New Learning — Part 1

Before my brain injury, I did not know that one of the consequences of untreated or inappropriately treated  from mild traumatic brain injury/concussion was that new learning processes of the brain can be compromised.

I know now that my ability to learn new things is quite different from what it used to be.

In fact, I will go one step further back  than that.    Before my injury, I did not even know anything about the process of new learning in my brain!   It just happened.

My brain just did what it did, and I had little insight into it.

I guess I had some insight into my moods–when I was depressed or down, for example, I would at some point recognize that I was down.

But I had little insight into the cognitive processes that allowed my brain to learn new information and function in my day-to-day life and work.

After my injury, I have had to learn to develop a lot of insight about my cognitive functioning in order to try to get as much out of my brain as I can and to improve my functioning.

After my injury, I began to develop some understanding of when my brain was doing different cognitive functions–like short term memory and trying to anticipate.   I began to develop understanding by experiencing that my brain no longer worked in ways that I had come to expect it to work.  (Since I was not getting to appropriate treatment, I learned this through painful trial and error in survival mode.)

My understanding of how my brain worked was moved forward with my vision therapy and other therapies as I received them, eventually.   For example, when I finally received speech and language therapy (over 3 and 1/2 years after my injury) and eventually occupational therapy the awareness of my cognitive functions helped alot.   Dance therapy helped much later also.

Since speech and language therapy and occupational therapy sometimes worked directly on attention and working memory or helped me learn compensatory strategies to augment attention and memory deficits, my insight into my brain’s cognition increased.    That is to say, helping me with the basics of getting better attention and memory and compensating around attention and memory, I began to understand more about more complicated cognitive functions that relied on attention and memory (or at least that is how I experienced it).

Cognitive functions are different from mood, however, they can be affected by mood, so it was also necessary for me to learn how my mood could make it more difficult for my brain to perform cognitive functions.    For example, its hard to pay attention and concentrate when I am anxious.  So I had to learn to calm my anxiety (often about my brain not working properly in that situation) so that I could think as best I could.

I have also learned something about the variability in my cognitive functioning around my emotions and why reducing stress and being optimistic is useful to keeping my cognitive functions performing as best it can.

I started this blog post with the idea I would talk about new learning and the difficulties around new learning that I experience with my brain injury this week.

I realized I needed to say something about cognitive processes and also emotional processes, so I have done that.

I want to end the blog to say that this week there have been so many things going on (learning about my son’s kindergarten next year, trying to figure out next steps for my blog, trying to organize my thoughts about next steps now that spring break is over, and new information about scheduling camps for my son this summer, to name several.)   All these things are in addition to my “normal” abnormal routine.

With so much new information for my brain to process, it just comes to this place where I cannot process any more information.   I cannot learn anything new.

I am reminded that my head used to physically hurt when I got to this place.   I would get headaches and I would get irritable.   I would also get frustrated.

I have learned the cognitive strategy called “ride that through”.   I have learned that its not that I won’t be able to learn in the future, at my new slower rate.   Its that I need to rest my brain until it all sorts out.   I know that rest and pulling back will help me right now.   I will ride the discomfort through.  And one day it will be comfortable again in my brain.

I am glad that I know this strategy now and that I know it will work.

Do you have issues with new learning when too much is going on?  How do you support your brain when this happens?   How do you deal with it?







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