Grey Matter

What a strange organ. I did a concussion recheck on Monday morning, and was assigned to stay home and do as little as possible for two days, which, of course, is nigh impossible with kids, especially when two of them are sick and the third one is struggling with depression.

I will say I have a much greater appreciation for how visual stimuli affects my brain. It took me a couple of days to really get into the idea of just sitting or laying down somewhere quiet and dark and just close my eyes. Right now, I think, more than anything, I just need to do some more of that.

There has also been a difference in the way different doctors have been treating my concussion. For the uninitiated, my care is provided through the military. I’m assigned to an Integrated Health Team, and there’s a group of doctors, clinicians, nurses, medical technicians, etc, who all have their hands on me and my file. I’d been seeing one doc consistently for my time here, but he’s gone now. The new doc I’d seen happened to be the one who saw me for the back issue from before. He’d helped me through my calf cramp when I was getting ready for my half-marathon, and he’s a musician and hockey player. The doc I saw subsequently when I went to get my concussion diagnosed had a different approach, which is fine (and plus, too, she also had a resident with her, and so I became a training opportunity, which I don’t mind). Next doc I saw was pretty hard-and-fast about concussions and what I could or couldn’t do. Today’s doc kinda bridged all of the above, and we talked about some of the risks I could/should take, and came up with a plan to move forward.

I’ve been put on half-days at work, plus a host of other restrictions (no running, no contact sports, etc). I tried putting in a couple of hours at the office today but in the end it was a bit much, so I went back to that space of lowered stimuli and just let my brain rest for a while this afternoon, which helped tremendously.

Rest is a weapon.

Bonk!

I wrote earlier about challenges of writing at night, and how the 9pm brain varied from the 6am brain. While that maxim holds true, I discovered an additional layer to this one over the course of this week.

I love playing hockey. From the time that I got posted to Edmonton, I have been lucky enough to have picked up the sport as an adult, to find acceptance from my teammates, and to be able, even if for just 90 minutes at a time, to focus on nothing else but trying to stay alive and in the moment.

On Monday night, during league play, in the last 5-10 minutes of the game, I was back in the faceoff circle, having a great time occasionally winning draws and garnering laughs from my opponent as we tried to outfox one another. On this particular play, he won (and rightly so), but in doing so, I ended up taking a blow to the head, and my neck twisted sharply to the left. I heard some crunching noises, and I will admit it didn’t feel great, but it wasn’t enough to prevent me from finishing my shift, or the game, and I thought nothing of it. It was a hard-fought game against our divisional rivals, and I played harder than I have in a while. When I got home, the usual muscle soreness had kicked in. A soak in the hot tub and a shower, and off to bed for me.

In the morning, I woke to neck soreness (not unexpected), so I decided to take myself to the clinic and get checked out. Besides, my back had been giving me grief from so much air travel over the last few months.

I walked in and had a chat with the Med Tech who was on duty that day, and the words out of my mouth were “I don’t think I have a concussion, I just wrenched my neck”. He went along with that, and I got a referral to physio. Doc commented that “age and responsibility are starting to catch up with [me]” and we left it at that.

I went to work, and proceeded to have a terrible couple of rehearsals, first with my own group, the other with the UVic group. Lots of confusion, stupid mistakes on my part. I was also very fatigued. This fatigue carried on through the next couple of days. Concurrent to this, food started tasting different (or not at all). By Thursday, I remarked to Kristy that the broccoli that we’d eaten didn’t really taste like broccoli – texturally, it felt like broccoli, but the flavour wasn’t there. I could taste certain things (soy, garlic) but not others (fresh, raw veggies). She said “hmm, sounds like you’re concussed.”

Come morning, I took myself back to the clinic, saw the same Med Tech and started explaining my symptoms. He did a check and the military concussion protocol, and his assessment off the top was that I was concussed. He needed to confer with the doc to see how we’d proceed. My usual doc wasn’t available, and so I got the tag-team of one of the other docs and her resident. He was very, very thorough, and I ended up going through a much more in-depth concussion protocol and discovered that my balance was off, and that my short-term memory was fried.

The recommendation was to send me to the hospital for a head CT. I was barred from driving, so I had my best friend come pick me up and cart me over to VGH, where I got poked, prodded, IV’d, and finally sent for a contrast CT. Thankfully, the CT scan came up mostly clean and I was sent home with instructions to go back to the doctor on Monday.

Things are definitely up-and-down for me right now. It feels largely like I’ve got a wet blanket over my brain, and certain activities are more difficult than others right now. I just rewired a telephone jack in my kitchen and it took way more brain power than it ought to have in order to just make the colours line up appropriately. Conversely, the music side of my brain doesn’t seem to be affected. I’ve still got my dexterity, I still can play. Today I’ll attempt some score studying and conducting practice and see how that translates between the visual and the physical.

Suffice to say, I’m off hockey for a while. Just at a time when my fitness was getting back to where I feel it belongs, that’s taking a sideline, too. Challenge for the next couple of weeks is going to be to heal, and to find ways to stay active while doing so.

If any of you, dear readers, have any advice on how to maintain fitness while dealing with a concussion, I’m all ears (even if they’re ringing). Leave a comment or track me down on social media.

30-day Writing Challenge – Day 30!

I made it! I’ve definitely learned a few things along the way, but the fact that I got through all 30 days, and did so on a schedule, generally planned out, is a pretty major thing in my books.

Today’s topic:

Your highs and lows for the month.

There have definitely been a bit of both for me, but this month has been a net-positive one for me.

Definitely in the positives department would be the lightning-fast 5k I did at Formation Run last week. 20:48 for a 5k is something I’ve only ever dreamed about, and to be able to pull it off was a huge win.

Also good this month are the conducting opportunities I’ve had and will continue to see into next month with UVic. Things are starting to come together in that department, and after Midwest, I’ve had a good period of personal growth with how I translate to the group.

I’ve worked hard, too, to be more organized, to plan my day deliberately, and I’ve had good success there. This writing challenge formed part of that – I committed to writing for around half an hour a day, and I succeeded, for the most part.

As my doctor said to me this week, “age and responsibilities are starting to catch up with you”. I’ve been feeling fatigued, and worse still, I’ve had this ache in my back for weeks now that just won’t go away. On top of that, my tinnitus is particularly prominent right now, so much so that I’ve got a touch of concern as to whether I’ll be able to continue in this line of work for much longer (hearing protection is a thing but I’ve yet to find some that work well enough).

30-day Writing Challenge – Day 29

What are your goals for the next 30 days?

While not an exhaustive list, here’s a few things I’ll be working on over the next month:

  • Successfully conducting UVic Wind Symphony and Naden Band in concert
  • Getting contracts and contractors in place to replace the flooring in my house
  • Having a great visit with my parents and sister
  • Finishing the touch-ups on my arm
  • Trying to get a 21:00 5k as a solo endeavour

30-day Writing Challenge – Day 28

Post five things that make you laugh out loud.

  • Joking around with Kristy. My gosh, our brains, when they get together, we say and do some funny stuff. We’ve had so many days or nights where our sides ache because we’ve been laughing so hard.
  • The Haribo Sugar-Free Gummy Bear Reviews. If you need to laugh so hard that you’ll cry, this is it.
  • My own stupidity – I don’t mean this in a demeaning way, but sometimes I can really say or do some dumb stuff, and it’s nice to be able to have a laugh at my own expense to try and defuse things.
  • My kids – as they gain in age, they get so much funnier, especially as they try and navigate adult language.
  • Dark humour. Sometimes, my job can feel bleak – having to make crummy decisions or deliver bad news is not my favourite thing, but to actually get to try and inject a little humour into situations allows me to become Dark Chief, and he’s a pretty funny guy.

30-day Writing Challenge – Day 27

Write about something that’s kicking ass right now.

I had a great moment on Friday. I got up, got my gear together, hopped on my bike, and rode to work. Once there, I switched into my running gear and made my way to Y-jetty on the base, where the crowds were gathering for the Formation 5k run. It was the first of these that I’d attended, though I’ve seen the masses doing them for a long, long time.

After a little stretching and some waiting, the gun went off, I started my tunes, and I launched into the throng of runners.

Through the gates to the Naden side, down the hill past the entrance to the main Naden gate, up the hill past the gym and Nelles block, down past the MP shack, around behind the CAF TU(BC) building, past my work and the drill shed, down the hill past the main gate again, back through Y-jetty’s gate, along the MOG 4 lines, past RP Ops, FMF, clothing stores, the back alleys near the Admiral’s house, around Duntz Head, then retrace back to Y-jetty.

Kyle was acting kinda like my pace bunny. He got a jump on me and spent most of the run 100-200m ahead of me.

I was astonished when I crossed the line and saw my time.

Before we get to that, let me talk a little about how I got into running.

When I was a kid, there wasn’t a ton of money going around, and bless their hearts, my parents worked hard to provide for us. Unfortunately, that meant that we didn’t always get the best kinds of footwear, and more often than not, I got shoes that were either ill-fitting or ill-suited to my feet, and it hurt. The doc made noises that I had patellafemoral syndrome (which, after some later research, definitely didn’t turn out to be the case). Turns out all I needed was some proper footwear.

Flash forward to 2011, when I got posted back to the Army in Edmonton. First thoughts through my head were “oh yeah, these guys run. I guess I should start running, too” (followed quickly by “oh yeah, these guys play hockey, I guess I should play hockey, too,” but that’s a different post). Slowly, and I mean slowly, I started running. 2.5km here, 3-4km there, around 6:30/km. Not with any real intent or purpose, but more just to do it.

In 2014, when I went to Borden for my conducting course, I started picking it up a little more. 6km runs, starting to edge downward into that 5:30/km range. Speed started picking up. The runs started to feel a little different, more like I could actually do them.

Late in 2014, when things really started to go south, I relied heavily on running and hockey to keep me sane and alive. I would run out my frustrations, anger, and sadness, and my times really started to improve. My dad used to always tell me that he could run faster mad than I could scared, and I started to see this in my times. For the first time, I broke a 25-minute 5k run. In 2015, my mission became to not run a 5k in more than 25 minutes (which I’ve largely managed to stick to).

My half-marathon escapade was fairly well-documented and at that point, I was consistently running 4:45/km or better over the short distances.

My 5k had kinda plateaued. The distance work was still going really well, but through a combination of circumstance and lack of training, I was *doing* 5k runs, and they were good, but I just wasn’t going anywhere with my times.

Flash back to Y-jetty and crossing the line. Remember how I was shocked when I saw the time?

20:48.

Previously, I hadn’t broken the 22-minute barrier for running. My best was around 22:14 for a 5k. I had completely destroyed my best time over that distance.

While running, I knew I was running fast and hard. My body was telling me this was a pace it wasn’t used to, or particularly comfortable with, and coupled with hills, it was a real slog in some places. Looking at the splits and the GPS, though, I didn’t slow past 4:45/km, and spent a reasonable amount of time hovering on either side of 4:00/km.

Running has given me a real sense of freedom. It’s done wonderful things for my mental health, fantastic things for my body, and better still, I’m starting to run with my daughter, who proudly declared that she understood what a runner’s high was after doing her first couple of runs.

So yeah, running. That’s a good thing.

Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy at University of Victoria in Victoria on 02/08/16

30-day Writing Challenge – Day 26

Write an area about your life that you’d like to improve.

I look at where I was four years ago when my life kinda blew up and the kind of progress that I’ve made, and I’m fairly astounded at the progress. The progress part we’ll get to tomorrow, but for today, I’m going to have a go at an area I’d like to improve on.

Time management is an area where I’ve really, really struggled over time. I have always had the capacity to get lots of shit done, but I’ve never had the organizational wherewithal to make it happen. I have been less good at prioritizing tasks, and definitely not good at making time for myself.

I’m as guilty (or more) as the next person of losing hours on social media. I have to admit that the Screen Time function in the recent iOS update was a very telling thing, and it’s caused me to think about my own screen time. I’ve had a couple of periods where my social media consumption patterns changed – focus more on Instagram, less on Facebook, less time reading the news, times where I’m off the grid completely. Lately, the trend has been ticking downward. I’m still spending north of an hour and a half on my phone every day, but a good chunk of that is text messaging, thankfully. FB and its politicized drivel is pushing me away, and Instagram, well, the photos are cool from time to time, but it’s often just mindless.

Not spending time on social media gives me some time to do other things, like read, or take up writing (ahem). Maybe even spend more time doing things like score study, and practicing. Things I’ve maybe subconsciously been avoiding over time.

I’m making inroads through planning out my days/weeks/months, looking at over-arching projects and tasks I need to take care of, and trying to not get overwhelmed by the day-to-day things that are (or aren’t) getting done around here.

The B-side to my time management issues also tie in with my natural tendency towards slovenliness in my household. Admittedly, I’m doing much better than I ever have, but it’s tough, too, when I have three extra humans in the house who consume and don’t necessarily do much in return other than leave messes for me to clean up. I’m not great at ensuring their tasks get completed, and they know that they can just put up a fight and eventually I’ll just do it myself, sometimes angrily. Nobody is winning in this situation.

Tomorrow’s topic of conversation is the opposite of today’s – the discussion of things that are going really well for me right now. I much prefer focusing on positives.

As an aside, I really notice a difference in trying to write at 9pm vs. writing at 6am. I’m SO much fresher first thing in the morning. Right now, the words are there, but it’s pretty noisy in my head from a day’s worth of input. With this post, it took a good half an hour to get going, and this after agonizing somewhat over yesterday’s post.

30-day Writing Challenge – Day 25

Think of any word. Search for it on Google Images. Write something about the 11th image.

Anxiety and ADHD have really taken the forefront of my oldest child’s life. The anxiety portion, while undiagnosed in me, is something that I’ve dealt with for an awfully long time. Most of the time I can keep a lid on things, but this image really sums up quite nicely how I feel when I get trapped into an anxious thought.

I see this most prominently in Elijah though, and he’s been having a large number of anxious days. He’s not been getting the kind of help that he needs, and it’s been a tremendous struggle for everybody involved, especially us as his parents. It affects everything for him – his ability to function, relationships, work, school – and it’s problematic for everyone around him as his behaviours are really disruptive.

Having Kristy in the scene, though, is helpful, as she’s dealt with a tremendous amount of anxiety on her own, and has found ways to deal with it in a manner that it doesn’t affect her nearly as bad as it once did.

The next big question surrounds medication and additional therapy to help him sort out his ability to function in a way that will see him prosper. One day at a time…

30-day Writing Challenge – Day 24

Write about a lesson you learned the hard way.

Probably the toughest thing to learn is to try and tackle fears head-on. My instincts for self-preservation through life are deeply rooted in fear. One of it comes down to vanity and the desire to maintain what meagre standing I have in the world, as nobody likes to be seen as the person who doesn’t know or who comes across as an idiot. The other side also delves into relationships, where fear can prevent growth in so many ways.

On the learning side, when I was much younger, I was at once brimming over with ideas, and on the other side, completely terrified of demonstrating what I knew (or didn’t know) about the basics. I hated opening my mouth and asking questions, because I had natural talent, and therefore would not want to look like a fool for asking a question to which I didn’t already know the answer. Completely stupid, yes. One special side skill that came from this, though, was the ability to quickly extrapolate information from incomplete data sets. Later in life, I’ve been able to use this to good effect to keep pace of conversation in a room full of people I don’t know discussing things I have no idea about in the military (or musical) context. I’m better able to keep pace and track what’s happening. It still comes up, though, where I’m in a room full of near-academics and I’m just not in my element. It’s uncomfortable, and that’s the point where I just hang back and listen. Listening is key.

On the relationship side, I just didn’t ever deal with issues, and that in turn spiraled things out of control. Much like with educational fear, I had places that in my mind I wanted to go, but was afraid to communicate with partners for fear that I would be deemed unlovable, and end up alone, which would then spin off into its own kind of special hell. I would often not deal with issues (“put my head in the sand” as was told to me), but I would also know that a situation could be remedied over time through patience. I got through a good decade and a half of not dealing with stuff before it all came crashing down on me. Therapy helped a lot. Having good friends, and now, a partner with whom I share even the deepest, darkest secrets, is tremendous.

Letting go of fear has allowed me to give love and receive love better. It’s also the scariest shit I’ve ever done in my entire life.