This is what it's like living with the impact of some twenty-two head injuries. Fun, funny, and then not so funny. It's all there.
What? Where was I? Oh. Yeah. That.
The nursery guy Steve and I did yet another round on the hot pavement.
God DAMN It.
How could I have misplaced my keys? I JUST HAD THEM.
Did you lock them in your car?
No. I had them with me. I turned and locked the car after I got out.
Steve and I dug into root beds, looked under planters.
I’d just bought three evergreens for my deck. I’d hardly been here twenty minutes. The purchase sat on the counter, and I had no keys.
I HATE THIS GAME.
Are you sure you didn’t lock them in your car?
Rising annoyance. Not with Steve. With me.
They HAVE to be here.
I made three calls in rapid succession, the last two to locksmiths.
I was looking at at least $275 to get into my car and make a new key.
AND a two-hour wait in the hot sun before anyone got there.
They had to be here.
I asked the second locksmith to put me on the schedule but that I would call if we found it.
Twenty seconds later, I found them. Right where I had put them down to pick up a big maple that the wind had blown over. Johnny the Locksmith and I said in unison, YAAAAAY.
This isn’t age. This isn’t dementia. This is what living with multiple coconut cracks is like.
Post-concussion syndrome is better known in the professional sports world, made far more famous by the film Concussion, starring Will Smith.
I’ve had twenty-two of them. More than some NFL players. Some folks are down for the count after one. Some folks never ever get back up.
I keep getting back up but there are hitches in my giddy-up.
Like misplacing my keys. That’s the lower end of the annoyance totem pole.
The worst is unpredictable emotional outbursts.
Those I’ve been able to mitigate with oxygenation. I bought a machine, used it since 2016. Probably wouldn’t be on my feet today without it. Lately it was down for repairs.
I was too, but this was my oxygen machine.
Boy, could I tell the difference.
Being off it for just a few weeks makes a huge difference. I use it every day for twenty minutes, not only for athletic training but more so because it blasts my brain with oxygen. My injured brain.
Sports injuries, horse riding, falling down stairs and mountains. The busted noggin, for some strange and not-so-wonderful reason, tends to bump itself again.
My hand is way up here.
While this is a pitch, the material in this is important to understand if you or someone in your world has had a TBI:
From the article:
Can Multiple Concussions Cause Depression, Anger, or Memory Loss?
Yes, multiple concussions can cause depression, anger, memory loss, and other symptoms that make you feel unlike yourself, this includes an increased risk of suicide (Byran and Clemans, 2013). Brain damage from a concussion can cause lasting emotional symptoms that do not resolve without treatment. Or, they may make existing struggles worse.
I live with this. Interestingly, using the oxygenation machine has done two very important things:
- It allows me to better mitigate and manage the depression and anger symptoms.
- For some weird reason I’ve become a much faster, better writer. Who knew? That happened after my third or fourth treatment.
So, I kinda had to have one. They’re bulky, take up a lot of space, and are clumsy. But they work. I will probably use one for life unless something better comes along.
I am in no danger of suicide, but the emotional outbursts, which are increased, as with all of us, by stress and anxiety, are my biggest concern. It’s deeply disconcerting to me to be rude or unkind, and that is precisely what can happen when conditions work against me.
When I went to the VA about this in Denver, the doctors insisted, INSISTED, that I be put on heavy medication. Are you kidding me? That’s a death sentence. I refused. Got the machine. Am thriving.
The words “standard protocol” from the medical profession for me are a bright red flag. For my healing dollar, any treatment that relies more on drugs than finding natural ways to get oxygen to the brain, eating well and keeping calm is just damned foolish. I’ve been down that road and it almost cost me my life.
My regular readers might wonder sometimes why I bang the exercise and nutrition drum so much.
This is one reason I work out so much. Exercise, meditation, finding a safe space (like my new home in the woods) are all part of dealing directly with my bruised brain. I simply cannot always help the occasional hissy fit. That’s not an excuse at all. It is rather an explanation, for so many of us have had head traumas and we don’t always understand the behaviors that follow.
To that please see this:
I follow those protocols and many more. What I’ve found is that the food, exercise and sleep disciplines, many of which I was following anyway, have been enormously helpful. I can’t imagine the shape I’d be in were I not in good shape already.
But this is a much broader issue than just athletics.
Those of you with folks over 60–65 in your life whose behavior might have gotten erratic, if I may point out the obvious.
All too often we read erratic behavior as dementia, when it might well be post-concussion syndrome. When Grams fell in the toilet and hurt her hip, she might well have also cracked her cranium on the way down. Doctors don’t always check and the ER is going to take care of the biggest presenting problem.
Sometimes folks hit their heads and think nothing of it or decide to tough it out, and then don’t realize until later that the minor bump was a lot bigger deal than they’d thought. That weekend warrior game might have a lingering effect in ways you hadn’t considered.
Even more importantly, the so-called “aging” symptoms we ascribe to folks may more likely be the result of both taking too many meds and/or mixing prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. Either or both can lead to imbalance, dizziness and falls. Falls can lead to head injury. You see where I’m going with this.
I live with this because I love to do bad-ass, hard core sports. I own my results and I own my condition. I signed up for them. However, most folks don’t.
If I fall, it’s most often because I am doing some kind of ridiculous balancing exercise. It’s intentional. Or a horse throws me. Or, whatever. I wear helmets. But helmets are famously inadequate for the big bumps. I can attest. I do balancing exercises now because I will likely need them later, but then we all will. I just have a few more rocks in my basket than some folks.
That means I have to work harder and be more disciplined than many, partly for this reason. I live alone, and there is no family left. So I need to be responsible, says she who just signed up for aerial silks training (no really, I’m not making that up, stay tuned). First class is next Tuesday. Nobody said I was sane.
As you age, as your loved ones age, you might want to keep note of any kind of head injury that you might have had or that your folks or kin have had. You and I cannot just write them off. I have made plenty of jokes about my own head, but that’s because that’s a coping technique. Laughing bathes my brain in dopamine. It is just as much intentional healing as it is a lifestyle choice.
For others, if you find yourself getting angry for no reason that you can surmise, this might be a clue. Many of us have had head traumas and waved them off. They are serious business. Brain bumps can come back to bite you. Sometimes, since I am guilty of this myself, I wonder if some of the untrammeled anger I see is the result of head trauma (well, shy of banging one’s brain against the hard pole of stupidity that is).
Brain health is serious business. When I write about eating well and exercising, perhaps you can see why this isn’t just a thing I do. It’s a thing I HAVE to do, or be crippled. I am going to keep right on riding horses and climbing mountains. And I am going to try new sports and wear helmets. And I am going to keep right on making fun of my shit, because the alternative isn’t an option.
I have bad days, like you, like everyone. Sometimes they are because my brain is bruised. It serves to remember that hundreds of thousands of people have traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) every year, and it’s a leading cause of death of kids and young adults. For older folks, many may be suffering from those symptoms and have no clue that this is what’s troubling them.
What you and I can do is avoid polypharmacy, which is a recipe for disaster, especially as we age. Brain injury is no laughing matter even though I make fun of mine. I do not enjoy going off on someone, nor do I enjoy walking around a hot parking lot trying to find my keys.
I can make fun of that. Most people can’t. My humor is my superpower. And with that, I’m gonna go put on my helmet and go for a horseback ride.