#9 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

9. You may feel like this for a while.

It feels like no one understands... and heck if you can describe it to them

It feels like no one understands… and heck if you can describe it to them

Yep, it’s unpleasant. Yep, it can suck. And yep, it can take a while to get all figured out.

It’s practically impossible to explain to others what it feels like to have post-concussive symptoms, and it can be almost as impossible to convince other people that concussion / TBI is a thing. Heck, I have long-time friends and family who still refuse to believe I have any issues – and I’m not the only TBI survivor who has that experience.

Never mind that. Just take care of yourself and pay attention to your own recovery.

And don’t lose hope. I had just about given up of ever feeling normal again, when suddenly I felt like my old self again.

It brought me to tears.

It was amazing.

And it comes and goes.

The thing to remember is that, through the course of life, we never ever stay the same person. We are constantly changing, constantly growing, and expecting ourselves to stay the way we were “before” isn’t realistic.

It was never going to happen, anyway. Even if you hadn’t gotten injured, life would have changed you in some way. You would have lost or gained many, many things (and people) along the way, and those experiences would have changed you, too.

Just be aware, that brain injury / concussion isn’t the kind of thing you can rush. The brain will take its own sweet time.

So, buckle up for the ride of your life!

What to do?

The best thing you can do is be patient with yourself and be aware of the ways that you are not functioning as well as you would like. Make a note. Try again. And keep learning.

Don’t rush it. These things take time. Eat healthy food, stay away from a lot of junk food, sugar, caffeine, and stress, drink plenty of water, and get lots of good sleep.

Exercise can also help a great deal. It reduces stress, and it gets your mind off your brain for a while. The times I’ve felt best, are the times I’ve been exercising regularly – even light exercise for 10 minutes at the start of each day. Just don’t overdo it. Recovering from an injured brain is hassle enough, without adding an injured body to it.

#8 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

8. You might feel like you are crazy… like you’re losing your mind.

crazy-anger-794697_1280

Auuuuggghhhh!

This is another very common complaint after concussion / TBI. Your brain is working differently than before. Maybe you’re saying and doing things that don’t make sense to you – and others around you. Maybe you can’t find the right words. Maybe your body is super-sensitive to every little stimulus. And you certainly don’t feel like your old self.

Believe me, this is common. Thousands upon thousands of people with concussion / TBI feel like they’re losing their minds. Some feel that way longer than others, but for the vast majority, they get back to feeling normal before too long.

That’s how it was for me for many years. I’d get hit on the head, be dazed and confused for some time… then eventually I’d be back to feeling like myself. This last time, it took me 10 years to start feeling like myself again. But at least I’m back. For the most part.

Some days, I still feel like a stranger. And I don’t know what happened to the old me I used to know so well.

Yes, it can make you feel crazy.

But you’re not crazy. Your brain is just “recalibrating” and figuring out how to do the things it used to do so easily.

It’s not a small thing, however. This complicates life in so many ways – including your interactions with others. One way it is particularly troublesome, is with doctors. If you have trouble expressing yourself and words aren’t coming out properly, it can be hard, if not impossible, to get good medical help. In my case, I was so “all over the map” that one neurologist after another treated me like I was mentally ill and just looking for attention and pills. Needless to say, it made it hard to get help. But I stuck with it, and my persistence paid off.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as fortunate as I have been.

The important thing to remember – no matter what doctors or friends or family members say – is that the source of your troubles is your brain. It’s not something you’re making up. It’s real. And you need to reckon with it.

Remember that neighborhood I talked about earlier? The one that got hit with the microburst?

storm-damage-tree-downThink about all the wiring in that neighborhood immediately after the storm. At first it’s down, then it comes up, little by little. Eventually people can turn on their lights without a brownout. And they can watch t.v., although it takes a while for them to get their heads on straight, after working around the clock to clean up their street.

That’s what’s going on in your system. You’ve got the t.v. on, but you keep hitting the wrong buttons on the remote, and the shows keep jumping around on your mental screen. It’s just the recalibration process running its course, and until things get sorted, you’re going to feel a little crazy.

But you’re not going nuts. It just feels that way.

What to do?

Be patient with yourself. Your brain needs time to figure things out again.

Have a sense of humor. Seriously – some of the stuff you do is pretty funny, if you think about it. If your system is going to go haywire for a while, you might as well have fun with it. It’s not the end of the world. Plus, you’ll have a hell of a story to tell, on down the line.

#7 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

7. Being tired makes you cranky. It also can make you more emotional than usual.

Cranky after concussion? You're not the only one

Cranky after concussion? You’re not the only one

You may find yourself behaving in “strange” ways, or thinking “strange” things. You may also find yourself getting much angrier than before — and much more quickly than before.

A tired brain isn’t just a distractable brain – it’s an irritable brain, as well. Fatigue can cause an injured brain to overreact – to everything. It can give you a hair-trigger temper and make you unpredictable and volatile.

That’s not good for anyone.

I wish I’d known this from the start. It would have saved me so many years of real pain over watching myself blow up over nothing at times becoming a danger to myself and the people around me.

I blew up with family, friends, co-workers, bosses, healthcare professionals, and yes, police officers. I lost jobs and relationships because of this.

It was so debilitating to watch myself go ballistic over things like dropping a spoon on the kitchen floor, or not being able to understand what people were saying to me. If I had known what fatigue does to my brain – because of my injuries – I would have worried less about being a bad person, and worried more about getting to bed at a decent hour.

What to do?

Pay attention to how tired you are. And pay attention to when you have a bad day – or a bad incident. Notice any connection?

Earlier tends to be better for a lot of us

Earlier tends to be better for a lot of us

To combat this problem, you can schedule important things for the morning, when you are still fresh. And you can postpone (or avoid) doing social things when you are tired.

Important activities where you need to keep your cool need to happen when you’re not fatigued. And that means doing important things earlier in the week, too.

By Friday, no matter how early it is in the morning, you may still be tired enough to fly off the handle over nothing at all.

There are medications that can help with the exhaustion that comes with TBI. Some meds will help you think better, so you get less tired, period.

If you want to go “med-less” (that’s what I prefer), you can always have a cup of coffee before an important event. But you have to watch out that it’s not too late in the day, or it may keep you from getting to sleep. A cup of coffee at 3:45 p.m. may help for that Thursday-afternoon meeting, but it may put the screws to your Friday.

#6 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

6. All of this is going to make you feel very, very tired.

TBI / concussion can make you feel wiped out.

TBI / concussion symptoms can drain you.

The sleep thing again…

I’m repeating myself, because it’s that important.

Fatigue is one of the top complaints of people who have sustained a brain injury. For some, it resolves in a matter of weeks or months, for others (myself included), it goes on for years. Giving yourself a chance to heal up front is probably a good idea.

TBI / concussion can make you feel wiped out.

When your brain is going haywire and it’s sending strange messages to your body, and your body is hyper-sensitive to just about everything… it’s exhausting. I spent years in a near-constant state of exhaustion. I had maybe a few good hours in the morning, then I was done.

Especially at the start, when your brain is figuring everything out – it feels like for the first time – you can end up feeling fried before you get half-way through the day. I drank way too much coffee for years, just to keep going. I didn’t understand what the problem was. I just knew I was exhausted, and I had to keep going.

You may need to sleep more than usual. If you can get it – take the opportunity. I functioned for years on exhaustion, because I had no choice. I had no access to public benefits, and if I didn’t work, I didn’t eat or have a home. So, I worked. Through the exhaustion. It was no fun at all – for me, or for my loved ones. We all paid a steep price for my fatigue.

What to do?

Sleep is precious. It helps your brain clear out the gunk that gets released when it gets injured, and it restores your sanity. Get as much sleep as you can, whenever you can.

You may feel like a loser for needing so much sleep, and/or others might call you a “slacker”, but they don’t live with your brain. You do. Give it a break. Give yourself a chance to feel human again.

no-x-outAlso, consider cutting back on all the stuff you think you need to do.

A lot of us stay busy, just because everyone else does it, or it makes us feel more productive and needed. In the end, you might be productive and needed, but you still feel like death-warmed-over. It’s up to you, but I’ve found that cutting back on all my customary activities was a magical relief.

All the “friends” I used to have? They’re still running on their hamster wheels. And they’re no happier now, than when I departed from their midst.

Gotta slow it down… before it stops you

I’m taking a break from social media, this weekend. I’ve been spending too much time on Facebook, lately, checking in with all my old friends, and it’s getting to me. The steady stream of excitement, the videos, the thought-provoking memes, the provoking comment threads… it’s all way too much.

Last weekend I was social. And it took a lot out of me. It took me all week to recover, which is too much time. I’ve been up for three hours, and I’m ready to go back to bed. I had my walk in the woods, which was good (though all the flies and mosquitoes didn’t help). The best thing about it, was that I didn’t run into any people. It was just me on the trails.

I know we need people. We need social interaction to stay connected.But this weekend, I’m taking it easy.

I’m focusing on the things I’ve been wanting to do for weeks, but have not been able to, because of the new job and all the energy it’s taken out of me. I’m focusing on chilling out my system, not keeping it riled up. I’ve got to slow myself down considerably. I’ve been running too “hot” for weeks, now, and my system needs a break.

If I continue to push myself, the adrenaline will kick in, and it will fry my system. I need to back it down and keep the fight-flight out of the picture. Yes, it’s a beautiful day. Yes, there’s a lot I want to do. But I need to rest. Catch up with myself.

This coming week, I do not have any appointments at all. No chiropractor, no neuropsychologist, no acupuncturist, no massage. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Sweet relief. “Self-care” is over-rated, when it takes such a deep bite into your downtime. There comes a point of diminishing returns.

So, speaking of downtime, it’s back to bed for me.

Till later…

Magic rest – it must be there somewhere

I’ve got to put all my notes in order. After just a few days of talking to people, I have a bunch of notes that I wrote on scrap paper, and I now need to sort through them and put them into my regular notebook.

I need to do this soon. It’s tiring me out, keeping everything sorted just in my brain, and halfway through Week 2, I’m getting fatigued and a bit turned around. My schedule is different, now, and I’m a heck of a lot more active than I have been in a long, long time.

So, yes indeedy doo – my system is pretty taxed, right now.

Not that I’d want it any other way. Doing things piecemeal — don’t fill up your schedule till you get accustomed to getting up 2 hours earlier each day… don’t start exercising till you settle in at work… — that doesn’t work for me. I need to test myself all at once, right from the get-go, because all the changes are consistent with each other, and I want my system to acclimate all at the same time.

And of course there is the danger. There is always the danger of getting too tired, or getting too overwhelmed, or pushing too hard. But I’m at a good place, right now, with everything happening at once. I’m not over-doing it. I’m just doing a lot. And it’s pretty awesome.

Now, for sleep. It’s important. For years, I thought, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” but that actually just makes me feel like I’m already dead. And it doesn’t help me function.

My head was spinning last night, and I couldn’t get to sleep when I intended to. My mind was filled with all the ideas from work, all the opportunity, all the excitement, and me getting home late after having to work around my grocery store losing power and not being able to sell me half the things I wanted because they were perishable. And then there were the storms that wreaked havoc in the towns around us, but somehow passed us by. And then there’s Facebook. I spent 15 minutes checking people’s posts, and that woke me up even more. Bad choice. No more tablet in my bedroom. That’s enough.

I finally managed to get to sleep by relaxing and breathing. Doing some muscle exercises that release the tension. I’m pretty sore from working out — today is a rest day — and my muscles are definitely adjusting.

But it’s good.

And today / tonight, sleep is a priority for me.

Today, relaxation is a priority for me. Keeping my inhale and exhale regular and the same count of 5 seconds each, is what I do to balance out my fight-flight adrenaline rush, and it really helps. Remembering where I am, and periodically remembering to stretch and relax and release… that’s so important in the course of each day. It keeps me going and it keeps me present.

Rest… relax… It’s not just about sleeping at night. It’s about how I go through my life. For so, so many years, I was wound tight as a spring. Never relaxing, never letting down my guard, always ON. It’s fine, if the situation calls for it, but I was wound way too tight for regular situations.

I think that’s why I gravitated towards tough jobs — the adrenaline and pressure calmed me down, and I actually felt normal. The stress made all the noise quiet down, and I could finally think, when I was solely focused on the One Single Thing I needed to accomplish.

But all that wound-up stuff takes a toll. For sure, it does. And I don’t have to do it, anymore. I have other ways of sharpening my attention and blocking out distractions. Single-minded focus.  Born of a my own brand of za-zen meditation — picked up from stories of old Samurai zen masters of years gone by. Somehow, I always seem to connect with old zen-typed warriors from all over the world who (either living or dead) talk about the exact same state of mind that I’m looking for — single-minded focus in the midst of chaos.

Without that focus, I’m toast.

And on that note, it’s time to get ready for work.

To rest while working… to relax while acting… and to get a good night’s sleep tonight… those are my goals.

Off to a great start this morning

I didn’t get quite as much sleep as I wanted, last night. After dinner, my spouse and I ended up watching a documentary about people who left a cult, and it was so fascinating, I couldn’t look away.

Kind of like a train wreck. But the film was really well-made and engaging, so it wasn’t all bad.

Anyway, I woke up around 6:30, which means I got 7 hours of sleep, and I rode the exercise bike for half an hour or so. I read a couple of little ebooks and listened to music and also lifted light weights while I was riding. I have a couple of wrist weights that slip over the handle bars of my exercise bike, that I can use to work out my arms.

I have a pretty exciting weekend ahead – with lots of lounging about, going for hikes, and resting — and no, I’m not being facetious. I really am looking forward to being able to just get off the leash and kick back. Unwind. Not worry about much of anything. Work on some of my projects. Finish some things that I haven’t been able to finish… and spend time just hanging out with myself without any pressure or requirements, other than what I want to do.

Pure magic.

It’s funny… I was having a conversation with a co-worker yesterday afternoon. We’re both contractors at the company where we’re working, and we both feel a huge amount of pressure to constantly perform at our highest. They said, “I feel like I’ve been on a 2-year-long job interview,” and it’s the truth. There is such a cultural divide between the permanent full-timers and the contractors, it’s wild. And we are under constant pressure to perform, because we’re so marginalized.

One of the projects I’m working on this weekend, is putting together a portfolio of projects I’ve brought to life at this company. I really have done some amazing work, which nobody could figure out how to do. There were some projects that had gotten started, and then just died on the vine, because nobody followed through. But I stepped in and got it done. I’m not getting egotistical. I’m just saying…

And it’s happened a number of times.

Anyway, I need to collect the evidence of that, add a description of the situation, the hurdles, the challenges, and what the eventual outcome was. Some of the things are amazingly cool. Others are interesting only to the 15 people on the planet who care about the inner workings of obscure technologies. But they all show results, and that’s what I have to lead with.

I think, if anything, this is going to put things in better perspective for me. At least show me that I have something to show for all my work. Because in this company, everybody seems to have amnesia — except for when you screw up.

Folks remember that stuff forever.

And I need to send out my resume to folks I promised it to.

I need to have a standard response for all these recruiters who contact me. Kind of like a form to return to them that tells them what I’m looking for, when I’m looking, and how best to contact me. I’ll attach two versions of my resume – 1 full-length, 1 condensed – along with my portfolio of “solutions”, and have it saved to an email.

Then I can just reply back to all the recruiters who contact me and send this packet along. And I won’t have to think about it each time. Practically automate it. Or maybe I will set up another email address that has an “autoresponder” on it, that automatically delivers my package for me. And I can tell all the recruiters to go there, instead of contacting me at my main email.

Yes! That’s what I’ll do. That will make things a whole lot easier, so I don’t have to manually send out a new resume all the time. What a pain in the a$$ that is. And I need to update my resume on all the job boards to use that new email. It will simplify things considerably, I believe… save me from having to go back to my home computer after a long day at the office.

Sometimes, the last thing I want to do, is network after a long day. Or a long week. Or whenever.

….

Okay, I got that set up, and now I don’t have to worry about “stuff”. And I don’t have to get into digging up past copies of my resume, every time someone reaches out to me. That’s such a pain in the neck.

Anyway, yes, my day has gotten off to a good start. And now it’s time to wash up my breakfast dishes and go for a walk in the woods.

What a difference a nap makes

It’s like night and day.

So, I lay down and slept for an hour.

At 2:15, I was up and ready to roll, like I hadn’t been in days. Got some chores done that I hadn’t been able to get to. Finally was able to do them — and enjoyed doing the work, as well.

It’s pretty amazing, really, what an effect fatigue has on me and my brain. Fortunately, I can do something about it. Sleep.When I can, that is. During the week, I don’t have as much opportunity to do that. Maybe I should start. I could try taking a long lunch break and going home to rest. Then getting up and heading back into it. I may have to start doing that, as things are pretty intense at work, and man-oh-man am I beat, by the end of each day.

Another thing that’s going on, that’s taking more energy, is I’m working out more in the mornings. That’s tiring me out. Giving me more energy, but requiring more recovery time. Gotta work all that out. One way or another. When I’m rested, I feel fantastic. Just gotta get to that place.

But for now, I’ve got some more errands

 

The worst thing about trauma

It hits at all levels

Just a tip — if you have a weak stomach, don’t Google “trauma” and look at the images. I just did, and I regret it.

Anyway… I’m writing this ahead of time and scheduling it to publish while I’m way. By the time you’re reading this, I’ll probably be on the road, off to collect the rest of the crap from the smashed vehicle my spouse was in. Again, I am so grateful things didn’t turn out worse.

Still, it’s a sh*tty way to spend my day off. Especially when I was in such need of downtime, having been really sick all last week.

So much for that.

To be quite honest, the hardest part about the whole thing was that everyone had to emotionally process everything. They had to call their friends, talk to everybody they met about it, recount the experience, get sympathy from people, have an “emotional release”… and do it all over again. And all the while, the friend’s smartphone kept going off and dinging with every text that would come in, setting off the most irritating set of ringtones I’ve ever heard, and not giving me a moment’s rest. Driving a long distance on very little sleep, having that smartphone go off every 15 seconds was nerve-wracking, to say the least. It was startling and jarring, and no sooner would they settle down from one emotional conversation with someone, than someone else would call them, and they’d launch into their hysterics all over again.

Oh. My. God.

I am so tired. I went to bed when I got home last night — about 6 p.m. And I slept till 4:30 this morning. It felt great to get 10-1/2 hours of sleep, and I have a massage later today, which will be fantastic. I also need to drive back out to the tow yard, halfway across the state, to pick up the rest of the equipment in the trashed vehicle, so it’s not a total loss. I just need to work today, to move and go about my business, work around the house, call the insurance company, and take action, without constant processing going on.

Please. I need a break.

Now, I know that I do a lot of talking, myself. And I have to consider my own approach to talking things through and processing everything. I like to think that I process and move on. That I speak my peace and then make necessary changes to ensure those things don’t happen out of my negligence or stupidity or lack of preparation. It’s one thing to go through difficult times. It’s another, to never shut up about it, and “get stuck” in the whole experience, because you want others to feel sorry for you.

If I ever sound like the friend who kept replaying that experience… somebody tell me to shut the hell up. I am truly sorry, if I ever put any of you through that.

Truly, I am.

The crux of it for me, really, is that when we experience trauma, our bodies are put into shock, and on a physical level, we get primed for startle and hyper-alertness. Our bodies are trying to protect us, and they think they have to keep being alert. But they don’t. Our minds pick up on our body’s hyper-alert state, and they get tricked into thinking that they need to be hyper-alert, too… rehashing the experience, so they can “learn” what the situation looked like, to avoid it in the future.

The thing is, for some situations — like a punk in a fast car being an asshole — you cannot predict and anticipate it, so all the “learning” you are doing is just sucking up your energy that could be spent on healing from the whole hellish experience. And rather than making you safer, you’re re-traumatizing yourself and making everything that much worse.

That’s my argument with people who insist on telling everyone about their awful childhood experiences with abusive parents/uncles/siblings/caretakers, etc. It doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t solve anything, it just keeps spreading the trauma around to everyone who had nothing to do with it, and who don’t deserve to be sucked into what was a truly horrific experience.

Trauma needs to be handled in other ways, not talking. It’s a physiological experience, and it needs to be dealt with on the physical level. The body takes over the mind — hijacks your executive functioning — and you have to get it all to settle down, before things in your mind can calm down.

That means resting and eating right and moving. You cannot heal without some sort of movement. You just can’t. You’ve got to get out of your head and get your ass up out of the chair/bed, and really move it. Because if you don’t, your body is going have a backlog of stress chemicals that convince it that it needs to be on HIGH ALERT, and you will keep reliving your shitty experience as though it were still true.

Okay, enough of my rant. It’s time for me to do something constructive with this energy. Time to move.

Time to go juggle. And get on with my day.

Onward.