Done worrying about stuff — for the time being

man and woman jumping for joy on a beach

It’s Friday. Woot.

Ha – that’s pretty much of an ingrained response, just one of my habits that usually serve me well. Today, I don’t actually have a lot of reason to say “Woot!”, because this day is no different than most of the days of the past week. I haven’t been working my a** off all week, so I don’t have a ton of reasons to be jumping for joy.

It’s another day. But come to think of it, that in itself is worth a “Woot!”

I’ve got some appointments this afternoon, and then we’ll get some Chinese food and watch a movie. Nice and drab. Boring is lovely. Not a lot of drama. Just taking care of business. Maybe I’ll have a nap later, probably I won’t. That’s fine. Because I’ve been catching up on my sleep, and I don’t have a very busy day today.

At all.

Woot.

Yeah, thinking about my day, it’s pretty sweet. I have time this morning to catch up with some reading and writing, and just putter around the house. I’ll contemplate my life, think about the coming New Year, maybe take care of a few little things here and there, and get the ball rolling this afternoon.

Check the news… read some websites I’ve started following… and not worry about much at all.

And this is actually a slight change for me, since I’ve been a bit anxious over the past few days. Plans didn’t work out, or I got stir crazy, or I forgot to call people I promised to call… A while series of little annoyances set me off, and since all the Christmas activity wore me out more than I expected, the fatigue got the better of me.

But today is different. I’m just kind of hangin’ out. I’ll make those calls I forgot earlier, and I’ll go pick up the neighbor’s mail from their mailbox while they’re out of town for the next few days. Just get myself sorted and situated and settled. Enjoy the day, don’t make a big deal out of stuff… just kind of roll along and listen to some music I love. It’s not every day I get the chance to just chill out, so I’m taking advantage.

Looking back on the last year, I see I’ve spent way too much time worrying about stuff. For sure. It worked itself out, even though I was so focused on individual details — losing sight of the big picture, and getting swamped in minutiae. Maybe it’s just me getting older… maybe it’s looking back with hindsight (not exactly 20/20, but close)… maybe it’s just a shift in my priorities and interests… but I’m a lot less concerned with stuff outside my immediate control, than I used to be.

There’s only so much I can control or influence. I can certainly try, but my abilities are, of course, human, so…

The best thing to do is really take care of myself and figure out how I can make stuff work for myself. The rest of the world will figure itself out. Or it won’t. Either way, my life goes on.

And on.

And on.

Woot.

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Tending to my present… Kick-starting my future

road leading into the distance, with country landscape surrounding it

Well, that sounds dramatic. And I suppose it is.

Taking care of the present sounds so formal. It seems common-sense. And I suppose it is. But we live in a non-sensical world, these days, so it’s a lot more difficult than it seems like it should be.

Kick-starting my future is something I do — or don’t do — each day, with every choice I make. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds, and it’s a lot more complicated than it seems.

The thing is, we do this each and every day with the choices we make. We define our lives by our choices, and we further our plans with our actions. It’s not mysterious, it’s not magical. One thing leads to another, then another, then another. And all along the way, we have the chance to change direction, even slightly.

If you’ve ever thrown a ball, you know how wide of the mark you can go, if you alter the angle of your arm just a little bit. The same is true of our lives. One slight change in “angle”, and you can end up in a very different place than you originally intended.

A “little” slip on some stairs… a “minor” bump on the head… and your life can change in that instant. You can find yourself waking up each day, not knowing where you are, exactly, or where you want to go. Or you may wake up each morning wondering why the heck you didn’t get to where you were going the day before.

The brain is an amazing thing, and it’s surprisingly easy to disrupt in life-altering ways. We constantly take it for granted, like electricity or hot-and-cold running water. They’re all supposed to just work, just be there. And when they don’t… when they’re not there, we’re thrown into a state of chaos and confusion that blocks our ability to deal with anything.

The thing is, we tend to get stuck at that place of chaos and confusion. Perhaps because brain injury “rehab” is big business, with plenty of facilities billing plenty of hours to insurance companies, we don’t see a wholesale rush towards figuring out brain injury the way we should have long ago. Too many facilities make their money from people in need of help, rather than getting people back on their feet, never to need them again, so where’s the impetus to properly serve the brain-injured population? There are lot of us, with over a million TBIs added to our numbers, each year in the United States, alone, so I’d expect someone, somewhere to figure out how to end the suffering and teach people how to get back on their feet.

But no.

Well, never mind. Because there’s nothing I can do about that. What I can do is share my own experiences for everyone who’s interested in actually doing something about their situation, rather than staying stuck in something that can actually get fixed.

We all need a good dose of reality, when it comes to brain injury. That goes for health care providers, as well as those of us who get hurt. The brain is highly vulnerable. And the ways it’s most likely to get hurt are ways that hit us where it hurts the most — in our executive functioning, in our ability to plan and follow through, in our accustomed patterns that fall apart and plunge us into a steady state of anxiety… which builds up over time and impairs our ability to heal over the long term.

When we understand the true nature of brain injury (and don’t just get caught up in recycled notions that came from investigations done back in the infancy of brain research), we can also see that it is survivable.

We can — and do — recover from brain injury.

No one can take that from us. No one. Not any of the “experts”, not any of the scientists or neuropsychologists or psychiatrists.

The thing is, “recovery” means more than just restoring prior functionality to the injured brain. ‘Cause people, once the connections in your brain are disrupted, they stay that way. You can’t rewire broken connections. But we can — and do — create new connections that may function a little differently, but are still every bit as useful (sometimes more useful) than the old ones. And ironically, in my case, I find that some of my new connections are much, much better than my old ones, because I formed them with more life experience than before.

What we’re recovering is our personhood. Our dignity. Our self-respect. Our individuality. I think the brain injury rehab industry lacks an understanding of how much more important that is, than any level of physical or cognitive processing. People get hurt all the time. We break bones. We get cut up. We get smashed and smooshed and crushed. And then we recover. We may not have full range of use after we heal, but we get on with our lives. We may limp along or not be able to reach over our heads to get stuff or have to stop shoveling our own snow, but that doesn’t keep us from living our lives.

Same thing with brain injury. We may not restore our brains to their former glory, but we can adapt. Losing certain brain functionality is not the problem with TBI recovery. It’s losing our Sense-Of-Self that does a number on us. It’s the panic that sets in when we find ourselves doing things that are “unlike us”. It’s the repeated little shocks of being surprised by one thing after another that didn’t used to surprise us. It’s the gradual disappearance of our friends and family who used to know us as one person, but can’t adjust to the new person we’ve become. That loss of the Self, that erosion of security about who we are… that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome with TBI.

Because if you don’t deal with that, your functional recovery is going to lag. Brain injury recovery is a re-learning process. It’s all about re-training the brain. And if you’re totally stressed out over everything, you can’t learn properly.

It’s that simple. And it’s that complex.

And it doesn’t need to be the big-a** mystery that we make it out to be, because it has to do with the braaaaiiinnnn.

Brain injury recovery is a matter of living your life. Learning to live your  life. Teaching yourself how to get on with things, when everything looks different, feels foreign, and doesn’t square with how everything used to be.

It’s about choice. Action. Reaction. Learning. Adapting.

And when we tend to our present, choosing to learn from each and every conscious moment, we move ourselves towards a future of our own making.

As the current year winds down and the new year approaches, I hope you can own that, yourself, and — whether your brain is injured or not — take responsibility for a future you can absolutely positively make up as you go along.

Looking back, looking ahead… and trying to get some sleep in the meantime

rowboat at docks

I have been meaning to get more sleep, during this vacation. I’m able to take naps in the afternoon, which is great. I just can’t seem to get to sleep at a decent hour (before 11:00 p.m.) Part of the problem is that I just don’t want to go to sleep earlier than 11:00. I’ve got an internal clock that tells me when it’s time to sleep, and it generally doesn’t kick in till 10:45 or so.

It’s a little nerve-wracking. But I do it to myself, putting all kinds of pressure on myself to go to sleep, when I’m not really feeling that tired. And then getting up at my regular time, which lately has been anywhere between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. So, I’m not always getting a full 7.5 – 8 hours, like I need to. And then I wake up irritated, because I can’t sleep through.

It’s an ongoing problem, especially during this vacation.

Well, my life is structured very differently now than it is when I’m working. I’m still doing my morning exercise, which is crucial. I’m actually doing  better with it than usual — getting both my bike ride and the weight lifting done. I just don’t move enough during the day. I move more, when I’m at the office, because, well, I’m at the office. I have to go to meetings. I have to get my lunch on the ground floor. I have to make trips to the water cooler as well as the restroom. It gets me up and around, while being at home — where everything is within easy access and just a few steps away — keeps me sedentary. Heck, I can even work while sitting/lying on the sofa, which sounds great, but is a bit of an occupational hazard.

Anyway, it’s the end of the year, and I’m kind of out of sorts. Feeling like I’m drifting, cut loose from my moorings a bit… feeling like I fell asleep in a rowboat that was tied to a dock, and then I woke up finding myself drifting out in the ocean, with the dock in the distance. The thing is, although the distant docks look familiar, and that’s where I expected to wake up, I can also see other sights in the distance.

Cities I didn’t know existed before.

Distant piers and jetties that look every bit as interesting as what I’ve known before.

Busy industrial ports that hold mysteries within their iron fortresses

And secluded beaches to explore.

Different sorts of places where people live, work, and go about their business, which are both foreign and fascinating to me.

And lighthouses to guide me along the way.

Lights… sights… sounds… And a whole world of choices out there.

When I actually have some time to catch up with myself, I can see so many more possibilities. And it’s invigorating.

But it’s also a little depressing. Because I spend so much of my time in recovery mode, just trying to right myself in the very wrong world, that I don’t have as much time as I’d like to just kick back and relax into finding out What’s Next.

I look around me at my life… And I see so much more beyond my present situation. And I also see that the resources I have at my disposal are, well, limited. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying. I don’t have all the energy in the world, and I don’t have all the patience to match it. I want to cut to the chase and get on with my life, to the best of my ability. And after all these years of really working on my TBI recovery and firming up my Sense-Of-Self, I’m finally at a point where I have a reliable idea of how “I” am going to react and behave under certain circumstances.

That’s the biggest, hairiest, most dangerous part of life after TBI — losing your Sense-Of-Self. It erodes your self-confidence. It crushes your self-respect. It makes every situation into a danger-fraught series of surprises that threaten everything you care about. And then the real trauma of TBI sets in.

I really believe that the biggest trauma in mild traumatic brain injury comes after the injury itself. There’s a steady stream of “micro-traumas” which stress out our systems and add to the fight-flight biochemical load. And unless we learn how to manage our fight-flight overload and learn how to clear out the neurochemical gunk of all that ongoing stress, mild TBI continues to take its toll. It continues to haunt us, to tax us, to load us up with invisible burdens that nobody else understands, but which are very, very real.

If you really understand the physiology of trauma (and not a lot of people know about it, let alone understand and fully appreciate it), and you understand the profound change that even a “mild” TBI brings to your entire system, all of this makes sense. You know that the subtle changes to how your system works are disorienting and anxiety-producing. You know that the body’s mechanisms for protecting itself are working overtime post-TBI, and they’re kicking in, in the most unlikely of situations. You know that the overall effect builds up, and you know that it’s cumulative.

You also know that while the effects may show up as a psychological disorder, the underlying basis is a combination of mind and body — and the body bears the burden of it all.

The thing about this whole deal is, because the body is involved, it’s possible to work with the body to turn that sh*t around. Even if your mind feels like mush (I’ve been there), even if you can’t remember what you did, just a few hours before (I know the feeling well), even if you can’t get through your morning without a detailed checklist (the story of my life for years), the body can act as a gateway to recovery.

Regular exercise helps stabilize your system. Eating the right foods (and steering clear of the wrong ones) helps your metabolism stay stable and keeps you off the blood sugar roller-coaster. Getting enough sleep lets the brain “knit itself back together”, as well as clear out the gunk that builds up, just as a result of everyday living. Plus, learning to regulate your heart rate and your blood pressure can train your overall system to get back to a stable state, even if everything feels like it’s falling apart around you.

I’m sipping the last little bit of my half-cup of coffee, as I write this. The snow from last night is giving way to freezing rain, which will fall until midday, when the temperatures start to rise, and regular rain falls. There’s always a chance that the ice buildup will take out our power, and that’s no fun. But I have wood for a fire in the fireplace, and we’ve been keeping the house pretty warm, so we’ll have some residual heat to see us through. In the past, we’ve had some pretty hair-raising experiences with losing power, and I don’t look forward to repeating them.

But I know a lot more now about keeping my physical system stable, and I’m in a much better place, mentally, than I’ve been in past years. So, I’m at much less risk than before. And knowing that relieves the pressure and also reduces the risk of my “losing it” even moreso. And that’s good. It’s awesome.

So, where was I… I’m kind of meandering, this morning, as I try to get my bearings. I’m looking back at the last year, wondering if all the effort really paid off the way I wanted it to. I’m not sure it has. Some things I started have kind of stalled. And other things I wanted to continue with have floundered, as well. In some ways, I’ve been as diligent as ever. In my day job, for example, I’ve been invested and involved in ways that have actually paid off. When I think of all the other jobs I screwed up since 2004 (and even before that), it’s kind of depressing.

So, I won’t think about them. I’ll focus on the good.

And as I look forward to my future, I see a much simpler — but much more do-able — path ahead. I’ve let go of a lot of old activities that were busy-work I picked up for the sake of pumping up my tonic arousal (the state of wakefulness in your brain) and getting my system turned “ON”. I had a handful of websites I wanted to start, a number of business ventures that seemed promising, apps I wanted to build, and novels I wanted to write. That extended experiment in busy-ness went on for 10 years or so, and it just didn’t work out, so I’ve now narrowed my focus to a few particular activities, which will actually lead somewhere.

Heck, they’ve already started to pay off. And taking the pressure off myself to go find another job… yeah, I’ve let that one go. Yes, traveling for work every few months really takes it out of me, but there’s no guarantee the next job won’t be just as much of a pain in the ass. Plus, it’s too stressful to go changing jobs every few years. I used to thrive on that experience, but now it’s just a pain in the ass. I need to look for the good in things and tweak the things that I’ve got going on… not ditch them and go looking for something better, somewhere else.

So, I guess I’ll wrap up my ramble. My morning is in free-flow, so I’m just letting my mind wander as it will, for the time being. I got my grocery shopping done yesterday. I got my meals for today prepared yesterday, too. I can’t go out and do anything, because the roads are bad. There’s no need to go anywhere, anyway. I’ll just hang out for the day… drift… make a fire, perhaps, and catch up on my reading.

And write a bit more. Because I can. I’ve got the time and the opportunity. So, yeah…

Onward.

Pacing myself for Christmas

Christmas wrapping
The final push is on…

It’s Friday. I have the day off work. I still have to do some daily “housekeeping” tasks for work, but it’s not that big of a deal, because it doesn’t require that I pay attention at all. Just start a program at 6:30 a.m. and wait for it to finish a few hours later. I should probably fix it so that it kicks off by itself.

I’ll do that later today.

Yesterday was get-it-all-done-before-the-snow-flies day. We’re supposed to get a bunch of snow and rain today, which could get messy. It’s not the kind of weather you want to be driving in, so I won’t. My spouse and I spent yesterday afternoon and evening doing our last-minute shopping, and we got just about everything done. So, that’s good.

It wiped me out, but it was good. Now I just have a bunch of stuff to wrap. And that’s fine. Because I have three days to get that done — a big improvement over past years, when we couldn’t get ourselves in gear before the very last minute.

All that last-minute shopping of years gone by just boggles my mind. How did we do it? Chaotically and crabbily, as a matter of fact. And it pushed me to my limits, year after year. But Ye Olde attentional problems and executive function issues kept me/us from getting ahead of the game and preparing in a timely manner. We always needed the stress of last-minute pressure to put us over the finish line, and it took a toll, year after year.

Of course, that’s just how things were, so we never thought to do things differently. And it took a toll. Good grief, when I think about all the drama and yelling and frustration… and how my spouse and I just took that for granted… I’m glad things are different now.

Part of it is that we’ve both gotten older and more tired, so we don’t have the energy for all that whoop-de-doop. Who has the energy for squabbling? What does it accomplish, other than sharpening our sense of being “ON”?

Come to think of it, that was a huge draw for us. Getting all worked up over things was a great way to perk up the old tonic arousal and get the brain to think it’s awake. That “pump” from the drama literally made me feel like I was alive again… a better state of mind than the steady level of dullness that came after my concussion(s). So, getting all “drama’ed out” was a way for me to wake myself up and get myself feeling normal again.

That’s not a small thing. It’s a critical thing. It was central to my Sense-Of-Self, and while it did make me pretty tedious to deal with during the holidays, it nevertheless played a role in making me feel like myself again.

But eventually that got old. And I learned new ways to perk myself up. Like getting regular exercise, first thing in the morning. Like getting the crap food out of my system. Like finding things that really made me feel great and focusing on them… not the things that made me feel terrible and perked me up as a result.

It’s an ongoing process, of course, and I’m not perfect. I still have my moments. Heaven knows. But things are a heck of a lot better this year, than they’ve been in past years.

And this year really I’ll be ready for Christmas.

There’s a first time for everything.

Second interview, second thoughts

handshakeI had an in-person interview for a new job on Friday.

All in all, it went well, I think. We seemed to connect well, and it’s the kind of work I want to get back into. I pulled together an updated portfolio of my work in a big hurry on Sunday morning. I had a lot to do, this past weekend — including an all-day event on Saturday and a ton of yard work and other chores on Sunday — so I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked.

But I got it all together within a few hours on Sunday, and I’m fairly happy with the end product. It also lit a fire under me to really pull together a good portfolio of my work. That’s the one thing I’ve been missing, all these years. To be honest, I never actually needed it before, because at the level I was operating at, and based on the companies I’d worked for, everybody just knew I could do the job, hands down.

Now things are different, though. We’ve got all kinds of people making all kinds of claims about what they can and can’t do, and the job market is glutted with posers. So, a portfolio is the first and last line of defense for both job seekers and employers.

Even if the job doesn’t work out — and I suspect it won’t, because I believe they have an open work space floor plan, and that doesn’t work for me. I’m a really “visual thinker” and rely on the part of my brain that processes imagery to do my job. So, if my line of sight is not blocked and I’m constantly being visually interrupted, I can’t do my work.

I learned that lesson loud and clear years ago. And I’m not going back to any environment that’s even remotely “open workspace”.

I’m also not a huge fan of long-ish commutes. My commute right now is pretty good, and the route also includes a number of stores, so I can shop on my way to and from work, without disrupting the rest of my schedule. That matters. It makes a huge logistical difference in my life.

I also can’t work full-time in an office. I need to work from home at least two days a week. I might need a nap, and I need to be at home for that.  Additionally, not having to drive my car every single day makes a big difference in my fatigue levels, as well as the cost of fuel.

Plus, the company wants me to come on as a contractor first, then get hired. I’m not sure I’m okay with that. It leaves a lot to chance, and while they may say they’re stable and supported by their parent corporation, I’ve been around long enough to know how quickly that can change.

Anyway, I haven’t heard back from the recruiter yet. Who knows what will come of it… But if it doesn’t pan out, that will be a relief, too, because I won’t have to make any more changes for a while. I can sit out the holidays and take my time off… and not worry about anything other than a few little projects I have going on.

That, and building out my portfolio.

Who knows what will happen? It’s impossible to say. But whatever happens, it’ll work. I’ll make sure it does.

Choosing to stay chilled out

Image shows a cat lying on its back on an easy chair, with a t.v. remote lying on its belly
Image shows a cat lying on its back on an easy chair, with a t.v. remote lying on its belly

I’ve been uptight for way too long. I’ve been cranked up, worked up, stressed out, for as long as I can remember. In fact, I didn’t know how to relax until about 10 years ago, when I started deliberately practicing that.

I had no choice. My spouse was seriously ill. I was losing it. I had to figure out a way to get myself back from the edge… I was dangerously close to it, and my life was literally disintegrating around me, along with my sanity.

I got help. I found a neuropsych who could work with me.

I also learned how to do “progressive relaxation” — and I did it on a regular basis. It wasn’t just some fun thing I wanted to try out. It was life-and-death, and the balance of my life depended on it. I sat za-zen. I meditated each day before I did anything, and then again when I went to bed.

Over the years, I’ve lost touch with that old practice. I just didn’t feel like doing it anymore. And I’ve gotten increasingly cranked up and tied up in knots, as the months and years have progressed.

I’m back at that “choice point” again. Relaxation isn’t optional for me. It’s got to become a way of life. It’s not that I’m close to the edge. I’m just sick and tired of being stressed out about everything, and having nothing good come of it. Consider it a reality check on the ROI of being stressed. The return on the “investment” isn’t good.

That means, the time and energy spent is it’s not an investment. It’s a waste. I can’t get those hours and days and weeks back, that I lost to being stressed. They’re gone for good. And what do I have to show for them? A little, but not a lot.

So, I’m going to try something very different. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep this up, but my plan is to keep my system in a prolonged state of relaxation. Just let my body relax. Just let my mind not worry about all that sh*t that everybody else is so worried about. I get too bent about crap I can’t control. It’s just kind of dumb. What the heck do I expect to happen as a result of my outrage, anyway? That it’s going to change anything? It doesn’t — except my internal state of mind. It just wrecks my peace. It doesn’t actually turn the speeding car in the right direction. If anything, it just pushes my internal accelerator to the floor.

And what do I have to show for it, after all those years of slamming the pedal to the metal? Not a whole lot, to be honest. I’ve spent a lot of time being angry, frustrated, outraged, confused, and not nearly as successful as I’d like to be. I’ve gotten in my own way, with all the frenzy. I’ve literally made myself sick, by letting my fight-flight response get the better (and worse) of me.

I know, I know, TBI has complicated matters for me. It’s at the root of much of my suffering, and not understanding it has made things so much worse. There’s no doubt of that. But I’ve also made things more difficult for myself by my choices to get bent out of shape, and stay that way — and also by not actively managing my issues. I have no excuse, now. I haven’t had an excuse for years. I know I’ve got sh*t going on with me, and it’s my responsibility to handle it, already.

But I’m getting tense again.

Let’s try to change that… No, don’t just try — DO.

To quote Yoda…

Do, or do not. There is no try.

It is possible to actively change your internal state from fight-flight to relaxation. I’ve known how to do it for years. But I haven’t consistently made a habit of it.

Till now. Till I got sick and tired of having nothing to show for my outrage, other than… outrage.

For the past couple of days, I’ve been deliberately relaxing when I felt myself tighten up. I tighten up — get tense — a lot. After being in a constantly tense state for most of my life, I know how to do that. It’s an immediate reflex. A knee-jerk response.

And when I consciously relax — just let it all go — things tend to clear up. Even if they don’t completely clear up, I feel better. And that’s something. I’m tired of feeling bad all the time, for no good reason. I’m old enough to know better, and I do. I’m also old enough to want to just enjoy myself, instead of chasing all sorts of distant goals that — if I’m honest — were never going to work out, in the first place.

Enough wasting the energy. Enough wasting time I’ll never get back.

Time to relax.

Choose to chill.

And enjoy my life.

Regardless.

Onward.

Concussion symptoms got you down, this holiday season?

head form of metal meshYou’re not alone.

The holidays can be tough for anyone who’s got extra difficulties, due to chronic illness. And with TBI / concussion, sometimes the worst thing is being around people who don’t understand what it’s like to have your life turned upside-down by a “mild” blow to the head.

As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing “mild” about a concussion or a traumatic brain injury. That momentary alteration of consciousness means that something “in there” got injured. And no amount of positive thinking or motivation or … consequences… is going to change the functional ability, unless you have adequate time to recover and rebuild your wiring.

You have to keep the stress down, to do that effectively. It takes time and practice and sometimes a bit of luck, to rebuild what you once had. And being pushed and prodded by people who don’t understand TBI or “get” why concussion can turn your life upside-down, doesn’t help with that.

The holidays can be stressful, to begin with. Then you add all the people, the expectations, the increased pace (a lot of us are racing to finish year-end goals at work, at the same time we’re shopping and figuring out holiday party logistics), and money pressures… and it just gets worse. Cognitive reserves that were already in short supply, get even less… and meanwhile, everybody expects you to KEEP UP! KEEP UP! WHAT’S THE HOLD-UP?!

Some of my own challenges have been:

  • Remembering what I’m supposed to do at work. I’ve forgotten a bunch of stuff I was supposed to do – and I even forget to write it down.
  • Dealing with depression. It comes and goes with me. This year, it seems to be coming more than it’s going.
  • Keeping cool with my spouse, when tensions get high.
  • Staying on my exercise routine.
  • Eating sensibly, and not “stuffing my face” with all kinds of candies and cookies. I’ve done well in terms of candy, because I can’t have chocolate (sets off migraines with me), but I’ve eaten more bread and cookies than I should.
  • Getting enough rest, and keeping on my regular sleep schedule. A tired brain is an irritable brain, and boy, do I get irritable when I get tired. I’ve had a hard time keeping on my sleep schedule, these past weeks, and I really have to concentrate on getting that sorted out when I’m off work next week.
  • Not pushing myself too hard. It’s easy for me to push. I know how to do that. But while it used to work okay when I was in my 30s, now that I’m past 50, it’s just not the same. I need to remember where I am… and act accordingly.

Basically, keeping myself together during the holidays is like an extra part-time job. It helps that I haven’t spent a lot of time socializing with friends and family. That takes the pressure off. But for many, many other people, they don’t have that option. And my heart goes out to them.

Still and all, it will be over soon enough. Just a few more days till Christmas, then another week till New Years (which isn’t much of a holiday for me, anyway). Then I can get back to my regular life.

And start the year fresh.

Onward.

Understanding Trauma: How Stress and Trauma Cause Chronic Condition Pain, Anxiety, Depression & PTSD:

One more reason to not get too tired

With positivity you have the powerI’m tired. I need to catch up on my sleep. I need to recharge my batteries. Not get so tired. Get back to where I want to be.

When I get tired, I start doing things like stressing myself out, so I feel more alert.
I’m not alert. I’m just stressed. Big difference.

And one of the things I do to stress myself, is slack off on my job, procrastinate, and think about leaving for greener pastures.

Oddly, the better I do at things, the more uncomfortable I am. Because stress makes me feel alert. And if I’m not stressed, then I don’t feel alert.

I may be alert, but I don’t feel that way.

I have a long history of jumping ship from good jobs, for no apparent reason. I just got so danged uncomfortable — but that discomfort actually comes from fluency, efficiency, being plugged in and capable. Somehow, being stressed and behind the 8-ball makes me feel more alive, more alert, more able… even though it’s undermining me and making me feel insecure and vulnerable.

It’s a fascinating conundrum. And the best thing to do, really, is keep an eye out for it when it starts to happen and not let it derail me.

I also need to plug myself into some positive stresses, some real challenges — not the ones my imagination comes up with.

Keep The Stress Down – A Great Brain Injury Info Interview with Ken Collins

brain-firingHere’s an interview with Ken Collins with Michael Shaughnessy at Eastern New Mexico University. It’s incredibly important information about controlling stress  in TBI recovery so the limbic system fight or flight response isn’t triggered:

Q: Ken, first of all, what is your exact title, and what would you say you do?

A: San Juan Center for Independence-Gallup, Program Director, where I supervise three staff members and oversee independent living skills, peer support, advocacy, information and referral, nursing home transition, personal care option services to people with disabilities and elders in McKinley County. SJCI-Gallup is a non-residential, cross disability organization and is one of eight different independent living centers in New Mexico. All independent living centers are private non-profit tax exempt, 501 (c) (3) organizations with their own board of directors who oversee each independent living center programs and services. All independent living centers are funded through the Department of Education and provide the core services I mentioned above. However, some centers don’t provide the personal care option. New Vista’s in Santa Fe is one of those centers.

Q: How did you first get involved in brain injury and head trauma?

A: I received my brain injury 38 years ago on December 31, 1976, after running a snowmobile headfirst into the side of a parked car. I have a month missing from this accident and only remember Christmas Eve and then don’t know anything until I woke up about six inches from a mirror in my parent’s bathroom picking the wires in my mouth. I came out of darkness through a fog to clarity. I knew I was home, I played baseball and my name was Ken, but I didn’t know anything about home, baseball or Ken. My mouth was wired shut because when I hit the car I broke my jaw below my chin on the left side and rammed my right jaw bone into my ear canal, separated my skull completely (cap fracture) and knocked out a tooth and broke a rib. My rehabilitation was trying out for the Seattle Mariners Baseball team nine months after my brain injury that helped with kick starting my neuroplasticity and recovery. Lucky for me I had collected a big box of personal items from when I was in the 7th grade till being 26 when the accident happened. Every day for about six months I went through that box to put myself back together. There were old get well cards, love notes from old sweethearts in Jr. High and high school, stuff that only meant things to me and newspaper articles from sports – stuff like that. and then over the next five years conducting business as a community organizer where I helped establish the Westfir Workers Association in its attempt to purchase the closing Chicago-based Edward Hines Lumber Company in Westfir, Oregon and other non-profit community organizations. This provided me with the structure I needed and provided me with a sense of purpose and meaning that is critical during the early stages of recovery from a brain injury. In 1983, I got hired at one of the first residential brain injury programs in the country (Center for Neuro Educational Therapies) that began my formal training about brain injury. In 1985, I was a founding member of the Oregon Head Injury Foundation – in 1988 was elected to the National Head Injury Foundation and served on the NHIF board for 6 years. From 1990 to 1992 I was elected vice president of the NHIF Survivor’s Council. As a VISTA Volunteer I was a VISTA Volunteer where I helped to establish the first independent living program in the US for people with brain injuries (Uhlhorn Apartments) and also helped to get a congressional investigation of the head injury rehabilitation industry that resulted in FBI raids on New Medico which resulted in New Medico facilities closing across America.

Q: Can you talk about the impact of stress on a person that has suffered either an open or closed head injury?

A: Stress is something that affects everyone – it is a biologic event and why it is something very important for people with brain injuries to be aware of and control. This is especially true since it is well known that whatever problems someone has before their injuries these problems are magnified. This is true for the limbic system fight or flight response too since stress is what triggers the fight or flight response. Life in general is pretty stressful after a brain injury. Stress is something that all people with brain injuries experience. Relationships are stressful. Short term and long term memory issues are stressful. The loss of not being the same after your brain injury is stressful. Having friends leave because they don’t understand brain injury and don’t come to visit anymore is stressful. Not being able to go back to work after your brain injury is stressful. Having people treat you differently after a brain injury is stressful. The stigma of brain injury is stressful. Having to go to appointments and doctors visits is stressful. I first noticed how stress affected me when my friends came to visit me at home after my brain injury. I couldn’t always remember their names. I knew they were my friends because I could recognize their faces but the harder I tried to remember their names the harder it was and I could feel my body tense up as I tried my hardest to remember their names. The more my muscles tensed up the harder it was for me to remember their names. This was also true when I went through those years of “word find” issues. The harder I tried to find the missing word in what I was saying the harder it was to remember. Before my injury, I was a professional baseball pitcher and learned about biofeedback so this is why I was so in tuned to my muscles tensing up. A pitcher has to remain relaxed during stressful situations i.e. runners on base with no one out and a one run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning. It is very important to keep your poise in these situations and stay cool, calm and collected. Be in the moment and relax because if you don’t stay relaxed your wrist will stiffen up and when you pitch the ball it will not have any movement on it and will straighten out and your fastball will become easier to hit. Because I had this knowledge and awareness of biofeedback it has made it easy for me to understand the dynamics that stress has on my life and this has provided me with some insights about how stress affects my brain injury recovery. Deep breathing and relaxing is something I do naturally and this has played a useful role in my brain injury recovery process.

Q: You have spoken at several conferences about head injury. Tell us about a few of them, and your reception.

A: This will be my 5th year in a row presenting at the Southwest Conference on Disability. Much of what I’ve talked about over the years has been giving people attending my presentations an historical perspective in terms of what I’ve done over the years so they know I’m not talking about theory but experience in doing it. I have also talked about how things have changed since I first got involved with head injury rehabilitation in 1983. Back in those days there were very few services available in the community and the place I got hired was one of the first residential programs in the country for people with head injuries – Center for Neuro-Educational Therapies (CNET). I was a founding member of the Oregon Head Injury Foundation in 1985 and got involved on a national level in 1988 with the National Head Injury Foundation. I sat on the NHIF board of directors for six years and resigned in 1995 to start working with people with developmental disabilities for five years in Oregon before moving to New Mexico in 2000, to work at San Juan Center for Independence (SJCI) for three years before going to work for another developmental disability provider in Gallup for five years and then being asked to come back to SJCI as the program manager. In 2010, I presented on creating supportive housing for people with brain injuries modeled after the Uhlhorn Apartments program in Eugene, Oregon I helped start as a VISTA Volunteer. The Uhlhorn Apartments in Eugene, Oregon uses some common sense technology to help people with brain injuries live in a stress free environment as possible. Example: Timers on the wall of the apartment close to the stove. Before the burners on the stove can be turned on a timer must be activated. The timer is set so that the person with the brain injury doesn’t leave their stove on and cause a fire. Once the timer runs down the stove is turned off. Cupboards in all the apartments are open so the residents can see where their food and close are stored. These simple environmental adaptations make it easier and less stressful for brain injured residents to start their days off so they aren’t confronted by short term memory problems. Back in the early years of my recovery when my day started off on the wrong foot it would take me the whole day to start getting back on track. Now I know this was because of the limbic system fight or flight response that was triggered by the stress of having something go wrong.

In 2011, I talked about the lessons I learned over the last 34 years of living with a brain injury to help professionals, service providers and state agency representatives recognize the positive benefits for people with brain injuries to relieve stress so they can achieve happiness and joy during their recovery process.

  • Happiness & Joy after Brain Injury @ 61 from Chaos & Turmoil to Balance & Harmony
  • Happiness and joy is a journey with many obstacles and barriers to overcome.
  • Finding happiness and joy in your life after brain injury – is healing.
  • Relieving stress and anxiety will make the journey easier.
  • Relieving stress and anxiety in your life – is healing.
  • Setting a routine will help relieve stress and anxiety and will provide you structure to make planning and problem solving easier.
  • Setting a routine and sticking to it – is healing.
  • Finding purpose and meaning in your life will help motivate you and provide the means to persevere and move on and hope for a better day.
  • Hope is healing.
  • Finding discipline will help you follow though and be accountable for yourself and help regulate the impulsive behavior sometimes caused by most brain injuries.
  • Being accountable for your actions – is healing.
  • Respect for others and self-respect will help you regain self-confidence.
  • Regaining self-respect and self-confidence – is healing.
  • Exercise everyday and good nutrition makes life easier.
  • Exercise and good nutrition – is healing.
  • A supportive family and friends helps build trust in yourself and others.
  • Trust is healing.
  • Learning about your brain injury and talking about it makes life easier.
  • Making life easier – is healing.
    Finding a support group or a good friend to speak with about this is a good idea and helps you heal the unseen injuries caused by your brain injury.
  • Talking to others about your unseen injuries – is healing.
  • Being content with who you are and how you live is very important after a brain injury.
  • Being content – is healing.
  • Finding happiness and joy after brain injury is the key to recovery.
  • Happiness and joy – is healing

In 2012, I presented on Accessing Life after Brain Injury – Public Service, Political Action & Community Organizing. After sustaining a brain injury in 1976, I had to start life all over again. Through public service, political action and community organizing, I regained meaning and purpose in my life and overcame many obstacles and barriers placed before me through hard work, self-determination in structured settings. After I tried out with the Seattle Mariners nine months after my brain injury in 1977, I helped organize the Westfir Workers Association (WWA) to purchase the closing Chicago-based, Edward Hines Lumber Company operations in Westfir, Oregon. Lane County came in a did a feasibility study that lead to the establishment of a local economic development corporation – Upper Willamette Economic Development Corporation (UWEDC) where I became it’s executive director for four years. This provided me with the structure and neuroplasticity I needed to set the stage for my recovery process to take place.

In 2013, my presentation was: Brain Injury Recovery Using: Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT Tapping) Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Mindfulness Meditation Training. I used the expertice of three practioners to explain what each therapy does and how it benefits people they work with.

ABSTRACT

Ken Collins will discuss how he utilized Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT Tapping), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Techniques and Mindfulness Meditation Training to overcome problems with my brain injury he experienced after being attacked by a burglar with two knifes at his home on June 20, 2013.

Ken took 6 weeks off on medical leave because the PTSD from this incident brought back several issues with his brain injury he had resolved 15-20 years ago. His vision, balance, equilibrium and memory were all affected negatively after the attack. Ken was unable to overcome these issues by himself and started counseling with to assist him with these challenges.

His counselor used EFT, EMDR and Mindfulness Meditation Training to help him overcome the problems he was experiencing and then after going back to work in August, his attacker came by his worksite to harass him and wasn’t arrested. The DA’s office lawyer had told Ken on several occasions during court proceedings that if his assailant came by his home or office to call the police and he would be arrested. So when he did and Ken found out that the DA’s office failed to get him the protection order he needed to keep him safe. This event sent Ken into a tailspin and magnified the issues he was working on from the knife attack. Now, in addition to those issues Ken was very angry and felt vulnerable because he felt unsafe at work and at home.

Ken’s counselor continued to offer him Mindfulness Meditation Training, EFT and EMDR for 12 weeks after this and now Ken has regained his composure and has returned to work and regained his self-confidence so he can continue down the road to recovering from his brain injury.
Ken Collins will discuss what happened to him during and after the knife attack and how this affected his brain injury. Ken will also show how Mindfulness Meditation Training, EFT tapping and EMDR techniques can help other people with brain injuries with their recovery process.
Last year I did a Poster Board Presentation at the Southwest Conference on Disability: Creating a Quality Life for People with Brain Injuries Using Neuroplasticity, Mindfulness Meditation and Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. I also did a presentation on the Uhlhorn Apartments in Eugene, Oregon where I talked about the environmental stress reduction features of the program.

This year I will presenting at the Southwest Conference on Disability on The Biology of Brain Injury – Controlling the Limbic System Fight or Flight Response. I will discuss the critical need for people with brain injuries to learn about the role the mid-brain and limbic system plays in triggering the “fight or flight” response under stress. When fight or flight is triggered people with brain injuries are in a reactionary mode which affects everything they do – processing, problem solving, decision making, planning, memory, etc.

Q) I understand that you are slated to speak in August at a very special conference. What will you be speaking on and what is the exact title of the conference?

A) I will be presenting at the Native American Brain Injury Summit in August. My presentation will be about controlling the fight or flight response for Native Americans with brain injuries.

Q) What kinds of information do survivors of head injury and brain trauma need?

A) I think the most important thing is to become more aware of what stress does to them so they can play a more active role in managing their recovery process instead of reacting to it. Once the fight or flight response is triggered it is hard to turn off if people with brain injuries don’t have the skills (Mindfulness, EFT, EMDR, etc.) to relax and calm down or as I like to say: “Find Your Happy Place”. All of this takes a lot of work and won’t be easy for many people with brain injuries – unless they have some basic understanding about stress reduction like I did before my injury. As you know there is no quick fix to any of this but with awareness of the role stress plays in their lives and then an understanding about how the limbic system fight or flight response is triggered under stress most people with brain injuries can become less confused and angry. By being able to improve their wellbeing by managing stress people with brain injuries should be able to improve their self-confidence and self-esteem. This will also give people with brain injuries the opportunity to take ownership of their recovery process by not being dependent on others thus improve their self-confidence and self improve their self-esteem. Win-Win!

Q) We have all heard about the “fight or flight “syndrome back in Psych 101. But how is it relevant to those with head injury?

A) This is why what I’m saying is so promising for improving the quality of care for people with brain injuries. Since doctors, educators and professionals already know about the limbic system fight or flight response they just need to pass on the importance of regulating stress so the fight or flight response is controlled so the fight or flight response isn’t triggered. I have been living with my brain injury for 38 years and know firsthand how stress has created chaos and turmoil in my life. I thought professionals knew this already until i was at a Brain Injury Resource Center, peer mentoring training and found out different. I think professionals have been so busy treating the symptoms of brain injury (sympathetic nervous system/limbic system fight or flight response) that they haven’t looked at the causes of these symptoms. I see two problems with all of this. 1) Getting doctors, providers, educators and brain injury professionals to value this information and buy into this concept and then incorporate it into their practices. 2) Getting brain injured individuals to do the work it will take to control their stress so they start seeing a difference in their lives. I was hard wired for my brain injury recovery process to take hold because of my understanding about what stress does and how to react to it – biofeedback/deep breathing/relaxation/keeping my poise. The mindfulness of this process improved my wellbeing and has given me the hope I needed to carry on and not give up. The majority of folks with brain injuries don’t have this understanding before their injuries and it will take them time to see the results. I also have the will and self-determination it takes to improve my condition and get better. I realize understanding controlling stress so the limbic system fight or flight response is managed won’t work for everyone because of the extent of some people’s injuries. That being said, there are many who can and will use this information to improve their lives. If we can improve the lives of some people with brain injuries that will be a start and then other people with brain injuries might be more willing to give it a try. I know understanding how I have gotten better since my brain injury has helped me control the stress that triggers the limbic system fight or flight response. This information has also helped others too. Lets’ give this information to others and see what happens. Since you already know about the fight or flight syndrome from “Psych 101” it should be easy for you to spread the word about why controlling stress so the limbic system fight or flight response isn’t triggered for people with brain injuries.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help spread the word about my brain injury recovery process.