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.

The advantages of brain injury (Say what?)

Since my fate seems to be living with some fairly serious brain problems, I have been searching lately for the bright side of this apparently grim future I face. Some might find this attitude pathologically optimistic, but what the heck! If you can’t change it, why not go in search of the bright side?

First of all, I feel so just plain lucky to be living in this beautiful place with my loving little family, who understand endlessly my occasional forgetfulness, confusion and regular fatigue. My pup Rasta is especially sympathetic as he’s pushing 13 himself and can’t hear, can barely see or smell. He spends most of his days either sleeping or looking for a warm lap.

I have always run my mind a hundred miles an hour as a general rule, but not now. I tend to get busy early in the morning and wear out around ten or eleven. Then, for a change, I can be patient with myself… sometimes. I can settle down and meditate restfully for a while because I really cannot do anything else. I can now shut off my mind easier and just cruise mentally. I’m slowly learning my limits and now I try to only focus on one thing at a time.

Only so much brain space means less worrying and a lot less fear of death. Why? Because I have experienced hours of unconsciousness at this point and it isn’t such a bad thing. My mind simply shuts down with too much stimulation, and that limit is easy to reach. I have always enjoyed one-on-one conversations in my past, now that’s about all I can tolerate or enjoy. I enjoy focusing fully on others, just for shorter periods of time. After a nice talk with a friend, I love spacing out alone and contemplating our conversation. In fact I enjoy contemplating everything more.

I notice some of my senses are now heightened. My love of music, colors, and tastes are much more intense. I guess this is a function of where my head injuries were. Mine have been equal opportunity injuries both on the back and the sides of my brain.

Again I come back to one of my favorite quotes about the changes we may go through as we age:

“…we all know how this ends, so rushing through life is senseless. As our inner life grows ever more luminous, the chatter of the speed-and-greed world slowly fades, leaving us with greater peace, tranquility, quiet and contentment.” — Arthur Rosenfeld

American drinking: Do you drink to feel good, or to take the edge off of feeling bad?

“From 1999 to 2017, the number of alcohol-related deaths in the United States doubled, to more than 70,000 a year—making alcohol one of the leading drivers of the decline in American life expectancy…” — “Alcohol-related deaths increasing in the United Statesby the National Institutes of Health, January 2020

“The damage done by alcohol is profound: impaired cognition and motor skills, belligerence, injury, and vulnerability to all sorts of predation in the short run; damaged livers and brains, dysfunction, addiction, and early death as years of heavy drinking pile up.” — “Drinking Too Much in America” in The Atlantic

I was raised by two serious alcohol drinkers. I have always wondered if my Mom’s tendency to drink to deal with her anxiety and depression led to breast cancer at an early age. Her brother died of alcoholism. I admit it, after watching my parents drink so much, I developed an aversion to that level of intoxication. I have never found it attractive or funny, perhaps partially because I don’t get drunk, I just fall asleep.

As a part of my counseling training, we spent time learning about alcoholism and addiction. At the first meeting I raised my hand and said, “I only have one question. I cannot get drunk, I fall asleep instead. Why is that?” There I learned exactly how genetic alcohol addiction is. Certain genetic groups can tolerate far higher levels of alcohol and therefore can drink more to achieve intoxication. The normal response to alcohol, which is a depressant, is tiredness and sleep.

Yes, I know. Some of us now us THC products to deal with anxiety and depression. I am one of them, and I see no reason to argue about which is better for you. But I would argue that THC kills a lot less Americans than alcohol, and yet drinking is also one of our favorite topics to joke about. To me, alcohol addiction is not funny. It’s deadly to both the alcoholic and those around them, especially on the highway.

Studying addiction and counseling was my first choice as a new college kid at Colorado College. But then the discussion always comes up, do you have to be a addict to help addicts? I still have no answer to that one except to say few of us aren’t addicted to something, even if it’s sugar, salt or something else. That’s how our brains work.

This fascinating article looks at why we drink as an evolutionary adaptation to stress, and why American drinking has increased quite a bit, especially since 9/11: The Atlantic: “Drinking Too Much In America”

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir on PBS

Writing is an extreme privilege but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone.” – Amy Tan

My fellow writers:

I hope none of you missed this incredibly personal and touching “American Experience” on PBS last night entitled, Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir. This piece was so beautifully put together, combining Amy’s own photos from her past, her intimate recollections, with talks she has given about her stormy relationship with her mother. Words fail to describe the gorgeousness and truth to be found in this two hour special.

Her delicate storytelling and truth-telling is at once fierce and so very sensitive to the human condition we all face, especially that of women. I was glued to my seat from the very beginning and could not move. She is my hero! I feel like I now need to go and re-read all of her books and especially her new memoir, “Where the Past Begins” from 2017.

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir on PBS, premiere May 3rd 2021

Early bloomers in my high country garden!

I was astounded to find my tiny high country irises blooming today in my garden at 7,000 feet! Their leaves are only six or seven inches tall, but the flowers are fantastic!

I got these from Perennial Favorites near Rye Colorado a couple years ago. They specialized in offering high country species. So sorry they decided to close and retire, but these are the gift that keeps on giving!

My earliest bloomer is a type of creeping thyme that takes a few years to get going, but then it takes off! It’s been blooming for at least a week now, even through the snow!

Yesterday I got my brother John up here to help me weed and plant some new plants. He loves working outside with his hands. He’s a self-identified “dirt guy.” If you’re nice he might work for you too!

My garden didn’t look like much back in May 2017…

But this year should be GREAT!

I’ll keep you posted on the new flowers in my garden as they bloom!

OH, I forgot to mention…I actually witnessed some Rocky Mountain Bluebird sex yesterday! Babies to follow!

UNBELIEVEABLE! I just caught a hummingbird on a penstemon flower right outside my door!

My dream: Welcoming new residents to this area!

Since moving to the Walsenburg-La Veta area in the summer of 2014, I have held a dream. Long ago I read the novel “The Significance of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert (a marvelous read!) about a girl raised by a shipping magnet and captain, who invited the interesting people he met all over the world to his home in Philadelphia for a type of ‘salon’ experience. I loved that idea! So when my previous blog “Midlife Crisis Queen” crashed in 2014, I started this one, with the purpose of informing others who might be considering a move to this area. I didn’t want others to experience what I did here, a lack of friendly folks when they got here. I thought, why not offer friendship? Moving to a new rural area can be quite intimidating for some.

As usual, it was a good idea, but it took quite a while to come to fruition. Now this spring I have welcomed three very interesting and excited couples who have moved here, or are working up to it. The most interesting coincidence has been that Mike and I share so many common interests with these newcomers! They are counselors, engineers, artists and writers, all excited about making this area their new home. They have their own visions of music festivals and writing groups, etc.

For me this is my best, recent example of the power of holding a vision until it emerges on its own power. I fully believe now that what we focus on grows, so I try to keep my focus on positive possibilities in my future. Intelligent, interesting newcomers are arriving first on my e-mail and then at my door. Such an exciting new development! I will do what I can to make their transition a little less traumatic because that’s what I do and that is who I am… Now I have a vision of a garden party with great music, food and entertainment out on our patio, welcoming newcomers from everywhere 🙂

“What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” – George Eliot