When more stuff falls apart

1923 broken down car with wheel off
Sometimes, a wheel just comes off

I’m back.

But you probably didn’t notice, because I’ve been only intermittently blogging here for the past months – maybe a year or so? Life got… interesting. Work has been a drain and a challenge. There are multiple illnesses in my family. And I need to help out.

So, I help out.

I’ve got a disabled sibling with a child who’s in and out of the hospital. I haven’t done a good job, at all, of keeping in touch and offering support. I’ve been trying to do more of that, lately, but it really takes a toll. And now that sibling’s partner is having health issues, as well. So, that’s yet more of a drama scene.

And now my parents are having problems. Serious, possible-surgery problems. I spent the past 4.5 days with them, helping them get sorted out with doctors, getting their paperwork together, talking them through their options, and talking to a friend who is helping a lot. It’s a whirlwind with them. My parents are high-energy, always-on-the-go types, who live a very active lifestyle with lots of friends and activities. It’s exhausting just talking to them, let along living with them for a few days.

But mission accomplished (for now). We got all their paperwork taken care of, got them set up with the medical portal so they can connect with doctors and see their test results, hooked them up with a new smartphone, so they can have a GPS, and also look things up when they need to. And just reassured them that I and my spouse will be there for them when they need us. They’re a 7-hour drive away, so it’s not exactly close by. And my spouse is having a lot of mobility issues, which slows everything down.

I slow things down, too. The fatigue is just crushing, at times, and when I  push myself, I can get cranky and perseverative. I’ll start to grouse and get stuck on a single angry thought and just hammer that proverbial nail, till the board around it splinters. We had a couple of instances where I lost it over what was really nothing much, got turned around and confused, took wrong turns, got combative… mainly because I was bone-tired and worried about my folks.

On the way down, we added 1/2 an hour to our trip, because I got turned around and missed my last exit. My spouse was talking to me about a number of different things that had nothing to do with the drive, and it distracted and annoyed me, at just the time when I was trying to figure out where I needed to turn. I was tired, which makes my brain work worse, and it was dark, which didn’t help. We were also in a part of the country that’s changed a lot in the past years — and we hadn’t been in that area for over two years, so I was even more disoriented. I missed my exit, couldn’t see where to go next, and my spouse was getting really upset at me for not offering anything constructive to the conversation — which had nothing to do with driving.

I appreciate the vote of confidence, that I can do more than one really critical thing at a time, but I wasn’t in any shape to do anything other than drive the car and get to my parents’ place, so as for conversation… yeah, it wasn’t happening.

We ended up having a blow-out fight over it, which often happens whenever we make that trip to see my parents. There’s a magic point around 7.5 hours of driving, when both of us hit our limit, and any discussion we have turns into a lot of yelling.

Fortunately, we did manage to get over it before too long, and we did get to my parents’ place 9 hours after we left the house. At least we were safe, which was the whole point. And we had a good 4.5 days ahead of us to just chill out and focus on my parents.

On the way back, I got turned around again. I was tired from the trip, and I was confused about pretty much everything. I hate when that happens. It’s a little difficult to maintain your dignity, when you’re bumbling around in a fog. I felt like I was swimming through a bowl of thick tapioca pudding with ankle weights on. My brain just was not sharp. I was foggy and fuzzy and my reaction time was really terrible. I’ve been in better shape, but we had to get home, and my spouse was in no shape to drive, either. Plus, they don’t know the area we were in. So, I had to suck it up and get on with driving. Focus – focus – focus. Pay attention. Watch my speed.

And sure enough, 7.5 hours into the drive, things started to devolve. We were trying to figure out where to buy some eggs and milk and bread before going home. We didn’t have anything fresh in the house, so we had to get some groceries. Driving along, I came to a major fork in the freeway and I had to choose between the left branch or the right, so I decided on the right side, then realized a few miles later, it was the wrong choice. My spouse was pretty pissed off, and yelling ensued. Again.

But I remembered what an ass I’d been on the way down, so I pulled over on the shoulder where it was safe, checked my smartphone, found a grocery store that was open till midnight, and used the GPS on my phone to get there. My spouse was pretty anxious and turned around, too, which made them even more combative. And that wasn’t any fun. But when I followed the instructions of the GPS (almost turning the wrong way onto a one-way street, in the process — it was dark, after all), I got to the store by 10:50, which gave me more than an hour to find and buy the 10 items on the list my spouse made for me. I was in and out in 15 minutes, which was good. Heading out again, I took another wrong turn (even with the GPS telling me what to do – ha!), but I turned around and found my way back.

And we were home before midnight… without too much bloodshed, fortunately. I remembered how hard it had been for me when I lost my temper, while we were driving down. It was bad enough that I felt terrible, felt like a fool and an idiot, and my self-confidence was totally shot. But allowing myself to get angry and vent, to let things escalate with me and “defend myself” from my spouse’s “attacks” actually just made things worse. Even though I was totally justified in my response, it made everything harder for me to think, to process, and do the things that would build up my self-confidence, as well.

It’s all a learning experience, of course. So, I can’t be too hard on myself. It’s one thing, to make mistakes and mess up. It’s another thing to give in to the circumstances and let myself blow up… and never learn a thing in the process. I have to just keep my head on straight, study my situation, watch my reactions and behavior, and learn how to manage myself better. What other people do is one thing. But I need to pay attention to myself, to keep myself as functional as possible — based on the lessons I’ve learned from my past experiences.

It was an exhausting trip, and I’ll write more about that later. I’m still digesting the whole experience, and it’s clear I need to make some changes to how I deal with my parents. They need help — and they need the kind of help that only my spouse and I can offer. Everyone around them is pretty depressive, and some of their friends are distancing themselves from them, because they’re afraid of all the implications of a life-threatening condition that needs to be dealt with.

This is very hard for my folks, because they’re so social, and it’s hard for them to be ostracized, just because of illness.

It happens, of course. I could write a book about how that happens. It happened to me after my last TBI, when I couldn’t keep up with the social and work activities I’d done for years prior. People sensed a vulnerability in me, and it made them uncomfortable. They also sensed a change in me that made them uncomfortable. And since I wasn’t always up to the levels I’d been at, before, they drifted away. I talk about that in TBI S.O.S.Self Matters To Others. Who people know us to be, is also a big part of who they understand themselves to be. And when we change, a part of their world goes away. That’s not easy. But it happens. Not only with TBI, but with other injuries and illnesses, as well.

Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough in this post. I’m back from the visit with my parents, settling back into my regular routine, with some changes. I called my folks, first thing this morning to check in, see how they’re doing — and also pick them up a bit. I need to make this a regular routine, because that’s what works for them. Plus, it’s just nice to talk to them.

I also need to take care of myself, because this is even more demand being placed on my system. And it’s not going to get simpler, anytime soon. So, keeping myself in good shape, stepping up and being responsible about my issues… that’s a big part of what I need to do.

As I said, that’s enough talking for now. I’ll have plenty more to discuss, on down the line.

Sometimes the wheels come off. And you just have to figure out how to deal.

Onward.

Helmets will not keep you from getting concussed

brains-in-helmetsTBI is real for folks who play collision sports. Call it “concussion” or “mild” TBI or whatever else you will. Call it “character building” and “just part of life”.  But brain trauma goes hand-in-hand with slamming your body into other players on a regular basis.

Helmets will not keep brains from slamming against the insides of skulls. They literally can’t.

Coaches and parents need to get real about this, and understand the conditions they are helping to create.

Truly, I do not understand the rationale behind keeping kids playing collision sports — whether they’re young OR older. Helmets give you a false sense of security — which actually makes the situation worse, because a concussed brain can feel like a great brain. I know from many personal experiences, when I hit my head hard enough to alter my consciousness, after an instant of feeling like the lights went dim, when “the lights” came back up, I felt fantastic. Like I was superhuman. I’m not the only one.

As Riki Ellison, a former teammate of Junior Seau who like Seau played middle linebacker at USC and in the NFL, put it:

The fact is that when you receive what I would refer to as a partial but playable concussion, there is a unique feeling of being high, of floating, of being numb to pain and unaware of other distractions. This produces a happy state that translates to a belief of invincibility and a superman complex. In some ways, it acts just like a drug. You become addicted to that feeling and want more of it. And when you get another hit, it feels even better. (read more here)

And as long as kids are wearing helmets, and parents and coaches are thinking that they’re safer because of it, we’re just creating more opportunity for kids to injure themselves — in the short and long term.

I’ve been accused of attacking football. Not really. What I’m guilty of attacking is our willful ignorance about what role concussion plays in our youth sports… and how that affects the well-being and futures of kids who are “safer” wearing the latest headgear.

It’s one thing to not know about the dangers. But when people tell you, plain as day, and you refuse to take note — or do something about it — well, that’s something else, entirely.

And that goes for all collision sports where headgear is supposed to protect the players.

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.

 

Back from my 2-day reboot

Ahhhh… that’s more like it.

I just got up from a 2-hour Sunday afternoon nap, feeling like I’ve gotten the reset I’ve been needing.

My parents came to visit over the weekend, and we three really good days together. I took Friday off, and we hung out, roamed around my area, spent some time on Saturday with friends they’ve never met, who are more like extended family to my spouse and me, and made and ate good food.

I tend to really dread their visits, because there tends to be a lot of tension with my spouse, who doesn’t see eye to eye with them, politically or socially. This time there was some tension, but I spent a lot of time alone with my folks, while my spouse slept or did other things, so we didn’t have too much overlap.

And the times when there was tension, we managed to diffuse it pretty well.

Overall, I handled things pretty well. Both my spouse and my parents are very high maintenance, so I have to actively manage their activities. I have to manage my spouse, keep them relatively calm and not panicked, jump in and help them with different physical activities, and make sure they feel like they’re involved. And I have to manage my parents, because they have a tendency to pick up tools and start to cut and trim and “fix” things that don’t actually need fixing, which leaves more work for me to do later.

In the past, we’ve had a non-functioning bathroom faucet for several months, because my father decided to fix the drip without having a seat wrench.

Took me a few months to get the seat wrench — I kept forgetting to look for one — and then took me a little while to figure out how to properly use it and fix what my father broke. I felt pretty stupid wrangling with that simple tool, but there it is. What can I say? I’d never used a seat wrench before, let alone looked for one at the local hardware store.

My mother has a green thumb, and she loves to prune and dig and rearrange plantings, which is great, so long as she’s supervised. Once, she “went rogue” with a clipper and pretty much denuded one of my spouse’s favorite plants — one they’d been given for their birthday.

So much for the prized birthday present. That was a sore spot for months, because the plant in question was a centerpiece in our home and became a constant reminder of the havoc my mother can wreak, if left unattended with a clipping implement.

This time, I was “riding herd” on all three of them — parents and spouse — because my parents are starting to slip a little, mentally and physically, and my spouse has been increasingly unreasonable, hyper-sensitive and aggressive… and I didn’t feel like dealing with yet another Clash of the Titans, like we’ve had in prior years. In years gone by, they’ve practically come to blows.

And that blows.

But this time, we kept peace pretty well, and we left things on an up note, when all was said and done. My dad got to fix something that needed fixing. My mom got to plant some perennials we’ve been meaning to plant, and my spouse got to sleep almost as much as they wanted to, as well as spend some valuable time with our friends on Saturday.

Coming off the weekend, I’m feeling pretty good about the whole experience. My parents are utterly exhausting — they are go-go-go, non-stop, all the time. They’re like sharks. They never stop moving, and they can never sit still for longer than an hour. An hour is long for them. In the past, I’ve completely melted down with them, because of the constant activity, the constant movement, the frantic pace they keep up. It’s generally too much for me, and it sets off all my issues — irritability, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, sensitivity to touch, distractability, fatigue, anxiety… you name it, they set it off.

But this time I did well with them. I kept up. And when I felt like I was starting to wear thin, I stepped away for a little bit. I went to bed early. I took breaks from them all, now and then, and I was pretty good about watching what I was eating. I ate more than I should have, that’s for sure, but it was all healthy food, so that’s something.

Yes, that’s something.

At the end of it all, I’m feeling like I did a good job of handling myself and the challenges of the past three days. I had a lot of trepidation and anxiety about how I would handle things, because in the past things have been very tense, there have been a lot of fights and tension, and for days afterwards, my spouse would go on and on about the things that my parents did and said “to” them.

But we’re all slowing down, and none of us has the old intense edge we used to. My parents have pretty much “gotten” that they don’t have the answers to everything, and now their priority is on enjoying the time they have with the people they love. Their friends and peers are getting sick and dying. Members of our family are going through very hard times. And it’s like they finally got their heads screwed on straight with their priorities in life.

That’s a relief.

And my spouse has lost a lot of their hell-bent momentum, since they got really sick about seven years ago. They’ve also been declining, cognitively, so they’re less able to kick ass and take names like before.

Basically, everyone’s decline is working in my favor. I hate to say it, but it is.

And now, as I look back on the non-stop action of the past 2-1/2 days, I feel a great sense of relief and relaxation that my parents have returned home, and I can get back to my regular life.

Of course, “regular life” means going back to work to deal with all the bullsh*t at the office, the politics, the jockeying, and all the stupid-ass competition between co-workers (who should really be collaborating, except that they don’t seem mentally capable of doing that). Well, that’s tomorrow.

Right here, right now, I’m getting my act together, figuring things out, and pretty much settling into what’s left of my weekend. It’s been a good couple of days, it’s reset my priorities again, reminded me where I come from and where I want to be heading in my life, and it’s good.

It’s all good.

 

 

 

 

Another Post from a Guest Writer

I’ve always loved reading detective novels, well except during the time that I couldn’t, read that is. I’m getting back into reading these juicy suspense novels that I used to love so much. The last detective series I can remember reading was Encyclopedia Brown, I was a child of the eighties, just made the cut-off, no bell-bottoms or bowl cuts in my baby pictures! So I’m 33 and happy to say I think I’ve solved my own mystery. So many clues, but so much muck to get out of.

Playing soccer since I was six years old was something my family used to brag about, yes they would say, she started at six playing intramural soccer and worked her way up to travel, inter-county select and state team tryouts. They never mentioned girl’s high school soccer because I basically well, cursed out the coach.

High school is supposed to be a funky time, and it was for me, possibly because I abandoned deodorant, but I digress. My mood changes were so evident that everyone saw them, I think, but no one really knew what to do or say. I began using drugs and alcohol to mask the pain, anger, sadness, loneliness that I felt.

Jump ten years into the future after dropping out of college, suicide attempts, MRI’s, thousands spent on psychiatric treatments for schizophrenia, panic disorder, ADHD, depression, Bipolar, ACL surgery, TMJ surgery, pelvic floor dysfunction, interstitial cystitis, and possibly an EEG diagnosis showing simple partial epilepsy, I suspect compound partial epilepsy but again I digress.

Confirmation of temporal lobe seizures was the final clue for me, for me it’s my nail, it’s my trophy, yes finally I’ve solved my case, years of head balls and being the “most aggressive” female soccer player, those poor parents on the sidelines had no idea what they were cheering for.

This whole time, twenty years, this invisible injury, was a mystery to me. Is it my duty to convince my loved ones of it, no, but I still try even when they do believe me, even when they know. It seems every morning I have to convince myself, just to allow myself that pardon, the compassion, and motivation to get better.

No one can ever compare TBI’s, nor should they. Sometimes TBI’s are extremely evident, other times there is just a trail of invisible clues that something is not right within a person’s soul. I am of the belief that the public needs to stop categorizing people into mental and physical conditions because I believe that under every mental condition there lies a hidden physical malfunction of the human body.

Sometimes I just need to forgive myself, forgive my brain for the havoc, and move on. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this.

We need a plan for addressing concussion

Seriously. When it comes to handling concussion and mild traumatic brain injury, especially among student athletes, we desperately need a plan of action to address the injury when it happens.

Because it can — and does — happen. And it will continue to happen so long as we are doing more than sitting passively in a chair watching the game. Provided you never move from that chair, you’ll be safe… until obesity and all the health issues that accompany sedentary life catch up with you.

Personally, I’d rather run the risk of concussion.

And so would a lot of other people.

So, given that there are individuals out and about who are engaged in activities which carry a danger of head injury, how shall we address it when it happens?

I say, we come up with a plan for this. Especially among athletic trainers and other healthcare professionals and those who have been down the road of mild TBI and lived to tell about it.

People who are in a position to respond — response-Able individuals — need to step up and put some thought into not just prevention and immediate response, but also concussion recovery. Because if we just say, “You got hurt, but we really don’t know what to do to get you back on your feet. Every brain is different, so we really don’t know what to tell you, other than rest,” I will bet you any amount of money that the under-reporting and symptom concealment and unsafe return to play will continue, even escalate.

At the same time, you don’t want to set unrealistic expectations with the Plan and set people up for disabling disappointment. It’s true that every brain is different, so we have to be careful about making ‘guarantees’. There are none in life, especially with brain injury.

I think there’s definitely a fine line between providing hope and supporting health, and getting yourself into a professionally untenable position. The last thing you want, as a professional healthcare provider, is to have angry athletes and parents showing up at your doorstep shouting, “But you PROMISED my kid would be okay in three months!” I won’t even go into the lawsuit stuff.

Still and all, we need to do something. All of us, not just a select few. And outside the realm of commercial enterprise. Commerce and Concussion should never mix, but unfortunately, they increasingly do. We need to seize the moment and step up, as this concussion business is getting a lot of press – and heaven forbid we squander the opportunity to rise to the occasion.

How about this? Say, we craft a “crowd-sourced” response to concussion which draws on the collective intelligence and training and insight of experts of many kinds all over the place. And we do it for free. Online. As a community.

I envision the following Concussion Response Plan (CRP) for responding to concussion:

This would be an approach which, after a mild traumatic brain injury:

  • Leverages expertise in conditioning and protection and prevention, which comes from the Athletic Trainer camp. We need this to educate players (and others, like parents and coaches) about the source of their injury, to show them how and why their concussion happened.
  • Incorporates knowledge about the physical nature of mild traumatic brain injury, which comes from the Medical camp. We need this to educate folks about the nature of brain injury, to explain the inner workings of it and how physical changes in the brain affect its functioning. We need to stop being so squeamish and start calling concussion what it is — a mild traumatic brain injury.
  • Incorporates knowledge about the potential physical, mental, and emotional impacts of mild traumatic brain injury, which comes from the Neuropsychological/rehabilitation camp. We need this to educate everyone affected about the potential issues that may come up, help them craft intelligent coping mechanisms, AND to show that healing and recovery are possible… and where recovery is not 100% complete, there are indeed coping mechanisms that can be used to offset the effects of the injury, or other options available in life to the impacted individual.
  • Has a firm foundation in physical and cognitive-behavioral conditioning and fitness — in Action. We need to not just sit around and think about “this concussion stuff”. We need to put what we learn into action. This is especially important for concussed athletes, because the agitation that can come from TBI can be a huge issue, and the energy needs to be directed in some productive and constructive direction.

This CRP needs to be clearly defined and articulated from the start, even before athletes are concussed. The uncertainty of sitting out for an indeterminate amount of time, with no structured activity and now outlet for this crazy agitation that comes up — and stays — is no way to spend your days, especially as a student athlete with a concussion. If there’s no planned response to concussion in place, and athletes are left hanging with no structure or direction, the experience is HELL, and it’s all the more reason to hide your symptoms or pretend you’re all better before you are.

And that can — quite literally — get you killed.

But when you’re 16 years old, and the only way you’ve found to be the popular, successful person you always wanted to be, has just been yanked out from under you, it’s easy to choose to risk your life instead of honest disclosure. When your whole identity and sense of self hinges on being able to play — and play well — having that taken away from you might as well be death.

Yes, we need a Plan — a cohesive, coherent, well-thought-out program of action to address Concussion in youth sports across the full spectrum of experience, after the injury as well as before it happens. We need to chart a course that offers some level of structure and predictability to kids and parents alike after the concussion, and gives them some assurance in the midst of a situation which is chronically devoid of predictability.

Even if it’s the assurance of knowing what has happened and that there are specifiic, orderly steps they can take to take to address it — without any specific guarantee that it will all work 100% as they hope/expect — at least that would be something.

We need a Plan for addressing Concussion — how to prevent them, how to appropriately respond to them, and what to do during the time period required to recover. Without such a Plan, athletes — at all levels — are going to continue to avoid this issue and not address it directly or modify their behavior. Because sometimes uncertainty is the scariest thing of all. And nobody likes to be scared.

Gone for a good reason

Things are looking up, which is why I haven’t been here much. Not that I’m only using this space to vent and complain and find fault — I’ve just been really busy with really good stuff, and I’m just now coming up for air.

The job is good — extremely busy, and leaving me feeling like I’m constantly behind, but still good. The pace is blistering, which helps to keep me out of my head. It is also forcing me to take a really close look at how I do (and don’t do) things, which causes me to be either less effective or more effective.

I’m learning to be effective.

Funny — I feel like I should know this stuff already, like I’m perpetually behind, and everybody else knows things I don’t. But as it turns out, though that may be partially true, I know a lot of things other people don’t, too, so together, we get it right at least part of the time. I’m learning to give myself space and allow myself to learn. And for those things that I’m certain I used to know about, I’m allowing myself to re-learn them in a different way. Things like being part of an overall team, contributing to the whole, and maintaining my composure in tough times… these are the lessons I have to re-learn, and while it’s frustrating feeling like I to have to start from scratch with things that used to come so naturally to me, I’m giving myself the room to really experience the learning. Before, being a solid, stoic rock who could hold up in the face of any challenge came naturally to me, and I didn’t have to think about it. Now I really have to work at it. As long as I don’t get too tired, I can deal.

And so I do.

On the personal level, I’m dealing, as well. Things have not been easy at home, and the end-of-year family get-togethers have begun. I handled myself extremely well, this past weekend, when my parents came to visit. The old ways of relating to them, which were fraught with tension and conflict, simply didn’t happen this time. I know how my parents are, I know their political and religious views, and I know what to expect from them. Rather than getting upset at them not being different, or being hurt over their behavior, I ‘ran the show’ inside my own head, and I took time-outs and breaks when I needed to slow down and not get caught up in that antagonistic dynamic.

I recognized when I was getting tired, and I recognized when I was getting agitated and restless, and instead of getting all “backed up” and judging myself over it, I let myself be and reminded myself that it is normal for me to become agitated and irritable when I’m tired, so I should just step away and not let myself go down a road I’ve been down far too many times.

There’s more to tell, but I’ve got to get going to work.

I’ve been gone for a little while, but it’s been for a very good reason.

Cheers.

Is playing safe? Is it safe to return to play?

Recently, someone posted about the Maher mouth guard being effective protection against TBI in sports. I don’t know enough about it to speak with any authority, but on the other side, there’s the impact of low-level hits to consider. I believe I’ve posted about this before, but it bears repeating:

When we think about football, we worry about the dangers posed by the heat and the fury of competition. Yet the HITS data suggest that practice—the routine part of the sport—can be as dangerous as the games themselves. We also tend to focus on the dramatic helmet-to-helmet hits that signal an aggressive and reckless style of play. Those kinds of hits can be policed. But what sidelined the U.N.C. player, the first time around, was an accidental and seemingly innocuous elbow, and none of the blows he suffered that day would have been flagged by a referee as illegal. Most important, though, is what Guskiewicz found when he reviewed all the data for the lineman on that first day in training camp. He didn’t just suffer those four big blows. He was hit in the head thirty-one times that day. What seems to have caused his concussion, in other words, was his cumulative exposure. And why was the second concussion—in the game at Utah—so much more serious than the first? It’s not because that hit to the side of the head was especially dramatic; it was that it came after the 76-g blow in warmup, which, in turn, followed the concussion in August, which was itself the consequence of the thirty prior hits that day, and the hits the day before that, and the day before that, and on and on, perhaps back to his high-school playing days.

This is a crucial point. Much of the attention in the football world, in the past few years, has been on concussions—on diagnosing, managing, and preventing them—and on figuring out how many concussions a player can have before he should call it quits. But a football player’s real issue isn’t simply with repetitive concussive trauma. It is, as the concussion specialist Robert Cantu argues, with repetitive subconcussive trauma. It’s not just the handful of big hits that matter. It’s lots of little hits, too.

That’s why, Cantu says, so many of the ex-players who have been given a diagnosis of C.T.E. were linemen: line play lends itself to lots of little hits. The HITS data suggest that, in an average football season, a lineman could get struck in the head a thousand times, which means that a ten-year N.F.L. veteran, when you bring in his college and high-school playing days, could well have been hit in the head eighteen thousand times: that’s thousands of jarring blows that shake the brain from front to back and side to side, stretching and weakening and tearing the connections among nerve cells, and making the brain increasingly vulnerable to long-term damage. People with C.T.E., Cantu says, “aren’t necessarily people with a high, recognized concussion history. But they are individuals who collided heads on every play—repetitively doing this, year after year, under levels that were tolerable for them to continue to play.”

Speaking from experience, I don’t see how it’s possible to discourage kids who live, breathe, eat, sleep contact sports to give them up — even if it means they add years to their lives and they avoid the dementia and cognitive problems that can appear over the long term.

I, myself, have apparently had enough concussions in my life to make my brain increasingly vulnerable to damage. The fall I had in 2004 almost cost me everything, and it was totally a fluke — or divine intervention — that spared me and my family from complete ruin.

Parents and coaches and spectators alike should give the impact of repeated subconcussive impacts a good deal of thought, and weigh the immediate benefits versus the potential long-term costs to the next generation.

Just my two cents… on top of Malcom Gladwell’s amazing piece.

Woo hoo! It worked!

I just got back from the best Thanksgiving ever.

I had my plan, and I stuck with it. Each day, before I did anything else, I got up and went for my brisk walk. Then I went back to my parents’ house, had a drink of water or juice, and closed myself off in an extra bedroom to stretch and lift my weights (which I brought with me). I had my breakfast in the usual fashion, and I took my time.

Whenever I got overloaded (which happened a few times), I stepped away and took a nap. I had help, too. My spouse was there to help “cover” for me, when my family was wanting to talk and visit and spend time. And people didn’t seem to be pushing as much as they were in other years.

I managed to get through the holiday without melting down or insulting people or saying things that I hadn’t thought through. I was careful and deliberate, and I was very, very present with just about everyone I talked with.

I think people really saw a difference, too. By the end of the weekend, my mom was asking me about what exercises I do, and she had that look in her eye that said she was going to try them.

I also (finally) talked to my folks about the TBIs, and how they had played a role in the problems I had as a kid. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, now, because my folks aren’t getting any younger, and I didn’t want them to spend their final years burdened by the same regret and remorse that they’ve carried around with them for as long as I can remember. My parents have spent a lot of time apologizing to me for being bad parents, and I never knew what to say.

This Thanksgiving, I figured out what to say:  “All the problems I had weren’t your fault. They were neurological, and they were because I got hit on the head a lot. It’s nobody’s fault, and all those people who gave you a hard time for being bad parents were wrong about you. And they were wrong about me.”

It really choked them up. My mom got scared, and my dad had to step out of the room to compose himself. My parents love me a lot, and they could never understand why I didn’t respond to them the same way my other siblings did. Now they have a very important piece of the puzzle, and maybe now we can start healing some of the old hurts that never made any sense, but hurt, all the same.

Yes, my strategy did work — If I take care of my body, my mind can take care of my brain.

I was very careful about what I ate (tho’ I did overdo it on Thanksgiving Day — but who doesn’t? At least  it was real — not junk — food!), I paced myself well. I took my time, and I did not rush the things I often rushed (like packing the car and moving around). I was very mindful of my surroundings, and I took time to breathe deeply and relax.

Now I’ve got a lot of body aches and pains — too little sleep and too much long driving and too many unfamiliar activities — but while I was with my family, I was in a good space, and I was in good form.

And for that, I am truly thankful.

One concussion, two concussions, three concussions, four…

I had a meeting with my neuropsych last week, when we talked about my concussive history. I had read the article by Malcom Gladwell in the New Yorker called Offensive Play, and I had some questions about how my past might have made me more susceptible to tbi, later in life.

I was wondering aloud if my rough-and-tumble childhood (when falling and hitting my head and getting up and getting back in the game ASAP were regular parts of play), might have brought me lots of subconcussive events, like so many impacts on the football field. I checked in with my neuropsych, and they had me recap from the top, all the head injuries I could recall. My recollection and understanding of them was considerably better than it was, just six months ago. What came out of it was the determination that I’d had enough genuine concussions to do a fair amount of damage to myself. Forget about subconcussive events; the concussive events sufficed to cause plenty of problems, on their own.

It kind of threw me off for a day or two, and I got pretty stressed out and ended up pushing myself too hard, and then melted down in the evening. Not good. It’s hard, to hear that you’re brain damaged. It’s not much fun, realizing — yet again — that you haven’t had “just” one concussion, but a slew of them. And considering that I’m in this new job where I have to perform at my best, it really got under my skin. It’s taken me a few days to catch up on my sleep and settle myself down, after the fact. But I’m getting there. My past hasn’t changed, nor has my history. I’m just reminded of it all over again…

All told, I’ve sustained about eight concussions (or concussive events) that I can remember. Possible signs of concussion (per the Mayo Clinic website) are:

  • Confusion
  • Amnesia
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Fatigue

Some symptoms of concussions are not apparent until hours or days later. They include:

  • Memory or concentration problems
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Depression

I experienced most of these (except for nausea and vomiting, and not so much slurred speech, that I can remember) during my childhood and teen years. Not surprising, considering that I had a number of falls and accidents and sports injuries over the course of my childhood.

It’s pretty wild, really, how those experiences of my childhood contributed to my difficulties in adulthood — especially around TBI. I’ve been in accidents with other people who had the same experience I did, but didn’t have nearly the after-effects that I suffered. For them, the incident was a minor annoyance. For me, it was a life-changing concussion. A head injury. TBI. Brain damage. Geeze…

Thinking back on the course of my life, beyond my experiences with the accidents that didn’t phaze others but totally knocked me for a loop, I can see how the after-effects like fatigue and sensitivity to light and noise, really contributed to my difficulties in life. It’s hard to be social and develop socially, when you can’t stand being around noisy peers (and who is as noisy as a gaggle of teens?). It’s hard to learn to forge friendships with girls — who always seemed so LOUD to me(!) — or hang with the guys — who were always making loud noises, like blowing things up and breaking stuff — when you can’t tolerate loudness.

And when you don’t have the stamina to stay out all night… It’s a wonder I did as well as I did, as a kid. Of course, I was always up for trying to keep up – I was always game. And I wanted so very, very badly to participate, to not get left behind, to be part of something… That kept me going. I was just lucky to have people around me who were kind-hearted and intelligent and tolerant of my faults and limitations.

Anyway, I did survive, and I did make it through the concussions of my childhood. I have even made it through the concussions of my adulthood.  And I’m still standing. I didn’t get any medical treatment for any of these events, and the most help I ever got was being pulled from the games where I was obviously worse off after my fall or the hard tackle, than I’d been before.

But one thing still bugs me, and it’s been on my mind. During my high school sports “career, ” I was a varsity letter-winning athlete who started winning awards my freshman year. I was a kick-ass runner, and I won lots of trophies. I also threw javelin in track, and by senior year, I was good enough to place first and win a blue ribbon in the Junior Olympics. Which is great! I still have the blue ribbon to prove it, complete with my distance and the date. But I have no recollection of actually being awarded the ribbon, and I barely remember the throw. I’m not even sure I can remember the event or the throw. It’s just not there. It’s gone. And it’s not coming back. Because it was probably never firmly etched in my memory to ever be retreivable.

I’ve never thought of myself as an amnesiac, but when it comes to my illustrious high school sports career, when I was a team captain and I led my teams to win after win, I have all these ribbons and medals and trophies, but almost no memory of having earned them.

Which really bums me out. What a loss that is. When I hear Bruce Springsteen’s song “Glory Days” I feel a tinge of jealousy that the guy he’s singing about can actually recall his glory days. I can’t. And that’s a loss I deeply feel, mourn… and resent. Seriously. It sucks.

This could seriously mess with my head. And sometimes it does. But on the “up” side, it might also possibly explain why I’ve been such a solid performer over the years, in so many areas, yet I can’t seem to get it into my head that I am a solid performer. My memory of having done the things I did, in the way I did them, is piecemeal at best, and utterly lacking at worst. So, even if I did do  well, how would I know it, months and years on down the line? How would I manage to form a concept of myself as successful and good and productive and inventive and trustworthy, if I have little or no recollection of having been that way in the past?

It’s a conundrum.

But I think I have an answer — keeping a journal. Keeping a record of my days, as they happen, and really getting into reliving my experiences, while they are still fresh in my mind. If I can sit down with myself at the end of a day or a week, and recap not only the events of the past hours and days, but also re-experience the successes and challenges I encountered, then I might be able to forge memories that will stay with me over time. If nothing else, at least I’ll be making a record for myself that I can look back to later. And I need to use colors to call out the good and the not-so-good, so I can easily refer back to the date and see where I had successes and failures along the way.

Most important, is my recording of successes. I’m so quick to second-guess myself and assume that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. And when I think back to the times when I overcame significant difficulties, I often lose track of the memory before I get to the end of the sequence I followed to succeed.

But I cannot let that situation persist. I need a strategy and a practice to reclaim my life from the after-effects of way too many concussions. I’m sure there are others in life who have had it far worse than me, but some of my  most valuable and possibly most treasured experiences are lost to me for all time, because I have no recollection of them.

No wonder my parents often start a conversation with me with the sentence, “Do you remember ________?”