Saturday, March 4, 2017

The First Time I Got Lost...

After my brain injury I went to see a doctor, alone.  I was dumb, I should have taken someone with me, but I was sure I could handle a regular appointment.  I was wrong.  The doctor made me feel so stupid.  I was having difficulty finding words, counting, and performing simple tasks that I was asked to do.  When he gave me a map and told me to get myself to a certain medical facility for an MRI, I was confident that I could drive myself there.  I was always able to read maps well and didn't think I would have any issues with getting myself there.  That was my second mistake.

I became horribly lost on my way there.  Remember, this is in 2002, not everyone had cell phones or gps.  In fact, Ryan and I shared 1 cell phone between the 2 of us, and fortunately I happened to have it that day.  I called him crying, telling him I had no idea where I was.  Ryan looked up the roads on mapquest and tried to guide me back to where I was supposed to go.  Little did he know that I couldn't even follow his directions.  I called my dad- who was in Florida with my mom for my cousin's wedding.  He couldn't help me either, but he had my mom calm me down.  Fortunately I was in the car by myself, so no one except for me heard all the swear words that I was saying.  I ended up stopping at a police station and a police officer got me to the right hospital- where Ryan was waiting for me (he left work to try to find me).  I think that was around the time we realized that I wasn't going to be the same again.  Now, I have to look at my hands to see which one makes the "L" when someone tells me to go left or right (and yes, I'm embarrassed to admit that).

The second time I got lost happened this past fall.  I honestly didn't think it could happen to me again.  We live in the age of technology.  We were leaving the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago after Juli's appointment with her amazing doctor that we have seen since she was 1.  I have made the drive to and from the RIC countless times, and it's an easy one.  You take I-55 to Lake Shore Drive, take a left on E Chicago Ave, a left on N Fairbanks St, and a left on Superior St and it is right there.  I honestly don't know what happened when I pulled out of the parking lot to head home.  All of a sudden, I realized that nothing about the direction we were driving looked familiar to me, and I knew I had screwed up.  In my head I started saying all sorts of swear words (I couldn't say them out loud because I had both kids in the car), and I had to have Noah dig my cell phone out of my back pack, unlock it, open up Google maps- wait for it to find a signal because of all the skyscrapers, and hit the home button that I have programmed into it.  Then we went for a "tour of Chicago" as we drove home, which is not something I wanted to do just before rush hour started.  Eventually we found our way back to I-55 and made it home.  It was a reminder that I still can't rely on my brain memory to get me to and from locations.  It also confirmed to me, why I want to live in a wide open area when I retire- I can not stand the city!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Happy Birthday, Noah!

My Baby Boy is 10 years old today!  What?!?  When did that happen?!?  It seems like yesterday we were bringing you home from the hospital.  This year you started 4th grade and you were so excited because you got to have your kindergarten teacher again.  Every day you walk your sister to her class before you go to your class, already a gentleman at 10 years old!

10. This year you put together a team of friends and entered into the "Battle of the Books".  You made sure you knew your book backwards and forwards before the competition began.  Even though your team didn't win, you had a good time participating and are looking forward to competing again next year.

9.  You have one of the most creative minds around.  Your room always looks like a bomb made of Lego's went off, because you are constantly creating or building something new.  The other week you made a zip line for your lego guys from the top of your bunkbed to the floor, and while I almost strangled myself on it, I was still impressed by your building ability.

8. We let you watch the movie, "Sully" with us, and it has become your new "Titanic".  Now you are interested in everything that happened in the Miracle of the Hudson.  You made sure we watched all of the behind the scenes features after we were done with the movie and you are still talking about the movie.

7.  You love dogs and have joined me in the push to add a 2nd dog to our family.  Last weekend you realized that Buster wouldn't live forever and it sent you into tears.  You told me you would go with me to watch, "A Dog's Purpose" so we could do the "ugly cry" together.

6.  This past fall, you learned how to mountain bike and joined me at the bike park doing the different hills.  You didn't let falling off your bike deter you from the park and I look forward to going back there this summer.

5.  You joined your cousin, Liam, and did "Man vs Wild" at camp this past summer, which involved you spending the week living up at your cousins.  While you got a little homesick from time to time you had a great time with your cousins and being out in nature.  Now one of your favorite things to do is to see what new video Coyote Peterson uploads on Tuesday, so we can discuss it.

4.  You are finally going to join the swim team.  After being recruited to join the swim team since you were 7 years old, there may finally be time in our schedule for you to be able to join the swim team.  You have been working so incredibly hard building up your endurance and perfecting your turns, because you love being in the water.

3.  You love to sing, even though you have your momma's singing ability.  Sorry, kiddo, we were not made to be singers, but you keep belting out those songs in the shower or in your room or wherever you are, we LOVE it!

2. You love your family members with all your heart.  You love to see your cousins, aunts,  uncles and grandparents whenever you can.  You love to cook and play video games with your dad, read books and play games with your sister, and create and play your guitar with me.

1. You love Jesus with your whole heart.  God gave you a compassionate heart and you have the desire to want to help everyone who is hurting.  We love that about you.

Happy 10th birthday, Noah James!  We love you so very much!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Confessions From a Brain Injured Introvert..

March is Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness month,  I experienced my brain injury in October of 2002, so this year it will be 15 years since it happened.  People have told me that they can't really tell now that I have had one, and I attribute that to what I have learned since it happened.  So, what have I learned in the past 15 years?

First of all, what a traumatic brain injury is. A traumatic brain injury is usually an event similar to other injuries, but that is where the similarity ends.  One moment the person is normal and the net moment life has changed, sometimes dramatically.  In most other ways, a traumatic brain injury is very different.  Our brain defines who we are, and a brain injury can affect all aspects of our lives, including personality.  A brain injury is different from a broken bone or a punctured lung.  An injury like that limits the use of a specific part of your body, but your personality and mental abilities aren't changed.  Brain injuries do not heal like other injuries and no two brain injuries are alike.  One of the results of a brain injury is that the person often does not realize that a brain injury has occurred.  That was me, I knew I hit my head badly but until Ryan pointed out that I was repeating my words and slurring my speech, I didn't think anything was wrong with me.

I was already an introvert before my brain injury, but afterwards, I became even more introverted. Sometimes people think that I am being anti-social or a snob because I don't want to go to their gathering/party, but that is not it at all.  It all has to do with the brain injury.  They call it the "Meijers Effect", and it has to do with the brain becoming overloaded and not being able to process all the information that is being thrown at you.  When my brain gets overloaded, I can't concentrate or focus on what I am trying to do.  I need to get out of the situation and get into a quiet area where I can process information.  At the beginning, I couldn't even go into our "married couples" Sunday school class until the class had started, because all of the conversations going on around me would make my brain shut down.  The same happened with going into the sanctuary at church.  I would have to wait until everyone was seated and church had started before going in to sit down.  Today, if I'm having a bad brain day or had very little sleep, I still have to slide into church at the last minute and sit down.  This is also another reason why I try to avoid large groups of people, I can't focus on the conversation that I am currently having if there are other groups of people having conversations around me. If I wind up in that situation, it exhausts me because I'm so focused on what the person is talking about that my brain shuts down when it is over.  I would love to be in a group of people and not get overwhelmed, and it's easier for that to happen in the summertime, when I haven't been teaching all day.

I have been asked why I can teach but I can't do large groups.  I will be honest with you, it is a totally different situation.  When I am up in front of the classroom, my students are listening to me, taking notes and asking questions when called upon.  It isn't one big free-for-all.  However, lab days wear me out.  Students are moving at various paces through the lab and I am bombarded with questions left and right.  On those days, by the end of the day I want to change my name and by the time I go home I am mentally exhausted.  It is even worse if it is a brand new lab that I have never done before.  When that comes up, I always make sure I do the lab on my own so I can try to anticipate any questions that might come up during the lab and get them out of the way when students are sitting in their desks prior to going back into the lab (I am not always successful at that).

Something that I still struggle with is being easily distracted when I am working/grading.  I usually need to be alone or if I am in a group of people I will have to put on headphones and music (some people think that I am a snob, but what I am trying to do is stay focused).   I can waste time with the best of them if given the opportunity, but most of the time I choose to focus.  

I also have no filter anymore.  The phrase, "think before you speak," carries a lot more meaning for me now, especially when I am tired or if I am angry.  At the beginning, I used to just blurt anything that came into my head and I hurt people because of it.  15 years later, I have more control.  I still am a "blurter" but I have learned to slow down my tongue and think before I speak (Ryan may say differently, however).

I have learned to compensate for having a damaged short term memory.  If I have to remember something, an appointment or meeting, it goes into my phone (it used to be my color-coded calendar before I had a smart phone) with a reminder that will pop up when it's time.  A few days before my brain injury, I had been in a good friends wedding.  I have no memory of that and it is really weird for me to look at pictures of me at the wedding and have no memories.  I also have no real memories of the 2 weeks after my brain injury, and if I do have any they are fuzzy.

All in all it has been a learning experience for Ryan and I, and our relationship has grown stronger as a result.  Honestly, I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for the support of my family and close friends (you guys know who you are).  The brain injury may have changed me, but I didn't let it define who I am.  Something I would like you to remember if you have made it all the way through this blog, is that a brain injury isn't a visible injury and a person may appear fine on the outside but on the inside they are not.  They still need your love and compassion.