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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