I was sitting in the back of the church sanctuary, a place that has become familiar. The longer I listened to the seasonal lyrics the greater the contrasts of two realities came into focus. The disconnect was real. It was strange to find myself in tears as the congregants were singing in wonderful harmony.
Silent night, Holy night…
The lyrics made associations with the celebratory nature of Christmas. At that moment the ‘merry’ part of Christmas was not within my reach. As the carol singing continued, I was wandering in a confused and disrupted mental landscape.
The neural loading during the first part of the worship service had been gradual and subtle. The ‘greeting’ part of the liturgy was two long minutes of chaos; handshakes all around and brief introductions. I had joined in the responsive reading that followed till I lost focus.
The meaning of the words got lost navigating my compromised neural network. My network lacked the necessary efficiency to comprehend the full message. My mind wandered a few lines into the reading.
All is calm, all is bright...
Each element of the liturgy gradually and subtly moved me away from a calm and focused worship. This, along with the pains which resurfaced with my recent struggles added to the nagging discomfort whether I sit, stand or walk. As my body pendulated between headache and fatigue a sense of calm eluded me.
Away in a manger no crib for…
The disrupted sleep added to both the fatigue and headaches. While in recovery mode any available energy is redirected to the essential areas. The brain is an opportunist that co-opts whatever energy happens to presents itself and claims it for the most essential job of mending the compromised neural network.
… no crying he makes…
These discomforts added to my emotional vulnerability, and left me out of tune with the spirit of the music. Tears filled my eyes much too easily.
As I lost focus I retreated into myself. I questioned the authenticity of the line from the lyrics that echoed in my brain. I choose to believe that like any other baby, that the Christ baby cried, probably even screamed. It’s definitely more reassuring to consider he cried. He would have cried for all the world to hear when he was hungry because his mother’s milk was slow to come in. He would have cried when the swaddling clothes were soiled and Mary hadn’t noticed it because the manure from the animals would have distracted her.
Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the …
At one point I once again joined in the singing.
While I have always enjoyed singing, (though choir participation never was my forte,) lately music moves me more deeply. Singing and live music has a vibrancy that can’t be missed. It touches me deeper than almost any other art form, the words, the melody, the reverberations of tones and overtones. While my sensory loading reached it’s manageable limit there was a comfort that came with the emotions that emerged.
… to all he brings, risen with healing in his …
Deep down I know that Christmas is a message of hope. Hope for those who don’t find it anywhere else. The promise of healing reaches deeper than the merry greetings of Christmas. That’s what helped me close the gap between the lyrics and the space I found myself in.
Once in royal David’s city … he feels for all our sadness …
The lyrics affirmed me. It gave me a sense of hope, a reason to celebrate.
Praise the Lord, … and forget not all his benefits… and heals all my diseases … crowns me with love and compassion… Ps 103 in the Communion liturgy
My grandson held my hand as we joined the procession to the communion table. Observing Christ’s death as a preparation for marking the birth of Christ?
Communion actually brings the Christmas message into focus. After all, isn’t his birth the quiet but official marking of “Let His Suffering Begin.” His suffering with a definite purpose.
With a short but pronounced slurp my grandson cleared the last drops of grape juice from the individual communion shot glass.
This makes Easter joy a reality, makes it real. It reaffirmed that the birth of Christ was to accept his invitation of healing, of bringing wholeness and restoration to my life.
Joy to the world the Lord has come ...
... No more let sin and sorrow grow
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse if found ...
Even while I struggle I look forward to marking Christmas as a time of laughter, a celebration with family, friends and community. Not with the same spontaneity or exuberance but nevertheless with a sense of Joy that comes when celebrating with people who can be authentic with each other; sharing tears, sharing joy, sharing hopes for tomorrow.
It was my turn to hide while my 4 3/4 year old grandson (he doesn’t let me forget the 3/4) counted to 20. That didn’t give me much time to get into a place where I could be reasonably obscure. I hurried over the stone wall a mere two feet high. I stepped over it knowing the count was close to 20. I moved between some mature cedars eyeing some young ones that I hoped would give some good cover. One more quick move and I would be well hidden.
That was one move too many or rather one move too quick. I was wearing a winter jacket with a hood. They’re warm and comfortable, but, potentially uncomfortable when they block your peripheral vision. It was a low 5 inch cedar limb that blocked my path. The branch made contact with the side of my head. The game went into sudden death (Not the best choice of words).
The pain was instant. The sensory overload was instant. The sense of confusion was instant. I knew I was in a bad way. The game was over. I knew better than to tough it out.
My grandson was thrilled to find me almost immediately after reaching the count of twenty. I explained to him that the game was over. He was not thrilled about that. I went inside and lay down for an hour. All I could think of was, “Oh, I hope I’m not starting all over again.” Almost two years down the road of recovery and now this.
Living a Flashback
Having the symptoms and effects come back was a strange experience. I experienced both serious disappointment and familiarity. The familiarity was like having an old friend visiting, not polite and mannerly one instead gruff and ornery.
In a strange sort of way the next few days had something comforting about it. The familiarity of the symptoms didn’t leave me with the sense of confusion and denial that I experienced the first time around. And yet confusing. A different kind of confusion. I was experiencing something comfortable and frustrating at the same time? Call it comfrusting.
I must admit it’s comfrusting to walk into a room and once again forget the second and third thing I planned to do. It’s comfrusting to not be able to recall the noun that I needed while explaining something. It’s comfrusting to experience headaches for the better part of each day. It’s comfrusting to experience mental fatigue trying to problem solve household situations. It’s comfrusting to find my sleep even more disrupted, not to mention the restlessness that comes with trying to distract myself from the pains, aches and muscle tension. Tears are once again too close to the surface.
Over the next couple days I experienced a mix of emotions. Disappointment in being thrown back several steps on what is a slow enough recovery. A feeling of my recovery being stalled, testing my patience. Reaching my physical and mental limits too soon in the day. Making it hard to feel useful or productive.
I once again recognized the physical symptoms that had faded away but still too familiar. I realized I had to renew my efforts at managing my limited personal resources. It was time to reintroduce some of the earlier strategies I had been taught. It was time to analyze the activities that would unexpectedly catapult me to my limit. I have to trouble shooting each day to avoid repeats where possible.
I’m praying that this is the condensed (think quick read) recovery version of my initial injury.
Risk of Re-injury
What happened while playing hide ‘n seek was one of my greatest fears about living with ABI namely the risk of re-injury. A re-injury can be particularly nasty because while one is dealing with post-concusion symptoms the brain is only partially healed and lacks the internal protection that most people have. I hear it all too often that someone compounds the challenges of recovery because of an additional injury. There’s a difference between set backs which actually can be helpful and injuries.
With a brain injury the risk of getting into a situation that causes re-injury is statistically higher. Let me give you one illustration even though there are many others to encounter risky situations. The risk can be due to slower brain processing, through a compromised sense of judgment or the result of living with fatigue.
The risk of tripping is high due. You’re walking across the kitchen and you see a box beside the counter. You know it’s there but your brain is processing too slowly to realize that it’s an obstacle, that you need to step around it. Before all that information gets processed you have a higher than usual risk of bumping into the box and losing your balance. The risk is further compounded by the brain responding too slowly after contact is made with the box increasing the likelihood of not recovering one’s balance on time.
So, do I wear a helmet that next time I do an outdoor game like Hide ‘n Seek? Maybe. Or I might abandon the parka with a hood in favour of a winter coat and tuque. Besides what’s more Canadian than wearing a tuque with a maple leaf?
This is not a back handed way of giving some credence to texting while driving. It’s not endorsing another means of zoning out while driving and living life in a place where you wish to be rather than where you are. Do you read other driver’s body language that puts you front and centre where you are living and being present? Has this type of literacy helped you?
My experience with reading another driver’s body language has probably saved me from one or more automobile collision. Was it body language or was there something else going on? At best I would say, my response wasn’t conscious. It was more a matter of some subtle signal that made me react. A cue that something was off.
I recall one occasion quite vividly. I was driving in the curb lane on a four lane city street. As I was slowly gaining on the car in the left lane I hesitated. There was something about the driver’s body language. My front bumper was merely inches from being in line with her rear bumper. (not to disparage female drivers) Something signaled to me to not overtake the car, not her right turn signal. Suddenly the car was in my lane a mere inches I front of me. The driver was a grey haired lady talking with a friend in the passenger seat. There was something in her posture, a momentary tenseness that she was ready to execute a maneuver.
I’m in the habit of continuously scanning, not just my side view and rear view mirrors but the side of the road and beyond. One passenger once commented that I don’t seem to miss anything, even what’s in the ditch. Isn’t that’s where moose hide before charging across the road? Never know what comes at you.
At age 16 my driving instructor told me to not look off to the side of the road because a car will go in the direction the driver is looking. Hold that thought and imagine how a car would swerve all over if a driver was checking their mirrors or talking to a back seat passenger.
I regularly recognize familiar faces of drivers and pedestrians when I’m on the road. I guess that’s part of scanning my surroundings. Gives me an edge when ribbing someone about their whereabouts at a later date. What’s more helpful is being able to read a driver’s or sometimes a pedestrian’s intentions. Fore warned is fore armed.
I remember coming down the main street in our town. As I approached one of the intersections I slowed sensing that the car was not going to stop for the stop sign. As I got closer I saw the driver breeze through the sign. I braked harder and came to a skidding stop just inches from the driver door. The driver apologized but I was not impressed and let him know.
Reading other drivers also helps with the flow of traffic. In our part of the country the latest rage in street design is installing traffic circles. The circles are showing up on quiet residential streets, main arteries in town and on provincial highways with speeds of 80 km/hr (50 mph). The rule when entering a traffic circle is to give the right of way to drivers that are already in the circle. The challenge is deciding whether to yield to a car in the circle or whether it will exit early. By glancing at a driver one can tell whether they are planning to exit the circle or continue to circle around further. That’s because most people look in the direction they are going. I say most, because the drivers that aren’t looking in the direction they plan to go are distracted drivers. The ‘distracted’ body language is an immediate caution signal.
There are many other body signals drivers subtly or not so subtly display. If the driver looks aggressive in their moves I’m more alert. If the vehicle meanders in their lane or wanders over the line, not exactly subtle but, give the driver extra distance.
One day I was heading down a four lane divided highway. The tractor trailer in the right lane had emergency flashers on but moving at the speed limit. I was traveling in the left lane and saw nothing ahead that would suggest an impending emergency. Something was off, so I held back. Moments later, as the truck started down the kilometer long incline one of the tires rolled into my lane and bounced past the truck. Then another tire rolled into my lane and rolled past the truck. Next a round metal object did the same thing. I started braking wondering what else would invade my lane – the whole truck maybe. We all came to a stop at the bottom of the hill without further incident. It would have been a different story if I had overtaken the truck.
Reading a driver’s body language is not always possible. There are times when I have been taken totally by surprise. I have been in at least half a dozen collisions with the other driver always at fault. Three times I’ve been hit from behind. Three times I’ve been T-boned. My 1966 Mustang was totaled in a police chase while it was legally parked. Each of these were preventable. The collisions happened because drivers weren’t attentive, turned across lanes of traffic without clear visibility, ran a stop sign, or drove too fast for road conditions.
Traffic collisions are the single greatest cause of death over any activity or disease. I have done all my driving in Canada and United States, with the exception of a year Europe. In Canada there were 1834 fatalities in 2014 (5.8 / 100,000). That is a 50% drop since 1994. In the United States there were 32,675 fatalities in 2014, almost double the rate of Canada. The fatality rate in the US has gone down 20% since 1994. The rate for serious injuries as a result of traffic collisions is about 5 times greater than the fatality rate.
No matter how you cut it, that is too many fatalities and and serious injuries most which could have been prevented. It makes one pause. My last accident ended my full time job and career, not to mention how it has changed my life and affected members of my immediate family and my participation in the community.
One can’t control the risks other drivers put people in. Reading body language is one defensive driving strategy that could make a difference.
I wonder who else reads body language while driving? Has it helped avoid a collision?