The most important healing tip I’ve learned from my own brain injuries (TBI & concussions)

I just saw an interesting piece on the importance of sleep on the NBC morning news show, which reminded me of the most important thing I have learned from experiencing a traumatic brain injury and a few serious concussions. That is the amazing healing powers of sleep!

I’ve always been a pretty good sleeper and enjoyed every minute of it, but now I see that sleep, whenever you feel like you need it, is your best brain restoring behavior. When we are younger we may try to get away with less sleep than we need, but, as we age, deep REM sleep is essential to brain health and memory retention.

After my traumatic brain injury fourteen years ago, I had no choice but to sleep quite a bit for months afterwards. I also had fractured ribs and breathing problems. That kept my activities to a minimum. But my brain did slowly heal itself over a few years. It literally re-wired itself to work well again.

It was only after a recent serious concussion in April 2021 that I knew that I must take it really easy on my brain and rest whenever I felt fatigued. Then I read Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s amazing book “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientistʼs Personal Journey” where she explained how she slowly healed from a terrible stroke. There she re-emphasized the need to sleep as soon as you feel any need for it. In this way I have slowly regained clarity and stability over the past year and a half.

We must all stop fighting sleep and ENJOY IT! It has such a healing effect on your brain and every other part of your body. If you don’t believe me, believe the Dalai Lama:

How to give yourself credit for the life you’ve lived… is it simply luck, or something better?

Yesterday we were watching a Youtube video of a boating tour around Venice. Visiting Venice in the mid-1980s was one of my most favorite trips ever. It felt like a trip back in time for me and I loved it! As I watched I kept saying, “I was so lucky to go all of the places I’ve been in my life!” Then I questioned that statement. Was it just luck? Not at all.

When I was young I got the travel bug from my Dad, so whenever I decided to go somewhere, I just did it. I would spend money I didn’t have to go live in Bangkok, float down a number of rivers all over the West, or go sailing in the Caribbean. A friend and I took what we called “the people’s ferry” up the Pearl River to Guilin, China before anyone else was going there. None of these were planned tours, we just went.

This was not a simple case of luck, but rather a perfect example of my belief that ‘what you focus on grows.’ It was my natural inclination to see as much of the world as I could. Luck had little to do with it. Of course the tough part was the bronchitis I had in Bangkok, China, Taipei and Venice, and my difficulties breathing at 8,300 feet in Cuenca, Ecuador. Health scares drove me to visit as many places as I could before my lungs became a problem, making me ever more thankful that I traveled so much when I was young.

Another example of apparent luck? Having such loving beings around me as I find myself not so healthy or able to travel easily. Now I see that was not luck at all. I am one of those people who doesn’t have many friends, but those I have are completely loyal. They know me and love me unconditionally, through thick and thin.

Believing it was just luck that I now live in such a naturally quiet and beautiful place with an amazing garden is pure foolishness. Getting here took quite a bit of time, stress and energy, but it was all completely worth it!

Through this thought process I realized how easy it can be to simply feel lucky, but I think it is important that we give ourselves full credit for the choices we’ve made consciously throughout our lives.

Perhaps we have been better at life than we thought! Imagine that!

Boomer health is failing earlier than our parents

In a very roundabout way, I learned recently that we Baby Boomers are the first generation in American history to have worse physical and mental health than previous generations. Disturbing huh. Along with celebrating my Mom’s 89th birthday this week, I got some results back from a two hour test of my memory, a baseline for future understanding of how my memory is changing. One of the most concerning findings to me was that I suffer from apathy and depression. So, like a good researcher, I started checking to see how common these feelings are among my own generation. Come to find out:

“Americans born between 1948 and 1965 are more likely than the generations that preceded them to have multiple health problems as they age. Many develop two or more health conditions up to 20 years sooner than folks from other generations…” according to the articleCohort Trends in the Burden of Multiple Chronic Conditions Among Aging U.S. Adultsin the June 2022 issue of The Journals of Gerontology

It seems our apathy may be showing… This study classified people, based on the generation they were born into, like this: Greatest generation (born 1923 or earlier); early children of the Depression (1924 to 1930); late children of the Depression (1931 to 1941); war babies (1942 to 1947); early boomers (1948 to 1953); mid boomers (1954 to 1959); and late baby boomers (born 1960 to 1965).

The researchers looked at nine chronic conditions: heart disease; high blood pressure; stroke; diabetes; arthritis; lung disease; cancer (except skin cancer); depression symptoms; and trouble with memory and thinking skills. Among adults with multiple chronic health problems, arthritis and high blood pressure were the most common for all generations, higher rates of depression and diabetes drove the surge in chronic conditions seen in boomers. Some links can be found between the introduction of fast food and television:

“Fast food restaurants became very popular during the 1950s because families were busy and they needed a place where they could quickly pick up food; people also wanted to be able to get quick food that they could eat in front of their new TVs.”

In other trends, American baby boomers scored lower on tests of cognitive functioning than did members of previous generations, according to a 2020 nationwide study. Findings showed that average cognition scores of adults aged 50 and older increased from generation to generation, beginning with the greatest generation (born 1890-1923) and peaking among war babies (born 1942-1947). These scores began to decline in the early baby boomers (born 1948-1953) and decreased even further among middle baby boomers (born 1954-1959).

 What was most surprising to me is that this decline could be seen in all groups: men and women, across all races and ethnicities and across all education, income and wealth levels. Results showed lower cognitive functioning in boomers was linked to less wealth, higher levels of loneliness, depression, inactivity and obesity, and less likelihood of being married. Could this also be linked in some way to how many of us have tried to live up to our parents’ demands and standards and failed?

The biggest concern is that these apparent trends in lower cognitive functioning in those in their 50s and 60s, could lead to a higher rate of dementia as we age. Among the aging population in the United States, we are already seeing an increase in the number of Americans with dementia. This may continue in our future.

What it feels like to age faster than my friends

Recently I have begun to realize that what I am experiencing at age 67 is what most in my age cohort will experience later. Because of my present health concerns, lung disease and a few serious brain injuries, I feel now what most in my age group may not feel for a decade or two. This has come home to me with a few recent occurrences.

First is my upcoming 50th high school reunion next summer. At first I got confused about whether it was this year or next year, and when I realized it was next summer that they were trying to schedule for, I had to respond with, “I’m not sure if I’ll even be here by then…Either way I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to come.” 

I have also recently heard from a few friends from decades ago. My best friend from high school wrote out of the blue to “catch up.” She is probably a typical 67-year-old who recently retired, loves to travel, and is proud of her children and grandchildren. They seem to have very few health problems. I told her the truth about my situation. I didn’t hear anything back, period.

Same with a lover/friend from my mid-20s. He sent me a brief e-mail in April saying, “Hope all is well.” I sent him a summary of my life now and received stark silence in return when I told him the truth about what is happening with me.

One thing is for certain, my life experiences in the past decade or so have changed my outlook on life. One cannot suffer a traumatic brain injury and fractured ribs, with periods of unconsciousness over 24 hours, without seeing life differently. Now I see that experience as a gift, one which greatly raised my appreciation of life while showing me that death is truly not so unusual or scary. We may simply experience an accident, lose consciousness and it’s over. Is that so bad?

Losing my ability to breathe without oxygen has taught me compassion for those who lose any basic ability that others take for granted. I know now how others can suffer from judgments from others and how harsh I may have been by unconsciously judging those with limited abilities through no fault of their own.

These challenges and insights I face now are the same as many in my age group will face eventually. I’m just getting an early start. I find my experiences so revealing about disability and aging. I try to face all new experiences with a sense of wonder and curiosity. Too bad others seem to want to avoid looking at my life now and possibly their our future.

The end of a rainy July in my southern Colorado sky garden…

After almost four inches of rain this month, my sky garden is a bit subdued this morning. Mount Mestas looks like it has a dollop of cream on top.

The Blue Mist Spirea is completely out now, but I’m afraid all this rain at once is giving my lavender some root rot!

The bumble bees are showing all my plants some love, but especially the Spirea right now.

Buddha is loving the rain!

And my late blooming magenta yarrow is finally catching up with its yellow brother…

This view from 2019 of the Spanish Peaks and the Sangres shows why we call it the “Sky Garden”