Acclimatizing to a new Reality

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Handrail for safety

It’s been over three and a half years since I’ve entered the world of ABI (Acquire Brain Injury). I haven’t written in a while due to trying to adjust to the shift in my reality. I’m coming to terms with the realization that there are aspects of my injury that are not likely improve.

In the months immediately following my injury, there was a level of hope and anticipation that came from learning about the injury and seeing improvements albeit very gradual. It was mainly in looking back that I could recognize certain improvements.

The hard part is the transition from seeing hindsight improvements to coming to terms with various areas in which further improvements are not likely to happen.

Accommodation routines

I’ve gradually developed routines that helps me mitigate symptoms that would otherwise push me into the area of neural fatigue and sensory overload. Key is having things carefully planned out. The planning is more specifically focused on anticipating unexpected changes in plans or expectations.

I have a recent example of having carefully planned out a project. I had wanted to build a handrail for my daughter so that their front entrance would be accessible to seniors and others with mobility challenges.

The Project

I had taken measurements and created a list of materials and tools I would need for the job. Since it was a simple project I could reasonably expect to complete it in a half day. For good measure I gave myself a full day to do it. I could make that fit into a weekend visit involving a 4 or 5 hour one way trip.

A last minute change in design meant that I had to run to the hardware store and buy three ground spikes or as one retailer calls them, “Big Mike” spikes. It required a visit to two different stores in two different towns to find a store that had enough of them in stock. Fortunately the staff at both stores were very helpful. Had I been left to fend for myself the project would have gone off the rails before I even started.

I arrived from the store with the necessary supplies. All went well till I tried pounding the middle spike into the ground. Turns out there were the remnants of an old sidewalk that made it impossible. That required some rethinking. I needed to find a different way to secure the middle 4X4 cedar post.

You might think. That’s not too difficult. Pre-ABI I would have thought nothing of making the change. The logical solution was to attach the 4X4  into the side of the steps. So simple. Nothing complicated. Go back to the store and buy a Tapcon, get the drill and in a couple minutes the post is in place.

For me it just about meant being unable to complete the job. Mental flexibility continues to be a challenge. The process of thinking of an alternate way of securing the 4X4 post meant the original plan which I had carefully thought through had to be changed.

Making the change meant I needed to go through a cognitive process that zapped much of the energy out of me. Rethinking the project and trying to make adjustments on the fly created noticeable neural fatigue.

Time and again when I go through a rethinking process I’m reminded how many cognitive steps are involved. When one’s brain works efficiently, one if able to make the changes on the fly and not even realize all the mental changes that had to be made. With injury in one part of  my brain, another area of the brain takes over. It can do the job but seriously lacks working efficiency.

Had I had a couple days to complete the project, the best plan of action would have been to stop construction for the day, take some time to understand the change in design and finish the project a couple days later. No neural fatigue. Minimal chance of making errors.

However, since I had only given myself one day at the most, I continued the project. I slowed done since neural fatigue drains energy from the whole body. I found myself humming, tuneless humming, which is a further reminder that I am not in a good space.

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A simple job done

Consequences

I was pleased to have the job completed by supper time. Even though I was totally worn out, I was feeling pretty good. The ‘Cost / Benefit’ factor was such that I was in a very good space. I had achieved my goal. I knew that completing the project with the side effect of neural fatigue would come at personal expense.

I hoped that a quiet evening and a night of sleep would put me back on a good track. Even though I had my doubts the next morning I pushed ahead. I realized after the first couple of hours that I needed more recuperation time. Engaging in simple conversation was just not working. Focusing on what was happening around me just wasn’t working.

My best option was to take some personal time. I went for a walk. The minimal physical exertion helped my body to gradually shed the neural fatigue. The repetitive motion of walking and the minimal cognitive demands made it an effective choice. Walking by myself meant there were no social demands, no expectations to engage in conversation or respond to someone else expectations. By mid afternoon I was ready to visit, drive or participate in activities with other people.

Expectations

Time and again I’m reminded to have a contingency plan in case things don’t work out as expected. If I have time on my side, I can make it work without putting myself into a lengthy recuperation phase. It’s either make more time to complete a project or else take more time to recuperate.

Sounds simple in hindsight. As they say, “Hindsight is 20/20 vision.”

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Author: Jasper Hoogendam

After 36 years as an educator my career ended due to a TBI. Renewable energy as part of 'walking lightly on this earth' has been and continues to be my interest since my teen years. Since early 2015 I have been learning to live with ABI (Acquire Brain Injury). I don't want to let my ABI limit the goals I set for myself. I'm living with a different brain, not a lesser brain. In sharing my day to day successes and struggles, I am better able to understand how my life had changed and begin to accept the change. In sharing my experiences I'm hearing from caregivers and fellow ABI's. I'm encouraged when my experiences are helping others understand some of the complexity of living with ABI.

7 thoughts on “Acclimatizing to a new Reality”

    1. I find that working with an OT allows me to reflect and better understand how things are working or how things are not working for me. Through the process I’m often feeling like a slow learner. It’s the tug of war between what I was used to doing and what I can reasonably expect to do now. I find I need too many reminders to go easier on myself.

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  1. “Time and again I’m reminded to have a contingency plan in case things don’t work out as expected.”

    None of my projects work out as expected. Always an unforeseen problem, two extra runs to the store, it starts raining, not enough paint, on and on. Get it done though. Sometimes I cannot and accept I could not do it.

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    1. Only in a perfect world do you not need contingency plans. The wisdom of aging hopefully comes with becoming more adept at transitioning into contingency plans and knowing when to call it quits.

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  2. “Had I been left to fend for myself the project would have gone off the rails before I even started.” Off the rails subtlety…Nice (intended or not)
    Again, I must say, there are many things I take for granted. Thank you again for explaining the miracle and mystery of neurological processing.
    Good day, chap.

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  3. Nice rail. From reading your entry there, I had these ideas. First, regarding your comment about “aspects of the injury” that might not improve. I would think positively about that. I had an injury about ten years ago. And I believe that there is always a way to improve, change and do things easier and that also injuries do get better even when they seem like they are standing still. Some things just take longer than others. After my injury, I thought all the improvement or healing had stopped at two years. However, with patience and as more time passed, I realized that the improvements and the healing is still happening, but ever so slowly that sometimes it’s practically invisible. Until, one day, all of a sudden, I realize how other things have changed for the better and how there has been much healing that I hadn’t even noticed. Key is keeping busy, and always moving forward. And another key is also allowing more time than you think you might need to accomplish a certain task or to do a certain job. Over the years, I have realized that speed isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And sometimes, those who do a job slower than others can do it, come through with remarkable and sometimes superior results than the results of those who finish a job at a faster pace. Quality, not quantity, always wins the race. 🙂

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s the community of support having people who understand because they are observant or like you, have had similar experiences.
      From day one since my mTBI my mindset has been to push forward. “Use it or lose it” could be my motto. I have had the support of an occupational therapist to move forward in a smarter and informed way. She worked with me to point where I was able to do a 7500 km cycling trip across Canada, with a personal trainer in tow.
      It’s when recovery becomes imperceptibly slow that there is a greater danger of becoming discouraged. A supportive and understanding continues to be the greatest blessing.

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