My experience with post-concussion syndrome

In case a few of you are concerned about my condition since my last concussion in April, I was finally able to see a great neurologist this past week in Denver. Why Denver? Because no one down here would even see me! One in Pueblo refused and would not say why, plus they took a month to say so! Health care? What health care?

So five months later a great MD at Blue Sky Neurology in Denver did a thorough assessment of my condition and concluded I was in very good shape considering my history of a serious traumatic brain injury (2008) and a number of concussions since. He said something I already know too well, head injuries often lead to more head injuries, especially if you take into account my difficulties maintaining my oxygen levels.

It’s official. I now have Post-Concussion Syndrome.

Here’s a summary of what that is according to the Mayo Clinic:

Persistent post-concussive symptoms, also called post-concussion syndrome, occurs when concussion symptoms last beyond the expected recovery period after the initial injury. The usual recovery period is weeks to months. These symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, and problems with concentration and memory.

Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that usually happens after a blow to the head. It can also occur with violent shaking and movement of the head or body. You don’t have to lose consciousness to get a concussion or experience persistent post-concussive symptoms. In fact, the risk of developing persistent post-concussive symptoms doesn’t appear to be associated with the severity of the initial injury.

In most people, symptoms occur within the first seven to 10 days and go away within three months. Sometimes, they can persist for a year or more.

The goal of treatment after concussion is to effectively manage your symptoms.

Persistent post-concussive symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of concentration and memory
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Blurry vision
  • Noise and light sensitivity
  • Rarely, decreases in taste and smell

Luckily I only have about half of these. Mostly it just feels like I’m slightly drunk a lot of the time with occasional falling down-type whirlies. Ironic though, I almost never drank alcohol before this and I never do now. I found it interesting to know that I also have whiplash in my neck from falling down so violently. It seems some physical therapy is in order. Unfortunately, I now find myself unable to keep quiet when I’m angry. No filter here πŸ™‚ so I sometimes must apologize later for losing my temper. I’ve always been a pretty direct and honest person, now that’s a bit out of control… oops!

But I am surviving nicely with no more plans to fall on my head… Hope you are all doing better than me!

Watching Mom lose everything…

This past week was one of the saddest of my entire life. I felt so bad for my Mom as she watched her most valued lifetime possessions walk out of her door. She then moved from a patio home to a small apartment in assisted living. Unmitigated pain. Moving from a patio home to assisted living meant flunking at life, at least that’s how my Mom felt about it. Failure at age 88. Her dementia has gotten to be too much and so comes the final punishment for living so long.

There was nothing we could say to ease her pain. It was just so sad.

At one point she said to me, “You will never understand how this feels.” And she’s right. Each person’s pain is their own. Only she remembers when she got each piece of furniture and how much it meant to her and my father. Their home was like a museum of their world travels and their many friendships gained along the way. That is now gone as her memories fade.

Sometimes I wonder, why we live if it all ends in death? That is when it strikes me that we are no different than any other animal or plant. We do not choose to be born or choose our death, it just is. The cycle of life and death continues for all living beings.

All I can come up with is to do my best to love my life every day, come rain or shine…

Useful lessons in love from old movies… Check out “Lydia” from 1941!

I have become a real fan of Turner Classic Movies since my most recent brain injury the end of April. Actually even with my first traumatic brain injury back in 2008, I found watching movies to be most soothing and helpful in helping me re-learn language. After that first bike accident I could barely put a sentence together immediately afterwards. Apparently I hurt the part of my brain that does language.

This week I watched a great 1941 movie called “Lydia” starring Merle Oberon. I found it rather ahead of its time in terms of sexual liberation. I have learned that in old movies when two lovers share a passionate kiss, that should be read as a sexual encounter in today’s language. Anyway, Lydia, an elderly woman who never married (a spinster in 1940s speak), is suddenly confronted with the four men she has loved in her life as a sort of review of the important transitions she went through. This in itself reminded me of a reoccurring dream I had for years before I met Mike. In my dream I’m standing in front of a room of past lovers. So what do I do? I stand up and shoot myself in the head…

MERLE OBERON & ALAN MARSHAL in ‘LYDIA’

But Lydia is quite gracious to the three past lovers she is suddenly confronted with. These three men have always loved and cared for her, but she could never truly love them because she was deeply and tragically in love with another man whom she only knew for an intense few days when she was young. This sailor named Richard, deserted her soon after they met, but kept sending passionate letters promising love in their future. After most of her past life and loves have been explained, Richard, the man she had pined for forever comes by. After a great line about them all being “old and crusty” the man Lydia loved so passionately forever looks at her and does not even recognize her! OUCH!

What a great summary of intense youthful passion! Hormones can be such a major part of early love. They most certainly color our memories of what may later seem like the best times in our lives. But then the times when love first blooms is always excitingly poignant and unforgettable. The discovery that another person who you find quite attractive actually “loves” you is better than most drugs, and yet it is best to consider that you were on a certain type of drug when it happened. You were young and so insecure and just hoping someone would come along and make your life better. You were projecting all of your greatest wants and needs on to this one person who is probably at least as messed up as you are. Later, when you realize your life is not any better, and perhaps worse with this person….oops!

There are a number of great lines in “Lydia.” One is when she describes her lustful sailor man as: “bad and wicked, and as marvelous as they come, and I am so idiotically happy I can’t think!” Pretty tough to think when you are hopelessly in love and the hormones are raging! Another great piece of advice: “Don’t give your love to a phantom!”

I could relate well to this 80-year-old movie. That’s a miracle in itself! I have had my share of ill-fated love affairs. A few asked me to marry them, but I never did, not until much later in my life. I say, try not to be too hard on yourself for the silliness of your many past bad choices…

Open your heart to those you love. Sometimes it will turn out great. Other times, not so much...

Academ-idiots, my term for those who intellectualize everything… I speak from experience here :)

I have wondered forever about what I call academ-idiots and how they survive their obsession with living in their heads. First of all I was raised by one and pretty much followed in his footsteps. To quote my first therapist in my early thirties, “I have never met a woman who intellectualizes everything like you do!” Yep, that was me… It’s hard to fight your upbringing when it’s all you know!

Hell, I didn’t even know I was different back then. I thought everybody read constantly and lived in their heads, filling them up with new ideas, new words and new meanings. As I grew up I found it more and more difficult to make new friends. They needed to be intellectualizers like me. When I started at Colorado College, the place where my Dad worked, I finally felt more at home. My friends were a little bit more intellectual, which came to mean out of touch with “the real world” like me. When I got a scholarship to Cornell University to study Chinese, I found myself in university snob heaven. What a trip! Through the years a few of my teachers told me how out of touch I really was, but in a good way.

Since then I have worked with many intellectuals in university settings and found so many to be academ-idiots. They lived in their minds and their disciplines, but did not know themselves at all. It was only years later that I separated myself from this identification with pure mind. Around age 40 I rejected mind without emotions thinking and decided to study psychology, investing for the first time in non-traditional education. I was still working at CU-Boulder, but running down the hill to study at the Naropa Institute, a Buddhist-based university. Only then did I see exactly how in-my-head I had become. What an inauthentic way of being in the world. In fact, it was a bit of a relief when I lost my last academic job back in 2004.

Goodbye academ-idiots, hello world!

A year later I met Mike, the absolute opposite of an intellectual or academic snob. He knew how everything worked and could not specialize or intellectualize to save his life. He was as well-rounded and authentic as a human being could be. He had tee shirts that said things like “Screw- U.” He balked at those who acted like they knew everything, but could not fix their own car or respect those who didn’t go to college. He got his skills training at his Dad’s garage and in the Navy starting at age 17, and treated everyone initially with respect, compassion, honesty, integrity. I find his finest quality to be his sense of loyalty to those he loves. Mike can sniff out inauthenticity from a mile away… not that we have a lot of intellectuals out here in rural southern Colorado πŸ™‚

My life has been so much better since I gave up intellectualizing. It can be so toxic because it can create false illusions that I somehow control and can manipulate everything and everybody. Nope, that’s not how it works. Take it from someone who has learned in the past few years that she cannot breathe without a machine and her brain is damaged through no fault of her own. I am being forced to relax my mind! What an interesting challenge for someone so focused on mind…

Time and change happens to everybody!

My journey continues… My favorite song lately: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bST9VXknId0

What we think about when we’re old and graying, my review of the 2019 film “After the Wedding”

I grow more enamored with Julianne Moore every time I see another one of her films, but this one blew me away. This film dealt with a few of my most crucial issues at present, and did so in such profoundly moving and sensitive ways. If I had to summarize in one sentence, I would say “After the Wedding” is about the terrible decisions we must make when we are too young to make them, and their long-term consequences… It is about the issues we try to come to terms with decades later as we face our own end.

Watching this film reminded me of how I so often wonder why certain parts of my past, certain people, certain moments, certain memories, haunt me, demanding so much of my psychic energy decades later, while most simply fade away. How did I deal with that person, that anger, that fear, that abandonment and why? It seems most of us can obscure painful memories only so long, as we continue to learn and grow and increase our capacity for compassion.

As Julianne says at one point near the end of this film, “discomfort brings growth.”

Yes, I’m quite familiar with the anti-discomfort argument. Why suffer at this late date when nothing can be done about it? I do my share of spacing it all out and celebrating the absurdity of life, but I also enjoy films like this that are so raw and intense they ask you to step up to the plate and feel your past and perhaps give yourself a much-needed break.

I pride myself on searching out and confronting the truth at every turn. I believe that is what makes us a tiny bit better than the other animals. Nothing can be changed about the past, but our own understanding of what it means to us is what makes us human. I also enjoyed the song at the end: “I knew you for a moment” by Abby Quinn

β€œThe first forty years of life give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary on it.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

My life now: The post-concussion dizzies

I’ve been taking some time away from my online life lately. Recently, 12 weeks since my latest serious concussion, I suffer with disorientation and extreme dizziness, not unlike that horrible feeling when the world is spinning around because you drank too much. (I only drank that much once in my life, Chinese Mao Tai, 150 proof, it’s a long story…) This of course is complicated by my hypoxia and need to be on oxygen all of the time. All in all I am the classic dizzy dame lately, LOL.

I have always prided myself on my nibble mind. Not so much now. These days slow and steady wins the race, with lots of brain rest in between. Needless to say, this is not how I pictured myself in my mid-60s. How embarrassing and difficult to embrace. But like everything else I have faced in my life, I try everyday to learn something from this present state of mind. I find I am mostly learning and re-learning compassion for all of us who suffer with physical and mental pain. Recently I saw a program about Christopher Reeve, one of my personal heroes. He said one of the most difficult parts of his accident and injury was to accept that this was his life now. Extreme limitations in abilities and a gigantic change in self-image can be devastating, I know this on a personal level. Now I know I will never go ice skating again or even run or hike or any of the things I did my whole life. Sometimes I wake and find I’ve been dreaming about running or skating really fast.

My thoughts naturally turn to my bucket list, but even arranging an easy vacation like a cruise may not be possible because of my need for constant supplemental oxygen and my apparent natural vertigo at this point. Did you know only certain types of oxygen machines are allowed on airplanes? Who knew? There are still a number of places I would still like to see, but can I? I would so like to travel more. Our first trip this year will be to sea-level to see how well I can breathe there.

Then, of course, the old “Why is this happening to me?” questions arise. I know exactly how useless these questions are. Everyone at some point in their life must wonder this. Sometimes the medical explanations are adequate, but in my case my pulmonologist and I are both stymied. It just is what it is, and life goes on within you and without you.