No sooner do I say I need more movement, than my day fills up with meetings

brain with arms and legs walking on a treadmillToday there is not one minute of my day that is not scheduled for a meeting. Non-stop. Eight hours. No fun.

But that’s the deal, today, so that’s that.

Fortunately, I’ll be working from home today, so I can walk around the house while I talk on the phone. I can’t do that at the office… at least, not on the scale I can do it here. I can’t walk around the halls, talking on the phone. I can reserve a conference room and then walk around it, while I’m listening. I could even project the meeting proceedings on the big screen, so I can watch what’s happening as I pace. But it’s not the same as being able to walk around my house.

So, at least there’s that.

And man, do I need that today. Yesterday I was stuck in an all-day workshop where we just sat… and sat… and sat. It started early, so I didn’t have time to exercise in the  morning before I went. But it ended earlier than my normal days typically do, so I was able to get to the pool and go for a swim. That was productive. And much needed. So, it’s all good.

I noticed that I was getting really tired towards the end of the day, and I was starting to get cranky and a little confrontational. But I managed to pull up and not blurt whatever came to mind. There was this module we were working through that just seemed like such B.S., and I wanted to say so. But I held my tongue and said nothing. Mission accomplished. I got out of it without wrecking my reputation, which is what I often do at those kinds of things, towards the end of the day when I’m tired. I blurt out crap that makes me look belligerent and confrontational, when I’m just tired.

And then all the work I put into cultivating rapport with others goes out the window. Fly away, little reputation. Fly away.

But yesterday, I held my tongue, and that was good. It was very, very good.

And today… Well, I’m looking at another day of non-stop paying attention to important stuff, and potentially being virtually motionless the whole time. I can’t let that happen. Not two days in a row. I just have to get creative and think outside the box. Find ways to keep myself moving. Heck, maybe I’ll even ride my exercise bike while I’m on a call — except that I get out of breath, and speaking up when I sound like I’m in the middle of an exercise routine is not the most professional thing to do.

So, scrap that. No riding the bike while I’m on a conference call.

I’ll just pace in my living room, walk around the downstairs. Do some movement… knee bends… stretching… anything to keep my body awake. ‘Cause if my body isn’t awake, neither is my brain.

And not-so-great things happen when my brain is foggy and asleep.


Thinking beyond Christmas – so I can relax and enjoy it now

I’ve got my hands full, for the next 24 hours. I’m coming down to the wire with shopping and cooking and preparation for Christmas Day tomorrow. My spouse and I typically take it easy on Christmas, when we’re at home.

And this year, like last year — and several other years before that — we’re at home. Just the two of us.

No two days of driving, in both directions.

No packed houses with lots of people vying for our attention.

No navigating family dynamics and going the extra mile to let everybody just be who and what they are.

None of that. Just peace. Heavenly peace.

And to make sure it stays that way, I’m thinking ahead to the coming week, getting my schedule clear in my head so I don’t have to deal with a bunch of surprises, on down the line. I’m not very fond of surprises. I’ve got enough on my plate that I already know about, and I haven’t been sleeping well, lately, so that makes me more irritable and hard to deal with. I need to take better care of myself wherever I can, for the sake of everyone around me.

And that means streamlining and planning ahead wherever possible.

What do I need to do, this coming week? We’ve got some appointments we have to attend. I also have some car repair work I need to schedule. And I’ve got a handful of things I’d like to sort out around the house, too. Like do much-needed organizing of the files on my computer and the various “thumb” drives I have. I’ve got a lot of USB drives with a lot of stuff on them, and it’s time I consolidated them. Also, cleaning up, organizing the various rooms in the house. Moving furniture we don’t use to the basement, making room for the things we do use. Making space to move and breathe and live. And unwind.

Unwinding is good. I’ve been pretty tightly wound for quite some time. Unwinding will be a welcome change.

Before we know it, it’ll be 2018. Christmas almost seems like a blip on the screen, but of course it’s not. It’s a pretty big deal for my spouse, and I need to do my part. I’ve never been much for holidays, birthdays, special events — they all seem like just another day to me. But being part of something bigger than me — which also really matters to my spouse — is more important than indulging my Bah-Humbug spirit of the season. Just gotta put my own sentiments aside and get into it.

It’s not forever. And it won’t kill me to just go with it.

So, go with it, I shall.

And then… into the New Year with a positive frame of mind.

It’s the only way.

New direction – old faithful direction

Reaching out to others is what brings us back to ourselves
Reaching out to others is what brings us back to ourselves

I’ve been excited about different new career directions, over the past years. The only thing is, I found out I wasn’t fully qualified to go in those directions, and I’ve been increasingly “outclassed” by folks with pretty heavy-duty qualifications who have the certifications needed to make it all happen. This system I’m learning really ties together my experience in technology, past experience I’ve had, and it keeps me going in the direction I need to go. It’s a certain way of working with teams, and a certain way of getting projects done, and it really fits me to a “T”.

It’s a system that was invented by people like me, for people like me — and it’s the darling of all those C-level executives who want to tell the world they use this methodology.

So, that’s good. And I really feel as though I’m set with this. My retirement savings all went away after my TBI in 2004, and I’ve been really struggling financially for quite some time. There’s been a huge amount of uncertainty in my financial life, and a big part of that was around job uncertainty. I haven’t been totally clear on the direction I need to go, in part because I haven’t been totally clear about the kind of work I can/should do, and the types of people I can/should work with.

As it turns out, after doing a fair amount of thinking and reading online, I’ve realized that high-high tech is really my “tribe” — and that’s in large part because of the neurodiversity. I’ve always worked with people who could be called “Aspies” — folks on the “high-functioning” end of the autistic spectrum, whose ways of communicating and thinking are quite different from the norm. I’ve got my own set of communication and thinking differences, and there’s something really soothing about working with folks who not only know what it’s like to be out of synch with the rest of the world, but also have a thinking and communication style that’s got pauses and different sorts of pacing all tied together.

Back in the day, when I first worked in high tech, I was surrounded by very strange and wonderful people who were very, very different from the rest of the world. I joined them not long after I’d had a car accident, and my thinking and coordination were pretty screwed up. I wasn’t particularly good at making small talk and following conversations with people, and I kept to myself. They left me alone, and they let me do my programming work, and I did it extremely well. They never pressured me to be super-social, and even when I committed some major social faux-pas because I was overwhelmed and couldn’t handle myself socially, they didn’t hold it against me.

And after about 6 months of working with them, all of a sudden, I got my sense of humor back, I was able to handle the pacing of conversations — and with more than one person — and I became an important part of their little tribe.

They gave me the room to heal and work my way back from the effects of that car accident. I never discussed the accident with anyone — and didn’t even realize was affecting me — all I knew was, I didn’t want to deal with anyone, didn’t want to talk to anyone, wasn’t comfortable navigating the social sphere, and all I wanted to do was sit in front of my computer and code. But after a while of being left to my own devices and gradually and slowly brought into their midst, I healed. I was able to chat again, talk again, interact again, in a much more fluid way than I had, when I first started.

And a lot of those folks could easily be labelled as “Aspies” or on the autistic spectrum. They were an odd crowd, for sure — in the best way possible.

I’ve been struggling in my work situation for a number of years, primarily (now I realize) because I’ve been surrounded by so-called “neurotypical” folks who have been extroverted and really interactive, with average sorts of thinking and communication styles. And that’s been a huge struggle.  It’s been years since I’ve worked with a hard-core gang of Aspie folks in a really high-performance work environment, and I realize now that the problem hasn’t been with me — it’s been with me being in the wrong kind of environment. I need to work with a close-knit group of neurodiverse folks, in a situation that makes the most of everyone’s abilities.

That works for me. It makes the most of my abilities, which include motivating and including people who may feel marginalized and pushed aside. I’ve had some great success doing that, in the past years, at various jobs. But my current situation doesn’t really allow me to do that. I’m too isolated. I’m too blocked off from a real team. And because we’re all battling the same lack of resources,

And the beauty part is, this new system I’m learning will give me the skills and the cred to “slot” right into that sort of role.

So, yeah – it’s becoming a lot clearer to me. I need to work with hard-core technical folks, and I need to do it in a capacity where I can add value. I used to be a damn’ good programmer, but after my accident in 2004, I haven’t been able to work reliably. I’m good for maybe a few weeks, then I crash and can’t function. On the other hand, I’m an excellent team leader and I know how to include and motivate people and bring together disparate types of folks to achieve a common goal.

And that’s worth a lot in this high tech world. It’s not about your plan and vision – it’s about execution and delivery. And that’s where I excel – helping a team to execute and deliver. To be their best. To really rise above and beyond and do amazing things.

I never thought I could do that before, because it didn’t feel like I was being effective. I would be so wiped out after the intense work, I was sure I’d failed. And I didn’t understand my communication and thinking challenges. I didn’t realize that I had problems, and I had to do something about them.

Once I realized that I did have issues with slowed processing, and I realized I could actually do something about those things — and I got the chance to work with people who had communication issues, themselves (as in, the international folks I used to work with) — that really turned things around for me. Thanks to my old neuropsych, I got my head around that, and voila! Magic happened.

Now I need to make more magic happen.

And so I shall.


So, I don’t really HAVE to do it the hard way?

accounting-calculatorI’m going to finish my taxes today. I got them 1/4-way done yesterday — all my own income and business expenses have been tallied up and accounted for. Now I need to pull in my spouse’s numbers, and that will be a bigger task, since they are self-employed, and they have a lot going on.

Fortunately, this year, we did the smart thing and split up the work, so I only did the bank-numbers-collecting, and the tax software forms-filling-out, and they took care of tallying up all the checks and the items that I couldn’t make sense of. So, it actually worked out well. And they produced two pieces of paper that have neat calculations on them, rather than 10 sheets of paper with a thousand individual items listed.

It’s progress — real progress. And it tells me my spouse is actually doing much better, neurologically, than they’ve been in a number of years.

In past years, I explained what I needed, and they didn’t understand. They just didn’t get it. No matter how I phrased it, no matter how many times I repeated myself, they just didn’t get what I needed, and they went ahead and did what they wanted to do, anyway… which made my life extremely difficult at this time of year.

Now they’ve gotten their system down, and they did it in the space of a day, rather than dragging it out for weeks on end. That’s huge progress, too. They’re more focused, more cognitively streamlined, more motivated.

And it’s all good.

So, today I finish off the work. I do this every year, so now it’s very familiar to me. And that’s a great thing, because each year, I get all tangled up in anxiety about going through this process, and I become convinced that I won’t understand it, or I’ll get confused, or I’ll get turned around. Doing my taxes used to be a fairly straightforward thing, before I had several businesses to account for. Once upon a time, I could do my taxes in the space of a few hours in the afternoon. But when both my spouse and I got our businesses going, things got very complicated — it would take me weeks to get it all done. And ironically, our businesses really took off and got way more complex during the early years of my TBI recovery — after 2004.

Doing taxes turned into a huge undertaking. I would collect all the data and sort it and categorize it and compile it into several different spreadsheets, and then sort it again. I’d have to re-assign numbers that I did wrong, because they really belonged with one business, not the other. And I sometimes wasn’t sure if I’d done it all correctly, which was a massive source of stress for me.

This year has been different, however.

As it turns out, my own thinking is much, much clearer now than in the past. I got a first inkling with that, when I was exporting all my banking information to sort and plug in. I’ve always been extremely thorough, sorting and categorizing everything, from start to finish, following dates. I got so caught up in it, in fact, that I had intended to collect all the numbers on a quarterly basis and sort through them, so that at tax time, I could just plug them in.

Of course, that never happened. I did it last April, after I’d finished my 2014 taxes, and just the exercise of sorting the numbers of three different bank accounts in multiple formats was too much for me. Hundreds and hundreds of transactions, large and small. How could I keep up with it?

Answer: I couldn’t.

So, I abandoned the exercise, and I was feeling bad about myself, when I went back to my 2015 taxes directory on my computer and saw the failed attempt from last year.Then, it occurred to me yesterday, that that exercise was actually a total waste of time. I didn’t have to collect and sort every single transaction. I didn’t have to categorize every trip to the grocery store, barber, and fast food joint. I could just cut them all out, up front, and only categorize the numbers that actually applied to our businesses.

It seems so simple now, but this was an epiphany for me. Rather than biting off a massive chunk of work, I could work with only the most necessary pieces, and concentrate on them — and pretty much disregard everything else.

So, I did that yesterday evening, and what used to take me days, took me a couple of hours, max. And that’s a good thing, indeed.

I should be able to get our taxes all squared away in a matter of hours, really. And that’s fantastic. Because I can keep doing this new and improved approach each year. The progress continues. Even if it’s the sort of thing that should have been totally obvious to me… it wasn’t. I got so mired in the details, I couldn’t see the easy way of doing things.

Now I can see it, though. I’ll have to make a note for myself to do this again next year.

But logically, really, how can REC support a “replacement hypothesis”?

replacement-hypothesisThis the question that’s been pestering me for the past day or so.

Maybe I’m missing something here. That’s entirely possible. I’m no stranger to the concept of radical embodied cognition (REC). Although I’ve only recently come across this new approach to cognitive neuroscience, I’ve believed it for years. It’s how I’ve long understood much that I believe about the brain and its difficulties after concussion / mild TBI.

In short, I believe that a brain injury, no matter how initially mild, can unleash holy hell on the injured party — not due to the initial injury itself (though the axonal shearing / diffuse axonal injury and acute neurometabolic cascade don’t help matters any), but through the extended disruption of the overall “cognitive ecosystem” — a network which includes brain and body and external environment.  Disruption to the external environment includes strained social connections, interruptions to interpersonal intimacies, as well as disruptions of the perceptual processes which enable cognitive contributions of brain and body.

So, REC really offers a fantastic scientific approach — with an emerging body of research (woot! woot!) to substantiate its claims.

So, I’ve been reading a bit about it. On Saturday, I read Andrew D. Wilson’s and Sabrina Golonka’s 2013 paper “Embodied cognition is not what you think it is” and I really enjoyed it – particularly the parts about REC discussing a replacement hypothesis of embodied cognition.

… if perception-action couplings and resources distributed over brain, body, and environment are substantial participants in cognition, then the need for the specific objects and processes of standard cognitive psychology (concepts, internally represented competence, and knowledge) goes away, to be replaced by very different objects and processes (most commonly perception-action couplings forming non-linear dynamical systems, e.g., van Gelder, 1995).

At first glance, it seemed to make sense. Standard cognitive explanations for behavior have never sufficed for me. They’ve always seemed to fall short — and I attributed that failing to their myopic avoidance of environmental interactions, including physiological ones.

But I’ve been puzzling for the past 24 hours about how REC can support a “replacement hypothesis”, where the representations and processes of the brain can be replaced by an embodied cognition approach.

If REC by definition involves the entire “cognitive ecosystem” of brain, body, and environment, how can we possibly get rid of the computational piece of neurological understanding? Seems to me, it’s part of it. And while I do believe we need to extend our understanding beyond the echo chamber of the representational view (which seems an echo chamber par excellence), I think that dismissing it outright and replacing it with something else actually costs us something valuable — something we can use.

The need to replace one theory with another strikes me as a bit too narrow. It’s territorial, and the either-or approach comes with a cost. It also provokes push-back from perfectly capable and skilled individuals, who could actually contribute their expertise and insights in a constructive way.

It makes no sense to me, to kick the cognitive psychology folks to the curb, when the areas they’re focusing on are actually part-and-parcel of the full cognitive ecosystem. Rather than excluding and narrowing, why not include and expand? There’s some seriously interesting work being done in a multitude of areas, and I believe if we follow them all to their logical conclusions, their findings can — and will — strengthen the whole, rather than limit it.

For my money, I think these theories can all strengthen and enrich each other. We don’t necessarily need to dismiss one to make room for the other. They can act like layers in a fine piece of laminated furniture — all the more beautiful for their contrasts. They can add much-needed dimensions to the discussion, covering similar territory in very different ways.

If our embodied cognition really consists of everything, how can we comfortably dismiss/replace anything?

Wonder on…

Not just a floating brain: Action and Cognition Lab studies human body’s impact on visual perception

brain-blue-patternsThis is an excellent article – and it really helps explain certain mysteries of post-concussion issues. I’m thinking and writing a fair amount about this, these days, tying in “embodied cognition” with the neurofunctional pieces.

Essentially, embodied cognition approaches our cognition as a result of a combination of influences — from inside and outside the brain. There are a number of different “definitions” and approaches, but the one that makes the most sense to me actually replaces the brain-only / mind-only definition of cognition.

I believe that our brain and biology both affects things, and so does our environment. We’re in constant interaction with the world around us, and that interaction is at the heart of our cognitive process. We’re more than brains floating around inside skulls, making up images and meanings and metaphors about our world and where we fit, then acting accordingly. The world around us, in fact, plays a central role in our cognitive process.

It’s fascinating stuff. Take a look:

Not just a floating brain: Action and Cognition Lab studies human body’s impact on visual perception

FARGO — Humans are not just a pair of eyes and a brain floating around.

The idea that humans are active beings with bodies that interact with the environment is at the core of the study of embodied cognition: what a person sees and perceives in the world around them as influenced by aspects of the body beyond the brain. The parts of the brain a person uses to perceive the world are also the same parts of the brain they use to think.

“We’re acting beings who have these bodies that allow us to do things in our environment,” said Laura Thomas, an assistant professor of psychology at North Dakota State University. “The idea is what I’m ready to do with the environment is going to have this interaction with the information that I’m biased to perceive.”

The NDSU Action and Cognition Lab, headed by Thomas, studies the impacts a person’s physical, social and kinetic interactions with the world have on the way the brain processes information. Studies in the lab have found that factors as minor as how a person holds their hands affects their ability to perceive movement or fine spatial details.

“Just being ready to catch a ball or thread a needle will create this subtle bias in terms of what my brain is going to emphasize when I take in that information,” Thomas said.

The lab’s primary study looks at how a person perceives visual information near their hands based on what they are doing with their hands.

Researchers have subjects put their hands in a “power grasp,” with their fists closed as though they are ready to swing a hammer, and perform a task on a computer display. They then have them do the same task with their hands held in a “precision grasp,” as though they are about to tie their shoes or thread a needle, and compare their performance against the same activity done with their hands in their lap.

“We’ve found that if people are holding their hands up on a computer display (in a power grasp), they’re more sensitive to changes in motion information — information that changes quickly over time,” Thomas said. “That’s the kind of visual information that is most useful to me if I’m doing something like trying to catch a ball or swing a hammer.”

“If your hands are positioned (in a precision grasp), you are more likely to respond to visual information that is related to fine spatial details. Little differences between the positions of dots on the screen are going to be easier for you to notice.”

More studies

The other two areas of study in the lab test how social interactions affect what a person sees and the effect of physical motion on thought processes.

The social interaction study tests how people perceive a person’s face if they compete with them versus if they work together on a team.

“We found that if you’re playing against another person — if you’re competing — you remember that person’s face as being more aggressive looking,” Thomas said. “This idea of facial aggression is measured basically by — if you think about a triangle where you’ve got your eyes and your mouth — a triangle that is more scrunched up is more aggressive.”

The study on the impact of physical motion on thought tasks subjects with solving a difficult spatial reasoning problem. The solution to the problem involves swinging a string like a pendulum. The study has found that if they ask subjects to swing their arms back and forth, without telling them it has anything to do with the problem, they are much more likely to solve the problem.

“Movements of the body can serve as primes or triggers to particular types of thought,” Thomas said.

The lab also provides opportunities for undergraduate students to conduct studies. Junior psychology major Hallie Anderson is about to begin a study on the impact handshakes have on business interactions. They are bringing in a grip testing machine to see whether a firm handshake actually yields superior economic results.

“The popular hypothesis would say that the firmness of the handshake would play a factor into who would receive more money in an economic game,” Anderson said. “But I almost think personality will play a factor as well. We’ll see if the handshake itself is making that difference.”

Merry Christmas – may it be so

Merry_ChristmasMerry Christmas, everyone. Happy Christmas. Frohe Weinachten. Feliz Navidad. And many more wishes in languages I do not know.

I hope it is a good day for you, and that you find peace and a measure of happiness before the day is through.

Christmas is a tricky time for a lot of people, including those who have some sort of limitation or particular need. One of the most poignant things about it, is actually the spirit of it, which so often gets lost in the shuffle. The original story (whether you’re a believer or not) is about people under duress making the best of a bad situation.

A whole country is uprooted by a tyrant (of sorts) and hauled away from their homes, so they can be taxed in the town of their family’s origin. One couple in the midst is a man and his very pregnant wife, who have to make the trek, regardless of her condition. Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary were from, was a kind of crappy area — economically depressed and not the sort of place “nice” people lived. So, Joseph probably wasn’t all that well-off to begin with, and dragging him away from his work as a tradesman to tax him, was just heaping one injury on another. It wasn’t like he made that much money, to begin with — but he gets taxed and he loses however many days or weeks of work. That’s rough.

And when Mary and Joseph get where they’re going, there’s literally no room for them in habitable lodging. So, they end up in a stable. In a strange city. Anyone who’s spent time around farm animals, knows this is about the last place you want to deliver a baby, but apparently that’s where it happened, and the child ended up laid in a feeding trough for his first night on earth.

Some entrance.

Now, I’m not a hugely religious person, these days. Once upon a time, I was, though. I was raised in an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian household and I was “raised in the church.” It was my primary social network. My parents are still very involved in their church community, as are some of my siblings. I’ve always been pretty spiritual (even after I stopped believing the way my family did), and that endured through the years with a strong tendency to feelings of mysticism and spiritual connection with something higher.

My TBI in 2004, however, pretty much erased my religious feeling. Suddenly, it just wasn’t there, anymore, and I could not for the life of me figure out why anyone would have any interest in religion or spirituality. My spouse has always been very spiritual, and I can assure you, the times when I did not pray along with them were not the best moments in our marriage. I rolled my eyes and tapped my foot impatiently, waiting for them to finish, which really hurt their feelings.

My lack of spiritual feeling has persisted somewhat, but in the past few years, that’s started to change. Just goes to show you how the brain continues to alter and develop along different lines, over time. And I’ve gotten some of my spiritual feeling back — though I have probably gotten back more willingness to play along so I don’t hurt others’ feelings, than I’ve gotten back my old religious fervor.

But religious belief aside, the story behind Christmas is one that really resonates with a lot of people. It’s all about being forced into a less-than-ideal situation, and making do. It’s about modest, humble circumstances setting the stage for later greatness. And to me it’s about dealing up-front with the indignities of life and recognizing that beneath the limitations of your circumstances, there lies a potential for rising above it all. The indignities of not having enough, of being pushed aside, being just another face in the crowd, aren’t the whole truth about who we are and what we’re capable of. We may not all be divine (though some believe we are), but we can surely rise above our circumstances, like that little baby who spent his first night in a feed trough.

Making do… that’s pretty much what this season has been about for me. I have been working overtime for months, keeping my emotions from getting the best of me, and that’s taken a toll on my system. It takes a lot of energy to keep yourself on an even keel, when everything around you feels like it’s going nuts, and I have really felt it, this holiday season. Not having a doctor I trust and can rely on… that’s a subtle source of pressure. Being told my neuropsych is retiring in the spring… that’s more pressure. Being threatened with a layoff in the immediate term… that’s a direct and intense source of pressure. Having everyone around me at work be in rotten spirits because of the impending job changes… that’s an indirect but distracting source of pressure. Expensive car repairs and drama while traveling over Thanksgiving wasn’t easy. Being sick has been a disruptive challenge. And having my spouse being sick, too — and increasingly disabled — has been hard to get my head around.

Most of this I’ve had to deal with on my own, but I don’t mind. It’s actually easier for me to handle things alone, so I don’t have to verbalize with people. Talking out loud is yet another source of pressure, and I’ve been doing it pretty poorly, this holiday season. Seriously — I haven’t been able to describe things I’m looking for, and people in stores don’t take kindly to it. It’s been kind of funny, actually, when I’ve tried to describe caulk… or a little bracelet with colorful beads… and failed to do so.

I’ve kept it together, more or less, but it’s taken a toll.

The energy that I’ve been using to keep myself on an even keel had to come from somewhere, and my thought processing has not been the sharpest. I’ve been forgetful, scattered, emotional, foggy, and that all makes it even worse. It’s really been a challenge to do the kinds of things that used to come easy to me, and that’s hard to take. I can’t believe I have to deal with all of this — and take things so much more slowly, plan so much more carefully, and resort to what feel like remedial measures.

And through it all… I                      am                   so                  tired.

But then I come back to the Christmas story. And I can relate. I have a pretty good idea how it must feel to be uprooted from your home and dragged somewhere else to pay someone money that you probably don’t have. I don’t know how it feels to have a baby on the way, but I know about long journeys and having more asked of you than you feel you can spare. And I know the feeling of despair and overwhelm, when everything around you seems to conspire against you, and you can’t catch a break.

I also know what it’s like to make do with what little I have. This year, we don’t have a tree indoors, because the artificial tree we’ve had for years has gotten old and smells terrible. It’s musty and dusty and the materials are starting to degrade and off-gas, so after a couple of tries, we ended up just putting the tree out on the back porch and arranging our presents on a beautiful golden cloth we have, surrounded by colored lights.

It’s modest, but it’s beautiful, and later I’ll roast the turkey for our Christmas dinner. We’ll have a quiet day, today, and just enjoy the quiet in our own merry way.

We’re better off now than we’ve been in quite some time, and for that I am grateful. We have our issues, but we also have our ways of dealing with them. It’s Christmas. Time to focus less on what we don’t have, and more on what we do.

May your Christmas be merry, as well.

Getting the Gunk Out – Again and Again

Here’s your memory training image for the day (sorry I have forgotten to include these in the past days)

memory training image
Study this image for a few minutes, then read the post below… and then draw it afterwards.
Get that gunk out of the gears

So, I’m starting my new job tomorrow, taking it easy today, catching up on my rest, and not going too crazy with everything. I had some errands I intended to run, but I went to bed, instead.

Just as well. Those errands can wait.

I’m pretty excited about my new role, and I can’t wait to find out how it’s going to go.

I got myself some really nice, fresh food for dinner, and I’ll start cooking that up in a little bit. I need to get my things together — make sure I have clean socks, as well as a formal suit to wear. It’s my first day. I want to look my best. I’m sure it will prove to be a lot less formal than I’m dressing for, but I’ll just take off my jacket. Roll up my sleeves.

Problem solved.

I’m trying to drink a lot of water, so I’m clear for tomorrow. The last few weeks were pretty action-packed, and I need to settle my system. Yesterday I ended up being pretty busy and active, which wasn’t my ideal. I really wanted to have yesterday off, but that’s not what happened. Oh, well. That’s what Sunday’s for, right?

I spent a lot of time, this afternoon, relaxing and stretching and breathing. I did that after my nap, while I was lying in my warm bed, feeling comfortable and easy. I am having more trouble with my upper back, shoulders, neck, and trapezius muscle. I’m really stiff and sore, and not feeling great. All that lifting and moving yesterday didn’t help. Oh, well. I stretched, rolled on a tennis ball to work out the knots, and I “breathed into it ” as my chiropractor tells me to do. In the end, I felt better than when I started, but it’s still tight and painful to move at times.

The main thing for me is to work on clearing out the stress sludge from my last job. Let by-gones be by-gones, and also help my body clear out the biochemical leftovers from all the ridiculous dramas and conflicts that people seemed to dream up to keep themselves entertained. It’s not a small thing, clearing out the sludge. We have to do it, in today’s world, because nobody else will do it for us. We live in very stressful times (especially as the new political season picks up), and our systems are deluged with all kinds of conflict and strife and perceived threats.

If we allow it to build up and stay there, it takes a toll. It puts additional stress on our systems, and it drags us down. I dunno about you, but I don’t need anything else dragging me down. Especially if I know how to clear it out.

So, I’m breathing – steady as she goes – count of 5 in… count of 5 out… nice and even, relaxing all the while. It balances my autonomic nervous system and gets me out of fight-flight mode. It backs down the stress response and makes it possible for me to clear my head, so I can think properly.

This is important. This is critical. I know how to do this, and I must do it. It’s no longer optional for me. Not just some interesting thing to try out, here and there, but a discipline I need to regularly do.

Like the image memory exercises.

Both help. In different ways. They really help.



And now, get your pencil and paper and draw the image you just looked at above. No peeking. It’s important to see where you come up short. If you succeed each and every time, you’ve learned nothing. Good luck.

Augh! Where are the gist reasoning training exercises?

“Getting the Gist” means narrowing down a lot of different details to what is most important, and understand it. If you can restate the gist in your own words and have it mean the same thing as the original, you’re golden. Print out this page to practice your gist reasoning.

Okay, so “we” now know that gist reasoning is a more accurate indicator of how well folks with TBI / concussion can live their lives, than other sorts of testing, like memory and IQ.

Those of us who have been working through TBI issues, lo these many years, have known it a lot longer… A hearty Welcome to those of you in the scientific / academic community who are just now catching up.

And published research also now shows that gist reasoning can be strengthened with exercises.

However, there seems to be a dearth of actual exercises you can do online. That’s odd. Because:

A) Folks with long-term TBI issues can be profoundly marginalized from the mainstream, and the Internet is their one reliable connection to the rest of the world.

B) Online training is incredibly easy to put on the web. It may be difficult to design, but once you’ve got it designed, publishing it is a relative breeze. There are many, many people who do far more complicated things on a regular basis. Finding decent developers is not rocket science.

C) You’d think that everyone in the country would be falling over themselves, getting gist reasoning training online, because helping people with TBI better handle their lives can translate to improved daily functioning, which can translate to higher employment rates, which can translate to more tax revenue and lower needs for social services.

That’s what comes to my mind, anyway.

And yet, looking around online (granted, I only spent a few hours between yesterday and today, but I’m a skilled searcher, and if I can’t find it… well, it’s really hard to find), I’m not seeing any gist reasoning training readily available, other than some that are intended to teach kids how to read, think, and understand.

There doesn’t seem to be much developed for adults, especially those recovering from brain injury.

I did find a Gist Template for kids, which I have modified for TBI-surviving adults and posted on my site here: You can print it out and use it to practice your gist reasoning. It’s very simple, but I’m going to try it myself and see if I notice a difference.

Sidebar: You know, I realize now that a lot of what I’ve been doing with my neuropsych over the past 7 years, is working on my gist reasoning. We spend a lot of time with me talking about my days, my experiences, my future plans, and then summarizing them at the end. At times, it seems so tiresome, to have them repeating back to me what I think I just said, but now I understand the method to that madness.

And I’m glad I did not just get up and walk out on them, like I wanted to do, so many times.

I’m glad I just went with it.  Because it works. My deficits that were found, 7 years ago, are still pretty much there without change. However, my ability to live my life fully as well as engage with things around me and also have a higher quality of life than ever before, has dramatically increased. Phenomenally, in fact.

So, being all incensed about the lack of online tools for TBI recovery, I’ve started adding gist reasoning tools to this site. I’ve found some really intriguing ideas, that I think can be replicated… and possibly improved. And there appears to be a massive gap in online gist reasoning training, specifically for TBI survivors. Plus, a lot of this is not rocket science and it can be replicated — even improved upon — quite easily.

Of course, in the coming months and years, I’m sure there will be a flurry of products to help people with this stuff… In fact, there already are tools out there, like Lumosity and BrainHQ. But what about those of us who don’t have all sorts of money to drop… or who have difficulties navigating online payments… or who don’t have (or want to have) Flash on our browsers? Or who just want a “quick hit” of a test to help us sharpen up a bit?

A lot of us are getting left behind – and for no good reason, other than that people either aren’t aware, or they haven’t bothered to try and fix the situation.

But never mind that.  I’m going to do something about it, rather than just bitch and moan.

So, in summary (here’s where I work on my own gist reasoning):

  • I’m really encouraged by the recent research that shows that the degree of TBI recovery is demonstrated by a person’s “gist reasoning” ability — the ability to “get” the point of a mish-mash of details from situations. I’m also very excited by the fact that gist training can — and will — help us to recover.
  • I’m frustrated by the lack of online information about gist reasoning, along with exercises to strengthen it. I’ve searched… and I have not found much.
  • I don’t understand why there aren’t more tools online — especially for TBI survivors, whose main contact with the world may be their computer and Internet connection. Online publishing is actually quite simple, and it could be a great way to alleviate a lot of suffering.
  • Never mind what others are doing/not doing. I’m going to put together my own tools and post them here.
  • This is my first contribution towards fixing a situation that exasperates me: A Gist Template for TBI Recovery

More to come.


Things to do differently this year

Starting ahead of time is probably the best idea

After going through all the pain of sorting through my taxes from several years, I am strongly motivated to do things very differently this year, than in past years.

What became very clear to me, in the course of sorting through all my past records, is that lack of organization has really messed me up in so many ways, financially speaking. And this is the year to do something about it.

I had not realized — partly because I glossed over certain parts of my tax prep that I thought were “non-essential” — was that there were deductions I could have been taking all along, that I didn’t. Perhaps the tax law has changed, so it’s more prevalent, now, but I uncovered close to $1000 extra dollars that I could deduct, simply by claiming my spouse’s van for business expenses in a different way. They use that van almost primarily for business, and if they didn’t have their work, they wouldn’t be driving it. They put hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles each year on that vehicle specifically for business.

So clearly it counts as a business expense.

Live and learn.

After finalizing the last of my old tax returns, I took some extra hours yesterday to download all my bank statements and put them into a spreadsheet. And I started organizing them and figuring out what can be counted towards what deduction and what kind of income.

And so it starts. In tried doing this a few years back, but I was very unorganized. And I got confused. So just like I did with the refiling of past taxes, I gave up after a very short time. And I never looked back.

Till yesterday.

I can really tell that my thinking is much more organized than it used to be. This is leaps and bounds ahead of where I used to be. I think a number of things have helped me:

First, keeping this blog going.

It disciplines me to organize my thoughts each day — usually first thing in the morning. Because I’ve got over 500 followers, and more keep joining, I really feel a responsibility to write something useful and meaningful, not just toss a bunch of blather out on the screen.

Second, the logic work I’ve been doing.

I’ve been specifically working with logic problems for about a year and a half. I come up with a statement, and then I prove it to myself on paper with a detailed step-by-step explanation. I don’t do it for others, rather for myself. I’m my biggest critic, after all, and if I can’t convince myself, I’m not going to convince anyone else. I really believe it’s helped me collect and organize my thoughts in ways that few other exercises have.

Third, working with a lot of different kinds of people and organizing them to get things done.

In my job, I am in charge of making sure people get things done, so that’s really forced me to think in organized terms that direct people in a certain way. I’ve had to really dig deep to learn how to do this … and I’m still learning. And it’s doing wonders for my ability to gather, process, and organize information. That whole process actually started in my last job, so now I’ve been at it for about five years, and work has been hugely helpful in getting me more cognitively functional all across the board,

So, yes, I’m better organized in my thinking. And now I need to get better organized with my doing. I need to get my papers in order — all the bank statements in a folder together, all the bills in a folder together. It’s really a question of just having a place to put them all. I need 3-ring binders, for sure. That is a simple fix for what amounts to an incredible amount of needless complexity in my life.

I bitch and moan about how complicated the modern world is, but I also don’t do myself any favors, at times. If things are too confusing at a 50,000 level, then I need to get in closer — more frequently — and take a closer look on a regular basis. I can break this down into more manageable pieces — and I can also use it to my professional benefit, because my household expenditures numbers are data I can use to create meaningful visualizations that will not only be good experience for me with the new programs I’m trying to learn, but also help me understand my world better.

The beauty part of all this is, because we’re now halfway through April, I have three months’ worth of numbers to plug into my 2015 taxes spreadsheets, and I can get a jump on things.

Plus, if I keep on top of it, next year I won’t get sidetracked by all my disorganization and freeze response, and end up pushing against the deadline to get my taxes filed. AND I can have a good sense along the way, of where things are problematic, financially, and need to be fixed.

I’m also going to continue with my logic problems. They really seem to be helping me. That, and being really engaged with my work… letting myself mess up without getting too bent out of shape about it… learning as I go… it’s all good.

So, this feels good. I just need to keep at it.