After concussion – I’m not stupid, you just think I am

This is an extension of the piece I wrote years ago (January, 2011), called “After concussion – you’re not stupid, it just feels that way“. I’m writing this after seeing a physiatrist for a follow-up appointment regarding neck & shoulder pain/stiffness and tingling and weakness in my left hand and arm. They had given me a prescription for a physical therapist to get some help, but I never got PT help, because:

  1. Carving time out of my schedule is a challenge. I already have two standing appointments after work, each week, and a third (and sometimes a fourth) usually shows up, which doesn’t leave me enough time to rest.
  2. The one PT who I am interested in seeing has an office a good hour from my home, which not only makes it tough to find the time, but it also threatens to wipe out any benefits I get from them, while I’m driving home.
  3. It’s hard for me to explain what’s going on with me, because I get turned around – especially when I’m tired, and my symptoms shift and change. It’s hard for me to A) remember from one day to the next how I’ve been feeling, B) track how I’m feeling without it being disruptive, and C) put into words the impact of my issues. Not being able to explain — especially to people who do not know me, and who do not know how to parse out all the information in a meaningful way… it’s just a waste of time.
  4. The PTs I’ve worked with in the past have had no clue (I mean, NO CLUE) what to do with me, when they found out about my head and neck injuries. They either treated me like I was mentally deficient, or they got so in a tizzy about my different injuries and whole host of aches and pains and issues, that they were no use to me at all. They were so obsessed with being careful, that they achieved nothing at all.And what they showed me was stuff I already knew how to do.

So, no, I didn’t follow up with a PT, and I told the doctor a few of the points above. I should have written it down, but I didn’t get to it.

The doc was a little taken aback, probably because I had seemed so compliant and cooperative when we’d met. I explained to them that I hadn’t had good experiences with PTs, and anyway, I thought I’d try to fix the issue myself with some light exercises… which has worked. Strengthening my trapezius muscles in a specific way and also stretching my neck has resolved my issues. That, and being determined to not get hooked into a healthcare system that is A) clueless about me, and B) too impatient to be of much help to me.

In the end, we parted ways with them telling me that I was going to be fine and I guess trying to be encouraging. That’s fine, but it was also a bit infuriating, because (cover your ears and/or close your eyes) Jesus Fucking Christ They Treated Me Like A Goddamned Simple-Minded Idiot. They talked slowly and said “Good job!” a lot, like I was a goddamned puppy learning a new trick. They were complementary towards me for taking things into my own hands and being pro-active, but the way they did it seemed forced, like they were making an extra effort to accommodate my “disability”.

I do not have a disability. I have a history of injuries that have changed the ways I process information, and just because I’m struggling to find the right words — “X-ray”… “arthritis”… “traps” — doesn’t mean I’m not parsing all the information as well as the next person. My brain works differently — not worse. But every time I stopped to find a word or I had to work at putting thoughts into a sentence, they got a little more “accommodating” and remedial with the way they interacted with me. The worst thing was when I started to tear up over explaining why it’s hard for me to get help.When I get angry or frustrated, I tend to cry. And you’re right, if you’re thinking “How inconvenient… How infuriating.”  It is. And that makes me even more prone to tears. Arrrrgggghhhh!!!!! &(*$^%#*!!!!

I’m sure they were trying to be compassionate and empathetic and whatever, but their total affect came across like they had to talk more slowly and put ideas into small words and lower their communication level for the simpleton in the room (that would be me). It seemed like they thought that I was less intelligent and less capable of processing information due to my history of TBI, so they had to talk to me like a 5th grader. Plus, they kept saying that everything that’s happening to me, is just because of my getting older. They said that a lot, last time I saw them. And they kept saying it with this air of “professional resignation”, like that’s just how it is, and I was a mentally deficient person who was getting all paranoid with bad thought habits, thanks to my history of head injury.

The thing is, my 50 years on the planet might be a factor, but my family members regularly live well into their 90s and  past 100, so I’ve got another 50 years ahead of me. At least. It’s medically possible now to live till 120, so we’re probably looking at 150 being possible, by the time I near that. That’s my plan, and all this talk about “well, that’s just what happens when you get old” is not helpful to my plan. It’s just a bit resigned. Pessimistic. Cynical. None of the things that actually help me… or are consistent with my own attitude towards life and living it to its fullest.

Now, if I were going to see this doctor regularly for an extended period of time, I could do something about this. They would get to know me. They would change their mind about what “has” to happen as we grow older. They would realize that they don’t have to give me me special treatment – they just need to have a little patience while my brain coughs up the right word. And I’d be able to educate them about the ways in which I am strong – so strong – instead of just what they see with the verbal issues.

But I’m never going to see them again. I can deal with my issues on my own. I don’t need to be constantly told to adjust my expectations down, thanks to the inevitable march of time. And call me crazy, but adding an hour of driving, breaking up my work day, and spending $40 a pop to go see someone who is just going to talk down to me, no matter how helpful they’re trying to be… seems like a waste of time. It was a great lesson to learn — next time I’m not going to bother going back again, if I’m actually not having any more issues. Consider the lesson learned.

It’s best that I just steer clear.

And while I’ll never have to deal with them again, most likely, this is the thing that makes me NUTS about people and their cognitive prejudices. If you’ve got difficulties putting words together verbally, people assume you’re less intelligent or are “slow”. If you have little tics or fidgets, they think there’s something wrong with you. If you don’t answer them immediately with a definitive reply, they take you for weak-minded and indecisive, and they sometimes get angry to boot. If you get tired and distracted and lose track of what they’re talking about, they think you’re not interested in what they’re saying, and they get angry. If you can’t remember things that happened only a few minutes ago, they think you’ve got Alzheimer’s or some other degenerative condition that’s making you lose your mind, and they start “helping” you remember things.

Doctors are just as susceptible. They are human, after all, and medical education doesn’t always impart insight or interpersonal clue-fulness. Maybe this physiatrist has seen other folks with concussion / TBI, and they needed the extra help. But it’s really demeaning to treat people in that way — like children, or developmentally delayed “dearies” who just need love and understanding – not cold, hard facts.

For as long as I can remember, my parents have treated me like I was “special”. Like my inability to remember things marked me as less-than. Like my losing track of things and getting lost with directions meant I was functionally impaired.

I am not an idiot. I am not simple-minded. I am not intellectually impaired.

I have a handful of issues that get a lot worse when I am tired, in unfamiliar conditions, or under pressure. I have a handful of issues that I have learned to work around. I don’t need anyone’s condescension or “help”. I just need people to cut me a break, be polite, and treat me professionally. I need them to treat me like the adult I am, and with the respect I deserve.

Is that so much to ask?

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Hard work – and stress – paying off

Yeah, it’s paying off 🙂

I don’t want to sing the praises of stress right now, because I don’t want anyone getting the idea that I think stressing yourself out is a great idea. I will say, however, that the added strain of working long hours, this past week, is paying off — in terms of a full day off work, so I have an uninterrupted day to do some things I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

I’m getting my neck worked on. The left side is very sore, and the tightness there is translating to a right hip that feels arthritic. I know it’s not arthritis — it’s muscular, because of the location of the pain, but it’s keeping me awake at night, and it’s making my life more difficult.

I’ve been trying to do physical therapy and acupuncture, but the results have been slow. I need to have someone just work on my neck and get my back and shoulders loosened up. Kind of fast-track it.

I also worked out this morning more than I have in months. I actually got on the exercise bike for 10 minutes. I rode easy for 5 minutes, then I did a few 30-second alternating intervals of fast/easy, and I finished up with 2 minutes of slow and steady. Then I lifted slightly heavier weights than I have been, in the past – fewer reps, more weight, with tons of attention to form.

And it felt great. Just working up a sweat felt great. It’s been a long time, since I really pushed myself — partly because I’ve been having headaches when I push myself while exercising. I do have a slight headache now, but I can live with it. I’m just drinking extra water and stretching my neck and shoulders.

I’m also taking some time to get on Facebook and reconnect with my friends there. I miss my coworkers from my last job. Well, some of them, anyway. I think the thing I miss most is their predictability. My brain and system got used to dealing with them, and it developed behavioral habits that I came to depend on, to add structure and meaning to my life.

One thing I do NOT miss about them, is how young and frivolous they can be. I really could tell that most of them were 20 years younger than me, and it’s nice to not have to deal with them anymore.

I’m also getting my head on straight about my new job. Turns out, the crowd I’m working with is about 10-15 years younger than me, which has also turned out to be a bit of a pain. Their priorities and interests are completely different from mine, and frankly I can do without every singe conversation centering around who’s getting pregnant, who’s having kids, what their kids are doing, if their kids are sick, the dance recitals, the summer vacations. There are a few folks there who don’t live their lives around “little ones”, so I’ll need to seek them out more actively. The team I’m working most closely with is quite focused on child-rearing, and I’ve got nothing to offer there.

So, I’m going to take some time today and over the next few days to do some heavy-lifting thinking and really dig into some of the writing I’ve been doing, lately. I’ve got a handful of projects I’m working on, and some of them are very demanding, mentally. It’s like I’m going down a rathole of abstract concepts, and each one leads a little bit deeper in. So, it feels like I’m “flying blind” into the abyss… and I love it.

I’m the only one who knows the details about the abstractions I’m exploring. I’ve tried to explain them to others, but I haven’t had much luck communicating. They’re “thought experiments” of sorts, just exercises to tweak my thinking process and help expand my working memory capacity.

The main thing with these thought experiments, is that they really excite me and delight me. So, there’s a real motivation and impetus to explore. To expand. To see how much I can extend my own abilities. Of course, I need to balance this out with plenty of rest and recovery, so the connections I’m building in my brain have a chance to “set” before they’re tested, again.

That’s what the past week or so has been about. I really pushed myself cognitively for a few weeks, back when I was changing jobs and everything was in flux. It was a great way to both take my mind off the stresses of my daily life transition, and also get some new types of activity going on in my brain. I really need that — new activities that test me.  Sometimes I may overdo it, but that’s where rest and recovery come in.

And it’s good. It’s all good.

So, stress… I’ll write more about that later. I am a firm believer in periodically applying stress to test the system, then backing off to let the system recover and recuperate. I believe that’s what makes us stronger — for me, with my TBI symptoms, I need to be careful about over-doing it. Obviously. But if I can realize — and remember — that added stress is the source of my issues, and then take the edge off when I need to… it doesn’t have to doom me.

The main ingredient is mindfulness. And responsibility. And being realistic about my limits and working with them so that I can expand them, rather than trying to avoid/deny them and then shooting myself in the foot.

It’s really a balancing act. And now it’s time to balance out my day with some reading, juggling, and a bit of relaxation.

Making the most of my sh*tty situation

Life can keep its lemons

So, I’m still a little “off” from my travels last week. And I have yet another trip coming up in another week. That gives me a bit of normalcy this month. Not much, but some.

What-ever. I can’t let fatigue and fog keep me from living my life. I’ve just got to get on with things, and not let other people’s crap get in my way. There’s a ton of that going on, right now at work. One of my erstwhile friends has turned out to be a monumental pain in the ass, maneuvering around me and everyone else they work with, to push their agendas. They fight and squabble over every little thing. And they don’t fight fair. Seriously, they are so stupidly divisive, it’s not even worth dignifying with attention.

And then there’s the other one in my group who is turning out to be such a cry-baby. They come across as so together and professional, when they’re playing their role, but behind closed doors, they’re infantile and colicky. Nice. They’re one of the most “mature” people in my group, too. But years don’t mean much, apparently.

That’s two less friends in the mix. It’s sad. But during reorganizations and shifts of power, that’s how things happen. I’ve seen it happen time and time again, and the one-time friend who’s gone to the dark side is frankly not mature enough to resist the temptations of sudden influxes of power. While the cry-baby just has issues — at home and in their personal life. Bitch-bitch-bitch. What a waste of my time, having to deal with their emotional upheavals.

It’s all a big pain in the ass. But then again, it’s not so terrible… because it actually makes it easier for me to move on. I hate getting emotionally attached to people at work. They always fall short. The worst thing is, expecting people to be better, stronger, more honest, more capable, more excellent, than they really are. I set myself up with my expectations, and then I get let down.

So, yeah – whatever. It’s Saturday, and I’m feeling like crap. I’m tired and foggy and am just not very sharp today. It’s disappointing, to say the least. I really want to be sharp and with-it and able to be fully alive. But today might be just one of those days…

I went to see my doctor yesterday about my headaches, and they recommended I see a headache specialist. Maybe these are migraines, maybe not. Who knows? All I know is, I get headaches when I exercise or get stressed or suddenly get hit with a blast of sunlight. And no matter how great things are going, I usually have a headache of some kind. I’m working with a physical therapist who showed me some things I can do, too. We’ll see if that works. Some of the things they showed me actually made me feel a little worse, so… I’ve got to be careful.

Most of the time, the headache thing doesn’t even bother me that much. It’s not nearly as bad as the other pains I have. But it is annoying at other times — distracting and confusing and frustrating, because it just doesn’t seem like it’s every going to stop. And it’s those other times I’d like to address. I’m not keen on the idea of pills, but we’ll see what happens. I may need to go back to my chiro – they seemed to help my headaches in past years. The problem is, they’re located in the opposite direction from work and my house, so if I start going back to them, it’s like an extra hour more driving, which I really don’t care for. I’m trying to get better, not cramp up from sitting all the live-long day.

Well, anyway. I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

For today, I’m making the most of my situation. It is sunny and bright and not as cold as it has been. I’ll put on my sunglasses and head out for a walk. Then take care of some other chores. And focus on relaxing and just enjoying myself. I’m not getting too worked up over work, because — oh, hell — it’s not even worth getting all bent out of shape about.  I started to “spin” about it this morning, but that proved to be a total waste of time and energy. So, I quit.

I just need to concentrate on the good that’s in my life and keep going in a direction that works for me. And be grateful, each and every day, for all the good things I do have.

Stewing in sh*t is such a waste of my time.

Onward.

Gotta get moving again

Ouch. The past short week with all the long hours — 5 a.m. till 7 p.m., most days — has been kicking the crap out of me, and I woke up this morning feeling like I’ve been beaten with a stick. It’s all those old sports injuries from my past, including a very sedentary lifestyle in my present. I do manage to get up and move, throughout the course of the day, but lately I’ve had to do work that has me sitting for long periods of time, just hunched over the keyboard, and that just plain sucks.

So, I’ve got to do something about it. I have been going to physical therapy to help with my neck and shoulder, which I injured a few months back and has not quite healed yet. I’ve learning some exercises to do, and I have a printout to follow. Now, I just need to put it where I can find it and remember it. I got it a couple of weeks ago, but it ended up on a pile underneath some other papers — out of sight, out of mind. No matter now often I tried to remember to dig it out and consult it, I kept forgetting.

That being said, I just retrieved it from my pile and it’s sitting here on the desk next to me. That’s an improvement already.

I also did some exercises this morning while I was making my breakfast — not the usual exercises 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 and repeat… that gets boring — but just moving around, loosening up, getting my bones cracking and my blood pumping. I get a little too staid with my exercises, first thing in the morning, and they don’t feel that great, so I back off. And then I end up doing nothing… Unless I’m doing chores around the house and yard, in which case I’m moving a lot, lifting and pushing and pulling and really testing myself.

Feast or famine. And then I end up with a lot of pain and stiffness and I get sedentary… and I end up like I am now — stiff and sore and one bit instance of ouch.

Ah, well. So it goes. At least I know I’m alive, right?

I’ve heard a lot of friends say that this is the year they get their act together, health-wise, and I’m in the same boat. I feel like the last few years were just all about survival — hunkering down and keeping a low profile and just soldiering through. Just staving off disaster, nothing more, nothing less.

This year, it feels like things are loosening up, all the upheaval in Ukraine and Venezuela notwithstanding. All kinds of crap is breaking loose all over the place, but in my little corner of the world, things are actually normalizing. Granted, I have come to detest my job all over again, and I can’t even begin to say how crazy it makes me to work with people who are arrogant, entitled, and utterly incompetent because their bosses have been letting them slide, lo these many years. It’s truly pathetic. There is a cost for coddling slackers. And I’m sick of paying someone else’s bills.

On the bright side, this motivates me all the more to step up and actively manage my own career and make some inroads where I can. I’m just going to keep steady with my own work and my own path, and let everyone else figure it out. Seriously, it’s not my job to win the hearts and minds of everyone around me. They can manage their own damn’ selves. I’ve got work to do, and I’m going to do it.

Now that I’m looking at my printout of exercises, it’s coming back to me… my physical therapist showed me some good stretches to do, and some of these I can do at my desk, as well as in the car while I’m driving. Or I can just step away from my desk for 10 minutes, every couple of hours, and do them. It actually wakes me up a bit, to stretch, and it frees up the blood flow and energy — gets everything “talking to each other” much better. So, it should help me in the course of my daily work.

Despite my bitching, the simple fact remains that people who can do difficult work get paid the big bucks. Those who can take on impossible challenges and deliver, are the ones who are most valued in a large company, and rather than dreading and avoiding challenges like the ones I face each day, I should be welcoming them as a chance to grow and improve. There are a number of things I really dislike about this job — the workforce, the arrogance of management, the overwork and underpay, as well as the travel which destroys my quality of life. But if I can work around those things and focus on the parts of it that I want to really emphasize, then I can make this work for myself.

Having to soldier through all the muck and weeds is incredibly taxing, but that’s just part of living and working. I need to just suck it up and get moving, make the most of the situation where I find myself, and really focus on the gratitude for what I do have.

And take care of my health. I’m going to see my doctor today about my headaches. I suspect they’re just tension headaches, but it could be something else. And they come on when I exercise — I can start out feeling pretty decent (headache at a 2/10). Then I’ll start to exercise, and when my heart rate goes up, my headache kicks in harder — going up to a 6 or a 7 out of 10. It makes it a little difficult to get excited about exercising. I thought it would just go away over time, but it hasn’t. And so I need to check with my doctor.

This coming June, it will be four years since I started at this company. It has been a wild ride. I’m not sure how much longer I should stay, actually. And later this year, when I have revised my resume and goals and objectives, and I am more clear about the new direction I want to go in, I can start looking. Right now, it makes no sense for me to move. I just need to stay focused on what I am doing and stay true to myself.

And not let others hold me down or cloud my judgment. I’m surrounded by people whose judgment doesn’t seem to be that sound. I can’t let that affect me and blur my own vision.

So, yeah. Onward.

 

 

One day down, next day up

Yeah – that

Okay, I had my “down day” yesterday. I got up after 7 (late for me), I took it easy in the morning, then did a bunch of stretching and “physical therapy” for a few hours, studied my anatomy books, and took a nap. Then I called my parents to talk about their Christmas, talked to a sick friend, had an early dinner, watched a movie and some t.v. with my spouse, and then went to bed.

All in all, a very relaxing, restoring day. I took good care of myself and really focused on just being as well as I could possibly be. I also headed off a couple of arguments at the pass, which was good. I just stopped arguing with my spouse, before we got going. That’s progress. I think the food fix is working for me. At least, it seems that way.

It’s also good to just take the pressure off and decompress — just forget about accomplishing anything for anyone else, and take care of my own body, mind and soul, for once. I didn’t stress out about a lot of things. I just worked out the kinks in my body and rested as much as I could.

The thing is, after my physical therapy yesterday, I am really sore today. I worked a lot of knots out of the muscles in my back and neck and legs — all over, really — and now I’ve got a lot of “sludge” floating around that needs to get moved out of my system.

So, I got up this morning and got moving, first thing. I jumped on the exercise bike and rode for about 8 minutes, with some good intervals included. I know it’s not much, but I have not been on the bike regularly for quite some time — a couple of years, probably — and I need to work my way back to where I was before. I feel pretty good about the ride this morning — it was just enough to get my blood pumping and get me out of breath and make my legs a little wobbly when I got off the bike, but it wasn’t so much that I felt awful. I did get that headache towards the end, and my head is still hurting a bit right now, but I really don’t care. I’m active, things are moving, I feel better, and that’s what matters.

After my ride, I did some easy push-ups and stretching while I made my coffee, then I lifted weights while my fried egg was cooking. It takes about 5-7 minutes for my fried egg to cook up the way I want it, and that’s about enough time to do one “circuit” of my weights. I used to do that circuit each morning, years ago, then I stopped because I was overtraining, pushing it every single day without any rest, and I was starting to get too stressed and strained.

So, I just stopped.

It actually felt good to have that rest and extra time each morning — I was dedicating 20-30 minutes each morning to getting going, and it started to feel like it took forever. There also was no joy in it. But after stopping for a couple of years, and not replacing it with anything, now I’m feeling the results — lower energy, smaller range of motion, less good feelings in the morning. I can tell the difference between now and a couple of years ago.

So, I’ve started exercising again. I’ve done something about every other day, for a little over a week, now.

And it feels good.

After my rest day yesterday, I’m feeling really motivated to get going. I did my exercises this morning, as I said, and I’m feeling really energized by studying anatomy. It fascinates me, how our bodies are put together, and it’s also knowledge I can use — on a daily, moment-by-moment basis. I also discovered a website called Inner Body, which lets me study the body in its entirety, including all the skeletal, muscular, and organ systems. Fascinating. I’m looking at the bones of the head right now, because I need to understand the underlying structure that the muscles all attach to. I am most interested in the muscular system, because that’s what’s giving me trouble. But after spending a fair amount of time, yesterday, studying the muscular systems of the neck and back and legs, I realized that they kept talking about what bones the muscles were attached to, and if I didn’t know what bones they were talking about and the different parts of them, then I couldn’t really understand how the muscles were connected.

So, I need to learn the skeletal system, if I’m going to learn the muscular system. The skeletal system is a lot less complicated, because there are fewer parts, but it’s still a challenge for me to learn all the bones in the body.

I guess this is one of my goals for 2014 — to learn all the bones in the body (at least) — and if possible learn the muscular system as well. I think I can learn the skeletal system in a few months at the most. I just need to keep at it on a regular basis and keep refreshing my memory. And then I can learn the muscular system. Or I might study them simultaneously, so I understand the workings of them all, as they interact with each other, and better remember them that way.

For me, it’s all about how things are put together and how they interrelate to each other. If I can think about things in terms of a complete system that interacts with all the different parts, it makes more sense. I also need to find some videos of anatomy to understand the motions and movements, so it makes sense to me when people talk about adduction and abduction, flexion and extension.

Maybe if I can see it in action, it will make sense to me.

Let me Google that… videos of muscular system… Oh, I see there are plenty on YouTube. I’ll find time for that later.

Right now, I’m rarin’ to get into the day. I am a little tired, because I only got about six hours of sleep, last night, but I will take a nap later to make up for it. I’m off work for the next four days, so I have time. I just need to rest up, because next year is going to be a trip. I can feel it in my bones. And by the time I’ve learned all the bones in the body, I’ll be able to say which ones I can feel it in, and what parts of them are the most sensitive 😉

So, I’m making my list for things to do. I have some chores to do, which I can take care of at my own pace, now that the rest of the world is either at work or at the mall. I can take my sweet time, roaming around, and spend some time at the health food store, discussing Tyrosine with the folks who work there who always try to engage me in in-depth discussions. I have to be careful with those folks, because they love to up-sell me, but overall, it’s cool. As long as I don’t get sucked into their hypnotic displays of expertise, I’m fine.

I just have to keep moving today, and give myself time to rest and digest as well. I made some pretty phenomenal food on Christmas Day, and I’m going to take another crack at it. I’m gonna get my shopping list of Tyrosine-generating foods, stock up, and refill the cupboards. I’m also going to pay some bills that are due by month-end… because I can, now that I got paid again this week. And I’m going to do some work on some of my projects that keep me interested and engaged. I’m going to study the skeletal system today, learn some basics, and also take the information with me to practice as I’m going about my chores. I have a little holder for 3×5″ cards, and I’m going to write down things to take with me, so I can use the time I spend standing in line or waiting for something or another.

I started doing this several years ago, then I stopped, because I had a lot of learning difficulties after my TBI. I had trouble reading, I had trouble remembering, I had trouble sorting things out and also staying motivated. I’m hoping that my Tyrosine and dopamine increasing strategies will help me with this. It’s a plan, anyway.

It’s all good. Having a rest day is helpful. Getting going… even better.

Onward

The joy of messing around

Every morning I get up and get on the exercise bike and ride for about 20 minutes. While I ride, I start to wake up… and as I wake up, I think about the day ahead of me.

As I think about my day ahead of me, I make notes on a clipboard I always have with me on the bike. I save all the one-sided scrap paper that results from work I do — old taxes that needed to be re-run through the tax software and reprinted for filing… old projects that I started, along the way, then abandoned, once I realized there was way too much work for just one person to do, and I wasn’t up to finding more people to help me get the work done… old drafts of essays and articles and stories I wrote that never went anywhere, because I realized that I was writing them for myself, not really for anyone else…

My clipboard, needless to say, has a never-ending supply of scrap paper to fill it.

As I pedal on the bike, I think about my day and write down the things that matter most to me. It’s so important for me to do this — it involves me in my day — in my life — as soon as I’m up. And it gets me involved during the exercise that brings me to full living, breathing life. As I am becoming physically involved in my day  (through the exercise), I am becoming mentally, emotionally, even spiritually involved in my day, as well. And it is good.

One of the nice things about using a clipboard filled with scrap paper for planning, is that I don’t have to worry about making a mistake or messing up. My handwriting has become progressively worse over the years (it seemed to take a nosedive, after each of my accidents), and trying to read my scrawl can be a real challenge. Especially when it’s written during pedaling as fast as I can 😉  Seeing my cryptic scrawl on a sheet of paper in front of me can be a bit daunting. And when I try to write on a sheet of good notebook paper — or worse, a nicely bound journal — it’s very discouraging to see how bad my handwriting is, compared to how it used to be.

And I don’t want to write anything down. It just reminds me of my impairments.

My clipboard, on the other hand, is my “sandbox” where I can scrawl and mess up and write scraggly notes about this and that, and not worry about messing up something that’s nice. Growing up, I was always messing up nice things. My family didn’t have a lot of money, so we had to take care of what we had. That didn’t leave a lot of room for just messing around with writing and drawing and experimenting. Experimenting takes a certain amount of money, it takes a certain amount of existential largesse, a kind of reckless abandon, a ton of tolerance for “waste” … and that’s something my family just never had. So, I got in the habit, early on, of being careful. Of taking baby steps. Of not asking too much and not demanding too much and not taking too many risks.

That childhood experience colored the rest of my life, and when I climb on my bike, first thing in the morning, clipboard in hand, it follows me. It compels me to use scrap paper to scribble my ideas on. It warns me not to make too much of  a mess of my paper. It hovers over me, intruding on my mind and spirit.

Pain in my ass.

Anyway, I’ve found a way around that by using all the scrap paper I can find to write down my notes. And then, later on when I am really planning out my day, I transfer my scribbled notes into my computer, in a daily planner that is much more structured and much more neat. Typing up my notes gets me thinking about them in a different way, and it lets me organize my thoughts, so I can get on with the day without needing to hassle over the fine details of when I’m going to do things. Just figuring out how I’m going to do them, is enough of a challenge, thank you very much.

It’s really, really important to me, to be able to “mess around” first thing in the morning. It frees me up to think creatively, out of the box, on my own terms and at my own pace. It frees me up to experiment with ideas and make “mistakes” as much as I like. It gives me a ton of leeway and takes the pressure off. While I’m exercising, pedaling away, I can let my mind roam — let the proverbial wild little dog in the back of my head off the leash and let it run around the park to get its exercise before it straps on the pack to work the rest of the day. Plus, it gives me really fertile ground to dream from. Structure is very freeing for me… but so is a little lack thereof.

It’s all good.

Muscle doesn’t build itself

I was talking to my therapist the other week, trying to describe to them the pain that I’m in on a regular basis. They were (understandably) concerned, and I found it difficult to relate the information objectively without alarming them.

I hate when I alarm people, simply by being and living the way I do. I’m not trying to shock them, but when folks become acquainted with my interior life, yes, it can be shocking.

Anyway, they recommended plenty of exercise (which I’m doing), and they suggested physical therapy might be useful.

Now, I can’t imagine that anyone is going to offer me physical therapy that can help my situation. What exercises could I possibly do, to address the myofascial all-over pain that wreaks havoc with my sanity? What specific routines could anyone recommend to ease the aching scream in my joints and the connecting points in my lower back, hips, knees, elbows… you name it…?

It’s not that I dispute it can be addresed — this pain, I mean — it’s just that I’m skeptical of the ability of others to prescribe a suitable solution for me. I’m just not that easy. Or easily explained. Besides, the pain tends to travel. Where is it today? Only today will tell.

What I do not dispute is the benefit of exercise. Daily. Routinely. As part of my waking-up ritual. I get up, and the first thing I do, is get on that exercise bike. Then I stretch. Then I lift. Not a lot of weight, but enough to notice it’s there. Enough to make my muscles burn in a good way, get my heart pumping and my skin sweating. Enough to remind me how far I’ve come, and how far I have to go.

One of the things my therapist mentioned was that physical therapy can help the knees. This I know. You help the knees — joints which can’t be helped directly — by strengthening the muscles around them. You don’t fix the joint. You fix what’s around it, what’s supporting it, what’s holding it together.

And it works. It took physical therapists years and years to figure that one out, and now we can all benefit.

From where I’m sitting, the rest of me benefits in the same way. The weak and crackly shoulders I have, the weak and crackly back I have, the weak and complaining legs I have — hips, knees, ankles — are all improved when I strengthen the muscles around them. Even my neck, which is a wreck, most of the time — pain and stiffness and the third vertebra from the top turning out to be pushed out of place every time I pay close attention to it — is helped by a good dose of concentrated lifting. In fact, when I was doing a lot of heavy weights, back about 10 years ago (and pretty much built of solid muscle, thank you very much), my neck always felt better when I did 70 lbs worth of shrugs.

You should have seen the looks on the faces of the other cubicle dwellers I worked out with, when I walked over and grabbed two 35-lb dumbells off the rack and started shrugging away. Priceless. But it worked like a charm. By the end of three sets of 12, my neck felt 200% better than it had before. And the benefits lasted for days. And the same was true of the rest of my body. I always felt so much better when I lifted regularly. And one of the things I resent losing the most, after my last fall in 2004, was the ability to go to the gym and work out without overwhelm or anxiety. I miss it. I still miss being able to go out and work out. But for now I’m doing what I can in the privacy of my own home.

I do what I can to build muscle. And it doesn’t get built on its own. It takes work and concentration and dedication to a greater cause. It takes persistence that defies logic and human resolve. It takes tenacity and a small dose of fear of what might happen if I don’t do it. Muscle doesn’t get built on its own. But when you do build it, it works for you.

Sometimes you gotta give a whole lot, before you can expect to get anything (no matter how small) in return.

I guess this is what I’m doing with my life, these days –giving a lot to get something back. Building up the proverbial muscle around the weak spots in my life — building up routines and strategies and techniques and tactics, to support the weak parts of my brain, the parts that got broken, the parts that won’t be fixed, no matter how determined I am. I’m re-routing around the burned-out shells of my old domains. I’m blazing trails through the jungle, to skirt the blown-up bridges in my neural network. I’m carving out new pathways in uncharted territory, and I’m moving what deadfall I can from the paths I must tread.

A blown-out knee, in and of itself, cannot be strengthened. It’s just bone and cartilage and connective sinews. But the muscle around it can — and should — be strengthened, and function can be restored to the leg and the body. A broken brain, in and of itself, may or may not heal. The neural connections that get shredded, are frayed for good, and nothing can return them to their original pristine state. But there are other ways of connecting disparate regions, and there are plenty of strategies and techniques available to get from Point A to Point Z in fine style.

I can sit around and bemoan my fate as an mtbi survivor with a whole truckload of residual issues… I can feel sorry for myself and worry about whether I’ll ever get back exactly the capabilities I had before… or I can take the focus off specifics and focus more fully on results — achieving the same sorts of things I did before, but now through different means.

A lot is possible, if we consider alternatives. But the alternatives won’t come out of the woodwork and make themselves known to us without our direct involvement. And we’ll never find out what does and does not work for us, if we sit around waiting for someone else to tell us what our next steps are.

It was a real struggle for me to get out of bed this morning, and I resented most of my workout with a begrudging resignation. But I did what needed to be done, and by the time I was finished, I felt ten times better than when I started. Day by day, bit by bit, I make headway and I find my way further down the path I wish to tread. Work doesn’t do itself. Workouts don’t do themselves. Muscle doesn’t build itself.

That’s all on me. And I’m glad of it.

What a difference some exercise makes

I’ve been lax with my posting, lately, but for a very good reason — my life is chock-full of some really great developments, and I’ve been focusing on living my life, instead of writing about thinking about living my life.

The relatively recent change with me is quite noticeable, and it’s also remarkable. Both of my neuropsychs are seeing improvements in me, and I’m getting to a point where I’m thinking more and more about what else is possible in my life, and less and less about what sort of damage control I need to do.

One of the things that’s made a tremendous difference, has been exercise. Ever since I started riding the exercise bike for 15-20 minutes, first thing in the morning on Saturday, July 25th, my life has been steadily improving. What’s more, since I started riding the bike — even just for 10-15 minutes on really busy days — I have started to lose the weight I was struggling with, I’ve started lifting my free weights again, and I have more energy and more focus than I have had in years. Literally years. It’s almost too good to be true — but it is true. Something as simple as getting the blood pumping and oxygenating my brain and muscles and overall body has given me the much-needed boost I was desperately in need of for quite some time.

It’s interesting – when I think back over my life, to the times when I was head-injured and was incapacitated, versus the times I was head-injured and managed to make a recovery, exercise has played an important (but till now unnoticed) role.

The times when I was hurt, but managed to eventually bounce  back, were the times when I was very active and was getting a lot of energy. I was able to function in school and at work, despite my fuzziness and confusion, and I was able to improve over time. As a kid, I sustained a number of head injuries, some of them pretty disruptive. Yet, I did manage to have an active and involved childhood (all my emotional and behavior issues notwithstanding). Exercise and being active made all the difference in the world.

But when I was injured and stopped exercising and became less active (either drinking a lot or just going off by myself to stare into space for hours at a time without knowing what I was doing), I just couldn’t manage to recover. It took me years to get my act together, and ultimately, it was often deciding to get back to the gym or get back on the exercise bike or get out and move that jump-started my recovery.

I’ve been reading the Give Back Orlando material a lot, lately, and there are some great tips and techniques in there. But for those who are not quite able to keep up with the information, I think that exercise can go a long way towards helping TBI survivors get their acts together. In fact, adding exercise into the daily routine might just help folks get to a place where they can understand the info enough to use it well.

Yes, what a difference exercise makes! I think it should be the first and primary building block in TBI recovery. It’s something so simple, so basic, so fundamental. Just get up and move. If you live with someone who’s sustained a brain injury, get them to get up and move — it might also help you with your own physical figtness. And exercise doesn’t have to be terribly expensive, or even overly complicate. I still cannot bring myself to go to a gym — they’re too loud and there are too many people there, generally, and I have a hard time coordinating my time to get there regularly. Plus, my balance and coordination has been giving me trouble.

A good piece of exercise equipment can solve that issue for you. If you have trouble with balance or coordination, something as basic as an exercise bike (that can go at different speeds with different resistances), can be of tremendous help. All you have to do is sit there, hold on, and pedal to get your heart rate up and your blood pumping. Maybe even break a sweat — it feels good! Believe me, I would be lost without my exercise bike — it’s a life-saver on those days when I am having trouble with my balance, or I am bumping into things left and right.  And it wasn’t horribly expensive, either. Anyway, even if it did cost me more money, it would be worth every penny. It solves so many problems I have, in the space of 20 minutes each day.

On my epic journey to take care of my brain and heal my mind, I’m finding more and more that my body needs my attention. I’ve found this to be true:

Take care of the body, take care of the physical vehicle that not only houses and supports the brain, but also takes direction from it, and you may just find your brain better able to take command of your life.

If you’re still sitting here reading this — get up now and move. Do some knee bends, arm circles, leg lefts… it doesn’t have to be complicated or hard. But you do need to do it.

I’m serious — stop reading this — get up and move!

I am…

Remembering how good it feels to move

Changing the cat’s litter box, last night, on a whim, I hoisted the 20-lb bag of litter and did 10 overhead presses, just for the feel of it. Pressing against the weight felt good, in a way I remembered from my youth. In high school, I was a thrower in track and field, and lifting heavy weights overhead was a regular part of our training.

To this day, I still have pretty well-developed upper body strength. It’s diminshed, over the past five years or so, since my fall down the stairs and my “decision” to quit going to the gym. But I still walk with a thrower’s posture — poised for action, and leading with my shoulders.

It feels good to move. I had forgotten that, over my years of post MTBI inactivity. I became intensely uncomfortable in public places, and I became almost agorophobic in ways. I also became a lot more sedentary, just sitting for hours, literally doing nothing. Strange, how that goes.

But in the past several months, since I started getting on the exercise bike and riding, I’ve rediscovered how good it feels to move. Just to exercise, to engage my muscles in motion. To feel the blood rushing through my veins, the breath quickening in my lungs. And sweat trickling down my torso — a feeling I had all but forgotten.

And when I spontaneously lifted that bag of litter over my head and did 10 quick presses, my muscles warmed with a welcome glow, and part of me remembered — I used to know how to do this. And I used to do it a lot.

It’s true. I did used to do it a lot. In the years before my fall in 2004, I was a regular at the gym, and the “extra” weight I carried was all muscle. My doctor would lecture me, when I got on the scales and they showed I was “over”, but when I rolled up my sleeve and flexed my bicep, they stopped complaining at me being 10 pounds “overweight”.

I haven’t seen that doctor in quite a few years. I’ve moved on. My new doctor has never seen me in peak physical condition, and they don’t know I’m capable of it.

But what nobody probably knows — or would guess from looking at me — is that my body responds extremely well to exercise, especially weight training. Perhaps it was my athletic youth that set the stage. Perhaps it’s just a genetic thing. My dad has always been lithe and athletic, and he’s pretty much kept in shape over the years, as his brothers and friends have all gone to pot. On my mom’s side, my grandfather is also wiry and fit, despite pushing 100 years of age. Now, the women on both sides of my family tend to be heavier, which is where I’ve been leaning. But as a kid, I always took after my dad’s looks and build, so I’m guessing (hoping) that once I get past this lumpish existence, I can restore at least some of that past grandeur. Not all of it, perhaps… no, wait — why not all of it? Why not go even farther? Why not get even more fit? When I was weight training regularly, I consciously held back from my workouts, not wanting to bulk up so much that I’d have to work like the dickens to maintain it over time. I know for a fact, I could have gotten even more fit, back then. Why not do it now?

Why not indeed?

Well, anyway, first things first — I need to ease into this, so I don’t injure myself right out of the gate. I’ll need to use lighter weights from the get-go, so my muscles can get re-acclimated to moving in that specialized way. I’ll need to make sure I do some light lifting on a regular basis, and ease into the heavier weights slowly but surely. And I’ll leave plenty of time for rest. If there’s one thing that knocks the stuffing out of weight-trainers and compromises the quality of their training, it’s lack of rest. And poor nutrition. In training, I’ll need to eat right — and have plenty of protein. Keep the carbs as complex as I can get them — but don’t eliminate them entirely. My brain needs to quality glucose. No sense in getting physically fit, if my brain suffers as a result!

Balance. It’s all about balance. And as a former thrower, I know all too well what improper balance can do to someone who’s handling very heavy weights. It’s a recipe for serious injury. I’ve already been injured — plenty of times. The last thing I need, is more.

So, onward and upward. Back to the movements. Back to the sensation. Back to the muscle and sweat and fitness.

Back…