Thorough TBI Recovery – One complete experience at a time

Soak it all in — all over again

So, I’ve been thinking about TBI recovery a good deal, lately. I go in fits and spurts — I’ll go for months, not wanting to think at all about TBI recovery, then I’ll go for months thinking almost exclusively about it.

Now I’m back to thinking about it, and I’ve reached a somewhat different conclusion about what makes for a good recovery, than I had in the past. Just so you know, I speak from my own experience, but what I’ve found could just as easily apply to others, so use what you can, and ditch the rest as needed.

Basically, I’m now of the opinion that recovery from brain injury is very similar to growing up all over again. When we are infants, our brains are undeveloped in terms of physical and social and emotional ability, and we spend the next several decades working on those abilities. Some of us continue to learn and grow, continuing the learning process well into advanced age.

Some of us decide that once we’ve “got it down”, we don’t need to learn anything else, and we prepare to retire, hit the golf links or bocci ball turf or shuffleboard alleys. I think that given the prevailing culture, which has long told us that once you get to “a certain age”, your brain just doesn’t learn new things as well anymore (that old dog new tricks line), a lot of us automatically mentally head for the retirement home, at a certain point in life. A lot of actually start moving in that direction early on.

Those folks are often the ones who believe that you have what smarts you have, and you don’t ever develop any more. These folks have a “fixed” mindset. Versus the folks who believe that nothing is set in stone, and we’re always learning and developing new skills and abilities. These folks have a “growth” mindset. Carol Dweck talks about this in her book Mindset, which I haven’t read yet, but I hope to within a few months (maybe weeks).

Experiencing a brain injury is a bit like growing up all over again. It’s like going from an adult to a child, in some ways, where you have to re-learn all sorts of things that you used to know “cold”. For people who aren’t oriented towards growth and change, this can be devastating. It’s also problematic that brain injury can blind you to alternatives and options and keep you in a very limited frame of mind that is addicted to things being “fixed” and set and stable.

The problem with needing things to be “fixed” and set and stable, is that it just doesn’t happen that often. And when it does happen, it doesn’t last. So, you have to keep adjusting and adapting… whether you like it or not.

If you want to get back to being and functioning like an adult, you have to do that. There’s no other option — you’ve got a renovated brain, so use it or lose it.

I’ve come up with a new idea for how I can “use it” and make my TBI recovery more complete. Now that I am able to read books again (I read half a book on the plane while I was traveling for business), I find that I am also able to write again. I used to love to write stories — short stories, even full-length novels. Looking back, they were not very good, and the benefit was really more for me than anyone else. But they benefited me a great deal. In fact, I think that writing really helped me recover through a number of TBIs in the course of my life. It soothed me, and I also believe it developed my brain to see the world in wider ways.

It also opened me up to the idea of having new experiences and seeing them as “fodder” for my muse. I was able to have a whole lot of experiences that would have normally thrown me off, if I had not looked at them as “material” for my writing later on. I stayed open to experience, because I believed my purpose in life was to have those experiences and then write about them later.

Ultimately, I didn’t become the published author I always longed to be. But I did develop a practice that let me make sense of my world in ways that were meaningful to me. And I did develop tolerance for difficulty and frustration. Because, well, that was just part of life, and if I was going to be a good writer, I needed to be exposed to as much of life as I could be.

Now I see that my writing really helped me create positive neural connections, over the years. And the fact that I could not read or write for close to 10 years, really explains why my mind became so fixed, so narrow, so brittle. I wasn’t exercising my “mental muscles” and I was losing what I was not using.

I’m ready for that to change, now. I’ve been writing about my experiences on this blog since 2007, and now I can expand what I write about to include more than what’s in my head. Adding what’s outside of my head, what’s right in front of me, what I am experiencing in my senses, with the same excitement and joy I felt when I was much younger… these are things I believe will help me recover even more.  I miss it, in fact. So, why not start again?

I’m on good footing, right now. For now, anyway. And I’d like to bump up my progress just a little bit more — with complete experiences of all my senses, keeping my whole person engaged — body, mind, spirit, heart — in this thing we call life.

This seems a positive way forward. So, onward.

When your senses start playing tricks on you

Going out for my walk in a minute, but before I do, here’s something to ponder:

I’m not necessarily slower – I just have more to think about

Choices, choices…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about concussion/tbi making you “dumber” – slower, etc. When I had my neuropsychological exam, it became painfully clear that my processing speed was slower than expected. And it really bummed me out for quite some time. Plus, once I was aware that this was happening, it seemed like I couldn’t do anything without being painfully aware that it was taking me a little longer to process things than I (and others) expected it to. For some reason, everybody just expected that I’d be able to respond immediately to their questions or comments or conversation starters. But it just wasn’t happening.

After thinking about this from a bunch of different angles, I had a bit of a revelation this morning. It was something I’ve thought about before (and maybe I’ve written about it before – I can’t remember), but this morning it really made a whole lot of sense:

It’s not that I’m necessarily slower or dumber than I “should” be — or than I used to be. The thing is, after my TBI(s), I became so much more sensitive to a lot of different stimuli, and my brain has to work harder to sort through a larger amount of input, than before. It’s like the injury/-ies put holes in the filters that are usually there, allowing in a whole lot more input and information — sensory, like light and sound and (sometimes) smells and touch/feeling — and all that has to be factored in. It’s like my brain has to work harder to shut those things out, and since concussion/TBI has a way of activating your sympathetic nervous system fight-flight activity, you’re even more alert to all the stimuli around you…. constantly scanning and checking things out and sensing for danger, where it may or may not exist.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this.Maybe someone else can confirm/affirm this for me?

Think about it – say you give someone a deck of cards to shuffle and sort. Then you give someone else two decks to shuffle and sort, while they’re having a conversation with someone and an important piece of news is playing on the t.v. behind them. If the two people race to get done with their shuffling and sorting, the person with the two decks of cards are is going to take longer — because they have more to sort through, in the first place. And they have these other distractions going on around them.

That’s what it’s like after concussion/TBI – so of course I’m going to seem “slower” than others — when in fact, my brain is actually working harder, and perhaps even more efficiently than others, because it has so damned much stuff to sort through.

I think this can also explain why folks after TBI have the same IQ level as before, only now their processing speed is slower. I’d like to challenge the idea that processing speed is actually slower, in fact. Because regular measures probably don’t factor in the distractions and added sensitivities that have to be filtered and processed. Heck, if you look at the sum total of all the activity, it could be that post-TBI, your processing speed actually increases — but your brain is so busy trying to sort things out and re-categorize them and figure out what it all means (all over again) and re-learn the old past familiar things… not to mention battle against the rising dismay that things “don’t work like they should” and the wondering “what the hell is wrong with me?!” … that the end result and net effect looks like you’re stupid and slow and not keeping up.

That’s my theory, anyway. Although it’s almost purely anecdotal, it’s consistent with my experience, so I’ll have to go with that.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that we go through these things that actually make us stronger and more active, but people who don’t understand and don’t share our experience (including researchers and doctors and therapists and other certified experts), will label us as “weaker” and “less active” and “stupid”… all because they just don’t get it, and they can’t see why they should change their opinions.

I’m not sure what it will take to change this, but for the time being I feel pretty good in my own changing understanding, and it’s giving me some relief from that nagging sense of being stupid and slow and (excuse the expression) retarded.

Anyway, it’s a beautiful day, it’s Memorial Day — so, here’s a big THANK YOU to all who have served, and are serving, and to all who have paid the ultimate price out of love and service and duty. I probably wouldn’t be sitting on my back porch watching the dragonflies making their rounds this morning, if you didn’t do what you do. So, again, thank you.

But enough of the talk. It’s time to get into my day and enjoy myself with friends and family. Here’s hoping you can too.