Emotion affects cognition

I am still recovering from the setback I had following my dental appointment.   Its been a tough week, partially because this setback has been going on since June 2, so almost 6 weeks now, and that means that I am tired of being outside my routine, and those around me are also!   I was ready to be back to my baseline weeks ago.

Its also been a tough week because I have been feeling alot of grief because of two recent deaths.   What I did not know when I first had my injury, and what I was taught in rehab once I finally got it, is how much emotions affect one’s ability to think.  With an injured brain, I have learned many skills around feeling my emotions and understanding how they will impact my injury.   I have learned many coping strategies.

In my case, it is my grief this week (and last) that is making my brain functioning more difficult for me.  However, both depression and anxiety are secondary responses to brain injury in my case and I have been having to cope with these as part of my setback.   I have learned that these secondary emotions of depression and anxiety that go hand in hand with reduced cognition affect my ability to think and use my cognitive skills of attention, memory, planning and executive functioning.

On Sunday night, I learned that my high school friend’s Dad passed away and that his memorial service was on Monday.   I wanted to go and I was the only member of my family who could attend.   My family and my friend’s family spent alot of time together because of my friendship but also because my brother was the same age as my friends brother and our mom’s became close also.  When my mom became sick with cancer, my friend’s family was a vital part of our support network.   In addition, my friend’s Dad was a doctor and I had gone to see him for medical advice (and shots!) for traveling to Peru when I was younger, so I knew him not only as a Dad but also in his profession.

I have also been grieving for a young woman, Ann Zeis, who I have written about on my blog.   Sadly, she passed away over the 4th of July and her family and friends reached out to let me know.   Ann was helping me on my blog, and had inspired me tremendously as we had common interests.  I am going to write a special separate blog post on her inspiration in my life tomorrow.  Ann died in San Francisco where she lived, so I have been struggling with the profound loss of her life from afar.

I attended the memorial service for my friend’s father which was beautiful and reminded me of many times in my life that I spent with my friend’s family.   I went to talk with my friend afterwards.   I mistakenly thought that the handsome man standing next to her was her brother, who like I said, I knew well in high school.  We had about a 5 minute conversation the three of us.   I then said that I had a doctor in the same building where my friend’s brother works.   Since the person I was talking with wasn’t who my friend’s brother, and in fact lived in Houston not Austin, and was someone I went to high school, he retorted his surprise that I would have a doctor in his building in downtown Houston.  I realized at that point that I was confused.

I laughed at myself.   My friend later told me how well I dealt with the situation–that laughing was just a great way to deal with it.   It has taken years to learn to laugh at myself when my brain just isn’t quite there.  Its taken years to be flexible and give my brain space when it needs it.   This setback–and the increased confusion and cognitive deficits that it has brought–has really made me have to draw on these coping skills.  Its also made me appreciate that although I did not have these skills when I first needed them after my injury, I have them now.   And I need them to make this setback as short as possible and I have incorporated them in my everyday life so they help me in my daily life too.

Years ago when I spoke for Dr Paul Avarich’s class at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, it was my laugh that Dr Avarich wanted his medical students to appreciate.   Dr Avarich is a neuroscientist by training and he taught a first year class on neuroscience to his medical students.  I had met him when he did lectures about neuroplasticity at an annual conference at Williamsburg.  I wanted to know as much about neuroplasticity as possible because I wanted to keep getting better.  Years later, I traveled down to speak to his class.  And he pointed out to his students that being able to laugh when I made mistakes or when I did not know what to say (which was often following my brain injury) was a tremendous coping skill.   I now have a deep belly laugh and, as he pointed out, it really lightens up a situation.

I have counseled many after brain injury that letting go of situations where the brain isn’t working and allowing it to be okay that one’s brain is doing what it is doing, will help make life easier after injury.   I know now that my brain being confused or doing what it is doing is not “me”, its just my brain not feeling so well.  I also know that my brain (functioning) will get better the less feelings that I attach to my brain being confused.   It is what it is.   And that I will be able to think better the more that I take it “in stride”.

So that is the challenge of this week.  Dealing with my grief for the death of two lovely human beings who have contributed greatly to my life and allowing myself to feel my feelings of grief.

And at the same time deal with the effect that my grief is having on my ability to recover after my setback.

Its okay.  I need to feel my grief, and feeling my grief, although it may temporarily increase the difficulty of dealing with my setback, is what it is.  All that I can bring to this process is the awareness that I now have about what’s happening with my brain.  And at least I have that, now!

I need to get off the computer so I will publish this as is.  When I am better, I expect to come back to these posts and edit them, but for now, they will have to be as they are.

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