Colour Coding My Life

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I need to plan for contingencies

I’m nearing the end of my third year living with an ABI (Acquired Brain Injury). Over time I have be able to recognize and tune into about a dozen signals my body gives me when I’m nearing the limits of my sensory loading.

Within the context of dealing with sensory loading, often someone will ask how I’m doing. When casually meeting someone it varies how I answer the question. My answer would be ‘fine’ if I considered the question a greeting. My answer would involve greater or lesser details if it was a question about my well being.

When someone is asking about my well being a succinct response would be easier. I usually respond with varying degrees of detail. A brief response would be easier and more helpful.

Stop Light Metaphor

I have been thinking about it using the image of a stoplight. Using a three colour response has it’s benefits. As a thumb nail-type of overview it is short and to the  point.

Red Zone

When I’m operating in the Red zone it’s a clear message that I’m near my limit or into overload. I’m unable to make casual comments. My neural fatigue interferes with my brain’s ability to properly process what I’m hearing, seeing, smelling, or tasting.

When I’m in the Red Zone my body simply reacts to outside stimuli. When something unexpected happens I react. The reaction is triggered because I can’t anticipate the sudden change or some danger that suddenly appears. In the Red Zone I am easily startled. In some environments, depending on the frequency of being startle, it will compound my neural fatigue.

Along with not processing sensory input very well, my response lacks coherence. In responding to others my thoughts are not very well formulated. I also find myself going onto momentary tangents, a diversion from the flow of the conversation. If I’m responding to a direct question I might miss the main intent of the question.

When I’m operating in the Red Zone physical touch can range from very painful to uncomfortable. The pain can best be described as a burning sensation.

When I’m operating in the Red Zone I regularly find myself humming. Nothing melodious – it’s a tuneless hum.

Yellow Zone

When I’m operating in the Yellow Zone I’m able to make coherent comments in response to what’s happening around me. When I’m in this zone I’m processing conversation and other sensory input with reasonable clarity. However, in this zone it takes too much neural energy to initiate conversation.

When I’m in the Yellow Zone I’m more aware of what is happening around me. That means I’m planning ahead and able to anticipate. As a result I’m not as easily startled by sudden noises, unexpected touch or other changes around me.

In the Yellow Zone I will find myself involuntarily humming as well. When I’m in this zone the humming will be a  recognizable tune.

Green Zone

When I’m operating in the Green Zone I am able to initiate conversation. My responses are much more coherent because I’m able to take in what’s happening around me; the sensory input is making sense to me.

When I’m in the Green Zone I will catch myself spontaneously whistling a recognizable tune. That also serves as a reminder to me that I’m doing activities that aren’t pushing me to my limit. It’s also an indicator that I’ve cleared the sensory accumulation of the previous day or previous days.

Stoplight Metaphor

Using the stoplight metaphor is giving me a better gauge on how my sensory loading that day is being managed.

Even if I don’t respond to greetings by announcing one of the three colours, it does increase my mindfulness. That is one small way in which it’s good to be around other people even if I’m not functioning in the Green Zone.

When I’m in the extreme end of the Red Zone I’m not able to respond to direct questions. That’s because I’m struggling to understand the question, I’m struggling to think of a coherent response and I’m not able to formulate the words. I am able to nod or shake my head in response to appropriate questions.

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“I Need a Quiet Place”

I’ve considered wearing coloured wrist bands, a red, yellow and green one. It would be kind of like a medic alert bracelet. In extreme situations I could just point to the red wrist band. For this to be helpful I need two messages on the band. “I am not in pain,” and “I just need a quiet place.”

I have an idea that many non-ABI people would want one of these wrist bands. Just to give a subtle message when everyone around you is clamouring for your attention; kids, co-workers and…

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Life Happens

 

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Not an Unholy worship place, though Hit & Miss for me

Sunday

Had an invitation to visit a friend for his birthday recently. Since it was Sunday morning I thought it would make sense to make the 45 minute drive and attend his church.

The church, not being a typical protestant church, meets in New Stages Theatre.  Rather than the usual parking lot with an obvious front entrance this worship space was in the downtown area. After making two U-turns I located the correct building. Then I made sure it was actually free parking on Sunday. I made my way to a somewhat obscure entrance. I say obscure because there was no signage and the entrance was on a different street than the official address.

On entering the building I had a choice of climbing the long stairway or riding the elevator to reach the main floor.

I exited the elevator as it opened into a reception area. There were a few people helping themselves to some coffee and a snack. I noted that the bar at the far end of the reception area was closed. (wrong day I guess.)

I walked around, checking out the layout of the space and briefly acknowledged a few people who greeted me. I didn’t have the energy to engage in conversation but knew how to be brief but reasonably polite. I wandered into the worship area with its subdued lighting and sparse setup. There were a few microphones, a music stand with a laptop and a screen that read “Eschatology”. I assumed that was the topic for the day. There were a few parishioners who had already made themselves comfortable in the cushioned seats.

I walked back to the reception area to help myself to a cup of tea and a snack. As my friend was ready to enter the worship area I decided to follow. As I approached the seating area I became acutely aware that my sensory loading had been building. In the ten minutes since entering the building my ability to function had gone into a quiet but steady downward spiral. I stepped out for a few minutes. When I returned I sat off to the side in the shadows and out of sight.

My attempt to be inconspicuous was briefly interrupted when the pastor walked over to me and welcomed me to the service. I nodded a polite acknowledgement.

In the next 15 minutes my sensory overload settled down enough that I could take in some of what was happening. After focusing on the worship service and participating in the singing, things seemed to be going better. The small group of  people and the single guitar made the singing have a settling effect on me.

Shortly after the singing was done I wasn’t able to take in anymore. My earplugs which are meant to tone down sounds had a cocooning affect. I ended up napping for about 20 minutes. (Did I mention the seating was comfortable?)

As the worship time ended I knew I was in no condition to socialize with anyone. I quickly made my way down the long flight of stairs and waited at the bottom till my friend was ready to head home.

On Reflection

The worship experience totally blindsided me. The week before was the first time in almost three years that I had actually made it through the whole worship service. It was a real accomplishment which left me with a stronger sense of inclusion. The singing last week had not pushed me to a point of sensory overload. I had been able to focus on the different parts of the liturgy. I had come away from there with sense of achievement.

So why had today’s experience put me into sensory overload? Yes, and most of it happened before the worship time even started? It wasn’t simply a matter of making it only part way through the service before I needed a break. Needless to say, the experience was a disappointing setback.

I have been advised to consider the broader context when I experience a set back. Sensory overload doesn’t just happen. There are certain experiences that will bring on sensory overload gradually. There are other experiences that will suddenly trigger sensory overload. I should point out that the 45 minute drive to the church did not meet either condition for bringing on sensory overload.

The broader context would be to look at what was happening in the days leading up to the Sunday. What did I do Thursday? Did Friday’s activities contribute? Did Saturday’s activities exacerbate my sensory loading? Had there been time to reduce some of the neural fatigue the accompanies sensory overload?

In hindsight I had been processing two emotionally charged events that added significantly to my emotional sensory loading.

Saturday

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WW I and WW II Cenotaph

On Saturday I attended the November 11 Remembrance Day ceremony. The last two years I had attended the ceremonies in the city. Last year I had fared better during the hour long ceremony than I had the year before. (I’m seeing gradual progress.) This year I attended the ceremony in our hamlet. The cenotaph is around the corner, less than a kilometer from home. Being a small hamlet the Remembrance Day ceremony ran much shorter than in the city.

Despite the shorter ceremony, the remembrance of lives lost and the loss experienced by so many families set me back more than I expected. The local cenotaph is more personal. I counted over 300 names inscribed on the monument, representing soldiers who died in World War I and II. The names are soldiers from our township who served. While the current population is 18,000, it would have been less than a quarter of that at the end of WWII.

After the ceremony I drove home and did some yard work for a couple of hours. Cleaning up and getting things put away is a physical activity with low cognitive demands. Along with being outside that should have helped reduce the sensory loading somewhat.

Friday

On Friday I had lunch with some former colleagues. These occasional lunches are enjoyable and an opportunity to catch up on what people are doing. The setting is relaxed, with no one in a hurry to leave.

A significant part of Friday’s lunch was being a support for a colleague who had recently buried her spouse. Sharing in her loss and that of her young sons meant I would need some time to let some of my sensory loading dissipate.  Biking home after the lunch helped bring some immediate relief. But I should realize by now that I need more than a rhythmic physical activity like a 50 km bike ride to properly recover.

Planning and Scheduling

In hindsight, it was obvious to me that I had scheduled too many activities on consecutive days that contributed to my sensory loading. If I were to do it over, I would schedule at least one recovery day between each event. That’s how it would work in an ideal world.

In reality I did not know what to expect at the Friday lunch.  I did anticipate the sharing of loss at the Friday lunch, but that definitely wasn’t a reason to stay away.

However, I have been reminded of the need to plan for the worst case scenario. Well, that’s fine, but the next day, Saturday, was Remembrance Day. I thought it would be a dishonour to the families of the fallen soldiers to not attend. Besides I had modified my attendance by going to a shorter ceremony. In that way I had made accommodation hopefully reduce a worst case outcome. I realized afterwards that shorter doesn’t necessarily reduce the emotional impact.

Even though I had two emotional events in two days I didn’t realize what impact it was having on me. I had done outdoor physical activities in between. That has always been helpful in reducing  my sensory loading. So, how could I have anticipated that my worship time would expose my sensory overload? My best guess it to realize the accumulative effect of back to back emotionally charged experiences. Why is learning new things so hard to put into practice?

Nevertheless, I decided to visit my friend anyway. I wasn’t just a casual visit, it was a birthday, not something you can take a rain check on.

The visit required some significant accommodations. I managed to find a quiet place. I managed to nap for close to an hour. After my nap I chose a room where there were only a couple of people.

At first I participated by simply nodding and acknowledging the conversations. Gradually I was able to participate and initiate conversation.

Appreciation

I was able to enjoy the visit because my friend understands my needs. No one was insulted that I needed a nap. No one pushed themselves on me to engage in the conversations.

In the end I was glad I not abandoned the idea of visiting. It would have been lonely and disappointing to have gone home rather than visit. It’s not always an easy call to make. It helps when I am with people who know me and have shown understanding in the past.

My reminder

It’s not a matter of “hit and miss”. The recent experience was a clear reminder that I need to pace my self and monitor my sensory loading. Most significant is the cumulative effect of back to back experiences. Even if my body didn’t give me signals, previous experience should have alerted me. But then there is always the somewhat unreasonable hope that my ability to handle sensory loading has significantly improved.

You can’t rush recovery, just like “you can’t rush good wine.”*

* Ringo Garza (musician)

Embracing Neurodiversity

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The Dunes Studio Gallery and Café – P.E.I.

Recently I had a situation which was causing me difficulty. The actions of another person was contributing significantly to my sensory loading. In addition to that, the person’s actions were inconsiderate and was out of sync with the expectations of the activity.

 

Because of my struggle with sensory loading related to my ABI (acquired brain injury), I had one of two options. The first option was to avoid being around the person. The second option was to make the person aware of the issue and appeal to some common courtesy.

I opted for the first choice. Just steer clear. It seemed the easier option.

I soon realized that it was impossible to avoid someone that was regularly around me. So my only viable option was to approach the person with my concern.

I approached the person with my request, not knowing what response to anticipate. That in itself added noticeably to my sensory loading.

The response I got was over the top and put me into sensory overload. Rather than acknowledging the friendly reminder, and recognizing that my request was very reasonable, I received some incredible push back. I was told that my request was ridiculous and that the courtesy was definitely unnecessary.

I walked away after the verbal assault and found a quiet place to off load some of the initial effects of my sensory loading. Since the ABI also affects my ability to problem solve, I was unable to give an immediate and measured response.

A half hour later the person approached me and apologized for, as he called it, his brusque behaviour. He told me he didn’t understand what I was talking about.  There was nothing ambiguous about my request. I had explained which of his actions were causing difficulty for me as well as reducing my margin of safety. His initial reaction was poorly covered by his nonsense explanation. With that I lost a lot of respect for the person.

Unfortunately, the interchange did very little to make his behaviour more considerate. For me it was a wasted effort and contributed unnecessarily to my sensory loading in the days that followed.

Avoiding to hide behind the ABI wall

I don’t like to use my ABI limitations to coerce someone else into changing their behaviour. If someone is engaged an activity in a socially acceptable way, even if it adds to my sensory loading, I won’t request any concessions. If someone is not acting in a socially acceptable manner I will ask the person to make concessions depending on how much it affects my ABI limitations.

However, I won’t explain my limitations as the basis for the request. I shouldn’t have to make my limitations public in order to receive cooperation. I don’t want to use my ABI as a means for coercion or manipulation. Being one’s own advocate is difficult and makes it hard to manage my sensory loading.

On a daily basis I have people around me engaged in activities in a socially acceptable manner. When these activities affect my ABI limitations I make it my business to leave the area or make my own accommodations.

Inclusiveness

My example shows some of the challenges of moving to a more inclusive neurodiverse society. The needs for those like myself who are neurologically a-typical the requests for consideration has a significant affect on our participation in a variety of events and activities.

At times when self-advocacy hasn’t worked I have had a measure of success with someone advocate for me. Unfortunately when self-advocacy hasn’t work other measures have too often been equally futile.

Much work needs to be done to move people to become more accepting of and have a greater understanding of neurodiversity. Through increased awareness hopefully more people will develop an appreciation for the needs of those who push the boundaries of neurodiversity. Pushing the boundaries not to make a point, but simply pushing the boundaries because of our presence and being who we are.

* What is neurodiversity?

Domino Effect

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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

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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

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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.

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Reynold – Corlis steam engine

Overwhelmed by…

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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

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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.

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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.