Friday, February 26, 2010

Godiva chocolate or Seven Eleven slurpee?

If someone were to ask you "What is the one most important thing in your life?" What would your answer be? Your honey? Your kids? Your job? Your car? Your iPod? The correct answer for the big bucks here is YOU!

While my iPod is up there at the top of the list, I am my most prized possession these days. Think about it. Without you being in some kind of healthy, functioning shape, all of these other areas of your life are going to fall apart. Believe me, I know this from experience!

Having had way too much up close and personal experience with narcissists in my life, I used to think this was selfish and wanted to be nothing like it. I proved with gusto that you attract those people with the qualities you need to develop the most. I took giving to a whole new, sick level. I put others' wants and needs way before my own so much so that I ended up really angry and resentful because the whole time I was doing what they wanted, I was boiling inside and grumbling not very nice words under my breath. And I know a few.

I have finally realized that usually the other person could care less and there was not any shiny medal for my act of self sacrifice. I once drove straight through from Florida to North Carolina with a 3 month old infant and a 3 year old toddler in the car...peeing in a diaper which I held let me just clarify (although the visual of me driving a car in a diaper does make me laugh) that takes some talent...while my then spouse drove another car by himself comfortably listening to tunes and stopping for potty breaks.

While making yourself a priority also can be taken to the extreme of being a pure schmuck, it is healthy to be a little bit selfish and to learn to get comfortable with saying "No" and setting some boundaries for yourself. I have even gotten good at it.

My brain injury was actually a blessing in disguise here as it forced me to put myself first. I had to become very self centric to recover. I had to have the self discipline to do the things and make the choices which are good for me and my brain and say "No, thanks" to the people and the things that maybe are fun, but are not going to get me where I want to go.

I used to like my red wine. Now I am not ruling out out having a glass at some point in the future. The idea of becoming a tee totaller is just too bleak. However, about a year ago, I had two glasses of wine the night before and did nuerofeedback, a therapy which trains the brainwaves, the next morning. My brain told on me. She said "It looks like you have a fresh brain injury!" I just sat there looking like the cat that ate the canary and did not say a word. Ever since then, it's just is not worth it to me to drink any alcohol.

My daily life now reflects my honoring myself. I put healthy things in my body. I take supplements. I get lots of sleep. I make time to exercise every day. Some days vacuuming the house counts as my cardio. Hey, I work up a sweat! I meditate daily. I call this my healing time, and I really think it has been. If I do not do it even for one day, I can really tell a difference. I do brain training every day in addition to my own speech therapy which is learning Spanish...hola!... and reading out loud. I also have learned to decline many requests for my time and attention in order to do these things.

You get the picture. While I have been accused of having OCD which may be a little bit true, I prefer to think of it as having self discipline. These are the ways in which I tell myself and the world that I am important. I am recovering from a brain injury and getting myself mentally and spiritually healthy, someone already there might not have to be so militant.

It is true, you teach everybody else how to treat you and, in general, no one is going to treat you any better than you treat yourself. Are you teaching people to treat you like some Godiva chocolate or a Seven Eleven slurpee?

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Japanese Ham Sandwich

It is hot. I get all sweaty. I wear as little clothing as possible. When I am finished, my body is tired, but also feels strong and revitalized. My mind is calm and peaceful, yet alert and rejuvenated. I do it 3 or 4 times a week. No, it is not that! It is Bikram yoga also known as hot yoga.

Bikram yoga is 90 minutes of Hatha yoga in a room heated to 105 degrees and with 40% humidity. Most people's idea of a hell on earth, huh? A class consists of 26 postures with very long, hard to say Indian names, but with simplified American descriptions like "Japanese ham sandwich." The idea behind it being so hot is that it increases flexibility and decreases the risk of injury and allows a person to rework their body. Think of the analogy of a sword. Cold, it is rigid and inflexible, but heat it up and you have something pliable with which you can work and shape.

The heat and humidity does make you sweat, but that is a good thing. Really. When I am finished, I look like I have been swimming. I have chuckled to myself during class because when I was supposed to be focusing on my breath, I was having visions of a tacky Will Ferrell movie where the props guys had cut corners and used a water hose to simulate sweat ridiculously pouring off. All the sweat is an incredible detoxification through the largest organ in the body...the skin. I leave the room cleaner than when I went in. Can't say I smell better though.

Because over 90 pills went entirely through my system when I tried to commit suicide, detoxing was pretty high on my list. When I first started doing hot yoga, I would feel mentally clearer after each class. I did a challenge where I did 60 classes in 60 days. Unknowingly, it was probably the best thing I could have done to get the residual drugs out of my body. You think I am crazy? We just had a girl in my studio complete 365 classes in 365 days.

She says the same thing that I do. Bikram yoga has transformed my life. It has aided me in recovering from my brain injury physically as well as mentally and encouraged me to adopt a healthier, kinder, gentler perspective towards life and myself.

Muscle tension is a side effect of a brain injury. For the longest time, my hands were clenched like claws. While my writing still looks like chicken scratch, my hands have relaxed. My speech was greatly impaired. I believe this was largely due in part to clenching my jaws. Think Thurston Howell. Oh, Lovey! My jaws have really relaxed, but I am not quite Gilligan yet.

Over the two years I have been doing it since my brain injury, Bikram yoga has greatly helped to improve my balance. At first, with my eyes open, the room would spin. Now, I am steady and can do a mighty impressive impersonation of a flamingo.

The one most crucial thing stressed in yoga is the breath. The class begins and ends with breathing exercises to increase the lung capacity and strengthen the lungs. I am constantly reminded to concentrate on my breath. This is harder than you would think. As a result of my pill popping, I also sustained an "acute lung injury" whatever that means. All I know is that I used to not be able to breathe and talk at the same time. It has greatly helped this, and I don't gasp mid sentence anymore.

Bikram yoga encourages the heart and lungs to be friends and to work together like originally designed. It is proven to increase the oxygen levels in the blood and to improve the circulation which are both something I greatly needed in my recovery.

Anyone can benefit from Bikram yoga. It has been shown to be helpful in aiding sleep, regulating the appetite, stabilizing moods, decreasing stress, reducing and alleviating pain and more. Because of its super detoxification benefits, people doing chemotherapy have found it to be very helpful. Also, because one class burns around 800 calories, it is a great way to keep those weight loss/get fit New Year's resolutions.

So, if you thought yoga was a bunch of flower children, burning incense, relaxing and stretching while chimes play in the background, think again. This is rigorous, physical exercise. It is not pretty, but it is sooo good. When you are finished, you feel like you have accomplished something. You are just not sure what.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Human Pincushion

I have come to believe that our brain is like a 3 pound, mushy battery.  It is similar to a power generator for a New York City block.  It determines whether we are a colorful, blaring neon sign illuminating our surrounding area or whether we are a barely noticeable sign flickering dimly on and off.  Like a battery and thank goodness for me, I have found that the brain can be recharged.
One way in which I have done this is through acupuncture. Acupuncture has been practiced for 2,500 years. It is based on energy channels called meridians.  Qi or life energy flows through the body and between the skin’s surface and the internal organs along these meridians. Illness or pain occurs when the healthy flow of energy becomes imbalanced or blocked along these pathways.  Acupuncture facilitates health by restoring the natural flow of this energy.
Acupuncture has been medically proven to speed up healing, improve circulation and increase nerve growth.  Recent research is further validating this ancient art by showing that pain killing endorphins and important mood regulating transmitters are released throughout the body when points are stimulated. It is used to successfully treat allergies, depression, arthritis, back pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, headaches, infertility, insomnia, post polio syndrome, sciatica, smoking cessation, weight loss, and much more.
I started doing acupuncture about a year and half ago.  In the beginning, I did as much as three treatments a week.  Now, I am down to once a week.  The first time I did it, the difference in my perception was so great afterwards that the drive home was scary.  My perception - it was more than just my vision -  was so much sharper and clearer.  Edges were more defined and crisp.  It was like taking a camera lens and turning it to be more in focus.  Although, I did not even know it was out of focus before.
This makes sense, because vision is mostly in how the brain processes the input from the eyes.  In testing, my vision was normal– no worse, no better than before the brain injury.  Something was going on though, because, for instance, when I put the dog’s leash down in the leaves I could not pick it out of the collage of shapes and colors, but my Dad walked right up and could immediately spot it.
However, it was not only in my vision that I could tell a big difference.  It was as if I had taken smart pill and my whole brain had become more efficient and focused.  My thinking was much faster and clearer.  I also just felt revitalized and more alive and stronger.  
I do cranial acupuncture where needles are stuck in my head.  I have also had needles put almost every other place imaginable.  Well, almost.  When they were in my jaw joints, I had visions of Frankenstein.  They do not hurt, but I am aware of them when they go in usually.  The needles in my head are actually hooked up to a machine which sends electrical impulses into them to provide constant stimulation.  Amazingly, I do not glow in the dark yet.
Once I am all stuck and hooked up to my recharger, I just lie there trying really hard not to move for an hour and usually listen to music or educational cds and nap.  I have gotten really good at just ignoring the little urges to scratch my nose.
I also take a daily herb granular mixture and a liquid tincture that the acupuncturist mixes like a mad scientist just for me taking into account my brain injury and whatever else may be going on with my body and in my life at that time.  She looks at my tongue and reads several different pulses to determine what is needed in the supplements and treatment that day.
I have not done acupuncture in two weeks because my person has been out of town.  I am ready to be plugged up and recharged.

Friday, February 5, 2010

"Air Head" is a compliment...really

I frantically told someone very shortly after my brain injury "I am in here!"  It was kind of hard for anyone to tell for sure because I did not sound, move, nor act like I did before, and I had the blank look in my eyes like nobody was home.

Let's see if I can even try to explain this. Even though huge chunks of my my personality were missing and my mental processes were all messed up as well as some of my physical functioning, my spirit or soul or essence or whatever you want to call it was always in tact and fully aware. It was never damaged or injured in any way and remained whole.  As a matter of fact, it became stronger and more defined as my ego and physical self became less imposing.

I recall wondering to myself "What part of me is observing me?"  It was as though some other me was watching the new pitiful, damaged me in a very unattached and objective manner with almost no emotional reaction, but lots of compassion.  Freaky.  To actually look at myself kindly instead of picking apart and criticizing my every move was totally new for me. 

I was brain damaged, but in some way I was deeper and more thoughtful.  The injury had actually slowed my mind which had constantly raced most of the time before like a Jack Russell forever, tirelessly chasing its tail round and round in circles. Now, it was more like the old, fat, hound dog who can barely muster the energy to get up and waddle somewhere not too far only to plop down again.

I surely would not have been a winner on "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?,"  but I did have the presence somehow to challenge the well known "I think; therefore, I am." While I wasn't thinking all that great, I still knew that "I" was, and that "I" was not impaired.

I have often thought that recovering from my brain injury was the painstakingly slow process of coming back into my body.  I even remember telling my brother "I came back in body this week," after a week especially filled with lots of the "tinglies" of nerves coming back on board and deciding to work again.

Although it may sound kind of twilight zone-ish, I now think that I actually wasn't too far off. Traditionally, we have thought that the brain must be the source of the mind.  This is similar to insisting that a radio is the source of the music which comes from it.  It may seem important that the brain is active during thought, but then a radio is also active during a broadcast.

Quantum physics is confirming that there is a field of energy everywhere called "The Zero Point Field."  Rather than the old way of thinking that the mind is what the brain does, now, it is more like the mind is the controller of the brain.  Imagine that there is a cloud of possibilities - words, memories, ideas, images -  from which your brain can choose at every moment.  One of these possibilities becomes an actuality in the brain.  Like the quantum field which has been scientifically proven to generate real particles from virtual ones, the mind generates real brain activity from possible or virtual activity.

Quantum physics is proving to have many new mind blowing (pun intended) discoveries which are totally rewriting our understanding of the basic principles of our world and universe. Lynn McTaggert's book The Field totally altered my perception of reality.  There is growing evidence to suggest that, in fact, we do all share the same mind field. Think of prodigies like Mozart or savants who can tell what day of the week November 16th falls on in the year 2135.

No physical process has been identified through which memories are transferred from neurons which die naturally every day to new neurons in the brain.  Perhaps memories exist and persist on a nonphysical level. This would also explain, how someone can relay what dead Uncle George has to say from the beyond and other phenomenon such as distant seeing and mind reading.  OK, is this too far out for ya yet? 

We can use CAT scans and MRIs to show the activity of the brain, but that does not prove that the mind arises in the brain.  These are maps showing the terrain of the brain as a thought or emotion crosses it.  Deepak Chopra says in his book Life After Death "They don't prove that the brain IS the mind any more than a footprint in the sand is the same as the foot."

I see my recovery as a matter of getting my equipment to better receive and express the signal of me which has always been there strong and clear.  I have gone from a crackly, antiquated radio like Grandpa used to have to an iPod coming through some Blaupankt speakers, and I keep upgrading.