Work

Day to day in my post-concussion adventure, my life looks pretty normal. I can drive a car, make meals, exercise… if I had a half-decent golf swing I’d be ready for retirement. But I’m not there yet, I want to work again. The problem is that work is like a treadmill that is always on. I’ve stepped off that treadmill, and it’s going to take some careful timing to get back and stay there. Picture Lucille Ball attempting this and you’ll have some idea of what I might look like in this challenge! Honestly, I’ve tried it a couple of times and fallen off, but I’m not giving up yet. If you have taken time off work due to a head injury and you feel ready to go back, keep in mind these two things:

Assessment & Preparation.

  1. Assessment: A cognitive assessment is a good reality check.  The physical symptoms you feel post-concussion are hard to miss, but the impairments to the brain are so elusive that they can even be missed by the person attached to that brain. It’s hard to know what you don’t know. So, if you are feeling like you’re coming out of the concussion fog, that’s awesome. This is a good time to see where you are in terms of processing strength. (Another analogy, but your brain is similar to a computer, so before you put your own personal computer into full time work, make sure you know your capacity so it doesn’t crash.) The cognitive assessment I had involved memory, attention, concentration, multi-tasking, listening and following directions. I failed miserably on a number of the tests but that’s ok, at least I know what I need to work on now. The next time I write, I’ll share some specific strategies for memory, attention etc, but for now, make arrangements to get an assessment. It should involve standardized tests so you can identify areas of strength and weaknesses. If your employer has a wellness program, this would be a good place to enquire about an assessment. Your doctor may have to make a referral for you. Keep in mind, the purpose of this test is not the same as CT or MRI imaging tests, which look for physical injuries. A cognitive test is more of a functioning test, to isolate specific processing tasks that your brain needs to do to work efficiently. If you push those weak areas, you’ll get a headache, so it will help to know what you need to work on.  I’m sure there are private clinics available for cognitive testing, but see what you can find through your employer (or union if you have one) first.

BTW, I said I hate analogies, but sometimes an analogy is less overwhelming than reality, so for today, substitute treadmill for your job and personal computer for your brain... and Everest, well, you know what that is.

 

2. Preparation: The results of your assessment are going to give you target areas to focus on for your brain. The agency that does the testing should be able to provide guidance for you in the types of exercises you should do. These are going to be very individual, so I can’t really address them here, but this is typically the role of an Occupational Therapist. Private clinics offer technology to address brain impairments, but I don’t think these exercises have to be fancy or expensive, just appropriate for your individual needs.

Once you start to progress with your brain’s capabilities, you can think about your transition back to work. The very nature of work is changing so rapidly today that any job you did pre-accident is likely to have changed in some way while you were away. Little things like updating passwords, new software, even changes to personnel will all be adjustments to face once you return to work. Beyond adjusting to these changes, work is, well, work. Your full-time job recently has been to take care of yourself while your brain heals, and you are now preparing to add a second job to your workload, so don’t dismiss it as back to normal because you used to do that job. Your world is about to get bigger again so you had better be prepared.

Slow exposure to the work environment is going to be the key to fitting back in. You can’t slow the treadmill down, but you can step on in small doses. Prepare yourself for work by rehearsing it. Try to think of a typical task in your job that requires you to focus for some length of time, and practice it at home. Work for 5 to 10 minutes-if your head hurts, you’ve worked too long, stop before pain takes over, and take an activity break. Get up, move around, breathe (meditate if that works for you) but shut off the task you were asking your personal computer to do for a few minutes by doing something completely different. You can gradually prepare to do the types of tasks you will need to do when you actually step back onto that treadmill if you rehearse with similar mental challenges, allow yourself rest breaks, and gradually build up your stamina.

I mentioned the level of difficulty you’re going to face as you get near the top of Everest in my last post. This really is the most difficult stage of healing from a head injury. (Sorry if you hate me now, but I’m there too!) You can stay where you are right now, that’s ok.  But if you are like me, with some ridiculous drive to push yourself to continue to learn throughout your life, well, these are the first steps.

I’ll end today with a picture of some kiteboarders I saw on a California holiday a few years ago. Watching these supreme athletes flying back and forth with such skill was truly impressive. But when they came to shore, we realized that most of the boarders were over age 50. I asked one man how he got into this extreme sport and he said it was easier on his knees than the sports he did when he was younger, so this was his new thing. I’m not likely to try anything so adventurous soon, but this image continues to inspire me to learn new things. Good luck with your own healing and I’ll be back soon.

DSCF2839

Healing is work

I met with a counsellor about six months, and he so angered me with a  comment meant to inspire me: “You’re almost there, now this is where the real work begins.” He told me that this head injury was my Mt. Everest, and although I had made it to base camp, the hard work was about to begin. I was so mad. And he was so right! (@#$%^)

I hate analogies. Even without at head injury, I have always preferred people who get the point. But I have to say, I finally understand his point, and it was a pretty good analogy. Six months ago, I was sure my concussion had healed- it was only a concussion, after all, not a serious brain injury, so I thought. Surely, it should have healed after three months. I was so wrong. I can now, with absolutely no doubt in my mind, state:

If you are trying to heal from any kind of head injury, no matter how severe the impact to your head, you have to work at it. It doesn’t just happen automatically.

Someone surely has written a book on this, but it’s just so hard to read when you have a head injury, so it wouldn’t matter anyway. If you are looking for ways to help someone with a head injury, or if you yourself have stumbled upon this post, please consider these discoveries that I have learned through my own brain work:

  1. Actively work at a program of brain workouts : Rest is important, but resting all day does not do anything for neuroplasticity, and over-use doesn’t give nerve cells time to heal. Figure out what will work for you. Choose activities that stimulate the brain in a healthy way: journaling, logic puzzles, Sudoku, reading, listening to podcasts or music, drawing, even just colouring, all are gentle ways to stimulate your brain. When you are first injured, you’re going to be able to handle about 5 minutes at a time (thus the name of my blog.) Over time, you’ll be able to last a little longer, but if you push it, your endurance will not improve. Watch for warnings (headache, dizziness, ringing ears, pressure on your temples etc.) If any of these symptoms increase, get up and move around, and don’t go back to the activity until your symptoms start to calm down. Listen to your body.
  2. Pay attention to any secondary injuries: I don’t think you can have a head injury without straining at least some of your soft tissues. Neck and shoulder pain doesn’t just go away. The muscles holding up your head just get tighter, pull on other parts of your body, and if you don’t have treatment on them, you’re going to end up with pain in weird areas, like a hip or a heel, and then it will hurt too much to exercise, and then you’ll be in a bad mood. So, try Physiotherapy and MASSAGE THERAPY… I am literally going to bake a cake for my massage therapist tomorrow- I can tilt my head up and down now for the first time in ages, and I feel like a new person today.
  3. Structure:  You’re going to hate this one. When you have an injury to the brain, there is a bit of a spacey state of mind that is not an altogether bad thing. In fact, the things that normally stress people  ( money, being late, worrying about money or being late) well, they don’t really seem to register when you’ve had a head injury. Having a poor memory is sometimes a blessing!  But if you want to get better, it is important to create some structure for yourself.  Make plans for your days, write everything down, and get as organized as possible. Do your best to avoid having to make decisions on the spot. As your brain heals, you will gradually be able to think critically again, but for now, create a structure for yourself around the basics: Eat well, get exercise, work at activities that are good for you and be patient with yourself.

I will leave you today with a picture from my part of the world. It’s nothing flashy, just a nice way to end the day.

Beth.sunset

Support for Learning

There are many ways to learn. I know that multi-tasking is something we do to fool ourselves into thinking we’re accomplishing a lot, but really, the approach to learning that has always proven most successful for me is to do just one thing. I love any activity that requires intense focus. For me, this usually means busy hands. Baking, drawing, writing, gardening, swimming, skiing, playing piano-I can’t even list the number of solitary focused activities I love to do. I’m very lucky to have these interests, but the monkey wrench thrown into my enjoyment of all of these pursuits is concussion. Sustained attention takes energy and a brain that has been altered by an injury needs support.

This is where my professional background can come into play. I have taught students who need support for their learning for a little more than 25 years. My current assignment (me) is going to rely upon my knowledge of accommodations to support learning. When I have written individual education plans for students, I usually have the classroom environment in mind. A typical classroom may be full of noises and activity, but it is a somewhat controlled environment. There are routines, rules and prescribed expectations for behaviour that are set out and agreed upon by the teacher and students. So when I approach learning for myself now, I approach it in the same way  I would set up a classroom.

My current challenge is to teach myself how to draw. It’s mindful, relaxing, and very satisfying. I have organized a space and time to allow myself to succeed in this learning. If you are working on your own healing from a head injury, I offer this 4-pt checklist to help you succeed in your own learning:

  1. Get organized: Set up a table/desk workspace free from distraction. Take some time to organize materials you will need, keep it tidy, and just for you.
  2. Background: I need music. I always have a radio or laptop with some type of music that I don’t really listen to, but it blocks out the sound of the ringing in my ears. If you are suffering from over-sensitivity to external stimulus, pick one modality (one sense). For me, music is the obvious choice, but for you, it could by scent- aromatherapy can be very relaxing. A fan, a heater, a lovely fireplace, whatever is calming to you will help you to tune out distractions that may seep into your learning environment.
  3. Balance: Fatigue is a big issue for a healing brain. If you are at the point at which ten minutes is enough, then that’s fine. You can extend your tolerance for learning by alternating the types of activities you do within an hour, or even a day. I approach learning by alternating the types of activities I’m doing. It’s really important to get up and take breaks from whatever activity you are focused on, so keep an eye on a clock (set a timer if you need to) and move from visual to auditory activities, as well as small and gross (large muscle group) activities.
  4. One thing at a time: It is really hard to focus on one thing at a time, and I think I have mentioned this in a previous post, but make a decision to complete a task, and stick to it. Then, when you get distracted and find yourself doing something completely off-task, don’t get mad at yourself. Similar to meditation, it’s important to catch yourself off-task, then get back to what you were doing. It’s the awareness of focus that matters, not the ability to maintain it. That’s what you’re rewiring your brain to do through the new activity that you’re learning.

I’m going to leave you today with a link to some background music to augment your learning, whatever it is you choose to do. My niece just posted her own study playlist on this site. I really like it, but if it’s too mellow for you, I’m sure you’ll find something here to enjoy while you work. Concussion recovery is a field of study, and if you have found yourself immersed in it, approach it like a student.

Invisibility

Concussion has been called a silent or invisible injury. None of this mystique helps when you’ve been hit on the head.  I think it’s the unknown nature of this injury that makes it so scary, not only for people who have a concussion, but also for anyone close to a person with a head injury. You see, normally when you go to the doctor with a problem the doctor listens to your story, takes a close examination of the affected area of your body, then recommends treatment. MRI and CT scans can be used to see if your brain is bleeding, but it seems that most of the information doctors are able to get from a concussion patient come from self-reporting. Reliable reports such as, “yes, that does make me dizzy.” and “Can you repeat that?” are probably consistent replies from concussion patients, but we’re talking about a pretty limited bank of knowledge. (I can’t remember most of what I hear, but I can still see irony!) I think this is one of the biggest stressors affecting people who have an injury to the brain. Once or twice, it has occurred to me that no one actually knows what happened to my head.  Well, rather than allowing yourself to panic over the lack of definitive treatment, I offer this blog as at least a conversation from a somewhat reliable, definitely honest source, a concussed brain. I don’t have any magical answers for you, but I can speak to my own experience. (Note: it has taken three days to get this far, but I’m going to keep at this post tomorrow because, I have a point: there are things you can do to help your brain get better- maybe even better than it was before, but you’ll never actually know, because you’ve probably forgotten what your brain used to be like! )

One thing I do want to say is that it’s important to take stock of what you can still do. In the past, I loved to write. Now I struggle to keep up with the most simple conversation, but for some reason, my voice still comes out in writing. That’s pretty amazing to me. Look for something that you feel strong in, and use that skill to develop your brain. The difference between oral and written language has significant meaning to me now. I can use my long term memory, combined with the slow pace of my working memory to write. Conversation is too fast, listening, thinking (and chewing gum) at same time all put me into overload, but for now, I can write. I know that there are different aspects of memory, long and short term, working memory, but to see such a drastic separation of functions in my own mind, it is truly mind-blowing. I picture a fault line somewhere between two brain structures. The gap my poor neurons have to leap to put info into long term storage is a little bit too big right now, but I’m working on it. Actually, I’m doing what I can to rebuild strength in my brain by writing.

My brain workout is a bit random, but here is a list of the things I try to do every week:

  1. Exercise: Circulation is good. Too much hurts, so keep it light, but do it every day.
  2. Quiet: I spend most of my days doing solitary, but productive things like drawing, yard work and baking. I don’t nap, but I do go to bed pretty early. Sleep is important for a healing brain.
  3. Yoga and Meditation: I enjoy yoga because of it’s personal nature-there is no need to push yourself to keep up with anyone else, and it feels good. I know meditation is good for you, it is a way of resting your brain. I find it very challenging, but I’m working on it.
  4. Social activities: I make a point of meeting up with friends for short visits. It’s very challenging to balance the amount of talking I can manage- I love to talk (believe me, I could be a professional talker) but I still can’t handle cross-conversations, with more than one person talking. I do try to expose myself to short periods of noisy chatter. I think the key is to gradually increase exposure to anything like this that hurts your head. It’s important, and it’s really tough.
  5. Cranial-Sacral Massage (with a registered massage therapist who specializes in this treatment): It is not relaxing nor comfortable, you feel pretty rough for the 24 hours following this treatment, but once/week it takes the pressure off my head and I feel like I can think a little more clearly. Similar to my quiet time spent drawing, this massage seems to be moving me gradually into the right direction.
  6. Counselling: Whether you work with a psychologist or have a good friend to talk to, it’s important to have a chance to discuss/vent/process the experience you’re going through. Don’t let yourself do this alone, it’s hard work. If you don’t have a support network, make it a priority for yourself.

I am not able to work right now. I love, love, love my job, and I can’t do it, yet. So, my current job is to take care of myself. It’s full-time work. I seem to have this need to help others built right into me, so I hope this post helps someone today. It took me a little while to complete it, and I am probably repeating myself, but if you know someone who is struggling with post-concussion symptoms, maybe you could share some of the information here with them.  Take care, and I’ll be back soon.

Beth.

A new work of art

New neural pathways are constantly forged in the human brain. The habits you form reinforce those neural pathways, so it is important, maybe more so now than at any other time in your life, to reinforce the patterns you want your healing brain to develop. I think that having a brain injury is an opportunity to design the kind of neural responses that you want to influence your life. Approach this experience (that you’ve been put into, whether you like it or not) as you would in creating a work of art. By trying different approaches to see what you like, what fits for you, you can have an influence on the development of your brain’s neural pathways.

I think there are two key elements to building healthy new connections between your brain and body. The first is to do something that matters to you, and the second is to surround yourself in an environment that fosters growth. If you don’t have any interest in art, or if you just don’t have the energy to attempt anything creative right now, that’s fine, you’re not in competition with anyone. It’s really hard to find activities that don’t tire the brain, but if you are desperately looking for something you can do that won’t give you a headache, think back to when you were kid. What did you choose to do?

Going back to something that you would consider play is probably the best thing you can do for your brain right now. For me, playing at art is something that has no real purpose, I just enjoy the process. I don’t stress over making anything look right, I am simply exploring drawing and painting. I think it’s key to do something physical; use your body to help your brain. I am working on the connection between my eyes and hands to draw, but other people might find a similar connection through larger muscle groups. Working out,  dancing, hiking, even playing with a dog, these are all activities that reinforce brain-body connections. They are healthy, they improve circulation to your brain (really important) and they make you feel good. Who knows where this is going to take you, maybe nowhere, but waiting for your brain to fully heal is a long journey, so find something you can enjoy along the way.

Finding the environment that will nurture your play activity of choice is more complex than just choosing  a gym near your house. It’s important to look for a community within that environment. Make a deliberate effort to spend time in facilities with people who are both considerate of your current limitations, as well as knowledgeable in their field. If you don’t have a a friend who is able to join you in your play activity, take the opportunity to meet people through this activity. If you show up at the same gym every day at the same time, you’re going to overlap with the same people, and it’s likely that at least one of them is also going through a healing process of their own.  People who take the time to take care of themselves are pretty good candidates for friends. You don’t have to spend time with other people if that’s difficult right now though. Time spent alone is also a good healing environment. When you set your own pace and learn to enjoy your own company, you may actually be able to figure out what you like to do. This is your chance to take charge and take care of yourself.

Growing up, opportunities and choices influence our careers and the people we associate with, leading down a certain path. Wherever you ended up, it was one option, not that it’s good or bad, it was just one possibility. When you’re in a situation that prevents you from continuing, even temporarily along that one path, you have an opportunity to go back and hit the refresh button.   Just remember, a real work of art cannot be rushed.

(Below: I had company outside my kitchen window recently, he/she wasn’t rushing anywhere!)

Owl

5MWB

Five minutes, that’s all I have today, no editing. I named this blog in one strung-along word because when I was first injured, I had a really hard time writing. I tried journaling, and for the first time in my life, my spelling was a disaster. Not only was my spelling ability gone, it was usually wrong in the middle of words, or words were missing in the middle of sentences. You see, a misfiring brain tries really hard to get everything working, but before a word or an idea is forgotten, it gets blurted out, simply because it’s more work to hold an item in short term, working memory than it is to let it out. So, when I write, I allow myself five minutes, then I take a break.   All of the posts you see here have taken me at least a day to edit. Five minutes isn’t much, but it gives me a chance to record some of my findings in this daily exploration of concussion. That’s it for today, but I thought it might be helpful for other people with head injuries to see that they’re not alone.

PS Disclosure: That was more than five minutes, my head hurts, and my accident was 9 months ago, but I’ll be back tomorrow!

Setbacks

Setbacks probably look different for everyone. I compared the overwhelmed state of the healing brain in my last post to the feeling of a confused mouse in a maze. That was really just my way of making light of a tough situation. For anyone supporting a person with a such an invisible injury, the signs of setbacks can be very subtle. I see them in myself as either confusion (like forgetting what I was going to do or say) or when I have really done too much, my brain seems to just freeze up. Socially, a person with a brain injury might be able to fake it by laughing off confusions, forgetting a name etc. but if you live with someone who has a brain injury, since you can’t see or feel what they’re experiencing, (you can’t see that mouse running all over the place) you can watch for subtle signs that will indicate a setback and a need to slow down. Sometimes people with head injuries are not the best at monitoring their own healing.

Let me explain:

I did too much yesterday. I used to love to write, and I still want to be able to do this,  but I asked too much of the language area of my brain yesterday. It’s ok to end a day with a headache, but when I start to mix things up well into the next day, I know I’ve set myself back in the wrong direction. The subtle signs of setbacks usually appear in little confusions. I’ll find I have left-right confusion when I have a jar of peanut butter in one hand, a coffee in the other, and I go to sip the peanut butter. It’s laughable, but a good warning that shouldn’t be ignored. When you think you’re making progress toward healing from a head injury, it doesn’t mean you can start to do things the way you used to. In my experience, there seem to be a couple of steps backward for every step forward in a healing brain. I guess I was feeling pretty good about embracing my artistic side yesterday, and forgot to pay attention to my own advice.

So, don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll wake up one morning to feel better again, the way you do when you get over the flu.  In fact, I’m not sure the forward direction will be the one you expect. Tip for today:  Get used to your new normal. I think it helps to accept the change to your brain, just as you would a bad knee or ankle that you might have to watch. Your injured brain is going to react to stimulus the way any injured tissue does. It’s ok, it will heal, but give it time.

How do you rest a brain?

I can’t stress strongly enough the need for rest if you have a head injury. It is really tough to do but I think I’m starting to figure out what brain rest actually looks like now and so I thought I’d share it here. Hopefully, I’ll remember this tomorrow and follow my own advice!

Rest might mean that you can’t work, but it doesn’t mean you have to sleep all day. For me, rest means finding activities that will allow the analytical side of my brain to slow down while the other parts of my brain are entertained. Anything involving focused listening or watching is still difficult. Conversation and driving both require a lot of processing power, so they have to be time-limited while you’re healing. Going to the gym or doing yoga, on the other hand, walking a dog or mucking around in the garden-these are all activities that can pass some time (so you don’t go crazy) and they take up enough of your attention so that you won’t slip into overload. Slipping into overload feels like you have a mouse running in your brain looking for a piece of cheese, seeing something shiny, then heading off into random directions until the point of exhaustion. Breathing deeply in a yoga class or pulling weeds from a garden provide enough interest to keep that mouse from running all over the place. That’s the key to rest – you have to find activities that are interesting enough to entertain your brain, but not so demanding that they tire you out. Simple activities can take up most of the day, but a curious brain still has a need to learn, or it will start looking for interesting things to do. Lacking any efficiency, an unfocused mind will randomly jump from thought to thought, causing more fatigue and a whole lot of headaches, dizziness, confusion, etc. (Anyone with a concussion knows those symptoms intimately.) It’s a slippery slope that needs to be and can be avoided. This is where the right brain can come in to play, the artistic side of you. I’m working on my right brain by learning how to draw. Using books from the library and a few very helpful friends I am using art to give the creative part of my brain a chance to develop, kind of sneaking some learning in through the back door while the left side of my brain heals. The analytical (left) side of the brain wants to count, sort, name, keep track of things. This is all hard to do when you lose your focus. Creative activities allow the sensitive healing brain a chance to really shine because a hyper-sensitive post-concussed brain notices everything! Drawing  takes intense focus and while it allows the left side of your brain to rest, time just vanishes. Any creative activity will work, such as baking or playing an instrument, but if you don’t feel up to trying a new activity, you can even just expose yourself to art. I can get absolutely lost in good music, or just getting outside and watching the breeze through the trees, really looking at nature for a little while, all of these things bring your heightened sensitivity into use. This is all good for anyone, but I think it is critical to healing an injured brain. There is a delicate balance between work and rest that is going to be right for each person, and it will change from day to day, but if you listen to the symptoms your body gives you as feedback, you might just find a new talent, and in the end, this newly-healed brain tissue is going to be pretty special. Give your brain the rest it needs and enjoy today.

(I drew the top of a poinsettia today. I lost interest when it got difficult, but it’s a start!)

poinsettia

Progress

Any injury to the body takes time and patience to heal. A sprained ankle, for instance, is going to be more likely to heal fully with rest, ice, then stretches and exercises to rebuild strength and function. Pain, bruising and swelling are the very handy indicators of progress in your recovery process when you have a minor injury. A minor injury to the brain, however, is less predictable.  The length of time it takes to heal fully requires far more patience than I personally have, so I have started to look for subtle clues to indicate progress.

The first progress indicator I can consistently observe is energy/fatigue levels. Even six months in to my healing process, my energy levels can still dip right back to those of my early post-concussion days. The rate at which they get there are a good indicator of progress. The slippery slope of one step forward and two back is generally an indication that I am getting ahead of myself and need to monitor my energy levels more closely. Knowing that the brain makes huge caloric demands on the body, I think it is very important to try to keep your energy up with consistent, healthy eating. I know I’ve hit a wall when I walk in the front door, open the fridge, and grab handfuls of spinach. When you do find that you’ve hit the wall with fatigue, you need good food, then rest. If you don’t allow yourself these breaks, the two steps back will spiral even further backward. Two indicators of progress in energy level are how easily you can get to this level of feeling empty, and secondly, how well you can bounce back. If you do keep your blood sugar steady with consistent healthy eating, yet still frequently feel like your energy has crashed, then you’re doing too much. Don’t get discouraged by it, but use it as a good indication of progress. 

Because I think it’s good to limit a list to three items, I’ll focus on two more areas of progress here: Output and Input. I start with output because it’s easier to manage than input.

Monitoring your output refers to your level of functioning or performance in tasks. I think it’s helpful and encouraging to take time out once in a while to take an inventory of the everyday tasks you are now able to do again (and not dwell on the list of things you can’t yet do.) Just as you’ll find with changes in your energy level, your ability to jump back on to the treadmill of life requires you to work at the same speed as the rest of the world. If you push yourself, you’re going to fall back (off the treadmill) but slowly increasing the length of time you can work at regular speed is not only encouraging, it’s also essential to regaining your normal level of functioning. ( My Braincamp OT told me this, so I know it’s true.)  As your ability to do everyday tasks gradually returns to normal, it’s also important to take on new challenges. This is your chance to build new neural pathways. I have referred to a heightened sensitivity to stimulus in an early post on paying attention. Think of this time as an opportunity to develop your artistic brain. I have been playing with a few things this summer- photography, sketching, cooking, even just listening to really good music. Treat your healing brain as you would an infant-give it every opportunity to develop in a well-rounded healthy manner. You’ve got the time.

The final area of progress ( for today) is taking in information, or input. It’s funny, but as a teacher, I have always considered input to require less cognitive work than output. Anyone can listen, right? Well, right now, I am finding the opposite to be true. Incoming stimulation is still hard for me. I have friends who are brilliant, fun, engaging speakers, I just love them, and, I have difficulty being around more than one of them at a time. Following conversations, especially in a crowd of people is tough, but you have to do it. The alternative is a very slow regression away from a social life, or even work life. Output is easier to monitor because you can control the rate at which you are performing. If you are writing an email, you can give yourself lots of time, take breaks, and consider your words before you press send. Over time, your functioning will speed up. Monitoring progress in your ability to take in information should be approached in the same way. Don’t expect to be able to step back into work and get frustrated when you get a headache after two minutes. If you want to return to your ability to handle incoming information, you have to gradually expose yourself to increasing levels of stimulus. I don’t formally track my progress, but I do consciously push myself to increasing numbers of people. When my head hurts, I escape as quickly as possible, do something physical like a brisk walk, and then I look forward to my next opportunity to challenge myself to incoming stimulus. There are going to be days that are tough. For me, the hardest hurdle is being able to enjoy music again. Besides my family and my cat, the thing I love more than anything else is music. I’m not yet able to sit and listen to live music without a serious headache. It kills me, but, I can play music. I sat and played piano by myself for an hour this week. I can still cry, remembering how good it felt. It was a huge milestone in my healing progress, and that is what I’m going to hang on to. I guess I want my thesis for today to be focus on what you can do, and move forward. Having a concussion sucks, and it will get better.

I don’t know if I’m reaching anyone who is struggling through a a slow concussion recovery, but if you find this blog and know someone who might benefit from it, please pass it on.waffles

PS- I ate the above -all of it, instead of dinner one day during braincamp. It helped.

Exercise

I joined a gym this week and the very conscientious owner of the gym asked me to wear a heart monitor while I’m getting back into shape. I used to exercise regularly, so I doubted I would need this device, but gave it a try this morning.

Pedaling an upright bike at  a cruising in the French countryside speed (the very applicable term given to me by the same gym owner) I was inching up to 117 bpm within a two minutes. There is no way I would ever have limited myself to such light effort in the past. It didn’t even feel like exercise, and yet, as soon as I held my pace at this level, the feeling of a vice grip on both sides of my head reappeared. So, 115 it is.  This brings me back once again to the life-lesson of pacing. I am learning to be a reasonable person.

Note: Check with your doctor first, but I have been told that I  shouldn’t be exceeding 70% of my max heart rate, so  I’m staying below 120 bpm. It’s all about the parasympathetic nervous system being out of whack post-concussion. You need to redevelop it by exercising regularly, but don’t push yourself, it hurts!