Intriguing Four Days

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Minimum Bicycle Safety Margin

It’s been an intriguing four days. Rather than driving the four hour trip to visit my daughter I decided to cycle to her house. A four hour drive has it’s challenges but so does a 4 day cycling trip.

Challenge #1

My main challenge when I am driving is managing the sensory loading, some of which comes from an underlying hyper vigilance, a side effect from the car accident that caused my ABI. I am still trying to reduce the effects of post traumatic symptomology that lingers following the collision. The hourly breaks helps reduce some of the sensory loading that occurs from simply being in a car.

In the four days I cycled I did not experience sensory loading to a level that it would interfere with my normal functioning. On the second morning I intentionally cycled through down town Toronto at the height of rush hour. I proceeded down Dundas Ave which has a marked bike lane. That allowed me to move much quicker than the cars that were crawling across town. I was aware of the need to watch for cars coming out of side streets, watch for turning vehicles at each intersection and be aware of many other cyclists that were either overtaking me or as I was passing them. At the same time that I’m focusing on the traffic, I’m taking in the honking of car horns, the noise of trucks, police sirens. Add to that the smells of sewage, exhaust fumes, bakery smells and other unidentifiable smells in a quickly changing smorgasbord of odours.

When I reflected back on the 15 km ride through the Toronto rush hour I noticed no lingering sensory loading at the end of the day. Had I ridden in or driven a car the accumulated effect would have required several hours or a day to clear my brain.

What seems to make cycling different? I’m not really sure. As part of my training by my occupational therapist to become my own detective, I have some possible theories:

  1. When I’m cycling I am moving through traffic in a different way then driving a car. I am not dealing with the possible errors that could result from something going wrong with on-coming traffic as I am way off to the right side of the road.
  2. I am moving slower than in a car or in the case of rush hour traffic, not dealing with the stop and go matter, so the neurological demands are less. I don’t need to process sensory input at nearly the speed on a bike that I need to while driving a car.
  3. I am cycling, which is a highly physical and a highly repetitive activity. Yes, I have to shift gears, and pay attention to various factors in my environment, but it seems like the physical part helps dissipate the negative effects of the accumulation of sensory impressions. Driving a car involves very minimal physical activity – moving one’s foot between gas pedal and brake. As such there is an accumulation of stresses that will continue to build till I step out of the car and do something physical. Taking a walk isn’t very strenuous but it’s repetitive and 20 minutes or so of that makes enough of a difference to continue the trip.

Challenge #2

There are times and situations in which the emotional sensory loading brings me to a point where it interferes with my normal functioning. The day before I started the trip I had just been through an experience of extreme emotional loading which left me totally incapacitated for over a half hour. Such an experience would often take 2 days and sometimes longer to clear my system. As I was biking along on the first day I had two momentary relapses that reminded me that my emotional loading was still a concern.

The one relapse happened when I stopped in to see a friend of mine. I was explaining to him that I would be cycling across Canada next month. I was overcome when I shared with him what my occupational therapist has shared with me a week earlier. She told me that when she started working with me 18 months ago, she had done an extensive assessment, she did not think my condition would improve enough to be able to bike across Canada. She was overjoyed that I had proven her wrong.

By the second day and the following days I experienced no relapse with my emotional sensory loading. I can only attribute that to the repetitive, physical workout. While being repetitive, cycling is never boring. How can it be when you are seeing the countryside or the cityscape at pace that brings out many wonderful details and surprises.

Challenge #3

Conversing with more than one or two other people at a time will put me into sensory overload in about 15 minutes and often sooner. Each night, when I came to my lodging place I visited with two people. It was a chance to share experiences and insight of the day. After completing the 4 day ride I was visiting with my daughter. Shortly after I arrived a few more people joined in. I was able to enjoy being in a group of 6 people for over two hours and later in the day with a group of 9 people for about an hour.

I won’t jump to any conclusions too quickly as there are various factors to consider. There are many different factors, many subtle, that affects how well I can survive in a group. Some things that I consider are:

  1. The nature of the topic and how it engages me has some bearing.
  2. The type of personalities within theĀ  group. If someone is boisterous and dominating that will overload me quite quickly.
  3. The rhythm of the conversation has a bearing. By that I mean the ease with which I am able to interject into the conversation or how in tune others in the group are to noticing a quieter person who is trying to share.
  4. The coherence of the conversation. The more often the conversations breaks up into subgroups and then reemerges again has a noticeable wearing effect.

Challenge #4

When I first started biking after my ABI, I would startle every time a car or truck would come up from behind me and pass me. It was annoying and difficult to deal with because even with a rear view mirror when I could see the approaching vehicle I would be startled by the ‘whoosh’ as the vehicle passed. Thankfully that happens very rarely.

When I am cycling I regularly keep an eye on what is happening behind me. When I see a car approaching I check to see whether they are moving over, an indication that the driver has seen me. Once in awhile someone passes closer than the law allows. When that happens it leaves me slightly annoyed but it doesn’t startle me.

I don’t know why keeping an eye on traffic behind me leaves me feeling okay, while driving a car and the hyper vigilance that it induces leave me worn out.

I have taken measures to ensure a greater margin of safety as vehicles pass me. I wear a bright orange safety vest at all times. When the sky is overcast I use a flashing LED light that can be seen from a kilometer away. I put the light on flashing mode figuring that an inattentive driver will notice that much easier than a constant red light.

Conclusion

While the main motivation for my four day bike ride was training for a Pacific Ocean to Atlantic Ocean bike ride, it also gave me some insights into traveling by a different mode and how that impacts my ABI. Once I arrived at my destination I slept for 10 hours and then twice in the same day a 2 hour nap. Recuperating from physical fatigue is a much more enjoyable experience than recuperating from neurological fatigue. The sense of accomplishment without having incurred neuro fatigue is very satisfying and a real encouragement.

In the past four days I put myself through a more rigourous workout than the Sea to Sea cycling will be. This workout gave me insight into one part of the challenge I will be dealing with this summer. Cycling this summer with a group of about 100 people will likely give me new insights into dealing with other aspects of my ABI challenges.

And so the detective work and the detective training continues.

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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 sameĀ  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.