Embracing Nature’s Soundscapes

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Peter’s Woods near Centreton, Ontario

Time and again I’m struck by the overlap between autism as it manifests itself and ABI (acquired brain injury). Often I can relate to the coping mechanisms that autistic people choose in order to get through the day or deal with a particular environment. One of the coping activities I read about recently is the choice to go non-verbal.

When I am in a social setting I might be verbally engaged for ten or fifteen minutes. When things get too busy, when the conversation wanders and requires more effort on my part I will experience a level of neural fatigue. At that point I will often choose to go non-verbal. I am still engaged with the conversation, but I will begin to conserve my energy and respond by nodding or raising an eyebrow or some other non-verbal cues. Should my neural fatigue increase I will look for an inconspicuous way to exit from the space.

Social interaction requires varying degrees of cognitive functioning. Over time the cognitive demands will create a level of neural fatigue that I need to address. The sooner I acknowledge the neural fatigue and address it the shorter my recovery time will be.

Recovery spaces

When I’m in a social environment and have reached my limit I need a space that will help me recover. Napping is usually the least helpful option, though spending time in a quiet room is sometimes the best that’s available.

Indoor sounds tend to have an echo or reverberation. The reverberation that most people don’t seem to notice, makes it hard for my brain to relax. Attempts to block out sounds and impressions puts additional demands on my brain.

When I’m outdoors there are so many sounds at a variety of decibel levels. However, it isn’t the decibel level that stands out, but rather the way different sounds flow together. Sounds are somewhat muted in their own ways.

Being outdoors in itself isn’t enough. It’s most beneficial to be away from intrusive mechanical sounds. Mechanical sounds such as commuter traffic, heavy truck, gas powered lawnmowers are jarring. The noise level varies greatly and can be unpredictable and startling.

Being outdoors in a natural environment is the most helpful for recovery. The natural sounds tend to be more mellow than mechanical sounds. However, the call of a crow or a blue jay can be quite raucous. While a heavy truck might create a jarring sound, a screeching brake or an engine backfiring, a crow or a blue jay might initially be raucous, but the follow up sounds as they begin to fade have a predictable pattern.

Sounds in a natual setting can better be compared to a symphony. The sounds have a gentleness to them, they have sense of belonging in that space. It’s the gentleness and predictablity of the sound that allows my brain to relax, to recover from some of the fatigue.

Sounds in nature are somewhat predictable. Each habitat, made up of a certain mix of wildlife, has its own symphony of sounds. The sounds have their own cadence as the sounds modulate, changing in intensity or volume. At the same time the sounds are not repetitive. That also contributes to a more restful state.

Natural sounds for Neurotypical people

A study was done some time ago to measure the benefits of walking to reduce stress. One group was assigned to walk for 20 minutes a day along city streets. The second group was assigned to walk for 20 minutes in a park or nature preserve. The study concluded that walking in a park or nature preserve had a much greater impact on lowering the level of stress than walking along a city street.

Sometimes I find that my ABI sensitivities can be used like a ‘canary in a coalmine’. I develop habits or find environments that are critical to my quality of life and my ability to recover more quickly. What is critical for me to function better, often are the same habits or environments that are helpful in improving other people’s quality of life.

 

 

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Searching for Comfort

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1563 edition – Wikipedia image

Having lived with ABI (acquired brain injury) for almost three years, learning to pace myself has been one of the most important things I need to be mindful of. As long as I am reasonably mindful of how much I take on, or what emotional loading I expose myself to, life can be manageable. In fact, life can be very enjoyable a majority of the time.

The last while, which includes Christmas and New Years, I have been over taxed. I say “the last while,” but I have lost count. It’s just been too long (I haven’t posted since mid December).

I have been struggling with a plurality of physical challenges. Having dealt with chills, aches and pains while feeling nauseous had me wondering whether I was just simply dealing with a flu. It would seem easier if it was the flu. However, the way the symptoms persisted and varied, I knew it wasn’t the flu.

At other times I was dealing with vertigo, blurred vision, coordination challenges, acute headaches, extreme exhaustion, while unable to sleep. In an other life I would have wondered whether I was experiencing stroke symptoms.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I was urged to see my family doctor. I figured there was no point going to the family doctor, because there just didn’t seem anything concrete enough to expect a helpful diagnosis. Being told to rest and drink plenty of fluids  just wasn’t worth making an appointment and getting myself into town.

Hopeful respite

A couple of days ago I went to my regularly scheduled reflexology appointment. I was feeling good enough to make the 45 minute drive on my own. I gave myself plenty of time so I could pull over for a nap if I needed to.

As my treatment got underway, the reflexologist asked me how I was doing. With Christmas and New Year’s just behind us, she was expecting an upbeat answer.

I first mentioned the various physical challenges I had been experiencing for far too many days. I then mentioned that a dear friend had been killed in a traffic accident on December 21st.

That changed her approach. She recognized the various physical symptoms as a strong indication that my body was in shock. My physical care had been seriously disrupted as had my emotional well being.

The suddenness of the news initially made it seem unreal. The flash back to my own accident was not helpful. And the inability to pace myself while grieving left me very vulnerable.

The funeral service was scheduled nine days after the accident. I usually have a hard time getting through a worship service without a break or two. I did not and could not remove myself from the funeral service. I also wanted to accompany my wife as she had agreed to share some thoughts and memories during the service.

After the funeral service was over my wife asked if I felt up to attending the internment. That wasn’t the question for me. I was focused on the need to attend. I was looking for closure and hoped that participating in the internment would help. The internment was more difficult than I expected. At one point it took all of my will power to not collapse.

Maybe I shouldn’t have attended the internment. It’s hard to make proper decisions in a situation like that. I probably would not have heeded any advice given to me.

Looking for Recovery

Having learned to accept sensory overload as part of living with ABI, I knew I could expect to need up to four days for recovery. That usually allowed for enough time for recovery. That was usually the price I paid for not removing myself from an environment that was causing me sensory overload.

Grieving seems to override any attempt at self-pacing. My physical symptoms persisted as I struggled with the emotional overload. And not surprising, the emotional overload did not end with the internment.

ABI challenges

A clear challenge with ABI is having a hard time filtering impressions and emotions. I have gradually experienced some improvements over the past three years. I no longer need to pull over while driving when a touching story is being shared on the radio. I have since had a dental experience without needing four days to recover.

The intensity of losing a friend so suddenly is much more challenging than the other experiences of sensory overload. While grieving the loss of a friend it’s not possible to remove myself from the ‘overload’ environment.

The support and care of friends and family has been most helpful. Knowing that other people, even if they don’t fully understand, showing patience and care, helps keep things from becoming overly complicated or causing a downward spiral.

What is Your Only Comfort in Life and in Death

I was brought up knowing life is finite. I was also raised with the following understanding:

That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ;   …and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; …

Heidelberg Catechism Lords Day #1

Knowing where to search for comfort helps to forestall hopelessness. Knowing is one thing. Being able to live with what one knows sometimes takes time. Gradually my body is catching up with me.

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…

Life Happens

 

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Not an Unholy worship place, though Hit & Miss for me

Sunday

Had an invitation to visit a friend for his birthday recently. Since it was Sunday morning I thought it would make sense to make the 45 minute drive and attend his church.

The church, not being a typical protestant church, meets in New Stages Theatre.  Rather than the usual parking lot with an obvious front entrance this worship space was in the downtown area. After making two U-turns I located the correct building. Then I made sure it was actually free parking on Sunday. I made my way to a somewhat obscure entrance. I say obscure because there was no signage and the entrance was on a different street than the official address.

On entering the building I had a choice of climbing the long stairway or riding the elevator to reach the main floor.

I exited the elevator as it opened into a reception area. There were a few people helping themselves to some coffee and a snack. I noted that the bar at the far end of the reception area was closed. (wrong day I guess.)

I walked around, checking out the layout of the space and briefly acknowledged a few people who greeted me. I didn’t have the energy to engage in conversation but knew how to be brief but reasonably polite. I wandered into the worship area with its subdued lighting and sparse setup. There were a few microphones, a music stand with a laptop and a screen that read “Eschatology”. I assumed that was the topic for the day. There were a few parishioners who had already made themselves comfortable in the cushioned seats.

I walked back to the reception area to help myself to a cup of tea and a snack. As my friend was ready to enter the worship area I decided to follow. As I approached the seating area I became acutely aware that my sensory loading had been building. In the ten minutes since entering the building my ability to function had gone into a quiet but steady downward spiral. I stepped out for a few minutes. When I returned I sat off to the side in the shadows and out of sight.

My attempt to be inconspicuous was briefly interrupted when the pastor walked over to me and welcomed me to the service. I nodded a polite acknowledgement.

In the next 15 minutes my sensory overload settled down enough that I could take in some of what was happening. After focusing on the worship service and participating in the singing, things seemed to be going better. The small group of  people and the single guitar made the singing have a settling effect on me.

Shortly after the singing was done I wasn’t able to take in anymore. My earplugs which are meant to tone down sounds had a cocooning affect. I ended up napping for about 20 minutes. (Did I mention the seating was comfortable?)

As the worship time ended I knew I was in no condition to socialize with anyone. I quickly made my way down the long flight of stairs and waited at the bottom till my friend was ready to head home.

On Reflection

The worship experience totally blindsided me. The week before was the first time in almost three years that I had actually made it through the whole worship service. It was a real accomplishment which left me with a stronger sense of inclusion. The singing last week had not pushed me to a point of sensory overload. I had been able to focus on the different parts of the liturgy. I had come away from there with sense of achievement.

So why had today’s experience put me into sensory overload? Yes, and most of it happened before the worship time even started? It wasn’t simply a matter of making it only part way through the service before I needed a break. Needless to say, the experience was a disappointing setback.

I have been advised to consider the broader context when I experience a set back. Sensory overload doesn’t just happen. There are certain experiences that will bring on sensory overload gradually. There are other experiences that will suddenly trigger sensory overload. I should point out that the 45 minute drive to the church did not meet either condition for bringing on sensory overload.

The broader context would be to look at what was happening in the days leading up to the Sunday. What did I do Thursday? Did Friday’s activities contribute? Did Saturday’s activities exacerbate my sensory loading? Had there been time to reduce some of the neural fatigue the accompanies sensory overload?

In hindsight I had been processing two emotionally charged events that added significantly to my emotional sensory loading.

Saturday

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WW I and WW II Cenotaph

On Saturday I attended the November 11 Remembrance Day ceremony. The last two years I had attended the ceremonies in the city. Last year I had fared better during the hour long ceremony than I had the year before. (I’m seeing gradual progress.) This year I attended the ceremony in our hamlet. The cenotaph is around the corner, less than a kilometer from home. Being a small hamlet the Remembrance Day ceremony ran much shorter than in the city.

Despite the shorter ceremony, the remembrance of lives lost and the loss experienced by so many families set me back more than I expected. The local cenotaph is more personal. I counted over 300 names inscribed on the monument, representing soldiers who died in World War I and II. The names are soldiers from our township who served. While the current population is 18,000, it would have been less than a quarter of that at the end of WWII.

After the ceremony I drove home and did some yard work for a couple of hours. Cleaning up and getting things put away is a physical activity with low cognitive demands. Along with being outside that should have helped reduce the sensory loading somewhat.

Friday

On Friday I had lunch with some former colleagues. These occasional lunches are enjoyable and an opportunity to catch up on what people are doing. The setting is relaxed, with no one in a hurry to leave.

A significant part of Friday’s lunch was being a support for a colleague who had recently buried her spouse. Sharing in her loss and that of her young sons meant I would need some time to let some of my sensory loading dissipate.  Biking home after the lunch helped bring some immediate relief. But I should realize by now that I need more than a rhythmic physical activity like a 50 km bike ride to properly recover.

Planning and Scheduling

In hindsight, it was obvious to me that I had scheduled too many activities on consecutive days that contributed to my sensory loading. If I were to do it over, I would schedule at least one recovery day between each event. That’s how it would work in an ideal world.

In reality I did not know what to expect at the Friday lunch.  I did anticipate the sharing of loss at the Friday lunch, but that definitely wasn’t a reason to stay away.

However, I have been reminded of the need to plan for the worst case scenario. Well, that’s fine, but the next day, Saturday, was Remembrance Day. I thought it would be a dishonour to the families of the fallen soldiers to not attend. Besides I had modified my attendance by going to a shorter ceremony. In that way I had made accommodation hopefully reduce a worst case outcome. I realized afterwards that shorter doesn’t necessarily reduce the emotional impact.

Even though I had two emotional events in two days I didn’t realize what impact it was having on me. I had done outdoor physical activities in between. That has always been helpful in reducing  my sensory loading. So, how could I have anticipated that my worship time would expose my sensory overload? My best guess it to realize the accumulative effect of back to back emotionally charged experiences. Why is learning new things so hard to put into practice?

Nevertheless, I decided to visit my friend anyway. I wasn’t just a casual visit, it was a birthday, not something you can take a rain check on.

The visit required some significant accommodations. I managed to find a quiet place. I managed to nap for close to an hour. After my nap I chose a room where there were only a couple of people.

At first I participated by simply nodding and acknowledging the conversations. Gradually I was able to participate and initiate conversation.

Appreciation

I was able to enjoy the visit because my friend understands my needs. No one was insulted that I needed a nap. No one pushed themselves on me to engage in the conversations.

In the end I was glad I not abandoned the idea of visiting. It would have been lonely and disappointing to have gone home rather than visit. It’s not always an easy call to make. It helps when I am with people who know me and have shown understanding in the past.

My reminder

It’s not a matter of “hit and miss”. The recent experience was a clear reminder that I need to pace my self and monitor my sensory loading. Most significant is the cumulative effect of back to back experiences. Even if my body didn’t give me signals, previous experience should have alerted me. But then there is always the somewhat unreasonable hope that my ability to handle sensory loading has significantly improved.

You can’t rush recovery, just like “you can’t rush good wine.”*

* Ringo Garza (musician)

Neurodiversity in the Classroom

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Arboretum – Collingwood, Ontario

Recently I co-presented to a group of teachers to share some of  my experiences with living in the world, being neurologically atypical. I touched on experiences which would relate to classroom experiences for neurologically atypical students. In doing the presentation I was aware of my challenge of fielding questions teachers might have.

It’s beneficial to structure time for questions so the presentation could be more effective. At the same time, my ABI (acquired brain injury) makes thinking on my feet a real challenge. It’s a skill needed to manage and respond during a question and answer block of time.

There was one question to which I gave a very ineffective response. So I will share here a more effective answer. I realize that it is not unusual for a presenter to wish they could go back and rephrase some of their responses. Likely not to the same degree that I feel the need.

Question: When a student is uncooperative how can a teacher determine whether the child is simply coping with their neurodiversity challenge or whether the child is being defiant?

Initial Response: You don’t always know. As a teacher, as you work with a student you will hopefully gradually figure it out. Hopefully you won’t cause any serious misunderstandings with the student and undermine their trust in you.

Thought out Response: The traditional response to a student who is uncooperative is to give some reasonable reminders and then move into more punitive measures to coerce the student to cooperate within the classroom.

My way of addressing student concerns gradually changed. As I developed in the art of teaching I had settled on one simple classroom rule: Do not disrupt the teaching and learning process. What I found to be most effective was to have the student choose the corrective measures when they were ‘disrupting the teaching / learning process’. Initially when I would ask the student what measures would be helpful I would get various boring responses.

  • Make me stay in for the whole recess time
  • Make me write lines 25 or 50 times “I must cooperate in class.”

My response to their suggestions would be, “And how will that help you?” Initially they would not have an answer for me. So I would ask them to suggest something that would be helpful. In the end I would ask if a note on their desk with an appropriate reminder would be helpful. If the student had been interrupting other students the note might be “I must wait my turn to talk”.

Once students became familiar with my approach, they understood that it was their job to come up with workable solutions. At times students became quite creative in their strategies.

When students had to decide their own corrective measures they would own it. They were holding themselves accountable.

This method was not intended to be punitive. It was a means to help a student identify what their challenge was. If their challenge was one of attitude, they were committing to working on it. If the behaviour was related to their neurodiversity they became a partner in exploring the means and measures that could help them overcome their challenges or find suitable accommodations.

The accommodations might be a matter of allowing a student to leave the classroom for a break when they needed it. The accommodation my be an arrangement to work in a different space. There are any number of adjustments that can be made.

It was my intent to have the student become reflective of their own actions and be an active participant in the process. This was as much part of teaching students as learning the skills outlined in the curriculum. Both take time to learn and reinforce.

And so, in summary, to respond to the original question, it doesn’t really matter whether the student is dealing with an attitude issue or whether they were coping the best they can because of their neurodiversity. The focus is on helping the student.

The Challenge of ABI

My better answer, if you were to ask me, came a few days after the teacher workshop ended. My ability to problem solve has been noticeably affected by my ABI. That doesn’t mean I am not able to resolve situations or answer questions. It simply  means I need more time to find a solution. The more challenging questions and situations will quite often require three or four days before an effective response or solution presents itself. At that point I’ll think, “Now why didn’t I think of that sooner? It just makes so much sense.”

I guess I need to accept that my brain is synchronized to a slower internal clock. And that’s okay.

Pushing forward

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Recently I committed to addressing a group of educators. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was torn between turning it down and going ahead with it. On the one hand going ahead with it made me vulnerable to the possibility of failure. On the other hand I felt compelled to advocate for atypical students and the challenges they face in a neuro-typical classroom.

Compelled to move ahead

I chose to share some of my observations of students I had taught during my 25 years as a classroom teacher. I recognized students over the years for whom I had made accommodations due to the way they presented themselves. While I recognized  some of their behaviours as their attempt to cope, I had no idea to what extent their behaviours masked or gave indications of their struggles.

In my learning to live with ABI (acquired brain injury) and therefore experiencing life as a neurologically atypical person, it has prompted me to think back on some of the undiagnosed, neurologically atypical students in my past.

Tempted to back out

At the risk of failure, I was reluctant to move ahead with sharing my observations. First of all, an hour and a half presentation was beyond my limits to remain cognitively engaged.

I had questions about my ability:

  • what if I experience sensory overload?
  • what if the delivery is incoherent?
  • how well will I be able to follow my notes?

I had other reservations related to the limitations that I experience with ABI. I’m often searching for the right noun, while verbs don’t elude me. I easily lose my train of thought. Stray thoughts send me out on tangents not directly related to the topic.

Planning, planning and some more planning

In working with my OT (occupational therapist) I was reminded to structure the presentation to match my limitations. In addition to that it was important to have a plan B. What if I couldn’t finish the presentation? Design the presentation in a way to minimize my own sensory loading.

I failed to minimize my sensory loading in part by not limiting the size of the group. But the larger group might have doubled my resolve and increased my focus.

The most important part of the planning was to partner with a co-presenter. By brainstorming, identifying the key points, recognizing what information and experiences were relevant, and settling on a comfortable structure and flow, hopefully the central theme would come through clearly. And most importantly, that attendees would benefit.

Heartening response

The next day an educator stopped by to see me. She told me that attending my workshop is what got her through the two day convention. Having shared my limitations as part of my presentation gave her the emotional space to give herself permission to acknowledge her limitations. That allowed her to modify her participation and choice of activities without being apologetic about focusing on her own needs.

In closing

I was reminded last summer that as a leader, when you share your own limitations or vulnerabilities, you give others permission to begin to push their own mask aside.

For me, the desire to advocate for struggling students made me push my own misgivings aside and focus on a need in others. That convinced me to push ahead. By acknowledging my limitations I maintain my integrity as an educator, yet connect with others on a personal level.

The Paradox of Being Alone

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Wilderness cabin

So often I prefer to be alone but I don’t want to feel left out. This conundrum is one of the challenges of living with ABI (Acquire Brain Injury), though probably not limited to those who live with ABI.

Living with ABI can become a very isolating way to live. By that I mean, saying no, or passing on opportunities to participate in activities with others when I realize my sensory loading is reaching a point where I add to it at my peril.

The Paradox is real

When I engage in prolonged physical activities, such as cycling for a three to five hour block I  know I am committing to a recovery routine that I should not ignore. That means that as much I want to join in I will have to forego activities immediately following my vigorous activity.

When I am engaged in a discussion with a half dozen people I know my internal timer is counting down. As I am busy listening, reading body language, assessing people’s tone of voice, formulating responses to what I’m hearing, finding a socially appropriate way to interject, my neural fatigue is rapidly building. Even if I find the discussion very engaging at a certain point the internal timer runs out. I want to stay with the discussion but at the same time I want a quiet place to regroup.

When I’m at a music concert it’s does my heart good to take in the music, the lyrics and the energy of the venue. The music can be totally captivating, bringing back wonderful memories or creating a memorable experience. At the same time I know that at some point, maybe 30 or 45 minutes, and sometimes much sooner I will reach a tipping point. The captivating music will suddenly become a memorable failure, a start of a slow recovery in which I crave solitude while missing the company of family and friends.

When I volunteer at the nature center close to home I need to remain self aware. The last time I was there I had only worked for about three hours but was totally exhausted. Being introduced to the project on my arrival was neurologically challenging because of my lack of mental flexibility. Sizing up the project for the day, coordinating with two other people, and doing something unfamiliar all contributed significantly to my sensory loading. While I enjoyed doing the project and wanted to see it completed, after three hours I was longing to get out of there and find a quiet place.

Planning Ahead

This week I have the opportunity to address a room full of teachers. I have offered to  share my own experiences of living with ABI, living as a neurologically atypical person in order to advocate for neurologically diverse students hoping that more teachers will develop a sensitivity for their needs.

The paradox of wanting my own space yet feeling compelled to share is staring me in the face. I am not sure how to prepare, to avoid sensory overload while doing an hour and a half presentation in a room full of people.

I know I need to ensure that my sensory loading is at a low level at the start of the presentation. That means I need to watch what types of activities I choose to do in the two days leading up to the presentation. Taking in an extra bike ride or two would be helpful. Engaging in socially or cognitively demanding activities of any kind needs to be kept to a minimum.

I know I need to ensure that my sensory loading is at a low level. I hope that booking a motel and arriving a day ahead of time will give me time to shed the sensory loading of driving in a car. Or maybe I should take the extra day to cycle the 160 km to the event.

Presenting

In order to manage my sensory loading while addressing a room full of teachers I need to be mindful of the structure of the presentation. While I would normally consider it conducive to allow for questions during the presentation, I am aware of the extra demands that will place on me. With my problem solving skills being severely compromised, fielding questions would be counter productive.

In order to manage my sensory loading it’s important to manage my level of stress and anxiety. Most people experience a measure of anxiety when addressing a room full of professionals, or non-professionals for that matter. I have conscripted a co-presenter who is scheduled to do part of the presentation. In addition to giving me a break when she presents she will be available to back fill what I am not able to complete.

Summary

The paradox of being alone colours much of what I do. At the same time I make a point of pushing forward, setting goals so that I don’t end up feeling that I’m living in isolation.

To resolve the paradox of being alone, my aim is to avoid isolation, by seeking solitude. Finding activities and finding places that refresh my being, that helps me manage my neural fatigue, that is my idea of a place of solitude.

When I am able to experience a measure of solitude on a regular basis, that gives me the energy and endurance to reach out, to share and not slip into a place of isolation. It’s not an easy balance to achieve. It requires increased self awareness, an understanding of my limitations and setting worthy goals for how I want to participate in my community.