One Thing At A Time

Life is rolling, rolling along and I feel fine.

Things are good. I am here. Life is manageable.

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It’s winter, but my prickly pear has started growing a new arm!

I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve magically healed from my brain injuries. Nor that I’ve even had a jump in healing or a marked improvement in the last few weeks. Rather, life is feeling good because who I am and who I expect myself to be have lined up just a little bit more completely.

I figured something out. Another little piece of the puzzle, another little help along the way to making my mTBI recovering life just a bit more bearable. Want to know what it is?

It is this simple truth:

I can only do one thing at a time.

That’s it. That’s the long and short of it.

I can only do one thing at a time.

Now, I’ve known that’s true on the small scale. I can’t multitask around the house.  It just leads to headaches and frustration and tears. I don’t try anymore.

What has changed my life is realizing this truth on a larger scale. On a big scale, I can only do one thing at a time. Large actions, large ideas, large issues can only be handled one by one. Any significant action or life changing decision can only be considered and felt and dealt with one at a time. Period.

I know, I know. You don’t have to tell me. That’s not how life works.

But that’s how I work, now. And the sooner I can acknowledge that, accept that, and plan for that – the happier we will all be.

There is a reason I have been labeled impaired, disabled. I don’t think Social Security is sending me checks every month just because I felt like a few years’ vacation. Hah.

No, they’re paying me because I can’t work. I’m not working because there are things I just can’t do right now. A lot of things.

What’s amazing is that even after four years, I am still discovering the ways that I am impaired. No, I’m not getting worse. No, I haven’t re-injured myself. Rather, I mean I am becoming more skilled. I am becoming more able to first perceive I have an executive functioning issue and second to articulate it to myself and others.

Gods, that is like 95% of the challenge in brain injury world. First to perceive what it is that is off, and then to find words to tell someone else.

If I could have told myself, or told Mary, what was wrong with me after I was injured… that would have saved both of us years of anger and frustration and resentment. She didn’t understand the level of help I needed. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t helping me, but I couldn’t explain what I needed or why I needed it because I was too confused.

Gods, what a nightmare. For everyone.

Sigh.

Okay. Now, back to what I was originally talking about. I have realized I can only do one “big” thing at a time. So how does that play out in my life? Let’s look at the last bit of time.

From the beginning of the year until the date of my injury anniversary (January 25th), I was dealing with the reality that I experienced a life-changing injury four years ago. I was angry, I was sad, I was bitter. I had all sorts of emotions and thoughts bubbling beneath the surface of my consciousness, and I did my best during that time to hear my inner self and process through my emotions. During that time period, that was the only big thing I could focus on. I wrote a blog post, the day came and went, and I put that anniversary to bed in my mind.

Once that was taken care of, I could move on to the next thing. I spent from about January 26th to this past Friday integrating my entire self behind changing my name. I have been considering changing my name on and off for the past five months or so. I’ll write more about this later in another blog post… soon. This past Friday, I initiated the name change process. Another big thing done. Now it can sit on the shelf until the court does it’s part and it’s time for me to take further action.

That meant I was free to move on to the next issue in my life – my car. My damned car. It is a lemon. Not a legally-actionable-level lemon, but definitely a lemon. It just turned over 100,000 miles and it needs thousands of dollars worth of work. A new noise, a new smell, a new vibration seems to pop up every week, and I feel like it is a ticking time bomb. I need to trade it in or sell it, and get an affordable, working, reliable car as soon as possible. That is what is currently taking all my mental energy, and likely will for a while.

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The antagonist in this part of the story.

Once I’ve dealt with that issue, there will be something else to take its place. New medical treatments, taxes, a new bed, travel to see family, money management, house repairs… on and on and on. All of it needs my attention. Half of it needed my attention last month. And none of these things can be dealt with right now. Because I am dealing with one thing – and only one thing – at a time. Because that is all I can do.

So I set aside all concerns, thoughts, problem solving urges, and actions for all other situations in my life, so I have the energy and capacity to handle one situation in my life.

I now, truly, have a one track mind.

And now that I know that, I – surprisingly – feel a lot better about everything. It suddenly makes sense. I don’t need to figure out a bunch of things. I just need to figure out what is most urgent or most important to me, and focus on that. As long as everything else won’t explode or kill anyone – it can wait. Really. It can wait. I know that isn’t pleasant for the people in my life, or people who want or need things from me… but that is the best I can do.

I remember a time, a time long ago now, where I could figure out my car repairs, roller derby practice, divorce papers, medical care, and the plans for my next trip all at once. All at once! On and on and on, I just kept adding things to figure out. And I did it. I could juggle it all, keep all those balls in the air.

And now I can’t. And that just is. It bothers me, when I think about it, that it takes me a year to do what a healthy person can accomplish in a month. Hell, in two weeks. So I don’t think about it.

I just accept what is true for me now, and focus on that. Now that I’m not trying to do more than one thing at a time, I am a lot happier. I feel so much more in control of my life. It is simpler, when there are fewer choices. My main choice is what problem I will deal with. It isn’t how I will manage all the stuff that needs to get done. It isn’t me trying to use every moment of every day to make what I want happen. It isn’t complex and energy intensive.

It’s one thing. One thing at a time. That, my friends, I can handle.

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Four Years and Counting

Four years ago today, I was at a roller derby scrimmage.  Actually, I wasn’t just “at” a scrimmage, I was skating in a roller derby scrimmage.  Right around this time, I was jamming and had just burst through the pack.  Only one defender left to pass – I can do this.  Around the curve of the track we make contact.  And suddenly I am flying through the air and land on my shoulder and neck, the back of my helmeted head striking the concrete with force.

That simple moment, and my life changed.  Literally, nothing has ever quite looked or felt the same since.  I got a concussion.  I went to the doctor, was told to avoid computer screens and ibuprofen for a few weeks, and I should be fine.  That was four years ago today.  What actually happened was my concussion symptoms never went away.  At least not yet.  Since that first brain injury, I haven’t been able to work full time.  A second head hit two years ago sealed the deal, and I had to stop working altogether.

Four years.  That’s a long time.  A long time.  That’s enough time to earn a bachelor’s degree, get a few promotions, or grow a three year old child.

Each of these last four years, I have written a blog post on the anniversary of my injury.  The first year, I detailed what actually happened and what it had already cost me (check it out here A Year Later).  The second year, I realized my old self, my old life was dead.  Plus, I kept track of costs (read it here I’m Turning 2). The third year, keeping track of the money I’d lost was too depressing, so I focused on qualitative losses and gains (link here Three Years Down)

This year, what am I writing about?  Well, let me start with this little fact.  I have been injured almost 10% of my life (9.52381% for those detail-oriented like me). 10% of my life!  Crazy, right?

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So, for those of you new to mTBIs, new to this blog – what did hitting my head twice win me?

Fatigue, impaired memory, headaches, confusion, fogginess, noise and light sensitivity, stuttering, poor balance. Trouble starting and finishing projects, an inability to problem solve. Forgetting words, inadvertent word substitution (how many things can I honestly call “potato”? 5? 20? My brain has no limit). Trouble keeping track of activities, appointments, the pot bubbling on the stove.  Having to have a conversation over and over again – What, you are going out this evening?!? – because I forget it, over and over again.

It sucks, definitely.  When I allow myself to think about it, I get angry.  Bitter.  Resentful of the doctors who didn’t give me the direction I needed to protect my brain after my injury.  Angry at the world for having things go so wrong.  Bitter about my slow healing.

And, I’m alive.  Not how I wanted to be, not how I planned to be, but I am alive. And sometimes you just have to take what you can get.

I struggled for years after my first injury to keep my job, to remain independent, to live how I use to live.  And I failed at it.  I failed at it every single day.  And I got angry at myself for failing, like somehow I had suddenly stopped “trying” hard enough, stopped wanting to participate in my life.  Like it was a deliberate choice, instead of just my capacity and ability having drastically and abruptly changed.  Like, if I tried hard enough, wanted it enough, pushed myself far enough, I’d be able to stay who I was before my injury and meet the demands of my daily life.

From this side of things, it’s like – duh – of course you can’t keep doing what you usually do when your ability shifts from being the size of a bucket loader to the size a teacup.  Of course you won’t be able to do the same things, lead the same life, carry the same loads.  Of course not.

And without exception, I tried.  And tried hard.  And I tried for as long as I could.  Until I couldn’t anymore, and had to adjust my life and expectation to what was actually going on.

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No more stormwater inspections for me.

Fast forward four years.  I’ve adjusted to my new life, my new abilities.  I live day to day, not looking ahead, not looking behind.  I do my best to keep all my energy and attention for today, because that’s all I can manage.  I set my expectations small, so small.  But that means, most days, I can meet those expectations.  And on rough day, or bad days, I just shrug and know I can’t do those things, and that’s okay.  Because another day with come.  If it’s not tomorrow, then the day after, where I will be able to do a few small things.  I just have to be patient.

It sounds really depressing when I write that here.  In reality, it has been a life saver.  After failing over and over again, every day for years, it’s really nice to pile up a bunch of wins in my column.  I succeed most days.  That makes me happy.  Yes, that means I have to celebrate the little things – making a phone call, cooking dinner, participating in a medical appointment.  But it means I have something to celebrate, something to feel good about, and every person needs that.

So, in case you’re wondering, most of the time I’m happy.  Or at least at peace.

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I definitely wouldn’t have had time to keep bees in my past life.

I’ve spent the last week or so thinking about this anniversary.  When I wasn’t thinking about it, my subconscious sure was.  I could feel myself start to fill with anger and sadness.  When I actually allow myself to recognize the change in my ability, to know the truth of my limitations, bitter disappointment and dissatisfaction fill me.  I hate my life.  I hate my limitations.  I hate all the ways I have to accommodate my impairment, or ask others to accommodate me, every single frikkin day.  It’s enough to drive one to insanity or self destruction. Mostly, I try not to know these things, these truths.  It just makes life too hard. But anniversary #4 wouldn’t let me ignore it, at least for this short stretch of time.  Writing this post brings everything to the surface, makes me face my life and what is going on, or not going on.

Don’t get me wrong, I am healing.  I am healing slowly.  Very slowly.  If my brain healing continues at this same pace, I expect I’ll be ready for a part time job… in about 20 years. No joke. Maybe 30.  I assure you, that’s not a good fucking feeling.

Anger and bitterness prompted me to take action.  I contacted a new care provider, this time a chiropractor that helped a brain injured friend of mine.  I already see a great chiropractor, but somehow this one is going to make a difference in my life.  And, I hope he does.  I hope his xrays and precision alignment of my head and neck give me more energy, make me less foggy, improve my life in some way.  I am very much open to improvement.  Of course, most of it I expect won’t be covered by insurance. Why do new brain recovery treatments always cost hundreds or thousands of dollars? Good thing I have plastic I can flex, if needed. Sigh.

So, that’s where things stand. Another new treatment.  Another year has passed.

And I’ll just keep putting along, like I do.  Living day to day.  Focusing on the positive, sometimes aggressively, to keep my life livable.  It’s good to visit the dark feelings, to shake one’s fist at the heavens once in a while, but damn I just can’t live there.  I choose not to live there.  And maybe, someday, things will be different.

Blessed be.

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2018

Happy 2018!  I’m amazed it is already the new year.  I spent more than half my life waiting for it to become the year 2000 – incidentally the year I turned 25 – and since then time just seems to keep speeding by.

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My first dawn of 2018

My biggest gift and my biggest surprise so far this year is something simple.  I know it is 2018.  I know it is 2018 without even trying.  I know it isn’t 2017, or 2016, or 2014… it is definitely 2018.

That’s pretty great, in my book.  The best part is that it isn’t something I had to work at.  I didn’t plan it.  I didn’t spend weeks prompting my mind to remember the year was changing.  No, it was organic.  It just happened.  2018.  Simple as that.

For years – since my first brain injury in 2014 – I have been adrift in time.  My mind has floated in a sea of darkness, without time landmarks to anchor me in place.  I could have been anywhere, any time.  Functionally, most of the time it doesn’t matter.  I mean, how often does someone ask you what year it is?

It hasn’t bothered me, this lack.  My days have and are condensed down to this moment, and this next one, without energy to worry about placing this moment’s experience into the context of the whole of time. If nothing else, I am an efficient woman at my core.  I jealously guard my energy from worries about yesterday or tomorrow.  I succeed some days more than others.  In the best circumstance, I am able to spend all of this day’s energy on actions and thoughts and emotions for today.  That means not groping after a sense of time that doesn’t really add value to my ability to experience life.

But, unexpectedly, I receive this gift of knowing the year.  2018.  That’s nice.

I wonder why.  Why now?  Why this year?

The most optimistic interpretation is that I’m healing.  I mean, I know I am healing – slowly, painfully slowly, but I am healing.  And perhaps this knowing of the year – being aware when the date changed, and writing it seamlessly in my journal and HBOT tracking sheet – perhaps this is just one more sign of how some small part of my brain is back in it’s proper place.  If so, that’s great.  I’m happy for all the little improvements that make up my changing life.

Alternately, it could simply reflect a level of acceptance of my injury. A year ago, I was actively confused about the year – was it 2014, 2017, 2016? (check out my post here: Goodbye 2016).  Now, I haven’t worked for 1 1/2 years.  I have finally stopped fighting, trying to be someone I no longer am.  I have allowed my shame and guilt at being different and less than I was fall away (most of the time).  I have given myself permission to just “be” day-to-day without my worth being directly related to the number and quality of tasks I complete.  Now, after all that evolution, maybe I can allow myself to know the year.  Maybe I am no longer stuck in being who I was in 2014 or 2015 or 2016.  Maybe now, since I mostly accept my impaired and limited life, what year it is can just be known to me.

Maybe that is what is going on.

And who knows, this might be a passing moment of clarity.  Healing from my mTBIs has not been a linear path.  Perhaps tomorrow, for no apparent reason, I will lose this anchor in reality.  Or, perhaps, next week I’ll overextend myself and this knowledge will be one of the little bits of myself I lose again.  I don’t know.  Really, I can’t know.  I do not have control over what I can or can’t do each day.  I mean, I have control whether I rest or overdo it.  But, there is no linear relationship, no A+B=C, that guarantees functionality.  If I rest, I am not automatically gifted with more energy, or a clearer thought pattern.  Resting does increase my chances I might get one or both of those things, but it is definitely no guarantee.  Try planning your life when you can’t promise anyone any action, any level of functionality.  It takes a bit of getting use to.

Right now, at least, I know the year. 2018.  I have a handle on my position in the universe – I am oriented to time and space, at least for the moment.  And that’s a positive thing.

The future?  The future will take care of itself.  All I can do is show up every day.

These past months, I’ve been enjoying the restfulness of winter.  The snow and cold are great motivation to stay inside and rest.  This year (all 4 days) have been very cold so far.  Here was the temperature at 7 am Tuesday morning (before the sun comes up in Vermont at this time of year):

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Brrr!

Happy new year.  I know it will get warmer, eventually.  Just like I will heal, eventually.  And through it all, time keeps marking on, one day at a time.

Blessed be.

 

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Derby Reclamation

Life is such a funny mixture of things. Most of it is details, grinding daily details that are unimportant and as alike as grains of sand. Sprinkled within that daily grind are moments, seconds sometimes, of clarity and experience that change my life. Those unplanned moments make a new path possible, a new reality true. Like most people, I don’t realize those important moments until they have sped by me and I’m left looking back at them as they fade away on the horizon. That was true for me at the derby bout I attended precisely one month ago. It’s taken me all this time to process what happened, what I learned, what has changed.

First, some background.  I played roller derby, joyously, for five years.  My career ended abruptly with a concussion whose symptoms never went away.  A second brain injury from a can falling on my head (!) made it impossible for me to work at all.  Losing derby – the playing, the skating, the hitting – was devastating.  Derby was the core of my life at that time, and then so abruptly… not.  I couldn’t cope with one more loss, with so many losses from brain injury already suffocating me.  I cut myself off from the sport, the people, that aspect of myself.  I edited derby out of my life and tried to move forward.  And the years passed.

Until a recent opportunity to attend an alumni derby bout changed that.  I guess, on some level, I was finally ready to experience some resolution around roller derby and it’s place in my life. After much consideration and fraught feelings (expressed here: Derby Drama), I decided to attend.  Heck, after all that crying and grief it would have been seriously anti-climatic not to.  So I did.

And I’m glad I did.

It went well.  I arrived, I attended, I talked to people, I enjoyed derby, and I drove home safely.  Yes, I was overwhelmed, confused, and drifted like a rudderless boat.  Yes, there were things I wish I had done differently, or things I didn’t do that I wish I had.  Yes, I ended up feeling like crap for three days afterwards.  But I had fun, saw friends, and for one night didn’t feel so alone.  That is worth it in my book.

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Hey look – there I am after the bout!     Photo by Mark Eley Photography

I appreciated everyone who made a point to welcome me, hug me, and generally make me feel wanted.  It was great to feel like I belonged.  Thank you.  That was really kind of you all.  It felt wonderful to be greeted and included so warmly; exactly what I needed.

My whole relationship with derby shifted that night.  First, there was seeing derby as a spectator, and realizing how different that is from playing.  Second, there was realizing I didn’t know most of the skaters or refs on the track. Third, there was seeing most of the people I knew from derby on the sidelines, with me.  Watching, enjoying, but not skating.  About half of the few people I recognized on the track were just back for that particular alumni bout, and would be on the sidelines with the rest of us soon enough.

Change.  Sometimes it takes me a while to recognize and accept it.  Showing up, seeing the obvious changes to the sport and the participants with my own eyes… that helped me quite a bit.  There were also a few “ah hah!” moments for me that night, a few seconds of conversation that invited life-changing clarity.

On my way out of the door, a new-to-me skater (actually a two year veteran skater) approached me and gave me a roller derby ornament.  By that point in the night, I was foggy as hell, overstimulated, and not able to process incoming information.  I knew that, so didn’t even try to get clarification about the gift nor try to remember her name.  I did chat with her a few moments, though.  As we talked, I asked her how she liked derby.  Her eyes immediately blazed with love.  Such a strong reaction, so quickly… that made me smile.  She was clearly full of passion for her sport, dedicated and suffused in positive obsession.

It had been a long time since I’d seen that in-love derby look.  There is something inspiring, being near someone with such a clear enthusiasm for something.  While I was skating, I saw that look every day.  Seeing that love in her eyes reminded me of who I use to be.  And who I no longer am.  I felt clarity in that moment, seeing adoration for derby shining out the eyes of someone younger.  Someone who had been skating for a while and still was in it completely.  Someone energetic and who has years ahead of her on the track.  I felt a moment of completion, of rightness.  Peace.  All was well.  Here was proof that the torch was being carried on.  Somehow, that moment closed the circle of my derby life.  It was done.

I am no longer that derby person, and will never be again. That path is no longer mine, and has not been mine in a while. I’ve known that. Really. And interacting with this new woman, this dedicated and skilled derby skater… that made it clearer to my deeper self, my subconscious, my heart.

Of course, I cried about it later in the car.  But that’s to be expected.

A few minutes later, I had another moment of clarity. My friend Blazey walked me to my car that night, and we talked about leaving derby.  She talked about how, in reality, leaving derby is an adjustment for everyone.  Derby takes up such a big chunk of your life while you are in it, so when you are done it leaves a big hole.  And there is nothing quite like it in the world.  So it’s a rough transition sometimes, even for those who leave voluntarily. In my case, my friend was saying, I had a particularly rough breakup.

Click.

A rough breakup.  Yes, that’s exactly what it was.  It was abrupt, unexpected, and I didn’t want our relationship to end.  Because of some serious mental impairment and energy limitations related to my brain injuries, I haven’t been able to process that.  Somehow, I’ve become that girl who is pining after a relationship that ended almost 4 years ago.  Ack.  I’ve been holding onto something that doesn’t exist anymore. The focus of my obsession has changed, evolved, and now has new intimates in her life.  This derby visit pushed me to realize that this is just another breakup.  We all go through a lot of them in our lives, with people and jobs and visions of ourselves.  This is just one more.  It isn’t the end of the world.  I can survive it.  I have survived it.

It is done. Finally. Thank the Goddess.

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All that, and I only remembered to take one photo.  Ah well.  Crusher and me, celebrating 10 years of derby in Vermont.

Does it seem a contradiction to say that the bout also reminded me how much I love passionate, determined, strong-willed derby women?  Cuz it did. And I do. I want more of those sorts of women in my life. Somehow.  I’ll throw that out into the universe, and see what comes back.

If my future holds some small bit of derby in it, some peripheral association, it will be something new.  Not something old.  The past is done, and now there is only the future. My friend Drew reminded me of this quote, which I believe fits well here.

“You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on you. No man ever steps into the same river twice,  for it’s not the same river and he is not the same man.”

~~Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

So, my friends, I have put an old hurt to bed.  I have made peace with my past, and perhaps freed a bit more of myself to live fully in the present and look forward to the future. What is the beauty of life, other than the opportunity to grow and change?  Blessed be.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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