Two ABI’s Went Cycling

Ready to set out

Two ABI’s went cycling… If you think it sounds like “Two lawyers walked into a bar…” let me start again.

Two ABI’s went cycling to check out a railroad bridge and enjoy the scenery. That would be me and my friend Sijmen. Being ABI’s our 15 kilometer event needed some careful advanced planning. I can’t just decide to bike 20 or 50 kilometers on a whim as I did pre-ABI.

Doing the trip with another ABI made me more mindful even though Symen has many more years of experience with ABI.

Let me name six things that stood out for me as I look back on the (rather short, very successful, most enjoyable, heart warming) bike trip.

  • While I might have just headed out the next morning with little thought about the weather, I asked Sijmen if he was fine with the weather forecast of the next day.
    • Fortunately the weather turned out ideal – 21 C partly cloudy.
  • While I might have overlooked the need to pack a lunch, I reminded Sijmen to have snacks, lunch and drinks with him.
    • That left me scurrying to put my stash together.
  • While I might have biked the whole 15 km without stopping, I asked Sijmen several times as we were biking whether we should stop for a break.
    • I would have been done the ride much too quickly.
  • While I might have biked too fast for my own good on my own, I suggested Sijmen set the pace and I would adjust my speed.
    • I would have averaged an extra 10 km/hr and needed time to recover.
  • While I would likely have decided to bike back after arriving at the end of the trail because I still felt fine, I agreed it would be better that we not push the limit on this trip. We accepted a ride back to the trail head.
    • I would otherwise have arrived back at the trail head worn out and challenged to drive myself home.

      Trestle Bridge Near Omemee
  • While I would have forgotten to monitor so many things had I done this cycling excursion on my own, riding with a fellow ABI made me much more aware.
    • I would otherwise not have been mindful of monitoring how things were going and setting reasonable limits.

I was surprised by my ability to be mindful in a way that allowed me to not lose track of time. I did not get caught up in my own space and forget to remain hydrated… to take a nutrition break… to eat lunch.

Biking with Sijmen, I was continuously pulled out of my own space. I would see him biking. Seeing him was the visual reminder to be mindful of monitoring how things were going. Being mindful of Sijmen meant I was automatically being mindful of myself and engaged in the necessary habit of self-monitoring.

When I got home I knew I had done well. I had started the bike trip with a low grade headache and by the end of the ride my headache had eased a bit.

For Sijmen, the trip was memorable because it was his first experience of joy with such intensity in a long time.20160623_113232

Making Memories, Renewing Memories

“Thank you for sharing your memories of what I meant to you and your child.”

Celebrating Ten Years of Memories

Making Memories, Renewing Memories

I responded to an invitation to attend the grade eight graduation. I had left the school in my role as principal a year and a half ago. I arrived at the school with mixed emotions, because I had left the school very suddenly due to an acquired brain injury (ABI). I felt like I had just dropped out of sight. A short step from, ‘out of mind’.

From the moment I walked into the school my fears were put to rest. The first parent I met greeted me with open arms and mentioned they were just talking about me. They were hoping I would show up for their son’s graduation.

As I met some of the graduates, prior to the ceremony, they openly shared their appreciation that I had shown up for their big day. It was wonderful to see how they had grown up and matured in the year and a half since I had seen them. It reminded me of the connections I had developed with them at various levels even though I hadn’t been their classroom teacher.

At the start of the Principal’s Charge to the graduates the current principal acknowledged my presence and mused that I probably had a stronger connection with the graduates in the nine years they knew me than she could achieve in one year. The round of applause from the parents in response to her comments was heart warming and overwhelming. It was a clear expression of appreciation for the service I had given for almost eleven years.

One parent after another shared their warm memories of the support I had given to their son or daughter and the work I had done for the school. Several students wanted to make it a two person photo op. One student who graduated four years ago, tracked me down and wanted me to pose with him. “For old time’s sake,” was his explanation. Very touching.

For me the trauma of the ABI and the slow and continuing recovery of the past year and a half has made my time at the school a distant memory. I had gone from working fifty or more hours a week at a job that I found very exciting and rewarding only to have it come to an unexpected grinding halt. It’s the ABI and struggle to find healing that has pushed my time at the school far out of sight for me.

Ready to move on

I expected to need the next day or two to recover from the sensory overload of the graduation experience. While I was able to cope during the grad evening, four days later I still needed to take breaks to manage situations that would put me into sensory overload. All I can say to each parent who spoke with me that night, “Thank you for sharing your memories of what I meant to you and your child.” “Thank you for reassuring me that I will not be easily forgotten.” You reminded me of having enabled some pivotal decisions and how your child has grown and matured. Giving hope for the next day and year.

I wanted to attend the graduation to give my blessing to you and your child as they move on to high school. May they flourish and use their skills, and nurture a Christian world view as they continue studying and growing.

I Totally Missed What You Just Said

Mime ‘Statue’ in Victoria, BC

For someone with an acquired brain injury (ABI), sharing a story or relaying an experience has its challenges. It might surprise you what factors can make it hard to share a story. It takes extra effort to not mess up.

Story Telling

I used to take the factors below for granted. The different parts of telling a story just seem to have their own way of falling into place. It now takes extra effort.

  1. Deciding what details are relevant and making sure they are included
  2. Recognizing what details are irrelevant and making sure I don’t go there
  3. Bringing details into the story in a proper sequence
  4. Be aware of your audience i.e. Getting to the point of the story without losing the listener’s attention

ABI requires greater focus and effort to make the story work

  1. Is that relevant?

Deciding what details are relevant in relaying a story is complicated by the challenge of finding the right words. Finding the correct nouns seems to be my biggest challenge. Often I can picture the object, what it looks, feels or tastes like but I am unable to name it. Needless to say it interrupts the flow of the story, not to mention the awkwardness felt by the listener.

  1. Where did that irrelevant comment come from?

At times I find myself including too many details that don’t necessarily enhance the story. I cannot explain why irrelevant details aren’t recognized before the words come out of my mouth. I’m told it’s called tangential thinking. It might simply be a matter of a particular detail suddenly finding its way into my thought path.  It also wouldn’t surprise me if I repeat some of the details because I can’t remember whether I had already shared it. Kind of like a story detail making a u-turn and ending up on the same thought path by mistake.

  1. Does it matter what actually happened next?

Recognizing a story’s natural structure takes additional effort. In telling a story certain details come to mind that belong in an earlier part of the story. When certain details are missed, the puzzle is how and where to fit it into the story. If I’ve already missed putting it in the right spot once, I want to include it as soon as possible else I run the risk of completely overlooking it. It’s tough to end a story and see the puzzled looks only to find myself saying, “Oh didn’t I mention at the beginning how the… ?”

  1. Are you still with me?

I have on occasion found myself quite frustrated a few minutes after relaying an event only to realize I had gone on too many tangents and then missed the main point. This happens when it’s too difficult to hold more than one thought in suspension.

An additional distraction in telling a story is reading body language. It’s important to know whether the listener is still with me. This actually poses a double challenge. One is being able to recognize and interpret the body language. The second is responding to the body language in a timely manner. At times I recognize the body language is conveying the message, “You’re losing me,” or “I need to be going now.” The problem is, not knowing how to bring the telling to a rapid conclusion. The easiest is to suddenly stop talking but that would be awkward for everyone.

I lost you. Sorry


Conversations are more difficult than simply telling a story. Conversations are rather complex activities. They become exponentially more complex with every additional person who joins in.

Telling a story or relaying an event is rarely a one way talking experience. One always has an audience of at least one person. Hopefully.

When sharing a story with a friend, comments and questions are to be expected. You want the person to be engaged in the story. When comments or question are interjected it’s easy to get side tracked. When there`s been too many comments or interjections, that’s when I’m most likely to miss the point of the story.

When conversing with one person, things generally go well. The conversation can wander a bit and go on for quite some time. If I miss something, it’s easy enough to ask the person to repeat. I am quite comfortable telling someone that I just lost track of what they were sharing. It’s the pleasant meandering of stories and events that makes a visit interesting, informative and at times amusing.

When the conversation includes several people, it becomes difficult to follow the thread. The frequent change of speakers makes it harder to follow what is being said. It gets even more difficult when the conversation splits into separate conversations. As the conversations morph between single and multiple conversations I quickly lose focus. That means I’ll miss even more of what is being share. It is much harder in these situations to tell a person, “I missed what you just said.” I definitely wouldn’t ask someone to repeat what they said.

In larger groups I might experience cognitive overload within 15 or 20 minutes. Either I just quietly listen or I find a way to inconspicuously exit the group.

Participating in a group conversation

At times when there’s a group of people talking, it can be difficult to get a word in edgewise. There are several factors that compound the challenge. At times I experience a time lag in processing what I hear. If I choose to respond, the delay in formulating a response will make the comment seem out of sync with the conversation.

My attempt at helpful hints

It would be beneficial to list some pointers. But the social decorum of conversations is that they are organic. They morph as different people have their say.

For that reason I don’t think the helpful guidelines below are achievable or should even be expected of others.

Helpful guidelines?

  1. Have only one person speak at a time.
  2. Invite the quiet person to contribute their thoughts
  3. Offer clarification if someone`s body language communicates confusion

This sounds more like guidelines for a skillfully chaired meeting.

Question to you the dear reader

Do you have some helpful hints? Maybe I overlooked some obvious things.  Would love to hear from you.