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:

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is… Bye-bye Bodie :(

Did I ever mention how stubborn I am? Most who have known me well would certainly agree!

Most recently it took me a very long time to accept that I really did need to be on oxygen 24 hours per day. And there’s those annoying concussions I have suffered in the past few years mostly because I refused to wear my oxygen, or simply forgot I didn’t have it on. So here I am lost-in-space too much of the time… It isn’t as bad as it sounds, because I now accept all of it.

Bodie, our problem child…

But I had to be convinced that Mike and I could not handle a new puppy at this late date. And it wasn’t just us, our other pets, Rasta at age 14 and Rosie, Mike’s cat, completely rebelled at the experience of one wild and crazy puppy dominating everything while running around our home non-stop.

Mike was just going along with me when I suggested this new addition to our family, because he loves to make me happy. He is the most loving and tolerant person I have ever met, but after five days of pee and poop everywhere and absolutely no peace in our home, we both knew the puppy needed to go back to his pack in Raton. We were so lucky that Bodie’s original owner was also caring and tolerant. She just wanted everyone to be happy too. She already had five dogs, so what the heck! We all saw that this pup needs a household full of kids and/or other dogs who LOVE TO PLAY… FULLTIME!!!

I have always been fairly impulsive, and apparently my brain injuries have made that worse. I guess this lesson falls squarely under the heading of “Live and Learn.” My old dog Rasta took a full day to believe that a puppy wasn’t going to pounce on him at any moment, and our cat has finally emerged from the bedroom. We love having our peace and quiet back.

All’s well that ends well… and now we know.

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!

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

Tolkien: The story of his life and inspirations

As you might guess, I love stories about writers and how they eventually came to produce their works. Along these lines, I can highly recommend the movie Tolkien, a 2019 American biographical film about the early life of English professor J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as many notable academic works.

This is a beautifully composed and filmed, sensitive presentation on the lives of four young men who enthusiastically went to fight World War I, and how only two of them came home again. Starting from Tolkien’s poverty-stricken beginnings, he lived with his widowed mother until he found her dead one day. He then was taken in by a kindly rich woman who found a way to send him to college. Tolkien struggles there, but attracts the attention of a prominent philology professor, when Tolkien realizes that language is his true passion. By chance, that kindly rich woman also adopted a girl named Edith, who would figure prominently in Tolkien’s life.

The scenes from the battle of the Somme in France are so powerfully presented and filmed. The excitement of the young men to go fight a war are so skillfully juxtapositioned with the realities of trench warfare. In fact everything about this film is well-thought out and presented.

Edith and Tolkien

While many other authors had published works of fantasy before Tolkien, the great success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings led directly to a resurgence of this genre. Eventually Tolkien came to be popularly identified as the “father” of modern fantasy writing and more specifically “high fantasy.”

Personal note: I have never been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. I did not read his books and I walked out of the first film “The Hobbit.” I’m not much on fantasy, but I love this film about Tolkien’s life. Mike has tried to encourage my interest in fantasy stories. Perhaps I’ll try again with the film “The Hobbit.”

Gratitude for Internet Friends!

With so many nasty things happening on the Internet these days, I would like to call attention to a few marvelous friends I have made over the years and recognize a wonderful source for these friendships. The “Women of Midlife” group on Facebook was started about a decade ago to attract and assist women writers with support and friendship. I joined as soon as it formed, and through the years, as I read the writing of various other women past age 40, I developed online friendships. But I had no idea how much these women meant to me until I ran my last post about aging faster than my friends.

I wrote there about friendship loss as we age and our health begins to fail and was astounded by the response from the friendships I have developed over the years on “Women of Midlife.” These few women have watched me grow as a writer and as a woman over the years and therefore understand best my frustrations with brain injury and how that is now limiting my abilities to communicate and connect with others. They also seem to know that it has been quite difficult for me to make any real friends in my new environment in rural southern Colorado.

One message in particular hit home for me:

“Laura, you have always been tenacious in your hold on life. Your connection to nature often pulls you through. Your love for those in your life MAKES YOU YOUNGER than many. And finally your mental strength. I believe when we lose some of the physical the mental takes over. That is certainly the case with you.”

Blessings, Beth

I had no idea Beth understood my struggles so well and yet continue because of my desire to keep pressing on in spite of multiple challenges. I knew that some women, whom I have known for years but have never met in person, do care for me, but this response was unmistakable in its understanding, love and concern.

Thank you to “Women of Midlife” for fostering these kinds of close online friendships!

P.S. I also just learned what ‘ghosting’ is from one of those friends. Shame on those who do it!