Potholes in the Road.

Lalande Rd Sturgeon Falls

No matter what road you travel, there’s bound to be a pothole at some point. Potholes can serve one faintly useful purpose, namely testing the resilience of my car’s suspension.

Today was one of those days. I hit some personal potholes. Being short changed on sleep due to the hot weather tested my resilience. I’ve learned by now, the shorter the night the greater my resilience is compromised.

I got out of bed after a 5 hour fitful sleep. My inability to sleep was probably accentuated by the whirring noise of the fan. Don’t know why people call it white noise. For me it was a black hole that zapped every thread of sleep right out of me. At four am I turned the fan off. Why didn’t I figure that out sooner?

After as slow morning I looked forward to taking a nap. If you can call a three hour sleep a nap. It’s not that the three hours cleared up the sleep deficit created by the previous night. Rather, it was a stop gap measure. However, it did little to reduce my physical fatigue or quell my mental fatigue.

The sleep deficit continued to wreaking havoc with my memory. Several times I found myself half way across the house, completely forgetting what I intended to get. Really? In recent months I had progressed to a point where I was able to retrieve two different things without forgetting one or both. Not exactly multi-tasking yet.

The sleep deficit continued to compromise my ability to review and compile a mental list of what needed to be packed for the weekend. The effort was putting my brain into overload. After about 15 minutes I gave up. My mental list read like a shredded to do list.

The sleep deficit continued to block my ability to focus my attention. The more I fought it the more my head rebelled.

It soon became evident that I could not change gears without my body grinding to a halt. Shortly after waking up I had gone to the garden to pick some tomatoes. While I was there I realized the tomatoes needed the soaker hose treatment. While getting the soaker hose I took care of some resilient weeds. Everything was going fine.

Suddenly I was called back to the house. It was time to head out for supper. Somehow I had failed to process this part of the plan a half hour earlier.

Abruptly I had to abandon picking tomatoes. But they were only half picked. I needed to switch my shoes. I looked for a book to take along. While rushing to get ready I felt the pressure to not leave others waiting. I tried to think what else I should take with me. My mind registered a blank. So I quickly ran to the car.

No sooner did I get into the car and buckle my seatbelt when I fell apart. My brain rebelled. I couldn’t see my way through the next block of time. It was like looking into a void. A void lacks a roadmap.

Jane kindly suggested that I not go along. I could stay at home and she would bring home some supper. A practical solution. A workable solution.

From my vantage, I had bailed. I was disappointed. It was the realization that my body could not do what my heart desired.

At this juncture I needed to choose a small world. I needed the familiar; familiar place, familiar routine. Familiar meant less cognitive demands. Familiar meant less chance of meeting the unexpected. I didn’t have the reserves to deal with change.

Being on my own schedule was what I needed; taking my time, switching gears when I was ready to. What I needed was some repetitive physical activity. No instructions to comprehend. No deadline to meet. What fit the bill was taking the next step in making an oversized Jenga game.  Forty eight pieces to be sanded. Pick up one piece. Hold it against the belt sander briefly. Four sides to sand. Pick up the next piece. A repetitive physical activity, unhurried, minimal exertion, the satisfaction of doing something constructive, seeing tangible results. That was the tonic that provided a measure of healing. That served as a stop gap measure to prevent a further drain of my reserves.

For the rest of the day I needed to coast. I wanted to avoid any more potholes at all cost.pothole3

Navigating the potholes is inconvenient but tolerable. I’ve accepted them as part of the journey. While they are not the ‘look forward to’ events, bouncing through them, gives me a reality check. It reminds of my limitations and an indication of some activities that I need to tag as sensory overload culprits. It also gives me a glimpse of the areas in which I am realizing gradual healing.


At Risk of Over Planning

600 ft cliffs at Blomidon Provincial Park, NS.

At Risk of Over Planning.

Not having been on a holiday since my ABI a year and a half ago prompted some questions.

Do I want to take a holiday? I kind of think so.

Should I take a holiday? Possibly.

Where to go? Find a place that’s worth the effort and not make me regret the likely side effects of my brain injury.

The common sense choice

What kind of holiday should it be? Bus excursion? Yes, that looks like it will fit the bill. Choose a destination and it’s all planned out. The details are all laid out, a predictable schedule. Minimal work in getting ready. Just need to decide what to put in my travel bag. Accommodations arranged with room service and restaurants booked ahead. A professional driver, just sit back and relax.

Oh wait. Taking a bus excursion means there will be many other people in close quarters. That means dealing with conversations all day, reading social cues, dealing with sensory loading of all sorts.  Since there’s a daily schedule I can’t ask the bus to pull over just because I’m experiencing sensory overload from the constant movement. The schedule means I need to be up each morning by a certain time. If I couldn’t get to sleep or my sleep was disrupted I would not be able to sleep late. Starting the day after a short night means I

Sensory Overload makes both hard to do

haven’t cleared my sensory loading from the day before. I would most certainly start the day with a headache.  In short it would be a tough day or worse. The restaurants often are environments for creating sensory overload.  Being in a different place every day is cognitively demanding since familiarity and routines help to mitigate sensory overload.

The obvious and impressive first choice was on second thought guaranteed to be a catastrophic failure.

The intensive planning choice

I decided that yes, I very much want to take a holiday with the two of us. I never realized how much planning it would take to not have the holiday turn into a Punishing Experience. To prevent a repeat of a weekend away the holiday needed to be flexible, planned, slow, deliberate, low demands, options for quiet time, and more.

The OT (occupational therapist) worked with me over a five week period. Between planning the obvious and obediently carrying out the seemingly absurd requests, the plans gradually took shape. The preparation involved sleeping in the tent in the front yard for a couple nights. This would determine whether tenting was still a viable option with ABI. The first attempt to sleep in the tent was aborted. This would have meant disaster if we were already on the road. After making several adjustments I successfully managed two good nights in the tent.

We always thought we had camping well planned. The conversation fragment below had me wondering.

The OT asked, “Do you have a camping list of supplies, equipment etc?”

“Yes we have one,” I proudly told her, “We have a list that’s been fine tuned over the years.”

“Show me the list.”

“Okay,” I said pleased to show her the print out.

“Which things are you taking care of?”

“These,” I said, pointing to some of the items.

“I don’t see your name by those items.” “Do you need to buy anything on that list?”


“Did you make a list?”

“Oh yes.”

“When do you plan buy the items?”

What I realized is that planning had to be much more detailed than pre-ABI. Not just a general plan that served as a general guide to doing things on the fly. Rather it had to be a plan with details like, who is going to do it, how is it going to be done and when is it going to be done. What the OT wanted to avoid was the last minute packing panic. That could be a significant setback before even starting our holiday.

The OT asked about many aspects of the planning. What day were we leaving? What time were we planning to pull out? How were we organizing the packing of food, cooking utensils, tent gear, cycling equipment, etc. When would all the camping gear and food be loaded? How many nights were we staying at the bed and breakfast place? Was a bed and breakfast better than a motel. How far did we plan to drive in one day? Were the bed and breakfast reservations flexible? Did we have the campground information written down – address, phone number, and directions? Did we have the route mapped out? What was our

Personalized “Tour Bus” packed and ready

goal for the holiday? Did we have a backup plan if we were delayed due to not being able to drive four hours? Did I have my medication sorted for the trip? Was I planning to go to the Canada Day Parade the day before leaving? (Correctly implying that it would not be a good idea)

Needless to say, the questions felt like an interrogation. More to the point, I felt like it would be my fault if this trip did not go well if I couldn’t give a good answer for each of the questions posed.

The Trip

Being on the road was the hardest part of the trip, whether I drove or was the passenger. We limited the first day on the road to no more than three hours. After that we limited the drive to no more than four hours a day on the road. Some days four hours was too much. We found that a break every hour with a longer break at the two hour mark worked the best. The break served one main purpose. It was intended to minimize and hopefully shed some of the sensory loading. The break involved getting respite from the constant movement, walking around, and eating a snack or meal. Signals such as fatigue (even as a passenger), headache, nausea or double vision were indictors that we were on the road too long.

Highlight of the trip

Camping for four days at Blomidon Provincial Park in Nova Scotia was the most successful part of our holiday. Maybe it was the campsites at the top of the spectacular 600 ft cliffs, or maybe the fresh air off the Bay of Fundy. During our stay at the park I could do a full day of

Awesome campsites at the top of the 600′ cliffs.

activities without experiencing any ABI symptoms. Our stay there involved hiking about 8 km a day, cycling, reading and rock hounding. I was very reluctant to leave the park. It was the first time in a year and a half that I felt ‘normal’. I went through four days in a row without experiencing reminders of my ABI. The only subtle reminder was the ten hours I slept each night to balance out the day time activities.

The day following our stay at Blomidon Provincial Park stands in sharp contrast to the previous four days. We drove to PEI, a trip of about 4 hours. It took me two and a half days to recover from the drive. In PEI we were in a house with four people who I should mention were very pleasant company. However, being around three other people and the more complex social dynamics that come with larger groups likely slowed down my recovery. Four of us living in a house was a major change from two of us camping.

High Tide from a 600 ft vantage point

It was worth it

Five weeks of planning for a three week trip made for a successful holiday. We met our goals of relaxing, biking and visiting specific historic sites. This three week trip has increased my understanding of living with ABI.

Making Memories, Renewing Memories

“Thank you for sharing your memories of what I meant to you and your child.”

Celebrating Ten Years of Memories

Making Memories, Renewing Memories

I responded to an invitation to attend the grade eight graduation. I had left the school in my role as principal a year and a half ago. I arrived at the school with mixed emotions, because I had left the school very suddenly due to an acquired brain injury (ABI). I felt like I had just dropped out of sight. A short step from, ‘out of mind’.

From the moment I walked into the school my fears were put to rest. The first parent I met greeted me with open arms and mentioned they were just talking about me. They were hoping I would show up for their son’s graduation.

As I met some of the graduates, prior to the ceremony, they openly shared their appreciation that I had shown up for their big day. It was wonderful to see how they had grown up and matured in the year and a half since I had seen them. It reminded me of the connections I had developed with them at various levels even though I hadn’t been their classroom teacher.

At the start of the Principal’s Charge to the graduates the current principal acknowledged my presence and mused that I probably had a stronger connection with the graduates in the nine years they knew me than she could achieve in one year. The round of applause from the parents in response to her comments was heart warming and overwhelming. It was a clear expression of appreciation for the service I had given for almost eleven years.

One parent after another shared their warm memories of the support I had given to their son or daughter and the work I had done for the school. Several students wanted to make it a two person photo op. One student who graduated four years ago, tracked me down and wanted me to pose with him. “For old time’s sake,” was his explanation. Very touching.

For me the trauma of the ABI and the slow and continuing recovery of the past year and a half has made my time at the school a distant memory. I had gone from working fifty or more hours a week at a job that I found very exciting and rewarding only to have it come to an unexpected grinding halt. It’s the ABI and struggle to find healing that has pushed my time at the school far out of sight for me.

Ready to move on

I expected to need the next day or two to recover from the sensory overload of the graduation experience. While I was able to cope during the grad evening, four days later I still needed to take breaks to manage situations that would put me into sensory overload. All I can say to each parent who spoke with me that night, “Thank you for sharing your memories of what I meant to you and your child.” “Thank you for reassuring me that I will not be easily forgotten.” You reminded me of having enabled some pivotal decisions and how your child has grown and matured. Giving hope for the next day and year.

I wanted to attend the graduation to give my blessing to you and your child as they move on to high school. May they flourish and use their skills, and nurture a Christian world view as they continue studying and growing.

Thanks for a great birthday

A double chocolate cake instead of the traditional carrot cake with cream cheese icing.
I was bombarded by birthday wishes from all corners: cards, phone calls, Facebook, text messages and visits from both friends and relatives. Birthday wishes this year have been particularly appreciated. Let me explain.

A year ago I was still coming to terms with a brain injury and actively focusing on recovery. It was only four months after my acquired brain injury. At that time I understood that healing takes time. I wasn’t surprised that healing was progressing slowly. However, a year later it feels like it’s taking too long. It feels like the world is passing me by.

A year later and things feel worse. The challenge is greater. Not because things are digressing. Actually, the opposite is true. Because I’m experiencing healing the result is a growing gap between what I want to do and what I can do. Call it the ‘frustration gap’. Even though I can do more than I could do a year ago, that’s not what is most noticeable. At this time, my eagerness to do more accentuates my limitations. I’m willing to endure a certain level of pain or

Vintage John Deere 165 with hydrostatic drive

discomfort just to be involved in an activity. I’ve become accustomed to living with a certain amount of discomfort. It’s become a given.

Following my injury, my mantra was, “Use it or Lose it”. This approach was supported by the neurologist who worked with me last summer. She told me there is a growing body of evidence that supports that approach. Recovery takes work. In my estimation, that method beats sitting around waiting for it to happen.

However, a new point of reference has been imposed on me. A different professional is guiding me. It’s a different time. It’s time to take a different approach. I now need to live with a different set of rules

Dandelions are great in the right place.

The change comes with having an occupational therapist (OT) take charge. It’s no longer my decision to push ahead with the mantra of “Use it or Lose it.” I must no longer engage in an activity till my body signals that I have reached a reasonable limit. Invariably the signal meant, I’ve gone beyond my limit. The signal actually meant, I’m pushing the limit beyond what is helpful. Now I’ve been instructed to stop for a break before my body sends me a warning signal. My imposed mantra is, “Avoid the ‘red light”. As a result it feels like my endurance has been reduced. It’s like my abilities are more restricted.

Following the guidance of the OT means I have some extra work ahead of me. I need to track every type of activity I do. That means making a list of different activities; be it cycling, driving, hoeing, planting, mowing the lawn, reading, writing, helping a neighbour with a chore, washing dishes, worshipping, visiting, playing cards etc.  For each activity I need to determine how long I can do it without hitting the “red light”. That means planning a break at the proper intervals. If the intervals for a break were the same for each activity that would just be too simple.

Looks like a ‘call two’ hand!

Avoiding the ‘red light’ is putting extra demands on my ability to remember. That means when I’m mowing the lawn, I must remember to take a break after 40 minutes. But when I’m mowing I don’t think about taking a break, I think about making the lawn look great. To help me stop on time I figured out a failsafe reminder. Put only enough gasoline in the mower so that it stalls after about 40 minutes.

Trek touring bike

Stopping activities before I get the ‘red light’ is harder than it seems. For example, how far should I drive before I stop for a break? Well, it depends on whether the driving involves going through Toronto. It depends on how heavy the traffic is. It depends on how many visual distractions there are along the road. Taking a break then requires a place that is not busy. An En Route stop along the 401 hardly fits the bill. Too close to highway noise. Too much commotion in the food court. So a bit of advance planning is required.

Stopping an activity before getting a ‘red light’ can be interesting when visiting. Actually, it’s quite simple. I would just walk away from the visitors or just walk out of the room. That’s fine if I’m not visiting alone. The length of the visit before needing a break will depend on how many people are in the room. The noise level in the room. The number of different conversations that are happening at the same time. Even the time of day makes a difference.

The hoe was a gift from my mother-in-law

Stopping an activity before getting a ‘red light’ can really vary while gardening. Considering how strenuous the activity is, how much lifting, how much bending down, the amount of planning or attention to detail is needed, even how hot or sunny the day is, are just some of the factors to consider.

Stopping an activity before getting a ‘red light’ has very different variables while cycling. The first thing I’ve learned is not try setting any personal speed or endurance records. The additional variables includes the number of hills and the steepness, the temperature the strength of a headwind, the volume of traffic and familiarity with the route.

Seldom by Dawn Rae Downton

Needless to say, the high number of birthday wishes were a real boost to my morale. Thanks so much. The quick acknowledgements on Facebook was significant. It was like someone popping their head in the door for two seconds to say hi. It’s great. It’s encouraging. It’s a sense of not feeling abandoned. A big thank you!

P.S. If you still want to send me birthday wishes… it’s never too late.

What Time Did You Say It Is?

He didn’t recall doing a heavy workout the day before.

16″ Ash Log

A fictional account that portrays some of the nuances of living with acquired brain injury.

The first sensation that registered as he awoke was a slight chill on his right arm. He rolled over so his right arm would absorb the warmth of the mattress. He decided that the woodstove needed to be stoked. Or maybe the woodstove had been stoked but the heat had not reached the far end of the house. Kevin rolled over to check the time. Having slept almost 8 hours he decided he was ready to get up.

There was still time to say goodbye to his daughter before she left. He had told her last night he would be awake to see her off. He rolled onto his side and swung his legs over the edge of the bed.  The attempt to stand up sent a shock through his body. With great effort he leaned forward. He concentrated on shifting his weight by bringing one hand down onto the bedrail to help steady himself. This took some of the strain off his back. With a bit of extra effort he was able to straighten his back. He felt like he was recovering from a weight lifting competition. His back complained as he raised himself to standing position. He stood briefly without moving, making sure his balance was steady.

Kevin was puzzled. He didn’t recall doing a heavy workout the day before. It was two days ago when he had loaded the six foot slabs of ash. Yesterday he had sat around visiting with family members who were over for the weekend. It had been an enjoyable and relaxing day. There was no denying, right now his body simply refused to cooperate. In fact it refused to do anything without concerted effort.

Planing ash using a draw knife

How to get himself dressed? How to get his first leg into his black jeans? With his right hand on the edge of the dresser, his left hand holding the jeans by the waistband, he lifted his right leg, while making every effort to not lose his balance. The second leg was a bit easier to maneuver. He knew he could command his body to respond. Albeit rather slowly. But there was no need to rush. Putting on his shirt was easier. While it was hard to reach his arm back to get his hand into the sleeve, it was easy to keep his balance. He had gone to bed with his socks on so that was one less thing to deal with. At least he didn’t have to take on the challenge of sitting down and folding himself double to reach his feet.

After having put on his jeans and shirt Kevin shuffled toward the bedroom door. He groped his way through the fog that clouded his vision. The brain fog had become a familiar and annoying feeling. He assumed he was awake enough to begin the day. As he walked into the living room he muttered a good morning to his daughter.  He wasn’t even sure she heard him. He was taken aback by the effort it took to speak two words. His body protested that simple gesture. He wasn’t sure she had even heard his greeting. Glancing out the window overlooking the backyard he noticed that Angela had clipped a leash on Franklin and taken him out so he could relieve himself.

Kevin walked into the kitchen and noticed the remnants of last night’s wine and snacks. By the time he reached the kitchen he felt like he had covered two kilometers.  It shouldn’t take this much effort to cross the house. What to do next. Making breakfast or setting the table for the others would take more energy than he could muster. Or maybe just make a pot of tea.

Splitting ash using rockwood wedges

It didn’t take long to make his decision. He shuffled back to the bedroom. The walk back felt like slogging through ankle deep mud. Every muscle in his body rebelled. His head was still in a fog. He hoped he wouldn’t meet anyone as he made his way back to the bedroom. Before he was even half way to the bedroom he was in tears. The effort to get back was just too much. He hardly registered the sense of relief at having made it to the bedroom door. He stepped into the room. He gave the door a slow motion body check to close it. He didn’t notice it was left slightly ajar. He didn’t have the energy to turn around and see if it had closed.

He slumped down onto the bed, landing on top of the blankets. He made no attempt to even pull the blankets back so he could cover himself. As he lay down his body succumbed to the relief. Within the solitude of his bedroom, he broke down in sobs. There was no stopping the tremors that moved through his body. He had no energy to hold himself together. He was disappointed in himself. He was disappointed in not being able to see is daughter off. He didn’t have the energy to initiate anything constructive.

Eight hours of sleep last night. That should be enough to rest his body. The eight hours of sleep was definitely not enough to bring respite to his brain. He remembered having several vivid dreams but the details evaporated as he woke up. The previous two days had been crowded with a high level of engagement, conversations, changes in routine, excitement, the expressions of love and support, and more. The heightened level of activity of family members visiting for the weekend was more than his brain could process.

Improvised sap collecting

After lying down for twenty minutes Kevin mustered enough energy to get up off the bed. Some of the fatigue had seeped out of him. He decided it was best to head straight outside. It meant delaying breakfast. Not a good idea. Being outside would be calming and provide some healing. The wind in the trees, the gnawing sounds of the squirrels chewing on walnuts, the mating call of the cardinal, the distant bark of a dog would gradually settle his brain. The subdued sounds of the outdoors meant less for his brain to filter. These sounds were fine. These sounds were in the right place. They belonged. These sounds were sounds of life, sounds of harmony. Things were good.

When Kevin headed outside he took Franklin with him. Franklin was always eager for a walk. He loved the excitement of exploring the linger scents of a mouse, a vole, a rabbit or some unknown animal. The longer the walk the better. Walking Franklin brought with it familiarity, a relaxed pace, the satisfaction of pleasing someone else. Since he had Franklin on a leash Kevin decided to head into the bush and check how the sap was running. Checking the two dozen taps meant more time for Franklin to enjoy the outdoors. Being outside was better than sitting down indoors. Walking was a good way to channel the restlessness that accompanied his fatigue.

After checking on the sap he decided to work on the ash logs that he had harvested two days before. He wanted to split a three inch slabs into two thinner slabs. He had laid out the sharpened axe head, the ironwood wedges, the splitting axe and the froe along with a crudely made ironwood mallet. Splitting the slabs required methodical work. It was satisfying work. Done carefully, the results would be better. Splitting logs should not be rushed. The grain needed time to separate. He would move slowly but that was good because that match the rhythm of his brain. With a bit of planning the slab should split into two useful planks. As he worked he sensed his brain sending clearer signals to his legs. To his arms. To the different parts of the body. The muscles starting to respond quicker, his coordination began to improve, fatigue gradually subsided. There was no one asking questions. He had no need to explain what he was doing. He only talked when he wanted to give a word of praise or encouragement to Franklin.

Splitting ash with a froe

Kevin appreciated and enjoyed the time by himself. He savoured physical activity that was somewhat repetitive, that had a rhythm to it. Something more or less predictable. This space being familiar there were fewer demands on his brain. Fewer impressions to sort out. He didn’t need to work overtime, filtering sounds, filtering emotions, filtering impressions or making adjustments. Focusing on one thing reduced the amount of sensory input bombarding him. He knew he needed a day or more to clear the overload brought on by the activities of the past two days.

Something predictable yet unexpected happens when Kevin’s need for a slower pace meets the rapid pace, rapid change, the saturation of activity overloading his senses. He couldn’t absorb the accelerated sensations that bombard hime. Even though he enjoys being part of the faster pace, even though he enjoys the vitality of visiting with his family he cannot absorb the jolts, the G forces that accompany the break from predictable routines.

Kevin’s journal entry that day read, “Had a slow start to my day.”

A Case for Backseat Driving

Kennedy Rd, Camborne Ontario

Not recommended, but one effective way to explore the brain’s complexity is to observe the changes which happen following a brain injury. Changes in brain functions invariably translate into changes in behaviour. At times the bigger challenge is lacking the vocabulary to make sense of the changes. What is mental flexibility?

Recently, while being assessed by an occupational therapist I was asked about my mental flexibility. Following her explanation I realized how my altered mental flexibility was impacting many different activities. I had not understood the connection between seemingly disparate activities. Why did activities that seemed unrelated present problems? This has baffled me for some time. It would be comforting and simplify things if similar compensatory strategies could be employed in these seemingly dissimilar situations.

Character trait

My general nature is one of being flexible and accommodating. I am usually fine in rolling with a sudden change of plan. It keeps life interesting. I am beginning to realize that my willingness to change plans no longer matches what I am able to do. The spirit is willing but the brain won’t stand for it.

Helping a friend

I had arranged to give a friend a hand with his flooring one day. We had discussed the arrangements the day before. I had organized the tools I needed. I had an overview of the work. And I had thought through some strategies for doing the job. When I arrived the next morning he asked me to give him a hand with something totally different. Within an hour and a half I was in trouble. I was experiencing increased fatigue, I was finding it difficult to focus and my body was giving me signals that I was approaching sensory overload.

Had I gone ahead with the original plan, I would have been good for about 4 hours. Because of the sudden change in plan, my brain was still on the original track. My body meanwhile was doing something quite simple and physically quite easy. However, my brain was out of sync with my body.

Driving a car

Northumberland County Rd. 9

The first few months after the accident, driving was a real challenge. I decided at one point that my reaction time wasn’t quick enough to make it safe to drive. I remember one particular trip into town. As I approached the intersection the light turned red. I saw it turn red. I knew that a red light meant stop. I knew where the brake pedal was. But it took several seconds before I realized that I needed to apply the brakes. The incident made me realize it took my brain too long to switch gears when processing real time information.

Rice Lake Dr. Gores Landing, Ont.

I am able to drive safely again. However, I often find myself a passenger in the car. My endurance does not allow me to drive longer trips. At other times I don’t drive because I’m dealing with other symptoms that could interfere with my driving.

Riding in a car

Being a passenger in a car presents mental flexibility challenges. The problem is drivers that have different driving habits than mine. With some drivers I get nauseous. With other drivers I develop fatigue. Getting headaches is also not uncommon.

Jamieson Rd, Camborne, Ont


After having driven for more than 45 years, even as a passenger I am fully aware of traffic when I am in a car. I can’t ignore the driver’s habits. I notice lane changes, the change of speed, the space between me and the vehicle ahead, traffic slow downs, merging traffic, left hand turns at intersections and other aspects of driving. Each habit that doesn’t match my habit causes mental jarring.

Did I say my driving habits are better? Unfortunately for my wife her driving habits are more courteous than mine. Often enough she accuses me of being a backseat driver.

To my defense, I’m not a backseat driver. I make driving suggestions to avoid mental fatigue. Time and again I need to decide which is the lesser of two evils, being accused of backseat driving or dealing with a buildup of mental fatigue. Even deciding that is difficult because my ability to problem solve has also been compromised.

Lander Rd. Gores Landing, Ont.

As tough as it is on the driver, my backseat driving should not be taken as a judgement of their driving competence. It is a commentary on my ability to cope.  I see myself as the navigator riding shotgun.Somehow that defense doesn’t get much traction with Jane. But it’s actually me navigating my own mental fatigue.

Things have been improving. I don’t think it is Jane’s driving habits. (Why would she be taking notes on my backseat driving commentary?) My mental flexibility might be improving a bit. I think most of my improvement is adjusting to her driving habits. My brain is being reprogrammed.

Working with an Itinerary

Recently Jane and I made a trip to London. That’s a trip of about 3 hours. Since my daughter is aware of my mental flexibility challenge she sent us an itinerary for the three days we would be there. She described where we would be sleeping. She explained what part of the packing she wanted me to do for their up-coming move. She gave a breakfast and supper menu for each day. It was more than I needed but the thought was much appreciated.

Despite the advanced planning, which was much appreciated, the time visiting and the couple days after returning home were a challenge. Being in a new location for a few days means the brain is working overtime because it cannot rely on familiar routines. (More on that another time.)

Playing Snakes & Ladders

A new challenge presents itself when I play Snakes & Ladders with my grandson. After finishing a game he will want to switch each player’s colour as a four year old is wont to do. It’s not easy talking a four year old out of an idea. Now I’m in a double conundrum. Either go along with t20160407_093538he colour change at the risk of added fatigue or use my problem solving skills which have been compromised. I need to find some novel reason that appeals to a four year old that it’s better to keep the same colours. Appealing to his sense of humour is the best strategy.


Oriole Beach Rd. Gores Landing, Ont.


Dealing with mental flexibility is like driving down a road that’s as straight as an arrow. When the road suddenly makes a turn I keep going, hitting the gravel, going through the ditch and possibly into a rough field. Needless to say, that is hard on the car. Living like that is hardest on those closest to me. It requires them to be more flexible, compensating for adjustments I can’t make. Having a label is both reassuring and makes the experiences seem less problematic. It also helps when sharing with others.

The ability to be mentally flexible is just one of many fascinating functions which the brain regularly performs, seemingly effortlessly. There are so many other subconscious, involuntary vital functions that the brain performs continuously. When the brain functions according to its design, the subconscious functions don’t need to communicate with the conscious decisions a person makes. The subconscious functions simply manage to keep everything running smoothly.

Beaver Meadow Rd, Plainville Ontario

It’s amazing that our brains don’t run into hiccoughs on a regular basis. No regular night time updates needed to address faulty functions that were overlooked in the original design.


The conundrum of dealing with a brain injury is that there is no backup system that can step in to make sense of what is not working properly. It’s as effective as lifting yourself up by your bootstraps. That is why support from family members and the community I live in make a big difference.

Good Friday or My Day in Court

Puslinch Township
Ellis Chapel 1861

My wife was taken aback when a police officer delivered a summons requiring me to appear in court. I assured her I hadn’t been up to any mischief lately… as far as I could remember. My memory being what it is since I had a brain injury did not give her much comfort.

I was surprised to find out that I was to appear as a witness to my own car accident. I found it rather strange, since I was the so called victim in an accident, to be called in as a witness

for the defense. The other driver was being charged since she hit me while I had the right of way when I approached the intersection.

I was wondering what good my testimony would be. Off course the light was green when I went through the intersection. Of course she made a dangerous left turn, going into the on-coming lane without being able to see if it was clear. That’s why I didn’t stop.

When I showed up for court and introduced myself to the crown attorney. She asked me only one question. What colour was the traffic light? My obvious answer was, “Green.” She told me we were going to trial as the other driver was contesting the charge against her. Her defense was that I had run a red light. She asserted this despite the statement from a disinterested witness who had a clear view of the whole scene unfolding in front of her.

After some formal introductions and statements being read, the driver pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. In the end the judge levied a fine of less than $50 and no demerit points. I was not called to take the stand since the accused had been convinced, just before the court went into session, pleading guilty to a lesser charge would service her interests better. Once the judge had issued her judgement the crown attorney came over to me, apologized for the light sentence and told me I was free to go home.

Some Thoughts

This conviction left me with a strong sense of injustice. The other driver’s poor judgement, or impatience, or inattentiveness has had a huge impact on my life not to mention many people I’m closely connect with.

My Good Friday Tree

My initial thoughts about the reduced sentence, being like a slap on the wrist was, “unfair”. On the other hand, a harsh penalty like a heavy fine and several demerit points would not have changed my circumstances. Further, I reasoned, she had not intended to cause bodily harm. However, I did take offense to her claim that I had run a red light. However, that was only in discussion with the crown attorney. That statement never came to the judge.

The crown attorney, in dealing with the matter, had no idea whether I had been injured in the accident or what kind of injury I had sustained. That was never part of the discussion. I had no reason to inform her. Though, my injury would likely have impacted my time on the stand if I had been called to witness.

I had been advised before going to court that the key issue was to have this matter settled in my favour. As long as the other driver was given a guilty verdict the court would have served my interests. The light sentence had no negative impact on her insurance. The guilty verdict has direct positive impact on my insurance. You could say that the greater injustice was done to the insurance company. They would not be able to collect a higher premium for the costs the other driver has incurred.

In the end, the court appearance was a bureaucratic exercise, not a place where justice would be meted out. Had I gone into the court feeling vindictive, I would still be unsettled about the plea and verdict. There have been court cases where the failure of the courts to decide a suitable sentence have been much more momentous. Good Friday historically not excepted.

Telling the Story

I had opportunity to tell the story of my court appearance several times. Needless to say, family members and friends found the ‘slap on the wrist’ sentence highly unfair. Understandably so.

In one conversation a woman was particularly outraged about the light sentence. She just couldn’t see how our court system would allow that. I then mentioned that the driver who ran into me was in her mid 70’s. That completely changed her opinion of the judge’s decision. Somehow the driver’s age had a huge positive impact on her sense of what is a fair sentence.

I reflected on that with her and suggested that if the driver had been a 21 year old male, her outrage would have been greater. She agreed. Then I took the discussion a step further. I asked her how she thought the conviction might have played out if the driver had been an aboriginal Canadian.

It would be pure speculation. However, based on the incarceration rates among the Canadian population a different verdict could have been very likely. Our biases run deep. Our biases have a way of blinding us to what is a fair conviction and sentence.

When someone messes up we are quite judicious before giving the benefit of the doubt. We will first size up the person. It seems like a person needs to earn the privilege of being judged less harshly. If we are through birth or other factors part of the right demographic we are awarded that privilege much more readily.20151012_122052

In a recent CBC discussion a rather telling and powerful phrase was shared in reference to the aboriginal population in Canada. One spokesperson was adamant that when it comes to aboriginal Canadians, they are over policed and under protected. It isn’t the lack of policing that is necessarily the problem. It is the manner in which they are treated, by the police, by the court system and by the prison system.

How often don’t we speak before we check our biases? Our biases have a way of colouring what we do and say.