Thanks for a great birthday

A double chocolate cake instead of the traditional carrot cake with cream cheese icing.
I was bombarded by birthday wishes from all corners: cards, phone calls, Facebook, text messages and visits from both friends and relatives. Birthday wishes this year have been particularly appreciated. Let me explain.

A year ago I was still coming to terms with a brain injury and actively focusing on recovery. It was only four months after my acquired brain injury. At that time I understood that healing takes time. I wasn’t surprised that healing was progressing slowly. However, a year later it feels like it’s taking too long. It feels like the world is passing me by.

A year later and things feel worse. The challenge is greater. Not because things are digressing. Actually, the opposite is true. Because I’m experiencing healing the result is a growing gap between what I want to do and what I can do. Call it the ‘frustration gap’. Even though I can do more than I could do a year ago, that’s not what is most noticeable. At this time, my eagerness to do more accentuates my limitations. I’m willing to endure a certain level of pain or

Vintage John Deere 165 with hydrostatic drive

discomfort just to be involved in an activity. I’ve become accustomed to living with a certain amount of discomfort. It’s become a given.

Following my injury, my mantra was, “Use it or Lose it”. This approach was supported by the neurologist who worked with me last summer. She told me there is a growing body of evidence that supports that approach. Recovery takes work. In my estimation, that method beats sitting around waiting for it to happen.

However, a new point of reference has been imposed on me. A different professional is guiding me. It’s a different time. It’s time to take a different approach. I now need to live with a different set of rules

Dandelions are great in the right place.

The change comes with having an occupational therapist (OT) take charge. It’s no longer my decision to push ahead with the mantra of “Use it or Lose it.” I must no longer engage in an activity till my body signals that I have reached a reasonable limit. Invariably the signal meant, I’ve gone beyond my limit. The signal actually meant, I’m pushing the limit beyond what is helpful. Now I’ve been instructed to stop for a break before my body sends me a warning signal. My imposed mantra is, “Avoid the ‘red light”. As a result it feels like my endurance has been reduced. It’s like my abilities are more restricted.

Following the guidance of the OT means I have some extra work ahead of me. I need to track every type of activity I do. That means making a list of different activities; be it cycling, driving, hoeing, planting, mowing the lawn, reading, writing, helping a neighbour with a chore, washing dishes, worshipping, visiting, playing cards etc.  For each activity I need to determine how long I can do it without hitting the “red light”. That means planning a break at the proper intervals. If the intervals for a break were the same for each activity that would just be too simple.

Looks like a ‘call two’ hand!

Avoiding the ‘red light’ is putting extra demands on my ability to remember. That means when I’m mowing the lawn, I must remember to take a break after 40 minutes. But when I’m mowing I don’t think about taking a break, I think about making the lawn look great. To help me stop on time I figured out a failsafe reminder. Put only enough gasoline in the mower so that it stalls after about 40 minutes.

Trek touring bike

Stopping activities before I get the ‘red light’ is harder than it seems. For example, how far should I drive before I stop for a break? Well, it depends on whether the driving involves going through Toronto. It depends on how heavy the traffic is. It depends on how many visual distractions there are along the road. Taking a break then requires a place that is not busy. An En Route stop along the 401 hardly fits the bill. Too close to highway noise. Too much commotion in the food court. So a bit of advance planning is required.

Stopping an activity before getting a ‘red light’ can be interesting when visiting. Actually, it’s quite simple. I would just walk away from the visitors or just walk out of the room. That’s fine if I’m not visiting alone. The length of the visit before needing a break will depend on how many people are in the room. The noise level in the room. The number of different conversations that are happening at the same time. Even the time of day makes a difference.

The hoe was a gift from my mother-in-law

Stopping an activity before getting a ‘red light’ can really vary while gardening. Considering how strenuous the activity is, how much lifting, how much bending down, the amount of planning or attention to detail is needed, even how hot or sunny the day is, are just some of the factors to consider.

Stopping an activity before getting a ‘red light’ has very different variables while cycling. The first thing I’ve learned is not try setting any personal speed or endurance records. The additional variables includes the number of hills and the steepness, the temperature the strength of a headwind, the volume of traffic and familiarity with the route.

Seldom by Dawn Rae Downton

Needless to say, the high number of birthday wishes were a real boost to my morale. Thanks so much. The quick acknowledgements on Facebook was significant. It was like someone popping their head in the door for two seconds to say hi. It’s great. It’s encouraging. It’s a sense of not feeling abandoned. A big thank you!

P.S. If you still want to send me birthday wishes… it’s never too late.


Author: Jasper Hoogendam

After 36 years as an educator my career ended due to a TBI. Renewable energy as part of 'walking lightly on this earth' has been and continues to be my interest since my teen years. Since early 2015 I have been learning to live with ABI (Acquire Brain Injury). I don't want to let my ABI limit the goals I set for myself. I'm living with a different brain, not a lesser brain. In sharing my day to day successes and struggles, I am better able to understand how my life had changed and begin to accept the change. In sharing my experiences I'm hearing from caregivers and fellow ABI's. I'm encouraged when my experiences are helping others understand some of the complexity of living with ABI.

2 thoughts on “Thanks for a great birthday”

  1. Happy birthday, Jasper!

    At first, I thought the concept of taking a break in the middle of doing something was bizarre – how could that help anything? But in practice I saw that even a short cognitive rest works wonders. When I get back to what I was doing I am much more productive and do much better work.

    Unfortunately, my actions don’t always match my words. Your efforts are impressive. It’s hard work to make yourself stop “before the red light.”


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