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.

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Common Sense doesn’t always make sense

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A Toy Box in the Making

Many hands make light work. If everyone could take a few minutes and pitch in, the work will be done in no time. We’ve all benefited from this type of sensible advice.

That’s not just practical advice, it also builds a sense of camaraderie. That all rings true unless you are dealing with ABI (Acquired Brain Injury).  Since my ABI the opportunity to work with someone else will usually add more demands to my day. At time it seems easier to be a recluse.

Working on something alone makes it less likely that I’ll develop neural fatigue. Help is great. However, working with a helper means there are a variety of social and practical considerations that need to be managed.

Pre-ABI

When is comes to completing smaller jobs I have always appreciated the opportunity to work with one or two other people. At times it’s the best way to get through a mundane task. Even making it enjoyable.

Assessing offers of help

Now a days, when I receive an offer of help, to simply lend a hand I’m inclined to decline the offer. It’s not that the offer of help makes me feel less capable. It’s just that things quickly get complicated. If on the other hand the offer of help is an offer of taking on the job, I am quite likely to accept it. I’ve learned to delegate things that I can’t complete in a timely manner.

In the last while I’ve had offers of help. An offer to help me pitch my tent – I declined. An offer to help me install a coat rake (for which it seemed I needed three hands) – I declined. Too proud? – no. Too complicated to coordinate.

Often I lose more than I gain by accepting an offer of help. Simply put, I will be more exhausted if someone helps me than if I do it by myself.

When I work alone it is cognitively less demanding; I don’t need to explain how I want to do it. I don’t need to coordinate my efforts with someone else. I don’t need to observe and explain changes in the execution of the job.

When I work alone it is socially less demanding. I don’t need to pay attention to tone or body language. I don’t need to assess how much to explain. Explaining too little can be just as annoying as explaining too much. I don’t have to match my pace to that of my helper.

Working with a helper brings into play a level of multi-tasking. What would have been a simple job, now becomes cognitively more demanding and socially more complicated. This invariably leaves me more exhausted.

Other’s experiences

Others with ABI have a similar take when working with a helper. For some there are other considerations.

My friend tells me he needs to work alone so that he doesn’t make mistakes. This he finds particularly important when he is baking. Even though he has done the same recipe countless times, whenever he tries to bake with a helper he will miss a step. One can appreciate that with baking a misstep will more likely spell a disaster rather than invent a new recipe.

Making it work

That doesn’t always rule out doing things with someone else. Often enough there are tasks that involve a simple routine. When I was sorting and cleaning our crop of garlic, my four year old grandson was glad to help. He had his part in the process. At the same time, it was relatively easy to monitor how he was doing and make the necessary corrections if he got it wrong.

This is just one more area of my life in which I am learning to be mindful. Rather than just accepting or out of hand rejecting an offer of help, I need to pause and weigh the benefits over the extra demands it will put on me.

Helping others

Having shared the challenges of receiving help, there is a different dynamic when I offer someone else some help. In many ways this can be easier. Knowing my own limitations I will first ask for an overview of what needs to be done and how the job is to proceed. I will then explain what accommodations I might need. If the job involves processing too many instructions I need to find a way to simplify it. If the job requires some concerted focus, I will suggest the need for some regular breaks or a change in activity after focusing for 20 to 40 minutes.

The benefit of being monitored

What I have appreciated the most when helping someone is having them check in with me. Several of my friends are aware of my limitations at a higher level of understanding. They will check in with  me and seem to know when to ask me how I’m doing. That helps me with my mindfulness, since it’s so easy to get caught up in an activity and just focus on getting it done.

The nuances of living in community while living with ABI has a way of bringing out the best in some people. I have had people give me a heads up when something is about to happen that will negatively affect me. Experiences like these reinforces for me a sense that I’m not alone in adjusting to life with ABI.

IKEA and ABI: a Confusing Combo

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IKEA cupboard with bookshelf

My recent experience made me realize I have not bought anything at IKEA since the pre-ABI era. In the past I was able to assemble an IKEA purchase in record time. Not only could I assemble the computer desk or end table or cupboard quickly, I also didn’t have any pieces left over.

My recent IKEA purchase left me wondering whether from now on I should avoid that store.

I won’t bore you with the details but I ended up assembling every page of the instructions twice. No matter how carefully I would line up the parts with the IKEA hieroglyphics booklet I would somehow get it wrong.

A few years back the instructions included the step of gluing all parts that are held together by dowels. While it makes the furniture more durable, I now know why they no longer include that step.

After I assembled each section, I would take a break before going on to the next step. After getting back at it I would eventually line up the right pieces and the necessary hardware only to find out that the part I had completed was put together wrong.

I would back up one step, hoping the glue would let go, reassemble that part and move on to the next step. I didn’t think it was possible, but sadly putting things together backwards and reassembling happened all the way through the process.

I did manage to put the doors and handles on the right way the first time. That’s because it would take a total idiot to install them wrong. There is no upside or downside to confuse.

Once I was done assembling the cupboard with the upper bookshelf I had more than a few pieces left over. I puzzled over the left overs for awhile. After studying the hieroglyphic booklet I recognized several parts from assembling the cupboard.

I worked my way through the hieroglyphics booklet and emerged with a fully intact second cupboard. Sadly I once again ended up reassembling each section twice before I had it right.

Sleuthing expedition

I stopped in at IKEA to find out I had completely mixed up my purchase. I prefer to blame the IKEA showroom for the mix up.

The showroom had the cupboard displayed as a single purchase with a price tag of $129. Nearby was the same cupboard with the bookshelf attached. The price tag of $149 was attached to the bookshelf part of the display.

Since I wanted the book shelf and the cupboard I made note of the order number for each. I went down to the self-serve area and confidently loaded up the boxes.

You’ve probably figured out my oversight. I couldn’t see how there could be only a $20 difference between the cupboard by itself and the cupboard with a bookshelf as a complete unit.

Notes to my ABI self

  • Do not shop alone at IKEA.
    • Reminds me of the paint store that wouldn’t tint paint for a husband unless his wife was along or he had a note from his wife approving of the colour.
  • Ask the cashier what I am actually purchasing.
    • That’s assuming the cashier actually knows what’s in the plain beige coloured boxes.
  • Price in the cost of hiring a furniture assembler.
    • That’s assuming someone else understand the booklet written in hieroglyphics better than me.
  • Return the extra furniture and tell them I changed my mind once I saw it assembled.
    • I was told they would be friendlier with me if I had the receipt but even with it assembled they would take it back.
  • It’s not worth driving an hour to return the extra cupboard.
    • Find a local person looking for a bargain
  • Don’t shop at IKEA on the weekend.
    • Unless you want to be one of the customers lined up 15 deep in each of the 20 checkout lines.

Anyone looking for an IKEA cupboard pre-assembled and ready to be enjoyed? Just think. You won’t have to waste time in the checkout line. You won’t have to waste time driving into the big city. You won’t have to waste time assembling the dresser. That makes it worth double or triple the purchase price.

What I ended up with.

Being AWOL

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Snowbirds – Niagara-on-the-Lake

When guests are arriving or soon to arrive that’s when most households go into an “all hands on deck” mode. There never seems to be enough time, despite attempts at planning ahead, to get everything done.

That’s when I am the least helpful. I do most poorly when there are last minute jobs that need to get done. The lack of mental flexibility is one of my ABI challenges. That means dealing with a few simple requests quickly leads to neural fatigue.

Neural fatigue sets in because the brain is called on to change the trajectory it was on. Putting a halt to what I was doing and all the thought processes that are part of the activity takes neural energy. The so called wrapping my brain around the new activity is like having my brain activity level decelerate and accelerate, using up precious energy.

It’s not a question of the tasks being complicated. No. To do even a simple task puts the brain through several steps. First, the request needs to be acknowledged. If the request isn’t fully grasped then a question needs to be formulated to get clarification. Once the clarification is received it needs to be interpreted. If it is properly understood then a plan, even for very simple tasks, needs to be worked out. To execute the plan the ‘where’, ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the request needs to be worked out.

All the steps that a brain goes through when changing gears and taking on a new task happens seamlessly with most people. Most people don’t even notice it till they find themselves in a situation where they say, “Oh, this multi-tasking makes me tired.”

With an ABI the brain lacks the strength or endurance to change gears easily or seamlessly.

Limbic System

Why does the brain experience neural fatigue after only a few simple requests?

The nature of my limitations lies in the fact that my limbic system has been injured and so the neo-cortex is working extra hard to fill in.

For me the limbic system, which should be adept at rapidly changing activities, isn’t able to perform it’s normal functions. To give a simplified explanation, the limbic system has the following key functions:

The structures of the limbic system are involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limbic_system

Following up on requests to complete small tasks might not appear difficult at first glance. However, a different picture emerges when one realizes that the small task requires the following functions; motivation, learning, and memory, functions which the limbic system is designed to handle very efficiently.

When these functions are handed over to the neo-cortex, the brain function loses significant efficiency. When the neo-cortex takes on these functions it requires much more effort and the processing speed is much slower.

Analogy

Compare the change in brain function to a weight lifter being called on to stand in for a sprinter. A champion weight lifter will be struggling. Just as each athlete has a specialty so too each part of the brain has a specialty.

Just as an athlete can cross train and develop additional specialties so too can the brain. However, it takes time, effort and practice to take on new functions. Also, there needs to be a propensity for the activity. The ability for the brain to relearn is referred to as neuroplasticity.

Social settings

Many things happen during social settings, that my brain can’t process efficiently.  The social setting could be a dance, a birthday celebration, a wedding anniversary etc.. After several conversations I will find a quiet place to give my brain a rest. When there is a change in the activity I need time to adjust. When there’s live music I need to walk away more often. Most often ten minutes is enough to make a difference. On returning I will do a cursory overview and decide if I’m ready to join in.

This does break the continuity of the event for me. Often that is a minor inconvenience. Other times there is a sense of having missed something. Trying to get up to speed can contribute to neural fatigue. In those situations it’s helpful when someone fills me in on what happened while I stepped out. Though I don’t count on someone to fill me in.

I don’t always realize the source of the disconnect that is nagging at me and therefore not realize the need to ask someone to fill me in while I stepped away.

In the past year I have met several people who are very observant. These people know and recognize when I’m reaching my limits often before I’m aware of it myself. That brings with it a strong emotional sense of Wow! To have others looking out for me is heartwarming and in some ways beyond words.

When I’m around people who understand my limitations I don’t feel like I’m going AWOL. I have the assurance that I’m unofficially on an approved leave.

The Pitfall of Success Stories

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Each person carries their own load.

When one is living with ABI (Acquired Brain Injury) success stories shared by others can be more trouble than they are worth.

Some recent discussions reinforced for me that publishing success stories is akin to walking a tightrope. Sharing one’s success in conquering certain limitations are definitely something to celebrate. Explaining how one experiences the incremental improvements can be helpful to others. However, to claim that one is ‘cured’ of an ABI is a tough claim to believe.

To claim to have been cured is to claim one has moved from being neurologically atypical to being neurologically typical. If that does in fact happen, I would definitely join in the celebration.

When a person makes generalizations about their success story, to apply to others, I begin to cringe. What works for one person and the process of achieving that success cannot be assumed as a template for anyone else carrying the ABI label.

Lesson one

Let me explain. I began to work with an OT (occupational therapist) a year after my ABI. My OT is a very experienced therapist focusing strictly on MVA (motor vehicle accident) brain injuries. The first thing she told me is that no two injuries are the same. In working with me there is no template to work from. With each client she is starting from scratch.

The OT sessions which were weekly at first and later monthly focused on two things:

  1. The OT as the detective, finding out what factors in my life needed to be modified,
  2. The OT as the teacher, training me to become my own detective.

I had to learn to identify what what type of activities were causing me setbacks, or more to the point, what factors in my activities were creating sensory overload (also called flooding).

As the months progressed I learned how to adjust my expectations, the intensity and duration of my activities, the choice of environments, and other factors in order to have a successful day.

Avoiding sensory overload became one of my measures of success. (The quality of my interaction with others, the purpose of my activities was another measure.) I did not relish needing up to four days to recover from an activity that brought on sensory overload.

One of a Kind

Every brain injury is unique because no two people experience injury to the same extent or in the same area or areas of their brain. The direction of the force, the person’s body position, the amount of muscle tension at the time of impact are just some of the contributing factors determining the severity and extent of the brain injury.

The brain is a very complex system of the body. While neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to heal itself or to compensate, can show amazing results there are limitations to what healing can take place.

No two impacts to the brain are the same. Think of a batter hitting a ball. One mighty swing and the ball goes dead in the infield. Another mighty swing connects with the sweet spot and the ball sails out of the ballpark.

Other factors that affect healing is the level of motivation that a person has, not to mention the life goals a person has their heart set on. In some cases the part of the brain that is injured directly affects a person’s ability to be motivated.

Life stage

Another factor that affects a person’s rate of recovery is what responsibility they are able to shed. In my situation I have no children at home, no work demands, a caring community and a supportive extended family. I have no restrictions on my personal schedule or regular obligations to meet.

I choose to share my set backs and successes so others might learn from my experience. Sometimes my experiences help a caregiver better understand the person they are supporting. Other times I hear from others and gain a better understanding of myself.

Assumptions

What I find least helpful is when people make assumptions about which challenges I am dealing with.

“Oh, bright lights must bother you.” (Actually no.)

“You must be dealing with headaches regularly.” (No, that’s very rare.)

The stereo-type impressions that people have are unhelpful and often annoying.

It’s not a matter of defining different environments and putting them into neat little packages – this one works – this one doesn’t work.

Nuances

Living with ABI has it’s nuances. That’s why it takes detective work to learn to live with it. Let me share a few examples.

I have been in a room with a crowd of people noisily chatting over supper. Within five minutes I need to walk out because I’m going into sensory overload. Another time I will be in a room with a crowd of people and will be fine. The difference can be as subtle as the height of the ceiling in the two different rooms.

My ability to listen to live music is very much limited. In enclosed spaces my limit might be 5 minutes. In an outdoor venue I can manage for up to an hour and sometimes longer. On the other hand, I can happily listen to recorded music all day.

Listen and ask

What I appreciate most when someone has an inkling that I am living with ABI is their willingness to ask questions and listen. That signals to me that the person is willing to learn, wants to gain a better understanding, and has taken a personal interest in my well-being. That is the building blocks for developing a supportive bond.

Love to hear your success story. Great to hear about your personal insights. Tell it with the respect that each of us have our own life to live.

An Elusive Solution

20160817_102352Every time I’m ready to share a post I pause and have second thoughts about hitting the ‘publish’ button. The hesitation comes from a fleeting thought that I’m still on the same topic, ‘living with ABI’. The notion that haunts me is ‘how about a new topic.’

What makes me ‘unpause’ and share once again is remembering those who tell me I’ve helped them understand something about themselves. What seems mundane to me, because I live it every day, offers some enlightenment to someone else. Even though readers let me know, that pause still haunts me.

Brain Fatigue is _______ ?

What extends the pause a bit longer are the times when I’m experiencing difficult days. For me a difficult day is experiencing a loss of energy, usually in the form of brain fatigue. That’s what I’m experiencing this week. I call it brain fatigue because I’m not able to describe what is really going on. I experience a build up of pressure in my head. I don’t feel fully alert. I feel a level of anxiety that lacks a focus. This is a partial explanation. The fatigue is a manifestation of other processes in the brain that are taking a back seat.

Manifestations

As part of the brain fatigue I notice a setback in my ability to remember. I find myself once again searching for the right word – usually it’s the nouns that go missing in action, or innocently show up late. I once again find myself forgetting what I set out to do, losing my train of thought, losing focus partway through someone sharing a thought or experience – appearing rude and yes, feeling somewhat annoyed with myself.

Part of the brain fatigue is that it puts me at risk of nightmares. Impressionable events that happen during the day have a likelihood of invading my sleep and forming the background to a story that I would prefer to extricate myself from. The brain fatigue adds a complicating factor of losing my ability to distinguish between reality and dream. So I’m totally unaware that there’s an exit button – it should be labeled “Nightmare exit”.

As part of the brain fatigue my physical agility experiences a set back as well. Walking once again becomes more challenging – keeping my balance on uneven terrain becomes unpleasant, before starting down a set of stairs I hesitate, making sure I’m properly oriented. Loss of agility somehow translates into being unable to relax my body. Getting proper sleep goes out the window because I’m not able to relax – each night being only a partial benefit, then waking up in the morning feeling like I’ve completed a marathon – though sometimes I’ve only slept long enough to have run a partial marathon.

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Signage for the Labyrinth at Collingwood Arboretum

Managing to get a two hour sleep (can’t really call it a nap) later in the day is helpful though it means finding the initiative to navigate the groggy re-emergence from sleep. Finding my way to a reasonable semblance of consciousness can feel like moving through a maze. Doing it twice in one day doesn’t lead to a greater level of familiarity because each time the maze has a few new turns and switchbacks.

After a couple days of brain fatigue a combination of frustration and disappointment begins to set in. This makes me inclined to withdraw and shut out much of the world – a smaller world feels more comfortable. While a smaller world has greater appeal my experience prompts me to look in the opposite direction. So I tenuously venture out.

Venturing out

Today, I chose to spend a couple hours with my four year old grandson. When I arrived he first sat with me as we tackled a crossword puzzle he had started. He was excited to eventually have figured out a dozen clues and filled them in. This was followed by a couple games of chess. Then he very much wanted to play Stratego (TM) and very pleased with himself when he won. What wore me down was helping him design and build a layout with his wooden train track.

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Daily crossword puzzle

Spending time with him like this is both very motivating while also physically draining. His eagerness to do and learn propels me beyond my immediate condition and share in his sense of wonder and excitement. When I told my grandson I was getting tired he helpfully suggested that I read him a book. After he chose a book he changed his mind and offered to read it to me. After reading it twice he went on to discuss some of his reading exploits.

Catch 22

Meanwhile the recurrence of mental fatigue keeps me from doing some of the things I want to do. The maintenance items that beg my attention continue to wait. Some of the repairs which would have been easy to do pre-ABI are much harder to plan and complete.

Hopefully I’ll get a good night’s sleep in the next day or two. That will be a signal that my brain fatigue is subsiding. At the same  time, proper sleep is key to minimizing the brain fatigue. It becomes a ‘Catch 22’ situation; I need the sleep to clear the brain fatigue, but the brain fatigue needs to clear so I can get some good sleep.

One activity that seems to help me reduce the brain fatigue is cycling. It’s repetitive and things happen slowly – much slower than driving a car. While it’s repetitive, it’s not a boring activity. The scenery changes and I’m moving at a pace that enables me to see things that are just a blur when I’m traveling by car. At this time of the year I’ve been able to scout out some wild grapes that have sized up nicely or spotted some abandoned trees with apples begging to be picked.

Cycling, or an activity like that, involves using all my muscle groups. Walking would accomplish the same but I prefer the scenery to change a bit faster. By exercising my muscles it makes it easier to relax when I lie down. The beauty of cycling is that I can make it as easy or as strenuous as I like. Running is not an option as the jarring motion of each step causes a headache to surface in short order.

In working with my brain coach, the goal is to avoid sensory overload which easily leads to brain fatigue. I’ve been coached to become my own detective in recognizing which activities contribute to sensory overload. What puzzles me is that I’ve been unable to determine the cause of my most recent encounter with brain fatigue. And so the detective work continues. And so the training with my brain coach continues.Intriguing and a blessing.

Ambiguity with Swimming & Sleeping

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Summer rejuvenation

The risk of swimming for me is not the risk of being carried out to sea by an undertow. This is not a matter of my swimming ability because I tackle open water knowing my swimming limitations – I’m a novice at best.

The risk of swimming is a matter of getting in over my head. Well now, that sounds like I just contradicted myself. Let me explain.

Swimming puts me at risk of Sensory Overload

Most summer days going swimming means going down to Victoria Beach and attempting to get into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario. Attempting this puts me at risk of experiencing sensory overload. Adjusting to a major temperature change, air temperature 15 Fahrenheit degrees warmer than the water temperature, is the significant factor. Add to that the intimate nature of water against one’s skin and the effect is compounded. With ABI regulating temperature differences is a real challenge. If my sensory loading for the day is low my risk of getting in over my head is unlikely. If my sensory loading is higher than I realize then I definitely run the risk of experiencing sensory overload.

Swimming is a great way to Minimize Sensory Overload

In my experience since living with ABI I find swimming an effective way to minimize the likelihood of experiencing sensory overload. Swimming seems to provide a combination of benefits. Moving around in the water is soothing and relaxing in a way the off loads my sensory build up. At the same time swimming provides the opportunity for a vigorous workout. The vigorous workout allows me to relax and get a much better night’s sleep. Being a novice swimmer entering the water invariably becomes a vigorous workout.

My Conundrum

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Invitation of sand, sun & surf

Unfortunately swimming will have one of two opposite effects on me, depending on which day it is. There are days were I very much would like to go for a swim, anticipating the relaxing benefits. When I am unsuccessful in getting into the water, I am doubly disappointed. Being unsuccessful in my attempt to enter the water means I have reached sensory overload and will need to take other measures to reduce the effects. If I succeed in getting into the water it is a double blessing. I know my sensory loading is under control and the activity will further reduce my sensory load for the day.

Fooled again

Recently I went swimming with the anticipation of enjoying the benefits of a successful swim. I arrived at Victoria Beach, and following a familiar routine of acclimatizing my body to the water temperature I did experience a wonderful swim.

To my disappointment I did not sleep well that night. At one point I experienced a troubling nightmare. By morning I woke up fatigued and having only managed seven hours of restless sleep. This was far below my optimum of nine hours a night.

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Sand formations below the rippling surface – Georgian Bay

The difficult night after having had a successful swim left me quite puzzled. What went wrong. If my sensory loading had been too high I never would have made it into the water. I tried to replay the previous day to try and understand what happened after my mid-afternoon swim that wreaked havoc on my night.

The only thing that came to mind was some news that a friend of ours had shared with Jane and I. Gradually I recalled my response to taking in the hurtful news. As the story unfolded I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. After listening and responding with questions for about ten minutes I quietly walked away. I did not excuse myself because I didn’t want to interrupt the sharing.

A half hour later as Jane and I were driving home we briefly commented about the loss and hurt that our friend had shared. We reflected on it for the ten minute ride home. For the rest of the day I didn’t give it anymore thought.

Since my ABI, I have been experiencing nightmares occasionally, something that was totally foreign to me pre-ABI. Each time I have experienced a nightmare I can trace it to an event from the previous day.The trigger events are either one of suddenly feeling vulnerable or as in this case an event of significant loss. I was unaware of the depth of the loss and how it had touched me till I went to sleep. It was in struggling to shake a nightmare in the early morning hours that I awoke to the depth of the hurt that I had vicariously experienced.

I count it a blessing, though it is a strange experience, to have intensity of my empathy for another person’s loss affirmed in my sleep.