Friday, December 18, 2009

The ultimate do it yourself project

I had an appointment this past week for an assessment with a speech therapist.  I did speech therapy initially after my brain injury for three months. As you may have figured, I have not been a real big fan of traditional, western medicine.  I have not utilized it at all in my recovery.  I am just now starting to blend it back into my regime because I have been forced to basically.  I have incorporated it into my practices in an attempt to "look good" in the eyes of the court system which is making painstakingly slow decisions regarding the visitation issues with my children or they are supposed to be anyway. Hope it works.

So I have gone back to the neurologist, to a rehabilitation specialist and now to a speech therapist.  I am finding that I am developing a new found respect for these people.  Cynical me?  Who knew?   While I am finding they do not have all the answers, they do have valuable information that can lead me to find my own answers.

I have found my recovery to be like a jigsaw puzzle.  Pieces I need to complete the puzzle can and do come from all different places.  It is up to me to be open, take the information and research and assimilate it and act upon it in a way that works for me. 

While the speech therapist did not want me to come back for regular therapy as he did not think that would benefit me.  He did tell me things I can do on my own and gave me valuable pieces of the puzzle for me to turn all around and look at from every angle and then fit into place for myself.

Your brain's health, your overall health and life are very similar and very much a do it yourself project.  I watched a webcast by Daniel J. Segal in which he defined the mind as the process that regulates the flow of energy and information.  He described the physical brain, the mind, and our relationship or interaction with our world as forming a triangle that basically makes us us.  He said the mind uses the brain to create itself.  Hmmm. Think about that one for a minute.

A thought can actually change neurons.  Interactions in the world or relationships with people and things shape the firing in the brain hence the synaptic connections.  Neurons that fire together wire together. There is your power to change your brain and change your life.  It is like having a secret weapon or a super power.  What you actually do in your life and how you think about what happens in your world shapes your brain and your reality.   This power is within us and it has been there the whole time.  It is up to us to put it to good use.  To actually do the do it yourself project and not put it on the shelf for some later date.

He calls the most basic process of changing your brain mindfulness training. It has been around for thousands of years in the form of yoga, tai chi, qi gong, meditation and the many other similar activities.  Being mindful is a way of focusing and integrating energy flow to actually strengthen the prefrontal area of the brain.  This, in turn, creates what he calls an approach state where a person is adaptable, open, and motivated.  It also has been proven to strengthen the immune system, improve blood pressure, and to increase empathy.

Even doing simple mindfulness techniques such as focusing on the breath for 10 minutes a day can make physical changes in your brain.  This creates an awareness state. Done repeatedly, this state becomes a trait.  They have shown these practices to reduce playground bullying in children.  Because you can't tell an 8 year old to mediate  - well you can, but it probably is not gonna do any good, - they teach the techniques by putting a stuffed animal on their belly and telling them "to rock" the animal.  They have even found it increases their grades.

So back to speech therapy. What does all this have to do with my speech therapy?  We are our own ultimate do it yourself projects. All too often we look to the doctors or other "experts" in any area to give us the answers or a super pill or quick fix when we have the power to change ourselves, our health, and our lives.  We just have to start using it.

I have decided to read out loud everyday as my own speech therapy.  I started last night and made myself laugh at some of my horribly twisted pronunciations, but I know I will see improvement, and the important thing to me is that I am actually doing something about it myself.  How empowering.  Dr. Zeuss is calling.  One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.....

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sleep well, think well

We spend about one third of our life doing it.  That is roughly 56 hours a week, 240 hours a month and 2920 hours a year.  Kinda hard to believe when it is put that way, isn't it?  All that time doing nothing.  Or are we really doing nothing?

When we sleep, as you may know, our brains are very active.  Sleep is very essential to a healthy brain.  I know with my brain injury, I did not truly begin doing some serious healing until I started doing some serious sleeping. 

Over the first year, I would sleep a lot...until the afternoon oftentimes. I would get up and answer the phone when it rang.  "What you doing?" the caller would ask.  "Oh, you know, the usual," I would answer groggily probably not very convincingly.   Because the neurologist told my family to not let me sleep more than 10 hours a day, I felt like I had to hide it.  That was the first time I remember just doing what my body innately needed and not following the conventional medical recommendation.  Thank goodness.  Smart girl.  In my research, it has been shown that sleep and lots of it is absolutely necessary for recovering from a brain injury.  It is when the brain heals.

For all that time spent horizontal, I never really felt rested and was always sleepy because it was not deep, contiguous sleep for me.  I woke up several times throughout and could not go back to sleep.  I would get up and take a bath.  Some nights I know I took as many as 4 or 5 baths and my fingers got all wrinkly.  I found something about the water soothing, but all too often it did not help me to go back to sleep.  I would just lie in the bed, very clean mind you, half asleep and half awake for hours until I got bored and decided to take another bath.  Not fun.

I started doing some major healing when I started sleeping better shortly after beginning neurofeedback which is a therapy I still do where electrodes are attached to the head and the brainwaves are actually trained to perform within an optimal range like they are supposed to.  It has been the one therapy which has made a huge, dramatic difference for me.  More on that later.

OK.  So you don't have a brain injury, but did you know sleep can make a tremendous difference in your life?  Studies have shown that sleep enhances your immune system, your motor skills, your language processing, your memory, and much more, but most of all it greatly increases your ability to learn.  So whenever you pull an all nighter...or did...way back are really kind of shooting yourself in the foot, defeating the purpose. 

Rats deprived of sleep die within a matter of 2 to 3 weeks, and it is practically impossible to kill those little pests otherwise. You know you need your sleep. Total sleep deprivation in humans is fatal.   Lack of adequate rest will start showing very quickly as problems with executive function, mood, memory, attention, logic and even speech and coordination.  Coffee will not help.  Only sleep does.

I used to pride myself on being able to go without sleep, and it sure came in handy in the baby days, but not anymore.  I love my sleep now.  I consider it a treat when I can go to bed early.  I know.  I am getting old and boring.  I also often take several naps throughout the day if I feel the need to.  A NASA study showed that a 26 minute nap improved a pilot's performance by more than 35%.  Talk about a power nap.  Go ahead. Indulge.

The point is that you may not realize how important sleep is in your own life or how the lack of it can be manifesting itself everyday for you.  Inadequate sleep is highly correlated with many things that greatly impact quality of life from stress and anxiety to depression and more...studies even show that lack of sleep is linked to gaining weight.  OK, now there is some motivation for a lot of us.

Make an effort to get some more, good sleep for a couple of days and see if you don't feel better.  Then, make it a habit.  Treat yourself.  I am.  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.......

Friday, December 4, 2009

Feed Your Brain

How did you do this past week?  Did you feed your brain and body good stuff?  I did less than my norm because of the Thanksgiving leftovers.  Can't just let a pumpkin pie and a chocolate cake made expertly by the loving hands of my son go to waste, can I?  So, I didn't.  Well, some got thrown away.  Now that they are all gone, it is easier to get back to a good standard.  I find it much easier to not even bring the bad-for-you, tempting stuff in the house on a normal basis.  Works for me.

We all pretty much know the things not to eat.  They are the same for your brain, in general, as for the rest of your body.  However, I want to extend the list to include anything we breath into our bodies or introduce into our blood stream.  Nuf said?  It affects your brain.  Not only in the mellow, far out, groovy way temporarily, but permanently in a not so cool kind of way over time.  Repeated use of mind altering substances alters your brain permanently.  It actually makes holes or areas where the blood does not flow anymore.  Even cigarettes.

So what should you be putting in your body to boost your brain power?  The three key essentials to keep your brain healthy and to keep your mental processes razor sharp are really pretty simple to say.  Harder to do.  They are nutritious food, water, and oxygen.

A highly intelligent diet would be heavy on the proteins, complex carbohydrates and good fats.  Proteins are essential to make neurotransmitters which are vital for smart processes. Carbohydrates break down into glucose which is the brain's primary source of energy.  You are aiming for a steady supply here.

The brain is more than 60% fat.  The next time someone calls you a "fat head," just say "thank you very much!" Brain cells are covered by a myelin sheath which is 75% fat. Fats also play a crucial role as important messengers.  Good fats would be your omega-3 fatty acids.  These are found in things like fish, nuts and flax seed.  They can easily be added to your diet in a daily fish oil supplement.  An excellent book for diet and supplements specifically for improving the brain is Gary Null's Mind Power.

For those of you that like things spelled out, me included, here is a short list of especially good brain foods.  The list will look familiar to you as it is the same stuff that is good for your heart.

lean beef
brown rice
flax seed
wheat germ

Even if you don't like going anywhere near the water, your brain loves water.  Water makes up 83% of your blood and is the transport system to the brain, making the needed deliveries of nutrients and taking away toxins from all the bad habits you haven't given up yet.

Studies have shown that most people are permanently partially dehydrated.  If you're already thirsty, you're in this group.  This means your brain is working considerably below its potential.  I don't know about you, but I surely don't need that.  So drink up.  Water that is!  I am guzzling water as I write this.  That is one I have to continually work on. To my credit though, I have become quite a bathroom connoisseur and know where the best bathrooms are conveniently located all over town.

The third thing our brain absolutely needs for us to do is to just breathe.  Easier said than done.  We are taught to hold our stomachs in and breathe out of the top of our lungs for vanity.  Relax. Let it all hang out.  A little pot belly here is OK.  You want to breath slowly and deeply into your diaphragm and even pooch out your stomach.  One way in which it was described to me which helped me take my breath even deeper, but also always makes me kinda giggle just a little is you want to breath as if to distend your perineum. I always imagine myself saying to no one specific "Excuse me while I puff out my perineum."

Digestion pulls oxygen away from your brain and diverts it to your stomach.  So you don't want to eat a big meal right before a task where you want all your brain power available.  Eating little and often is best for your brain to stay alert.  Cardiovascular exercise increases the oxygen in your blood and oxygenates your brain.  Yet another reason to add to the list to exercise regularly. 

Gulp.  (More water.)  Gotta go take a bathroom break.  I am gonna try to do better this week in feeding my brain and giving it what it needs.  Hope you do too!