Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

February 20, 2019

Installing Success

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 8:35 am

One of the reasons so many of us fail at New Year’s resolutions to lose weight is because, at that time of the year, most of our homes are still cluttered with leftover Christmas candy and New Year’s Day football bowl fun food.  For those of us in wintry states, New Year’s often arrives with blistering temps and unforgiving winds pushing perky salads aside in favor of more carb-heavy, comfort foods.  Soft, warm sweats and horror-covering parkas allow us a denial and avoidance that often hinder our weight loss efforts.

Most of us realize that, if we wanted to lose weight, we wouldn’t fill our fridges and our cupboards with Hostess Cupcakes, cookies, candies, donuts and cakes.  Similarly, if we planned to bring home a new puppy or kitten or tiny person, we would need to safe-proof the house to ensure that curious new baby didn’t get into trouble around stairwells, electrical sockets or adult ingestibles.

The same thinking is great for us after brain injury.

How are we setting up our homes and our schedules to bring out the best in our brain injury recovery?

I find that, often times, people who write to me with problems in the home for themselves or with a survivor often have not re-created their lives for success after brain injury.  By identifying good and bad triggers and installing appropriate activities, many of us enjoy marked progress in our every-day battles.

Someone has to get out of denial.  Whether it is the survivor or the people who care for him/her, there has to be a time when it is realized that the medical course of treatment has its limitations after brain injury.   For there to be continued progress, there has to be continued steps toward it.

How much is in the tank?  For most of us with brain injury, we suffer a significant loss of cognitive function on a daily basis when we have extended beyond our limits.  For me, I can be as sharp and as capable as anyone I know and then, once I hit my limit, I’m a stone.  That’s it.  All done.

Because I have been at this for more than twenty years, I know my triggers and my limits.  I know what zaps my cognitive energies and I can feel it when I’m slowing and when it’s time to get myself to a safe and quiet place.   Identifying limits and triggers is key when designing your successful life with brain injury.

Invest in the nest.   It’s key for the survivor and/or the caregiver/s to really look at the home situation and to assess how damaging it is to recovery success.   The survivor needs to be efficient with his/her competent time each day and then be able to rely on a quiet, safe space to recharge and recover.

Are there busy kids and excited dogs and lots of rooms blasting TVs and music?  Is the family routine chaotic and ever-changing?  Are there people dropping in and out all the time?  Is there a place for the survivor to retreat to?  A quiet, safe space?

A smart schedule is one of the best brain injury tools.   Most of us have smart, sharp cognitive time available to us.  Most of us have stone time when we have reached our limits and when we need to close it down and recharge.

Most of us don’t get it right all the time and that can invite stress in the home, friction in relationships and even dangerous situations.

I know I’m excellent early in the day.  I know that, if I have to announce two basketball games in the evening, I can’t do a lot of stimuli-laden activities during the day.  I know that, after a long holiday or visit or party, I will probably be a slog the next day.

The things we know and the way we use them to our advantage can help us design a plan and a place that works for us.   If the survivor is a student with early cognitive sharpness, then you choose college courses or the most difficult high school courses for early in the day.  Maybe you opt out of loud, busy gym courses or take care to schedule them at the end of the day.  You schedule in down time for a nap or rest right after the worst of any day to re-charge.

Don’t waste precious cognitive fuel on unimportant things:  For example…you waste cognitive fuel if you ask the survivor what they want for dinner.  For most of us, there are a million things to choose from and places to eat and we struggle to try and choose one.  Instead…conserve the cognitive fuel by asking the survivor, “How does chicken sound for dinner at six p.m.?”

Uncountable choices waste cognitive fuel.   Don’t ask the survivor, “What do you want to do today?” or “What are you in the mood for?”    These are little things but, by shaving off the waste, you can enjoy more cognitive sharpness each day.

Don’t waste cognitive fuel by subjecting the survivor to tons of stimuli, changing plans, unreliable schedules or pop-up activities.  Although some cannot be avoided, it can’t be a way of life for someone trying to improve their recovery.

Many of us get frustrated when the medical side of recovery stops.   It is frustrating and, often, scary.   We have to start looking at that time (if we haven’t before then) and realize it’s our time to step up and step in and keep the recovery moving.

Successful brain injury recovery invites us to think outside the box and to choose what works over what, maybe, everyone else thinks is normal or what we have done before.  Maybe the college student needs to get out of the dorm and into a studio apartment.  Maybe the adult survivor can “create more fuel” by working at home or going to the gym during off hours or shopping from home on-line.

I save cognitive fuel by living alone and keeping a quiet nest.  I do my swim laps late at night to avoid noisy gyms.  I shop on line instead of fighting crowds at malls.  I take myself to parties and events so that I can leave when I need to.  I get up early and do my important work and plan my schedules when I am rested, quiet and thinking clearly.  Sometimes I cook big batches of food to last for many meals so I don’t have to waste cognitive fuel three times a day trying to figure out what to eat.

Trim the waste and gather the fuel.

Shaking off denial, getting to know the survivor’s “fuel tank” and when cognitive efficiency is at a high, designing the home, removing the fuel waste and structuring the schedule to make use of high cognitive time with rest and recovery periods to follow will all help the survivor thrive.

Medical treatment ends.  It does.  But recovery success does not have to.  That’s up to us.  We can continue to make things better.  We can do this!!!!!!!


February 4, 2019


Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 4:35 pm

Seems we don’t talk enough about this aspect of brain injury…

Many of us, after being hurt, experience a vulnerability that we didn’t suffer before.

It can be scary.

When we are first hurt, we are overwhelmed with the injury and its implications and aftermath.  We are consumed with new symptoms and a frustrating lack of urgency in their healing.  We are flooded with the losses coming at us with break-neck speed:  abilities, jobs, relationships, plans…

The sense of vulnerability usually comes when we’ve healed some, enough to stretch our wings a bit and try to reclaim some of our previous normal.

Suddenly, we realize that we may be at risk for any number of reasons:

We aren’t thinking right so we may make plans that are not realistic or safe when we are now less than sharp and when most of us suffer a shortage in cognitive fuel.

Our memories often fail us and so we don’t always recall if we made the plans with all our best interests in mind.  Did we plan right?  Did we make lists?  Did we cover our backs?  Did we prioritize our safety?

I can tell that, in my own life, I have improved in many ways over the last twenty-plus years I’ve dealt with my injury.  But, as these years fly, I also am made more aware of my feelings of vulnerability when you add that I am a woman and I am getting older.

I don’t want to become scared of things.  Scared of life…So it’s important to me that I shine up my smart and overcome my vulnerabilities with really smart choices:

I make sure that I make plans when I am relaxed and rested.  I take care to plan events beforehand by picturing it and by writing out a time-frame from shower to returning home safe.  I tell trusted people my plan so that, in case I’m not reading it right, I can depend on them to point out things I might have missed.  I pack a “go bag” in my car with my meds, extra clothes and supplies in case ANYTHING happens that I didn’t see coming.  I arm myself with a whistle on my key chain, pepper spray in my car, a tool to protect myself in my car, a charged cellphone and a charger to take along.  I text people when I’m leaving and when I return home safe.

We have more to consider-as we get older, for those of us who are women, and as brain injury survivors.  We don’t have to get scared but we need to get smarter as we go.

Keep soaring, everyone!  Keep doing new and doing you and getting through.  Just be safe and smart.   I’m cheering for you.  Kara

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