Not myself, this past month or so

I hate to admit it, but for the past month or so, I haven’t felt like myself. That is, the self that I had come to know myself to be, over the past years… the self I had trained myself to become — and to notice.

I’m not whining about it. I just need to go on record, so I remember it later. Not all is hunky-dory, and I’ve spent an awful lot of time masking all this and keeping myself from thinking too-too much about it. That’s counter-productive. I hate hearing myself talk about what’s wrong, but I need to be aware when things are not ideal, so I can do something about it.

I haven’t got time right now to chronicle everything I am doing to address these issues, so for now, I’m just going on record.

Lately, I’ve felt like things are unraveling… starting back in September when my PCP died, and the only doctor I ever felt comfortable with was gone forever.

Then in October came the announcement that the company I work for is being acquired, and all the assumptions and plans I had about my future (going back to school, getting my degree, staying on there until I could finally retire)… that all became incredibly tenuous.

Then in November my neuropsychologist tells me that they’re retiring this coming spring, and the one working relationship I’ve ever had with anyone who didn’t make fun of me or treat me like there was something wrong with me when they simply didn’t understand, suddenly got an expiration date.

The car needed a couple thousand dollars of repairs over Thanksgiving, and my bank started warning me that I was low on funds.

And then in December I find out there will be layoffs, and I and my group barely missed being cut. Someone I really depended on for advanced technical support got laid off, so now I’m sorta kinda hung out to dry, in one respect.

It’s just been a heck of an end of the year.

At least my spouse and I are reasonably healthy (aside from some nasty colds — knock wood), and we’ve had no other calamities. But piece by piece, some of the main supports I’ve been relying on, have been removed.

I guess it’s time to find new ones.

And it’s been strange. I haven’t really felt like myself for over a month. I’ve been a lot more on edge, blowing up more at my spouse, getting confused and disoriented at work. At Thanksgiving time, I was balancing between completely losing it and letting off very controlled bursts of angry steam. And while I’ve rarely been a real Christmassy kind of person, this year especially I just haven’t been in the mood. The weather has been strange, but after the absolutely sh*tty winter we had last year, I don’t care that it’s going to be warm and sunny on Christmas Day. That’s this Friday, and, well, it can come and go, for all I care.

I just don’t feel like myself. Nothing seems worthwhile, and in all honesty, the only thing that brings me total satisfaction is trapping the mice in my basement. I rigged up several traps on a little ledge where I’ve seen them run in the past, and I’ve caught four of them, so far. I have a feeling I’ll be trapping all the mice in the neighborhood, by the time all is said and done, because my garage is not very well sealed, and I’ve seen them come in through gaps in the trim. Right in front of me. Brazen.

Well, now those little brazen bastards are getting dead. And while I do feel pang of quasi-Buddhist regret that I’ve taken a life, I do NOT feel regret that these creatures aren’t running amok through my basement. I figure, I’m releasing them to their next incarnation — just speeding up the cycle of life for these rodents.

It’s not the death that appeals to me. It’s the yes-no, success-failure, instant gratification of seeing that at least something I’ve done is working. It’s basic. It’s primal. And I’m managing to successfully defend my castle against at least some maruaders.

I just wish I felt more like myself, instead of being shaky and tired and disoriented and prone to error. I’m spaced out, a lot of the time, I feel like I have more on my head than I can handle, and while I’m sure things will be fine and I’ll be able to handle whatever comes along, it’s still tiring, and I feel like I’ve lost my mooring.

Maybe I have. Maybe I have.

I just have to get it back, I guess. It’s now officially winter, and I’m ready for it. I just want to hibernate, go underground, and maybe that’s what I’ll do, more or less. The last several months with the company change have been very chaotic and unsettling for myself and everyone at work. It’s next to impossible to make any plans, and nobody knows what the criteria are for deciding who stays and who goes. Nobody can give us any clue, either, because that might tip their cards, and everyone might just take matters into their own hands, and then the deal might fall apart.

So, hibernation (figuratively speaking) might be the best thing to do. Keep everything simple and lay low. Cut back on social media (which I have). Stop reading the news (which I must). Concentrate on what matters most to ME (not the rest of the world). And focus on the basics — eating right, exercising regularly, and doing things that appeal to me and that I love and which also make a constructive contribution to the rest of the world.

I also need to get back to dealing with the logistical issues that come up with me. Sensory issues are problematic — light and sound and touch have been giving me problems. I’m dizzy a lot — almost fell over the other day for no good reason. I’m space-out, foggy, and I feel a split-second delayed, though that could be a symptom of me still being sick. I have problems typing, and my handwriting is a mess. I skip the first letters of words while I’m writing in long-hand, which is a new one for me. My temper is short, I’m getting “snappier” than usual, and I have bouts of intense depression. And lately, the headaches are back, along with the episodes of sudden pain shooting through my head, followed by feeling dull and out of it.

But hell if I’m going to take that Imitrex. F*ck that sh*t. Talk about feeling spaced-out… I feel bad enough as it is, without adding medication to it.

So, I do my breathing exercises and get my head out of a stressed-out space, and it helps a bit. It also helps to ignore it and just get on with my life. But the headaches are getting intrusive, again, and when people like my chiro or my massage therapist ask me about them, it just irritates me, because the things they do for me don’t actually seem to help all that much, but they’re so convinced that those things are The Ticket. It’s nice that they try, and I know they want to help, but there’s nothing that seems to really Work for me. Not these days.

And trying to explain that to them is a pain in my ever-lovin’ ass. People get so sensitive and offended and frustrated when I tell them what they do is not working. No science, no tweaking their approach. Just getting irritated and frustrated — and keeping on doing the same thing as before. So, I quit saying anything. Because even when I try to explain, it doesn’t help.

It’s the classic tension between what appears to be, what people think really IS, and what my experience of things is. And that fragmented collection of disconnects makes me absolutely crazy.

That, and the fact that my weekly schedule is about to change, with my neuropsych seeing me on Fridays at noon, instead of Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m.  Argh! Change! I hate it!  And I hate that it makes me so unsettled. I wish it weren’t so.

But bitching about it won’t change anything. I just need to get on with my life.

My new mantra: Screw it. Onward.

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They say it’s the brain, but it’s also the body

It's ALL connected
It’s ALL connected

TBI can seriously mess you up in the head. That’s a given.

But it can also seriously mess with your physiology.

In fact, out of all the problems I’ve had over the years, the physical issues I’ve had have far outweighed the cognitive ones – if anything, they contributed to my cognitive and behavioral issues.

  • Fatigue – bone-crushing, spirit-sapping exhaustion;
  • Problems keeping my balance, which messed with my moods.
  • Heart rate increase – or decrease, as well as blood pressure changes.
  • Light and noise sensitivity.
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Sensitivity to touch, which really messed with my head, as well. Imagine never being able to have human contact… it’s not much fun.
  • Constant adrenaline rush that wired me out, something fierce.

When your brain gets injured, it can affect your whole body. Because as we know, the brain is mission control for the rest of the works below the neck.

 

I lowered my heart rate from 90 to 73 in a minute

Last weekend, when I was recovering from a migraine, I checked my blood pressure and pulse:

100/59 with a heart rate of 90
Before… 100/59 with a heart rate of 90

My heart rate was up, for some reason (this was just after noontime), and my pulse seemed a little off. 100/59 might seem awesome, but it seemed a little low to me.

So, I did my breathing and checked again:

95/66 with a heart rate of 73
After – 95/66 with a heart rate of 73

I was able to bring my heart rate down to 73, which felt better, and I raised my “bottom number” on my BP to 66, which actually felt better.  I don’t want my blood pressure to get too low, and I can bring it up with my breathing.

So, I did.

I made the mistake of not checking my bp and pulse while the migraine was setting in. I’ll need to remember that later, so hopefully I can head it off at the pass… before the stabbing pain sets in.  Who knows? Maybe I can head off the other symptoms at the pass: light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, sensory issues, balance, dizziness, etc.

In any case, this is probably a good thing to do on a daily basis, no matter how I’m feeling. It might save me a lot of hassle – and it’s definitely easier and cheaper than dealing with medication.

Migraines have been under control

trepanning - migraine relief?
Fortunately, I have a better solution than this!

Summary: Controlled breathing seems to be helping me control my headaches, especially my migraines. After years and years of having constant headaches, I believe I’ve found a way to control them. This is good news, because constant headaches are no fun, and they kept me from really living my life.

I’m happy to report: My migraines have been under control – The headache part, anyway. Last week, I had a weird couple of days, where I was definitely altered… very strange feelings, colors brighter and higher contrast, everything feeling like it was moving in slow motion… I didn’t take any meds, because I didn’t have a headache, and I wasn’t actually sure if it was a migraine, or if it was just one of those things that comes up.

I will occasionally have bouts of dizziness (well, not occasionally… more often than that). And I will have my bouts of clumsiness and feeling spacey. Especially when I’m under pressure, feeling emotional, or I haven’t slept, it can be a problem, and with the last days of my current job winding down, all three of those boxes get checked off.

So, I just let it ride. And Saturday evening (after my nap, ironically), the headache set in.

But to be honest, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it has been in the past. Certainly not as bad as when I was cutting back on my coffee and went through that miserable withdrawal that lasted for days. And I actually have been feeling pretty good, without the constant headache. I think I must be doing something right.

The thing that seems to have moved the needle, is that I’m actively working with controlling my heart rate and blood pressure with controlled breathing. I can bring my heart rate down from 93 to 73 in a minute, using my technique. And I practice this on a regular basis, sometimes because I need to, sometimes out of curiosity.

It seems to be helping my migraines.

Now, the thing to be careful of, is thinking that one thing leads to another, when there could be other issues happening, too. I have also drastically cut back on caffeine, which supposedly helps headaches. That’s ironic, because I always heard that caffeine will help a headache, and to be honest, the times when I have been really struggling with the pain, having some dark chocolate or a bit of strong coffee really seems to help. If nothing else, they make me feel human again. I’ve also been exercising more regularly — at the very least, riding the exercise bike for 15-20 minutes each morning, and usually lifting light weights to boot. That could certainly be helping.

The thing is, I couldn’t exercise regularly for a number of years, because the headaches were keeping me from it. Nowadays, I still do get little headaches when I exercise, now and then, but when I do my controlled breathing and relaxation, they go away. Pretty amazing, really.

This is how it goes for me, these days:

Exercise: I get on the exercise bike and ride. I set the resistance to about medium, because I don’t want to overdo it. I’ll bump up the resistance and push myself, now and then, but when I do, I will sometimes get a little headache… which in my experience can turn into a big one — and big problems for the day. I back off on the resistance and check my pulse on the handlebars (there’s a pulse monitor there). If it is really high, I will control my breathing and bring it down. And the headache goes away.

Emotional Upset: My spouse and I have always had a “fiery” relationship. Our discussions sound like all-out fights to people who don’t know us. Our actual disagreements literally make other people run away. It wasn’t a problem for me, when I was 15 years younger (we’ve been together nearly 25 years), but in the past years, I’ve been getting more upset by these kinds of exchanges, and I’ve noticed a connection between the upset I feel and screaming headaches that come on — especially migraines. Sometimes I get so upset, I get an 8-out-of-10 headache (complete with light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, sensory issues, balance problems, dizziness, and nausea) that lasts for days. So, I need to find a way to deal with it. Now, when I get upset and I feel something coming on, I immediately “disengage” and focus on controlling my breathing. Sometimes I will go to a dark room and block out all sensory input. I can usually feel my blood pressure and heart rate going way up… but after a little while (maybe 15-20 minutes) of slowing everything down, I can “rejoin the living” and have a logical conclusion to what was probably a silly argument, to begin with. And no headache to speak of.

It’s pretty cool.

And it’s a relief.

Because now I feel like I can live my life without being in constant fear of headaches and migraine symptoms, etc.

Of course, there’s the other host of symptoms that come with migraine. Like feeling like my left side is carved out of a block of wood. But that’s also diagnostic. It tells me I need to take better care of myself, rest, get something decent to eat, and take the pressure off.

Bottom line is, I figured out a way to manage my migraines, and I’m pretty happy about it.

Getting off coffee — After the migraine subsides

So, this is interesting. I did something to my system over the weekend, and I came down with a horrific migraine yesterday afternoon. It was the worst one I’ve had in quite some time. I’ve had some of those where you go blind in one eye and the world is spinning and you feel like you’re going to throw up, but I don’t remember the headache and weird feeling and light sensitivity ever being as bad as they were yesterday.

Holy crap.

I really didn’t expect it at all. My weekend was going really well. I was cutting back on the coffee and eating a more substantial breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, along with more fruits and vegetables throughout the day, getting more exercise (I rode the bike a long while on Saturday and Sunday and went for multiple hikes in the woods, up to the top of a nearby hill in our local conservation area), and drinking more water. I felt fantastic, with a lot of energy. I also got some roasted dandelion root tea, to try out as a substitute for coffee. I drank some on Saturday afternoon. It was nothing to write home about, and certainly not a reliable substitute for coffee. But it was worth a try. It was in the coffee aisle at the grocery store, after all.

But I woke up to a screaming migraine after my nap on Sunday afternoon. Couldn’t stand the light, head throbbing, sick to my stomach, feeling dull and drugged. Usually my headaches are just there, but this one was intrusive. Holy crap, whenever I moved, it just thrashed me. Up around an 8.5 – 9 on a scale of 1 – 10. I had a bunch of things I wanted to do on Sunday afternoon, but all I could do was sit in a dark room with my sunglasses on, soaking my feet in a hot mustard bath.

I had half a cup of coffee, ate a banana and a piece of chocolate, took a couple of Advil, and drank water (how’s that for performance enhancement?) and I started to feel better. Not as sensitive to light and not as sick. Still not great, but better than I had been. You do what you have to do.

I suspect this was partly about cutting back on coffee… increasing my exercise… changing my diet… and drinking that tea. All that change was abrupt, even if it was in a positive direction. I have a tendency to overdo things out of enthusiasm, and I think this was one of those times. I’m nervous about the MRI, and my anxiety is really rising. So, to calm myself down, I do things that give me the sense that I have some control over my life — changing my diet, exercising, trying new foods, cutting out coffee.

I’ve done some reading over the weekend about migraines, and they can be triggered by a bunch of things, including changes to diet and activity – check, and check. I know that exercise tends to start a headache with me, and I did start to get a bit of an ache while I was riding the bike — both days. But it’s usually just a headache, not the nausea, crazy feeling, and intense sensitivity to light that had me walking around the house with all the curtains drawn and wearing my sunglasses because even through the curtains, the light was too bright.

So, I did a number of things differently than usual, and I learned my lesson. I need to take things slowly — gradually — not dive in head-first, as I tend to do. Impulsiveness plus anxiety equals — surprise!

And not a good surprise, either. Right now, I’m fighting back more throbbing pain, keeping the blinds drawn, and reaching for the Advil. I don’t want to take the Imitrex, because I don’t know what it will do to me, and I have to be “on” this morning.

So, I need to take things easy and make change gradually. Not bombard my system like it’s a machine. As much as I like the idea of roasted dandelion root tea as an alternative for coffee, I don’t think it’s going to do it for me. I think it really contributed to the migraine. After the pain subsided to a relatively simple headache of “4” on a scale of “10”, I tried to drink it again yesterday evening. And the headache started up again. So, even if it’s not the sole contributor, it did not make things better for me. Dandelion is a natural diuretic, and it has other properties, too, that are used as home remedies.  I got some to get ready for my MRI on Wednesday, so I can flush out my system and not be poisoned (too much) by the contrast agent. But I just can’t do it.

Well, better I learn now, than later. That’s for sure. I’d rather get this lesson out of the way ahead of time, while I have the time to rest and recuperate. I have a busy day on Thursday, so I need to not get knocked out by the MRI on Wednesday. Most people don’t have problems with it, and they look at me like I have two heads when I tell them I get sick afterwards, but so what? I know what happens to me, and I need to get ready.

So, it’s plain water and healthy foods for me, thank you very much.

Onward.