Category Archives: Health

Finding a Routine That Works For Me

I am trying to get a sense of routine back in my life.  It is only recently that I’ve realized how important that is to me.

Between COVID-19, recovering from a concussion in July, and the ever-present autoimmune disease, I feel like I’ve accomplished very little in the last seven months of my time here on Earth.  And I’m the kind of person who needs to feel productive in order to maintain my mental health.

Mornings are generally my best time of day.  If I’m going to get anything done, then morning is when the magic will happen.  Sometimes that momentum will carry over into the afternoon.  But, all too often lately,  I will be feeling borderline-rotten when I wake up, and that will cause me to just go back to bed once my husband leaves for work.

So this week I am trying something new.  I am getting up when my husband gets up, and leaving the house either before or at the same time he does.  It’s a struggle, but I’m half-Viking and half-Celt.  I can do hard things.  I am “hard things.” 😉

Now that the university library (one of my favourite places to settle in and do work) is open once again, I have planned to come here most mornings this week.  COVID-19 contact tracing means that one has to book a seat in advance, and this has proven to be somewhat helpful.  Booking in advance means I’m making an external commitment.  I am saying “I WILL BE THERE,” and it’s interesting how something that small and that simple has flipped a switch in my brain.  I was here yesterday morning, and this morning, and I have also booked some time on Thursday morning.  I will be here.

The university library is very quiet, partly because of it being early morning, but mostly because of COVID-19.  Classes are either completely online or hybrid in most disciplines, and this is a commuter campus, for the most part.

The line-up at the closest Tim Horton’s drive-thru was prohibitively long, so I’m not sure how long I will remain upright on this tall stool.  But I got here, and between yesterday and today, I have already accomplished more than the previous two weeks combined.  So my plan is working.

Now the trick will be to not over-do it.  That is the part that often trips me up.

Of Squirrels and Bees

Attachment.pngOne of the most difficult things about having a concussion is that unless you’re in the club and have had your cranial computer go haywire, it’s not something that’s easily understood. Questionable Bonus: You usually “look normal.“

It’s not like a broken leg, where people see that it must be serious, and they sign the cast as a sign of support. And a broken bone is also common enough that friends and family are familiar with your experience. Well, seeing as I’ve become something of a reluctant expert in this field — four diagnosed brain injuries, likely six in total — I thought I may as well seize this teachable moment and make something good out of it all.

Trying to think and interact with people these days is kind of like trying to concentrate with a head full of squirrels and bees.

Let’s start with the bees.

Imagine that you are standing near a bee hive, close enough to hear and nearly feel the vibration of all those tiny wings. The buzzing is a low hum — not enough to drown out anything, but enough to be distracting. So you have to work extra hard to concentrate on what you’re doing, because that low hum is taking up some of your brain bandwidth. It’s tiring, and you have to work at it, but you can mostly function around it.

The squirrels are a different story.

I quite like squirrels, but not in my head. These pesky cerebellum rodents usually turn up when I’m talking. One of the areas hardest hit in my brain (pun probably intended) is my language centre, so often I say or type one word when I mean another that sort of sounds the same or has a distantly similar meaning. (For example, pictures when I mean worksheets.)

As a result of this ding to the word bank, if I get interrupted when speaking, it’s like I suddenly have squirrels ricocheting off the inside of my skull. Red squirrels! Grey squirrels! Flying squirrels! And I stand there with absolutely no idea of what I was saying, or what I was going to say next. It happens each and every time someone breaks into my communication stream, and then I inevitably feel stupid and frustrated as I try to recover. Intellectually, I know it’s not my fault, but emotionally it’s a hard default to set.

There really isn’t a way to fix the squirrels. You can say “Please don’t interrupt me,” but that attempt at squirrel sedation usually sounds like a reprimand (especially if you’re also trying to talk over the bees), and some people’s communication styles just don’t work that way.

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Healing from a concussion (mild traumatic brain injury) is exhausting. Each and every thing a human being does uses some form of brain activity. Taking a shower today knocked me on my butt and I had to sleep for two hours. (Write down each and every motion of your typical shower experience from deciding to take a shower until you are ready to walk out the door and you’ll see what I mean.)

For now, the squirrels and bees are settled down. I’m alone in a quiet room, and so my attention is focused solely on this screen and this keyboard. And it feels good to be writing — a balm for those moments when words pop out of my head like soap bubbles on thistles.

Denial Ain’t Just a River in Egypt

Nope, I’m fine. I’ll be okay in a few days. Yeah, I need bubble wrap, ha ha ha…

By the time you’re 50 years old, your body starts to look and feel like a ten-year-old car. You’re still running, and you still have a lot of places to go, but you’re definitely showing your miles and any scratches and dents from along the way. I’m no different. Follow this blog and you’ll probably get a good sense of what and where those dents are over time.

On February 22, 2012, I was crossing a street when I got by a car and bounced into a truck. I sustained a complex traumatic brain injury that required lots of time, patience, rehab, humour, and professional assistance to come out the other side. It was my second officially diagnosed concussion.

Recovery wasn’t pretty: I wasn’t always my best self; I trusted the wrong people; my critical thinking was muddy; and I didn’t always make the same decisions I would have made pre-TBI. In short, 2012-2016 was probably the worst period of my life, and I’m still making peace with it.

So when I fainted last Thursday evening, bouncing my head off the hardwood floor and knocking myself out for somewhere between 15 and 30 seconds, the third thing I was desperate to establish — after Where am I? and What just happened? — was that I was okay.

(The faint was probably caused by dehydration; it’s been unusually hot and humid here, and I likely wasn’t getting enough water. That happens every so often, but I normally just get light-headed enough to remind me to grab some water.)

So I spent the next few days cracking self-deprecating jokes, insisting I would be fine in a few days, watching as the goose egg went down and the contact zone turned greenish-brown to yellow. But all the while I had a headache, occasional nausea, and constant dizziness any time I moved or sat/stood up too fast.

This morning the veil of denial fell; I realized no matter how badly I was trying to will “fineness” into being, it just wasn’t happening. So I got myself on my doctor’s cancellation list for today and waited. And as the minutes ticked by, the anxiety grew.

I DO NOT want to go back to 2012 was running through my head like a highly-caffeinated hamster on a well-greased wheel. I know I’m not as bad as I was then — I can read and write on this screen, for example, and my reflexes are still excellent, as evidenced by catching the bottle of Tylenol tumbling out of the medicine cabinet — but I definitely have done some damage. And so no matter how rational I’m trying to be about it, the anxiety has the better ammo.

But it’s not my first rodeo. I will be fine, but maybe not right away. If this were life-threatening, I’d probably already be hospitalized. I haven’t gone to the ER, not just because of the initial denial, but because it’s been my experience that unless it is life-threatening, the ER isn’t all that great with head injuries. (The day of the car incident, they didn’t even check my pupils for dilation, and I was walking around with an undiagnosed brain injury for two weeks.)

Besides, there’s not a lot that can be done. They could do a CT-scan, but really there’s nothing to actually do with the information. I’m nowhere near bad enough to need brain surgery. I just need rest and time. (And patience. Ohhhhh, so much patience.)

So hopefully I’ll get in to see my doctor tomorrow, we can document this in my chart, I’ll get some advice on the dizziness (likely “rest” and “time”), and we’ll keep following up until I’m back to who I was before Thursday evening.

In the meantime, I look forward to watching my hockey team tonight for the first time in months. (GO LEAFS!)


Note: This post is not intended as medical advice, and I am not a medical professional. (I am just well-acquainted with my own personal noggin.) If you sustain a whack — or even just a hard shake — to the head, seek swift medical assistance.