On Communication

button 2

I find, overall, that people are quite kind; however, there are definitely times, when I am somewhat frustrated, in part due to my own expectations rather than some overtly rude behaviour on the part of another, but also due to two other items. First, society’s general lean to being less than mindful and, secondly, the fact that TBI, for myself and many others, is an invisible challenge.

I often wonder if it would help if I wore a button, explaining my situation in a few short words? Ah, but here’s the rub: what would I put on that button exactly? Maybe I would have to have a collection of buttons and my choice would be dependent on how I was feeling for a particular day. Or, maybe I would wear a collection of buttons, with various statements, to make a short commentary on my state of mind.

I digress…let’s step back and look at what a button might say:

  1. “I Have a TBI”
  2.  “Stroke Survivor”
  3. “I Have Frequent Brain Farts”
  4.  “Speak S..L..O..W..L..Y”
  5. “Avoid TMI” (Too Much Information)
  6. “Abby Normal” (think of the movie, Young Frankenstein, 1974)
  7.  “Please Don’t Say, ‘Remember?’”
  8. “’Now, explain it to me like I’m a four- year- old’” (think of the movie, Philadelphia, 1993)
  9. “Improved? Yes. Whole? Depends. Trying. Some days.”
  10. “Be Kind”

Of course, I am aware that I send out mixed messages, especially to family members and close friends. I want to be treated the same as everyone else in some departments and be given my independence. But, at other times, I am upset because they don’t seem to understand my limitations and needs. Overall, there isn’t one button, or statement that encompasses the range of communication required when dealing with anything in life.

I could have fun trying (to communicate), though. A fairly entertaining outfit could be made with several buttons, the bright orange ear plugs I often have to wear to cut out noise, the sunglasses I use to reduce the glare of bright lights, and an ugly Christmas sweater, to boot!

merry christmas button

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Buzzwords and Bandwagons

foghorn leghorn

I must admit that I have not always been a model student, which is difficult to admit since I was/am a teacher. Even into adulthood, my attention and disposition overall at professional development gatherings were, sometimes, less than stellar.

I think I can narrow it down to a couple of main issues, the first being my overall disdain for buzzwords and phrases. For a time, I was determined to leave meetings in quiet, but effective protest if I heard the term “resonates” or the phrases “think outside the box” and “paradigm shift”. I never did walk out; I simply lowered my head and doodled with the pen and paper I had been provided (to write down the streams of insight I was going to be privy to during the day).

The second area of discomfort for me has been the constant spending on trends in education. I have been witness to millions of tax payer and student dollars dolled out on programs that last one to five years, only to be hammered shut in the school arena and quietly relegated to the sidelines in the public realm so as not to really cause a kerfuffle of sorts with parents.

This brings me to an experience I had a few years ago when another teacher and I did a presentation on mindful breathing and neuroplasticity for our small staff. To my horror, a couple of colleagues were giggling and showing each other what was on their phones during our, clearly very important, slide show! I imagined them texting, “if I have to hear the term ‘mindful’ one more time…i’m going to gag…lol!”, or “mind this…” with a picture of Foghorn Leghorn’s backside attached.

I realized two things right then and there; the terms I was using could probably be perceived as buzzwords, and mindfulness could also be viewed as another fly by night, bandwagon, educational and social emotional strategy that won’t last. The experience gave me a renewed appreciation for language and how a single word can have so many varied responses and, to some degree, interpretations. As well, I was forced to face the reality that my ego was alive and well in that I believed mindfulness was well worth everyone’s time as opposed to other material I had been exposed to over the course of my career.

But here in lies the difference between mindfulness and other educational and health and wellness approaches. Mindful breathing and meditation have been around and established merit for centuries. The concepts entered the secular and medical fields in the late 1960’s in part thanks to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, et al. There are currently vast numbers of studies (big and small) and research demonstrating the efficacy of skills gleaned from these practices. What’s more is that becoming a practitioner doesn’t have to cost you anything.

‘At the end of the day’ mindfulness is a ‘win-win’ approach to overall ‘wellness’ through which we can ‘empower’ ourselves and others with a ‘sustainable’ strategy to invoke ‘transformative’ experiences.

See…I am capable of change and being open-minded; how about you? 🙂

 

Life and Laughter

mask

One year, while teaching my grade nine English class, I tried to convey to my students the value of every assignment in class. I used the following metaphor; that our brains were like banks. The more deposits made, the weightier our balances would be. However, instead of money, the knowledge we accumulate provides an investment that will open doors and lead to many opportunities.

The class was engaged and I felt I was getting an important message across. It was then that a student, with learning challenges, stated, “Yah? Well somebody robbed my bank!” The class and I erupted in laughter (not at the student)! We were so very impressed with this witty remark from a student who had difficulty printing a complete sentence, no less. The student was impressed with himself, as well.  I quickly forgot about the attempt to relay wisdom and my own self-importance. Instead, we all became a connected group of people who could relate to his comment on some level. We’ve all been confused, had difficulty understanding something we have read, or felt defeated when learning a new task.

Although I don’t aspire to self-deprecation, the odd injection of this type of humour in our lives, I don’t feel, is harmful. On the contrary, to be able to laugh at ourselves and situations from time to time is a necessity (while, of course, being mindful of timing and audience)!

His joke also indicated something quite interesting about the brain’s ability to make connections, jest, learn, falter, and re-learn. When cognitive and academic tests may suggest otherwise, the brain can surprise, and enlighten.

At the end of the school year, I asked the student why he thought he had been successful in class. To be completely honest, I had hoped that he would claim that the mindful breathing had been key. Instead, he said, “My new meds and the wrestling mask I wear from time to time.”

Maybe, but I believe it was also his sense of humour and his hard work and he is an inspiration to me.

moment

The “F” Word

silly

FATIGUE…that’s the “F” word. I know I am not alone; fatigue is one of the most common by-products of stroke and TBI (traumatic brain injury). I manage my fatigue as best I can. I take vitamins and supplements, I eat well, I exercise, and I rest. Part of my issue is that the intracerebral hemorrhage hit my left thalamus. The thalamus, among other items, regulates one’s sleep and awake cycles. I ended up with insomnia.

I found this PDF on strokes and fatigue and I feel it is both concise and reader friendly. It may be worthwhile reading and sharing with family, friends, and/or your employer. http://www.stroke.org.uk/sites/default/files/Fatigue%20after%20stroke.pdf

Another article regarding TBI and fatigue: http://www.msktc.org/tbi/factsheets/Fatigue-And-Traumatic-Brain-Injury

Here’s an interesting fact: I feel most energized after I have been meditating. The following article gives a bit of an explanation on the topic. http://eocinstitute.org/meditation/meditation-for-increased-energy-how-why-it-works/

As well, I tend to feel really well after a body scan. You may or may not be familiar with this technique established by Jon Kabat-Zinn, but don’t worry, just listen and follow the instructions. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_aC5vNg_50

And, hey, don’t beat yourself up if you happen to fall asleep during the body scan. I fell asleep a lot during body scans when I first came home from the hospital, but the sleep was really good for me, too!

Well…I’m pooped!

On Meditating and the Brain

Do-ne-sangwa-250x62

For the first couple of weeks after my stroke, I did a lot of sleeping. In the third week, pain, insomnia, anxiety, and sensory difficulties (as well as cognitive issues) set in. I was feeling a mix of emotions; more than happy to be alive, fortunate to have a meditation background, but generally unwell. Mindful breathing helped me in the hospital in the following ways:

  • helped to reduce the effects of stimuli such as light and sound
  • assisted in alleviating stress, anxiety, loneliness, and boredom

Once I became more capable (cognitively speaking) of using mindfulness and meditation, I was also able to

  • quiet my mind by permitting thoughts to move in and out without judgement or perseveration
  • build more compassion for myself and others
  • become more energized as I breathed deeply into all my cells
  • improve memory and attention

Check this out  http://www.perthbraincentre.com.au/meditation  and this http://www.livescience.com/26993-mindfulness-meditation-remodel-brain.html

Be well!

Transparency and Semantics

first day

Before I get going on providing more information, I really feel that I must very transparent and state that my ongoing recovery includes many tools. I have participated in occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and language therapy, and I continue today with counselling. I am fortunate to have a great deal of support from family and friends. Furthermore, I feel that the Angioma Alliance Forum has afforded me some great feedback. As well, my meditation group and Shambhala teacher have been amazing! I have been on medication and, although I have weaned off of some and reduced the dosages in others, I do believe in a holistic approach to healing, which includes some medications for me. However, mindfulness and meditation, I feel, have been absolutely crucial in my progress and continued journey.

I don’t want to get too caught up in semantics; I am not saying that it (meditation and mindfulness) will, or will not be of benefit to you, and keep in mind, it’s not an easy fix, but it is an enjoyable learning curve. There are also many forms of meditation and you will have to find what suits you. It will be fun to explore the varieties!

I don’t want you to get too caught up in developing a perception of who I am either. Because I majored in English and was an English teacher, my brain has retained a lot of my writing and grammar skills, but I still have a lot of deficits and I don’t want you to assume that mindfulness and meditations are a “cure all” for what ails you. Currently, I deal with the following: fatigue, memory impairment, cognitive issues, sensitivity to light, sound, and cold, thalamic pain syndrome (especially in right arm), right leg and foot numbness, headaches, lack of concentration, and an inability to separate and/or follow conversations in a group setting. From outward appearances, I look fine and I usually do well in brief conversations with one, or a few people, but more importantly, I am alive and happy (except when my insurance company phones me and gives me a hard time) and I do credit meditation and mindfulness for where I am at, which is here, in the present moment, and loving it!

Using This Blog

glowing brain I am sure most of you know how to navigate a blog, but just incase you are like me and require assistance, here’s how it goes. First, if you wish to comment on a post, click on the title of a particular post and scroll down to the very bottom of the page where a comment box is hiding. On the homepage there are two squares with horizontal lines (like lined paper) in the upper corners of the lake picture. If you click on the one on the left, it will bring you to a page which includes a menu (About, Books, etc). This page is still being built, but feel free to comment on any of the topics (again, remember to scroll to the very bottome of the page). Alternatively, the same menu items can be found at the very bottom of the homepage. The box on your right is a photo gallery that I am still working on. Hope this helps 🙂

My Brain

brain

There it is…the 3 x 4cm hemorrhage in the left thalamus and basal ganglia. The CT scan also indicated evidence of past bleeds. I really had been feeling changes for up to a year and a half prior to the major bleed. My vision was deteriorating, yet, when I went to my optometrist, there wasn’t anything to suggest that my prescription had really changed all that dramatically. I was also becoming quite tired and irritable on a regular basis. Years ago, I had been anemic, so I thought I may be again, but that was not the case. I didn’t understand why I was becoming so irritable; I loved teaching and there were no exceptional stressors going on in my daily life. Also, while I was running, I felt like I couldn’t focus properly on the ground ahead of me, so I always felt very tentative about my foot placement. On Wednesday, September 11, 2013 I woke up feeling…odd. I had also been feeling a bit sick and had a mild headache; I wondered if a migraine was starting. I realized that I had lost a lot of feeling in my right leg. At school, I was flat out exhausted, I had no appetite, and I felt highly unfocused. Have you ever been on a ride at an amusement park and felt off balance after? That’s how I felt; I needed to move, rather than stand still, or I felt like the earth was moving. By the end of the day, I felt really disconnected from my surroundings and decided to go to emergency. Because I was still talking, mobile, etc., the doctor felt that my symptoms may be that of MS and I was to make an appointment with my regular doctor. That evening was terrible, but I never said much at home. I just forced myself to get a lot of housework and school work done so I would be really organized the next day. In my mind, I was trying to make things better for everyone should I be sick over the weekend and have to take Friday off of work. On Thursday at school, I could tell I was having problems forming words; I had to really focus on my pronunciation and I was finding it difficult to retrieve certain words that I wanted to use. I kept losing my balance as I walked in between students’ desks. Then, I went up to the white board to write and two things happened. First, I could barely lift my right arm and, secondly, I was having trouble printing. Later, I was teaching my physical education class in the school gym. We were playing indoor soccer and I ended up tripping on my right foot and landing flat on the floor. At the end of the day, I made arrangements to take Friday off of work and I went back to emergency. Now things were really moving. By Saturday, September 14, 2013, I was in the Vancouver Neurological Intensive Care Unit.

Why Bad Brain Beautiful Brain?

The title for my blog is representative of a tongue and cheek, loving/frustrating relationship with my brain. In September of 2013, I suffered a brain hemorrhage and subsequent stroke. My goal with this blog is to provide information and insight regarding stroke recovery with special attention given to mindfulness.

I began meditating four and a half years prior to my stroke. I also took a course in MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and I conducted mindful breathing in my classes. I cannot begin to tell you how invaluable the practice has been for me in regards to my healing over the past year.

And it is not too late for anyone to begin meditating as study after study indicates that mindful meditation increases the brain’s neuroplasticity and restoration.

I am a bit of a turtle with learning new tech skills…but I am excited…stay tuned!