What does a brain injury feel like?

In my last post I spoke of “enforced introspection.” Because of a few health concerns in the past few years, I have been living in a type of enforced introspection. I was reminded of this situation on Thursday with another accident and rude awakening. I went too long without my oxygen tube and passed out on the floor. This has happened a few times in the past few years.

What happens is not completely known to me, because I don’t remember anything when I regain consciousness. When I gathered my wits about me, I called for Mike, but he had just left for a while. I struggled to my feet eventually and got my oxygen. Wow, what a big bump I had on the back of my head! That’s the best indication I have of how hard I fell.

My health situation is complicated because I know the problem isn’t just an oxygen deficit. The combination of low oxygen and previous brain injuries, especially a traumatic brain injury in 2008 (brain bleed) make my consciousness level less dependable than what most others experience. This is my first life experience with a disability, and I would say I am not adjusting well. My but I can be so stubborn. My brain is not amused.

I have always been my own brand of unique and taken some pride in that, but this is a uniqueness I could do without… I now realize that previous brain injuries (TBI) have made me much more vulnerable to future ones!

The only thing interesting about this brain deficit is observing my varied levels of consciousness. For instance, right now, as I write this, I notice that the spelling part of my brain is not happy. I forget how to spell some of the simplest words, but as I keep trying, they come more easily. It all leaves me in a bit of a dream world, but in a good way. It doesn’t freak me out, because unconsciousness is not scary to me until I wake up and wonder what the hell happened?

I called my brother to tell him about my fall and he said, “What can you do about this?” As far as I can tell there is nothing to do except be sure to stay on oxygen all the time, but my spaced-out nature makes that more challenging than it sounds.

Stop trying? I’ll keep fighting until I can’t fight anymore!

What does “new age” even mean?

I enjoy listening to a music channel on Direct TV named “New Age.” That got me thinking, what does “new age” even mean? The first person to coin the term was Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, cofounder of the Theosophical Society, in the late 19th century. She announced a coming New Age as a form of Western esotericism, but the term “New Age” has antecedents that stretch back to southern Europe in Late Antiquity. Following the Age of Enlightenment in 18th century Europe, new esoteric ideas developed in response to the development of scientific rationality. What is “esotericism”?

Esotericism is the state or quality of being esoteric—obscure and only understood or intended to be understood by a small number of people with special (and perhaps secret) knowledge.

Skipping forward to the Baby Boomers, the “New Age” burst into public consciousness in a buzz of media attention around crystals, chakras, reincarnation, and channeling in the 1980s, but had its immediate roots in the 1960s counterculture. “New age spirituality” is actually a descriptive category in religious studies, appropriated by practitioners of a kind of spirituality that sprang up in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the USA and Britain.

So then, what is spirituality? One definition is that it involves the recognition of a feeling or sense or belief that there is something greater than yourself, something more to being human than pure sensory experience. That greater whole is cosmic or divine in nature. An opening of the heart is an essential aspect of being spirituality.

An open heart is a state of being where you feel open, accepting and expansive. Love flows through you without obstruction. Many long to experience an open heart, but at times we may feel too scared and vulnerable to reveal ourselves in this way, especially to ourselves.

This reminds me of a special meditation taught at Naropa Institute (now University) in Boulder Colorado, where I studied for my masters in Transpersonal Psychology and Counseling. At that time, meditation was an important part of my training, and one meditation was to open your heart to all of the pain in this world at this minute. Quite the challenge. Feeling compassion for the entire world of suffering is life changing, so is feeling complete compassion for your Self in this moment. If you were raised like me, to feel no compassion for your own struggles, but simply demand more from yourself forever, compassion is the medicine you need right now.

To me, New Age means a new way of seeing and experiencing the world in contrast to our parents and grandparents. It is a unique opportunity to see and love the world and your Self wholeheartedly. Your upbringing will determine how difficult that may be for you.

“Here’s what is truly at the heart of WHOLEHEARTEDNESS: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.” — Brene Brown

Escaping Anxiety

I have discovered a magazine I really enjoy lately: Travel & Leisure. I like their first-hand accounts of experiencing a new place. First of all, I have been to many of the places described in this journal. I have also always been a bit of a master at taking vacations in my own head. The Internet has made that so much easier. And at a time when so many of us are seeking escape from our predictable daily lives, I look forward to the next issue of this magazine to help me decide where I want to go next.

Yesterday, I started reading an article about escaping anxiety at a Riviera Maya healing resort. The writer spoke of “living with anxiety for many years; my mind wanders constantly.” Luckily, this author found themselves relaxing into “extreme calm” surrounded by nature, chimes, horns, drums, and gongs.

When I spoke to Mike about this, he immediately pointed out that “going on vacation can be quite anxiety-producing.” Mike, always the realist. Yes, first choosing a trip to take, buying tickets, flying, etc. can be quite stressful, especially with my new handicap, being on oxygen full-time. Did you know that most portable oxygen machines aren’t allowed on airplanes? Who knew?

So is a trip the best way to escape anxiety? Well, that depends on where your anxiety comes from. I learned the most about my lifelong case of anxiety (really fear of others) by moving away from society.

Almost seven years ago now, Mike and I built a passive solar home out in rural southern Colorado. On our three acres with very few neighbors, I finally found myself truly relaxing after a few years. I believe living close to nature instead of others was the main ingredient in this process. Yes, we have some serious snowstorms and amazing wind storms down here, but I feel secure and comfortable looking up at the Spanish Peaks each morning. Nature feels so much more safe to me than most other human beings.

What was most interesting to me was my eventual perception of the nearly unconscious vigilance I apparently felt my whole life in cities. That slowly melting away out here. Whenever I’m in cities now, I feel that subtle fear slowly creeping back. I believe it is the simple equation of having too many people per square mile, the constant possibility of someone disturbing us or worse. When I’m at home, that need for keeping a careful watch over my life and my loved ones slowly recedes and I find peace like I have never known before.

So, where does someone like that go on vacation?

Aging makes me so angry!

I was finally ready yesterday to take an honest look at my feelings from my last visit to see my Mom in Denver. When we first arrived there, my brother went to take a nap because his lower back always hurts him. I sat down with my Mom and we had a lucid and serious discussion of many things. Even though it only went on for thirty minutes or so, she seemed completely there and asked a few truly revealing questions about my life, and I thought,

This is what I wish my relationship had always been with my Mom.”

It seemed relatively healthy and honest, but within just a few minutes she disappeared completely into remembering very little. The next few days were a confusion of her feeling anxious because she needed to ask every few minutes “What day is it?” and “What are we doing today?” I learned that she doesn’t eat well or take her pills on a regular schedule, etc.

How does that feel? I know it sounds irrational to say that aging makes me angry, but to watch someone I love slip away so very slowly, and to know that what I am losing is gone for good, is truly devastating. At first I felt angry, and as always, the sadness soon followed. My Mom will never be the Mom I remember from the past 65 years again. She is vanishing so slowly but permanently, and I can do nothing about that.

Neither one of my Mom’s parents lived as long as she has. Her Mom died in her mid-70s of cancer and her father lost it after that, dying at 81. I remember most my grandfather’s anger that his dutiful wife had abandoned him when he needed her most. He finally just gave up. So we really don’t know about dementia in her side of the family. She has outlived everyone in her family’s past.

Personally, I have experienced my share of “aging” in the past few years, where I have gone from a healthy 60 year old, who exercised regularly and never smoked, to someone on full-time oxygen. Yes, aging sucks! I have one gigantic constant reminder. Life on a tube is so frustrating. I guess I see now how so many of our elders end up angry and so sad all at once.

Have you gotten better through difficult times?

I happened to catch an interview with a Christian religious leader the other day, speaking of resurrection after a fall. Of course he was referring to the resurrection of Christ after his crucifixion, but every spring we experience rebirth, a brilliant rising from the dead of the plants in the northern hemisphere.

Spring always raises my spirits as I am a lover of plants of all kinds!

I was born in the spring and love the idea of rebirth in nature and in our own emotional life as well. In answer to the question posed, “Do we get better through difficult times?” I would answer not automatically. Difficult times can make us think more deeply about our lives, where we are stuck, and what we want or need to happen next. I faced my first truly difficult time at age 24 and found I was not equipped to find my way out of it except by moving somewhere else and starting a new career. There I made great friends and eventually moved on. This has happened a few times in my life. It was only at age 49, when I faced joblessness and possible loss of my home that I truly “woke up.”

“Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up.” – Pema

My midlife crisis offered me not only the opportunity to consider my life more deeply, but it also generously offered me time to sit and consider what I wanted and needed more of in my life to choose to go on. At the time I focused on this question:

What do I want to happen before I die? I finally concluded more fun & meaning...

After that very dark time for me, I felt resurrected. I knew what came next and I energetically went out in search of it. I met Mike within a few months and knew almost immediately that I had found a person who would love and value me as wounded as I was. My relationships changed, especially those with my parents.

Mike helped me begin the finally and fully love, value and honor my Self and my own very real needs. For the first time I took my place in the world, but this was a gradual opening. At first I did not trust my own judgment, because it had let me down so many bad roads in my past. It took me many months to know that Mike was trustworthy after so many betrayals. My natural stance had always been “Don’t trust anyone!” Now I confronted my need to trust again and finally found a way after much testing.

It all turned out well for me, but that is not to say I won’t face even more dark nights of the soul in my future. I still have many fears, but I feel better equipped to deal with them now.

Living in gratitude for what I do have everyday puts it all into perspective for me. How many more rebirths will you experience? How will you learn & grow from them?

Do you want to learn more about waking up in midlife? Please take a look at my books