Neurofatigue — How Mental Energy Is Like Water Conservation

You desperately need to conserve it

There was a time in my life when simple tasks weren’t a problem. They were simple, hence the meaning of the word. Calculating a 20% tip at a restaurant wasn’t rocket science. It was easy. I quickly did the math in my head, paid the receipt and went on my way.

That’s changed since I had a heart attack in August 2015, that left me dead for over 20 minutes. Being down that long caused a traumatic brain injury (TBI), the effects of which I will deal with the rest of my life. Six years since, I’m still trying to recover as much of my life as possible.

Back to the restaurant. I try to calculate the tip, then I stare at the numbers on the receipt. I do it again because I don’t trust the total. I’ve resorted to using the calculator on my phone only to hear comments that I’m too stupid to do simple math. It’s easier to hand the receipt to my wife and have her do it. Then I hear comments about being lazy (although not from my wife, she understands what I’ve been through).

It’s clear whatever part of my brain that does math is damaged. I graduated from college with a math minor. Pre-brain injury, I enjoyed reading articles about advanced analytics in sports. I understood investing charts. Converting tablespoons to teaspoons was a breeze.

Post brain injury, I avoid math. Trying to understand a scatterplot graph can exhaust me in as little as 10 minutes and take my chronic headache pain from a two to an eight. I become irritable. I snap at people.

What Is Neurofatigue?

Every brain injury is unique, but one commonality amongst TBI survivors is mental fatigue, sometimes referred to as neurofatigue. Neurofatigue is a lack of mental energy. Neurofatigue doesn’t sound awful until you realize it affects everything you do. Math is especially detrimental to me, but simple tasks such as talking to my family, attending a Zoom meeting, or trying to understand the dialogue during a movie drain mental energy like water pouring down a drain.

Neurofatigue is also called “brain fog”. You cannot concentrate. Simple tasks take forever to complete. You get lost in what you’re doing, such as re-reading the same paragraph of a book over and over.

TBI survivors have a hard time getting other people to understand neurofatigue. If I try to tell someone about it, I frequently hear them respond that they, too, get tired while working. This isn’t the same. Everyone gets worn out from working. What I’m talking about is having your life sucked dry within minutes by some stupid menial task that a five-year-old child could complete in a few seconds, then happily carry on with their lives as if it were a breeze.

This isn’t because I’m old. It isn’t because my job is difficult. It isn’t because of stress. It’s because my brain is damaged. I’ve tried to come up with analogies to explain the problems caused by my TBI. I’ve come up with “warehouse theory” so other people could understand why my memory is so fractured.

Mental Energy As Water

Now I’m going to use a water usage analogy to explain neurofatige. According to the EPA, Americans consume an average of 82 gallons of water per day at home.

People take freshwater for granted. We turn on a faucet and there it is, readily available. We wash our clothes, flush a toilet, or water our lawn without a care as to how many gallons of freshwater we consume. We pay little attention to how much we use because water is always available. (This isn’t always true, such as during water restrictions in a drought, but please just run with it.)
For this analogy, you are limited to 20 gallons of water per day. Old toilets made before 1982 consume 5 to 7 gallons per flush. Newer toilets consume 1.6 gallons per flush. Washing your clothes can take 25–45 gallons of water, dependent upon what type of washing machine you use. An average shower uses 2.5 gallons per minute, so an eight-minute shower will consume your daily water allotment (if I’ve done the math right). These are common daily tasks. When you’re limited to 20 gallons per day, you can see there will be problems.

If you run out of water, you will have none to drink. You can’t wash your dishes, your clothes, yourself, water your lawn, feed your pets, or flush your toilet. You might consider all these necessities, but if you had to live without them, you’d conserve.

You’d be forced to spread them out. You might not shower every day. You wouldn’t run the water when brushing your teeth. You’d be more careful when rinsing dishes. You might not flush the toilet every time you use it, preferring to follow the (hippy) water conservationists’ phrase, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” While that might sound disgusting, you don’t get a choice. You are severely limited in water usage and must make hard choices, no matter how difficult they sound.

You will become a dehydrated, smelly, unkempt menace to society with a terrible lawn unless you figure out how to manage your water usage. Your friends will avoid you. Your neighbors will call the association about your crappy lawn. Your family will leave you in search of more water. Your life will dissolve around you.

Photo by Paul Meckes on Unsplash

This type of conservation is forced when you have a brain injury. Daily work tasks consume energy. Anything that involves stress magnifies the consumption of energy as if you were performing a chore with a refrigerator strapped to your back. Having an argument, even a simple argument, with a co-worker or spouse can suck my energy dry in a matter of a couple of minutes.

Like water conservation, you are forced to deal with the bare necessities of life. You’re forced to make choices you wouldn’t have otherwise to conserve your mental energy. I walk away from confrontation as much as possible. I try to avoid conversations about religion or politics unless I know the person I’m discussing these subjects with isn’t going to become unhinged if I disagree with them. I ignore or avoid whatever isn’t specifically important to me, all to keep from running out of mental energy, the same way you would try to avoid running out of water.

You’re done when you run out of mental energy. Life stops. You can’t function anymore. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing. You might be in the middle of grocery shopping and become disoriented, forget your list, and wander around the store trying to remember why you came there in the first place.

Replenishing

Much like water, TBI survivors can replenish mental energy by letting the tank refill. This is done by taking a break — by resting the brain. “Rest” means doing nothing. It doesn’t mean switching from a mentally challenging activity to another, which still requires mental processing. It means doing just that — doing nothing.

You do nothing by practicing mindfulness. You can meditate. You can try one of my personal favorites — the 10-minute nap. There are countless apps available to assist you; Calm, Headspace, Happify, to name a few. Guided meditation videos on Youtube abound. Trying any of these to see if they can help with neurofatigue requires only an open mind and patience. YouTube is free while the apps offer trials.

What TBI Survivors Need

TBI survivors face neurofatigue daily. We have to understand how to properly use what mental energy we have so we don’t run out and find ourselves abandoned in the produce section at Target. We know we’re slow. We know we look tired. We know sometimes we sound like we’re drunk when we’re not. You don’t need to tell us.

What we need is for you to understand is neurofatigue isn’t the same as you being tired after attempting to complete the New York Times crossword puzzle. We need you to not push us to do more when we can’t. We need time to replenish.

And maybe a glass a water.

I Turned Six Today

My family, friends, and neighbors refer to today as my re-birthday. I’m okay with that moniker, but it doesn’t tell the complete story. My original birthday was June 6th, 1962, and that was my birthday until my 54th year, when everything changed.

On August 21st, 2015, I suffered a widowmaker heart attack that left me dead for over 20 minutes. I was at a customer site working, thinking I had terrible heartburn. I took my glasses off, put them on the table in front of me, rubbed my forehead and fell over dead on the floor. My colleagues tried to figure out what was going on while while waiting for an ambulance. An ambulance arrived and transported me to Hennepin County Medical Center in downtown Minneapolis. I was shocked five times along the way with no response. I was shocked two more times in the ER at which point my body began to pump its own blood again.

The cardiology team performed a coronary angiogram and determined my left anterior descending (LAD) artery is completely blocked because of cholesterol buildup. The LAD is more commonly known (by lay people) as the “Widowmaker,” making what I had a “Widowmaker Heart Attack” which is just as terrifying as it sounds.

The solution to keeping me alive is to put a stent, a mesh tube, in the LAD artery to get the blood flowing again. I am put into a coma after the stent is placed to save my brain function. My wife was given the “He’s in God’s hands” speech and my children were told to come back from their vacations because I probably wouldn’t survive. I spent the next 10 days in the hospital, of which I remember very little.

I received a second stent in January 2016 after I again experienced heartburn. All the while I struggled with severe headaches that were so debilitating I’d have to spend the day in a dark room lying in bed. It was extremely painful to look at any light, so I couldn’t use my phone or computer to do any work. I complained about headache pain for months until I got a brain MRI in May 2016 which led to the diagnosis of an anoxic brain injury.

I had gone back to work as quickly as possible because I didn’t believe my heart attack was that big a deal. I thought it a minor set back, and I’d be back at full power in no time. All I had to do was follow my doctors’ instructions, take the drugs, do the exercise, and I’d fully recover. That idea got destroyed during the episode of my second stent when my cardiologist and I discussed having an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) installed in my body. My cardiologist asked me to consider it because my EF was very low. Ejection fraction (EF) is a measure of how well your heart can pump blood. Normal is 50–70. 35 was considered by my cardiologist as the cut off point for having the ICD installed.

The thought of having a device installed in my body made me incredibly angry. It forced me to face that I’d been lying to myself. Part of my heart was dead and nothing will change that. I was angry at my own body’s betrayal. I’ve been physically active all my life, ate a healthy diet, and never smoked. There was never any sign of high cholesterol or any other heart health issues that could have led to this. I even went so far as have my family doctor go through years of physicals to see if there was any indication we missed and there was not.

Most people are interested in the death part of my recovery. The most common question I get is “Did you see a light?” I didn’t see a light. I didn’t float above myself, didn’t see heaven, old friends, or deceased family members. The “light” question was cute at first, but after a while it became incredibly annoying.

I started making up jokes to combat my irritation.

“Yes, I saw a light, but it was from flames.”

“Yes, I floated above the hospital,” I’d say. “I watched the Minnesota Vikings losing in their own stadium.” (Vikings fans found this particularly annoying which I thoroughly enjoyed.)

My sister Mary asked about seeing a light. I made up a story that our father, who had died when I was 12 of pancreatic cancer, led me on a tour of hell.
“The doorway to hell is in a dump south of Jacksonville, Florida”, I told her.
(If you’ve ever been to Jacksonville, you know what I mean. The entire state of Florida is, in fact, the first level of hell. This is easy to comprehend.) I told her how dad took me on a tour of several levels of hell. I paused for a moment only to hear Mary sniff and say, “Dad’s in hell?”.

She questioned why Dad was in hell, but she never wondered about me.

Thanks Mary.

I always felt people asked the wrong question. The right question is — How did it feel being dead?

Being dead was the most peaceful feeling I’ve ever experienced many thousands of times over. The peace was so strong I still refer to it as a “black hole of peace”, because it keeps drawing me back to it. I still feel, six years later, a strong desire to experience that peace again. At the time, people were congratulating me on being alive, but I was pretty ambivalent. I knew that my wife and family were glad I’m still here, but it was hard to admit I didn’t care as much because of the level of peace I experienced.

Even now, I have no fear of death. I’m not worried about living a long life. I am not suicidal. I simply don’t carry the burden of mortality anymore. It is as if an enormous weight has been lifted from my life. Death doesn’t feel like an ending, but as a passing on to whatever is next.

Recovering from the heart attack has been relatively easy. The heart is a pump. My pump doesn’t work as well as other peoples’ pump because part of it is dead. There are complications and the medications’ side effects can be quite debilitating, but modern medicine has a very good understanding of the heart.

When it comes to the human brain, it’s like they’re scratching drawings on a cave wall.

I am better off than most. I have recovered much of my life. I work a full-time job as an IT consultant. I run a sports website called Corn Nation. I write. I podcast. I have a sports-based YouTube channel and I do photography. I’ve had to fight hard to recover that much of who I was and what I can do.

There isn’t a lot of public awareness regarding traumatic brain injuries. The Susan G. Komen Foundation has done an excellent job of making everyone aware of breast cancer. The American Heart Association has done a good job of making people more aware of heart disease. People still eat fat and salt like there’s no tomorrow, but at least they’re aware it’s going to kill them.

There’s almost zero awareness of what it’s like to have a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Every traumatic brain injury is unique. It is an invisible injury. I have been dead for over 20 minutes and there isn’t a single scar on my body. The joke is, “the scars are on the inside”, except it isn’t a joke.

I’m pretty sure I can speak for other TBI survivors when I say a TBI destroys everything you think you are. I go for walks and honestly contemplate if I’ve been kidnapped by aliens; that these memories are false and been planted inside my head. Perhaps I was kidnapped and brainwashed by Russians because we blame them for everything. Maybe we’re living in a simulation and none of this is real. Or perhaps I’m in purgatory and I still have something to prove, a theory that seems to fit well since I was rejected by both heaven and hell. Why else would I still be alive?

All of those theories may sound silly but they are very real to me. Having a TBI rips away your perception of reality; everything you thought you knew that was real is questionable.

Doctors don’t give you a timetable for recovery because there is none. This isn’t a broken arm, where your arm is put in a cast for a set period of time after which it’s considered “healed”. It took me at least two years to understand I will never fully recover. At six, I’m not 100% sure I’ve fully accepted it. What I know for certain — I will never stop trying to become the best I can be. Bad days happen and the worst thing I can do is remain in that darkness, knowing it will pull me into a well of self-pity from which no good can come.

A commonality amongst TBI survivors is doing our best to hide our injury, partially because it’s invisible, partially because we want to fit in, but mostly because almost no one understands. The mental fatigue from even menial tasks is overwhelming; it makes no sense to anyone else that when I try to do math, I end up exhausted with a severe headache in a matter of minutes. Trying to explain to someone my hearing is fine but my audio processing is terrible when I try to understand an accent or if there is any background noise is impossible. I barely bother anymore.

The reaction to telling someone I have a brain injury is illuminating. I’ve seen the look on your faces. Your first response is to look for an exit. Your second is to wonder if I’m about to go on a killing spree. I get it. There’s no frame of reference for you.

One of my goals is to change that.

According to the Brain Injury Alliance,

• 2.8 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury every year.

From 2006 to 2014, the number of TBI-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths increased by 53%.

• Traumatic brain injury (TBI) disables SIX times more people each year than spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, and breast cancer combined.

Note that increase from 2006 to 2014. Up to date statistics are difficult to find, but I am betting the number of TBI-related emergency visits have increased a great deal more.

My hope is I can help more people understand what TBI survivors are going through.

Variables – The Bane Of My Existence

I’ve been laid low by variables the last two Thursdays in a row.
Two weeks ago it was because I was trying to learn how to configure a new set of network switches I’d never before encountered. Tons of variables are involved. Tons of ethernet connections, virtual LANs, proper routing. There were multiple switches, and they all had to be configured to allow network traffic to flow properly throughout the organization.

For a comparison, think about how you would design roads in a city. You might think you could draw lines between points, connecting everything together and it would be fine. Connect a street or a highway between where people live and where they work. Connect another byway between where they shop and where they live and you’re done. Right?

Unfortunately, you have to think about flow. The key is bottlenecks. Where are the bottlenecks going to be? That’s going to be a problem. Think about your commute. Most of your commute might be okay except for two or three bottlenecks that consume massive amounts of time. That’s the biggest hidden obstacle to making network switches work – knowing where you’re going to have bottlenecks and building the system to avoid them.

It’s the equivalent of “Do I make this intersection a four-way stop, a roundabout, or put in a traffic light?” (If you’re a techie, it’s not, but just go with it.) All those street names, neighborhoods, intersections, transportation hubs, gathering spots – they are all variables to contend with.

I discovered my problem with variables when I was working on a migration project a couple years ago. I was using software specifically built to assist in the migration of computers from one environment to another. Part of the software included building profiles. The profile entry required many variables, and I had to remember them when I moved from completing one profile and moved to the next. It was exhausting. It puzzled me as to why. I finally got dual monitors so I could compare the profiles side by side and not have to remember so much between them. It was then I realized my issued with variables.

Handling gobs of variables wasn’t difficult previous to my brain injury.

Now, trying to hold the variables in my head simultaneously can give me extreme headaches. I can feel fatigue come on quickly. My brain pain increases. I try to stop it.
I meditate.
I take brief naps.
I go for a walk.
These are all tools to assist with the fatigue and pain. They are not a cure. I’ve been trying to rewire my brain to fix this for a few years now with no results.


A few years ago, I played “Tenzi” at a party. Each player has ten dice. You roll them repeatedly trying to get all the same number. The person who gets all ten the fastest wins. There are variations on the game, such as first to come up with five pairs.
I wondered if I could play. I tried. I mostly moved the dice around, trying to look like I was playing. I used my hands to shield the dice so no one would see them. I was awful. I don’t play card games anymore for the same reason. Trivia is mostly fine.

And fun. There aren’t variables.

The biggest mistake I made both Thursdays was trying to “power through” the brain pain. Instead of taking a break, I kept working on the network problem until I was mentally exhausted. It’s as if I ran my water well completely dry and had to wait for it to fill up again before I felt healthy enough to continue.

I’ve been diligent about discovering what triggers my fatigue and brain pain. Variables are amongst the top culprits. The biggest is lack of sleep.

This is how it goes with brain injuries; a never-ending exploration of discovery, faking parts of life, and doing your best to fit in.

Controlling Anxiety Through Journaling – Part Three – How I Started And What I Learned

This is part three of a three-part series on Controlling Anxiety Through Journaling.

Part One
Part Two

In Part Two, I provided some example questions to get you started with journaling.
The questions are:

What is important to you?
What goals do you have?
What worries you?
What do you fear?
What causes you anxiety?
What do you want to do with your life?
What are you thankful for?
On what do you spend your time?
What are you doing now that gets in the way of accomplishing your goals?

Below are how I answer these questions and what I learned from them.

What is important to me?

Defining what’s important allows you to set priorities. It’s easy to get sidetracked, spend hours on the internet going down various rabbit holes (ahem, looking at you, Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, whatever political website you favor), then discover you’ve accomplished nothing all day. Just a wild guess, but I’m pretty sure arguing on the internet with complete strangers is not important, but you might not realize that until you sort out what your important list includes.

My important list includes:

My faith in God. I will freely admit, is not as strong as it should be. I am Christian most of the time. (I explain this more fully in “Been Dead, Never Been To Europe.”)

My family. I have an obligation to my wife to provide for her. I know myself well enough that if I can’t be a provider, I will see myself as worthless. I have an obligation to my wife and kids to be a decent husband and father. I quit drinking over a year ago, because I was failing at this part of my life badly. My wife and children deserve to have a husband and father who isn’t a mess.

My customers. As an IT consultant, I have an obligation to my customers, the people I work with and for. I am paid a decent wage to solve problems, to be dependable, and to provide value. I take that charge seriously.

My friends. They deserve me to be a decent human being who treats them with respect. They don’t need me to overburden them with my issues as they have their own. They need me to listen.

My website and my writers. I run a sports website – CornNation.com – and I have a full staff of writers who write for me. It’s important I treat them with dignity and respect. It’s important I provide them with opportunities to grow as writers and have a fun doing it because there sure as hell isn’t enough money going around for it to be financially beneficial. It’s important that I put them in a position to be successful.

What goals do you have?

I am a goal-oriented person. I find this more true as I age. One of the biggest problems I faced after my heart attack was motivation. It was confounding. It could be best described as “I don’t give a damn about anything”. Six years later, the feeling runs through me like an underlying river current. It’s so easy to do nothing, to spend the days rabbit holing across the internet. To combat my lack of enthusiasm, I give myself goals. A key part of making them real is telling others about them, so I have an external force pulling me in the direction I want to go. I use journaling to define and reinforce my goals.

My primary ongoing goal is to be as healthy as possible. I’m not talking about “run a marathon” healthy. I want to stay in shape well enough that I can do things with and for my beautiful wife. While I would love to travel, maybe even get to Europe, I am more focused on helping with everyday chores so my wife doesn’t bear the burden of our household by herself.

I need to stay in shape to do what I love doing, such as being a credentialed photographer at sporting events. I need to be mentally alert to perform as an IT consultant and become a successful author. I’m still trying to discover what I need to do to make sure every morning I wake up with the least painful headache possible.

I have a goal of building a writing career in the next five years. I have no plans to retire. Perhaps I’ll feel different as the years roll on, but I believe I’d only be bored if I retired. I’d rather be in control of my own time in my retirement years.

I want to write and publish a fiction novel. I spent 20 years writing in the computer industry. I’ve spent another 15 years writing in sports. I have published a memoir. All of my writing to date, except for humor/satire articles on my website, has been nonfiction. Fiction will be an enormous challenge for me. Creating characters, a plot, and a world that readers find interesting is difficult but doing it while having memory problems because of a brain injury may be more than I capable of.

What do you worry about?

I have talked to quite a few heart attack survivors since the release of “Been Dead, Never Been To Europe”. There are so many who struggle with worry of having another heart attack. They can’t sleep. They can’t function. They’re overwhelmed with anxiety.

My biggest worry about myself is being kept alive as an invalid. I made that pretty clear in the memoir. It isn’t fear of another heart attack. It’s fear that another heart attack wouldn’t kill me but leave me so crippled I would be a parasite; that someone would have to take care of me for the rest of my life. The most prevalent worry is to be left in a shell with no means of communication. Ugh. I have no desire for that. It isn’t living. It’s a fate worse than death.

Other than that, I don’t worry. I really don’t. I don’t worry about losing my job. I don’t worry about what’s happening in the world. My trauma has drilled into me that I can’t spend energy worrying about what I don’t control. “Quit worrying” is an easy statement to make, but a difficult one to put to practice.

One bit of caution. Questions about fear and worry can get you started, but they can also be dangerous. They can suck you into the well of darkness. You should use these questions to examine yourself, get a better understanding of where you are, but avoid ruminating on them.

What are you thankful for?

This is a simple, but powerful question. Writing about what we’re thankful for is commonly referred to as “gratitude journaling”. “Gratitude” is defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” There are many studies that sing the praises of gratitude journaling’s effect on our well-being.
An article in “Wisdom in Education” titled “Building Blocks: A Multi-Theoretical Preventative Model to Promote Post-Traumatic Growth”, stated the following about gratitude:

Gratitude’s role in post-traumatic growth gives an individual the ability to reappraise the negative event and see positive aspects in their life. These positive reappraisals hold off some of the more difficult aspects of PTSD and allow the individual to cope better with the trauma.


You can incorporate gratitude into your daily journal. It’s recommended to journal three times weekly about grateful experiences or memories.
It’s pretty easy to repeatedly say I’m grateful for the support of my wife and family. It’s no so bad to include them so you are thinking about that support to keep you from slipping back into darkness.
It helps if you include specific memories or events, such as:

I am grateful for getting to spend time buying lunch for my friend Jerry whom I don’t get to see very often. The Cubano sandwich was really good!

I don’t get out a lot. I work remotely at home almost all the time, so when I get out to an event, especially a sporting event, it’s special.

I am thankful I could attend the 2021 Nebraska football spring game and the Rutgers baseball series at Haymarket Park. I handled the heat, and got to have pizza with my friend Todd and meet one of my new writers, Aaron. It was a great time.

More from the paper quoted above about promoting post-traumatic growth:
These positive reappraisals hold off some of the more difficult aspects of PTSD and allow the individual to cope better with the trauma. While gratitude is not the only way an individual should deal with traumatic life events, research shows that exercising gratitude can be beneficial for protecting one against negative life events.

I know heart attack survivors live in fear of having another. I’ve talked with people who’ve been in car accidents who find it difficult driving again because they’re worried it will happen again. Trauma gets burned into our consciousness and is very hard to move beyond.

What I’ve Learned From Journaling

I have learned an immense amount about myself from journaling. Looking back, I realized defining my goals, along with what is important to me has helped me tremendously in my daily life. The two help me align myself, which is another way of saying I understand what I need to spend time on and how I can protect my mental energy.

Like most people I spend an inordinate time on the internet accomplishing nothing. Remembering my goals, I understand that time is wasted. I frequently ask myself if what I’m doing is important; if it is helping me get anywhere. If it isn’t, then I make the choice whether I continue to waste my time or stop what I’m doing.

Understanding what is important to me helps with my memory. It’s an odd statement, but let me explain. I have strong opinions. Those are reflecting in my sports writing, my podcasts, and my YouTube videos. I frequently receive very negative comments from people who disagree with me. At times they’re very insulting. I have learned to ignore them. It’s not that hard to do.

Are complete strangers who send you nasty emails amongst the list of people I carry about as defined above? No? Then why would I care what they have to say about me? I let it go. I forget about it… well; I do my best to forget about it.

Every once in a while a negative comment will get to me. I get angry about it. The anger exhausts me. I can feel the mental energy drain from me, as if someone were draining the blood from my body. If I don’t stop for a moment to reflect on what is important, my headache pain will explode and the comment will ruin my day.

This philosophy applies to everyday encounters. Perhaps the cashier at Target makes a comment I don’t like. I get cut off in traffic. I want to relax on my deck but my neighbor is having a loud party. The dog barks at everyone who walks by our house; sometimes she barks at invisible objects. I break my fancy french press coffee maker.
None of these are important. None impede me from my goals. I do my best to forget them immediately.

If something happens that involves “The Important Group” and I can’t resolve it, I journal about it. I ask myself why it really bothers me, what I can do to fix it, and how I can do better with it in the future.

Another major benefit from journaling is determining what habits effect my health. I have proven to myself a good night of sleep is the single most beneficial thing I can do to assure the minimum amount of chronic headache pain in the morning. I am currently working on tracking different supplements, such as magnesium, to determine how they affect my health.

Journaling has helped me to define and understand this process. Without it, I wouldn’t be nearly as productive as I am.

Journaling is as close to free therapy as you’re going to get. The only actual cost is confronting yourself, being open about who you are, where you’re going and what you’re going to do. You could start right now. Put down this book and take 10-20 minutes to journal. Then do it again tomorrow.

Controlling Anxiety Through Journaling – Part One

This is part one of a three-part series on Controlling Anxiety Through Journaling.

Part Two
Part Three

Journaling is the act of writing your thoughts and feelings regularly so that you can better understand them. Journaling was called “keeping a diary” years ago, but that brings up images of teenage girls in their bedroom hand writing in a notebook protected by a cheesy lock that wouldn’t deter an interested mouse.

“Journaling” sounds much more mature than “keeping a diary”, doesn’t it?

Of course it does. This is why there is a cottage industry built around journaling; you can go to Amazon and buy fancy books with writing prompts so you can journal in style. I don’t mean to be too snarky; journaling has significant benefits and that’s what we’re going to learn in this chapter.

Keeping track of your life provides an ongoing account about where you’ve been and where you’re going. It provides emotional release. It may sound goofy, but journaling can increase your health. In a 1999 study, “Effects of Writing About Stressful Experiences on Symptom Reduction in Patients With Asthma or Rheumatoid Arthritis”, participants who were chronically ill with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis were asked to write an essay expressing their thoughts and feelings about a traumatic experience. Those who did had “clinically relevant changes in health status” compared with those in a control group who wrote about unimportant subjects. This means that there was a measurable change in health for those who wrote about their trauma. That’s amazing.

A 2018 article in “Advances In Psychiatric Treatment” titled “Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing” reported:
Writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events has been found to result in improvements in both physical and psychological health, in non-clinical and clinical populations. In the expressive writing paradigm, participants are asked to write about such events for 15–20 minutes on 3–5 occasions. Those who do so generally have significantly better physical and psychological outcomes compared with those who write about neutral topics.

Journaling is an incredibly useful tool in the fight against anxiety and depression. I found journaling to be extremely beneficial. If you don’t believe me, believe the science.I started journaling because I wanted to understand how to best handle my health. I was diagnosed with an anoxic brain injury and because of it I have chronic headaches. I wake up with a headache every morning. On the scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst possible migraine, my headache might be a “2”. It might be an “8”. I sought to find if what I did in my everyday life made a difference in how bad my headaches were.

I now use a journal to write down all aspects of my life. I try to journal every day. It has been useful in determining what effects my health. I have tracked my sleep, diet, activities, and how I feel emotionally and physically. I used it to write my book, “Been Dead, Never Been To Europe”. Writing the book was cathartic in putting my death behind me and allowing me to move on to live life as much as I could.

Warehouse Theory – Explaining Why My Memory Is So Fractured
“Warehouse Theory” is a story I have used to explain why my memory is so fractured after recovering from a heart attack and traumatic brain injury.
Warehouse Theory – Explaining Why My Memory Is So Fractured
“Warehouse Theory” is a story I have used to explain why my memory is so fractured after recovering from a heart attack and traumatic brain injury.

What I discovered by journaling on a regular basis was that sleep was the most important factor of whether I woke up with a “2” or an “8” headache. It’s not perfect. Six years after my death, I have bad days with little to no idea why I am in so much pain.

I journal about my goals. I keep track about what I did for work on any given day. Keeping track of everything allows me to go back to a reference if my customers are asking why we made a decision the way we did, or how we determined the parameters of an IT project.

I journal about what I’m grateful for. Gratitude journaling is one of the ways that you can combine with turning bad thoughts to good, a concept for which we’ll have an entire chapter. It’s a tool to help rewire your brain so that you stop focusing on negative thoughts and start thinking about the good things in your life.

I journal about whatever is bothering me at the time.

Another good thing about journaling – it’s pretty darned close to free. You don’t need anything fancy for journaling. You can buy a simple three-ring binder notebook and handwrite your daily entries. You can use a word processor on your computer. You can use apps specialized for journaling. I prefer to do voice journaling, where I talk into a voice recorder, and have the words transcribed, then keep track of journals in Scrivener, a software application for writers.

Controlling Anxiety Through Journaling – Part Two – Getting Started is the next of this series.

Journaling is not a substitute for therapy or counseling. If your anxiety or depression is overwhelming, consider seeing a professional. Having said that, I know there are people who wouldn’t talk to a therapist if their life was was in danger. This should strike you ironic because many times it is. I am still surprised at the number of people I talk to who don’t understand that anxiety, depression, and stress can cause serious problems with their physical well-being.

In you won’t see a therapist, journaling is at least a next-best option.

Why would you NOT do journaling? I can show a multitude of studies beyond what I included here that show its health benefits. It is easy. It is free. It doesn’t require you to open up to another human being so you won’t feel embarrassed.

I’d honestly like to know. Send me an email – jj@jonjohnston.com – leave a comment here.

Warehouse Theory – Explaining Why My Memory Is So Fractured

The following is an excerpt from my book, “Been Dead, Never Been To Europe. The chapter this excerpt is from is “Explaining Memory Loss To Others“, a problem I believe every TBI Survivor (or those with neurodegenerative issues, possibly?) deals with on a regular basis.

In the chapter I point out I’ve struggled to understand why my memory is a mess; why some things are intact but others fractured. I’ve also struggled with how to explain it to other people because they are surprised sometimes when I don’t remember who they are.

My book begins by relating a memory I have of playing high school football with a friend whom I didn’t meet until my second year of college.

How does memory become so fractured?

I didn’t understand it myself. Reading books on brains did not help.

A fitting metaphor came to me while working at a customer site in their warehouse. I was talking with the warehouse manager about their inventory, some of which included industrial parts that were decades old. We were preparing to move everything to a new building, and we knew we had to take stock of what they had so whatever was junk could be scrapped and they wouldn’t have to pay to move it. The current building was to be torn down after the move.

I made a joke about making a gigantic pile on the floor in the middle of the warehouse and setting everything on fire. “We’re leaving, we’re going to a better place. What do we care what happens to the all this stuff? Why not just set it on fire?”, I said.

Then it hit me it was my life I was talking about.

I had my story, my explanation for memory loss that I could share with others so they would understand.

Imagine your brain is a warehouse.

There are racks of boxes, and each of those boxes contain your memories on millions upon millions of sheets of paper.

When you die, as in my case, the heart sends a message to the brain to let it know that you’re done in your current location and will be moving somewhere else. The implication is that you’re going somewhere better, or at the least, more peaceful.
The brain’s warehouse manager gets on the PA system (every warehouse has one) and announces to the thousands of workers that everyone is moving. The existing inventory is no longer needed. He relays the message, the implication from the heart that everyone is moving to a better place.

The warehouse workers respond joyously by pulling boxes of your memories down from the racks and throwing them into the air. The warehouse floor becomes littered with your life. Some they pile into the middle of the floor. They are elated, ecstatic that their time in this aging, dusty, broken-down warehouse is done.

Everyone knows a “pyro” guy. He’s the guy in your life who’s always playing in the bonfire in your backyard. Left to his own devices, he’d always be carrying gasoline, kerosene, or lighter fluid – some type of accelerant. He’d pour it on the fire and scream with delight as the flames exploded. He’s the guy who’s now starting your memories on fire in the middle of the warehouse while other workers gather around the glow. Many join him, delightfully adding pieces of paper, your memories, to fuel the fire. “Here goes 1985!”, one worker screams with delight as he throws a stack of papers from your life in 1985 onto the fire.

“Remember that date you went on with Cheryl? Not anymore!” Workers around him cheer with exuberance as they turn to the racks for more to burn.

Everyone knows “water” guy too. He’s the guy that throws water on everything. He’s the guy who always suggests a squirt gun fight if he’s at a backyard birthday party. He prefers swimming in a lake or a pool to being on land. He’s there with the rest of the warehouse workers, pouring water on your memories, turning pages of your memories into goo.

Suddenly the heart is restarted, brought back to life. It sends a message to the brain retracting its earlier statement and pointing out that we might not be moving. The brain’s warehouse manager is alarmed and gets on the PA system once again to announce, “We’re staying! Put everything back!”

The warehouse workers stop what they’re doing and look at the mess they’ve made. They have to get back to the business of making your brain work, so they know they can’t take much time bothering with putting your memories back in order. “He’ll make new ones”, a worker says loudly. Many of the workers agree and this comment puts them at ease. They take fire extinguishers and put out the blaze that is your memories. They grab burned pages and start stuffing them back into boxes with no purpose as to whether they’re being placed into the right day, month, or year. Water logged pages are thrown back into boxes with others that are untouched, causing corruption as the ink is blurred.

My niece Theresa and I were very close when we were young. She has taken the time to listen to me about my struggles with memory. I told her how I was in an Apple store picking up my repaired laptop when I spotted a man I was sure I knew. He was with his wife. I knew her too. I have no idea why. I searched my memories, but there was nothing there. I know I was around him and his wife for a few years, but still, nothing. I searched my Boy Scout memories, soccer memories, college memories… “Didn’t they have exceptional kids?”, I asked myself.

I turned my back and hid my face in my winter coat as they got closer. I became more nervous the closer they got; if they recognized me and start a conversation, I’d have to pretend I knew them. I’d gotten better at pretending, allowing the other person to lead the conversation until I could (hopefully) discover who they are and where they were in my life. The problem is I don’t always get away with it, it consumes an enormous amount of energy and I look like an ass. It’s easier to avoid the interaction, so I do. I don’t want to deal with the look on their faces, which is inevitable. The look is always the same. “How could you forget us? Weren’t we important to you?”, as if I had control over what memories got burned, waterlogged, or folded, spindled, and mutilated while I was dead.

A few minutes later the Apple technician returned my laptop. I kept my face covered and slipped out of the store. I left the mall, and just as I was getting to my car, it finally came to me that the man I avoided was a fellow Boy Scout leader and friend. I always got along well with him. His wife is a wonderful person. His kids are well-mannered achievers mature for their age. I kicked myself for not saying hello.

This scenario has played itself out repeatedly. The people, the places change, but the struggle with memory remains. I’ve done my best to fake it. There are times at which I’ve walked away from someone who obviously knew me well, leaving them bewildered and with a disappointed look on their face as I turned my back on them. It’s embarrassing and I know it only makes things worse as I’ll have to explain even more should I run into them again.

I had to come up with an explanation I could tell people when I saw that “you forgot me” look on their face. I came up with the warehouse metaphor and when I tell it to people it helps them understand what happened to me. It gives me comfort because I no longer try to hide from people who obviously know me. I feel like less of a jerk.

It’s just one more way of reclaiming my life, by bringing people who were gone back to me again.

Travel Anxiety – A Practical Approach

I am traveling to Texas this week. It’s making me feel like being a kid all over again.

It’s not what you think.

It’s not the childlike experience of adventure and joy of discovering new things I’m talking about. Give a child a phone or a laptop and they play with it. They don’t worry about breaking it. They don’t worry about pushing the wrong buttons, they just play. It’s pretty cool to watch. Give an adult a laptop and they’re convinced they’ll push the wrong button, end up talking to a guy named Sven who will convince them to take off their clothes and give him all their money. Adults are wary of the unfamiliar.
I have become unfamiliar with travel. I’ve been stuck at home most of this pandemic. I’ve been living in one room that serves as both a bedroom and an office. I’ve been to one customer site two times in the last six months. I drove from Minneapolis to Lincoln ,Nebraska a couple of weeks ago to see the Nebraska football spring game and a baseball series with Rutgers. That’s it recently.
Now I’m traveling to Dallas over Memorial Day weekend.
It’s making me anxious. My wife had to book the flight. I sat on the couch trying to think up reasons not to go.
Why am I apprehensive? I’ve always been anxious about getting on a plane. I have no fear of flying. I love airplanes. It’s the idea of getting to the airport, checking in, getting through security, going to the right gate and getting on the correct plane that always bothers me.

What if I’m on a no fly list? Some other Jon Johnston has been wreaking havoc throughout the universe and I’ll be the one to take the blame. What if I miss my flight? How do I get another one? What if they’ve all left without me? What if I’m at the airport when a giant cyber security attack happens, or an EMP, the world we know comes to an end and I’m stuck at the airport IN HOUSTON, one of the last cities I would want to be stuck in during an apocalyptic event. What if I get on the wrong flight, fall asleep and in end up in Borneo with no way of returning home ever again. Is Borneo nice this time of year? Where the hell is Borneo anyway?

What happens every time I travel is this. I go to airport security, I don’t have a problem, because I’m over prepared. I get there 18 hours ahead of time. I get on my plane, I get to my destination. I get picked up by someone and I arrive. Everything goes without a hitch.
I have a great time wherever I’m at. I enjoy talking to people. I see the sites. I’m around the unfamiliar. I love it.
Then I don’t want to leave. This is where it’s like feeling like a kid all over again, because that is exactly how kids respond to you taking them someplace they’d never been.
I don’t want to go.
I don’t want to go.
I don’t want to go.
Scream, cry, throw themselves on the floor.
I don’t want to go.
We put them in the car, or whatever mode of travel. We take them to the place. They spend a minute getting familiar. They notice there are no monsters. They start playing with whomever or whatever is available. They have fun. Enormous amounts of fun.
When we tell them it’s time to go, we get the same thing we had when we started.

I don’t want to go.
I don’t want to go.
I don’t want to go.
Scream, cry, throw themselves on the floor.
I don’t want to go.

I don’t get as far as throwing myself on the floor, but that’s only because I’m old and it hurts, otherwise I’d damned sure do it for effect.

I have to fight myself to go. I know that I’m going to have fun, but I have to force myself to get up off the couch first. I know I will get anxious about getting to wherever I’m going.
What’s odd is that I’ve taught myself to overcome anxiety in a lot of situations, but I know I’m still going to be anxious about this. I recently spent an hour getting a cardiac MRI and it was the most Stanley Kubrick moment of my life. I have trained myself to go to sleep when I get a MRI, but this time I had to hold my breath about 40 times – not an exaggeration. I had a plate on my chest, which made the tube more claustrophobic than normal. MRI scan sounds banged around me.
I was unfazed… okay, at the beginning I admit I had the same thought I’ve had with every MRI. The moment I’m shoved into the tube, I think “there’s going to be an earthquake, the building will collapse, everyone will die but me, and I won’t be mercifully crushed, I’ll just be stuck here in this tube, and this is how I will die.” Never mind there aren’t earthquakes in Minnesota.
The second thought I have is “a killer will walk into the room, shoot everyone doing the MRI and then leave. The police will come in, investigate, clean up the crime scene and block it off while I’m still suck in the tube forgotten and this is how I will die”.
It’s the same every time. I accept the terrible thoughts; they wash over me, then they go away and I am free to deal with the rest of the MRI.

Also Read: When Faced With Uncertainty, Remember The Serenity Prayer

I have taught myself to be calm in many different situations so the headaches that come with my brain injury don’t overwhelm me with stress. Perhaps the key to dealing with travel anxiety to accept it’s going to happen, let it happen and pass over, just like I do with the MRI.

I could focus on myself as the child who’s already arrived at my destination, found there are no monsters, and think about having fun. Next time I’m headed to the airport, I’m going to try this approach. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What anxiety do you never seem to get over?

What It’s Like To Have A Brain Injury – Returning To A Memory Black Hole

I recently returned to Haymarket Park, the college baseball stadium at the University of Nebraska. I did photography during the Nebraska – Rutgers series. It was the first time I’d been back to Haymarket since I died of a widow maker heart attack on August 21st, 2015. I was dead for over 20 minutes. In June 2016 I was diagnosed with a brain injury.

Haymarket was a black hole for me. I have memories of being at baseball games there, but I couldn’t remember anything about what it looked like. I couldn’t place it even when I looked at a map.

How can that be? How does that happen?

I came up with an idea I call “warehouse theory of memory loss” which I explain here. It’s very scientific.

I did this video to describe what it’s like to have a brain injury.

Why is this important?

Because brain injuries happen. You have a car accident. You get run over on your bicycle. You slip while walking on the ice and hit your head. You play sports and get a concussion. You fall over dead one day out of the blue because of a heart attack.

I mentioned shooting football and baseball. Here are the links to the photos I shot that weekend.

Nebraska Football Spring Game: Photo Gallery !

Nebraska Baseball vs Rutgers: A Series Loss in Photos

Brain Injury Awareness – Symptoms And Painful Explanations Part Two

This is the second of a two-part post on Brain Injury Awareness – Symptoms And Painful Explanations. Part one is here.

We continue on discussing a list of issues from a graphic I found on twitter. You can find anything on twitter, but this one seemed particularly suited to a brain injury awareness discussion.
We continue at #6, Aphasia.

Aphasia

The formal definition of “aphasia” is as follows:
loss of ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage.
A Disney princess (or not, but it certainly sounds like Aphasia could be one)

I have never been told I have aphasia. I wasn’t familiar with the term, so I read about it and watched some Youtube videos to get an idea of what it’s like. I’ve come to the conclusion that those diagnosed with aphasia have more acute problems with speech and communications than I do, so I’m not going to label myself with this malady.
I have problems with speech and communication but my problems are not as severe as the examples I’ve seen on Youtube. My problems are sporadic and typically occur when I am mentally fatigued.
This leads to the question – what problems do I have when it comes to communication?

Sometimes when I’m writing I cannot recall the definition or meaning of a commonly used word. I look the word up on the internet, and even then it will be as if I’ve never heard of it. I’ll skip the word and use something else. Later, I’ll come back to my writing, look at it, and think, “Why didn’t I just use (commonly used word I had forgotten) in this sentence”, then add it in, forgetting about forgetting about it in the first place. It’s like forgetception. Remember, the movie Inception? A dream within a dream? Forgetception?

Terrible joke, right?

Let’s move on.

My problems with language happen frequently during speech.
When we talk, we form sentences in our mind. They’re fully constructed, unless we’re blurting, then out of the mouth they go. In my case, they go out the mouth, then the glitch occurs and one word disappears, rendering the sentence I was about to spew unintelligible. Sometimes the words in the sentence I am speaking come out in the wrong order. Sometimes the consonants are in the wrong order.
I have had this problem most of my life, at one point saying the word “Kotex” instead of “co-tangent” in front of my math class in high school. Another famous blather – screaming “incompete plass” in a bar while watching college football. On time it took me 15 minutes to correctly say “Arnold Palmer” while my national speech champion roommate insisted I repeat it until I got it right.
The problem is much worse now that I have the brain injury. You might have recognized my speech issues while listening to one of my podcasts or watching a Youtube video. Those are only minor flubs. The ones in which I utter entirely unintelligible sounds that may be words but aren’t are typically edited out.

Not being able to handle overstimulation

I would prefer the world “distraction” here in place of “overstimulation”, although perhaps I am nit-picking.
This problem fits in with the neuro-fatigue issue, but deserves its own section because it needs its own understanding.
Basically, overstimulation causes fatigue. In my case, it also causes severe headaches. I’ll give you a couple examples.
One of my favorite things to do is shooting collegiate sports events. I get credentialed as a photographer for my website, CornNation.com. I love college sports. I love being a part of them even more. There’s nothing like being court side during a basketball or Big Ten volleyball game, on the sideline at a football game. The action is amazing. The athletes are amazing. When it comes to college football, there is so much happening on the sidelines it’s incredible games go on without more hitches than they have.

You can easily get run over if you’re not paying attention during football games by players running out of bounds. You can get blasted by a volleyball, and those young women hit hard. I’ve stood next to plenty of photographers who wear helmets while shooting baseball because a hard-hit foul ball can kill a person. You damned well better being paying attention or you’re going to get injured.
I leave nearly every sporting event exhausted and with a severe head ache. It’s because of the overstimulation. I don’t notice it during the event because there is so much happening I don’t have time to focus on myself. It’s probably why I love the events so much – I don’t think about “me” at all. All my aches and pains go away for a brief moment in time.
I feel the same way when I am talking on the phone and someone is making noise in the background. It doesn’t take long for me to develop a headache because of the distraction. I get fatigued very quickly. I hate being on the phone unless I’m in an environment where I can concentrate. Zoom meetings aren’t as bad because I can concentrate on faces along with the audio. They’re still very tiring, unfortunately. (That’s been my experience during this pandemic.)
Overstimulation is exhausting. When I get exhausted, you I short-tempered. I bite at people. I am abrupt and rude to them on the phone. They don’t understand and get upset with me.
That is why it’s important you understand this issue.

Anxiety about the slightest things and depression

We’re going to lump these two things together. Human beings experience anxiety and depression even if they don’t have a brain injury. The brain injury just make these things worse. Then there’s the crippling self-doubt. I will cover that in another article.
I am rare in that my anxiety and depression are less than before my heart attack. I used to have moments of despair that were suicidal. I no longer sink into darkness that far. I am lucky. I believe also that I’m not indicative of what happens to most people after a heart attack/brain injury.
I have talked with others who have suffered heart attacks, strokes, and TBIs. Nearly all of them suffer more than I do in this category. (BTW, if you’re reading this and have a TBI, I would like to hear from you.)
Many heart attack survivors worry that it will happen again. I am lucky (perspective) in a way that I don’t remember anything that happened to me. Others recall amazing amounts of pain and the dread that they were in life’s last moment. Any type of flutter in their hearts can set off anxiety, which leads to depression. The same is true for TBI survivors, who are constantly reminded of their incidents because of the deficits they experience from their own brains. It’s constant. It can be hell.
Anxiety and depression in any form can be crippling. Most HA/TBI victims probably won’t tell you about it.

Chronic pain

I wake up every single day with a headache. The severity differs from day to day. Some mornings it is a “2”. Some it is an “8”. (If you’ve been in the hospital or ER, certainly a nurse has asked you to rate your pain from 1-10, right?)
It’s five and a half years after my heart attack and I have yet to discover what causes the days I wake up in severe pain. The only consistent trait I’ve found is that if I don’t get a good nights sleep I will most certainly wake up with a more severe headache. This is because our brains need rest. They need to clean themselves and replenish. I’m not making that up. My speech language pathologist told me that sleep is when the brain “gets rid of the tangles”. Apparently it’s true. Don’t believe it?

Here’s some articles:

How Sleep Clears the Brain
Scientists Now Know How Sleep Cleans Toxins From the Brain

I hope these articles have introduced you to what it’s like to have a brain injury. More will be coming soon.

Brain Injury Awareness – Symptoms And Painful Explanations Part One

Did you know March is Brain Injury Awareness Month?

I was not aware of this, and I have a brain injury. I only found out because I was tooling around social media and accidentally ran into an announcement. That I was unaware tells me that there is a much greater need for brain injury awareness.

Think about a national organization associated with different maladies. If you think of cancer, there’s the American Cancer Society. When you think of heart disease, there’s the American Heart Association. When you think of brain injuries, there the… Nothing that comes to mind. Right? I can’t think of anyone prominent, and I have a brain injury.

Having done research, I know that there are brain injury associations all around the nation. They have state conventions. There hold seminars about brain injuries, what to expect, how to live with them, how to deal with them. But there isn’t a great national presence about something that affects a fair amount of people. There’s definitely room for more awareness.

I looked up brain injury awareness on Twitter and I found this graphic. I don’t know who made it, so I don’t know to whom to give credit.

It states that most TBI survivors will be left with a combination of these symptoms. Let’s run through the list, and I’ll tell you about how it relates to me.

Short-term memory loss

For months after my heart attack, I had a severe problem of forgetting everything I was doing almost immediately after being told to do it. I couldn’t remember where the silverware despite them being in the same drawer for 20 years. I couldn’t find my underwear, and they had been in the same place for decades.

I wanted to work almost immediately after I got out of the hospital, but I didn’t have the energy and once assigned a task, couldn’t remember it long enough to complete it. I am thankful everyone understood, supported me, and had a lot of patience.

My short-term memory loss got better over time, but after five and a half years I still need to set reminders on my phone for common tasks. Your phone is your ally. Use it for reminders, To Dos, and calendar events often.

Trouble Focusing Our Attention

This has been a problem for me for most of my life. If I was a younger person, I would have been diagnosed with ADD, ADHD or something that had to do with attention deficit. There’s always about 23 things running through my mind, so it’s not unbelievable I have problems focusing my attention.

I do a lot of different things. I work in IT in my regular job. I write. I podcast. I do photography and do YouTube videos. I enjoy doing these things. Whenever I sit down and think that I should cut something out. I’ve concluded I don’t want to. And yet. That I my goal would be rather to increase my energy, rather than cut something out of my life.

This leads to number three:

Neuro-Fatigue

This is a genuine issue. I have talked to people who’ve experienced strokes, and TBIs, and they relate the same thing. Everything they do wears them out much more quickly than before their incident.

Most of the problems I work on in IT are very difficult. They can tax me much more than they used to be before I had my brain injury. There are specific things which exhaust me quickly. Anything that requires me to hold a lot of variables in my head, such as working on database servers, data sets, or firewalls can quickly drain my mental energy in a matter of minutes. I have to take frequent breaks during which I either take a brief nap or meditate.

(I am going to explain more about neuro-fatigue in another series of posts. Stay tuned!)

Dizziness and Balance Issues

I seem to have dizziness and balance issues more from the medication I take than because of a brain injury. I get dizzy, if I put myself in an awkward position and then move quickly, and when I say “awkward position” I mean physically not socially. I am constantly awkward socially. That hasn’t changed since youth. Physically, though, this occurs when I’m working in a data center and have to tilt my head weird to find a serial number, if I’m at the dentist, being tilted back in a chair, or if I’m doing photography and put myself in a not-so-normal position for a shot. Bottom line – this doesn’t happen a lot, but I have to be aware that when I’m in those situations that my balance may be an issue.

Other people perceive you much differently if your balance is a mess. They believe you’re drunk or high. They believe you’re damaged. What they don’t see you as is normal.
This isn’t as big an issue for me as it is for other people. I am thankful for that.

Cognitive Deficits (processing things slower than before)

Before my heart attack and death, I learned quickly. Customers hired me because I learned technology quickly, then I could teach it to them. This is still the case, although I admit I am much, much slower than I used to be. (I bill by the hour, so this isn’t entirely bad! Maybe.)
My most obvious deficit is in hearing or the audio processing part of my brain. I went through hearing and vestibular testing about a year after my heart attack. Vestibular testing determines whether you have damage to your inner ear, and can evaluate dizziness and balance. I passed these tests with flying colors, much to the chagrin of my wife, who concluded I ignore her rather than having difficult hearing.

I have difficulty interpreting speech. I am unsure whether I hear well (despite the earlier test) or if my brain is damaged. I frequently ask people to repeat themselves. I have difficulty watching movies without subtitles.
I have much more difficulty now than I’ve ever had in trying to understand someone with an accent. I have spent my career in IT as the guy who always talked to foreigners, as I had no difficulty with other countries’ accents. I spent a couple years in engineering while I was at the University of Nebraska, and in doing so, was around people from India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Persia (Iran, but they referred to themselves as Persian at the time because of politics), Korea – many areas around the world.

Now… I have difficulty understanding them. Worse yet, trying to listen to them and interpret them is exhausting. This is painful – not in a “body ache” kind of way, but in a “this sucks ass” kind of way because when I struggle in understanding people it is a constant reminder of the damage I’ve sustained. I’ve always enjoyed talking to many different people and learning from their experiences. Now it’s a constant source of frustration and remembrance of a life I had but will no more.
I am still trying to figure out how to deal with this part of my life. I am considering going back for another hearing test. Certainly all that punk rock from the 80s did some damage, did it not?

The concept of cognitive deficits brings forth another subject on brain injuries – one that is not on this list. How much we – those of us with brain injuries – try to hide our deficits. I will cover this later.

This has been part one. Part two is here.

Thanks for listening, please leave me some feedback!