About ten days after the neurologist’s appointment, I had one more appointment to do in regards to my Post Concussive Syndrome. I was to meet with a local TBI Clinic to do a assessment of my memory and executive functions. Right after the incident in May I gave them a call and we coordinated an appointment to follow the visit to the neurologist.
My appointment was the entire morning and it was, in essence, a stress test for my brain. During it I had dizzy spells, some confusion and I fogged out at least once but I kept going. I knew that the only way to know my limitations was to push them. After the testing, we had a sit down chat regarding the levels of my different types of memory they had found from the test. Key issues were pinpointed as well as strengths. One of the positives that came out of the appointment was learning my executive functions were really not that bad. This was a huge relief to me because I had been feeling for years that they were degrading.
However, the results were showing my executive functions were good but they were being drained by two other issues that had been spotted. There was proof positive that yes, the PCS was real and it was definitely effecting my day to day life. All in all, it was an exhausting and informative appointment. The plus side being I start with them in September on therapy regarding those issues. The plan will be to take the strengths to help shore up the minuses. The down side? I was so wiped out I couldn’t make it back into work, went home and fell over for several hours. The rest of the day was out of the question. A small price to pay, really, for knowing more about my issues.
The next day I found I was carrying around the results of that test in my head. The weight of the findings, plus the neurologist appointment, were all adding up and I went through the next few days with that extra weight. (Let’s not forget, I was still trying to quit caffeine as well!) And this is where, I know, I should have been writing! It’s how I process things. However, somewhere I just wasn’t ready to start writing.
Last weekend, as I was finally coming out of the fog of caffeine withdrawal, I started having ideas again. I started thinking about the blog, some new ideas with exercise, nature and about how I could help present TBI and PCS issues, other ideas. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to solidify and I went on about my weekend dealing with weekend-like things.
Then, on Monday, Fate intervened. My phone pinged and I thought, “Oh, an email.” It was not an email. It was good news. It was WordPress letting me know that this blog had received it’s 200th Like. A funny thing happened when I looked at the notification. The ideas which had been swimming around in my brain solidified and I knew what I wanted to do.
And, here we are. We’re all caught up.
Hopefully, more to come as the year goes along.
I made a mistake.
I should have been writing about my last few months. It’s only now, coming out on the other side that I realize this mistake. I guess that’s how mistakes work, right? Maybe that’s just called wisdom?
Shortly after putting out my RPG ruleset in the last post, I had a flare up concerning my Post Concussive Syndrome. The key point being it did not involve any kind of physical impact. Instead, it involved a nasty combination of lack of sleep, stress and a cognition exercise. One minute I was taking a cognition test to help out a graduate student in my department and the next I’m headed home with a massive migraine and concussion symptoms. Once home, I slept for ten hours and felt marginally better afterwards. It took days to really come all the way out of it.
Needless to say, there was concern and so after consulting my doctor I was referred to a neurologist for the first time in over 12 years. The referral took a long time and in that time there was a lot of other stressors, a battle with depression and, it so happened, a lot of other medical visits. (I’d not had a primary care physician in a LONG time.) With those weeks and months behind me, I can say I know exactly where my personal health stands (and then some!) On top of that there was the constant barrage of work and family and this constant concern and stress that cognitively, I was getting worse.
Why I didn’t set myself down to write about this as I was going through it, I have no idea. Maybe I was worried I would sound too whiny? It could have also been the depression. The sense that no one really cares anyway so why right about it? (More on this in future posts, I hope.) I’m not really sure why. I just didn’t “feel” it and I didn’t feel like forcing myself. Looking back, I realize I should have forced myself. Remember, it’s only called wisdom if you learn from your mistakes!
The neurologist visit came along in early July. It was actually a pretty simple visit. No imaging needed. After hearing my story and my history my doctor looked at me for a quiet second and said, “Alright, we’re going to have a long talk about this.”
“First of all, you have Post Concussive Syndrome. It’s chronic. It’s not going away and it’s not going to get better. The problem is you know all of this but you’re not taking steps to take care of it.” He assured me that my event in May was normal for an individual with PCS, mainly due to the lack of sleep prior to the event. He asked if I thought I had migraines. I played it off, he called me on it and I had to admit, “Yeah, I guess I’m having migraines.”
We talked about depression, anxiety, feeling exhausted at the end of the day, concern over waning executive functions. In the end, he made me feel better. He also helped me get focused on the fact that I need to, immediately, begin taking care of it. I have to simply face the fact and the truth that I have this issue. It was likened to someone having a chronically sprained ankle and saying, “Oh, I can keep running. It’s fine…” We talked strategies and I walked out of the office in a turbulent mix of “Whew, not as bad as I thought,” and “Crap, I really DO have a disability.”
This took me weeks to process. One of the first things he recommended was quitting caffeine. More on this later but I did it. Make no mistake, it was hell. However, last Friday was the first time in over 25 years I had awoken, felt good and didn’t have a craving for coffee. I’ve also been following the holy triad of PCS; sleep, hydration and moderate exercise. It’s taken weeks but I’m actually starting to notice a significant difference.
With all of this has been a slow and steady building of the desire to write again. But it wasn’t quite time yet. I kept thinking it was time but my digital trashcan was being continually filled up with rough drafts and half-baked ideas. It was close but not yet.
There were a few more things I had to do first.
(To be continued)
Over the past year, I’ve worked with several ideas and tools to manage my issues of anxiety, depression and distraction brought on by my mTBIs. I’ve written about my bullet journal, my daily practice and the book that worked like a “key in a lock” for all of it. One of the most recent tools, and perhaps one of the more practical, was a simple sentence I heard from my wife.
We were discussing the ideas of mindfulness, staying in the present and battling anxiety. She brought up information she had been given in a leadership workshop and said, “Did you know there have been studies done which show the brain cannot contain thoughts of anxiety and gratitude at the same time?”
I immediately began chewing on this and coupling it with my current practice. I decided to put that statement to the test as soon as possible.
One of my biggest issues had been that shortly after settling into my breathing, my environment and the simple truth of the present moment, my heart would take off and wave upon wave of anxiety would hit me. Little panic attacks would shock through my system and I’d get hit with a flood of adrenaline. I’ve written about this previously and how it refused to stop. Though recently I had been able to work with the anxiety, it still arose occasionally.
I also had found that I could be in a quiet, relaxed state of mind and anxious thoughts would still skitter across my awareness, like mice scurrying in the corner of your eye. Occasionally, I would unwittingly latch on to one of those thoughts and found myself taken for a ride.
However, now I had been given a new tool! If anxiety and gratefulness basically had some sort of oil and water combination in the brain, I could use that to my advantage. Basically, the same as offering a chew toy to a dog that is chewing on your shoe. “No, no, bad brain. If you’re going to chew on something chew on this.”
The moment I began to become aware of my anxiety or a thought based more on depression, I would immediately find one or two things I was grateful for in that moment. If I could not find something immediate, I could easily find something from my life or my family. I would then focus on the grateful thought instead of the anxious one.
I coupled this with the information I read a few days later. You can retrain your brain based on how you respond to a situation. You have two choices, Love or Fear. Your brain will wire itself accordingly. If you have been wiring your brain with Fear based responses (which a good chunk of the population has been doing for decades) then it will continue along those neural pathways you have built.
However, thanks to recent research, the brain retains a plasticity and, if like me, you realize your mistakes you can begin to rewire things. Like your own personal brain garden you can begin retraining neural tendrils and vines that have grown closer together due to anxiety. You can redirect them to move apart and reconnect through gratitude, Love and optimism. Just like a garden, it won’t happen quickly. You will have rainy days, tangled roots and pests but it will happen.
And so I began applying all of this, joining it with my mindfulness practice, my meditations. Whenever I found myself thinking an anxious thought or letting myself rush to quickly towards the future, I’d drop back. I’d think about one thing I was grateful. If that didn’t replace the anxiety, I’d find something else. It didn’t have to be complicated. It could be as simple as feeling the wind on my face, being able to climb stairs, being able to read, having a comfortable work chair. Anything. I focused on my blessings.
In my bullet journal I created a gratitude journal where I listed the top two things every day that I was thankful for having. Some days I’ve written, “A warm bed,””Amazing sunset,” or “Time with family over a board game.” Other times it was, “Grateful for a safely built dishwasher that didn’t catch fire.”
Currently, my strategies are working. It’s been like the anxiety has had the rug pulled out from underneath it. It has no traction and slides away. It’s not perfect, of course. It still comes back. When it does I simply meet it with more gratitude. It slides away again. At work, I noticed my days moving faster. I’ve noticed things going smoothly, or, at least my reaction to them has changed.
I was retraining my brain.
I still have reactions that are the old way of thinking. Just yesterday, at work, I fell down the yucky rabbit hole of frustration, anxiety and anger. However, instead of sitting in it I did something else. I left my desk. I took a brief walk outside. I got back to the present. I didn’t scold myself for getting angry but instead started focusing on what I was the most grateful for in my life. I realized I was allowing myself to get too invested in my work. I sat and watched nature around me, watched the wind in the trees and repeated how grateful I was. Things calmed down quickly.
The difference between that and what might have been a year ago? Before, I would have allowed it to tank my day. I would have gone home exhausted and distraught. Now? The whole thing took 20 minutes and I was able to get back into my day, get things done and go home in a good mindset.
And the first thing when I got back to my desk? I sat down and took a moment to be grateful for having a job that allowed me to go for a brief walk. I have had more than a few where that could not have been an option.
And today? Today I simply start all over again.
Just me and my brain garden.
Here are some other links that have helpful information: