How my brain is healing from serious concussion

Although I have other experiences with brain injuries and healing, this most recent concussion a little over a year ago has been quite different. This was the first time I experienced auditory and visual hallucinations after I fell and knocked myself out on a stone floor.

From the first I had lots of balance problems, especially because I so fear anymore falls. But what was different for me was the constant feeling of the world spinning around me, much like the whirlies when you’re drunk. Especially when I turned my head either way or put it back very far I felt so dizzy. This went on for months afterwards and between my bad lungs and my whirling brain, I worried about my balance quite a bit.

What I find most curious about me is that I go through periods of symptoms like the twirlies, and then they go away for a while, maybe a month or so, and then they come back again. When they are bad, I don’t trust myself to walk alone without support of some kind. I have felt like this for the past few days and then this morning I felt fine again.

I know that brain cells can repair themselves, I guess it’s a bit like re-wiring. I experienced that after my TBI in May of 2008. It took lots of rest and a couple years, but I did get almost back to ‘normal’ for me. These kind of personal experiences teach us new appreciation for the incredible resilience of our brains. Perhaps that is what is happening to me now. I get better for a while and then I flash back to that old dizziness for a few days, just to fully appreciate when my balance comes back again.

Let’s hear it for the process of neuroplasticity!

Happy to be home!

After just two days up in the northern Colorado cities, Mike and I are always so happy to come home! Speaking as someone with a brain injury, cities increase my stress level immediately, even as we drive north through Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Denver. In summary, being there exhausts my brain energy so quickly. There is also the stress of staying in a different house with different people. All I know is that I need to sleep a lot after I get home to “catch up” on my mental comfort level and health. Of course, psychologists have known for years that:

“City living can chip away at your psychological immune system, which can be precarious for those with a family history of mental illness. According to psychologists , this environmental stress can increase their risk of developing a psychiatric condition, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.”

As we drive south out of the metro parts of Colorado, we both breathe a gigantic sigh of relief. We love to return to the life that we love in one of the least populated and developed counties in Colorado. We find slow, quiet, and peaceful is great for our sanity! Our passive solar home always stays cool for free while we’re gone. I miss my garden and Mike misses his cat Rosie when we go on trips.

This is our reward for moving down here six years ago now… Try to beat that view from your back porch! When I first met Mike he said he wasn’t moving again unless it was to somewhere where he wasn’t looking at the house across the street. Success at last!

I immediately go outside and check on my plants. Luckily nobody got eaten while we were gone 🙂

And yes, I do have some native plants coming up too, like this yucca, a transplanted Cholla cactus and some evening primrose. I sure hope the Cholla decides to bloom this July! It’s flowers are a bright magenta color.

Postscript: The funniest thing I witnessed on our drive through Denver was a trucking company named: “Follow me to Jesus, Inc.” No shit!

Do you feel marginalized as you age? I do.

Perhaps you’ve heard about a new article in The Atlantic by Science journalist Ed Yong entitled:

“The Final Pandemic Betrayal.” Mr. Yong won the Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for this “series of lucid, definitive pieces on the COVID-19 pandemic that anticipated the course of the disease, synthesized the complex challenges the country faced, illuminated the U.S. government’s failures and provided clear and accessible context for the scientific and human challenges it posed.

The subtitle of Mr. Yong’s latest article from April 2022 is:

“Millions of people are still mourning loved ones lost to COVID, their grief intensified, prolonged, and even denied by the politics of the pandemic.” I saw an interview with him this week that really hit home for me. At least nine million of us have lost someone we knew and cared for and yet it seems we just go on, ignoring the tremendous losses to so many. In just two years, COVID became the third most common cause of death in the U.S., which means that it is also the third leading cause of grief.

“Each American who has died of COVID has left an average of nine close relatives bereaved, creating a community of grievers larger than the population of all but 11 states. Under normal circumstances, 10% of bereaved people would be expected to develop prolonged grief, which is unusually intense, incapacitating, and persistent. But for COVID grievers, that proportion may be even higher, because the pandemic has ticked off so many risk factors.”

In his recent interview, Mr. Yong discussed what is for me the most important aspect of this horrible loss of life. The groups hardest hit were “marginalized” sections of our society. Who are they? The elderly, those chronically ill, the weakened, the brown, the black and low income groups who have less access to decent health care.

My experience in the past eight years, as I grow older and my own health declines, has been a movement from a “normal” person to one who definitely feels marginalized. First with the aging process we slowly become invisible in our culture, or worse, someone who should just get out of the way of the younger and more vital. Yes, it’s true some help me with doors and seem to feel some compassion for my difficult circumstances, but I have experienced a pulling away from others as I have become more disabled. I have found it almost impossible to make true friends in this rural area. It seems just about nobody believes I am worth their time and energy. I don’t think I would have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it myself.

In this way I have learned what “marginalized” means in this country. We have always put an emphasis on being healthy and able-bodied, and when I was also healthy I rarely noticed what happened to those who are not. Yes, I do have financial resources unlike so many Americans, but I do not live by bread alone. Thanks to those of you who have made an effort to welcome us here. And to the rest of you, I hope you don’t ever become elderly and need a friend.

Aging, Imaginary Friends & Transcendence

I mean, what could be more natural? Throughout human history and certainly since each of us first started attempting to create ‘relationships’, we have naturally projected our own needs, desires, and preferences onto anyone around we found handy and appealing. But reality can be so harsh. If we spend time to get to know our latest “possible friend material”, it’s always disappointing. “Oh no, this is just one more flawed, imperfect, lost soul. Damn, I thought I’d found someone more together than me.”

Then AI comes along and before long we had some fascinating new ways of (mis)communicating. Artificial-intelligence gone wild! Spring break for cheaters! Open season on imagining anything or anyone and then hoping for the best!

Databases like Facebook and most dating sites made it much easier to imagine others’ lives instead of bothering to get to know them… at all! Imagine projecting across the globe and so easily. It may well bring one of our worst traits to the surface, and then convince us that we have scads of imaginary friends. Oh well. I guess that beats no friends at all 😦

I marvel at the apparent power of Facebook. After decades of wondering (or not) we connect to a few we just barely recognized in high school, but back then most of us were too scared, self-conscious or self-absorbed to get to know anyone else. Or maybe just too high… I remember my high school self as a unique combination of shrinking violet and wallflower with just a hint of enforced invisibility. For me, being in public was painful, unless I was ice skating.

Don’t worry, high school was just the pupa stage. We got much better!

Sometimes I like to compare our lifecycle to that of the butterfly. One of the reasons I enjoy this image is that it means that we were only pupa in high school and college, coming out of our pupa in midlife, and we’re now moving into our full butterfly stage, as free and beautiful as we will ever be! One thing is for sure, we are just about as authentic as we are ever going to be now.

I find that transcendent…

Such a refreshing perspective!
“I had to go through so much just to be here now.
That makes me feel so proud of myself!
I can’t believe I made it so far!”

Postscript: Perhaps death is such a relief because there is truly nothing else to go wrong.

The worst case scenario just arrived!

Aging & Accepting New Limits…

I am ever amazed at the distance between knowing how much my health has changed and accepting those new limits. In the past seven years I have gone from a healthy 60-year-old to one who needs supplemental oxygen to breath and help with balance and stability while walking. My highest priority now is to not fall again and suffer another head injury. I’ve already had one traumatic brain injury and several serious concussions.

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is.

On my birthday this year I learned in no uncertain terms that I cannot walk more than a few blocks, and that is with balance assistance at all times. I have been an avid walker my whole life. I would love to know how many miles I have walked in my 65+ years. I was inspired by Thoreau’s essay on “The fine art of sauntering.”

Walking was always my best way to contemplate my doubts and troubles. If I was upset I would go for a long walk along the Big Thompson River in Loveland, or around my neighborhood in Fort Collins. There I worked things out in my mind.

This is not an option now. I fell down in my garden a couple years ago and split my upper lip badly. Even short walks are out of the question, even if Mike is there to help. I am depressed and frustrated with this change in my lifestyle, and acceptance has never been my forte. I am one stubborn person!

However, I heard something the other day which stuck with me. It was about how we may decide to focus and go deeper into our spirituality when our physical abilities wane. This has already happened to some extent, because I’m that kind of person and I am stuck inside most of the time.

Luckily I have a phenomenal view from my bed, an 180 degree view of the Sangre de Cristos!

OK, I guess I can live with this.

Could I have insulin resistance? What is that?

Now that I am convinced that I am going to survive my most recent health emergency, a terrible case of anemia (I needed five iron infusions(!), I have decided to make an all-out effort to improve my health. BTW, I believe my anemia was cause by my statin drug. This is a rare side-effect of statins. As far as anemia goes, if you should notice an alarming amount of hair in your shower drain and a sudden, extreme loss of energy, get a blood test…now!

So I noticed an ad for GOLO.com, a supplement that promises weight loss for so many of us who are older, overweight and “insulin resistant.” Then I got to thinking, what’s that? Here’s what I found on a few medical sites:

The two main factors that seem to contribute to insulin resistance are excess body fat, especially around your belly, and a lack of physical activity. People who have prediabetes, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes usually have some level of insulin resistance.

  • Insulin resistance happens when the body doesn’t respond appropriately to insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels.
  • Insulin resistance can lead to chronic health conditions like diabetes, coronary artery disease, and metabolic syndrome, but it does not always cause symptoms.
  • Insulin resistance is reversible with exercise, diet, weight loss, and, if needed, medications.

Insulin resistance increases your risk of developing diabetes. You could be insulin resistant for years without knowing it. This condition typically does not trigger any noticeable symptoms, so it’s important to have a doctor regularly check your blood glucose levels.

Wow, this sounds serious. So I ordered the “release” supplement from GOLO and started taking it as directed. In the meantime I learned there are many different supplements that may increase insulin sensitivity, but chromium, berberine, magnesium, and resveratrol are backed by the most consistent evidence.

In the GOLO formula, each capsule contains 15 mg magnesium, 10 mg zinc, and 70 mcg chromium as well as a “proprietary blend” of Rhodiola extract, Inositol, Berberine extract, Gardenia extract, etc. These are taken 3 times per day with meals. I found similar supplements in Dr. Gundry’s Metabolic Advanced capsules, but they recommend 4 capsules per day. In the past I did lose some weight with Dr. Gundry’s formula.

First of all you should know that the only healthy way to combat insulin resistance is through increased exercise and diet change. From my experience of losing 50 pounds in my mid-50s, weight loss works best by cutting sugar, dairy, processed foods, and salt way back, then allowing yourself only two very small helpings of white starches (bread, potatoes, pasta, rice) per day. Fill up on vegetables with a small amount of fruit like apples or blueberries.

Steps to reverse insulin resistance and prevent type 2 diabetes:

  1. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day of moderate activity (like brisk walking) 5 or more days a week.
  2. Get to a healthy weight.
  3. Eat a healthy diet.

I started taking my GOLO capsules a week ago and changing my diet to consume much fewer calories with less salt and sugar. One of the side effects I am pleased to report is how much water weight I have lost. I have been retaining water, especially in my lower legs and feet forever, so much so that it was hard to wiggle my toes sometimes. I knew this wasn’t healthy and so I asked a number of MDs why I am so swollen. None could offer any useful answers. Now I know what I can do about it!

As far as the loss of actual pounds, I have decided not to focus on that for a while. As long as I keep feeling better I will take that as my reward. I learned from my last weight-loss experience that checking the scale constantly is no way to change habits. Losing weight is not a proper goal. For me, a permanent sustainable change in my eating habits, health and a feeling of well-being is my lifelong goal.