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

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!

My experiences with aging, disability and my own mental health

I’ve been thinking a lot about aging and mental health lately, so I looked up the topic. According to an article from our National Institutes of Health:

“The most common mental disorders in older people include depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Mental disorders are associated with increased healthcare costs, mortality and suicide, along with interference with daily living, and a reduction in quality of life.”

From my own experiences, this makes perfect sense. As our health declines, so does our ability to feel good about our lives, and then there are those predictable thoughts about how we’ve lived our lives and what it must feel like to die. One thing I experience is the daily differences in how I feel about my life, but I’m not certain how much of that is caused by my head injuries. Some days I feel almost like I used to, happy and ready to get out and try new things. Other times I can barely get out of bed and face the day. The problem is I cannot predict what will happen each day, so it’s difficult to plan ahead.

Mike has observed this unpredictability and also wondered what causes it. Now I believe part of it is a natural response to losses later in life. Some days I see little future for myself and so I feel depressed. I do not want to drag him down, because there is no need for both of us to suffer. Other days I feel that old optimism and then I can’t believe I was so low yesterday.

What could be more natural than our ability to confront our own aging and disabilities better on some days than others? Also it takes time to adjust to such major changes in health and abilities…

Realistically my ability to travel very far or go anywhere I want to is limited. But also my desire to travel has become less with age and with so many fantastic travel videos to be enjoyed on Youtube. The place Mike and I most want to visit now is Patagonia. There’s a very good chance I won’t ever get there, but I love watching travel videos and dreaming… Now that’s something previous generations did not have! We really are very lucky, even in our old age. I appreciate that everyday!

“Even in seemingly dormant times, we are in transition. Losses and gains are in constant play. We are the change-agent, and we are changed. Even without toil, we transform. So, wisdom advises us to open our hearts to transition; to honor fully what is passing, to learn from all that unfolds, and to welcome what arrives at our door each day with courage and curiosity.”