The summer has sped rapidly by, and I have spent a great deal of it away from the computer. I am about to embark on a trip to Maine, to visit my aunts at the 130-year-old house that has been in my family for six generations now. My goal for my next posting, patient reader, is to research the work being done with prismatic lenses for concussion sufferers; an optician in Bedford, NS is now fitting clients with them and the results appear to be fantastic. Please bear with me as I grind back into higher autumn gear!
Since my last posting, I have been fortunate enough to spend the better part of three weeks at my family’s summer place near Tatamagouche, NS. I mention it partly to explain the lengthy blog hiatus–no internet at the cottage!–and partly as a paean to the restorative powers of the rural outdoors, where I’ve spent a good deal of time. Swimming in the warm waters of the Northumberland Strait, watching my three-year-old running happily along the red sand beaches of the North Shore, picking strawberries at a local u-pick, paddling the old canoe to a secluded beach while seals swam nearby: what a great amount of therapy it has all been, and for the most part, absolutely FREE!
Fellow post-concussion sufferers, if you are at all able, I implore you to seek out your own little localized corner of paradise, even in the city. Anecdotal and clichéd though it may be to say it, my most persistent symptoms dissipated during the time I spent in this beautiful natural setting, reminding me of the largely unconscious stressors we are all subjected to in the city, especially the higher levels of visual stimulus from billboards, buses and busy malls. The less I see of that kind of thing, the better I feel. Needless to say, am looking forward to another two weeks of rest up there after a brief city stay this week. See you again in early August!
This article chilled me to the bone. Though I’ve never participated in CrossFit classes, I can certainly attest to the feeling the writer describes when one is addicted to exercise, that need to push past the body’s breaking point, the giddy adrenaline high. Lauren broke her knee doing CrossFit; I had a concussion doing pole fitness. Different activities; the same brutal wake-up call. Thanks for telling your story, Lauren.
My accidentaversary photo, taken May 9, 2014. Photo courtesy DeeDee Morris Photography, Seaforth, NS
Since beginning my blog journey last month, I have been very moved to receive messages from others suffering the after-effects of concussion. It’s a community united in one common, dogged struggle towards recovery, that I am honoured to be a part of.
A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a member of this community living in southwestern Ontario, who suffered a devastating concussion from a fall from a bicycle in the fall of 2012. After a month in hospital, he became an outpatient at Parkwood Hospital in London, ON, and an advocate for their “points” program, whose finer points he wanted to pass along to me and other sufferers of mild traumatic brain injury. To summarize Parkwood’s philosophy of recovery: “the best way to get better from brain injury symptoms is by slowing down dramatically over a long period of time (time that is different for every one of us” (Rob Staffen 1) To do this, Parkwood recommends keeping a careful log of activities one engages in during the day– even things as mundane as making breakfast and having a shower–rating them by level of mental exertion required for each. Your goal here is to stay below the 15 points per day maximum. So, for instance, getting up and having a shower might be 1 point, going to the gym and working out for an hour is 3 points, a heated discussion with a colleague or spouse might be 4 or more points, a business meeting lasting an hour might be 3 points, work on the computer is one point for every 30 minutes or so (or maybe more, depending on how symptomatic computer use makes you). You can also earn “credits” or deductions on your points total by engaging in some relaxing activity like yoga or meditation, or by taking a 30 minute rest (-1 or -0.5 point)
Since trying out the points program myself, I can indeed notice the effect of a day spent at or above the 15 point mark: fatigue, vertigo, headaches and anxiety are the usual results of trying to do too much (a shortcoming of mine, and one that I’ve found extremely difficult to overcome, being an overachiever and used to being productive in my healthy state).
If you’d like to try out the Parkwood model yourself, I’d recommend keeping a notebook close at hand to track the minutiae of your routine–you’d be surprised at how much you’re likely already doing in the run of a day. I invested in an egg timer to keep me honest about computer time. 30 minutes at a time is all I’ll allow myself these days.
For more information, Google The Brain Injury Association of London.
Since becoming part of a research group investigating treatments for post-concussion syndrome, I have given a lot of thought to the idea of experiments; after all, I, like many concussion sufferers, am one in progress!
As anyone who has experienced the tsunami of concurrent symptoms associated with concussion can attest, identifying “triggers” is an important step in taking some small measure of control over symptom management. Some common triggers: shopping in a supermarket, scrolling through emails, watching ‘busy’ tv or action movies, reading text, dancing–basically anything that causes the head or eyes to move rapidly in response to visual stimuli.
For me, identifying triggers has not been an easy task. Some activities that bothered me soon after my accident are not as troublesome now, 13 months later. As part of my ongoing, reluctant “trigger research” project, I was able to rule out computer use (especially email-scrolling) as a cause of symptoms when my family went to our un-wired cottage this past weekend and my level of background dizziness and headache stayed the same.
Happily for me, moderate physical activity also doesn’t seem to increase my symptoms; new research seems to show, in fact, that incremental increases in duration and intensity of exercise can help the brain adjust to the activities of daily living, putting it in more optimal conditions for healing.
My yoga experiment has been a lifesaver for me in this regard. I’ve been a haphazard practitioner for about 12 years now, but this past year have discovered new benefits to the practice. Holding a difficult pose for more than a few seconds teaches the mind and body to relax and be present, even when the intensity of the pose makes us want to quit immediately. This skill, which requires diligence to cultivate, has made the dark moments of my life with post-concussion syndrome more bearable as I’ve struggled to find the patience to endure what has turned into a lengthy recovery period. My practice has also offered me precious moments of escape during bad days, days when all I could do was crouch on the mat in child’s pose and breathe, keep breathing, even as the tears pooled on the blue foam pad. Feeling at such times as though my mind was not my friend, that in its injured state, it could not be trusted, yoga (which means “union”) has been the friendly mediator between my physical and emotional selves. It has reassured me with gentleness, relaxed me deeply during times of extreme anxiety and dread, kept my body in a flexible and open state of otherwise excellent health. I owe it and my several teachers a great deal of gratitude.
Big thanks to Lezlie Lowe for her sensitive and well-researched piece in yesterday’s Chronicle Herald.