People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy - Oliver Goldsmith

Empowerment from Role Models

One of the many things that I found empowering working with my Team AxIS and my advisor, Joseph O’Connor was that they used the computer so, well, easily.

I realize the descriptor easily may sound like a funny use of terms.  Of course designers, developers and usability experts would use the computer easily!

And, especially when compared to my computer use.

Because my team knew how to use the computer to create the website that we talked about, I could watch them do things in a short period of time.  What they were able to do was so far beyond my abilities.  I could literally see things that we talked about taking shape before my eyes.  Sometimes it wasn’t quite that fast.

However,  my team was in India, and their day was my night.

So sometimes they would work on the site while I was sleeping.

And so I would wake up and start my day and when I looked at the computer,  there would be an email to open.

And the email would show me suggestions that my team had for how to make the ideas we talked about the night before take shape.

Some days it seemed instantaneously.

Some days it might take longer.   Often I was just getting used to an idea when it was already mocked up.

Just to say something I have learned about myself and my decisions is that I definitely have delayed processing post-injury and so it often takes me awhile to get used to an idea.   I may have had slower decision-making prior to my injury, its hard to know.   What I do know is that my decision-making is slower post-injury and so getting used to that and working around that is part of my “new normal”.

Back to my website and my team.  From my point of view, my new website began to take shape very quickly.

To me part of the empowerment that I felt from participating in the Knowbility Open Air Contest, was that watching my team gave me hope that one day I will use the computer much more easily and much faster like I could see that they do!

I was an early adopter of computer technology before my injury and I know the benefits that the appropriate use of technology could give me to enhancing my productivity and quality of life.

However, with my slowed learning following my injury and the difficulties I have had with the distractions of the computer as well as the trade-off I face in terms of energy loss from concentrating in front of a screen, and countless other issues that I don’t have a grasp on yet,  I have had a difficult time with experiencing gains from the computer.

Watching what my team could do not only motivated me and gave me hope just by seeing what they could do.

They also broke down for me new learning.  I would get an email saying these are the steps you need to talk to do this.   In others words, they gave me procedural information that I could follow.

First you do this, then you do that.

And I can follow simple instructions that tell me what to do and when.

Often I cannot break things down for myself.

But if the instructions are good and precise (and do not skip any steps), then I can follow them.

And if I cannot follow them the first time, I can try again and again until I learn them.

And I feel so empowered when I am successful at doing step one and then step two and then step three.

When I have hope because I can see where others are able to do and when I have a complete step by step approach, I can use the computer (or mobile phone or ipad).  And I can experience benefits of technology.  And I feel empowered.

When technology disempowers me, it disempowers me much more than it disempowers someone without my cognitive issues.

When I cannot learn how to do something new on the computer, either because their are implied steps or there is an assumption of knowledge that I do not have, or because I am unable to break down the steps myself, I experience frustration, just like others.

What may not be like others however is that I am conscious that I am dealing with a lot of increased frustration in just going about the simple tasks of my day.   And in order to get through the day, I am already pursuing strategies to keep my daily frustrations from getting me down or getting me depressed.

So going on the computer to help me, and ending up with increased frustration, is often a risk that I cannot afford to take in my day, if I am already having a tougher time in my day than I am used to.

Or if my brain is not having a good day.   In other words, if my brain is having a harder time performing simple tasks that I normally can do.

What my team did for me was by help me by pass much of the increased frustration that working on the computer can do for me.

They were motivated to help me, and they wanted me to succeed.

They broke it down for me.

Step one is this.

Step two is that.

And they modeled for me where I want to be one day.

And when I couldn’t do a task they suggested, they broke it down differently for me.

Together we found a way for me to increase my appropriate usage of the computer.

Everyone needs models outside of themselves to inspire them and help them with the steps they need to go where they would like to go.

I needed them before my injury!

After my injury, I need them more.

Thank you Team Axis and Joseph O’Connor and to all those at Knowbility.

Thank  you, thank you!


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Automaticity Part 1

Last week, I wrote my first draft blog post about a term that I have learned called Automaticity.

I wanted to write about Automaticity because I knew that I was expereincing a huge increase in it, and that it was automaticity that was allowing me to do much more than my “previous normal” would allow.

I had titled the post from the week before “I did it!” because I was so amazed that I had been able to do so much and knew it was because my brain was changing and allowing what I previously could not get done in a given time period.

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What Mother’s Day 2014 Means to Me

This week, I attended the Kindergarten Roundup with my 5 year old son.   Kindergarten Roundup is a way for 5 year old’s to visit their future kindergarten school and begin to get ready for next year.

At my son’s new school here in Austin, Kindergarten Roundup includes a Dinosaur play performed by the current kindergartners for the incoming kindergartners.

My son picked a seat in the front row.  He invited neighborhood 5 year old friend and her mom to sit with us.

During the play, my son spotted three of his other neighborhood friends who were in the play and pointed them out to me with huge excitement.

My son loves Dinosaurs and to watch his friends sing about what they have learned about dinosaurs sent my son, and me, over the moon.

To prepare him for the event and to make kindergarten more welcoming for him, I had reminded him which friends would be in the play, so he knew whom to look for.

I was pleased that my son took the next step and spotted them and pointed them out to me, one at a time.   Other than telling him the names of his friends, I also told him the only other clue I had about whom to look for which was that one of his close friends was a “Rock Star” in the Dinosaur play.

He located all of his friends on stage and off stage by himself and told me each time he found one.

As my son and I sat on the front row watching the Dinosaur Play, I realized how special it was, and how amazing it was in my life to be sitting in this room at this time with him.    It flashed in front of me how many barriers I had to overcome to be this moment to be happening.

What were the barriers I overcame:

–I had to learn how to take care of myself again after my concussion.

–I had to find appropriate rehabilitation after my concussion with my cognitive issues standing squarely in the way of my ability to tell my doctors what was wrong and advocate for myself.

–I had to practice my own self-care over and over until I got it into my routine.  (This is called relearning executive functioning skills)

–Once I learned how to take care of myself as part of my rehabilitation, I had to practice and practice taking care of myself over and over again, until I could do it well.

–I had to practice taking care of other children so that I could take care of my own.

–I had to learn new cognitive strategies to make sure my child would be well taken care of and safe and to make sure I could be a good mother to him, to work around some lingering cognitive issues that I still had.

–My husband supported me through all of the practice I did, and got some practice himself!   Some practice was unintentional in that part of our adoption journey was practicing for two years during an adoption that ultimately was not successful.

–My husband and I navigated together two adoption processes.   The second one was successful.

I did all of that!   All of that had to happen for this moment to be happening.  Here I was sitting on the front row with my son watching the Kindergarten play with my neighbors!

And all the practice that I have had and all the knowledge of development that I have learned from the inside out with all my recovery, has helped me to be a much better mom than I would ever have been before my injury.   I have been able to give my son many gifts of understanding and compassion.   Rehabilitation and self-care have also given me the ability to break things down into smaller steps–baby steps– that are only understandable to me because of my insights from my recovery and the teachings that I have learned.

Pinch me!  How meaningful it is to have my family and celebrate how far we have come together this Sunday.

And thank you to all those who have supported this journey, including my many doctors and health professionals, my case management services at Brain Injury Services at Northern Virginia, my adoption support group in Virginia and the one we are building here, many other moms who have taught me lots of tips, my husband who I have mentioned before (but who I cannot mention often enough) and to my old friends and new ones.

I also want to thank Renee Trudeau who wrote a blog post about self care for moms and asked the question what self care meant to me.   I was introduced to her by a lovely friend and life coach in Virginia, Alison Horner Cardy. I met and got to know Alison before I moved to Austin because she was the nanny for my son’s friends at that time.

I love Renee Trudeau’s book The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal because it normalizes some of the difficulties that I face as a mom and provides suggestions.   I want to thank Renee Trudeau for the inspiration to write this blog post.    For me, it was thinking through the question she posed about what does self-care mean to me that I came up with this blog post on my walk.

In thinking through her question about self-care,  I thought about all the work I have had to do with self-care following my injury. With my injury, self-care is mandatory, not optional.  Without it, my functioning goes way down and my life becomes intolerable.  Self-care is mandatory for my life to work.

And ultimately, self-care has meant that I can take care of my son!!!  Hence the post that I wrote.

If you want to read more about my journey with my son:


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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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