Perspectives

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Young woman or Old Crone?

Most people have seen this picture before or one similar.  Do you see a young woman or old crone?  Supposedly, which you see gives insight to what is foremost in your life.  The Old One represents knowledge, wisdom, change, aging, depression or negativity.  The Young Maiden represents growth, new beginnings, optimism.  I find knowledge in both faces.  In Wicca, the Goddess is represented in three faces: Maiden, Mother, and Crone.  The Maiden is spring; new, fresh beginnings, sexual energy, adventure.  The Mother is the nurturer; mature, represented by the summer.  The Crone is one that most people find frightening; it is Winter, old age, death.  However, death is not always physical death, it is often change; the ending of one thing and the start of another. The Crone is wisdom.  It is She who stirs the Cauldron of Life.  She greets you, teaches you, and gets you ready for your next incarnation.  In life, She teaches us patience, acceptance, and how to manage change.  Is the association with depression or negativity in this exercise more reflective of our society’s attitude toward, and fear of, aging and death? 

Perceptions.  How we view our lives and the world influences our experiences.   If we describe our situation as hopeless or horrible, our mood is impacted, and our hope for a positive outcome is diminished.  My brain injury is the most difficult situation I have ever experienced.  It is overwhelming at times.  Sometimes, I just want to quit. 

What lessons have I learned from brain injury? 

1. I lost independence- I learned to trust others more and accept help

2. My body changed.  It is not as strong, I don’t have the same endurance- I learned to be accepting of where I am now.  I embraced running as fun, not as a competition. 

3. I experience pain, migraines and other headaches- I learned to listen to my body.  I gained insight into people with chronic pain and other conditions.

4. My brain thinks slower- I learned to be quiet in my mind and wait for the words or knowledge I need to surface.

5. I have sensory overload.  My mind does not process input efficiently-  I learned adaptation.  I look for ways to manage my symptoms and continue.

6. I learned to accept myself. 

7. I learned to enjoy a slower pace of life.

8. I learned to embrace what I have with thankfulness.

9. Instead of focusing on the negative- I learned to look for the positive in any situation.

The picture also reflects flexibility.  If you first saw the Old One, can you find the Maiden, or vice-versa?  Finding alternatives to our viewpoints helps us be healthier and more balanced.  For example, if you argue with your significant other, can you see their viewpoint?  Even if you don’t agree, understanding their position helps resolve problems and build stronger relationships.   Noticing and describing the negative in a situation locks us into the problem.  Can you see other possibilities?  Can you see the possible advantages or positive outcomes?

Perceptions. 

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ENOUGH lemonade already!

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“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  I am starting to hate lemonade.  Really.  How about something else?  Maybe some tasty chocolate?  Or at least orange juice. 

Last week, I talked to my supervisor about an issue with getting a service dog.  I had to retire Scout.  He has a great home and is happy, so please don’t worry about him.  He even has his own 8 year old boy to play with him.  I opted to go with a local trainer to get a puppy trained from 7 weeks old to do exactly what I need.  The puppy is tested for personality and temperament several times and trained to work from a young age.  The other issue is I have local support.  Due to the TBI, I can’t travel easily.  I need someone to drive me and I can’t fly in a plane.  The problem is the cost.  I have to do some fundraising.  The VA has a national program to advise employees of any possible ethics problems.  Any employee can contact them at any time.  I emailed them to ask specific questions about the ethics of fundraising as a federal employee.  My supervisor went off on me.  It was a 10 minute lecture about chain of command and trust.  I didn’t do it to get her in trouble or a lack of trust of her.  I did it to make sure there wasn’t an ethical problem and to get it in writing from the authority that deals with ethics.  I tried to explain my thought process.  Finally, I just went into “military mode” to get her out of my office.  “Yes Ma’am.”  I was ramped up; depressed, angry, frustrated.  I locked my door to calm down for a few minutes.  She came back, knocked on the door, and proceeded to lecture me again. I now was talking through a clenched jaw and noticed I had made a fist.  I was pissed.  The anger escaped by tears.  She told me to “calm down” and that she needed me fully functional that day.  Unfortunately, my ability to turn off emotions (or even modulate them effectively) was damaged.  Once I am ramped up, I can just switch off like I used to in the Army.  Now, it takes hours to get back to baseline.  She left, still angry with me.  I managed to make it until lunch time before the migraine struck. I spent all day Saturday in bed, sleeping or staring off in space.  I thought about quitting.  Friends pulled me out of the house Sunday. The situation was resolved the following week.

However, it highlighted just unhappy I am at work.  I spend so much energy just getting through the day.  I am constantly exhausted.  I can’t do what I did before I was injured.  Seeing patients is extremely draining, emotionally and mentally.  My cognitive therapist also noted that I take things literally.  That can be tricky in social work.  I came to the conclusion that it is time to consider medical retirement.

Depression decided to make a return engagement with me.  I dance with the monster every day.  It seems like I have worked so hard to recover.  And found out…  I can’t.   Part of me sees this as a failure of my body, of my determination.  Part of me just wants to give up and not get out of bed in the morning.  Then, there’s a piece of me that sees this as just another change.  Perhaps it is time to move onto another career focus.  In the meantime, my life is back where I hate it- uncertainty.

Really, how about some chocolate?

 

 

Needed to Smile

It has not been a good week. I am at the end of my stamina and hope. Honestly, for the first time, I am seriously debating exploring a medical retirement from the VA. Ever since the accident, I have been a liability to my team. I don’t produce at the same level. I make stupid mistakes trying to find out information. Maybe it’s time to give up. Even marathons end eventually.

I started this post with the goal of writing about something funny. Well, what brings a smile to anyone’s face more than ferrets?

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Those kiddos had plenty of toys. What gets their undivided attention? The toilet plunger! Each ferret took turns sticking his/ her head in the plunger. Then, Taliesin decided it was a wonderful addition to his stash and tried to drag it down the hall. How many ferrets does it take to plunge a toilet? Who knows, the plunger is missing.

Ferrets are curiosity and play incarnate. They are not the neatest companion to have. They love to dig, pull, and push. In one sense, they do help you keep organized. If a ferret can reach it, that object has become a toy. It is now theirs. If a ferret can climb on a couch, jump on a table, and steal it, you didn’t put it away properly. Little brats.

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They can help with chores….

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Other times, they add to the mess…

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Some of the best times with ferrets are watching them play….

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All that play and stealing, time for food…

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And water…

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Oh, ferrets climb. Who need ornaments on the tree? Obviously, toys! For the ferrets!

When all is said and done, nothing beats a nap…

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Why keep them around? They’re just too cute…

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Blackness

Cave blackness press down
Lost in the dark blindness pain
Depression engulfs

Hug from hell surrounds
A Cold burning hopeless embrace
Broken useless brain

It never gets better really. You just learn to deal,with brokenness. Until, at some point, it gets shoved enough in your face that you realize it’s a stupid game, trying to act normal. I’ll never be who I was before. 1LT Hales was killed. The body survived and the sad remnant left behind tries to fake out a normal life. But, it can’t work. I don’t deal with emotional stimulation well. I need time to modulate. It’s constant drama at work. It doesn’t matter. Maybe I should just give up and medically retire. Get a part time job as a Wal!art Greeter until the pain causes me to snap.

I really wish the car accident had just killed me. It’s to hard to keep trying to act normal and pick up the pieces. I wish I could hide in my house with Kaliyah, Brigid, and Bobby. They ask for so little but give so much love, so much laughter. If I could live, never leaving my house except to run, I might be slightly happy. Surrounded by undemanding love.

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It’s All a Matter of Perspective

To a novice runner, ten miles is a long distance.  Perhaps it even seems insurmountable.  To a marathon runner, ten miles is a “short” training run.  As the runner gains fitness and experience, longer distances become easier to complete.  The challenge then may shift to running faster or running even longer.  At this point in my TBI recovery, 1  mile is a short run.  I found out today that “short” is a matter of perspective.

It started as a routine run; my favorite park, a familiar five mile loop.  The weather was nice for late winter.  It was a warm day, about 56 degrees, and overcast.  It was a nice break from temperatures below freezing with brisk breezes biting at any exposed skin.  All went well, I enjoyed seeing the creek, flooded and muddy with early spring runoff.  The birds were singing for mates and defending territory.  It was quiet and peaceful.  Until the wheels came off with a mile left.

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It started as a sparkly flashing light in my vision.  It was actually almost pretty, if it weren’t that I knew what it meant.  It was an aura.  I was about to be visited by the migraine fairy.  Fairy?  Maybe ogre is a better choice of words.  I had a decision to make.  And, no matter what I decided, I was in for a painful experience. 

It takes me about 9 minutes to run a mile, depending on hills, weather, and what type of workout I am doing.  Some runs call for a faster pace.  Walking, I can cover the distance in around 15-18 minutes.  After an aura sets in, I have about 15-20 minutes until the onset of pain.  The choice: do I run in an attempt to get to my car, and more importantly, the Maxalt in the car before the pain hits?  It’s a gamble.  Physical activity makes migraines worse.  Being an Idiot (seriously, I am part of the Idiots Running Club), I chose to run.  However, I did slow my pace slightly.

It wasn’t the right choice.  The migraine hit with a vengeance about two minutes after my aura started.  It was a new record!  My pain has never arrived so fast!  At least I set some sort of record today.  The pain was like a heated ice pick being driven into my left eye and temple, throbbing with every strike of the “hammer.” And every strike of my foot on the trail.  I came to an abrupt stop in the trail, clamping my hand to my head in a useless attempt to stave off the pain.  I dropped to my knees and gave my breakfast back to the earth.  That wasn’t a good sign.  I slowly get to my feet and walk toward the car.

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Now, I have the same decision again.  I have a little over a half-mile to get to the car.  Do I run or walk?  Can I run?  Being a true Idiot, and a slow learner, I again try to run.  Notice, if you will, the word “try.”  Every step, my brain throbs, my stomach heaves, my had clamps uselessly on my head, trying to hold my brain in my skull.  After a shambling run, I stop again.  I physically cannot run.  So, walking it is.  

I slowly plow along, stopping briefly to offer some nutrition to the plants on the side of the trail.  The sound of rapidly flowing water I so enjoyed on the way out was now a torturous din, triggering the migraine to new depths of agony.  Maybe I should crawl?

After what seems an eternity of suffering, I see my car.  Oh yeah.  Sweet relief in sight.  Maxalt is such a helpful drug for my migraines.  I finally reach my car and dig into my “emergency kit” that holds my rescue inhaler, Maxalt, some Dramamine, and an anti-nausea medication.  Fortunately, the Maxalt is a “melt-away,” no water needed.  I dry swallow the anti-nausea medication.

Now, another decision.  It takes about 30 minutes for the Maxalt to work.  Do I drive in this amount of pain?  I wanted to get home, to my quiet bed and an ice pack, more than anything.  I pry my hand away from my head.  I can’t see out of my left eye.  Well, no.  I shouldn’t drive.  I climb in my car, crack the windows to allow some airflow.  I take my dark, “blackout” sunglasses from their holder and pop them on.  I recline my seat and close my eyes, waiting to ride out the worst of the pain. 

Thirty minutes later, my watch alarm rings- an obnoxiously loud chirp.  I crack my eyes open.  I can see but the throbbing is still there.  Good enough.  I bring the seat up and head for home.  I made it safely.  First thing, more Maxalt, some hydrocodone, another anti-nausea pill, taken with a few swigs of Gatorade.  I climbed into bed with my ice pack.  Brigid curled up next to me, purring softly.  I fell into a deep sleep.  When I woke almost four hours later, the pain had retreated.  It was still there, a shadow ready to strike again, but there was no throbbing.

I never knew a mile was so long.  This purgatory made the last exhausting mile of a marathon seem like a walk in the park.  Yes, life is all about perspective.

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Fantastic Couple

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI make a fantastically diabolic couple.  They feed each other, a straight diet of anxiety, stimulation, and avoidance.  They share many symptoms, overlapping and feeding off each other.  In my previous blog entries, I haven’t discussed my experiences with PTSD much. 

Similar Symptoms

Symptoms of PTSD are generally broken into three categories: intrusive memories, avoidance and emotional numbing, and anxiety and increased emotional arousal.  Examples of intrusive memories are nightmares, flashbacks, and not being able to stop thinking about the trauma and its aftereffects.  Avoidance is a major factor in PTSD and treatment.  People avoid locations, emotions, activities that remind them of the trauma.  Some people may have amnesia regarding parts of the trauma. Talking to a therapist about the trauma is NOT high on the list of chosen activities.  Emotional numbing symptoms include: withdrawal from relationships and activities, inability to feel joy or happiness, hopelessness about the future, difficulties concentrating, difficulties maintaining close relationships.   Finally, hyperarousal/ anxiety symptoms include: increased startle response, hypervigilance, irritability or anger, difficulties sleeping, substance use or abuse, and overwhelming guilt or shame. 

Every brain injury is different.  This is my experience of recovery from a moderate TBI.  Some patients may not develop the same symptoms I experience.  After the acute stages of Traumatic Brain Injury, the brain is slowly healing.  Many of the initial symptoms have resolved. 

 

For many people, there are no remaining symptoms. Other survivors continue to experience problems.
Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms
Change in consciousness (usually loss)
Headache
Dizziness
Change in cognition
Depression
Irritability
Change in pupillary response
Nausea
Light and/or sound sensitivity
Vision changes
Confusion
Poor coordination, paralysis, muscle weakness

How the Terrible Two Interact
My brain has healed physically but I am among the survivors who have continued issues. I have PTSD from an unrelated trauma.
One problem I experience is sensory overload; loud sounds, bright lights, motion. My brain doesn’t modulate input effectively. It is like being knocked over by a wave and dragged into the undertow. It also triggers migraines. One thing that happens when I am overloaded is anxiety. Out in public, my hypervigilance interacts with the anxiety, boosting it higher. I avoid places like WalMart. Irritability is also a common symptom. Am I irritable due to PTSD or because I just don’t feel right that day? Is one feeding the other?

Life goes on. I continue to progress in my recovery journey from both. Some days are better than others.

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