[BLOG POST] Rehab of the everyday – Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind

Rehab of the everyday

Source: W.I.P.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought, lately, to my recovery. I’m going to call it a recovery, because I do feel that’s what’s been taking place with me over the past years. I know that some ascribe to the idea that an injured brain cannot fully reverse its damage — what’s lost is lost. But I’m not entirely convinced. And I hope I never will be. As long as there is a shred of hope that the functionality I once had can be restored, I’m sticking with that.

One of the big reasons I’m sticking with the concept of recovery is what I’ve read about individuals who have sustained serious — even catastrophic — brain injuries, through stroke or accidents, and still came back to do amazing things. There’s the story I’ve read about the man in his 60’s who suffered a stroke, and then worked his way back from not being able to even crawl, to hiking and doing mountain climbing regularly — to the point where his final hours before he died were actually spent mountain climbing. When they autopsied his brain, it was discovered that the  region responsible for motor control had been severely damaged and 97% of the nerves that run from the cerebral cortex to the spine had been destroyed.

Yet, he managed to work his way back after a year to teaching full-time at the college level, and he remarried, kept working and hiking and traveling.

His brain and nervous system had sustained tremendous damage. Yet, he was able to get back on track and on with his life.

He recovered — his functionality, his participation in life, his physical capabilities… things and activities he desired and loved to do. He may not have been “the same person” he was before the stroke (not knowing him, it’s impossible to say), but he nevertheless restored his life to a fullness  that most — with or without brain injury — would value.

What struck me about this recovery, which I read in Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself, is how he worked his way back — with the help of others — through doing the everyday things. Learning to crawl after paralysis… then learning to walk again. Learning to type, one finger at a time, then with a whole hand. Bit by bit, gradually, with determination and consistency, he worked his way back. And he eventually ended up mountain climbing at 9,000 feet in Columbia, where he had a heart attack and died not long after.

I contemplate that man’s example, and I wonder how I can apply it to my life. I also see how my path runs parallel to his — despite what’s happened to me, despite the injuries and the setbacks, despite the false-starts and disappointments, I keep going. And I keep intent on my life. The thing with me is to not dwell so intently on my injuries or my difficulties, as I did before. The thing with me is to not get caught up in constantly second-guessing myself and trying to sort out what went wrong. I did that for years — decades, even. And all it got me was more self-doubt and insecurity. Now I have a much better understanding about the true nature of my difficulties, and I can see past the cloud of confusion and doubt, and focus on the goals, rather than the difficulties.

And in focusing on the goals, in focusing on the step-by-step process of getting from one place to the next, going from one phase of my progress to the next with deliberate mindfulness, I find myself getting better and better at the business of living my life. It’s like starting out with anything new — you have to really pay close attention to little details and little signs and signals, in order to refine and develop your technique. It’s like beginning a new sport — you have to pay such careful attention to your form and technique, sometimes for years and years, before you finally get to a place of mastery.

I’ve read that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. 10,000 of focused attention and practice on what it is you do. That’s 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for about 5 years. Or 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, for about 10 years. That number is pretty widely agreed upon, and it’s the figure I’m using for my own purposes. In my case, it’s been over 5 years since my last injury, and I haven’t devoted 10,000 consistent hours to my recovery. I only really started focusing on it — realizing what it was — a couple of years ago. So, I’m feeling a bit behind. But I can’t let it get me down.

No, I need to just keep on keeping on. The things I want to re-learn and/or recover — my composure, my ability to manage my anger in positive, productive ways, my interactions with others, my ability to sustain relationships with people I care about, my ability to stay with a job, even when I’m getting pulled in a hundred different directions… those things take practice. It’s like starting over, in some ways — except that in some cases I never really had a first starting place. Those abilities never got fully and consistently developed with me, since I’ve had so many injuries throughout my childhood, youth, and adulthood. Arrested development? Perhaps.

But you know what? I’m still here. And I’m still willing to work to get to the place where I want to be. It’s tiring, often boring, frustrating, irritating work. But the payoff is huge. I want to recover the things I’ve lost — composure, focus, regular sleep and rest, physical fitness and strength — and it’s going to take work.

So, I’ll work. {shrug} I’ll pay close, even rapt, attention to the little things, put myself in situations that stretch me and teach me about myself, and I’ll leave time to recover, as well. I’ll treat this like any other sort of training — athletic training, especially — and follow the same guidelines I followed when I was first learning to run races and throw the javelin in track. You have to start somewhere, and it’s no good to blame yourself for not being an expert when you’re just starting out. Like it or not, in many ways, I am just starting out with recovering things I’ve lost. Patience is key. Yes, patience.

It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. In the end, I get what I pay for.

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