Well, then, get some exercise. Move.

Bangkok traffic jam with cars and trucks and motorcycles all backed up below tram lines
Feeling a bit backed up, lately

I’ve been feeling a bit down, lately. Dragging. Drab. In pain. I’ve been having some tightness around my ribcage that really hurts when I laugh. I can’t remember doing anything to myself – – no recent injury. Just maybe sleeping on it wrong.

I’ve been feeling down, too. Just a low-level depression. The Catch-22 situation with my neuropsych — if I really go into great detail about how much help I need, then I get bumped down in the proverbial pecking order and end up stigmatized (and potentially looking at higher insurance rates, on down the line, if the current health coverage changes go through). But if I don’t enumerate all the different ways I need support, I can’t ask for it. Literally, it’s Catch-22.

I think I’ll read that book again. I think I read it years ago, and I need to read it again.

I really have to take matters into my own hand, in this regard. I’m not disabled enough to require outside help to function at a basic level. That can be arranged. I have the means to do that, and I have books and information at my disposal to expand my understanding about what’s going on. I need to just do that. Take matters into my own hands, and reach out to others for help with clarification.

I’ve signed up for some free online courses about the brain. I need to stagger then, so I’m only taking one at a time. I think I’m going to use those online courses — and access to the instructors — as a professional reference point. I’m not actually getting the kind of assistance I want from the NP I’m working with now, so I’ll branch out and cover myself in other ways.

As for my day-to-day, I need to get myself back on track. I haven’t been exercising as much as I should. I’ve been locked on target with some projects I’m working on — as frustrating as it is, my work situation is keeping me busy — and I’ve been sitting too much, moving too little. I have all-day workshops today and tomorrow, which I can easily do, just sitting down all day.

That’s no good. I need to get up and move on a regular basis. I have a lot of energy, and if I don’t move, that energy tends to “back up” like a lot of traffic trying to cram its way through a narrow space.

That can be fixed, though. I exercised more today than I have been, lately, and now I actually feel better. It’s amazing, how much a bit of movement will do — especially lifting weights. Even if they’re not very heavy, still, the motion and the resistance is good for me.

I’m also working from home today, so I can walk around the house while I’m on the phone. That’s the magic of a mobile phone — it’s mobile. Tomorrow, I can walk around, too. I just need to listen in, so I can walk around the building while I’m listening. It’s not hard. I just need to do it.

And so I will.

I’m feeling better better today about my future prospects than I have been, lately. I got plenty of sleep, last night (almost 9 hours), I did a full set of exercises, I had a good breakfast, and I’ve got a path forward charted for moving forward.

I believe I can trust myself, and that I have the ability to see where I’m falling short. I trust that I can research and reach out for ideas to address issues that arise. The main thing is really to keep on top of things. Take responsibility for myself. Do what I  know I need to do. And just keep moving on.

The world’s a big place with a lot of different options. I just need to make the most of the opportunities I have, keep focused on my end goals, look for opportunities, and keep moving forward.

Will the world step up and help me with my problems? Not if I don’t ask.

Do I need other people to help me at every turn? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. The main thing is that I help myself, using what assistance I’ve gotten from others and the resources I have on hand.

I’m in a very fortunate situation, where I have the ability and the available resources (time, energy, attention, interest — even if money’s missing) to take care of myself. So, I’ll do that.

A new chapter is on the way, and I’m actually looking forward to what’s to come.

To be truly free

That old Tom Petty song “Refugee” keeps running through my mind. And for good reason. Recently, a reader named Esai posted the following comment:

Just imagine if our blood was circulating at an even/constant pace through our body,
if your diet was correct and you had the ideal amount of vitamins and minerals your body would the do wonders, repairing damaged tissue, cancers, disease and even more important your BRAIN!. Im no scientist or a religious freak, there are no sinistral motives behind me saying this, i am confident in what i am saying because i know its true. any thing is possible when you put your mind to it.
if anyone should attempt any of what this forum suggests, do it for the right reasons, not just to slow your heart beat, do it to be free and do it to live! We live in a world where we are being controlled, Fun isnt it? They are continually controlling what we think and say, Why do we give them our freedom so easily?
we can control our own body! We control our thoughts! its so simple! Choose life not death, good not evil, positive and not negative.
i my self started controlling what i would think, i was then telling my body to heal itself, ya it didnt happen overnight but its happening, i would go into detail but too much to put in text, we all are the same inside and we all have the same freedom of life, take controll of it before its too late.

That’s powerful stuff, for sure. And it brings me back to myself. It reminds me of where my head has been, all along, over the years. Ever since I was a kid. Ever since I started getting concussions and could not fit in with others the way I had before.

One minute, I fit in, I had a good sense of who I was, and then it was broken into little pieces and taken from me. It was never easy, every single time. And even at a young age, it was very hard to take. Maybe even harder than when I was an adult, because my understanding of myself was still so fragile, and even the smallest change threw me into a crisis of confidence.

And it didn’t just happen once. It happened to me a number of times. I tend to think it should have gotten easier, each time it happened, but it didn’t. The initial shock was still there. The confusion, malaise, the pain of separation from myself and who I knew myself to be… it came back fresh, each time. After the fall down the stairs, after getting knocked out by that rock, after the football injuries, the soccer injuries, the rough-housing injuries, the fall out of the tree… then the car accidents, more falls, and that last fall in 2004. None of it was easy, and none of it made any sense.

Not until the past few years.

Now it does make sense. I understand the mechanisms behind it. I understand the logistics behind it. And I understand how I got from where I was… to where I am now — over and over again. I also understand how to get back from that place and find my footing, which is worth the world to me.

It gives me a real level of comfort, to know I’ve figured it out. So, if I ever get hurt again, I can have some level of confidence that I’ll understand the underlying pieces and be able to put at least some of them back together again.

So, onward.

 

Learning with all your senses

I just got a tip from headinjurytalk.com about a new study that’s out about how movement and images can help with learning a new language – read about it here: http://neurosciencenews.com/vocabulary-learning-sensory-perception-1742/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+neuroscience-rss-feeds-neuroscience-news+%28Neuroscience+News+Updates%29

What interests me is not so much the foreign language thing (thought I wouldn’t mind brushing up on some of my high school skills), but the overall learning implications.

As I’ve said before, TBI recovery is all about learning. You need to re-train your brain to do things differently. You need to re-train your mind and your body to handle things better. TBI recovery is very much a learning-oriented phenomenon, so anything that helps you learn, is a good thing.

I think that the foreign language orientation of this study is also interesting, because after TBI, you can literally feel like you’re living in a foreign country. And sometimes you can’t make sense of what people are saying to you. That happened to me after a couple of TBIs I had in the past. Suddenly, nothing that anyone was saying, was making any sense.

At all.

It was like I was watching a movie with missing frames, or listening to a radio station with poor reception, or watching a video that had to keep buffering. Nothing was flowing well, and I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me.

So, movement and sensory input helps people learn and translate a foreign language. And movement and sensory input have been really important for my own recovery, though perhaps for different reasons. I use the same principles in my TBI recovery that parents use with their small kids, trying to have as rich an environment as possible, with cognitive challenges punctuating my day… along with rest… I try to get plenty of rest.

I want to give my brain plenty to play with, including music and interesting videos to watch and interesting papers and books to read. I got myself a tablet, and I read books on it — I’ve heard that the lighted screen actually helps the brain to process information better, and that seems to be the case with me. And of course, I need my exercise. Whether or not it’s related to what I’m learning, exercise is still vital to my recovery. You need oxygen to feed your cells and your brain. Balanced breathing. Stretching. (Which, by the way, has resolved my recent crazy balance issues that were making my daily life unsafe.)

It’s all connected, and it’s always nice to see new research coming out that confirms that for the scientific community.

Help where we can find it

You just have to keep looking till you find what will help

I’ve always been a very independent person. I think I’ve had to become this way, because I had so little help when I was younger. I had a lot of problems, when I was a kid, and everybody around me thought that I was either fine (and faking it), or I was just being lazy.

That’s a hell of a thing to put on a kid, but it happens.

It happens all the time.

And it happened to me.

Not to cry over spilt milk, I have been literally forced to become independent from a very early age, which I believe has also primed me for an excellent TBI recovery. Getting a mild traumatic brain injury was no fun, back in 2004, and all the concussions / TBIs I had earlier in my life certainly did not help.

So, I’ve gotten in the habit of just making do. I’ve been fortunate to find a neuropsych I can work with, who has helped me a lot. I’m not sure what would have become of me over the past years, if I had not found them. Maybe I would have figured things out for myself. I know I was in the process of figuring a lot of things out, when I first met them, and I have been the “driver” behind most of my initiatives in getting my life together — most of the time, our sessions consist of me just talking about what I’ve done with my life, lately, and what steps I’ve taken to remedy issues I have.

The thing that’s helped me tremendously, is having someone who is NOT mentally ill, being a sounding board for me. I have spent an awful long time — most of my life — around mentally ill people and folks who are pretty determined to prove that there is something wrong with them, they’re deficient, they are damaged, etc., etc.  So, I have not actually had a lot of really positive role models, as a kid or as an adult. Especially when it comes to TBI.

First, there is so much denial about what TBI really involves, the degree to which it affects your judgment and thinking abilities, and how pervasive it is.

Second, everybody’s TBI is different, and one person’s extreme challenges may be no big deal for someone else — who has another set of challenges, entirely.

Third, a lot more people are walking around suffering from TBI after-effects, than most of us know, so the thinking is generally clouded, out in the world.

Fourth, even the people who can help us, often can’t — because we don’t have access to them, we don’t know who or where they are, and insurance won’t cover us.

So, it’s really up to us to sort things out and figure out what to do and where to go. It’s unfortunate that we have to go it alone… but that’s where support forums like the Psychcentral TBI/Concussion forum (click here to visit) come in handy.

I have to make my own progress, which I am doing. I’ve been working on my juggling, which is going well. It is helping me learn to focus more and not get distracted, and also keep my concentration in the absolute present. I started with one ball, which I tossed back and forth from one hand to the other. Then I added a second ball, which I have been tossing in different ways. The important thing is not how many balls I am juggling – it is how long I can focus, and how well I can recover, when I drop one of the balls — or both. I’m learning to juggle, not for the sake of juggling, but for what it teaches me.

It’s helping me with my coordination, my attention, and my emotional responses. I’ll write more later about this, because it is seriously good therapy for TBI, and I think everyone should do it. There’s no reason not to.

I’ve also been doing some Dual N-Back practice. The site I found yesterday with the Silverlight plugin doesn’t work for me anymore. For some reason, the plugin has permanently crashed, and it won’t work for me. So, I downloaded an app that I installed on my laptop – http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/ – and that is working for me much better. It keeps track of my scores, which are sort of crappy — I’m in the 36.5% range. I’ve gone as high as 57% and as low as 25%, but I’m in the lower range more often.

It’s something to work towards. I’m just starting it, after all, and these things take time.

Again, it’s something to keep me engaged and learning… Something to repair the issues of my past.

That’s so important to me. Because I feel like I have a ton of lost time to make up, and there is so much I want to do in my life, still. Like so many TBI survivors, I have a sense of many “holes” in my life – gaps in my memory, gaps in my personality, gaps in my social life… gaps everywhere. And I need to fill those gaps with something positive and constructive… and rebuild a life that meets my own specifications, not everyone else’s — or the specifications of people who tell me I need to settle for less.

I’m not doing that “settling thing”.

No how. No way.

Onward

 

 

What our denial is costing us

It’s not like we can’t see the signs

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Crash Reel, lately, especially thinking about the parents of Kevin Pearce and how they handled his accident and brain injury and recovery. One of the things that stands out in sharp relief for me is how silent his mother is, as she watches her son suffer and struggle. When he’s sitting with the doctor, telling him about how he thinks he should just go out and start snowboarding again… when he announces at a family dinner that he’s looking forward to getting back on the snow… his mother is silent. Sitting quietly in pain, having aged a great deal over the past year, and not speaking up on camera to set him straight.

I know it’s heresy to be critical of parents — especially those who have children who are struggling with a disability or recovery of some kind. It is a parent’s worst nightmare to see their beloved child injured so horribly, even killed. At the same time, parents are one of the most available lines of defense against action sports TBI, and when they don’t step in to stop dangerous behavior, I really feel for the kids who end up suffering as a result.

The kids literally do not know better. Their brains have not properly developed enough to be able to make good decisions. And parents who just leave all the decisions up to them may actually be inviting danger and disaster into their families.

On the other hand, no parent can own or control their child forever, and accidents do happen, no matter what sport you play. Even if you’re not playing a sport, accidents happen. TBI happens. No amount of good parenting will erase that chance 100%.

There are many other pieces to the TBI puzzle, especially when action sports are considered. There’s the X-Games atmosphere of daredevil stunts, the constant push to exceed your (and others’) limits, the steady pump of adrenaline that makes us feel alive — and makes some of us feel like we’re human again.

That adrenaline pump, the flow of dopamine when you accomplish something fantastic, the numbing of pain that all the fight-flight stress hormones make possible… it’s not just an addiction, which people simply dismiss. For some of us, it’s a non-negotiable part of who we are, and without it we are just shells of who we know ourselves to be.

I spent the last week deliberately resting, and man, at some times it was hell. Boring. Dull. Dampened. Blah. Booooorrrrinnnngggg.  I knew I needed to rest. I knew I needed to catch up on my sleep, and it was all good, when I finally got to a place where I actually felt rested. But that persistent sense of being so dull and dim and low-level was extremely difficult to take. And I’m not even an extreme sports athlete.

Imagine how it must feel for someone to go from the thrill and elation of successfully completing a difficult ride down the slopes… to being laid up, forced to rest and recuperate and “take it easy”. Yeah, sheer hell.

It’s the denial of this part of our lives that is the most dangerous, I think. Because we deny that we need that rush, the challenges that test our limits in real life, we don’t get the stimulation we genuinely need, and we live lives that are far less … alive … than they should be. We try to reduce danger at every turn, avoiding uncomfortable situations and everyday challenges, in hopes of having some sense of security. But in the process, we starve our systems of the important challenges and tests that make us more of who we are. We stunt our growth, and we know it harms us. But we are still so convinced that somehow, some way, we can be safe and secure.

In a way, our hunger for safety and security is the worst thing we could possibly indulge. It makes us less than who we could be, and it denies us the necessary genuine risk that fine-tunes our systems and makes us better at being who we are.

But we can’t be deprived forever. As I said, part of us knows the constant risk avoidance is not doing us any favors. So, we seek out artificial challenges that we think we can control ourselves — like extreme sports, velocity sports, collision sports. The worst is when we ask others to vicariously seek out those challenges for us — NFL football players, extreme athletes, and all sorts of danger-seekers we reward with adulation and praise for doing things we could never do ourselves — and which might actually permanently maim or kill them, right before our voyeuristic eyes.

We need action. We need excitement. We need risk. There’s no point in denying it. Our brains and bodies are finely tuned to handle risk and excitement, and if we can’t get it in a healthy way, we will get it in an unhealthy way.

So why not exercise and develop that part of ourselves — safely?

When I say “safely”, I mean without putting our lives and limbs in direct danger — within the context of our everyday lives, taking on challenges that others so frequently flee. Countless “dangerous” situations present themselves to us each day, which we could pursue, and make our lives better in the process. Things like

  • Speaking up and telling the truth about what’s going on around us.
  • Refusing to play along when a bully shows up and demands that you join in their “game” of ridiculing or bullying others.
  • Taking a long, hard look at yourself and admitting what’s really there — and taking steps to address the things you’re not so happy about.
  • Following your dreams, once and for all, and damn the torpedoes or what anyone else has to say about it.

Those are just a few examples of the real risks in life, and those are the ones that get lost in the shuffle. I’ve been seeing a lot of trailers for the “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” movie, lately, and just from what I’ve seen, it seems like old Walter is doing just what I’ve described — replacing the challenges and dangers and risks of everyday life with extreme situations that give him that necessary pump of adrenaline and dopamine that makes him fully human. Fortunately or unfortunately, I suspect the movie concludes with him coming out safe and sound, with no TBIs or other disasters ripping his life apart. Yet more denial? {sigh}

The Walter Mitty story seems not so far removed from the story of sheltered kids taking up extreme sports to supply their brains and bodies with the biochemical pump they need to develop properly. Of course — full disclosure — I haven’t seen the movie yet, so it may turn out to be a good one. I do know the original story behind the movie, so I can speak to it a bit. I’ll have to check out the movie for sure — but on DVD later. I’m not going into a movie theater filled with people who are talking and texting and coughing all over me.

Anyway, that’s my little discourse on denial and its role in producing one TBI after another. We are all culpable, when it comes to cases like Kevin Pearce

  • those who let him take up extreme sports,
  • those who encouraged him,
  • those who rewarded him,
  • those who profited from him,
  • those who continue to urge him back on the slopes to do yet more dangerous stunts,
  • and those who sit by quietly not speaking up when the danger is so apparent, so obvious.

The crazy thing is, this keeps happening every single day, and yet we sit by silently and say and do nothing about it.

Makes no sense. I think we all need to get our heads examined.

For skiing and snowboarding, helmets are not saving lives

There is a great article over at the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/01/sports/on-slopes-rise-in-helmet-use-but-no-decline-in-brain-injuries.html) about how helmet use is not lowering brain injuries or fatalities:

Ski Helmet Use Isn’t Reducing Brain Injuries

Michael Schumacher in 2005. Schumacher was wearing a helmet when he was injured recently.

By KELLEY McMILLAN

Published: December 31, 2013

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — The fact that Michael Schumacher was wearing a helmet when he sustained a life-threatening head injury while skiing in France on Sunday probably did not come as a surprise to experts who have charted the increasing presence of helmets on slopes and halfpipes in recent years. The fact that the helmet did not prevent Schumacher’s injury probably did not surprise them, either.

Schumacher, the most successful Formula One driver in history, sustained a traumatic brain injury when he fell and hit his head on a rock while navigating an off-piste, or ungroomed, area at a resort in Méribel, France. Although he was wearing a helmet, he sustained injuries that have left him fighting for his life in a hospital in Grenoble, France.

Schumacher’s injury also focused attention on an unsettling trend. Although skiers and snowboarders in the United States are wearing helmets more than ever — 70 percent of all participants, nearly triple the number from 2003 — there has been no reduction in the number of snow-sports-related fatalities or brain injuries in the country, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

Experts ascribe that seemingly implausible correlation to the inability of helmets to prevent serious head injuries like Schumacher’s and to the fact that more skiers and snowboarders are engaging in risky behaviors: skiing faster, jumping higher and going out of bounds.

“The equipment we have now allows us to do things we really couldn’t do before, and people’s pushing limits has sort of surpassed people’s ability to control themselves,” said Chris Davenport, a professional big-mountain skier.

Read the rest of the article here

And again, we come across examples of how risk-taking behavior takes over and trumps reason. With better equipment, people take more risks — like football players who treat their protective gear like armor to protect them as they turn their bodies — including their heads — into weapons.

Additionally, the article says:

In fact, some studies indicate that the number of snow-sports-related head injuries has increased. A 2012 study at the Western Michigan University School of Medicine on head injuries among skiers and snowboarders in the United States found that the number of head injuries increased 60 percent in a seven-year period, from 9,308 in 2004 to 14,947 in 2010, even as helmet use increased by an almost identical percentage over the same period. A March 2013 study by the University of Washington concluded that the number of snow-sports-related head injuries among youths and adolescents increased 250 percent from 1996 to 2010.

So, dangerous sports continue to be dangerous, and may become even moreso, when the participants are “assured” that they will be protected from injury by a helmet.

But a helmet won’t protect your brain from smashing against the inside of your skull, and that’s where the real injury takes place. It’s inside – where the sharp bone impacts the soft brain… as well as deep within the brain where axons are twisted and sheared and torn, like roads being torn up by a twister or a flash flood.

The Crash Reel has a lot of people talking about TBI and snowboarding. Whether people are listening — and changing their behavior — is anyone’s guess.

Even more questionable, is whether people are actually asking the right questions about what makes this kind of risk-taking seem so attractive to people. They’re not always taking seriously the real need for a reward in life — and the rewards that dopamine and the adrenaline rush offer, can be “just what the doctor ordered” for someone who struggles with attentional issues, low dopamine levels, confusion, alienation, and a general sense of not really fitting into a larger community.

As long as risk-taking that can get you seriously injured is the only option offered to folks who need those neurotransmitters to feel whole and alive, you’re going to continue to see this sort of thing.

And helmets aren’t going to make a whole hell of a lot of difference. If anything, they can make things worse.

Parkwood physiotherapists use vest to help brain injury patients Read more: http://london.ctvnews.ca/parkwood-physiotherapists-use-vest-to-help-brain-injury-patients-1.1612031#ixzz2p3yqvD4F

Came across this article via Twitter

Jan Sims, CTV London
Published Monday, December 30, 2013 2:55PM EST

Parkwood Hospital is breaking new ground with a special vest that was developed by the hospital’s therapists that helps people with mild brain injuries regain their balance – and their confidence.

Linda DeGroot admits she sometimes gets funny looks when she wears the weighted compression vest, but she says it’s worth it.

“If you can imagine the strongest person in the world holding you, and for me it’s God. He’s the strongest person I know, he’s holding on to me and he will not let me fall.”

Photos

Linda DeGroot, right, works with physiotherapist Shannon McGuire at Parkwood Hospital while wearing a weighted compression vest.

DeGroot suffered a concussion that left her with life-altering challenges.

“I was so fearful of falling again. I got fearful in parking lots that cars were trying to hit me, people with grocery carts were actually trying to come up behind me and ram me.”

But she felt immediate benefits once she wore the vest. It’s made of neoprene with velcro straps and pockets for the weights.

“I wore the vest and it was like night and day…I was running up stairs, I could actually run quickly down the stairs so it was quite significant for me…In terms of quality of life for me, it wasn’t just about the balance it was about being able to do the things that were so normal to me before my accident.”

Read more: http://london.ctvnews.ca/parkwood-physiotherapists-use-vest-to-help-brain-injury-patients-1.1612031#ixzz2p3ywyDnd

Balancing my comeback

I hate to admit it, but I’ve become a lump of lard, over the past couple of years. Not having enough money to live without constant existential stress is a kicker, and it has kept me feeling down and out for a long, long time. Feeling down gets me acting down, which just makes my life more sedentary, and over the course of years of living close to the edge, that has taken a toll.

So, I’ve started training again – physical training, that is. Every day, I make a point of starting out with more exercise than “normal” — I jump on the exercise bike, or I lift weights for a bit, or I stretch and move… something. Anything. I also get out in the day a lot quicker and move a lot more.

When I’m at work, I also move more, taking breaks every now and then to stretch and move.

So, I’m getting back into a healthy approach with that. For the past several days, I’ve started out riding the exercise bike and stretching and moving. And it’s felt good.

For the most part, anyway. One thing that has not felt good, is the headaches that come back, when I really exert myself. After only five minutes on the bike yesterday — I did a few 30-second intervals — I developed a hell of a headache in the front of my head… a lot of pounding pressure that felt like my skull was being crushed and split open.

Yeah, not good.

So, I took a break from the bike riding. I had a bunch of chores I needed to do around the house yesterday, and I kept busy, so the headache didn’t bother me so much. I barely noticed it, in fact. But this morning when I woke up, my head was splitting, and I had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that comes from a sick headache.

Life doesn’t stop for my headaches, tho’, so I got myself up and took care of a few things that needed fixing. There were a few other things I needed to do before work today, but I’m feeling so sick I can’t get them done. I will need to take care of them this evening and tomorrow morning.

It’ll get done. And in the process, I’ll figure out better and faster ways to take care of the things I couldn’t do this morning. The handful of chores I’ve got waiting are common things I need to do, that I haven’t figured out a quick way of doing… yet. I just need to figure that out, then it will work like clockwork. I’ve been thinking about how to do this for many months, now, and I need to finally just get my system in order.

Now I can. I’ll take care of that tonight and again tomorrow morning before I leave for work.

It’s just not getting done now. I’m feeling sick and slow, and my brain isn’t working that great right now. So, I’m slowing it down and I’m going to give myself a few days to recover from my flurry of activity yesterday. My back and shoulders and arms and legs are all aching like crazy, and my head is pounding — less right now, than it was when I first got up, but still pounding. Rather than pushing myself even harder to prove that I CAN DO IT, I’m going to rest for half a day and come back to it this evening when I’m more warmed up and have moved some of this ache out of my system.

Because trying to function when I’m in so much pain… well, it’s not working so well. I might feel like I’m sharper, because my stress levels are up and I’m feeling more focused in the face of the discomfort. But I know that it’s not necessarily true. I may feel sharper, but I’m prone to make mistakes.

That I know for certain.

So, for today, I’m going to pace myself. Give myself time to rest and recover after my foray back into training. And be smart about this – using my head, not just my gut, to make my decisions. I know I can easily blow myself out with overdoing it right from the start — pushing it because it feels good to push myself, and then either getting hurt, or over-training, or setting myself back by tiring myself out and becoming even MORE susceptible to distractions.

Coming back matters to me. Getting in shape matters to me. I need to do things that will let me continue to do it over the long run, not just surge back and then flame out.

Anyway, the day is waiting.

Onward.

Death Wish? Not even close

Note the missing helmet

When it comes to living on the edge — extreme sports, extreme living, leading the way in innovation and exploration — there’s usually an element of risk, even life-threatening danger involved. People like to say folks who push the limit have a death wish. They may be right at times, but on a deeper level, I think they’re wrong.

It’s more like a Life Wish – an intense desire to live life to the absolute utmost and take the human experience to places it’s never been before. Plenty of us live on the edge – out on the front lines of human experience where the everyday is simply not enough to keep us going. There must be more. Surely, there must be more.

And it’s not just us. Our whole society is in love with that kind of mindset – the ones who push the envelope, who take human experience places it has never been before, who show others what is possible and how it can be done. Indeed, when was the last time you heard anyone celebrated for doing the same thing everyone else is doing — just more reliably and predictably and with less variation than anyone else?

People want to be woken up — all across the board. And those of us who live on the edge probably need it more than most.

So, why do we need it?

I have my theories. I believe that some of us have more  of a need for the edge, because life has thrown us a bunch of curve-balls over the course of our lives — maybe our lives are a living, breathing curve-ball. And dealing with it all can be overwhelming and defeating. Day after day of confusion and frustration and being treated like you’re less-than, because you are different, and having but faint and fleeting moments of clarity in a world that will not stop and wait for you… it takes a toll. Whether you’re dealing with dyslexia or ADD or ADHD or some other neurological or medical issue… TBI after-effects, PTSD, old wounds from trauma that just won’t go away… it takes a toll.

The one way you can get relief is sometimes to take up an activity that forces you into the moment with such urgency, that you cannot spare a moment’s attention on anything else except for Here And Now. You can block out the static. You can shut out the noises. You can silence the voices in your head that tell you you’re wrong, you’re bad, you’re worthless, you’re lazy, you’re pathetic, you’re a waste of breath, you’re a disappointment, you’re a good-for-nothing whatever.  And you can just BE. Right then and there. As you are. As things are. As you wish they always were.

And whether you’re riding a snowboard or skiing or paddling or running or flying or driving or working like a mad person, you’re not in the midst of the crazies. You’re not stuck with that herd of nay-sayers who never cut you a break. You’re either alone with your own mind and body, living what’s in front of you — and ONLY what’s in front of you. Or you’re with your friends who find the same solace as you in that kind of activity.

People who say extreme/action sports athletes have a death wish, simply don’t understand. Maybe they don’t want to. Maybe they don’t care. Whatever. I guess the reason I’m thinking about this, is that the label “risk-taker” dehumanizes people who live on the edge and puts us in a category — a category that makes us seem like we’re not worth saving. It’s a category that makes our eagerness to push the limits look like blind foolhardiness, rather than a real love of life — and a very real need to relieve the pain of our everyday lives.

Not only does it devalue this basic human need, but it also misses the point – and I don’t know how many lives have been ruined or lost, because people don’t “get” the nature of extreme risk-taking, when they’re helping someone who’s been injured. This is the point that gets me the most – and how many lives have been trashed needlessly because of it? People try to reform risk-takers and danger-seekers, by treating them like they’re self-destructive individuals who are addicted to the adrenaline rush.They dismiss the need for speed, or they talk about it in psychological terms — when it’s really a physiological and soul-level issue.

Now, it very well may be a self-destructive addiction in some cases, but look beneath, and see what the larger need is — relief from the pain, activation of certain circuits in the brain, analgesic stress to numb the anguish of living every day in a world that does not make room for you. Why not look at that need as a valid thing? Everyone needs to ease the pain of their existence, in one way or another. Risk-taking and extreme danger-seeking are just variations on what everyone does, to some extent or another.

And what it brings… well, that’s pure sweetness on a whole different level. When it works out, of course. When it doesn’t work out, that’s a completely different ball of wax. That’s when you get hurt. That’s when you get really, really hurt. Seriously injured. Sometimes permanently. Sometimes dead.

And then loved-ones and caregivers gather around the survivors of the crashes, hoping to wean them off their “addiction” to the adrenaline rush, and convince them they have something else to live for.

In the process, a valuable opportunity is lost — a chance to see what’s really going on, and find another way to address it. The real work is not to find a way to do away with the rewards of speed and danger, but to replace them with similar rewards that do the same thing for your brain and your body that danger-seeking does. Asking someone who is in serious pain and confusion on a daily basis to get rid of the very thing that gives them a sense of actually being alive makes them believe they are human… well, that’s a little unkind. It’s well-intentioned, most likely, but it misses the point.

The point is not to get rid of extreme experiences and stop that kind of behavior entirely. The point is to recognize the important role that extreme sports and danger-seeking plays in stabilizing someone who’s “all over the map”… and then find another way to achieve those same effects and experience those same rewards, without putting yourself in unavoidable harm’s way. It’s not about decrying and getting rid of extreme sports. It’s about listening to the messages that risk-taking send out — and no, it’s NOT self-destruction and addiction — and then doing something with that information to find a way that doesn’t end up in a mangled pile of flesh and splintered bone at the bottom of a mountain gorge… or splattering your brains all over the bottom of a half-pipe.

This is important. I really believe lives depend on recognizing the true nature of risk-taking and extreme sports. And the longer we take to understand this, the more peril we’ll stay in.

 

The secret about risk-taking

So, I searched Kevin Pearce on YouTube, and I came across this video of him in a video hangout promoting the release of The Crash Reel.

There are a bunch of folks on the video chat, including veterans, some other folks advocating for brain injured folks, and a fellow who’s been in the TBI rehab line of work for over 30 years. I only watched it for a little while, partly because I had a bunch of things to do yesterday. But the bigger reason I quit watching was  one thing in the video that kind of freaked me out:

Kevin Pearce is snowboarding again.

Now, I don’t know if he was cleared by his doctors, or how much snowboarding he’s doing — if he’s trying any of his old tricks, or if he’s just happy to be back on the snow and is taking it easy. I do know this — if I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t be able to NOT do the tricks, flips, spins, and all the acrobatic stuff for very long. Because doing those tricks has been a part of snowboarding for almost as long as it’s been around. And if you can’t do them, then what kind of snowboarder are you?

It made me a little sick, to be honest. Because I get the distinct impression that if he keeps it up, Kevin Pearce is not long for this world. He’s brain-injured. His brain has been permanently altered, and even though it is possible to build back a ton of functionality, and he’s looking worlds better than he did 3-1/2 years ago, there’s still got to be deficits in the areas of the brain that rule executive functioning and decision-making. That stuff can be rebuilt to some extent, I believe, but there will always be something different about how things used to be.

And when you get caught up in the moment, feeling great about yourself and where you’re at, not paying attention, maybe pushing the envelope a little bit, that’s when it becomes really easy to hurt yourself badly. Even a little fall — after a series of falls, including a major one that put you in a coma and forced you to learn to walk and talk again — can prove fatal.

The problem is, there’s no guarantee it will. The problem isn’t that there’s a chance it might not kill you. The problem is, you have no reason to believe with 100% certainty that it’s going to end your life. And when you’re caught up in the moment, feeling fine, feeling — let’s face it — invincible… that’s when things start to get interesting dangerous… even life-threatening. You have no reason to feel like you need to be careful. You have no reason to believe that anything bad is going to happen. You have no reason to believe that you can’t make that jump, that spin, that flip, and you have no reason to believe that you won’t land fine and be fine.

When you’re “in the zone” where you’re feeling really great, invincible, on top of your game, that’s when things can get the most dangerous with a TBI. And I feel pretty terrible for Kevin’s family, considering how elated he is to be on the snow again in the video chat, while not acknowledging that there’s any inherent danger in what he’s doing. He seems so happy just to be back… who would want to kill his buzz? Then again, who wants to see him kill himself?

Not to be a nervous nelly or anything. I just know what it’s like to be fed up with limitations, to want to push the envelope, and feel like yourself again… and end up getting set back, hurt, or worse.

I know what it’s like to crave those risks — not because I’m addicted to the high of doing it, but because it makes me feel like myself again. It makes me feel centered, whole, complete, totally in the moment, really alive. It makes all the static and the confusion and the frustration fade away into the background… none of that exists anymore, when I’m in a tight situation, and it’s such a relief to not have to THINK about anything, if even for just a few moments.

Taking risks is not necessarily about addiction to adrenaline. It’s not necessarily about having a death wish. It’s not necessarily about wanting to tempt fate and rebel against a tyrannical order. Taking risks can be more about just wanting to feel like yourself again, needing a break from all the difficulties of thinking things through, every single moment of every single day, and being physically hungry for the experience of just BEing part of something that’s bigger than you and gets you out of yourself and your head.

In a way, risk-taking could be seen as a sign of mental health — a needed pause from the pressures of EVERYTHING that gets you back into a sense of purpose and belonging and meaning in your life. People who don’t struggle daily with cognitive challenges like attention issues, dyslexia, and other neurological issues, cannot begin to imagine just how overwhelming and exhausting it is to have to THINK . THROUGH . EVERY . LITTLE . THING . EVERY . SINGLE . MOMENT . OF . EVERY . DAY. Unless you’re in it, you just can’t imagine how much it takes out of you and what a number it does to your sense of self.

Given that Kevin Pearce has struggled with dyslexia (according to The Crash Reel) and had difficulties in school, I can totally see how he’d end up where he is. And given how rough society is on people who can’t read and write and cogitate like the “norm” and isolates people who don’t function that way… and considering what a social guy he is, and how important his friends frends are, and how much snowboarding is a part of the world where he belongs, I’m not surprised he’s out there again.

He doesn’t have to have a death wish. He doesn’t have to need to take risks. He doesn’t have to be self-destructive. On the contrary, him getting out there is just him doing the thing that he feels will help him most — which could turn out to be the thing that does him in.

I just hope he stays safe, and that he’s got people around him who can help him dial it back, when everything in him is screaming to crank it way up… I hope he can find another way to feel like Kevin Pearce again.