Head Injury: it feels so good when you stop.

green-lantern1In many ways, looking around at my fellow bloggers, the lovely people who write in, hell some of the people I meet on the street, I feel a bit like a fraud.

Really.

I’ve been depressed, sure. Cried at work, check. Stayed in house for extended periods of time, check. Almost lost job, check. Generally listless and lacking joy or motivation in almost any area, check. Totally emotionally vulnerable and reactive, check.

But really all that pales in comparison to what some of the people out there live through, are living through, would sometimes rather die than live another day of…seriously. What they “live” with is staggering.

Some of the worst sufferers? People with traumatic brain injury. TBI can cause everything I experience with ADD or depression times ten, with a touch of blinding headache, personality change, and memory loss, just to sweeten the deal. Or worse.

But here’s the thing.

I don’t care.

[Stay with me here…I’m pausing for dramatic effect]

I can empathise, sympathise, and many other ises, I’m human.

But we humans are all about the me, the I, and possibly the us, but mostly the first two. Because when it comes down to it, we’re trapped in here.

We have these marvelous machines that do all our seeing, smelling, thinking, feeling, and a million other jobs for us. They’re so important in fact, that we have to protect them by locking them away in a pitch black, bone-encased, fluid-cushioned cave. And that’s where they stay. Every so often one of our sense organs, or a nerve bundle, will send our big ol’ brain a message, just to let it know how things are going on the outside. But for all intents and purposes, that sucker’s doing the equivalent of a life sentence in solitary, without so much as the occasional conjugal visit from one of the other inmates (it does get the imaginary porn channel though so it’s not all bad).

And it doesn’t like it one bit.

Want to know how much your brain hates being trapped in there? Try what’s called a sensory deprivation tank. Like a seven-foot coffin filled with body-temperature water. You lie in it with a face mask or ear plugs, they shut the sound-proof door and voila…nothing…nothing…still nothing…um a little more nothing…no sound, no light, not much feel…nada. After a little while, your brain gets sick of not getting any input and starts making shit up. I kid you not. It is SO desperate to not be trapped in there without reading material that it just starts to make up visions, images, smells, whatever it has to to stop from going insane.

That’s crazy! who would design such an insane system? Of course we should have our brains on the outside. In neat transparent bubbles with little holes and stuff so it could see and hear everything without this complex eye and ear junk.

Unfortunately the world is a cruel place and the whole brain on the outside thing would pretty much guarantee that you wouldn’t survive falling off the couch, never mind a grade three classroom or a New York sidewalk.

So, despite a solid potential career as a Star Trek (call me geeky, I am so seeing this) extra, this isn’t going to work out. Stuck with the skull prison cell thing.

How do we know about things, trapped in there? Is the tree green? I dunno. I know a bunch of vision nerves told me about this light they saw a little while ago, and some sound nerves told me that some waves in the air were a lot like those other sound waves that happened a long time ago when the vision nerves were seeing those lights that mean “people” making those “talking” noises and one of them made the green noise while it was pointing to something that had the same sort of light coming off it. Was I seeing the same light as the other people shape? Um sure, if that people shape and I have exactly the same brain, with exactly the same eyeball and the same nerves connecting them. So…no, we weren’t. No two people have the same experience of the universe at the same time. We ain’t made that way. In fact it’s a freaking testament to the human social structure that we can talk to each other, never mind build cities, or make rockets, or breed and make more tiny little soon-to-be-messed up humans.

So…it’s a pretty tenuous system, no? There’s an awful lot riding on our skull’s ability to keep the brain intact and functioning. It’s an unbelievable complex system that can be severly damaged by just screaming at it enough (aka emotional abuse). What does actually hitting it do?

Well, when it gets whacked…things get sloppy – fast. We (me and all them doctor-y types) are coming to the realization that many of our most treasured moments on the sport field were the times when we were pounding our brain into a permanent stupor. Really. I don’t think those jocks started out that thick.

More and more, doctors and neuroscientists are seeing that even minor head injury leaves permanent brain damage. Got your bell rung? Had a concussion? Fallen off a horse? Done boxing? Crashed your bicycle without a helmet? Chances are you are now stupider than when you started. You might not notice. It might be subtle. You might be just a bit worse at math. Maybe you just don’t have the memory you had. Or maybe you get irritable easier now.

And maybe you were always like that.

The fact is that this skull of ours is real good at protecting our heads, but not so good at some other things, like being born.

Our heads are now so large in comparison to our hips (I blame the thighmaster) that we may be damaging the brains of our children in the birth process. Lack of oxygen during difficult labour, forceps, the drugs we take to ease the process may all be contributors. Pre and post labour scans show that up to 10 % of infants have significantly changed brainwave patterns immediately before and after birth. So either they are just really impressed with their new view, or one in ten of us got a raw deal at the outset.

Just so we are clear, I’m not talking about you. You’ve never been hit in the head, never played sports, never been in a car crash, and obviously, you work just fine…no way you could be one in ten…

My record is clearly less stellar. Seven years of rugby, playground “accidents” (yes I’m talking to you Patrick), skiing, a minor concussion running around a gym with my head down, getting mugged by a guy with a bat. Any one of these might have seriously affected my ability to function. And brain injury tends to be cumulative. So maybe all of them.

And really, even if you had some minor brain injury, it’s not like you really notice the difference. Why would you actually do anything about it?

Because you can, first off. Neurotherapy has a great success rate helping even major head injuries. One small study noted improvements from 61% to 181% in the functioning of participants with brain injury. It doesn’t repair damage, but it can help your brain train surrounding areas to be the best they can be, taking up some of the slack.

Second, IMHO, it is your god-given right to be the best you can be. If you broke your arm, you’d go to the doctor and get a cast. This is the same thing.

So what I guess I’m saying is…life is hard. Our brains get broken. You don’t have to take that shit lying down.

Wordsworth said “We come into this world trailing clouds of glory, Getting and spending [and getting the smackdown – ed.] we lay waste our powers.”

When I was young, I always wanted to be a super hero with powers and stuff. Now that I have the prospect of fixing some of those brain bumps and bruises we all seem to acquire, I do believe I’m gonna go out and reclaim a bit of that glory. And maybe a cape.

Thank you, I’m sorry and a big list

shoulderandneck13I started this blog as a way to see if my process couldn’t perhaps help more people than just myself. I’ve have quite a few people say, “hey I see parts of myself there”, and I have to say I’m really gratified and pleased. But there’s no doubt it’s a two way street. The process of writing for all of you is a serious gut check every single time I put fingers to keyboard. What should I put in, what is too personal? Well, turns out that the best way to help people connect with the process is to just be me, not too edit-y and pretty honest about what going on. I normally hide a lot about myself, and that’s a strange and scary feeling. I feel like I’m up on the edge of a cliff (I hate heights too)…but the audience, the confessional I suppose, is making me feel better about myself, stronger and clearer.

So thank you.

In that vein….They say that the first thing a person who is choking will try to do is leave the room, as if dying in front of people were a terrible, shameful inconvenience for the other diners. In the same way I suppose, whether it’s ADD or the tendency to depression, the stuff I’m looking at now in neurotherapy…well, I’m ashamed of it. I’ve kept it all well hidden from the world, or even myself, for my entire life. I haven’t known I was ADD until I started looking at neurotherapy for depression (which is harder to miss – dark curtains and a fetal position are a dead giveaway).  In the course of looking at what neurotherapy does, I came across some clear descriptions of what ADD looks like. It looks like me apparently.

I also don’t have a lot of ability to complete complex tasks that require a lot of forward planning. I’m a bright guy, I can bumble along getting day to day stuff done, and I have lucid times when I can look ahead and see past my toes for a bit. I can even be a total star. But all people really see is a guy who can think pretty quickly in conversation. So they are really really disappointed in me when stuff gets dropped or just don’t git done. “Jeez Tim, if you can do it then, you can do it now. You must just be lazy.” And I’m disappointed in me too.

I’ve spent me whole life not understanding that there are good reasons for that; that being broken isn’t really a badge of shame so much as a sign of being human.

The thing that really brings that home (strangely) is some of the technical manuals on how to do neurotherapy. One of them is a very matter-of-fact list of what to do with certain symptoms and syndromes. Quite frankly I’m staggered by the list of things that can be changed, or improved. I get that it’s a really powerful technique. The brain has an amazing ability to be flexible, to find a way to change itself and adapt to it’s environment. Neurotherapy takes the adaptation systems the brain has developed to keep us alive, and channels them toward repairing the things that are holding us back. That’s an amazing tool, but even knowing that, I look at the list and see a whole bunch of people, myself included, that I had kind of written off as never going to get better or be more. For all of you, myself included, I’m sorry.

Here’s an partial version of the list, in no particular order:

  • Migraines
  • Seizures
  • Asthma
  • Mood swings
  • Depression and motivation challenges
  • ADD/ADHD and difficulties focusing or ability to plan ahead
  • Emotional and impulse control and anger/fear management, dangerous thrill seeking and self-injuring
  • Attachment disorder
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asbergers
  • Anxiety challenges, including OCD, Tourettes, panic attacks, paranoia
  • Flashbacks and fears stemming from past incidents, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and childhood abuse
  • Body issues, including Anorexia, Bulimia, over or under eating and sugar cravings
  • Inability to plan
  • Control over ones body/clumsiness.
  • Addictions
  • Nightmares
  • Physical tension, including Bruxism (tight jaw and teeth grinding)
  • Sleep challenges
  • Pain and pain management, including Fibromyalgia, low pain threshold, Sciatica and chronic nerve pain
  • Poor math or language ability

This list seems ridiculous, even to me. Like a travelling salesman with his fancy wagon, selling snakeoil to the local hicks. Hence the “I’ll try it first and you can see what you think” approach. We tend to single out the diseases, illneses and broken bits, putting them up against a wall and shining a narrow spotlight on them. We don’t tend to think in terms of larger, interacting systems, and we certainly don’t think about what a healthy human looks like, or how to create that. It’s how our medical system operates, and it’s how we’ve come to think of ourselves and our bodies. It’s clear, however, that the brain can command an amazing number of resources, can touch an incredible number of things within us. By harnessing that, we have a hell of a tool.