Balancing & Cycling

 

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Main structure completed – Break time

I’ve completed two weeks of serious outdoor training for my cross Canada ride. While on the one hand it is more motivating to be training outdoors, it is also more challenging. There are several reasons for the challenges which I have been only partially prepared to deal with.

Location

While living at the top of the highest ridge in the area (600 ft above Lake Ontario, 1000 ft above sea level) gives some great panoramic views. However, no matter how I plan my route I am in for a long climb every time I’m nearing the end of my workout. Climbing the last 4 km to get myself home takes a lot of will power. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to make much difference whether I have just completed a 25 km ride or a 65 km ride, the climb seems to be equally daunting.

Choosing to stay on the ridge doesn’t reduce the amount of climbing as there are numerous creeks and ravines with tend to be carved deep into the landscape. Wonderful for great views and vistas.  In one week I logged 2300 meters of climbing. So I’ve decided to challenge myself to complete the Mt Everest Challenge during the month of May. The goal is to climb 8,848 meters in the next 31 days.

Season

While the snow just disappeared a little over two weeks ago, spring is not really here in full force. This morning I headed out prepared for the 5 Celsius temperature with a brisk wind out of the east. Alas, at about the mid point of my 26 km ride it began to rain. Rain at 5 degrees is not pleasant at the best of times. Going downhill with a headwind requires one to pedal hard just to try to generate a bit of warmth. However, going 40 to 50 km/hr into the wind just seems to blow every shred of body heat away. The main consolation was knowing I would get to the bottom of the long decline soon enough regardless of the effort I put into it.

When I compare the cold weather cycling to the summer weather, it’s a tough call as to which I prefer. While it’s easier to dress for the weather when it’s cold, I would prefer to avoid both extremes.

Recovery

I find cycling beneficial for my recovery. If I’ve had a day with activities that have put me near my limit for neural loading, getting out on the road helps quite a bit with recovery. The physical workout, with it’s regular rhythm, requiring minimal cognitive functioning, does wonders in alleviating a good amount of neural fatigue. I choose routes away from heavy traffic and city type distractions. Most of the county roads have wide lanes and paved shoulders much of the way. Secondary roads work well because I encounter minimal traffic.

While I am encouraged that cycling helps alleviate symptoms related to the after effects of my injury two years ago, I still need to be mindful of what sensory loading my cycling has on my overall well-being. This week it’s been a bit of a mystery whether the increase in my training has contributed to my sensory overload or whether I have taken on too many other activities while doing my outdoor training.

Mindfulness and Balance

On Friday I volunteered at an outdoor education centre for 4 hours helping build a set of stairs out of cedar logs. The physical part of the work was not very demanding. I took a couple of breaks to ensure I would have the necessary endurance. In hind sight what wore me out was working with 2 other people, discussing the finer points as we were working, deciphering instructions, and adjusting my thinking as the job progressed. The demands on my mental flexibility is what was most wearing. In the end it wasn’t physical fatigue, but neural fatigue. The drive home, only 8 km was difficult. The bike ride later that day helped me recover from the neural demands of the morning.

The next 7 weeks of training will be a balancing act. I will need to be mindful of balancing my training activities with my other daily responsibilities and routines. My one consolation is that the cross Canada cycling will most likely be less demanding than the terrain that I’m dealing with during training. Will it be a ride in the park… ? Who knows.

 

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Detective in Training

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Never mind how I ended up here. How do I get out?

Living life with ABI comes with many surprises and unexpected turns. That makes the outcome of many days very different from what I expect or want. It would be very helpful if my days could be more predictable and therefore be able to count on following through on commitments that i have made or would like to make.

There is a Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” Unpredictable, unexpected, unmanageable are all descriptions that defy being able to follow through, unless I make contingencies. The contingencies planned into my day can make the difference between a successful day and a bad day. The contingency planning takes on a variety of forms.

Driving

The contingencies around driving can get quite involved. First of all, I schedule a break every hour. In addition I try to arrive an hour ahead so I have time to recuperate from the drive (or ride) if I’m expected to participate in an event. Recently I did a favour for my son, offering to pick up a furniture order for him at IKEA. I contacted him mid day after completing my own errands that I was fine to follow up with my offer. When I was 20 minutes from IKEA I realized my sensory loading was ramping dangerously fast due to neurological fatigue (a couple of unexpected factors had inserted itself into my day). When I got to IKEA I realized that I would not be able to make the long drive home. I contacted my son and explained I was at my limit. And so our back up plan kicked in. I met up with him so that he could drive most of the trip home.

Restaurants

The contingency planning for going to a restaurant involves very different factors. Depending on the size of the group or the busyness of the restaurant I have to make a few decisions. If we are with a large group or the restaurant is quite full, I will walk in, check the menu, let someone know what I would like to order and then leave the restaurant. Once the order arrives I will come back. Once the hectic activity around ordering is done, I am able to participate. This is where texting can be very handy.

If the restaurant is quiet, I will do my own ordering. However, when the waiter or waitress is rattling off the specials of the day I zone out – that’s too much information to process, remembering the different items, comparing the benefits etc. I am better off reading the menu because I can process the information at my own pace.

Large venues

The contingency planning for attending events is to have an ‘escape plan’ in case I need to leave the venue. I look for seating so that I can exit as inconspicuously as possible. For some events I end up exiting and returning several times. Sometimes I find I need to leave a venue within 5 or ten minutes. I return when I have recuperated a bit or when the activity changes.

My shortest time in a venue before making an unplanned exit was about10 seconds. I had slipped in with a friend just before the event was ready to start. Luckily we were able to grab the two remaining seats by the exit. As we took our seats, all 800 people stood up as the music began. With 800 voices, live music on stage and wonderful amplification the effect hit me like a proverbial brick wall. By the time I realized what had happened and had the where with all to head for the exit, about 10 or so seconds had lapsed. It took me over 10 minutes to recover from the initial effects of the sensory overload.

Making sense of it

While I plan for contingencies, I also need to learn from situations in which I experience sensory overload. At times two seemingly similar situations end up creating two very different outcomes. While to the untrained eye the situations can look identical, it takes a different level of awareness and observation to recognize the differences.

I recently had two seemingly identical experiences. I walked into church well before the worship service was to begin. The pianist was rehearsing and all seemed fine. I later concluded that the music and the extra 15 minutes helped me make the transition into the worship space.

Fast forward a few weeks later. Remembering the earlier experience, I decided to enter the church sanctuary extra early again. Once again there was piano music playing and a soloist rehearsing before the worship service. Within two minutes I realized I needed to get out. The reverberations within an almost empty room from the live music overloaded my senses. Disappointing but an eye opener at the same time.

Making sense of situations when one is living with ABI often requires having the keen sense of Sherlock Holmes to properly debrief the day. Then combine that with the foresight of a prognosticator in order to successfully plan a day. Those two activities have become a necessary part of an ABI life to varying degrees.

Nothing happens without a reason

I always start with the understanding that there is an explanation for each time I experience my limitations. If I properly consider all factors then it should not take me by surprise. It’s not just being aware of the sensory loading caused by the activities that day, but also the amount of sensory loading from the previous day or two. Having a good night’s sleep doesn’t reset my sensory loading ‘meter’ back to zero. The other factor to consider is the significant events I’m anticipating in the next few days.

Each session with my occupational therapist is like ‘writing’ another chapter in solving my personal ABI detective case. More importantly, each session I have with my OT is another lesson on being trained as a detective.

C3PO

You are approaching your resource limit (orange light flashing)

Halt all non-essential activities

If one ignores the above warnings then things deteriorate further

You have exceeded your resource safety buffer (red light flashing)

Non-essential systems are shutting down

Halt all activity! Halt all activity! Halt all activity (audible warning)

Failure to comply will result in a lengthy shutdown of numerous systems

Be advised that full functionality may not be restored for up to 4 days.

With a computer there is always the option of doing a cold reboot or to carry the analogy further, run a virus scan, malware scan or optimize the drive. And if all else fails, re-install the operating system.

But I am not a robot and so I do not have such obvious early warning signals. I am not a robot and so a cold reboot is not possible. That’s why I need to be mindful of what I am doing and how my body is responding, physically, neurologically and emotionally at all times. My body has about a dozen warning signs but I need to learn to recognize them more readily. The more mindful I am, the better I will be able to function. The contingencies need to be part of my schedule so I can respond to the signals my body is giving me.

The main consideration for any activity that I do is the Cost Benefit. Every activity contributes to sensory loading and puts me at risk of sensory overload. Each time I need to decide what value I put on the potential benefits.

My Almost Easter Story

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Bandit – Border Collie

Came home one day to our border collie, Bandit appearing agitated. He did not greet us in his usually excitable display of affection. He promptly led me to the chicken coop where the door stood wide open but no chickens in sight.

The wide open door was no surprise as we release the two dozen chickens each morning to roam and scratch their way into all corners of the yard. What was strange and unusual was the quiet absence of everyone of the laying hens that generously supply us with fresh eggs daily. All I could think of is that my flock of chickens were gone. Probably dead because there was no sign of them anywhere. What didn’t cross my mind at the time is that there were no carcasses lying around.

Bandit led me to some low shrubs where I found 3 chickens. Well that at least part of my flock. There they sat huddling and unwilling to venture out. Bandit followed me to the coop as I carried the three hens to their nesting area. Bandit then led me to a fence at the far end of the yard. There I found 2 more hens equally scared and quietly huddled.

Each time Bandit would show me another location where some hens were huddled. Each time he would follow me back to the coop. He would scan the hens in the coop and head out to another area of the yard. Bandit showed me two more hens, hidden under an out building 300 feet away, hidden behind some boards, completely out of sight.  After placing those two hens in the coop, Bandit looked over the flock of chickens, turned around and walked to the house and lay down in his favourite spot.

When I counted the hens, I noticed that Bandit had helped me retrieve every last one. All I could think of was the fact that my flock of chickens were all back. Not exactly a resurrection by almost.

The question I was left with was, “How did Bandit know he had found all 24 hens?” Was he able to count? If he wasn’t counting how else would he know he had them all.

I know that farmers with a small dairy herd have a name for each of their milking cows. They recognize each cow when they are grazing in the field. They know when a cow is in the wrong milking stall. Is it possible that Bandit had a name for each of the hens? Maybe. He never did tell me.

The Lord God had formed all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He had made all of them out of the ground. He brought them to the man to see what names he would give them. And the name the man gave each living creature became its name.

Genesis 2:19 (NIRV)

A Golden Experience

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Home made maple syrup

Last year I spent several weeks tapping trees and boiling down the sap to make some maple syrup for our family. It was a great experience and I found it therapeutic. The time spent in the bush, collecting sap in pails and tending to the boiling was a way of living life at a relaxed pace while at the same time giving an opportunity for necessary physical workout. The reward was pure, simply delicious Ontario maple syrup – the envy of everywhere in the world.

Since we almost ran out of our supply of maple syrup this past year I decided I needed to make a few extra liters of the ‘liquid gold’. I also decided that tending a small burner and overseeing the slow boiling for hours on end needed to be done using a more efficient method.

I approached a neighbour who had a proper evaporator; something better than a few flat bottom pans and a flame; something actually designed to apply heat much more efficiently to the sap over a much larger surface and so greatly speeding up the evaporation process. The extra speed was much appreciated knowing that it takes about 40 liters of sap to make one liter of golden tasty maple syrup.

Entering into a venture with my neighbour was going to be my first serious venture with someone else since my ABI. At first blush things looked quite straight forward. I had done my own maple syrup making a few times of the years. I would be using a process that was well designed and fine tuned

Working with a neighbour with much more experience was helpful for learning some of the finer points of finishing the syrup, adding to the quality of the syrup and therefore enhancing the enjoyment of it.

This venture also required learning how to operate an evaporator, tending the fire, keeping an eye on the level of sap in the pan, and making sure to let the fire die down leaving while there was enough reserve so the syrup wouldn’t burn in the pan or run dry and cause serious problems.

Working along side another person, coordinating schedules, and working out the many details was more demanding than I had anticipated. The finer points of working with someone else was something I had not done for over two years, since quitting my administrative type of job.

My limitations as a result of my ABI affected various aspects while working on this project. While my physical limitations were at a minimum, the new environment, learning an new process with it’s finer points pushed me to my neurological limits.  The learning curve of using an evaporator, and when it’s not your own equipment is challenging because you end up being much more diligent making sure nothing goes  wrong, listening carefully for any pointers that are helpful and making sure to ask questions for clarification. This had the effect of raising my level of anxiety more than I had anticipated.

The ability to problem solve, which is a basic skill that most of us take for granted, is one of the most noticeable abilities that I lost with my ABI. I continue to struggle with various aspects of this part of my injury.

The loss of my ability to problem solve at a comfortable level resulted in me having many sleepless nights. That are two reasons that stand out. First of all when I need to find a solution it takes me much longer than pre-ABI to come up with a way to resolve an issue. Second, as long as a solution evades me my mind wouldn’t let it rest. I am not able to turn off my brain and put the issue aside till the next day. The slower processing along with the inability to stop the processing mid stream had the potential to derail my participation in the whole project. I did wonder at times if I was attempting too much.

I did mange to complete the project without backing out. Once I was past the learning process and had worked out the logistics of working with another person things gradually went better.

Not to discount the valuable learning experience, but in looking back on the project, I have come to the conclusion that it would be much simpler and better for my own well-being if I do the project on my own next year.

 

Irresistible Chicks

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Bandit the Border Collie

For several years, each summer, we raised a few dozen broilers. It was our way of filling our freezer with chickens that had been raised under humane conditions without hormones and antibiotics in the feed. You could call it urban farming with a purpose.

We had bought our broilers as cute fluffy yellow day old chicks. We had placed them in the coop with a heat lamp so they would be able to withstand the shock of the change in environment.

The first morning when I went to check on them to make sure they had enough feed and water, our faithful border collie Bandit wanted to come into the coop with me. In my attempt to protect the young chicks I decided to leave him sitting outside.

He refuse to patiently sit outside the door. Instead he put up a ruckus and made it clear to me that he  was eager to get inside the coop with the young chicks. By the third morning I relented and figured I would risk letting him into the coop, not really knowing the intent of his eagerness to get in. If he harmed one or two I could quickly lift him up and get him out of there.

When I let Bandit into the coop he made his trip around the perimeter of the coop with the young chicks scattering respectfully giving him space. Satisfied, he walked to the door and waited to be let out. Each morning he followed the same routine. Once the chicks became used to him they no longer scattered. When a chick did not move he would nudge the reluctant chick with his muzzle. The chick would then amble aside and let the dog pass.

One morning as Bandit made his way around the coop nudging the occasional chick, one of them did not respond. He nudged it a second time. He realized the chick was dead. Using his muzzle Bandit gathered up some of the bedding material and covering the dead chick. Once the chick was covered Bandit proceeded to finish his inspection of the flock. That action confirmed for me that he made the rounds as an inspector to ensure all the chick were well and accounted for.

I had started off wanting to protect the chicks from Bandit. In the end it was Bandit who took it upon himself to check on the well-being of each member of his flock, for indeed he had proudly adopted each one of the 5 dozen chicks.

How does a dog not only develop an appreciation for another species but make it their job to ensure their well-being?

18 “There are three things that are too amazing for me,
    four that I do not understand:
19 the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a young woman.


Proverbs 30 (NIRV)