5 Tips for Surviving the Holidays with an mTBI (VIDEO)

The TBI Rockstars are at it again!  This time, Brie and I tackle how to handle the holidays successfully when recovering from an mTBI.  It’s important to be part of the family fun, and it is also important not to set back your healing.  We explore five things you need to do to take care of yourself and set yourself up for success.

 

The direct link to the video is here:  https://youtu.be/BNn2SgDIBDs

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Derby Drama

Another friend is skating in the alumni roller derby match this weekend.

Sigh.

I’m not, of course.  There is no future in contact sports for me.  No reality where I’ll be able to body check others with impunity again.

I hit my head playing roller derby almost four years ago, and haven’t been been able to work full time since.  A second brain injury a few years later ended my ability to work at all.  I can’t skate safely, let alone compete.

After my derby injury, I kept attending bouts. The noise and light were hell, but derby had been at the center of my life for five years. As time passed and it became clear I would not be returning to play, seeing derby became too much of a reminder of all that I couldn’t do.  All that I’d lost.  All that would never be true again.

So I cut ties. I avoided derby.  I didn’t talk about it.  I didn’t watch it.  I got rid of all my equipment… except my skates.

P1170005three

They were relegated to the far back corner of my closet, gathering dust, where I wouldn’t see them and wouldn’t be reminded of what I’d lost.

Then, about six months ago, a friend told me about an upcoming alumni bout. I said I’d go. Why not?  We’d have fun, right? Six months passes faster than you think, and now the roller derby bout is tomorrow. Besides being an alumni bout, it is also commemorating 10 years of roller derby in Vermont. I skated five of those years.

Now the task before me is to decide if I’m going to attend. I’ve gone back and forth about this every day for the past week or so. Since my mTBI, I can’t do whatever I want, when I want. Instead of considering whether I have the time, I have to ask myself different questions. What will it cost me?  What will I gain? How will this affect my healing?

I know the derby bout environment is challenging for me. Gods, I wince as I imagine the sound of whistles blowing loudly at the end of each two minute jam.  The growl and vibration of the crowd surrounding me.  The push of people, the smell of beer. Loud music in the background at halftime.  The merciless fluorescent lights. Each small overstimulating thing slowing eroding my ability to function.

So, upfront, I know the bout environment is draining and difficult for me. It will probably cost me a lot of energy just to exist in that sea of stimulation. More than I have? Maybe.

Now let’s consider the cost of emotionally navigating derby space. The energy necessary to see other people playing a sport I love, that I can never play again.  The energy necessary to be surrounded by the sights and sounds that belong to another lifetime.  The energy needed to recall my time and connection with each person that I see.

The energy needed to deal with people who don’t know me as the easily overwhelmed, emotionally volatile, sensitive and impaired person that I am in my daily life.  Derby people knew me as competent, reliable, tough. How embarrassing to now be a person who flinches at loud noises, someone who needs help deciding what to have for lunch, someone who can’t carry more than five pounds without getting a headache.

I’ll also have to answer the well-meaning questions of “How are you?” and “How’s your healing?” over and over again. I’ll appreciate seeing people I know, of course. And I do have so much respect and affection for all of the strong women I skated with. But I don’t know how to answer those questions. Can I say things are moderately pleasant and appalling at the same time? Improving and still painfully dysfunctional? Hopeful and seeming never to change? Because all of those things are true. Deeply, utterly, unalterably true. And none of them fit conveniently into a quick answer in a social setting.

Most likely, I’ll choose something more non-committal and polite. Sharing enough so they can feel like they know what’s going on, but not enough to really let them touch the pain and hope in my soul. I expect, as most people do, they’d like to hear I’m doing better. So that’s probably what I’ll tell them. I am doing better than last year. Much better, in many small ways that are hard to quantify or explain. I am also still so much less than I was even a month or two after my original injury, before I spent 2 1/2 years grinding my intellect into the dirt trying to keep my job and ended up much more impaired than I started.

If I attend the bout, it would be easy for me to squirrel myself away and hide, disengage. Sit alone. Not speak to anyone. Hide out in the crowd. But if I’m going to expose myself to so much noise, chaos, and fluorescent lighting — I want to get my social money’s worth. So the entire time, I want to stay present and be able to interact with others in a not-off-putting manner. For about two hours. Normal behavior, for most people. Almost shooting the moon, for me.

What is the benefit of attending this event? What unique and important things will I gain? That is so hard to quantify, to explain, because the benefits are not physical. I will have no final product to show for my efforts, no task list to check off. But the benefits of attending are real, extremely real.

Emotional connection. Being a part of something. Celebrating that derby has been happening in Vermont for 10 years this month.

Perhaps a bit more peace and resolution about roller derby, a small easing of the knot in my heart.

And, of course, the women. I love powerful, motivated, daring women… and roller derby has them in droves. It will be great to catch up with my old teammates and the refs.

I expect the bout itself will be entertaining. Going out and doing something different will definitely be fun.

This short list of “pro”s doesn’t seem like enough justification to risk my mental functioning and health. Maybe there are more – there must be more. Perhaps I’m just not thinking of some of the benefits right now. Or perhaps some of those listed will loom large in my life, just not large on the page.  There should be more, to have me so strongly considering attending.

About a week ago, my brain started functioning a bit better. I think I’ve finally caught my stride since starting PT almost two months ago. I’m able to put thoughts together a bit more easily, reason a little more successfully, and understand my place in my life and the world. Especially, be more present in my interactions with others. I’ve been “gone” for several months. How strange it must be for Mary to live day after day with someone who is not really there, who can’t emotionally engage or connect.

I don’t want to go there again, I won’t go there again. Doing something big – something physically overstimulating and deeply emotional – is a good way to push my healing backwards. A good way to lose my ability to be fully present, as a whole person, with Mary or anyone else. A good way to be exhausted for the next week or month. A good way to lose myself again, when I feel I so recently regained my equilibrium and a handle on my life.

Yet the balance. I have to have a life. I have to be able to go out and do things sometimes, things I want to do. The question is – is it worth it? Should I go? When is the next time I’ll have this opportunity? If I decide to attend, I expect I’ll have fun. But what will the cost be? Will it open old wounds, or will it provide closure?  Will I feel more connected, or more isolated?  Will it settle derby into something I loved and in my past, or will it make me ache for everything that isn’t in my life anymore? Or all of it? Hard to know. Can’t know.

So what do I do? What do I do? I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Changing Seasons

The blustery wind and cool temperatures drive Stella and I inside. My numbing hands attest to the fact that it is time to warm up.

Autumn has arrived in Vermont.  Leaves are turning brown and yellow and red all around me.  Strong winds blow the dying leaves off the trees and send them rustling across our yard.  Temperatures drop and nights threaten a killing frost soon.  Not yet, though, not yet.  I’d like the first hard frost to wait a bit more so I can keep enjoying the last few flowers of the year, the borage and chicory and zinnias.  The beautiful plants give their all in a showy display, even though the pollinators – the bees and butterflies – have either migrated south or settled into their hives for the season.

P1150968

The zinnias are still beautiful.

Last year, fall was a time of anxiety.  The only peace I had last summer was outside, in the garden or the yard. All I could see was the looming winter, a time of indoors and isolation. The cooling temperatures and threat of snow felt like a toothed trap slowly closing around me.  How could I survive inside all winter, hour after hour?  Because of my limited energy, few activities were within my grasp.  In fact, crocheting was just about the only thing I could reliably do.  So I crocheted.  Every day – through the fall and the winter and the spring.  I crocheted until I finished my granny square blanket this past spring.  Here’s a post about that (extensive!) process – My Granny Square Journey.

But that was last year.  Thankfully, last year is gone.

This year, the pending winter seems restful.  Inviting.  A chance to finally lay down my weary bones and sleep.  The idea of a month or three where things slow down… that sounds like a delightful idea, not a frightening one.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been tired.  Really tired, recently.  I know – I’ve been tired for 3 1/2 years!  Hah.  And right now I’m experiencing a downsweep of my energy instead of an upsweep.  My standard activities are just a bit too much.

I started seeing a Physical Therapist (PT) about a month ago.  Mary finally convinced me to see her PT, who was the only one able to help her manage and eliminate her chronic back pain.  I have worked with a lot of PTs during my five years with roller derby, and the exercises I’m doing now are… different.

Why am I seeing a PT?  Poor balance is still an issue for me, especially as I fatigue.  I function well enough to get by most of the time.  And, in truth, roller derby made me very comfortable with being unbalanced and weaving back and forth.  But. I have to acknowledge that time marches on.  And a few decades from now, I won’t be able to compensate for poor balance like I do now, and I could fall and injure myself.  I know firsthand how devastating it is to lose the ability to do something as simple as drive myself around.  I don’t wish that on my future self.  I want to create an optimal environment for a pleasant and comfortable old age.  Now that I’m past the 40 mark, I need to start dealing with some of these chronic issues while I still “got it”.  Or some of “it”, anyway.

In a nutshell, my PT says that my motor control was affected by my brain injury, and my visual system works overtime to compensate.  My brain is using visual information almost exclusively to balance and to coordinate my movements throughout my day.  That takes a lot of energy.  What we are doing will retrain my brain to again use feedback from my body to help me balance.  That will let my visual system just do it’s visual system job.  It also (might/will) free up a significant chunk of energy, which my body and brain can use to function more successfully.

I find myself cautiously optimistic about whether it will help me recover more energy for my daily life.  I hope it does.  Yet, part of my feels too suspicious, too jaded to hope.  Regardless, I have committed to doing the assigned exercises once every day.  And that simple commitment, that simple 20 or 30 minutes of daily activity, is exhausting.  Not physically exhausting, really.  I mean, I’m doing exercises that amount to me nodding my head or blowing up a balloon.  But they’re exhausting me to my core.

During the exercises, I’ll develop a headache, or feel overstimulated, or – the strangest – the walls suddenly waver or feel like they might spin away at any moment.  These are all symptoms of fatigue for me, and proof that the exercises are successfully prompting my brain to adapt and realign itself with my body.  Unpleasant, irritating… but good in the long run.

I’m also taking a pottery class.  The original plan was that I’d go to class once a week, then go to open studio once a week to socialize and connect with other people.  Hasn’t happened.  Nope, not enough spoons.  Not even enough spoons to make it sound exciting or interesting.  Ah well.

So winter stretches before me.  And all I can feel is a desire to rest, to wind down the frantic activity and lay around.  To not feel guilty about sitting inside because it’s a nice day.  To not feel like I should be doing SOMETHING because summer is so short.  Now, it will be appropriate to be inside.  Warm meals will again sound like a good idea.  My winter is sure to be full of crockpot stews and roasted chicken.  Who wouldn’t be excited by that?

Welcome fall, welcome winter.  Come wrap your windy days and cold nights around me, and rock me to sleep with the melody of the earth slumbering.  I will rest.  The earth will rest.  And, hopefully, by spring we will all be ready to again burst forth with new life.  So mote it be.

_DSF6100_too


Fall is here and winter won’t be too far behind

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What Do You Do For Work? (VIDEO)

The TBI Rockstars have created another video!  In this one, we discuss what to say to the question “What do you do for work?”

Ever since I stopped working in 2016 because of a brain injury, it’s been a struggle to know what to say.  The easy answer of “Environmental Scientist” is no longer completely true, yet I don’t want to talk with strangers about the details of my mTBIs.

I first explored this issue in my February 2017 blog Professionally Disabled.  Now, Brie and I (The TBI Rockstars!) explore how to answer “What do you do for work?” after a brain injury.

Here’s the direct link if a video window doesn’t show in your browser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXgfjIIMTSU

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

An Evening Conversation

“So love, what did you do today?” Mary casually asks me as she puts down her work bag.

I hesitate.  I know it’s a simple question, but since my mTBI it has been anything but simple to answer.  I take a breath, squinting my eyes as I wrack my brain for an answer.  Nothing comes to me.  Dammit.  I take a moment to look around in the hopes that something sparks a memory in me. Blankness. Complete blankness.

Welcome to evening conversation with an mTBI.

I don’t acknowledge defeat immediately.  I want to tell Mary something.  But what?  What the heck have I been doing all day?  I know she worries when I don’t have anything to say, it highlights to her how far I still have to go.  And to be honest, it highlights that for me, too.  As my sole social interaction of the day, it’s nice to share, to have a conversation and connect with someone else with words.  Yet it is such a challenge for me now.

But wait – after so many years recovering from an mTBI, I’ve learned a few tricks to help me pass and regrasp my daily experiences.  One of the interesting things I’ve learned is that memories nestle against each other like peas in a pod.  So, if I can grab one genuine memory, often it will lead me right on to another, and another.

So. I start with what I know I do every day, rain or shine, in sickness or in health. “I walked, stretched outside with Stella, had breakfast…” I pause, picturing the activities in my mind.  Giving my mind an opportunity to fill in the blanks… Nothing.

Ah hah, but I have a cheat sheet!

I walk quickly over to my week’s calendar, where I write the tasks or appointments I have assigned myself today. Hmmm… Wednesday. No appointments. No regular activities that day. My usual walk, HBOT at the bottom of the day, both crossed out. I cross out items as I complete them, so obviously I did both of those. “I HBOTed…” I mention to Mary as she changes from her work clothes into soft pants and a tshirt.

“What else did you do?” she asks.

She’s right, I must have done more things in the 10 hours since she left the house. But what? The calendar is minimally filled out for Wednesday, and the empty lines staring back at me don’t offer any answers.

I look at the day before. Oh right! I ran around yesterday – acupuncture, library, the grocery. And I was tired. So this must be a rest day.

“Mostly, it was a rest day. I tried not to do much of anything… I laid on the couch several times. Petted a cat”. I tell Mary as it comes to me. Or more, I’m guessing at what I did. It makes sense… and seems vaguely familiar.

P1150579

View of our big tree from the couch… cat is optional.

Picturing myself laying on the couch and look at the American Linden tree outside of our window sparks another memory. “Stella and I hung outside for a while and watched the bees in the borage.” And that leads to another memory. “Right, I also harvested stuff from the garden.” And that leads to another. “I blanched some of the chard and kale and put it in the freezer”.

I’m tired of thinking about it, stretching, trying to fill in the blanks. “I’m sure I did other things, I just don’t remember them right now. Stuff. I did stuff.” I shrug and shake my head. Not the most enthralling tale of the day, true. But it’s the best I can do on this Wednesday night at 7 pm. I want to stop before I get really frustrated.  Frustration can easily lead to crankiness and then morose feelings about my limitations… so these days I stop while I’m ahead.

Mary and I sit on the couch and snuggle as she tells me about her day. She doesn’t talk about the details, but usually has a few stories to share of frustration or triumph. She then moves on to chatting about this thing or that thing. Ideas or past events or plans for the future. Often she shares the most recent, terribly offensive and deeply threatening action the current US administration has taken, or has threatened to take, or tweeted about. The more she chats, the happier I know she is about her life and our relationship. A non-chatty Mary is an unhappy Mary.

But I digress. My point here being that Mary tells me stories about her days. She doesn’t list task after task after task. She highlights. She shares what’s worth talking about. She communicates information in a cohesive unit with a purpose, with a beginning and an end, often with feelings attached. It’s really quite pleasant and entertaining.

When my friend Drew visited a few weeks ago, he did that too. He talked about his life in stories. With cohesion. Not focusing on the details.

I think that’s because the details of daily living are boring. Just, boring.  And repetitive.  And not worth sharing.  Unless that’s all you have to share – like me.

Also, both Mary and Drew have unlimited access to the details of their day. They know what they’ve done, how they’ve felt, and what they’ve seen.  They just keep that information in their head and carry it around with them. Without special planning. Without struggle. It’s just effortlessly available to them to pull into bundles to then share with other people.

It’s amazing.

And, until it wasn’t available, I didn’t really understand how much executive functioning and memory skills are involved in making sense of any particular day of my life.

At least I am aware of the deficiency now. Becoming aware that something is off is usually the first sign that I am slowly regaining an ability.  Most of the past 3 1/2 years, I haven’t been aware that anything was particularly lacking in my daily recetations of activities.  Honestly, it’s such an effort to remember any detail of my day, I share it.  It’s such a struggle to pick up a few crumbs of memory that I don’t have any energy or cognitive ability left over to analyze or understand the pieces.

To create a story, you’ve got to remember all the things. And how they relate. And how that made you feel. And generate some thought about that.  That’s a lot of steps. And the foundation of that function is memory, remembering. If that’s not steady, nothing can be built from it.

I’d like to tell stories, too, someday. I’d like to tell casual stories about my day. Stories that make sense, that give some meaning and cohesion to the little details of my life. I expect both Mary and I look forward to that day, when I can speak and share stories about my life again.

I know I’m healing. Slowly, but definitely healing. In fact, a few weeks ago, I had one evening were I told a few stories about my day instead of listing actions. It seemed so natural, I didn’t even realize I was doing it.  I wasn’t struggling, I wasn’t pushing – it just happened.  It wasn’t until afterwards, looking back, that I felt a glow of success. Since then? Nope. But that it has happened once means it can happen again, and will happen again. When all the stars align just right. When something interesting happens and my energy is high and my brain is clear and I’m feeling good. It will just sneak up on me. Normalcy. Functioning. Success.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Addiction of Success

I sigh in satisfaction at the tiny grass shoots emerging from the soil. I planted those. I added the compost and mixed it with the existing soil. I bought the bag of four types of grass seed that would survive regular foot traffic. I hand seeded the area, laying down a thick layer of seed, and then tamped it down to improve soil contact and secure the seed to the site. I watered it, carefully, completely, soaking the little seeds so they would germinate. And now, I have the beginning, the very beginning, of a new grassy area.

P1150111

Me, I did that. And, if all goes well, by the fall the grassy area will be established and survive the winter. By next year, I hope to have an area of lawn I don’t have to think about, and that is simply part of our entry path. Another problem solved.

Satisfaction. I feel satisfaction from this success. Many steps taken. Lots of patience. Consistent attention. And I did it all, by myself. A project identified by me, planned by me, and accomplished by me.

Concrete tasks, like this grass growing project, are one of my favorite types of activity.  I can do it myself, at my own speed, and it creates a real, physical change in the world that I can observe.  Knowing I changed the world, even in such a small way, helps me know I am here, that I exist and that I matter. In the winter, I proved my worth to myself every day by crocheting and making a blanket (check out my blog about it here: My Granny Square Journey). Now, as my abilities increase and summer has arrived, I do small projects around my home.

Success. Completion. Competence.  Feeling independent and “able”, when so little in my life makes me feel that way anymore.  How priceless.  And, how addictive.  We humans have an ingrained tendency to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. It’s natural. It is, really, what any living being does.  And, I have recently found myself pursing the pleasure of task completion to the exclusion of almost everything else in my life.

Tasks are so concrete, so real, with a beginning and an end.  I find that concrete things, physical actions, are the easiest thing for me to hold on to since my mTBI.  They stick in my brain better.  While ideas or feelings or relationships change with every passing moment, and my ability to grasp and remember those things change with every hour – physical things stay physical things.  Wash the dishes.  Plant seeds.  Get the mail.  Those are simple, concrete tasks that make sense regardless of my mental acuity.  Dishes are always dishes.  The mail is always in the same place.  Seeds always need to be put in the ground to grow.  These concrete things don’t change.  When so much of my perception of the world around me changes without warning, concrete actions provide a certain comfort and security.

I have struggled with tasks since my first mTBI in January 2014.  Deeply, horribly, continually struggled.  Fatigue and mental impairment meant I was unable to keep functioning in my life as a normal, independent adult.  One that works for money, that manages her own affairs.  Heck, one that can reliably drive a car.  I tried to keep being that person, to push through – for years – and I very much failed, over and over again.

So it’s no wonder I feel so great when I succeed, when I complete a task now.  And when accomplishing something concrete is such a challenge, and it is such a momentus occasion worthy of celebration when it happens, why wouldn’t I spend all my energy on making concrete things happen? I like to succeed as much as anyone. When there are so few ways I can make my mark on the world from this small fish bowl of post-mTBI life, why wouldn’t I make as many marks as possible?

Well, one reason is this – I have only so much energy, so each “spoon” of energy I spend on concrete tasks is a spoon of energy I don’t have for other things (for more on energy allocation, check out my post and video here:  Energy Limitations from Chronic Fatigue – Explaining Brain Injury (VIDEO)). By choosing to tend a small patch of grass on our front walk, I choose not to spend that energy in other ways. Other ways that would fulfill me, that would help my loneliness and isolation, such as reaching out to other people. Socializing. Making friends. Connecting more deeply with friends I already have. Creating a community. Hooking into community that already exists. Basically, doing anything that involves another person in my life in a meaningful way, that is not Mary.

I am lonely, make no mistake.  Deeply lonely.  And, for whatever reason, texting or email just doesn’t hit the mark.  They don’t help.  Those things don’t feed that part of me that needs feeding.  I’m not sure if that is my age or my post-mTBI non-electronic lifestyle, but there it is.  So I need to talk to people to feel connected, in person or on the phone.

But that’s hard. That was hard for me before I was injured. Now, it’s triple hard. My abilities have changed. Things I was amazing or exceptional at before – such as concrete tasks that require consistent, independent work – I’m adequate and sometimes good at. Things that were a struggle for me or that I was just starting to master – such as making friends, connecting with other people, creating community – I slipped from adequate to abismal and incompetent.

To be fair to myself, it has only been in the last few months that I have been able to consistently follow conversations. Being mentally present takes a lot of energy. Earlier in my healing process, I was done in 5 minutes. Now, I can – sometimes – have a 30 minute conversation. On really good days, when I prepare and rest, I can chat for 45 minutes or an hour. Like, participate, stay present, really connect.  All those things most people take for granted. I loved intimate, deep, long engaging conversations before I was injured.  Now, I’m just happy to chat for 20 minutes.  Imagine not being able to carry on a proper conversation for 3 1/2 years. Imagine how deeply lonely and isolated you’d be. Yah. That’s me.

Welcome to my life.

Yet, I take responsibility for it. I’m old enough to understand that some of it is self-imposed. Yes, my brain injury has made things more difficult.  Impaired mental clarity, struggles with shifting my attention from one topic to another, inability to “hear” someone in a crowded room, fatigue that makes it all fuzz out – those realities make it more challenging. Yet, also, my pre-injury hangups are still there. My awkwardness, loner tendencies, shyness, and old instinctual patterns of mistrust and suspicion all make it hard for me to connect.  Somehow, after all these years, I still don’t have a feel for what normal friendship looks like or how to make friends.  I guess I missed those lessons in school, or deliberately skipped them.

So, it is much easier for my brain to groove alone the same paths it has for the last several mTBI years, and for years before that – focus on this task, and the next task, and the next.  But, I know that isn’t good for me, or I guess I could say I am re-remembering that it isn’t good for me.  Before I was injured, I had just started challenging myself to make friends, to evolve and grow in that direction.  Brain injury nipped that activity in the bud, but I guess 3 1/2 years later it’s time to start giving it a real try again.

Even if I do tasks all the time, forever, there will always be more tasks. Always one more widget to tend to.  Even when I had all the energy in the world, it was easy to find a reason this thing or that thing needed to be done before I could do x, y, z.  My base tendency is to miss the forest of my life by focusing on the trees.  It’s time to stop doing that.  What is important – what makes a difference in the world – is connecting, writing, reaching out, and being part of something. I want to be part of something. A community. Of interesting people, who live interesting lives. That’s what I want. At least I have that clear in my mind now. With time, I will bring that reality into existence for myself. Somehow. Someway.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Appreciating Cognitive Improvement after mTBI (The Swiss Chard Affair)

Summer has finally arrived in Vermont!  The sun is shining, temperatures are regularly in the 70s and above, and green is bursting from ever corner of the land.  Happily, gardening is in full swing, too.  Our tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers are all growing strongly, and I harvested my first swiss chard this past weekend.

IMG_6268

One of two basketfuls of chard this weekend.  My favorite green – Yum!

Chard is one of my favorite crops.  Not only is it tasty and good for me, it reminds me of my childhood.  My mom is a gardener, too.  And while spinach didn’t grow well where I grew up, swiss chard grew quickly and produced enough to feed our family of five on a regular basis.

Last year, Mary and I tried something new.  We bought a small, used freezer off Front Porch Forum for $50, and began putting aside our extra garden produce to enjoy in the winter. Winter is long here – a solid 6 months – and having a small taste of summer each week helps keeps our spirits up.

Freezing is so much easier than canning.  SO MUCH easier.  There is a minimal amount of processing beforehand to stop the aging process, then you pop stuff into a container and freeze it.  Done.  It is also a great way to preserve prepared items like pesto or tomato sauce.  Instead of dealing with the boil bath canning process, just pop it in a quart jar, put the lid on, and freeze it.  Brilliant.  Perfect for a household where one person is chronically overextended and the other is chronically fatigued.

Last year, I managed to put aside 14 squares of chard.  Each square is made from a gallon-sized ziploc bag full of chard that is blanched and frozen.  The square conveniently fit into our steamer, and is enough for four servings.

In 2016, putting aside chard was one of the things I “did”.  It was one of those big tasks that I centered my day around, that I had to set aside everything else to make happen.  I  could count on being exhausted and foggy afterwards.  I remember the blanching process being hectic – multiple things going on at once, and not being able to keep up.  I remember feeling overwhelmed.  I remember the multiple burns and scalds.  I remember, in short, that it was quite challenging.

Incidently, I always processed the chard when I was home alone (I don’t remember this, Mary told me).  That meant Mary didn’t see how I struggled.  And I didn’t talk about it.  For me, having to tell someone about my difficulties often feels worse than having the difficulty in the first place.  And, honestly, I couldn’t explain why prepping the chard was so difficult.  I couldn’t point to a single action that was a problem, or a particular issue I was having.  I didn’t understand myself why it was so difficult – how could I explain it to someone else?

That’s the brain injury challenge, isn’t it?  Explaining why something doesn’t make sense, or is difficult, when I myself don’t know why it is that way.  There is no reason, there is nothing wrong – my brain just doesn’t frikkin work.  The only way the problem can be solved is if you use your healthy brain, determine the logical steps necessary, and tell me.  Then write them down.  Then help me step by step through the process.  About thirty times.  Then I’ll probably be okay to do it on my own.  But maybe not.  You’ll need to check on me regularly to make sure I haven’t forgotten, lost the list, or otherwise gone off track.

But I digress.

Luckily, things change.  A year stands between who I am now and who I was last year, freezing chard.  I often only realize how impaired I am after the moment has passed, after some time has allowed me to heal, and then I return to the same task again.

My improvement shone clearly this past weekend as I prepped chard for freezing.  The plants had been generous, and I had five gallon-sized bags full of chard.  Mary and I would only eat one this week, so I decided to freeze the other four.

Here I will step in with one of the benefits of brain injury.  I remember, and also don’t remember, how I do something.  Although I remember the general sense of how to blanch and freeze chard, I don’t have the process I used last year enblazened on my brain as “the only right and logical way to do things”.  In fact, when I do a task, it feels like the first time.  That’s part of why it takes me a bit longer – I have to decide how I will do something each time I do it, it isn’t immediately available from my memory.

So, the 2017 swiss chard prep and freezing.  The process is simple, really.  Chop the chard, put it in a cloth bag.  Place that bag in boiling water for 1-3 minutes (this is what blanching means).  Remove from the hot water, cool quickly.  Squeeze out excess water, place in a container and freeze. Done.

What a difference a year makes. What a difference.

Last year, I decided it would be most efficient to use two cloth bags.  I’d planned to prepare one while the other was boiling, then place that one in to boil while I cooled the first.  So efficient, so multitasky.  So completely, utterly impossible with a brain injury.

Clearly, in 2016 I was still making plans based on who I use to be.  I was making plans based on an efficiency and attention to detail that I haven’t had for about 3 1/2 years now.  How ridiculous.  I can’t keep track of two things at once.  Period.  And I definitely definitely can’t keep track of two things when there is pressure or a timeline.  That just isn’t possible for me.

Still, after a year, it isn’t possible for me.  But I know that now, and that makes all the difference.  I change my expectations.  I make different choices.  Instead of somehow trying to be efficient by moving two bags through a process synchonically, I only process one bag.  I can only keep track of one thing at a time, so I only try to do one thing at a time.  The end.

And it works.  The process went smoothly and efficiently.  Maybe it took me 30 minutes or so to process the four bags of chard.  Most importantly, I felt in control during the whole process.  By reducing what I was trying to keep track of to one item, I was able to keep track of said item and succeed.  Setting yourself up for success.  I recommend it.

As part of my expectation of efficiency last year, I also kept two pots of water boiling at the same time.  Why?  I’m not really sure.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense.  But that’s what I did.  Another reality of brain injury – doing things in a way that don’t make that much sense to a logical or mentally whole person.  This year, I realized I only needed one pot of boiling water, so that’s what I prepared.

Another reason I felt so rushed last year is the pressure I felt to get chard into the boiling water.  Ahhhh – the water is boiling!  I need to get something into it!  Immediately!

But, again, looking at it with the mental capacity I have now… that makes no sense.  I am in control of the pot of boiling water.  It is not in control of me.  After I remove the bag of blanched chard to cool, I can turn off the burner and shift the pot off the burner, so it stops boiling.  In five minutes, when I want it boiling again, I can just put it back on the burner and turn it on.  Simple.

But, of course, it isn’t with a brain injury.  I wasn’t able to mentally assess the situation and problem solve that little issue.  It was simply outside my ability to figure out I could turn off the burner if it bothered me that it was at a rolling boil.  Outside of my cognitive ability one year ago.  Possible, now.  Yay me.

One other minor adjustment had to be made.  I ran out of the container I usually use to freeze the chard to form – I only had two instead of four.  Last year, that would have been a serious road block.  My solution might have been I could only process two blocks of chard at a time.  Now, with my improved mental capacity, it only took me a few minutes of staring at our other plastic containers to figure out I could use another container and get the same result.  Again, duh.  And, again, impossible when impaired.

This year’s Swiss Chard Affair is a clear sign of my continuing healing.  That feels good.  At the same time, it is rather appalling to realized how impaired I was.  I expect I will be as appalled next year about how I do some task this year.  I can only hope to continue to heal.

P1140870

The Queendom freezer is already filling with 2017 goodies.  Top shelf is garlic scape pesto, basil pesto, and some chopped scapes.  Middle shelf is my four containers of chard.  Yay!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment