Two Dollars and 26 Cents

We all take things for granted.  Things like basic life skills: washing,  getting dressed, eating, walking,  etc.  After brain injuries, many people struggle with Post Concussive Syndrome.  The after effects of our brain injuries stay around.  Sort of like the smell of my running shoes in the summer.

Some  TBI survivors never function the same post-injury.  They need help with basic things. There is such a variety of how much people heal.  And it doesn’t matter if it was a “mild” TBI or one “more serious.”  A mild TBI is like “slightly pregnant.”  You either have one or you don’t.  The chances of after effects increases due the severity of the injury.


At times, it can be equally frustrating and funny what becomes a challenge.  Making change.  Really.  A skill I had in grade school.  I bought a snack and wanted to pay for it with some of the collection of change.  The amount? $2.26.  How many quarters?! What about these dimes, nickels, and pennies?!  Slowly I count it out.  Then again.  And again.  Totally confused.  Fortunately, the clerk knew me and gently helped me figure it out.  🤓  She is a psychology student.  It’s funny how the small things can be a challenge but other things still come easily.  I don’t think I’ll ever totally figure this out.

$2.26.

Horses For Heroes

This morning, I rode a horse for the third time in my life!   Horses for Heroes is a program that helps Veterans connect with horses for riding and/or equine therapy programs.  Today, they sponsored a “free ride” day.  The Royal Stewart Indoor Arena, Iron Wheel Program was the local participant.  Iron Wheel is an equine therapy program.  I had contact with the facility prior to my injury.  The social workers at the VA spent a half day there participating in team building exercises with the horses.  Leizelle and Lisa are awesome facilitators.  Much has changed in my life in the past year.  This experience was totally different.

Horses are incredible animals!  They can sense human emotions and read our body language.  They are extremely responsive to their environment.  They will “mirror” the emotional status of the human working with them.  This is what makes them so useful as therapy animals.  Horses are herd animals, they look for a leader and safety.  The person working with a horse has to be aware of his/her emotional state and body language.  A tremendous amount of communication with the horse is done silently.  The horse’s responses provides feedback to the emotional state and behavior of the person working with them.  If the person is angry or afraid, the horse will be also.   Equine Therapy is used to help people with a variety of medical and mental health issues, including PTSD and TBI.

My experience today lasted a little over an hour.  When I first arrived, the team greeted me warmly.  I was a few minutes early, so I got to watch a group finish a team building exercise.  They had to herd a horse over a low jump without talking.  The horse was not impressed.  Watching the group interact, you could see the dynamics.  And you could see the horse respond to their increased frustration.  The team eventually completed the task.  The interesting part is even if they had not, they still succeeded.  It’s the process not the result that is important.

The team asked me what I wanted to do today.   I could choose between therapy problem solving exercises or riding.  I wanted to learn how to groom the horse and try to ride.  The horse I had enjoyed being brushed.  She leaned into the strokes and was cooperative and calm.  Cleaning the hooves was an interesting experience.  First, I learned how to stand correctly in order to be able to respond to any movement of the horse.  She played a little with bringing the hooves up.  She knew I was inexperienced and decided to test me.  I learned how to move gently along the leg, so the horse knew where I was and what I wanted and to cluck to get her to place her hoof in my hand.  A horse’s hoof is heavier than it looks.  It also takes more energy to get the packed dirt out of the hoof.  The back legs are harder.  They move differently and it is more difficult to get them into a good position to clean.

Riding was frightening at first.  The sensation and view from a horse is totally different from the ground or a vehicle.  I found it disorienting at first.  It was difficult to make sense of the different sensory perspectives of touch, movement, vision, sound, and smell.  I tended to stare at the horse’s head and was uncomfortable turning my head to look where I wanted to go.  This is one of the keys of riding.  Somehow, looking communicates the intention to the horse.  Coordinating the neck reign with leg pressure was also hard for me.   For safety, the horse was on a leading reign with a team member assisting.   I had trouble with the horse trying to go into a trot.  The increased speed also increased my discomfort and fear of falling.  Lisa pointed out that I was tense.  I was holding my breath often and breathing more shallow and fast.  The horse sensed the tension in my legs and anxiety and responded.  She was tense also and looking for the “threat.”  We worked on relaxing my legs and breathing.  As the team knew me before the accident, they noticed that overall I am more anxious and nervous now.  It is true.  With the increased sensory sensitivity and slowed cognition, I frequently feel bombarded and confused.  I also have PTSD from past trauma.  The injury triggers increased hypervigilence and startle response, which increases the anxiety.  This communicated to the horse.  I did not realize how tense and anxious I have been since the injury.  It has become my “new normal.”   I have noticed the increased PTSD symptoms and have been working to address them.

The experience today was incredible.   I think equine therapy and/or riding would be a great addition to my recovery program for the TBI, and incidentally, the PTSD symptoms.  If the horses can help me recognize and address the increased anxiety and tension, that would be such a blessing and improvement for my quality of life.  Hopefully, it would also help with managing the sensory overload.   I’m going to contact the Horses for Heroes program on Monday and apply for a scholarship to help with the cost.

I am exhausted tonight and looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Meditations

I changed my routine today.  After I finished my physical therapy run at the track, I spent time just being.  So often in life, I move from task to task without spending time just being present.  It’s easy to do.  Life has time demands: family, work, ferrets, and even fitness and other enjoyable activities.   In the past, I have often been so busy doing life that I forgot to live. 

Many people believe meditation reduces awareness of the world around you.  There are different forms of meditation.  I frequently practice mindfulness meditation, which actually enhances your awareness and experience. When I was running, my focus was on running.  I was aware of my breath and my body.  My mind was focused either on the run or pleasantly neutral.  This, too, is a form of meditation.  As I walked to cool down, I focused on my breathing.  In through the nose, out through the mouth.  I visualized peace entering my body every inhalation and stress leaving every exhalation.   I felt my muscles relaxing.  I experienced the sensation of my feet on the track, the breeze gently blowing on my skin, the sound of the wind in the trees, and the smell of freshly cut grass and the nearby wheat fields.   Then I sat in the sun, closed my eyes, and felt the sun’s warmth soaking into me.  I listened to the song of nature around me.  I heard the shussch-shusssch of a nearby lawn sprinkler and the scent of water and wet concrete tickled my nose. 

I decided to take a trip. I sank my awareness into myself, becoming aware of my breathing and the movement of my abdomen.   I chose my destination: the Oregon Coast, near Haystack Rock.  This exercise was particularly challenging for me.  Even prior to the accident, I was not strong in visualization.  The concussion did not improve it.  I concentrated on my other senses.   I tasted the salty brine in the air, smelled the tang of the ocean, heard the crash of surf and felt the cold wind.   This is concentrated imagination or perhaps body memory, as I frequently visited the ocean in the past.  I managed to see the tip of Haystack Rock in a hazy gray mist.   Given the Oregon Coast, it would not surprise me if I visited in a rain storm, with reduced visibility.  I am pleased I got as much detail of the rock as I did.   Soon, it was time to return home.  I became aware of my breath; and then my body, paying attention to the feel of the grass on my legs and the contact of my seat on the ground.  Then, I paid attention to my other senses.  When I felt totally “home,” I opened my eyes.  This is meditation based on a themed visualization. 

Meditation benefits health in several ways and it is an important part of my recovery from the concussion.  Meditation reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, and slows the pulse.  It can help lower blood pressure.  Focused meditation is being used more in pain management and reduction.  Meditation improves concentration and the ability to use imagination.   When I first started meditating after the accident, I was totally unable to focus for more than a couple of minutes.  That was fine.  Meditation can be as short or long as I decide.   I think my meditative practice has helped improve my concentration.   Yesterday, I had a migraine that the medication was not ending.  I used a simple breathing meditation.  The headache did not leave totally but the pain level dropped considerably.   There are real health benefits to practicing meditation.

Many people are overwhelmed by meditation.  They visualize a monk, sitting cross-legged, chanting “ohm.”  That is one form of mediation.  But, as demonstrated in this post, there are many others.   Meditation does not have to be based on spiritual or religious practices, unless you want to use it in this fashion.   Prayer can actually be seen as a form of meditation on Deity, as well as conversation.  You can meditate on your favorite scripture or spiritual practice.    Meditation can be used as a method  to be in the presence of Deity and to discover more about yourself and your spiritual connection.    However, meditation does not need a spiritual theme to work.

I want to challenge you, my friends, to try a simple experiment.  

Find a time and place you won’t be disturbed.  You may want to go into a room and shut the door.   Ask children and family members not to disturb you.  If you have furry-family, you may want to put them in another room.  As much as I love my ferrets, they can interrupt a meditation faster than you can say “dook.”   You can play relaxing music in the background if you wish. 

 Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet touching the floor.  Next, take your pulse for a minute and write it down.   Follow this link to learn how to take your pulse.  http://www.webmd.com/hw-popup/taking-a-pulse-heart-rate

Close your eyes.  Become aware of the sensation of your body sitting in the chair.  What does it feel like?  Can you feel it touching your back and legs?  Become aware of the sounds and smells around you. 

Become aware of your breathing.  Just notice it for 5 breaths.  Don’t try to change it.  After 5 breaths, start breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Don’t try to breathe deeper or change how fast your breath.  Just breathe. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Continue for 10 cycles of breath.   Remember, don’t try to force your breath.  Breathe naturally in rhythm.  When you complete your 10 breath cycles, slowly open your eyes. 

Take your pulse again.  What happened to your pulse?  What do you notice about how you feel? 

 This is an easy meditation that does not take much time.  Yet, it is still effective.  And it can be done literally anywhere. 

If you want to learn more about meditation, there are many sites on the internet and resources at bookstores.   I recommend for mindfulness meditation  “Full catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  The book primarily focuses on mindfulness in pain control and reduction.   However, it is a wealth of information on how to practice mindfulness in daily life.  Dr. Kabat-Zinn has other books and media available.   Thich Naht-Hanh is a Buddhist monk.  His books and audio are excellent to learn about life and meditation.   “The Miracle of Mindfulness” and “Breathe, You are Alive” are excellent places to start.   

Give meditation a try!  It really helps!

Pushing the limits

Tuesday,  I had the bright idea to make my running more challenging.  I had already jogged a steady mile at a 9:50 pace.  Slower than I used to run before but better than I had since the injury.  My running brain came up with a bright (not) idea:   since I was already on a track, why not try intervals?  You know, just a little speedwork.  Just to see how it goes.  So said the running maniac part of my brain.  The same part of the brain responsible for my fascination with marathons and my determination to be a Maniac someday.  Well, my friends and family say I’m already a Maniac.  Anyone who runs one marathon must be crazy.  I run 3 or 4 a year.  That means I must be a maniac and ready for some serious therapy help. 

So, I listened to my crazy running brain.   It started off innocently enough.  Just a nice warm up jog.  Hmmm… I’m at the 200 meter mark, how about a nice pick up?  My feet start running faster, my crazy running brain took over.  The first 200 went well.  It actually felt good to run a little faster than my usual post-concussion shuffle.  It felt like I was sprinting faster than I ever have but I’m sure it really wasn’t an earth shattering pace.  I slowed to a nice recovery jog. The second 200 went smoothly.  A nice start with a pick up to the end. I started feeling a little odd, but no worse than the first time I walked/ jogged after the concussion.  I can handle it.   I slowed to a nice jog again.  Since it went so well, how about another 200?  The mark came and off I went.  This time, I felt fairly queasy at the end.  And I’ sure my stride looked like a drunk trying to run.   But, still, I was running!  Not jogging, not walking, running!     Oh, the JOY!   My recovery jog was much slower and less steady. 

My smart mind pipes up: maybe that’s enough? My stomach is in rebellion, warning of imminent eruption of nastiness. I’m slightly dizzy but I can still find the track.  Good enough: My running brain immediately quashes the thought of stopping at three.  Endorphins!   I hit the 200m mark for the fourth time.  Off I go.  I’m sure I’m staggering between the lines of the track now.  But, I make it to the finish line.  I stop, stagger to the side, and greet an old friend “Ralph.”   We had a few words in conversation. 

I stagger over to my water bottle, located handily in the shade, and plop down to rest.  I lay on my back and watch the world tilting and whirling.  Who needs an amusement park when you can run with post concussion syndrome?  I rest  until the world rights itself and my stomach returns to normal. 

I get up and walk a cool down lap.  I return home, shower, drink some Gatorade, and sleep for three hours.

When I wake, I wonder… was that worth it?  My smart brain immediately starts the lecture about recovery from head injury and being safe.  “Take time to heal.  Running to you puke isn’t a good thing.”  My running brain agrees reluctantly, then mutters “But, it was running.  Maybe next week….”

Thoughts on the journey

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.”  ~  Buddha
 

I view recovery as a journey.  It is discovery of current limits, challenging the limits to heal, and moving forward, no matter how slowly it seems to go. 

Yesterday was Lughnasadh; the first harvest.  What have I harvested in my life?   The concussion taught me what it is like to have a disability.  In the past, my knowledge was from my education and working with clients.  I understand now what it is like to struggle to perform tasks that are important in life. 

 I have learned about acceptance.  In mindfulness, acceptance teaches us to embrace the present moment and accept it for what is.  This doesn’t mean that we do not strive to bring about positive change.  However, without recognizing and accepting what is, we waste energy and time in denial.  We do not strive to change, we stive to hide from the problem.  Or we hide from knowledge of ourselves.  No one likes to examine their flaws.  It is uncomfortable.  Acceptance allows us to see ourselves gently.  We all have flaws.  Acceptance allows us to change. 

I harvested friendships.  I learned how many friends I have and was blessed by their help, support, and love.  I harvested accepting help.  I try to be independent.  But, in truth, we are all interdependent.  While I received, I also gave.  

  I harvested thankfulness.  I am alive and recovering from the injuries.   My injuries could have been much more serious. 

I harvested patience with myself.  It is hard recognizing and accepting my current limitations.  I continue to work toward recovery but must allow it to go its own pace. 

 I harvested the love of family.  The love was always there but often gone unrecognized.  This I will correct. 

I harvested brokeness and change.  My body has brokeness.   Brokeness has not ruined my life.  It has called me up to a higher level of understanding and growth.   My life has changed this summer.  I am less active, more contemplative as my concussion healed and allowed for reflection. 

I harvested willingness.  I have been a spiritual seeker for years.  I had not found a spiritual home in any faith community.    My accident has opened up a willingness to commit to a formal course of study and practice in a Path that has drawn me for years.  One that I have explored and practiced but never fully embraced due to fear.  I am willing to learn and practice the Path. 

What have you harvested this summer? 

Walking a journey of life, it’s not about our destination, it’s how we live on the journey.  

Hope

Hope springs eternal
Flowers in the worst tempest
After the storm, peace.

This has been a rough time for me.  While I continue to improve, the post concussion symptoms continue to waylay me at unexpected times. Even my taste in food has changed.  I don’t like salmon anymore.  Some food with strong smells make me queasy.  It’s a constant discovery of change.

Most people both want and fear change.  I’m no exception.  I enjoy a certain amount of predictability and routine.  Change now is upsetting.  Yet, change is life.  Change is growth.

I have hope.  No matter what happens, I have friends and family.  I know in the Universe, there is a purpose behind what seems a calamity to me.  Growth and healing is possible.  Hopefully, someday my experience will help another person.  I don’t believe those accident was “sent” to me.  I believe that I can choose a path toward healing and peace.  Even if I were not to get much more improvement, I will still find a way to to have a meaningful life.

“Health is the greatest gift,
 contentment the greatest wealth,
faithfulness the best relationship.”
Buddha

Brokeness

I came across this quote on a website hit from Stumble Upon today.
 
“Paradoxically, we achieve true wholeness only by embracing our fragility and sometimes, our brokenness.”

How do we achieve wholeness through brokeness and fragility?  These are weaknesses.  Our society in the US values strength, contribution, “winning.”  We don’t accept weakness.  Not truly.  Look how we treat the mentally ill and disabled.  How does acceptance of weakness lead to wholeness?  We are all fragile and broken in some way.   The post-concussion syndrome is my current brokeness.  And, in several ways, I am now more fragile.

When I was injured, I was in the process of training for another marathon.  My goal  for the year was to qualify for Marathon Maniacs ( http://www.marathonmaniacs.com/).  My concussion changed this goal radically.   I won’t run another marathon this year.    This admission is not made from defeat.  It’s from the standpoint of strength; of acceptance.   Running is part of my recovery process.   I run several days a week at the track and am slowly building my endurance and ability to manage the inevitable discomfort from the concussion.   Running is becoming enjoyable again, even with discomfort: the sensation of freedom, the deep, cleansing breaths, the challenge, the joy, the endorphins!  And the sense of accomplishment is back!  Every time I run, I accomplish something.  I challenge myself, I push towards making additional connections in my brain, I run for recovery.   I accept the distance I am able to run on any given day.  I have total freedom from a training schedule.  Running is for running’s sake right now.  If I did not have the wisdom to accept my current brokeness,  there would be no freedom and no enjoyment in the process.  That I cannot train for the marathon would be viewed as a “bad” thing.   Knowing myself, I would try to push through the discomfort when I need to rest.   I’d try to run those workouts, becoming more frustrated, weaker, angrier as I “failed” to keep the plan.  Most likely, I’d set my recovery back, if my actions did not lead to further complications. 

When we deny our fragility and brokeness, we deny our humanity.  In recognizing and embracing our broken selves, we free ourselves to heal and grow.  We become more compassionate towards others, as we understand they are fragile and broken, too.  We gain a deeper spiritual understanding of ourselves, each other, and the world.   Growth is a continual process in life.  We truly start to die when we refuse to grow.