Brain injuries and a misdiagnosis of apathy

One of the results of my recent psychological and memory testing was a diagnosis of apathy. I thought about that for a few days and then spoke to a friend I’ve known for almost twenty years about my supposed problem.

His response? “No, you are absolutely not apathetic!”

So what is apathy? According to Oxford, “lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.”

Signs and Symptoms of Apathy:

Lacking the effort or energy to do everyday things. Dependence on others to plan activities.

No desire to learn new things, meet new people, or have new experiences.

Lack of care about your own problems. Tendency to feel no emotions when good or bad things happen.

After further thought I realized that this type of testing mistook “apathy” for a natural sadness and frustration when someone with a great brain experiences multiple assaults on their brain health. I would challenge anyone to experience what I have in the past fifteen years, and not feel sad and frustrated.

The most reassuring book I have read about brain injury is: “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. There I learned how slow the brain recovers from injury, but it certainly can rebuild itself eventually! My first brain injury, a TBI in 2008, taught me that. The most important thing to remember is that your brain will tell you when it’s tired and you really MUST STOP when it tells you that. For me now, an hour or two of any type of total concentration exhausts my brain. So when I took a two hour focused memory test I failed and came across as suffering from apathy, when in fact I felt total brain-exhaustion halfway through and after it was over I slept for over twelve hours straight.

I find myself excited and enthusiastic about many things like plants, gardening, photography, writing, old movies, music, new foods and learning something new everyday. I have just learned to pace myself to give my trusty brain plenty of space to recover with endless hours of restful sleep. Few understand my specific needs these days like I do. My brain will simply shut down if I don’t respect its messages to me. I certainly expected a brain specialist to understand that!

Unfortunately, it seems I must continue to educate “the experts” what brain injuries are all about. Perhaps they don’t know, but one of the best benefits of brain injury is the full realization that we MUST make the most of every single day we’re alive!

“Do we really need much more than this? To honor the dawn. To visit a garden. To talk to a friend. To contemplate a cloud. To cherish a meal. To bow our heads before the mystery of the day. Are these not enough?” — Kent Nerburn

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”

Our Circus Squirrel Performs!

The latest from our backyard garden melodrama. A squirrel just climbed up and started riding around on the new wind whirley-gigs that Mike re-painted this past week…

First she climbed this one but I didn’t have my camera ready…

Then she went up this one and started to enjoy the ride!

Next, it was up to the upper level….

For a quick run around upstairs!

Maybe she went up there for a better view.

Then she turned around, took a bow and waved byebye!

What’s blooming mid-July in our Foothills Garden?

The answer to that question is just about everything I’ve ever planted! Loving the ubiquitous lavenders, yellow and pink yarrow, catmint, and volunteer sunflowers! We just deadheaded the catmint and Jupiter’s Beard this week, and had over two inches of rain so far this July on our ridge overlooking the Sangres de Cristo Range! Let’s hear it for the monsoons!

My Blue-Mist Spirea bushes on the right and left foreground are acting a little bit shy with just a few flowers so far, but all five should be full out in a week or so!

And this Magenta yarrow is in its first year, so its taking its sweet time to bloom. A couple plants got damaged by that late May snowstorm we had. The Russian Sage and Showy Four-O’Clocks are very late in blooming.

But overall, I’m quite happy with our results this summer!