Domino Effect

20170801_081221(1)
Mystery part

Domino Effect.

A break in routine should not be a big deal. Little did I expect the domino effect it would create. Given the strenuous nature of the activity I should have had some inkling.

I was the last of 85 cyclists to leave camp that morning. In hindsight I should have left later. Being the last rider did not concern me as we were scheduled to meet at the 120 km point in the century ride for a photo op. The midpoint was a milestone, an occasion not to be overlooked. It had been 3490 km since we had dipped our tires in the Pacific Ocean, with 3490 km to go before we would dip our tires in the Atlantic Ocean.

I arrived at the midpoint with a little over an hour to spare. I was a great opportunity to take in a nap… well, more to the point, a nap just happens when I relax after being very active for a few hours.

Failed recovery

20170801_081322
Steam whistle

After the photo op I completed the last 40 km of the century ride for the day. With the long break in the early afternoon and the heat I arrived in camp knowing that my recovery protocol was essential. I couldn’t afford any short cuts or missed steps today.

This is where a seemingly very good day began to unravel. I didn’t have sufficient time for the full recovery protocol. I had set up my tent and prepared my recovery liquids as expected.

About forty minutes into my recovery time, supper time was announced. I had relaxed a bit, but had not had the benefit of a nap (a key element for brain recovery). The nap at the midpoint was to blame. I decided to get up and head over to the pavilion some 200 meter away. Missing supper was not a good option.

My walking was very slow and difficult, not a good sign. As I approached the pavilion with almost a hundred people engaged in animated discussions I looked for an empty spot near the edgge. No luck. I knew I couldn’t take the level of noise in the middle of the pavilion.

I chose a picnic table about 30 feet from the pavilion. By this time, the effort of walking, the unsuccessful attempt to find seating, added to my sensory overload, further reducing my functioning to the bare essentials. I sat down at the picnic table in tears.

The other term that is used instead of sensory overload is the term flooding.

Shortly one of the support drivers came over, having decided something was amiss. She asked me what was wrong. As I was unable to say anything coherent, she followed up with insisting that I tell her what was going on with me. Good intentions but the last thing I needed was to be flooded with questions. My brain was too fatigued. I didn’t need help. I just needed a quiet place with no questions adding to the flooding.

A second person came over out of a sense of caring. He asked me a few questions further adding to my flooding. Again, I was not able to give a coherent response. He suggested I move over to the group not wanting me to feel isolated. He insisted I was among friends and didn’t need to shrink away from them.

Had I decided I felt too vulnerable in my condition I would have foregone supper and remained inside the safety in my tent. I had chosen to join the group because I trusted this group of people based on the generous support I had experienced earlier in the tour.

I managed to convey that I simply needed a quiet place. In response the fellow decided he would join me for supper and just wouldn’t talk so I would have the quiet space I needed. An interesting choice for which I had no objection.

While I was eating my supper a kitchen staff member came over to me and simply put her arm around me. No questions. No need to know what was happening with me. Without adding to my flooding, I could simply convey my appreciation by putting my arm around her. No need for words, yet an unambiguous sharing of support and appreciation.

After thoughts

20170801_081121
Flywheel

I have meanwhile arranged for an advocate to step in should I have another situation of sensory overload or flooding. I would simply refer the well meaning help to my advocate so that attempts to help me doesn’t add to my flooding.

Once again, I have stumbled across a situation that is hard to plan for. I did not have my regular support people near by. It’s just not possible to plan for all eventualities. Can’t be done. How does one plan for the unexpected?

For most people it’s hard to understand how to deal with someone who is neurologically atypical. Their experience with neuro-atypcial people might be rare or non-existent. Trying to help becomes counter productive. Without some careful reflection, the situation can continue into a downward spiral when the necessary answers or responses aren’t forthcoming.

In thinking aloud, I do wonder whose needs are being met with the questions that were put to me. What information was essential to my well-being at that moment?

Suggested guidelines

When someone is experiencing ‘sensory overload’, or ‘flooding’ or severe neuro fatigue, it is most helpful to keep things simple. My suggestion is to focus on whether the person is in a crisis that would require emergency action. The two most helpful questions would be:

1. Are you in pain?

2. Do you need help?

Both of these questions can be simply and clearly answered with a nod or shake of the head.

Some helpful questions could be:

1. Would you like me to keep you company?

2. Are you fine where you are now?

These questions while being less intrusive can be just as effective in assessing what help is needed with neurologically typical people as well.

Comedy

One way to determine the difference between a person who is upset or distraught as opposed to experiencing sensory overload or flooding is to use humour. It might seem strange to use humour when a person is in tears. A person who is experiencing sensory overload or flooding is not able to respond to humour. Since the key purpose of the intervention is to determine whether additional help is needed, using humour would not be considered inconsiderate or out of place.

20170801_080848
Reynold – Corlis steam engine

Overwhelmed by…

20170713_090709
One kilometer view of a Century Ride

Set up for a Century Ride

About a week ago, after having struggled with sensory overload for a couple of days I was happy to be riding, enjoying the countryside and taking in the sound of birds during the quiet moments along Highway 1, also known as the Tran-Canada. I was doing a century ride of 163 kms into Regina.

The first two weeks of the ride had it’s challenges. At this point things had settled down and I was getting into a workable routine.

I woke up that morning to find out that my glasses had fallen out of the mesh holder and and must have broken when I rolled onto them. The lens was lying in one place and the left arm was broken. My attention was initially on salvaging my glasses as best I could. I got the lens reseated with no apparent damage. I taped the broken arm which not surprisingly failed later in the day.

The scenario with the glasses put me behind schedule. Of all days to encounter a delay. It was going to be a hot day, and we were scheduled to pull out of camp at 5:30 rather than the usual 7:00 start. The intent was to get as many kilometers behind us before it got hot and before the favourable winds would turn against us.

After about an hour of hard cycling, partly to make up for lost time and partly to help dissipate the sensory loading of the morning’s setback, I was gradually finding myself in a better space.

On schedule, as predicted, at about eight o’clock as the thermal convection overpowered the predominant westerly flow of air, we began fighting a headwind. For the remaining 80 km of the ride we were fighting either a headwind or a crosswind. The occasional windbreak gave some appreciable relief.

Despite the elements we were facing, I was doing well and enjoying the ride. It looked like it would be a ride that would leave me with some energy to spare.

Turning Point

Just fifteen kilometers from the campground we were passing through a highway construction zone. As we approached the active working area I was sizing up the pile driver that was working in the median. I could see from the regular puff of smoke rising from the hammer, that it was on a 10 second cycle, pounding in steel columns for a new overpass.

There was no alternate route. As I approached the rig I covered my left ear with my hand hoping to block as much of the shock waves as possible. The bombardment of the sound waves got progressively stronger. Before I was even abreast of the pile driver I knew I was in trouble. I could feel my brain going into shutdown. I had no choice but to keep pedaling. Traffic was moving slowly but was heavy. I put all my energy into keeping myself moving forward as I felt my brain turning to mush. When I was almost past the rig I was in tears. The pounding was overwhelming, bombarding my whole body. The hand covering my left ear virtually ineffective. My eyes were stinging because of the mix of sweat, sunscreen and tears.

I remembered how one air horn blast from a truck a few days ago set my recovery back a half hour. I lost track of the number of hammer blasts. Given the time it took to pass the rig  there must have been 20 to 30 hammer blasts before I was out of range.

When the bombardment of the pile driver faded enough I stopped at the side of the highway trying to pull myself together. At the urging of my cycling buddy I started cycling again to get out of the construction zone and away from the traffic.

A kilometer further was one of our refreshment stops. I made it to the stop and then knowing I was out of danger, I physically, mentally and emotionally fell apart. I stumbled around trying to get my bearings, searching for a sense of pulling myself together. Meanwhile I was too incoherent to explain to the attendant that I would be okay. At least I wanted to convince myself I would be okay. Her concern was in order because she said she had never seen me in such a rough condition.

I sat down for about five minutes to let the worst of the sensory impact fade. After a bit my riding buddy decided that if I was not ready to ride in two more minutes I should be sagged into camp.

Problem solving challenge

I was in a tough situation. When I am in crisis my ability to problem solve is seriously compromised. I had not anticipated the scenario that had just unfolded in the past 15 minutes and therefore had not considered possible exit plans.

Yet I was forced to weigh the options. Ending the ride there with 15 km to go would mean I would miss the exhilaration of completing the ride and instead have to deal with emotions of disappointment on top of the sensory overload I was already dealing with. To stay at the SAG stop meant I would not be able to do my end of the ride recovery protocol within the most effective time frame. Also, cycling is an effective way to help dissipate some of the sensory loading (unless I am feeling physically exhausted), while taking a ride in a vehicle would add to my sensory loading.

I opted to continue cycling since there were only 15 km left. I was trying to determine how much of my decision was influenced by being too proud to stop when I had managed other rather difficult parts of the tour. Had it been significantly further to the camp I would have packed it in for the day. (Easy to say that now as I look back on it.) Despite the heavy traffic getting to the far side of Regina, the rest of the ride went well, though I noticed my riding was not as steady and needed a few reminders to be attentive..

Willing support

When I arrived in camp I experienced a supportive community at it’s best. My riding buddy stepped in and arranged for people to help with my end of ride protocol. This involved getting my recovery drinks ready, my tent set up and for this situation to have one person attend to me while the supports were carried out. Once things were set up I lay down in my tent for about an hour. Didn’t sleep much in that time but was away from others and could relax. A couple people told me later they adjusted my tent fly so that I would be out of the direct sunlight. The tent fly had only been installed part way so there would be additional venting as it was still in the mid 30’s C.

I am interested in see if the earplugs would make a difference. Not that I’m interested in finding out at this time. I was told the earplugs would likely have minimal effect. The nature of the pounding is such that the whole body is impacted, not just the ears. I now pack a set of earplugs with my bike just in case.

After thought

What an experience to travel with a group of people who are focused on each person being cared for. It’s like the success of the tour depends on the success of each person who is part of the tour.

There is a strong sense that we are on a big ride for an even bigger cause.

It Better Be Good

20161014_164812
Dry stack wall – Ennismore

I decided to attend an educators’ convention as an honourary member. After 36 years as a paying member I smile at being given the title ‘honourary’. Deciding to attend was easy, attending was a different story.

Preparation

In order to attend I needed to get to the event. Knowing that my driving limit is about 100 km, I knew the 200 km trip would be pushing my limit. For good measure I gave myself a slight advantage by not setting my alarm clock. I would let my body indicate when I was reasonably rested. Had I woken up at 9:00 I might have abandoned the idea of attending.

I was on the road by 7:00. I complimented my body both on being awake and getting organized and out of the house within an hour of waking. The two hour trip took almost double the time due to the slow traffic caused by the rain.

Arrival

I arrived at the event feeling overtaxed, the sensory loading and the neural fatigue had left its mark. Neural fatigue and socializing just don’t mix. With over a thousand people at the event, I felt I was in the wrong place. I had definite misgivings about staying.

Since it was almost lunch time I assembled a plate of food from the buffet table and searched out a quiet place to eat. I had to get away from the overcrowded area soon to be filled with hundreds of people. The volume, the acoustical effect of block walls, would do nothing to help reduce my neural fatigue.

Eating lunch; the nutrition and the calm location, should help to relieve some of the fatigue. Shortly a former colleague approached and asked if I was open to having someone join me for lunch. Her sensitivity, and consideration was a clear signal to extend an invitation.

Had a boisterous and excitable colleague approached me I would have cringed. Had a colleague who didn’t have the sensitivity to engage in a balance conversation approached me my fatigue would have persisted and left me discouraged. Had a colleague who was absorbed in their own accomplishments joined me I would have gone into a downward spiral.

20160717_135755
Nature’s scuplture

Engaged

We shared laughter. We shared tears. It was energizing and refreshing. The nutritious lunch, the supportive company and the brief time to relax, rekindled a desire to participate in the afternoon events. Her awareness of my needs and mindfulness during our lunch gave me the social momentum as it helped to dissolve my isolation.

On the second day of the convention, after a good night’s sleep, I was in better shape. Another colleague shared how my experiences of living with ABI has given her insight into some of the challenges her students face. We discussed various possible challenges that neurologically atypical children likely encounter in institutional settings like schools.

Tripped up

We ended our discussion as we entered the auditorium to join in the opening program of the day. No sooner did we step inside when 800 people, accompanied by four amplified musical instruments, broke into song. For me the music had the effect of a sound canon. My only saving grace was having taken a seat a mere ten steps from the exit. Despite my quick exit, it took me ten minutes to recover. The five seconds of music had transformed me from engaging in an animated discussion  into sensory overload. Unable to even speak I couldn’t alert my colleague that I needed to make a hasty retreat. Nor could I afford to delay my exit.

Reflection

In reflecting on the convention the sessions were engaging and left me with food for thought. However, I need more than that to rate the experience as ‘good’.

Despite being in the profession for more than three decades, for me the event was not so much about looking back as it was about looking forward. Considering ways to serve educators in new ways. Exploring that potential made the effort and challenges of getting to and attending the convention worthwhile.

While my ABI coloured much of my time at the convention, it did not define my experience.