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.
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.
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.
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.
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.