Things of the Week 3/8/17

Got this message on my teacup the morning after I listened to the podcast about poverty myths and was reminded of the misguided ways many of us think about public assistance. At the risk of oversimplifying complex issues, I think this four-word mantra says a lot. 

#Trypod:

I love podcasts. Every time I reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a long time we always end up talking about podcasts. My go-to conversation starter at parties is “I heard this podcast…” almost as often as “I read this article…”

Most of my friends are already listening to podcasts but you, dear reader, might have friends who have yet to visit this magical, auditory land. See advice from Night Vale Podcast above. Meanwhile, here are some episodes I’ve taken in recently…

Radio Lab Presents: On the Media: Busted, America’s Poverty Myths: This was one of those podcasts where I could feel my perceptions changing as I was listening. I felt myself getting angry, too, as the episode deconstructed tired phrases like “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and heart-wrenching examples that make the idea of safety nets seem futile (or like a farce altogether). You can check out the whole series here.

Zapping Your Brain to Bliss (Note to Self):  I admit while listening to this episode I was like, “Where can I get $200 so I can try the Thync Kit?” Living with a brain injury, the idea that there is a device that could help with relaxation seemed almost too good to be true. Like Manoush, I’m still not sure I’d want to use the machine. I think there is some value to the ritual behind relaxation that helps us turn relaxation into a healthy habit. Also, one of the researchers interviewed mentioned he was wary simply because he wasn’t sure how the rest of the brain might be affected. And that made me be like, “Yeah, no thanks.”

The Horror, The Horror: “Get Out” And The Place of Race in Scary Movies (Code Switch)A fascinating episode on the intersection of pop culture and race through the lens of horror movies. I don’t typically watch horror movies but despite my unfamiliarity with the topic, this episode was rich with insights, both specific and broad.

Researching: Reasons for unintended pregnancies. Working on a revision of my novel that requires my protagonist to be older and hence, runs into problems in a more “adult” way. I came across this article from 2012 and found myself still surprised by the findings, even five years later.

“Why We Keep Accidentally Getting Pregnant” by Lindsay Abrams,  7/26/2012 on The Atlantic

Watched: Unreal, the Lifetime Network drama inspired by The Bachelor. I swear this show was made for me. I’ve watched The Bachelor with my mother and sister-in-law as part of a “trash tv night” we’ve had once a week for years. During our viewings, I was always the cynical conspiracy theorist, guessing at what “really happened” to inspire the events we were watching. In Unreal, all my conspiracy theories were validated and then put on steroids. The show is a fiery car crash and I can’t. Look. Away.

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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. 🤕😜

Things I’ve Learned After My Fourth Concussion

Brains
“Brains” by Neil Conway via Flickr

On December 28th of 2009 I stepped on what I thought was a puddle. It was a good, confident, I’m-ready-for-this-day-even-though-it’s-six-in-the-morning-and-winter, step. And then I slipped on the “puddle” and fell down (the puddle was ice). And I’ve probably been falling down, one way or another, ever since.

I tried to go to work that morning. I walked in and my co-worker said rather unabashedly, “You look terrible,” and asked what happened. I responded with “I hit my head,” even though it felt like what had happened was so much more significant than that. “I hit my head” makes it seem like I opened the cupboard door on my forehead, or I misjudged the ceiling when I got out of my car. “I hit my head” is something you say right before you erupt into giggles at a sleepover. It’s cartoon characters with jackhammers or unbelievable Hollywood stunts.

If I could have, I would have said something like, “There’s been an earthquake. In my brain. 8.0 on the Richter scale at least.”

I was diagnosed with a moderate concussion and told to take the week off from work. I went home, but I’ll admit that I still did some work. When my brain recovered a few weeks later I marveled at my perseverance–I could read a novel and not remember what happened at the top of the page by the time I got to the bottom, but I could turn in my TPS reports on time, or whatever it was that I thought was so important.

Six years later I understand that what I thought was perseverance was poor judgment.

My second and third concussions were unremarkable. For the second, I slipped on the ice again. For the third, I fainted and hit my head on the way down (we don’t know why I fainted and no, I wasn’t pregnant…). These concussions were unremarkable in that they were mild. The effects were tolerable for the most part, and I was back to my old self within a little over a week.

The fourth concussion was stupid. Dumb luck. The kind of situation that makes you think, really? She’s having this much trouble because of that?

My dog hit me. Like a boxer, he reared up and clocked me right under the chin. Uppercut. I didn’t even fall down. And yet, this injury has tipped the scales of my life in ways that have completely knocked me over.

I have post-concussion syndrome. It’s been over a month since the accident and I still experience dizzy spells, an inability to concentrate (I’ve started calling this “brain squeeze”), stuttering, fatigue, and balance problems. Like my first concussion, I’ve had to turn in “TPS reports” and I’ve made the deadlines. But every time I do my body retaliates. With enough of these moments I’ve come to accept that “returning to my old self” might not happen for a long(er) time, or that maybe my old self was not the kind of self I should return to. (Four concussions, she must not be very bright.)

After quitting side jobs and removing myself from unnecessary obligations, I feel like I’m faced with a blank slate. Even though I’m still having trouble remembering instructions given orally, or I get stuck enunciating words with lots of consonants, my brain is taking in new information. I’m altering my behaviors and trading unhealthy habits for healthier ones (I haven’t eaten a meal at my desk in weeks!). This is what I’ve learned as I recover from my fourth concussion.

The body is a wild, intelligent creature. 

I assume, though I can’t know for sure, that after the injury, when I don’t want to drink coffee, and beer tastes like Scope Mouthwash, it’s my body’s way of saying, “Don’t drink that shit, we’re trying to heal a brain, here.”

If I try to do anything that puts strain on my brain, my body just doesn’t cooperate. Dancing? It’s as if my feet, ankles, and knees are all disconnected from my hips. Typing? Too many words and my fingers just slow down, or stop.

I realize that my body was probably sending me messages like this even before the accident. I was just too distracted to pay attention.

Hard is not the same as bad. 

I quit my side job as a fitness instructor. I taught one class a week on Saturdays. I told myself I was “getting paid to work out” but really, it was just another job because, money(!), and I wasn’t getting especially healthier. I was just maintaining the same level of health I always had. And let’s face it, with my limbs not cooperating that would have been a mess of a fitness class.

That being said, I love my clients. They are wonderful, wonderful people. Choosing to give up this Saturday morning routine, teaching an hour of fitness to a group of women I truly enjoy, was very hard.

But after I made the decision, something happened. I wanted to exercise. I started doing 20 minutes of yoga every morning. I was inspired because it felt like something my body wanted (see lesson above). I had begun exercising in ways that matched my body’s actual abilities rather than what the fitness choreography demanded.

Letting go can mean letting in. 

After I quit the fitness job, I really started to look at my life and ask the question, “What else am I doing out of obligation?” I started saying no to people and to my surprise, they accepted it. No one yelled at me. No one pleaded or begged. I said no and they said okay.

And after I started saying no, new opportunities and hobbies showed up that made me want to say “yes.” I started listening to audiobooks. I can still enjoy a good story, and it’s easier on my brain than reading. After spending so much time recuperating at home I’ve taken pride in my living space. I picked up a few houseplants and (with help) I repainted the master bedroom. I started doing the kinds of things that crossed my mind, the things that made me think, “Wouldn’t that be nice?” when I was too busy doing something else.

Receiving help requires asking for help. 

This one may seem obvious (cut me some slack—I have a brain injury). I am an independent person. I like doing things on my own and I’d like to think that I’m reliable. With a brain injury, all my reliability seems to be flying out the window. I’d start working on something with a deadline and then I’d get so dizzy I couldn’t read the sentence I’d just typed.

I’m fortunate to have lots of really good, compassionate, warm people in my life, and after the accident many of them said, “Let me know how* I can help.” My usual response is, “Okay, thanks,” and then I struggle on my own, not wanting to bother anyone.

This struggle has reached a point where I can’t ignore my shortcomings. I have truly needed help. And so I have asked for help, and accepted the help I am given.

*It’s important to note that the best help can be given when you know exactly what you need. When I was able to say clearly, “I need you to read this draft of a grant application and give me feedback before I send it out,” that is exactly the help I received.

“Why does this keep happening?!” 

My most recent setback was a trip to the ER last week for what looked like symptoms of a stroke. Thankfully, all of my tests came back clear. As I lay in the hospital bed, waiting to be discharged, the doctor asked me if I had any questions. I did. And I asked.

“Why does this keep happening?!”

The poor doctor, not being a neurologist, didn’t have an answer, and the question I was really asking him was, how can I be having these neurological episodes if all my tests are coming back clear? But I think I was asking something else, too. I needed to ask the question out loud, and the doctor just happened to provide the opportune moment.

Why does this keep happening, to me? How can a person who doesn’t play contact sports, or rock climb, or work construction have four concussions?

I got my fourth concussion on December 27th, 2015, almost, to the day, six years after the first one. What kind of f@$#ed up coincidence is that?

I was talking to someone who also fell and got a concussion just two weeks after my most recent injury. She said, “It’s weird. So many things feel different now. I feel like I got the sense knocked into me.” And I knew exactly how she felt. It took the inability to use my brain to begin to use it wisely.

Post concussion syndrome isn’t permanent and many of the things I’m experiencing will resolve themselves, or have resolved in the month and a half since the accident. Maybe getting some sense knocked into me was about giving myself permission to start over. To have a second chance at being me. To learn how not to fall down, and more importantly, how to stand up.