The Power of Reflection before welcoming in the New Year

I usually end the year by exercising my reflection skills.  I find it very powerful to reflect about how my life has gotten better during the last year and to write these down.

I find reflecting on how things have gotten better makes me be more appreciative of my accomplishments.

Many of my accomplishments happen at a very slow rate.   In fact, at a much, much slower than I would like.

By practicing things I want to accomplish over and over, I do see progress.  My brain does eventually reorganize around a habit after I have practiced it over and over.

I find that sometimes that forward progress is easy to miss or sometimes its easy for me to take the end result for granted when it finally happens because I can finally do it and its just suddenly there.

So remembering where I was at the beginning of the year and how my life and my functionality has gotten better provides useful perspective and good feelings about my persistence and my hard work.   I am still getting better.

Here are a few of the accomplishments in developing new brain patterns (or what I refer to as continued rehab) that I have had this year:

–I am driving my own car now which means more freedom for me.    I also no longer need to schedule sharing a car with my husband which has made my life as a mom to our son much easier.    I have the car when I need it and I know that what I put in the car for our activities will be there.

–Being comfortable on some of Austin’s  bridges and expanding my range are now two of the new challenges I am working on with my driving.

–I am finding time several days a week to work on my eye exercises.  I am seeing progress from that.    I am finding that there is a shift in my eye-brain connection on my right side.  This is the area where my headaches can originate (when I am not able to rest from a cognitively-intense activity before I get a headache).   I cannot quite translate the shift  into increased function yet, but I can feel that something is changing for the better.   My hope is that this shift will eventually lead to new pathways on that side and eventually no headaches.

–I am walking twenty minutes  a day and using my arms to exaggerate the motion of going from one side of my brain to the other.   I meditate for 20 minutes a day (4 or 5 times a week).    The meditation mat “draws me to it” when I am not able to make the time to meditate.     Both the exercise and the meditation help me get through the day and make my life better.

Those are some of my reflections on ways my life has improved this year.    I do this same reflection in all parts of my life.

What are the new brain patterns you have accomplished in 2013?

Where were you when the year started and where are you now?

How do you feel when you reflect on the changes that are improving?




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Thankful for Thanksgiving and the cognitive challenges it requires

I am torn between blogging about what’s going on in the moment with the Thanksgiving Day holiday and saying more about the Guidelines for concussion/mild traumatic brain injury from the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation that I started introducing last week.

This week, Thanksgiving wins.

Its my favorite holiday from way back because I love food and its a time to share good company and appreciate what’s good and what I am thankful for.   I am thankful for my family, for good food and for a roof over my head.   And I am thankful for continuing down my path to finding my voice through my blog and the self-expression that its giving me.

Thanksgiving can be a very challenging holiday for anyone.   I find I have to work much harder to manage my persistent symptoms during the holiday, so its more challenging than it was before my injury.

There are many reasons why the holiday is so challenging for me and why I have to work harder.

Here are a few examples:

— Routine helps me manage my daily life and so any holiday takes me out of routine.    When I am out of my routine, I forget to do things that I would be more likely to naturally remember or have cues to remind me, if I were more in routine.   This means that going into holidays I have to increase my planning in order to compensate.  And when I forget to increase my planning, my life can be very chaotic.

–I have to manage my energy on a daily basis so that I don’t get too tired and overwhelmed.   Thanksgiving can be a tiring holiday for anyone.   When I don’t manage my energy well, I get irritated and snappy and that makes things harder for me and for my family.   So I need to get cognitive rest to build up my short term energy reserves going into Thanksgiving and take more rest and downtime afterwards.   I also need to limit my activities that take energy and make sure I engage in activities that are uplifting and give me energy.

–In my rehab, I am practicing hard to get things lined up in sequence so that I can do them easier and better.   I work on this on a daily basis.   Getting things in sequence is pretty natural to many adults and certainly was for me before my injury.    But post-injury, I have to learn to consciously think about sequence until it becomes automatic again.    Getting things in sequence is a component of what’s called “executive functioning” skills.   Preparing for and living through Thanksgiving is the Olympics of sequencing in my mind.

What do I mean by the Olympics of sequencing?   Well, first, I only practice at Thanksgiving once a year, so its hard for me to access what I learned from last year to do this year better.   And typically its easier for me to learn tasks that require doing things in sequence when I can practice the task over and over.   If I am practicing the task often then I am more successful at using  information about where or how I misstep in order get closer to getting the sequence right.

Here’s a very small and practical example.  Pumpkin pie is the dish that is always mine to make and I love trying to make it.   I have been taught many steps to simplify making it — one is by using a store bought pie crust.  Another is to re-write the recipe instructions so that I can follow it as best I can and to make parts ahead of time.    Several years ago, my husband found an easier recipe that has a crushed ginger snap crust and that made it even easier.    But this year I forgot about the new recipe and it was not until I was trying to cook the store bought pie crust that I realized that I did not have the new easier recipe (and the ingredients for it).    This may seem like a very small thing.  But what I have learned is that a small thing can make a huge difference with managing  my persistent symptoms.   And this example, of forgetting what I did to improve things in a previous year will happen in about ten or maybe 20 times during the holiday week.   Rather than letting it get to me, I have to practice letting it go and being okay with it so that I can continue on.


Second, Thanksgiving is the Olympics of sequencing because in order to buy groceries (that I am not used to buying on a routine basis) I need to plan out what groceries we need to buy or that we are taking to someone else’s house.   Then I have to work backwards and get it all on the shopping list.   And I need to remember to adjust the list for how many people our family is cooking for.  So those are three or four discrete steps that I need to be conscious of and try to keep straight:  plan what we need to make or take, make a list, adjust list for how many people will be eating what we make or take, then update list at least once when people are added or subtracted.    Keeping the steps separate and keeping them in order takes me alot of time and energy. And I have to set low expectations for the results.   All these steps may be unconsciously done by most adults, but I have to remind myself to do them as they aren’t automatic for me.

And those are examples of only a few of the reasons why Thanksgiving is the Olympics of sequencing.   Thank goodness, I love the holiday so much that its worth taking on the challenges!






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practice, practice, practice and finding and re-finding balance

Last week, I talked about recognizing that something I was doing was creating sleep issues for me and trying to act quickly to nip that in the bud before it got worse.   I recognized that too much time on the computer was causing sleep difficulties and I scaled back work on the computer and resolved that.

Because I took these steps, I thought my life was moving toward better balance.

This weekend, I recognized (upon reflection) that I was getting another sign that my life was moving further out of balance.   Not because of sleep issues but for other reasons.

So I wanted to write about how hard I consciously have to work on finding and re-finding balance for my life to work as best it can.

Finding enough balance in one’s life is an issue for everyone.    What I realize now, is that my injury created a tremendous imbalance in my life.    My health and independence went out of balance, my career and my finances went out of balance. And the things that motivated and interested me and gave me joy in my life — my research, my work, my volleyball and my coaching kids soccer, as well as seeing my friends and family and having fun — went out of balance.    It took me years and years to reach some semblance of balance around this and recreate my life.    (More on this later …)

As I have recovered and re-wired, I have learned that one of the most important compensatory strategies that I have both practiced alot and still need to practice  is how to recognize the signs when my life is betting out of  balance before it gets too out of balance and falls apart.

In some ways, recognizing that my life is getting further out of balance is the hardest part.   Once I can recognize it, I can enlist help or follow steps I have learned to get it back closer to balance.   Often, things get out of balance and are headed further out of balance, long before I catch on.  Or, like this situation, I rectify one thing, and think I am getting things back in balance only to find out that there was more compensation I needed to make to get things in balance.

So here was the wake up call that I got this week.   I was asked to be the family member to pick my sister up at the airport since noone else could.    Since others have had to pick me up for so long, (and since I thought my life was getting back in balance), I was happy to oblige and practice being comfortable with driving to the airport.   Everything was going okay or so I thought.

Then, I parked in the cell phone lot to wait for my sister to get her baggage and be ready.   I must have forgotten to take the key out of the ignition.  So while I sat in the car waiting, I was unintentionally draining my battery.    When I tried to start my car again, it wouldn’t start.   So there I was at the airport unable to pick her up.

This whole process of draining one’s battery could happen to anyone.


I have learned from experience (draining my battery unintentionally has happened to me before)  that when it happens, it’s a sign.  Note to self!   It means that things are getting further out of balance.   When I have taken on too much unintentionally, I forget to take the key out of the ignition.   When I am forgetful about the things I know I need to be conscious of, its a sign my brain is overloaded by my life.

Let me explain further.   As part of my rehab on driving, I have had to re-learn all the procedures one needs to know how to drive.  These things are automatic to most people as adults such as putting the key in the ignition before I put the car in gear and the reverse, putting the car in gear before taking the key out when I am finished.  They are no longer automatic to me after my injury although with alot of rehab and alot of practice, many of these procedures are more automatic now.   Like I don’t have to consciously think to put the kay into the car before I put the car in gear–thats automatic again.    But I still have to consciously remember to put the car in gear when I am done, and to take the key out or the ignition.

Needing to get my life back in to balance happens alot.   So I get alot of practice doing it.    My life works better– I am more functional and my life is alittle easier to live and my mood is easier to manage–when I do.

Do you have a difficult time maintaining balance also?

Do you have experiences that you can recognize are signs that you need to pay attention to finding balance again?


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my blog is a work in progress

I view this blog as a work in progress.   I wanted to let you know that.   I am practicing being patient with it.

I find practicing being patient to be one of the hardest skills.   I want to race ahead and to do so much more with the website and with the blog.   I have alot to say about what I have learned about the brain from developing my awareness about my own brain, from listening to media, from attending conferences, from my advocacy and from talking to professionals, survivors and their families.  And I want to talk about what I have learned here!

I have a lot of limitations to work around in writing the blog, however.   I have learned that my day goes best when I respect my limitations.    When I don’t respect my limitations, my life literally falls apart.  I have unintentionally tried that many times.   It doesn’t work.

What are some of my limitations?    Like anyone else, putting up a website and writing a blog would be a new project and there is alot of new learning that goes on with trying to master something new.

What’s different for me is that my new learning happens at a slowed rate — much slower than I was used to it happening.  I have learned alot of awareness and acceptance of my learning curve.   So when I take on things knowing that it will take   “awhile” to get the hang of it, it goes much better.

Since I remember that I used to learn things much more quickly, I have to work hard not to get frustrated in doing something new.   Whatever it would have taken before, it takes alot longer now.   I have to set my expectations realistically and allow myself more time.  I have to let my new slower learning curve be okay.  It is what it is.

And for me, the computer is no longer my friend.    Working on the computer and focusing my cognition while typing takes a great deal more energy for me than you would ever think.   So I have to limit the amount of time I can spend working on the computer.   And if I don’t, I won’t have sufficient energy for all the other tasks I need to do in the day to care for my son and contribute to keeping my family’ s life together.  I rely heavily on the support systems that my husband and I have built to help us but I also need to contribute what I can.

And, I only write content for the blog.    Its my dear husband, Michael, who understands how to add the picture to the blog and who understands how the blog does or doesn’t work.   He’s got alot on his plate with work and helping me out with household and day-to-day stuff.   He pitches in with the blog when he can.   He tells me that there are technical things that he still needs to fix about the blog.   Since I cannot do them myself, I need to find patience to be happy with them as they are until he can find time to get to them.


These are only some of the limitations I face in working on the blog.     But I wanted to put them out there.  I have found letting people know my limitations is useful for helping others learn and develop awareness and understanding about what my abilities actually are right now.   I am hoping to find more support around developing my blog as I go along.

So, my blog is a work in progress.

I hope you will be patient with it too!

An end note:  After I wrote my draft blog for this week a couple of days ago, I had difficulty getting to sleep.   Not being able to get to sleep is usually the sign that I have spent too much intense-cognitive time on the computer.    So today I am going to try to stay off the computer other than to proofread and post.    Yesterday I got my sleep patterns back to normal.   That’s crucial for me–I have to nip increased sleep issues in the bud.   Today, I want to keep them back  at the place that’s normal for me and enjoy my more restful sleep tonight.


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Practice, practice, practice and driving

I have gotten alot of results from my habit of practice, practice, practice.

Recently I got my Drivers License!

For years, I had to rely on others for rides, taking cabs, taking the bus, and walking.   But, now, I am driving.

Its a long story with many twists and much frustration.    I kept plugging away at it with lots of help, and now, I am driving by myself.   I will come back and talk about all the baby steps in another post.

For now, I want to say there were 5 big steps:

First, I had to find appropriate rehabilitation.

Then I had to do alot of rehabilitation.

Then I had to practice to take the written test again (because my license expired).

Then I had to practice behind the wheel.

And then, when I was ready, I took the behind the wheel test.

Once I got my learner’s permit and could sit in the drivers seat, I practiced, when I could, over a span of 7 or 8 years.

Who knew that there were so many skills to driving?  I certainly didn’t.

When I got my license as a teen, I practiced alot too.   At that time, I had no idea of what the skills were that I was practicing in order to learn to drive on my own.   I just practiced.

What I know now is that driving takes a lot of cognitive skills — like memory, concentration, attention, and problem solving skills — as well as visual skills and balance skills that I had to consciously re-learn.

I have these skills again!   I can drive independently.

When I was a teen and got my license I wanted to drive somewhere far away.

When I got my license this time, I just wanted to be able to drive to a convenience store to run an errand!

In both cases, practice led to more independence.  Yahoo!

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I feel hopeful when I practice, practice, practice

I feel hopeful when I practice, practice, practice.

I do.

I wanted to repeat that I feel hopeful when I practice, practice, practice because it is so important to my life.

I didn’t want you to read it so quickly that you missed it.

Just doing this habit makes me hopeful.

I feel hopeful because I know that practice, practice, practice will bring me results.

I do not know when it will bring me results.

What I have learned is that following a habit that will eventually give me results is better than not doing so.

I would rather head down the path of practice, practice, practice to change how my brain works eventually,  than to do nothing differently.

And what I have learned in life is that those are my choices.   Of those two alternatives, I would rather choose the the one that may make tomorrow better than today than the one that won’t.


I suppose my habit of practice, practice, practice is a little like planting seeds and being hopeful that they will take root and grow for the future.





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