Escape Plan

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Ready to roll – new drive train, accessories attached

In my recent session with my OT we spent over an hour developing an escape plan. While I have looked at many aspects in preparing for a successful Sea to Sea trek across Canada, I had not thought about developing an escape plan. Why? Well I was thinking in terms of success, not planning for failure.

I know from experience, that with my ABI, effective problem solving is a real challenge. Effective problem solving when I most need it, when I am in a situation in which I am dealing with severe sensory overload, will most certainly fail me. In failing me, it will likely create embarrassment for me, put extra demands on other people, result in poor decisions, in short it will likely make matters worse.

Get me out of here

The challenge of starting the trip so far away from home is that I can’t just quit after a difficult week or two and get a quick ride home. So, I have worked through a plan of how to exit the Sea to Sea tour ‘gracefully’ should it be necessary. I have settled on the likely exit points: Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Michigan, Owen Sound, Ottawa, Charlottetown. Each possible exit point comes with certain supports to minimize the potential challenges.

After developing the various exit points it gave me a sense of assurance. It took away the fear or anxiety of possibly creating a crisis should I find it too difficult to continue. With my fears reduced that is one less factor to weigh me down and in turn give me more energy to channel in a positive way – turning my pedals to keep me moving.

How do I know how I’m doing

In order to not end up exiting prematurely or at all, I need to know how I’m doing. Failing to properly gauge myself will result in being blindsided. With six days cycling and one day rest for each of the 10 weeks I need to be mindful of maintaining my reserves.

What to look for:

  • if I experience vertigo at the end of a ride or at rest stop I know I need to reduce my pace.
  • if I experience fatigue on waking, ride at a reduced pace that whole day. The thrill of biking once I get moving can falsely mask the fatigue and in turn show up in the form of greater fatigue the next morning.
  • if I am not sleeping well I need to reduce my pace. With too much physical demands it becomes harder to relax and sleep properly.
  • if I experience an increase in emotional loading, it will signal that I’m am not able to recover from the physical demands of the day or I need to curb some of the additional activities that could be causing the sensory overload.

Strategies for avoiding ‘trouble’

Even though I have done a four day ‘warm up’ bike trip, I need to be prepared for the unexpected. While I am aware of some of the activities that contribute to my sensory loading, there will be new activities which I need to be mindful of. For that reason I need to re-evaluate on a daily basis.

There are some simple strategies that I have agreed on that will hopefully stand me in good stead. I will schedule a nap as soon as I get into camp each day. From experience I know that after a physically strenuous day, I will likely be restless the first part of the night before sleeping better the second half. So it would make sense that a pre-sleep session should help make the whole night restful.

Riding in a large group can create a greater sense of camaraderie, but experience tells me that it will add significantly to my sensory loading putting me at risk of sensory overload. So, riding with no more than four cyclists would be advisable.

I’m going to have to see about the weekend celebrations as the tour is scheduled to hit a major centre each weekend to connect with supporters and donors. Participating in that might be a non-starter.

Despite the many contingencies that I have looked at, I find that cycling helps to dissipate much of the sensory loading that builds up as the day progresses. It seems like the physical, rhythmic action of cycling, along with the slower and simpler way of seeing the countryside provides relief and healing.

After analyzing all the different things that could go wrong, I actually found it to be a positive and a reassuring activity.

I have found some quotes about failure that are appropriate to different aspect of my upcoming bike trek:

“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be” – John Wooden

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” – Winston Churchill

 

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 the  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.

Broke all the Rules

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No planning – Just opportunities motivated by instinct

I am writing this in the wee hours of the morning because I am dealing with several side effects of attending an event that set me back. It’s not that I went into the event unaware and was blindsided. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I knew I would not emerge unscathed.

The fact that I am writing this when I would otherwise be sound asleep speaks to one of the side effects. For the past 3 weeks or more, as I have been doing some serious physical training, I have had no interrupted sleep. That is by far the longest stretch in over two years of finding quality sleep.

The past few hours have been different. My dreams have been wild. My dreams seemed just a bit too real, not being able to discern dream from reality. My dreams have been unsettling and upsetting. And right now I am wide awake because I can’t get back to sleep.

What got me into this

For one day I had put aside the intentional planning that my occupational therapist has been drilling into me for the past year. I did not work out a back up plan, unless retreating to a quiet place qualifies as a back up plan.

And yet, as I look back on the evening, I realize I have developed some habits that protect me from sensory overload and succumbing to extreme neural fatigue. I know to seat myself in an auditorium so that I can make an inconspicuous exit. Exiting from a venue that seems to cause disruption, perceived or real, adds significantly to my sensory loading and therefore my recovery time.

My decision to attend the event was a calculated decision based on an anticipated Cost/Benefit consideration. That’s why I am not surprised to come away from the event feeling content despite having my day, or rather night, significantly interrupted. I chose to attend a 50th anniversary celebration of an institution that I have been well connected with for 30 or more years. The sense of contentment in the middle of dealing with disruption comes from the affirmations that I serendipitously received in the course of the evening. At the same time, the sense of contentment comes from hearing from different people and how they are doing.

Modifications I find helpful

Large groups wear me done. With larger groups the negative effect is exponentially greater. The level of noise is a minor factor yet becomes significant over the course of a couple hours. More significant is the processing of too many sensory impressions in a short block of time; following conversations, reading body language, interpreting tone of voice, looking for segways into a conversation, and managing the emotions of the moment.

By seeking out quieter places, places with fewer people, I found myself engaged in one-on-one conversations and avoiding the complexity of small groups. By keeping myself visible in the quieter areas, people I know and have worked with ended up finding me and so I didn’t feel isolated.

Being in a banquet hall with 6 people at my table and another 300 guests in the hall is quickly overwhelming. I intentionally engaged with only the two guests on either side of me rather than the whole group at my table. The second modification that I made was to arrange with one of the guests at my table to text me at certain junctures in the event. So after some initial introductions I left the hall for awhile and re-emerged from time to time to catch the key elements of the evening.

Managing expectations

A big part of managing my ABI symptoms has to do with managing my expectations when I attend an event that I know will likely set me back. That’s where the Cost/Benefit plays a significant role. It might seem a bit selfish, but if the event won’t give me a boost then the negative after effects become a burden, threatening to cause a downward spiral that is clearly counter productive.

Blessings

20170509_101659The event has left me with many wonderful memories. By keeping my expectations low, yet allowing myself a certain level of vulnerability, wonderful experiences did emerge. I can recount many wonderful moments but let me share a couple of notables.

I had one mother of a former student share a number of experiences with me. The one she was most eager to share was how her daughter missed the whole first week of school. She was too nervous to bring herself to accept me as her teacher. In the end she decided that I had been her most inspiring teacher. I recounted with the mother her daughter’s strengths (from 15 years ago) and was not surprised to hear what activities she is presently doing.

After sharing briefly with one former colleague he offered to pray over me, to request healing. To me it spoke to his strength of character and his sense of ministry. And so there were a variety of different kinds of sharing throughout the evening that left me encouraged, hopeful and with a sense of being surrounded by people who care and seek to be supportive.

It might take a day or two to recover but after an event like last night it is not a discouraging or frustrating walk. The power of prayer, the power of living in community with arms reaching out, takes down the walls of isolation that an acquired brain injury easily creates.

And now, I’m ready to sleep some more. I need to be ready to do a short presentation in the morning – part of measured planning albeit, this one has a back up plan.