Going to get my taurine… and probiotics… and exercise

Gotta get some new stuff to work with
Gotta get some new stuff to work with

So, I’ve been listening to the Joe Rogan Experience podcast with Dr. Rhonda Patrick, and it’s pretty amazing stuff. Google it or search on YouTube. I’m not going to give you the direct link, because you should find it yourself – and beautiful things can happen when you start searching.

You’ll probably find more info out there, than I can point you to, anyway. It’s all about initiative, focus, and follow-through. And if you’re like me, you’ll go off and start searching, find a bunch of stuff that is both more relevant and a total distraction… and then 30 minutes later, you’ll realize that you were really looking for that podcast, and you have to regroup and refocus.

Which is all good practice, anyway.

I’ve been listening to the Joe Rogan Experience podcast (Powerful JRE), and in between the talk about MMA and smoking pot (which I don’t, for personal reasons, as well as what I’ve seen long-term smoking do to friends), there are podcasts featuring really smart people who know a lot about how the human system gets damaged — and how to fix that damage.

Dr. Mark Gordon is one of those people. Dr. Rhonda Patrick is another one. And they’re all talking about head trauma, what it does to you, and how you can mitigate the effects.

And in the process of learning more, I’m finding other information. Like how the amino acid taurine helps you grow new brain cells. Apparently, it does a lot of helpful things – and if you don’t have enough of it, it’s not great for you. That’s bad, in fact.

I’m also getting confirmation from scientists on the JRE podcast who really know how to explain things to the rest of us, that’s confirming what I’ve read and believe – in ways that really stoke my determination. Exercise has become even more important to me, thanks to their on-camera talks, and more specifically, interval training is taking center stage. I’ve been more active in the past six weeks than I have been in quite some time, thanks to the fitness centers and the pool at work, and I’d backed off on my morning workouts. But now I’m back to them, especially on weekends, pushing myself harder than I have in quite some time. Just really making myself work does wonders for my mood and alertness, over the course of each day.

I’m a little out of it this morning (workout notwithstanding). I had a long and busy week, and then I was up late last night, getting some must-do items out of the way. I also woke up early, and I’m groggy and foggy. I’m not a big fan of feeling this way, but by this afternoon, I will be on a beach, probably lying down under the umbrella, just chillin’. I’ve got a week ahead of me to balance out a little bit of work with some major chill-time, so that’s something to look forward to.

The main thing is, I stay aware of my surroundings, I take care of myself, I don’t rush, and I just be deliberate about every.little.thing.

I can’t afford to have an accident or get hurt, and I’m sufficiently depleted and spacey, that it’s a definite risk. I also can’t afford to not do the things I need to do. I’ve got errands to run and bags to pack and vehicles to clean out, before I go, so…

The main thing with me, these days, is to keep safe and get healthy and strong. There’s a tradeoff, of course, because it’s tough to get really healthy and really strong without some element of risk … or stressing your system. If you’re pushing the envelope regularly, you’re going to develop in certain ways, and those ways will probably also be accompanied by stress. It’s tough to push yourself past your limits without stress — and a bit of damage.

So, the task at hand is to not back off and avoid stress and risk and situations that test me, but to figure out how to recover better, build myself back, and develop strengths rather than weaknesses.

Some people come up against challenges, and when they fall short (or feel like they do), they interpret it as meaning they’re deficient. And as they face one challenge after another, they keep confirming their suspicions that they’re not up to the task – or any task at all. And they block themselves in, building a wall around themselves that keeps the world out and also keeps them out of the world. Eventually, it keeps them from doing anything and everything that matters to them and gives their lives meaning. They’ve done it to themselves, but they think the rest of the world is to blame.

When I fall short, I take it as a challenge and important information about where I need to improve, in order to reach my goals. If anything, I want those experiences to tear down the walls and give me more access to strengths and abilities I never knew I had before. Sometimes you have to really take a hit, before you can access hidden talents and gifts.

But you don’t want all the hits to tear the crap out of you, so…

You’ve got to build back up. Recover. Be smart about things – which can be difficult, if you’ve gotten hit in the head a bunch of times. I’m lucky, in that I know that I have executive function difficulties, so I can make some really bad decisions, especially under stressful situations or when I am tired. It gives me pause. A reality check.

Speaking of reality check, I’m getting my raw DNA data sequenced online. I uploaded my raw DNA data from ancestry.com to the website promethease.com/ondemand, paid $5, and now I’m waiting for the results. It takes about 20 minutes to do it, so I’ll go get my shower and get ready for the day, then check back in.

Fascinating stuff. Largely recreational… and who knows what I’ll find. Hopefully, I’ll get some more data that will show me where I’ve got vulnerabilities, so I can do something about them. Finding out if I’m generically predisposed to Alzheimer’s will change things for me, I’m sure. After all the TBIs I’ve had, I need to know if this could be a problem. It’s always in the back of my mind, but why not find out what the data says.

Anyway, time to get moving. This day won’t move itself.

Onward!

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Walking on a different wild side

I’ve been daydreaming about chucking it all and hitting the road. I’ve managed to save up a nice little chunk of change, banking it for house repairs and emergency situations. I actually have enough for an honest-to-God emergency fund now, which hasn’t been the case for close to 10 years. It really takes the pressure off. At the same time, though, it also tempts me to do something rash — like taking my little commuter car (which just got a tune-up), filling up the gas tank, and driving, driving, driving…

But I know it would never work. Never, ever. And without a doubt, I’d end up worse off then, than I am now. No doubt.

Here’s the thing — I need a break from all the heavy-duty daily frustrations. It’s just getting to be too much, and I’m not making good choices about how to get that break. Some people smoke. Some people go on social media. I dance with danger and run the risk of getting injured all over again. It’s clear that I need to change things up and get my blood pumping on a regular basis. I need a positive and productive way to get that adrenaline pump that keeps me sane and channel the energy I have into something that helps me, not hurts me.

That all being said, I think the key for me is to step things up with my hopes and dreams. I have an “old” dream of having my own business doing consulting and training about an area of expertise I have. I know there’s a market for it, and I know others do well in that line of work, I’ve just never made good on it. I have wanted this so badly, on and off over the past years,and I’ve made some starts, here and there. But I’ve repeatedly given up on that dream over and over. I got overwhelmed or confused or just felt like I couldn’t do it. I knew in my mind that I could, but I lost courage and backed off and went back to doing what I had been doing before — holding down the fort with my 9-to-5 job and steady paycheck.

Now things are different, though. I don’t have a horrific commute anymore — if anything, it’s going to get shorter. And I’m becoming increasingly motivated to move forward, as I talk to people about my idea, and they get really excited about it. I have managed to find a job where every day I am in the midst of some very forward-thinking people who are also super supportive, and it’s really doing me a lot of good.

These two magic combinations — time to work on my ideas, and supportive people with vision — are helping me get past myself and re-start anew. I’ve started this idea so many times, I actually have a lot of knowledge about how to get off the ground. And I have enough professional connections, I can start putting myself out there — while still holding down the fort at work.

So, there is hope. And my goal is to earn enough on the side, to be able to afford some travel. That way I don’t have to drive off by myself — I can bring my spouse with me, and we can have a fabulous time. It’s a plan. It’s a bonafide plan.

And rather than wasting my time and energy and risking my neck on danger-seeking types of behavior, I’ll court danger in the form of chasing my dreams and having them come true. Putting my life in danger in questionable situations, and putting it all on the line for my dreams, are the same type of activity. The difference is, one of them will actually have something to show for my risk-taking. The first one… all I get is a system full of adrenaline, a brief burst of clarity, and the potential for things to go really, really wrong in an instant.

So, in a very real sense, my motto continues to be Onward!

After TBI you’re still human

And you still have the same types of interests and desires and needs that you had before your injury/-ies.

You want to be fully engaged. You want to be involved in your life. You want to have hopes and dreams and to follow those hopes and dreams.

Why should any of that change after TBI? Some days, it’s like the world just expects you to stop being interested in the things that mean the most to you — to anyone. Like it should be so easy to let go of the old ways that were so familiar and made you “you“. And you’re just expected to do it. To adjust. To deal with it and move on.

This is something I really struggle with on a regular basis. It’s bad enough that I have to deal with the confusion and disorientation and not feeling quite “here”, half the time. It’s bad enough that I have to think through every friggin’ thing that used to come so easily to me, lest I get hurt or screw something up. It’s bad enough that everything feels like such a CHORE, and even the fun things are hard for me to do, sometimes.

But through all this, I’m expected to do it without any recognition or support. That just sux.

Even my neuropsych isn’t much help to me in this respect, because comparatively speaking, I’m not nearly as “bad” as their other patients. I’m high-functioning. My IQ is still up there. I have a good job and a house and all the trappings of modern success. I’m in a stable marriage of 23 years. I have a bank account and a plan for how to live my life.

What could possibly be wrong?

Yeah, well, I’ll spare you the details. The bottom line is, half the time I feel like crap. I don’t feel like myself. I can’t recognize the person who’s walking around in my shoes, wearing my clothes, doing my job, driving my commuter car to and from work each day, running errands on the weekend. Who IS this person, and how did they get in my life?

Addressing this is so difficult for me. I rarely bring it up with my neuropsych, because they don’t really seem to think it’s that big of a deal, and they don’t seem to think it should impact me. After all, compared to their other patients, I’m doing grand.

Oh, except for flirting with danger on a regular basis, and being totally oblivious to what all could go wrong in an instant.

To be truthful, I have not discussed everything with my neuropsych that I could. Over the years, there have been a lot of things I haven’t brought up, because they are way too upsetting for me, and it’s more important to me that I have a regular conversation with a regular person and be able to relax, instead of plunging into that infinite, bottomless black abyss that takes me over when the emotions run too high. I have to stay functional. I have to hold my sh*t together. I can’t be sitting around spilling my guts, and then getting so freaked out and upset that I can’t even see or walk straight. My neuropsych has seen me overwrought a handful of times, and they don’t seem to understand what all is going on with me. They got exasperated, as though I were not trying.

So, I just don’t go there with them. I keep things positive and talk about the progress I’m making. I don’t have many words to explain the way it feels inside. Plus, when I get to their office, I’m ALL THERE, and nothing else outside the office exists. There are so many pieces of my life that feel like a shambles to me, even though on the surface they look good and they are holding, I don’t have much hope that a strong wind wouldn’t blow them all down. In all honesty, I’m not even sure how they’re holding together. They just are. I’m just lucky, in so many ways.

That, and people are so consumed with their own lives, they don’t notice the chinks in my armor.

It all just feels so precarious.

And it’s a strain. Because I want to have a life I can be proud of. I want a life I actually feel like I choose, and I’m involved in, not just one that other people tell me I should have, so I go ahead and go for it.

So much of my life has been about just getting by… because I was the only one who could see what kind of crap I had to deal with inside. And nobody seemed to take seriously the challenges I had to overcome on a regular basis.

Oh well. I’m still here, and I still have my hopes and dreams to follow. I’m still a human being with my fair share of challenges, and I can’t lose sight of that. It’s all a massive discovery process, and in the meantime I might just learn a useful thing or two.

So long as I don’t get myself killed, chasing danger and risk, to remind myself that I’m alive.

How I can get hurt – again and again

Yeah, I’m a bad-ass alright. Hopefully not a short-lived bad-ass.

I had an interesting conversation with my neuropsych yesterday. I have been wondering about some judgments I’ve made, in the past six months or so, which — at the time — seemed fine… but in retrospect were probably not that smart. At least, that’s what my neuropsych has told me.

About six months ago, I was offered a ride on the back of a motorcycle, and I took it. I had to get somewhere fast, and this rider offered me a lift through a shortcut they knew. This rider (I won’t call them a biker, because I think of Harley’s, and this individual was on a BMW) was a stranger to me, and I had no way of knowing how good a rider they were. I’ve ridden with really bad motorcycle drivers before, and I didn’t care to repeat the experience.

But this individual appeared to be competent, and I hopped on the bike behind them.

For the record, I don’t drive motorcycles — or usually ride them — because of balance issues and attention problems. I can get distracted and lose my presence of mind, which pretty much disqualifies me for driving a motorcycle. It’s a great way to get seriously injured… or killed.

Anyway, the shortcut worked, and I got where I was going in record time. But not before we’d pulled some really dangerous stunts — fitting the motorcycle through very tight spots that were borderline illegal, and weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds. The driver also ended up taking a wrong turn, and we ended up driving around a blind curve directly into oncoming traffic — and the bike stalled on a low barrier and couldn’t move forward or back.

So, I hopped off the back, and while the driver got the bike started, I heaved at the back of the bike and got it off the barrier.

Very exciting. And also very dangerous. And potentially fatal.

Once I got where I was going, I realized how close I’d come to something pretty terrible. And worse yet, I was far from home in a place I wasn’t familiar with, and I’m not sure how I would have gotten help if I needed it.

It all turned out okay, and it was a thrilling ride of my life. But it’s not the sort of thing I should have done at that time.

A few months later, I was traveling (again). Near the end of a really long and tiring drive, I ended up at a rest stop where I realized I was being watched by an individual who looked like trouble. I gave them a wide berth, but later they were joined by another individual who looked equally rough, and they tried to engage me in conversation. Rather than keeping my distance, I walked right up to them, shook their hands, and had an extended conversation with them. In the course of the conversation, one of them identified themself as a known criminal. I didn’t bat an eye, just finished the conversation, and they took off… as though they were up to no good and didn’t want to get caught.

In retrospect, I was setting myself up to get mugged. Big-time. I didn’t… and I actually had a really cool conversation with those two. But was it a good idea for me to interact with these two at a rest stop along an interstate? Doubtful.

Then, the other night, I was driving home from work, and I got caught in a torrential downpour, accompanied by close lightning strikes. I could not see the road. At all. I should have pulled over, but I kept going. I could have easily run into a tree — or run into someone else. I didn’t, but even as I was driving, thinking that I might want to pull over, the urge to keep going was even stronger… overpowering. I got home safe and sound, and after sitting in the car for 5 minutes, the downpour suddenly stopped. Everything was fine. But it might not have been.

On all three of these occasions, I was tired, and I was looking for a “hit” of adrenaline to perk me up. I needed a pump — a jolt — to get me going. It didn’t matter that I was putting myself in danger. The whole point was putting myself in danger. I needed to get my stress hormones going and get myself back online. I felt dull and foggy, and I needed a boost.

So, I put myself directly in harm’s way. It worked — I did get the pump and the jolt I needed. But had things gone differently, I might not have fared so well. For that matter, I might not even be here.

Riding motorcycles is something I should NEVER, EVER do. I know that. I have avoided them like the plague — like I avoid tall ladders. Talking to folks who obviously look like they’re up to no good, and going so far as to shake their hands and “hang out”, is not something I typically do, either. I know better. What’s more, driving my car through conditions when I can’t see more than a foot past the hood ornament… I know WAY better than that.

But reason failed me. In a very big way.

And that’s how I can get hurt – again and again. By actively seeking out danger that makes me feel alive… that makes me feel like myself again… that puts all the pain and confusion and frustration away, for even just a few minutes.

My life tends to feel like a jumbled-up mess of contradictions and conflicts, and it’s hard for me to get any peace. I live in a body whose biochemistry tells me things are WAY more extreme than they really are, and as a result, I usually end up on a roller-coaster of emotion. I know better… but my body doesn’t get it. And it wears me out. Mentally and cognitively, my brain loves to do its own thing and not stick with the program. I’ve been forgetting a lot of things, and I’ve been coming up short, now and then, with projects I’ve been working on… playing catch-up and all that. I keep cool and maintain calm on the outside, but inside it’s sometimes pretty chaotic and frustrating and a little bit terrifying now and then.

So on the inside, I’ve got all these experiences of chaos and confusion and frustration, while on the outside, everything is supposedly okay. I know I’m not the only one who has this — most people do, probably. That whole “living lives of quiet desperation” thing that a philosopher once talked about.

That tires me out. And the quickest and most reliable way I know to stay “with it” is to add a little danger to my life. Or a lot of danger.

Looking back, I can see how almost all of my injuries — even from fairly young — came from this danger-seeking streak of mine. I put myself in dangerous situations. I also pushed myself to unsafe levels of play in football and soccer games. I drove while I was tired, and I pushed myself to do things when I should have stopped and rested. I needed the pump, I needed the adrenaline. I needed the shot of instant clarity, in the midst of all the confusion and static in my head, that I just couldn’t sort through.

I didn’t have a death wish. I had a life wish. And the one way I could really truly live my life, was to push myself past a certain point, and get lifted up by the pump.

I know I need to change this sort of behavior. It’s caused problems for me before, in subtle ways, and it’s doing it again. I don’t want to stop being the person I am. I don’t want to cower in a corner, hiding from life. But I would like to live to see another day. I’ll have to figure out something better, for how to get what I need to be as alive as I can be.

If I don’t manage to figure that out, all bets are off.

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.

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.

Considering TBI : Staying safe during the holidays

This looks familiar – and not in a good way.

Well, I almost did it again. I almost fell down some stairs while rushing around during Thanksgiving activities. Nine years ago tomorrow, I fell down a flight of stairs while packing to home after Thanksgiving. I completely screwed myself up. Trashed my life. Almost lost everything. And I didn’t even realize what was happening, while it was happening.

That fall in 2004 happened because I was standing at the top of some stairs and I turned around to do something, then my feet went out from under me. The same thing happened yesterday, while I was getting ready to head out to Thanksgiving dinner. I was starting to go down the stairs, when I remembered something I needed to take with me, and I turned around, while my body momentum was moving forward. My feet slipped on the stairs, and I stumbled down a couple of steps, before I caught myself. Fortunately, this time I was wearing shoes. When I fell in 2004, I was wearing socks. And I managed to stop myself from going head-first down the stairs, when my feet went out from under me.

Hm. Wake-up call. Time to slow down. Pay attention. Take things one at a time, instead of doing a couple of things at one time — like going down and up stairs at the same time.

Slow down. Don’t do everything at once. Just chill.

I paused for a moment and caught my breath and realized what had almost just happened. Then I slowly turned around and went back upstairs — much, much more slowly than before.

And I got through the day without getting hurt.

Even better, I had an amazing day, and everything turned out well, for a variety of reasons — including not falling down stairs and hurting myself.

As the holiday season officially kicks off, I have to really pay attention to things in the coming six weeks, to get through to the other side in one piece. I know what sets me off, and I know what makes things more difficult for me than usual, and the holidays are just the time when all those things come together in a perfect storm that aggravates my TBI symptoms and also puts me at risk for another injury (like yesterday).

  1. I need to remember that I’m dealing with TBI issues, and I can’t just push myself blindly like I have no limitations. We all have limitations, and mine are especially pronounced during the holidays. I need to be uber-mindful of my issues — not in a way that holds me back, but in a realistic way that keeps me from doing serious damage to myself.
  2. Make sure I get plenty of rest. Nothing kills the joy faster than fatigue-induced irritability. And given my history of melting down and flipping out during many holiday seasons past, my spouse is particularly on-guard around me during this time. So things can escalate quickly. And that’s not good. Shouting matches and flip-outs just because I’m tired, are no way to spend the holidays. Fortunately, staying rested takes care of a lot of this. Naps help, too, so I’ll be doing a lot of that this holiday season. Whenever I can.
  3. Eat smart.  When I get tired, I tend to boost my energy with sugar-containing foods, and the holidays are chock-full of them. Pies, cookies, candy… it’s all around me, and since I need to push harder to do everything, I fall back on them. A lot. Which just makes things harder in the long run, because it throws off my sugar and it makes my joints ache, which then makes me more irritable. AND sugar feeds infections, so I have more trouble with colds and sinus infections. I have to have a lot of willpower to avoid that stuff – and it doesn’t always work. But if I can enjoy with moderation… it’s not so terrible.
  4. Give myself time. Don’t rush around with everyone else. Give myself more time to do things like go to the library or food shopping or running errands. Just take my time, so I don’t get trampled by everyone else who’s stampeding around. Do I need to go out to the store today? Not one bit. Black Friday will be fine without me.
  5. Take frequent breaks. I get very irritable for a bunch of reasons during the holidays, so it pays to just take a break regularly, let me catch up with myself, and simmer down if I’m getting revved. It really helps for me to cut myself a break and give myself some extra time off by myself when I need it. Planning my breaks helps, too, because then I can keep from getting stuck in a “loop” and pushing myself past where I should be backing off and taking a break.
  6. Get a lot of exercise. I start my days with movement and stretching, and I get out and walk whenever I can. I also try to do some heavy lifting, now and then, as well as working around the yard and house. Yesterday I got a workout with roasting that turkey — a lot of lifting and bending and reaching. I’m actually sore, which is a good sign for me. This helps my body process all the extra stuff I’m putting into it, and it also helps clear my head. Both of these are important for being happy during the holidays.

These are things I can do, in general, to make my life better during the holidays. Not doing these things can result in experiences like falling down stairs, having confrontations with police officers, and losing it at work — none of which will add to my holiday cheer quotient.

It’s all a big-ass learning process. Onward.

When absolutely positively confident, do… nothing

Warning... warning...

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how tbi has messed up my ability to assess situations. From tests in school to social situations to job situations, I’ve often found myself quite unpleasantly surprised by outcomes that I was sure would turn out in my favor. On tests in school, particularly, my ability to tell whether or not I did well has been sharply curtailed.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve been in a testing situation and thought I did GREAT… only to find out that I performed about average. Sometimes even worse than average. And I ended up feeling like a bigger idiot than I looked like on paper.

What a bummer.

In social situations, I’ve often felt like I was saying something that was either clever or engaging or socially appealing… only to find people looking at me like I had two heads, or backing away (literally or figuratively). This has gotten better in the past years, since I started seeing my neuropsych. There’s something about sitting in a room with someone regularly, knowing they’re not going to laugh at me or make fun of me or ridicule me or ostracize me, that lets me loosen up and just be — and also practice interacting with another person in a meaningful way.

At work, I’ve often thought I hit a home run, only to find that I’ve missed a critical piece of information. That’s a real problem. Or, I thought I was good with my scheduling, only to find out I was two weeks behind. Also a problem.

All these things seem to get better or worse with me at unexpected times. I’ll think I’m doing great, then WHAM, I get smacked upside the head with obvious evidence to the contrary. It’s a little daunting at times. But I can’t let it stop me from taking chances and living my life.

The thing is, though, that I’ve learned over the years to notice the times when I’m 100% confident of something — so confident, I’d stake my life savings on it (not so much money, these days, but you get my point). At those times, I find it’s when my judgment is most clouded, and there’s the greatest chance that I’m just NOT getting what I think I am. And I need to stop, back up, and reconsider doing or saying what I was about to do or say.

I have a bunch of great examples — the time when I was convinced I needed to go for a walk in the woods during deer hunting season, wearing neutral colors and following a deer path, instead of the main trail… or the time when I got stopped by a copy for running a stop sign, then (after they gave me a warning, not a citation), I proceeded to jump out of my car and run over and start yelling at them because I didn’t feel like they were very respectful of me and they treated me like a common criminal… or the time when I decided it made good sense to take a job I couldn’t really do, for about 20% less annual salary than I could live on.

Had I stopped and thought about those things with more clarity, instead of going with my overwhelming impulse, I could have saved myself much trouble — and avoided the close calls I had.

On the one hand, slowing things down feels really restrictive. I don’t want to slow down! I want to charge full speed ahead, with every fiber of my confident being! On the other hand, it just makes good sense to take a considered approach. Obviously, there are times when I can’t hesitate, or I’ll be lost. But at other times, when I have a little while to reconsider what I’m doing, it often makes perfect sense to do just that — hold off a minute or two, give it a little bit, and then reconsider what I’m about to do and say.

Live and learn. Live and learn.

Tonight, I am about as alive as any person can be

I am wiped out. Tired from a day full of really good things, and tired just thinking about all that tomorrow will bring. My job is wiping me out. And that’s okay. Because I know it is, and I know it does, and it just means I have every right to go to bed early tonight.

The autumn night is humming with insects, the sing-song cadence of their sawing wings and their scraping legs a kind of tinnitus, the high pitch of life that is always there, even when it isn’t.

I am reading again. Travelogues by infamous writers. Accounts of Greece and Italy and France and beyond. Stories of New York and California. All of them inaccurate, all of them true, with the kind of truth you can only wring from someone who isn’t often studied in school.

School. Huh. I saw a bumper sticker on my way home tonight from my weekly neuropsych visit — Learning is natural. School is optional. And I read the words of individuals who turn their nose up at the academy.

I used to think I wanted to earn multiple degrees. Find a stable job teaching at a good school — not necessarily a famous one, but one where I could dig in and grow some roots, live the life of the mind and make a name for myself. A name for myself… as though my own name didn’t matter. As though I were like a tree falling in the forest who wouldn’t make a sound unless thousands upon thousands of others could hear me loud and clear.

A name for myself… I was blind and deaf and dumb, struggling to prove to myself that all the things that were “up” with me didn’t make me less of a person… and losing that battle daily. The one who needed most to hear my fall in the forest was me, but I was so busy trying to convince others, I hardly paid any mind to myself.

And all the while thinking “… this inner life, this secret place within, these thoughts of mine, these sensations and confusions and all of it… this is who I am. This is what I am. This is all I have to work with.”

Far from it, I know now. But when you’re 28, you’re so damned sure… and all the while, no one was listening. I thought – no, I knew. No one was listening.

Then I crossed the country. Twice. In a 14-foot rental truck. The second trip found me in a vehicle the same color and size as the truck that blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, within a week after the attack. I got strange and wary looks on that trip. But I made it. I did my explaining whenever necessary. And I kept moving.

Keep moving… that seems to be the key to my live-liness. Not so much like a shark, as a small bird that must constantly eat to keep its energy up. I move with the cycles, picking up speed when the seasons change, so I can make a smooth transition into the next round of sun or rain or snow or wind or whatever.

And the night is my friend. Most of the time.

Tonight,  I am about as alive as any person can be. I ache like the dickens — I swam the other day, wearing an old suit because I misplaced my new one. The old one didn’t fit me well, but I swam anyway. The first time in months. Now my body aches, and my neck and back crack. Just as well. I needed a reminder that yes, I am here and yes, I am alive. Nothing like a little chilly water to wake up the senses. And remind me, there is more to life than warm weather. Warm water. Warm. Cold has a life of its own, and cold has its place, too.

Hungry does, too. And although I’ve eaten my dinner tonight, alone and on my own for the evening, I’m still hungry. Eager for something else. If I have some sense — and I believe I do — I’ll call it a night and make my way to bed, with a book to keep me company till sleep meets me, or my loved one gets home, whichever comes first.

Tonight, I am about as alive as any person can be. And I realize that I need to have people in my life who are as open to LIFE as I am… people who are as welcoming of the full range of human expression, as I am… people who are as undaunted, and as intentional as I am.  People who press out to the limits of what they are capable of, and find out what’s out there, who aren’t held back by what “should be” or “what is” — according to what others say.

This change in my needs for company has been in the making for the past year or so. It’s been stirring in earnest, for the past few months. And over the past weekend, when I saw a bunch of people I used to work with, I realized that the people I got along best with, were the ones who were the most comfortable with themselves, and the most comfortable with risk and reward. The kind of folks who wring what they can out of life — and themselves — and then come back for more. It’s not that they’re not afraid. Far from it. They simply have a tolerance for the experience of fear. And it’s not the ONLY thing they experience.

And they keep learning. I used to want to spend my life in school. Then I realized my life IS my school. I probably won’t be going after those degrees anytime soon. Life is much too interesting, to spend inside the walls of an institution, telling me what to think and say and how to act. The privileges of membership only compensate for so much.

I found this on YouTube tonight:

Scenes to live by.

Amen.

I’m tired.

Good night.