No exercise, no waking up

rain-on-leavesI didn’t feel like exercising this morning. I just lay in bed and pulled back the curtains… watched the gentle rain fall and listened to it pinging on the chimney cap outside my window. It’s a beautiful day to stay indoors and just chill out… reading, thinking, blogging… just chillin’.

If only.

But if I don’t get up and get my circulation pumping — get on that bike and ride — I’m no good for the rest of the day. I bypassed my morning ride, and I was dragging all day. And that was no good.

So, after I lay there a little while, I got myself out of bed and went for my ride. I’m not sure how long I rode. It was at least 20 minutes, I think. Nothing huge, just enough to wake me up and work up a bit of a sweat. Then I had my big glass of water and made my breakfast. I didn’t lift this morning, because I’ve been lifting and carrying heavy objects for days, now, and my body needs a rest. As much as I’d like to have that morning “pump”, common sense prevails.

I know how unproductive it is, when I overtrain and overdo it, so I’ll use my good sense and not do that today.

Yesterday, I swam again. It’s good. I only swam once last week, in the pool at work. I managed to get in a friend’s pool over the weekend and have a little bit of a swim on Sunday, but it was no workout. Just a cooling-off, really.

When I swim at work, it’s a whole different thing. I go around noontime, when everyone is either eating lunch, or they’re in the gym. I usually have the place to myself, but yesterday there was someone else there. I like to swim hard from one end of the Olympic sized pool to the other, then float on my back and relax, letting my heart rate and breathing go back to normal. It’s probably the most relaxing thing in my day, to just lie there and float… weightless, feeling myself floating free… The other person in the pool looked at me strangely, and I wonder if maybe they thought there was something wrong. But after my heart rate and breathing were back to normal, I went back to swimming… and they jumped out of the pool and went back to their work day.

I’m going to see the neurologist again today, to look at test results. I think this whole thing has been a boondoggle, quite frankly. But I had to follow up on it, because it would be remiss for me to overlook a serious problem that could impact myself and my spouse, on down the line. I’m the sole $upport for us, so I have to take care of myself and do my due diligence wherever possible. I don’t like it, but it’s gotta get done.

So, I’m doing it. I’m not sure what’s going to come out of this. I’m tempted to just bag it and say, “Okay, I have these issues, and you’ve been unable to medically find anything significant to address. I know they’re issues for me, and I need to manage them, so since you’ve got nothing to offer me, I’ll take it from here.”

The medical establishment doesn’t have the nuance and sophistication for people like me, so I’m not going to waste any more of their (and my time) with requests for help that they’re unprepared and unable to give.

Time to just take things into my own hands, and be done with it. I’ve given it my best shot, but it’s time to call an end to this search.

It’s taking up way too much time and energy, and I just don’t have the time and resources to keep chasing this the way I have. Anyway, I’m really just following this up because of advice from my neuropsych(s). I would have just left it alone and dealt with it, myself, but they’ve been so keen on me figuring out the medical piece of this, so I don’t fall.

The crazy thing is, months ago (and before I spent lots of time and a bit of money on this), I could have predicted this outcome. But then, I’m the brain-injured one, so what do I know?

Well, maybe today will see the end to this. If I ever get concussed or brain-injured again, I know where to find these people. But until then (and hopefully that never happens), I’m just going to get back to my life. It’s been interesting, but it hasn’t been that productive.

And frankly, exercise and a good diet, getting rest, keeping active in my life, and really diving into my life experience to learn as much as I can, is turning out to be the ticket to my ongoing recovery.

That’s just fine with me.

Onward!

Giving my system a break

Louis_Rémy_Mignot_SolitudeWell, I’ve overdone it on the trail mix. All those little seeds have caused my diverticulitis to flare up, and last night I was nearly doubled over in pain. It’s that lower left quadrant pain that tells me exactly where my colon is. And my intestines definitely were not happy, last night.

That’ll teach me.

Today, I’m taking it easy on my digestive system. I’m drinking a lot of fluids and staying clear of the fruit-and-nut combination. I’ve been eating too many nuts, lately, anyway. Worst of all, those little tiny seeds are what get me, and I had a bunch of them yesterday.

Gotta take care of the digestive system.

Today, it’s a raw fruit and vegetable kind of day – and plenty of distilled water. Something to keep everything from shriveling up from dehydration.

I had a good meeting with my neuropsych yesterday. They’re helping me get my act together and take care of all the stuff that has… languished, since I fell in 2004. I haven’t been able to rally very much at all, and the progress I’ve made has been stop-and-go… very uneven.

So, I’m fixing that. I had great plans, when we bought this house in 2002. but then I fell less than 2 years later, and everything fell apart. I’ve been trying to get myself back in gear for some time, but my old neuropsych didn’t seem very focused on helping me do that. It was really about just keeping me stable. That was my priority, also, because I didn’t have a good foundation. Now I have a good foundation, and I can finally start digging in.

So, this weekend, I’m going to take care of a few key things that have needed to be done for some time. My spouse is out of town for 3 days, and I have the place to myself to get in order. When they’re around, I’m limited because their health is not great and they can’t tolerate a lot of noise and dust and smells. While they’re away, I can take care of things that have been on my list — some of them for years.

First, clean out the lower cabinets, re-surface them with contact paper, and replace all the pots and pans in an orderly fashion.

Second, wash the curtains from all the bedrooms.

Third, check a gap where I think some bees have been getting in/out of the house walls — and plug it. I don’t want bees in my walls.

Fourth, put up a new house number, so emergency vehicles and delivery vehicles can find us. We do have numbers, but they’re not as visible as they need to be. I have been meaning to tend to this for years, now, but this weekend, it’s actually going to get done.

And that will be an accomplishment. I’ve got a few other things I need to take care of — yard work, some more minor maintenance, and just cleaning up after myself. I need to get organized, so I can actually live my life without making things even more difficult. I need to cut myself a break from all the various distractions — and that includes clutter.

It’s happening. And about time…

So, it’s all coming together. And it feels pretty good. And it’ll feel even better, when I manage to cross some of these items off my list. My gut is feeling better, now, and I don’t have the radiating pain coming from my lower left side. That’s progress.

It’s all progress.

Onward.

Sweet – sweet – getting back to normal

I rested when I needed to, I did my best to fit in as well as I could. And I rested.
I rested when I needed to, I did my best to fit in as well as I could. And I rested.

My approach to sleep and work and taking time out during my business trip has really paid off. I got almost 8 hours of sleep last night, and I’m not feeling nearly as jet-lagged as I expected to. I’ve been back for 2 days, now, and although I am still a bit foggy, it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been.

It’s not much worse than I usually feel on a Saturday.

So, that’s completely awesome.

What worked for me was this:

  1. Be completely uncooperative and resistant about anybody pushing me on my bedtime. Don’t take sh*t from anyone who tried to give me a hard time about not staying out till all hours.
  2. Do my best to blend in with my surroundings, so as to minimize flack about not being a “team player”. Go along with the things I could go along with — dinner with the team, group activities, up to a certain point, and of course doing my job reaching out to customers and having good conversations with them while on the expo floor.
  3. Take time away from people whenever I got a chance. Just retreat to my room, keep the lights low, don’t turn on the t.v. by reflex (I only turned it on twice – once to see what channels were available, once to check out), and decompress.

I did a lot of all of the above. And it was a really challenging time. But I came out of it in one piece, which is fantastic. And I’m not a miserable git, to live with, as I have been in the past.

Now I’m back to exercising in the mornings — I couldn’t get myself to the pool or gym on my trip, because I was pretty maxed out, cognitively and sensory-wise, so the idea of venturing into a swimming pool area or a gym with other people in it, was just too much for me. So, I didn’t bother.

It feels good to be back on the exercise bike, as well as lifting my dumbbells again. It’s also good to be back in a quiet house, where I can move at my own pace, and I don’t have people constantly texting me about meeting them here, there, or some other place. I get to stand at my desk and think, type, think some more, type some more. Check Facebook. Think about things. Just get my act together and regroup.

And go out for a hike later. It’s a little cold and rainy today, but that means there won’t be that many people on the trails, which is good. I’m in no mood to interact today. Just want to be a recluse and regroup after my trip.

So, I shall. I’ve got all day today — and tomorrow — to catch up. And for once, I don’t need to completely collapse and melt down, after that gauntlet run. I ran a good race, and now I can rest.

Are you a TBI Fake? | David’s Traumatic Brain Injury Blog

injured_brain_2AI found another good post at another blog: Are you a TBI Fake? | David’s Traumatic Brain Injury Blog

 

I was accused of faking my brain injury for attention
There is no way to soften the blow of a statement like this. I took what is arguably the toughest hit of my life, had to be rushed to the nearest trauma center with cuts, bruises, broken bones and a damaged brain – and was subsequently called a fake.

As I began my second life as a brain injury survivor, I found myself having to play defense against stunningly hurtful and relationship-ending accusations.

Brain injury is blatantly misunderstood by so many. The healing process for most injuries follows a predictable path.

When I was plowed down by a car back in 2010, my orthopedist let me know that I would be in a cast for three months and that most of my pain would be gone within six months.

Broken bones heal at a predictable rate. In fact, you could have set the Atomic Clock by his prediction. Six months after my accident, almost as if scripted, my physical pain ended.

But not so for my brain injury.

 

Read the rest here: Are you a TBI Fake? | David’s Traumatic Brain Injury Blog

Listen first… then talk

Here's the drawing practice for the day
Here’s the drawing practice for the day

So, this new neuropsych is kind of a pain in my ass. And that’s fine. Because the last one could be a monumental pain in my ass, sometimes, and it did me a lot of good to meet with them regularly.

Why, pray tell, would that be so? you may ask?

Well, because dealing with people who are completely off-base is good for my reasoning faculties. And it also shows me how on-track I really am, when someone I’m talking with is clearly not recognizing what’s right in front of them.

This new neuropsych, as I’ve mentioned, is 30 years younger than my former neuropsych. They are 15 years younger than I. And it shows. One of the ways that they really show their age, is that they don’t stop to listen and really understand what’s going on with me, and they jump right into fixing things before they have a strong grasp on what the situation is.

For example, I’ve been talking about how I need some help getting to-do items off my list. I have a ton of things I’ve been wanting to get done, and many things that I intended to do in the first 5 years that I had my house. But less than 2 years in, I fell and got hurt, and I was “checked out” for some time after that. I’m just now — almost 12 years later — getting back to a level that’s near (in some ways) to where I was before. In other ways, I’m nowhere near, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be again. But the basic gist of it is that I need to gear up and take care of things that have been languishing and neglected, lo these many years.

And what does my neuropsych give me, but a sheet of paper where I should write down my goal, figure out my motivation, and then do a visualization about what the reward will be, if I get it done. And then write it down in my planner, and just do it… after doing a little visualization about how rewarding it will be to get it all done.

Oh. My. God.

Someone please help me.

I am so beyond that rudimentary approach, and I need something completely different. But when I tried to explain that to them, they just dismissed me — and insisted that visualizing rewards is a cornerstone of making progress.

Okay. So, that’s their opinion. That’s fine. There’s some truth to it. But I really need help just walking through my priorities and seeing where everything fits in my life. I don’t need motivational help. I need organizational help — and getting my head around the big picture of what I’m doing — and why.

It’s not just about getting things off my plate. That’s important, so I can free up my thinking to handle things that are bigger than a breadbox. But it’s also about prioritizing and getting my head around the complexities of my day-to-day.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of confidence in them, with regards to that. I’m not sure I have a lot of confidence in anyone in the healthcare professions, right now. At least, not that I’ve encountered. I’m sure there are excellent doctors and providers out there, but the only one I found who could actually work with me effectively died last year. And even they didn’t exactly do a bang-up job of covering all my bases.

Ultimately — and this is the amazingly profound irony of it all — it’s the people who need help who are on the hook for making sure we get what we need. The very people who don’t have the comprehensive knowledge about all the physiology and possible conditions that might be at work… and who are having trouble thinking and functioning, to begin with… are the ones who have to manage our situations, be our own advocates, and so forth.

If nothing else, as frustrating as my situation is, it’s good practice for me. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt like people could really wrap their heads around my situation, anyway, so this is not new. I just had unrealistic expectations that I could pick up where I’d left off with my old neuropsych and start there with this new one.

Nothing of the kind. They’re even farther back than the last one, and I feel a bit like Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham where he has to train an up-and-coming athlete who has a better chance than he at going to “The Show”.

But I guess that’s how things go, as you get older. I’m just not used to interacting with people younger than myself – especially healthcare providers. But news flash – that’s going to continue to happen, so I might as well get used to it.

Okay – pause – let’s see how my memory for that starting image is doing:

memory-test-4-29-16

Not too bad — I just forgot the hash marks on the left line, and the circles are a little far apart, with the lines longer and the circles smaller.

I’ll try again later.

Anyway, it all comes back to the idea that when it comes to our health and recovery, we are often on our own. It’s sad, but true. And some days, I feel as though I’d be better off just not even dealing with any trained professionals, because the benefit I get isn’t equal to what it costs me.

Sometimes, it is equal. But you know what? Those are the times when I pull out all the stops and put my focus into my own direction and my own program, just using the experts as a reference point.

I’ve got a few weeks before I see them again. And I’ve got plenty to keep me busy. I’ll figure something out, I guess.

Onward.

Training my new neuropsych – and myself

circles-3-lines-2-1-r-up-circx-5-hash-UNeven
Here’s my memory exercise for today – look at it, memorize it, then try to draw it later, when I get to the end of this post.

Don’t get me wrong. I have the utmost respect for my new neuropsych. They have great intentions, they are smart — brilliant, really — and they are driven and determined to help people who are in need of assistance. I’m lucky to have been connected with them.

Here’s the thing, though — they’ve got 30 years less experience than my former neuropsych. And that really shows. It shows in their pacing, their approach, their focus. It’s my understanding they’ve been working in clinical settings that have been largely academic, for most of their career, so far, and they’re relatively new to individual clinical practice.

My former neuropsych had 40+ years experience in clinical and rehab settings. I believe they once ran a rehab center, in fact. Or two or three. Anyway, they had decades of high-level experience in rehabbing brain injury survivors, and I benefited from that for the past 8 years or so.

Now I’m working with a “spring chicken” — it’s not the most professionally respectful term, I know, but that’s how they seem to me. They’re 15 years my junior, which just amazes me… And it shows.

Good God, do they have a lot of energy. It’s that kinetic, over-the-top-can-do kind of enthusiasm that people have before they hit a lot of walls, personally and professionally. They have an exuberance and optimism that I used to have, too.

Then I got hurt. And life happened. And a lot of crap came down the pike for me. And now I am where I am now — with a pretty big deficit where all my own exuberance and optimism used to be.

Although… maybe that’s not entirely true. Maybe I still do have that energy — just not to the same willy-nilly degree that I used to. Or maybe I do, and I just need to bring it back. Access it again. Play off the energy of this new neuropsych, who is in some ways like a breath of fresh air, compared to the dour pessimism and personal cynicism that sometimes “leaked through” with my old neuropsych.

Oh, another thing just occurred to me — I’m working around a lot of people who are my age or older. And that’s affecting my perspective, too. I work in an older environment, very established and staid, and compared to my peers, I feel like a spring chicken, myself.

So, I’m balancing out the energy of youth, as well as the balance of age. My new neuropsych is clearly still learning about things like how to pace their speaking, and how to give me space to sort things out. They move too fast for me, at times, and it’s frustrating.

But it’s good to get pushed. Again. After years of being accommodated. I need to be pushed. Quit feeling sorry for myself. Really work on my reaction time. And get back to my memory exercises. See above.

Here, let’s try to draw what I had at the start:

memory-test-4-28-16

Not bad – I just had the proportions off a little bit, but all the elements are there.  The right circle with the “x” is higher than it should be, and the vertical line off it is longer than the original. Also, the hatches on the left line are longer than they should be.

I’ll have to try again later today, and see how it goes.

Gotta get back to doing my exercises. Get myself going. And continue to make progress. Keep moving forward. Keep at it – give myself time to rest – but keep at it.

Onward.

Great weekend… and a big week ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there it is.

There it is.

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

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

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

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

And so, I shall.

Onward.

If it works… why mess with it?

forest-walkYesterday, I decided to do things a little differently, and go for my walk in the woods before I started writing. I intended to spend most of the day working on a piece I started about “chronic blogging”.

I had a lot of good ideas in the course of my walk, but by the time I got back, there were SO many, that I just couldn’t keep up with them all.

So, I went back to bed.

Turns out, my daily routine is a routine for a reason – it works.

I really need to stick to my standard approach of exercise, followed by breakfast, followed by writing… followed by either going to work, or having a good hike. If I hike before I write, my brain gets too muddled, and I lose the benefit I got from the vigorous exercise I did earlier.

Walking is exercise, yes. But it’s leisurely. And it’s not always conducive to my writing. I need to trust my gut and just do the thing I intended to do, to begin with.

Another thing that works for me, is talking through my daily life and logistics with my neuropsych. Not delving into my emotional landscape. Not digging up all sorts of old hurts and pains to “heal” them. I totally understand how that’s helpful. But for my purposes, I really need to focus on my day-to-day and manage the things that are functional problems for me.

I’ve been under the weather and feeling wiped out, in part due to my new NP’s fondness for “exploring emotions”.

Good God. Please save me.

Anyway, I’m not doing that anymore. I’ll set the tone and set the agenda by myself. This NP is quite a bit younger than me, and they’ve got a youthful vigor and excitement for “the hard stuff”. Please. I’m an old warhorse. I’ve done the hard stuff. Now I just need to function.

And so I shall.

Onward.

Getting past the energy crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an excerpt from Visualization in Sport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How demoralizing.

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

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

Because I can.

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

Onward.

Loss of Self after TBI needs to be taken seriously

all-of-a-suddenEvery now and then, I come across a mention of the loss of Self after brain injury. But not all the time. I come across mentions of poor judgment, poor risk assessment, diminished coordination, sensory issues, mood changes, depression, and a host of other cognitive-behavioral issues.

But not much discussion of the Self – of your Sense-Of-Self.

I distinguish between Self and Sense-Of-Self, in that the Self is a constantly shifting entity — our identities are in constant flux over the course of our lives. But our Sense is what we actually rely on. Our Sense of our Selves is what makes it possible for us live fluidly in the world.

Our Sense of who we are is what I consider a “precursor” to how we live our lives. When it’s stable, it allows us to plan and take action, without constantly second-guessing ourselves. A stable sense of who we are and what we are all about makes it possible for us to simply live our lives. The feeling that we can rely on ourselves to respond in predictable ways that are consistent with our deepest values and beliefs is at the very core of it. Most people take it for granted. But when TBI / concussion sets in, it can have a profoundly disruptive effect.

All of a sudden, you don’t know who you are. You don’t recognize your words, your thoughts, your actions. No matter what you do, things don’t seem right. Even if you are doing things that have been familiar for a long time, in situations that you know well from years of practice, a disruption to your Sense-Of-Self can turn even the most familiar activity into an emotional and logistical gauntlet.

I’m not talking about having trouble navigating new experiences. I’m talking about having long-familiar experiences suddenly seem brand new. We save a huge amount of energy, just by repeating what we know. Our systems are designed to acclimate and then follow the “ruts” we’ve grooved for ourselves. It cuts down on friction, it makes our lives considerably more fluid. But a TBI can disrupt so many parts of a once-fluid process, that even something as simple as making lunch or going for a walk, can become a trial-and-error process.

It’s a real Trial… that’s full of Errors… the kinds of errors we never used to make — and we don’t feel we should even make.

The smooth processes we developed along the way of maturing to adulthood… and then on through the rest of our lives… are so invisible and automatic, we never realize just how important they are. We have no idea how central they are to our identity, our ability to live fully in the world.

Only when they go away after TBI, do we realize just how important they were. But we’ve long since lost the orientation that lets us understand them, one piece at a time.

If you’ve ever tried to give people exact instructions on something as simple as making a peanut butter sandwich, you may know the frustration of losing the fluidity that should be central to your regular life. After concussion / TBI — especially for those who have excelled at their chosen pursuits — the steps for doing things are different. Maybe some of the steps have stopped working entirely, and you have to figure out something different.  So many the skills you once knew by rote… now you don’t. And the fact that they should be easy — but aren’t — is the unkindest cut of all.

And you have no idea who you are. You don’t trust yourself anymore. You may not feel like you even know yourself anymore. You’re cut loose… lost… and you have no idea how to get yourself back. All you know is, things are weird and slow, and you don’t know how to make them stop being weird and slow. Some days are better than others, but they’re definitely not like they used to be.

This is not a small thing. It’s a terrible loss. It’s not just a “narcisstic injury”, it’s a blow to your very existence. It threatens everything you do on a logistical basis — not just a psychological/emotional one. It literally makes it harder to function.  And professionals who file it neatly under a psychological disorder are missing the point.

We literally cannot function — because we don’t have the clear sense of ourselves that’s necessary to do so.

And I believe it sits at the very heart of the struggle of many mild TBI survivors’ struggles.

I also believe it sits at the heart of “self-destructive” behavior exhibited by folks recovering from concussion / mild TBI. I believe it’s what drives us to make the risky choices we make, to take the dangerous actions we take. We’re not feeling bad about ourselves and trying to punish ourselves. We’re trying to help ourselves, by using stress hormones to regular our systems and feel like ourselves again.

As a onetime top performer in my field, nothing has been more debilitating for me in the past years, than losing my well-honed edge… losing that sense of myself as being capable and competent. I was once an important contributor in my field — on the front lines. And I had a sense of flow and fluidity that was second to none. I could just do what I did, without concern for the outcome, because my skills ensured that even if it didn’t turn out 100% right the first time, I could continue to have at it — and eventually things would be set right.

After my fall in 2004, that all changed. No more confidence, no more innate skill. Things got rearranged, and what used to come so naturally to me, now had to be thought through. A lot. Painstakingly. Painfully.

It was crushing. And the only thing that made it better, was a constant “diet” of stress and risk and danger, which kept my system primed for action with all those stress hormones. Adrenaline. Epinephrine. Norepinephrine. And more. Heaven only knows what else.

Of course, it took a toll. It delayed my recovery. But it was the only way I could figure out how to get myself feeling regulated again. It was the only way I could have some sense of control in my life. I know I’m not alone in this. Countless concussed folks “bounce back” from their injuries too soon and dive right into risky behavior that’s misunderstood — and mis-treated — as a sign of self-destructiveness, bipolar disorder, or some other mental health issue.

It completely misses the point. Because people don’t understand the nature of TBI and how it affects us at a core, functional level. They’re quite invested in the standard-issue approaches, and the fact that those approaches don’t produce the kinds of results they seek, seems to indicate a problem with the patient/client — not the approach.

In many ways, we’re still in the dark ages with this stuff. Still blaming the issues on the wrong danged thing, still looking for answers far from their actual source. This may change… if I have anything to say about it. Of course, I’m only one person, but with any luck, others will pick up a baton from the pile that’s lying in the middle of our proverbial living room, and carry it along with me.

One can hope.