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:

Married or single: Do you still believe in love?

Did you know there are 128 million single adults in the USA today? That’s roughly one half of all American adults! As a psychologist, this topic has always fascinated me. Why do we choose to remain single or get married at any age? One thing is certain. The factors surrounding that choice have changed dramatically in the past 70 years in this country.

My parent’s wedding photo from 1951 in Kansas

I’m fairly certain my mother felt she had no real choice when she married my father at age 19 in 1951. Nothing in her world encouraged her to consider college or a career. Every woman she saw around her was married or getting married at a very early age, and safe effective birth control was not available. Single career women were quite rare.

Oh how things have changed! When the man I loved asked me to marry him at age 22 I said no. I said if I was to marry anyone it would be him, but I was far to young to even consider it. In fact I did not marry for the first time until I was 39, and even then for the wrong reasons.

Yesterday I sat down and counted up exactly how many years of my life I have spent single and married. Guess what? It was exactly 24 years of each, and Mike was the same! I enjoyed being single most of my early years, and my marriage at age 39 was no wedded bliss. In fact it was very hard on both of us, and ended seven years later in divorce.

I also resented the negative press single people got in this country back then. In fact I wrote an essay about that years later. It was in my first book. It was called, “I said I’m divorced, not contagious.” Historically, divorce was not something that was done in my family. My brother and I were the first to do it, so in my first book I thanked my parents for giving me a solid sense of independence and self-esteem so I could leave my mistakes behind and move on with my life as a stronger, more resilient single person.

After the divorce, at age 49, I spent a few years considering my options. Did I want to remain single forever? I studied the situation in depth and decided one of my fondest dreams in life was to believe in love just once and have it be a good thing. In fact, after I lost my job/career in 2004 I started my own dating service which I named “Intriguing Possibilities” an offline way to meet local older singles. In a rather convoluted way, that is how I met Mike, the love of my life and my present husband. We’ve been together for 17 years now and wouldn’t have it any other way.

I felt so good about it I wrote the book “How to Believe in Love Again” tracing my own process through numerous heartbreaks to genuine love trust and loyalty.

My point is simple. You choose and then stick to it, or change your mind later when you finally meet the best person for you to spend your life with. And you will know when it is right, especially if you are older and wiser. You will know who to trust no matter how many times you’ve chosen Mr. Wrong.

In an interesting coincidence, right before I met Mike I won this frig magnet in a white elephant exchange:

I rest my case!

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.”

“You are your ancestor’s wildest dreams!”

I have always loved history and also found most of us have little real sense of it. And without that strong sense of history, how can we appreciate our family’s or our nation’s progress? One of my graduate degrees is in history, where I learned a deeper appreciation of the simple quote attributed to writer and philosopher George Santayana,

Of course, knowing our history is no guarantee we will learn from it, or change because of it. If we take a hard look at our history with slavery, racism, women’s liberation or gun violence in America, we see some change but certainly nowhere near enough. But with no willingness to even look back and acknowledge what we were like in the past, no progress can be made.

I also enjoy learning about my own family history, which is made so much easier because my mother spent a few years researching both sides of my family back to Germany, Ireland and Scotland. My family history reflects so much progress from our humble immigration to America, to Kansas farmers, business owners, politicians and educators. My grandfather on my Mom’s side, a skilled technician, went door-to-door trying to find any kind of work to support his family during the Great Depression. He ended up owning a major business and took out patents on his many inventions. My grandfather on my father’s side had no time to complete high school, because he needed to go to work to support his family, but Grandpa Carter taught his sons to go to college and even graduate school! And yes, everyone in my parents’ generation became educated, productive citizens.

That is why, when I heard our Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations say this week to a class of college graduates: “You are your ancestor’s wildest dreams!” I felt so proud of my ancestors and myself!

We need to appreciate our progress as much as our shortcomings and knowing our history is the only way to do just that.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!

My Mom is now 88 and still energetic and thriving! Perhaps some of you read this post from five years ago. If not, let’s celebrate our Moms together this weekend!

Mom with my niece Justine. She has always loved kids! She taught elementary school for years.

Meet My Amazing Mom!

On the occasion of my Mom’s 83rd birthday, I would like to introduce you to my mother. Born around Kansas City after her mother had had trouble conceiving, my Mom ended up being the eldest of four children. She had her rebellious moments in high school and then met my Dad on a blind date in 1950. He was soon sent to Virginia by the army, but they corresponded for a short period and then they married in 1951. She was only 19 when she got on a train to join him.

She lived in a time when being your husband’s best help mate was what women did. She had kids while also helping her husband advance his career. It was such a struggle in their early lives together. Mom worked to support the family, and had three kids by 1955, while my father finished his PhD in botany at University of Iowa.

College teachers didn’t make much money back then, and they had to move every few years if they weren’t on tenure-track, so we moved around a lot in my early years, but my Mom always kept it together, even when my Dad decided he wanted to go to India for a summer when we kids were quite small. She was supportive of Dad no matter what! That is how she saw herself.

Eventually Mom started taking college classes and received a B.A. from Colorado College the year my eldest sister graduated from high school. Then she started teaching elementary school for the next 20 years. So many of her students remember her as a caring, encouraging teacher.

In the early 1990s my parents ‘retired’ to southern New Mexico, but they kept working hard to produce botany books all the same. My Mom got really good at Photoshop and photography to provide great photos for my Dad’s books. Has anybody heard of Trees and Shrubs of Colorado or Common Southwestern Native Plants? Those are a few of the books my parents produced together after ‘retirement.’

Now their lives have settled down quite a bit (my Dad died in 2020), but Mom still worries about all of us and our families. She has done a bang up job of helping others her whole life.

Mom:   You are my HERO!

Don’t miss the film “Land” by Robin Wright

“Hang on. It all changes…” – Richard Gere, words that reached me at just the right time in midlife…

I want to make sure the rest of you have heard about this not-well-publicized 2021 feature film. It was the directorial debut of actress Robin Wright (from House of Cards), who also stars in it with my new favorite actor, Demian Bichir (as Miguel).

“Land” tells the story of a midlife woman named Edee who experiences the worst most of us can imagine, and loses her way entirely. The one thing she knows for certain is that she does not want to be around others now. She resolves to live in solitude while she attempts to find a reason to go on. She takes off for an abandoned cabin in the Wyoming wilderness completely off-the-grid without a car, running water, heat or electricity. With no survival or outdoor skills, Edee nearly dies from exposure, before a hunter (Miguel) and a traveling nurse happen by at the last minute to save her life.

The best part of the film is the relationship that develops ever so carefully and slowly between Edee and Miguel. Neither one trusts others, but they also have learned the need to trust to survive. I love the dialogue between them. It is so simple, honest and authentic. Edee learns the necessary skills to maintain her lifestyle in the wild and stays there until the surprising ending. I will not spoil it for you.

As many of you may know, I am a trained psychotherapist who has researched and written extensively on the topics of love, trust, midlife redemption and rebirth. I also spent a year in solitude after I lost my marriage, my job and career at age 49. At that time I saw no reason to go on. Today I feel badly that too many of us may end our lives in midlife, because we cannot find a reason to go on. This film does not oversimplify the process of crisis, grief, and rebirth, but it can convince us that we may transition from a full breakdown to breakthroughs into new ways of experiencing ourselves and our lives.

If we give ourselves the time to heal, forgive our past and move on, new desires and parts of ourselves can be discovered & enjoyed!

My book: How to Believe In Love Again: Opening to Forgiveness, Trust and Your Own Inner Wisdom explains how I turned love around for myself, and finally got what I wanted most in life. Finding unconditional love and compassion in this world saved my life. Learn how to save yours now by forgiving past mistakes and gaining new self-respect. Then go out and find a new kind of love! Feel free to e-mail me with your questions: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com

E-books are available through Amazon