I Think it’s Better if I’m the Boss

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Encouraging progress – with a little  help from my friends

I had two friends come over recently to help me assemble a project. It was a job I could not do alone. It was a job that was easier and therefore safer to do with three people.

I wasn’t sure how doing this job with three of us would go. I know that working alone is cognitively less demanding and therefore helps minimize neural fatigue.

The last time I had done a project with two other people neural fatigue had totally exhausted me after about two and a half hours. That was including the coffee break.

Necessity made me move ahead and invite two friends over. From a cost benefit stance I was okay with needing time to recover from the work party. They didn’t arrive very early so I had time to have everything prepared. I had set out the necessary tools. I had also thought through the process so I was clear that with the three of us the job would be very manageable. There were several things I had overlooked, but that is no surprise.

Looking back

When the job was done, we stopped for lunch. One friend commented that he was surprised how well I was doing. In truth I was pleasantly surprised as well. We had been working for three hours without a break. Even when I sat down to relax the neural fatigue did not catch up to me. A second pleasant surprise.

So, what made the difference? I have some thoughts on the matter. I should because that’s one of the goals of working with an OT (Occupational Therapist). She is training me to be my own ‘detective’ in figuring out what factors work for me and what factors push me to my limit.

There is one key difference between my experience helping my friend at the outdoor education centre and this recent experience. Helping at the centre meant I had to get myself up to speed on the nature and scope of the job when I arrived on the site. This recent job was my project. I had gradually developed an overview of how I would use my volunteer help. I had several days to get the whole process figured out and was ready for it. My brain was on track and barring any unexpected changes, my lack of mental flexibility was a non-factor.

The Day After

The next day I went to check that the walls were level and squared up with each other. To my dismay the front wall was about an inch over from the back wall. Eventually I managed to get the wall moved after dealing with the steel pins that ran through the bottom plate and into the concrete. Two hours of problem solving left me totally exhausted. Enough for one day.

The next day I realized that even though the bottoms of the walls were squared up with each other I could not assume that the top of the walls were squared up. When I check I was out more than I want to admit. Some more problem solving. The challenge was to figure out why the tops of the walls didn’t line up. After about two hours of attempting different things I succeeded in getting everything squared, and level. Once again I was totally exhausted. Two days in a row of reaching my limit. I did not want to experience that for a third day.

Assembling the walls and making sure a measurements are accurate takes some attentiveness. Though not as cognitively demanding as problem solving how to get things squared and level.  I was reminded to be prepared for dealing with certain parts of a project to be neurologically fatiguing.

The challenge is to minimize the need to correct errors. While that is the ideal, the reality is usually different. With some of the deficiencies that come with ABI errors are very likely to happen.

Despite some push back on my  part I have been convinced to request the help of a rehab assistant to help me develop strategies and organization skills to reduce errors and other disruptions while working through more complex projects.

Being the boss is helpful for some aspects of a project, but it does bring it’s own challenges.

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Colour Coding My Life

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I need to plan for contingencies

I’m nearing the end of my third year living with an ABI (Acquired Brain Injury). Over time I have be able to recognize and tune into about a dozen signals my body gives me when I’m nearing the limits of my sensory loading.

Within the context of dealing with sensory loading, often someone will ask how I’m doing. When casually meeting someone it varies how I answer the question. My answer would be ‘fine’ if I considered the question a greeting. My answer would involve greater or lesser details if it was a question about my well being.

When someone is asking about my well being a succinct response would be easier. I usually respond with varying degrees of detail. A brief response would be easier and more helpful.

Stop Light Metaphor

I have been thinking about it using the image of a stoplight. Using a three colour response has it’s benefits. As a thumb nail-type of overview it is short and to the  point.

Red Zone

When I’m operating in the Red zone it’s a clear message that I’m near my limit or into overload. I’m unable to make casual comments. My neural fatigue interferes with my brain’s ability to properly process what I’m hearing, seeing, smelling, or tasting.

When I’m in the Red Zone my body simply reacts to outside stimuli. When something unexpected happens I react. The reaction is triggered because I can’t anticipate the sudden change or some danger that suddenly appears. In the Red Zone I am easily startled. In some environments, depending on the frequency of being startle, it will compound my neural fatigue.

Along with not processing sensory input very well, my response lacks coherence. In responding to others my thoughts are not very well formulated. I also find myself going onto momentary tangents, a diversion from the flow of the conversation. If I’m responding to a direct question I might miss the main intent of the question.

When I’m operating in the Red Zone physical touch can range from very painful to uncomfortable. The pain can best be described as a burning sensation.

When I’m operating in the Red Zone I regularly find myself humming. Nothing melodious – it’s a tuneless hum.

Yellow Zone

When I’m operating in the Yellow Zone I’m able to make coherent comments in response to what’s happening around me. When I’m in this zone I’m processing conversation and other sensory input with reasonable clarity. However, in this zone it takes too much neural energy to initiate conversation.

When I’m in the Yellow Zone I’m more aware of what is happening around me. That means I’m planning ahead and able to anticipate. As a result I’m not as easily startled by sudden noises, unexpected touch or other changes around me.

In the Yellow Zone I will find myself involuntarily humming as well. When I’m in this zone the humming will be a  recognizable tune.

Green Zone

When I’m operating in the Green Zone I am able to initiate conversation. My responses are much more coherent because I’m able to take in what’s happening around me; the sensory input is making sense to me.

When I’m in the Green Zone I will catch myself spontaneously whistling a recognizable tune. That also serves as a reminder to me that I’m doing activities that aren’t pushing me to my limit. It’s also an indicator that I’ve cleared the sensory accumulation of the previous day or previous days.

Stoplight Metaphor

Using the stoplight metaphor is giving me a better gauge on how my sensory loading that day is being managed.

Even if I don’t respond to greetings by announcing one of the three colours, it does increase my mindfulness. That is one small way in which it’s good to be around other people even if I’m not functioning in the Green Zone.

When I’m in the extreme end of the Red Zone I’m not able to respond to direct questions. That’s because I’m struggling to understand the question, I’m struggling to think of a coherent response and I’m not able to formulate the words. I am able to nod or shake my head in response to appropriate questions.

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“I Need a Quiet Place”

I’ve considered wearing coloured wrist bands, a red, yellow and green one. It would be kind of like a medic alert bracelet. In extreme situations I could just point to the red wrist band. For this to be helpful I need two messages on the band. “I am not in pain,” and “I just need a quiet place.”

I have an idea that many non-ABI people would want one of these wrist bands. Just to give a subtle message when everyone around you is clamouring for your attention; kids, co-workers and…