alive, we’re connected — somehow — to life. To bring ourselves back from concussion / mild TBI, we need to foster our connections even more. And we need to come up with creative ways to do it. Because the rest of your brain is waiting for you to wake it up in new and novel ways, so it can do old (and new) things in a whole new way.

This is so, so important. We have got to keep sight of the hope and the possibility, even as the public discussion focuses on death and destruction. Yes, CTE is a real danger. Yes, repeat concussions can cause serious harm. Yes, people suffer and die from untreated TBI all the time. It’s a national issue and a national disgrace. The thing is, brain injury is not a death sentence — even repeat brain injuries, like I’ve experienced. People don’t have to stay broken after one, two (or, like me, 9+) concussions. People don’t have to accept a “new normal” of a permanently damaged life with no hope of joy left in their lives. They don’t have to stay isolated and alone, left to rot.

At the end of the day, I believe the key to overcoming TBI is connection — with others, with ourselves, with the sensations and activities of our daily lives that help re-knit the connections in our brains. There are things we can do to address our issues, things we can to do offset the initial damage that’s done. That localized damage may lasting, but it needn’t translate into permanent damage to the rest of our lives. Functionally, different parts of our systems can be trained to take on activities that some parts can’t do anymore. There’s nothing unusual or supernatural about that. It’s how we’re built. It’s how we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”.

What we do with that potential is up to us. What we do with our lives… that’s our choice.

The roots of our brain injury recovery

What's beneath can be much more compelling than what's visible
What’s beneath can be much more compelling than what’s visible

Whether you’re concussed, had a stroke, were involved in a motor vehicle accident, or something in your brain ruptured… that injury has literally turned you into a different person.

Read more here — where I discuss the various aspects of understanding the nature of TBI and recovery on  my TBI research blog at https://tbiresearchriffs.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/the-roots-of-our-brain-injury-recovery/

Fantastic day, yesterday

You just gotta keep going till you've covered all the bases
You just gotta keep going till you’ve covered all the bases

Yesterday was a banner day.

I had a good morning, reading and tweeting, and I made my list of Things That Must Be Done. It was a long list, taking up the full back of an old business-size envelope, but each of the items needed be done.

Cleaning. Organizing. Taking out the trash and recycling. Weatherizing the house. My spouse can’t do much of this, because of their mobility issues, so it mostly falls to me. If I don’t do it, it just doesn’t get done. Now, I haven’t had the energy or the inclination to do these things for quite some time. I’ve had a hard time A) organizing my thoughts, and B)  getting started on extended projects. And while it hasn’t been horrible, and we don’t live in squalor, still… these things all needed to be done.

Overdue.

So, list in hand, I got myself in gear about noontime, and by 5:00, I had accomplished the most pressing items… and also started cooking a fantastic meal… and gotten a number of additional things done, as well.

Banner day. And at the end of it all, it felt so good to look around the house and see the fruits of my labors.

My spouse is delighted. Some of the rooms look completely different, and others just feel different. It’s a fantastic feeling.

Today is a continuation — but a lot more low-key. The jobs I have today are more “thematically grouped”, being about the same sort of stuff. I’m about to get started on the rest of the list, and it feels good.

Onward.