Out of the Broom Closet

The new movie I Feel Pretty starring Amy Schumer is about a woman who, after a head injury, wakes up the next morning with arguably, a major personality change. As someone who lives with a traumatic brain injury I find this a comical and somewhat accurate premise for a movie, based on my own experience. I could say that I hit my head and became a radically different person, and from the outside that may appear true, but my injury was more nuanced, I think.

I hit my head and as a result, I started living as the whole person I was all along. My brain injury didn’t change who I was, it just prevented me from hiding who I am.

A recent episode of the Invisibilia podcast explored the idea of living between two worlds. The individuals featured in the episode talk about living in a gray area between two identities, and this got me thinking about my own identity.

I am a writer who teaches composition and critical thinking at a university level.

But I am also a psychic/intuitive who offers readings, energy healing, and space clearing.

In my own perspective, these aspects of myself are on opposite ends of a spectrum that I might label “academic” and “woo woo.” When I teach composition, I often call into question the very beliefs I hold personally. And yet when I am using my psychic gifts, I attempt to ignore my rational mind that would question or even criticize what I do.

Because of the obvious clash between these personas, I’ve kept them separate, for the most part.

Spoiler: it’s not working.

I find that when people in my “writing” circles discover that I’m an intuitive, they become my clients, and vice versa. I often find myself working with people who come to me for spiritual advice and then they admit that they have a secret passion for writing. Or, I’ll assign my students to write a research paper and one of them will ask if they can perform a survey of research on metaphysics.

This blending of my worlds is happening in my personal practices, too. Until recently, my writing came about through a crafted/academic approach. Lately, I can’t seem to put down any words unless they’re coming from a more mindful, heart-centered, even spiritual place. I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s such a link between spirituality and art, but for whatever reason, it hadn’t clicked for me until I read this blog post I came across on the The Traveling WitchS.L. Bear writes,

“Just as an artist uses intent, deep focus, and ritual to create a work of art, a witch uses intent, deep focus, and ritual to work a spell.”

Here was my revelation. I had heard similar things before, but the idea of applying my spirituality to my art as a process rang true. I had spent years learning how to write using my brain, but now I’m coming to understand how to write using my heart.

Process, I think, influences the product too, and this shift in my creative method is reflected in my current work. I’m drafting my second novel and this manuscript contains overarching occult themes. It’s not that my earlier work didn’t reflect on aspects of myself, but they were older versions of me, and versions that didn’t touch my deep (and current) passions.

So, for many reasons, it seemed time to “come out of the broom closet,” if not for the sake of acknowledging these disparate aspects of myself, and connecting the dots for anyone who’s been following my Facebook feed lately, but for my own sake, for the opportunity to practice authenticity, and to let all of my varied interests influence one another.

Despite this proclamation, this raising of my “freak flag” up the flagpole, I recognize that I am a work in progress. For practical reasons, I will still toggle between these personas, but I expect that there will be more blending of my two worlds from now on (especially as I continue to work on this particular novel).

If this is the first you’re hearing about one or the other of my personas, or you had heard a little bit and want to know more, my spiritual work is available through my website ashtreeharmony.com and my writing is available at ashleykwarren.com. Both sites have an option to subscribe to my blog or email newsletter.

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Things of the Week 4/24/17

Flipping Off Fish: My new favorite juvenile, guilty pleasure–this is an Instagram account. And the username pretty much says it all.

Reading rut: My habit of reading too many things at once has gotten so bad I’m barely reading anything at all. Goodreads has even started sending me passive aggressive messages, “We noticed you’ve only read one book toward your goal” etc. Maybe I need to start a new Instagram account…

FitTwit: I’ve abandoned my FitBit. It’s falling apart and it’s less than a year old. This is my fault–I didn’t save the receipt or the box, otherwise, I could send away for a replacement. I considered buying another one but then I thought about what I use My FitBit for–the alarm. Sure, I paid attention to the steps, but not in a productive way. I didn’t do laps around my house if I didn’t hit my goal. When I think about my health during the time I’ve owned my FitBit, it’s the least healthy I’ve been my whole life. I can’t necessarily blame the FitBit, but I do think it made me lazy. In my brain, I thought, “I have a device tracking my health habits, therefore by knowing my habits I will be more healthy. Brilliant! That mean’s I don’t have to pay attention to my health anymore!” And so, I didn’t. Strangely, having put the FitBit in the drawer, I already feel healthier because I’m paying attention to my hold body instead of just my left wrist.

I am reading some things: This article is awesome for several reasons but I particularly like the way science is being used to study literature.

“Some fairy tales may be 6000 years old” by David Shultz, 4/22/16, Science

Watching: Community and This Is Us. Way late to the party on the first one, only kinda late on the second one. This may be blasphemy, but I might like Community better than Parks and Rec. I’m only in season 1 so I may feel differently by season 3. And I can see why This Is Us is being reviewed well. The writing is very good as is the acting, and I love the parallel story lines.

Fun Brain Injury Side Effect: A hyper-awareness of my brain. The other day I was putting together a lesson plan with a colleague. I selected several reading selections and I knew that they complimented each other well, but I couldn’t explain to my colleague why. She reviewed the selections and immediately made the connections. I realized that my right brain was seeing the themes and patterns but my left brain couldn’t describe them. My understanding that this was likely related to the brain injury helped me explain my weird behavior to my colleague. She described the situation this way: “It’s like you brought me all of the ingredients for paella and asked, ‘What the hell do I with these?'”

Things of the Week 1/25/17

With the holidays and the start of a new semester, I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus. Returning to a routine has provided an opportunity to start Things up again.

So, About That New Year’s Resolution: One of my fave podcasts just did an episode examining one explanation for why some people can follow (or set) New Year’s resolutions and other cannot (or do not). The episode features Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project, and her theory of habit natures. Also, there’s a quiz (I freaking love quizzes). I got “Questioner.” My husband got “Rebel.”

The Four Tendencies: How to Feed Good Habits

Reading: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben–I asked for this book for Christmas because I was so fascinated by the Radiolab podcast I heard last summer, “From Tree to Shining Tree.” Wohlleben’s writing style is personal yet informative, and the book is also fascinating.

Catching Up On: Finally watched Stranger Things over the holidays and the show definitely lives up to the hype. Now catching up on Season 3 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Sometimes that show makes me laugh so hard I can’t breathe.

DIY: We decided that the only way we could afford to update our kitchen (circa 1953) was if we did it ourselves. This weekend we began phase 1 (countertops and sink) of our remodeling project. Phase 2: refinishing cabinets. Phase 3: new floors. Bonus phase: tile backsplash.

Law of averages: I have four students with the same name in my Composition class this semester.

Fun Brain Injury Side Effect: Often, when I write the capital letter “A” a capital “M” comes out. It’s especially surprising to me to hear myself say “A” in my brain but see an “M” on the page.

A Review of At Home Remedies for a TBI

I’m happy to share that I’ve almost graduated from my various therapies/doctor appointments associated with the traumatic brain injury I sustained last December. Now that I am venturing more fully into the world of self care, I thought I’d post a review of some of the strategies I use for coping with lingering symptoms. Though this may be most helpful for other people who suffer from a TBI, specifically for those whose TBI was mild-moderate like mine, these tools can make any brain happy.

Meditation

Pros: Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of meditation, and organizations like the Love Your Brain Foundation are making it even easier for brain injury survivors to begin/maintain a practice. For someone whose ability to concentrate has been compromised, a practice that helps you do just that seems like a “no brainer.” (Note: I wish I could blame my brain injury for my bad puns). For me, taking the time to breathe and sit still in a quiet environment can feel like a trip to the spa if I’m having a day where sensory stimulation is overwhelming.

Cons: I don’t know if other brain injury survivors have experienced this, (please leave your stories in the comments below!) but when I meditate it gives me a headache. When I drop down into that blissful state of deep awareness, a familiar sensation I had experienced before the injury, I can feel my brain straining. It feels like the morning after an all-nighter mixed with a mild migraine. Once, when I meditated long enough (longer than 15 minutes) the headache grew and grew until it finally released and my mind felt clear.

Conclusion: Meditation is most beneficial when I do it often and for long periods of time. When I drop in for only a few minutes at a time it’s difficult to get past the brain discomfort. My guess is that meditating often and building up to long periods of time is exactly what many meditation teachers would recommend.

Ear Plugs

Pros: Many people with TBI’s talk about how after their injury, loud sounds or noises actually hurt them. Just last week I was in a horse barn with small birds that had taken root in the rafters. The acoustics amplified the chirping birds and I had to stick my fingers in my ears like a child at a parade near a fire truck siren. When I left the house that morning I wouldn’t have thought I needed ear plugs for a few birds. Ear plugs are cheap and do wonders for limiting how much sound enters the brain.

Cons: Wearing earplugs for long periods of time may lead to missing other, less invasive sounds, or sounds that might be important. Also, my ears tend to itch if I wear them for too long. Prolonged wear can also lead to various ear problems.

Conclusion: I try to assume that any situation could require earplugs and keep a few pairs in my pocket/wallet/purse. I also try to wear the earplugs for as short a time as possible to avoid irritation/itching.

Sunglasses

Pros: Who doesn’t want to look like a movie star? In all seriousness, I didn’t think much about how much light I was exposed to in an average day until my TBI. Carrying sunglasses everywhere (like earplugs) has made things like trips to the grocery store tolerable.

Cons: Since the injury I haven’t really been able to wear contact lenses (too uncomfortable), so I often find myself switching between glasses and sunglasses every time I enter a building. I suppose the practical thing would be to get a pair that changes color with my environment, but honestly, I don’t like the way those kinds of glasses look on me.

Conclusion: I embrace my inner movie star while practicing mindfulness as I take an extra thirty seconds to switch glasses in the lobby of every building I frequent. It gives me a minute to take a deep breath before I enter what is usually a stimulating and overwhelming environment.

Coloring

Pros: It’s trendy, it’s fun, and it’s good for you. Like meditation, coloring can help with focus and concentration, and for the restless it can feel like you’re “doing” something. Coloring is also an activity that can be done with friends because the activity limits sensory overload and fatigue as opposed to other social activities like going out to eat.

Cons: For the TBI patient like myself who has difficulty with small motor movements, coloring can feel frustrating. Holding a pen and moving it back and forth in controlled strokes is hard. I’m not against doing things that are hard for the sake of building new neural pathways, in fact, I think it’s very important. But when everything feels hard, from sending an email to walking around without bumping into walls, something that is supposed to be fun that isn’t is just disappointing.

Conclusion: Coloring may be great for others but for me it reminds me that I have shortcomings, and I don’t want to be in that head space.

Naps

Pros: I loved taking naps before the TBI and now the relief I feel when sinking down into my memory foam mattress and pillow is never ending. Sleep is one of the most important things you can do to help your brain heal. If I have a “crash” day, when I’ve pushed too hard and everything shuts down from my speech to my ambulation, napping is just about the only thing that can make me function again.

Cons: Feeling like I need a nap in the middle of every afternoon limits my ability to schedule the few activities that I do engage in, not to mention things like having a full time job. Some of the bliss that accompanies napping has dissipated too, now that napping has become a priority instead of a treat.

Conclusion: They may be inconvenient at times but because of their importance naps are here to stay.

Exercise

Pros: I used to be a fitness instructor so I am well aware of of the need for regular exercise and its benefits. After the injury my exercise routine shifted dramatically in that it is more frequent and much less intense. I practice 10-20 minutes of yoga in the morning and go for a 15 minute walk in the middle of the day and another 30-40 minute walk in the evening. Though there are times when I can feel my left side going numb or I start to stutter, both from fatigue, when I’m done exercising I can feel my mood has lifted.

Cons: Without the stamina to practice more intense forms of exercise (and I’m not talking long-distance running, I’m talking 20 minutes on a stationary bike more than one day a week), I feel like I have to spend a lot of time exercising to get minimal benefit.

Conclusion: I love the mood-lifting/head-clearing effect of long walks. Like meditation, I’ll have to work my way up in duration and intensity.

 

WINNER, BEST AT HOME REMEDY FOR A BRAIN INJURY: It’s a tie between exercise and naps.

Things of the Week 7/27/16

On Gender Roles: Why Men Want to Marry Melanias and Raise Ivankas” by Jill Filipovic, July 21, 2016 on The New York Times

Walking: saw a frog, a fox, was greeted by wet golden retrievers, listened to cicadas, took photos of rusted cars used as a levee, obtained multiple mosquito bites

A trip to the zoo: my adult self and child self negotiated the complicated realities that are Zoos this weekend. As an adult, I wished freedom on the bald eagles, the long horned sheep, the lynx, while as a child I marveled at the tigers.

Played: a domino game with my nieces. They clobbered me.

Feeling Patriotic: First Lady Michelle Obama’s Speech at the Democratic National Convention

Whoops: Nova had to get a few stitches after a little tumble. Fortunately, he’s taking it well.

Fun Brain Injury Side Effect: when performing complicated movements with more than one body part (like dancing), sometimes my limbs move out of sync, usually some moving faster than the others. If I watch myself in front of a mirror, it’s like watching a video shot with the slo-mo setting on my iPhone.

 

Things of the Week 7/20/16

Watched: The Big Short–In 2007 I was a new college grad, and when the housing bubble started to burst I was too focused on getting a job to really understand what was going on. I appreciated the ersatz education I got watching this movie because I admit I wanted a dumbed down version of the financial crisis. The most obvious pedagogical technique the movie used was explanations of financial jargon provided by random celebrity personas conveyed directly to the audience (i.e. breaking the fourth wall). The technique was a bit polarizing, as was the movie. I liked the film, but I also appreciate the criticism the film received so I’ll leave these two articles for further explanation/consideration:

“Why Does the Big Short Break the Fourth Wall” by Tom Bond, One Room With a View

The Big Shot Review-Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale can’t save this overvalued stock” by Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Listened to: Switched on Popa podcast on the making and meaning of popular music I heard about this podcast on another podcast (Pop Culture Happy Hour) and have been really enjoying the depth with which hosts Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding discuss music. There most recent episode “Around the World with Drake” addresses music appropriation.

Downloaded: Prisma-Art Photo Editor – having way too much fun with this one. I feel like this app is the fix for anything/anyone who isn’t photogenic (though selfishly I think my dog is very photogenic.)

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Reading: Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker–an epistolary memoir written in the second person point of view. Basically, this book is two of my favorite literary techniques mashed together. And I have to agree with the celebrity praise on the back cover, it is truly poetic (Mary Karr) and tender (Colum McCann).

Street Art:

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I suspect the text and the stencil were created by separate artists but what a thought provoking combination.

 

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I think we have a street artist in the making with this one.

New Skill: key wording. I’ve started working for my husband, who owns a film production company, and one of the most help things I do (read–task I’m qualified to perform) is enter relevant search terms into the databases that host his stock video footage. This is turning into a great word-association exercise. EXAMPLE: make a list of all of the relevant adjectives or nouns associated with the word sun.

Brain Glossary: new term: “Brain Push.” Similar to “Brain Squeeze” except the direction of discomfort is vertical instead of horizontal. Like stacking books on your head instead of tightening a belt.

Fun Brain Injury Side Effect: When writing by hand, inadvertently replacing or adding letters to common words so as to create something like a foreign language. EXAMPLES: withing (within), yar (you), warnt (want).

Things of the Week – 7/6/16

Happy Wednesday after the Fourth! Tis the season for BBQs and outdoor sports (sports…well, um, maybe next week). Enjoy!

Neighbors: these guys have been squatting on our block for the past few weeks. Every day when I walk Page it’s like the ducks are playing chicken with him. (avian pun intended)


For Your Brain (and mine too): “What You Read Matters More Than You Think” by Susan Reynolds, June 30, 2016 on Quartz

For the Conspiracy Theorist In Me (and you): “The Fugitive, His Dead Wife, and the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory That Explains Everything” by Evan Hughes, June 28, 2016 on GQ 

Current Obsessions: my new FitBit, artisan cheese, things that are teal.

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Downloaded App: Calm: Meditate & relax with guided mindfulness meditation for stress reduction. I especially like the Open-Ended Meditation with the option to play bells at various intervals to remind you to stay present.

Catching Up On: Carpool Karaoke clips. I swear I’m always the last one to the party.

Glossary: The Husband and I have started a TBI glossary to keep track of the short-hand we use to refer to my various symptoms.

Squeeze: the headache that doesn’t feel like a headache but is more like someone has tied a belt around my noggin and is slowly tightening it

Zombie: when more than one crucial faculty goes offline, usually a combination of one leg and my ability to speak so as to create a brain-eating-monster effect

Mirakuruwhen my visual field is distorted in way that makes me question reality and often brings on superhuman like aggression (see also Jekylling)

Blender: loss of ability to sort through any thoughts, yet they are all circling at once, vigorously

Jekylling: an inability to control my emotions, often presenting as unexpected and brief outbursts that leave me perplexed afterwards

Rockstar: needing to wear sunglasses indoors due to a sensitivity to light

On the List: used as a response by The Husband to me when I ask about a new and unusual symptom.

*Note: there are more I just can’t remember them. 🤕😜