Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How To Change Your Mind

I was reading a blog post at around the same time I was doing my recovery-from-brain-injury homework (see post on "Post-concussive Mud") and something clicked. Not sure one or the other alone would have done more than skim off the surface of my "this doesn't really fit" filter for getting better.

But together? Wow. Something happened, a door unlocked, and I saw a new path that led further down the road to healing.

Also further away from the "old me," the one who I'd been trying so hard to get back to, but that's part of the revelation. She's gone, and that's okay. Who I am now and who I become are what matter.

So here's the article if you're curious: "To Change Your Life, Change Your Mind"

And here's the book I was using for homework: Back in Control by David Hanscom.

I think the article outlines the general principles of the book in a non-pain-related context, which is what I needed. I have had chronic back pain at times so I could relate, but I was using the exercises in the book as a treatment for Post-concussive Syndrome (PCS) and there was slippage for me between the two frameworks.

I'd tried other mind-body approaches that said they applied to a broad range of problems but were still focused almost entirely on how pain becomes detached from its physical cause. A good example is phantom limb pain, which lasts or recurs after the injured limb is amputated and can be just as excruciating as the original injury. Homework in these books and programs circled around the core issues that seem to set a chronic pain loop into motion, with the underlying assumption that addressing root psychological conflicts (like depression and grief over a traumatic loss) will lessen and even eliminate symptoms.

Alan Gordon does a great job explaining why people with identical imaging studies of their back will have completely divergent experiences with pain and how the key to breaking the link is training your brain not to fall for the bait. Sure, you had a herniated disc. Yes, it hurt like hell. But if the pain alarm is still blaring months later, that may be more about the alarm than the disc. If the alarm's stuck on "high" and the injury itself is down to "low," getting the two aligned takes some work.

Mostly this involves cognitive strategies like the ones Gordon lays out in his self-guided TMS Recovery Program but also a close look at how your body has learned to handle stress (using something like Harold Schubiner's MBS Worksheet from his Unlearn Your Pain book), as well as with mind-body integration practices (like meditation) that improve your physical and emotional awareness and the junctures where one might be affecting the other.

All of this applies in general to PCS once the brain injury has stabilized, even without chronic pain from headaches. Why? Because we're human and this is how we roll--we hide emotions in some pretty weird parts of our body (and some not-so-weird, like muscles in our neck or jaw). Digging those out doesn't always feel worth the effort, which is fine, but then the physical aches and pains start to multiply and become debilitating. The only way to have full control of our bodies and minds is to find all the hidden links between the two and snip them. Then we feel our emotions no matter how much we'd rather not, experience them as distinctly different from illness or injury, and find effective ways to feel better. No more panic attacks that feel like heart attacks. No more rage ulcers, or binging to fill an emotional void. All really good.

But would PCS symptoms go away? Are they driven more by emotions than structural damage within the brain? And if not, if there are (like most of us with the disorder would testify) fundamental changes in the way we think, react, sense and feel after a serious or series of TBI's that are mostly caused by structural damage, then would MBS strategies help anyway? Conventional MBS treatment says no, that if you believe any of your symptoms have a physical cause then you will not benefit. You get better only once you convince yourself that the symptoms are fully within your control.

The thing is, I believe both, and in treatments like DBT this is expected. The DBT twin mantras are "you're doing the best you can" and "you can do better." That's the dialectic that gives you control when your're facing a towering problem. It also helps when disentangling which PCS symptoms are most amenable to change. There's always something you can do to change the situation for better, or even worse.

But I prefer better, and the steps outlined in the book and Back in Control website have done me the most good, by far. To show you how, I'm going to do a much shorter ;) daily "Mind Change" post every day in October, starting tomorrow, in the hope that it will help you too.

See you then.

Love, Lisa

Monday, September 21, 2015

My first and best birthday present

When I was growing up my mom Lucie was flat-out outmatched by my brother Kevin and I. My dad would come home from work and night school and she'd be too tired to speak--we'd worn her out. Though we were born ten months apart we functioned like twins and would tag-team her to get what we wanted. Pacifiers hidden between our patterned couch cushions seemed to be our holy grail but we went for seconds on desserts, another bedtime story, extra time in the apartment complex pool--whatever we could get.

My mother was not a disciplinarian. She admits she had no idea how to raise kids, and although she was terrified at times of her ignorance, she never charged down to the library to take a book out either. Instead she winged it, easy-going and social, chatting up the other moms at the pool or the trike thruway in the hallway if we made her delay naps a little longer. We did, after all, siesta for hours every afternoon until we started kindergarten, or so she tells the story. She couldn't deny us much because we were huge and enormously cute. Willful. Creative. Tandem Terrors.

We loved her with a fierce kind of loyalty that has never faded, because that's how she loved us. Like even in total hellion mode we amused her and gave her tiny shivers of joy.  We were reckless; I lost most of my front teeth doing flips from that flowered couch, but that kind of daring came from her first. She was the first mom I knew to get an "inch cut" at the hairdresser's, and tried out three or fours (was it six?) kinds of jobs figuring out what to do with her sociology degree.

In the 60's she regularly dragged her two fifty-pound babies in a carriage down to the Washington Mall during the Poor People's Campaign to help feed those living in the mud city. In the 70's she taught Head Start, and sold real estate and worked as a bank teller and even when she was tired she'd take us to the beach after work because she loved the water and wanted us to be strong swimmers. Of course we were. Kevin lifeguarded summers and I was a swim team captain, not because she expected it, but because she encouraged us to try something she loved.

In the 80's she became a credit union manager, and then president. A single mom with a busy career but she called us on the phone all afternoon if she thought we were fighting. Told us to cut it out, over and over. Then forgot all that and came home and kissed us and made dinner and asked about our days.

Most kids would resist her but anything she asked when she cupped my face and kissed me I would pretty much give her flat-out. She had a way of showing her love and not asking for much in return that was highly effective. I still can't keep a secret from her, even when her expression says she doesn't want to know.

She taught us how to read emotions because her face was so open. Laughing loud when she was happy, slitting her eyes when she was pissed in a look that never scared us but did get our attention. Blank when she felt defeated so we wouldn't worry, reserved when she was generous shopping because money was never-quite-there. When she was fed-up she had the perfect "fuck-it" flip of her chin. On a bad day she sometimes needed a hug herself.

Am I like this too? Yup, pretty much, coach. Same game, just a variations on plays.

Until all the patterns are set as an adult you never see how much of your life is that of an imprinted duckling, making minor detours but largely following right behind whichever duck or swan claims you. So on the day I was born I know Lucie felt lucky but life actually works in reverse. That day I was given a whip-smart, scared shitless, miracle of a mom as my guide to life.

Today's her birthday. How could I ever top that gift?

I found her a card that played Louis Armstrong singing "What A Wonderful World" and made her a lemon cake and gave her an elephant lamp. Kevin brought chili dogs and beer to her big family picnic and gave her a sweatshirt with his son's baseball number and name for when she's in the stands. She cried like she always does, so so happy with such thoughtful gifts and to have us living nearby with our families and that we're still such good kids.

Seriously, Mom, how else could we turn out?

But you're welcome of course, because yes, you taught us manners.

Happy Birthday, Lucille Elizabeth Allen Creane Paladino

From one lucky girl to her mother

Love, Lisa