Category Archives: Life

Writing Around A Concussion

From a writing perspective, I have been silent and unproductive over the past year, although it’s been particularly bad for the past 6 months. This is due to experiencing Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS) from a concussion I received FIVE years ago.

In 2012 I fell while skiing (and yes, I was wearing a helmet) giving myself a nasty bump on the head. For the next few weeks, I did the bare minimum — which, when you have three kids, is still significant. I off-loaded laundry to the kids (which they still do to this day) and made simple meals, and took a lot of naps, outsourced carpooling, etc.

I couldn’t work. I’m a writer and consultant during my day job but had to pretty much stop for six months. During the first three months I couldn’t look at a computer screen without feeling nauseous, but perhaps even scarier was that I couldn’t form sentences in my head. It’s a bit of a problem for a writer.

On top of all that, I began experiencing migraines. I’d had two in my life before the fall. As I started getting back into an exercise routine, I noticed that each time I exercised I got a migraine within 24 hours. Concussion protocol is to stop anything that gives you symptoms for at least a week, better two, and then try again at a lower level.

Over the next four years, although I slowly improved physically and was able to get back to a normal exercise routine, I still suffered from migraines. I figured it was just “that time in my life” as my mother told me that my grandmother had suffered from migraines during menopause.

I tried everything to get rid of them and lead a more normal life. I saw a neurologist who prescribed all kinds of medication to prevent them from coming on or make them less severe. Nothing worked except the medication to alleviate the pain once I had one. I saw a physiotherapist (several, actually), acupuncturist, cranial-sacral therapist, massage therapist, my family doctor, a nurse-practitioner who put me on hormone cream, my gynecologist, a naturopath and finally a sports psychologist. At least you can’t say I’m suffering without doing anything about it!

Each of these professionals, while good at what they do, felt that there was nothing more they could do and that my migraines were no longer concussion-related. It was discouraging because I knew they were a result of the concussion and that there was still something wrong with my brain.

The migraines are debilitating. When I get them and can’t stop them, they last at least 5 hours and then it takes me another day to recover from the episode.

By early 2016, I was having migraines that lasted for three weeks. A dull pain that rotated around my head, never staying in one place very long, just enough to make me lose my concentration and patience with anyone who crossed my path.

A friend of mine is a doctor and she told me that one of her patients who also had continuous migraines took gluten out of her diet and later turned out to be celiac. Maybe I should give it a go. As much as I love my sweets and bread, I was ready to try anything.

Lo and behold, for about three months I was headache-free! I felt amazing! I exercised, I was patient, happy, pain-free! I could write and concentrate!…..and then, they came back.

I had started tracking the migraines in a journal and noted that I seemed to get them after exercise – again! I felt like I was right back to the beginning of my concussion journey four years earlier. I stopped exercising. I cut out dairy. The headaches went away. But, it wasn’t really a way to live. Plus, I couldn’t understand the diet-concussion connection. It didn’t make any sense to me.

The worst was, when I told people that it all went back to the concussion, most people would look at me with disbelief or disdain like I didn’t know what I was talking about. It makes you feel stupid —  like you aren’t diagnosing your own symptoms properly.

I got progressively worse through the fall of 2016. I could eat very little without triggering a migraine, I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t even drown my sorrows….and I couldn’t write. Producing articles was painful, there was something about the thought process that wasn’t working for me.

Finally, through friends and referrals, I found a health professional who actually looks at the brain damage as opposed to just the symptoms. I was encouraged when one of the referrers acknowledged that I wasn’t making it all up, but that my concussion hadn’t been treated properly at the time of the trauma and that’s why the symptoms had come back. The thing I’ve noticed about concussions is that all the health professionals treat what they are best at, but no one puts it all together and goes back to the original source of the symptoms. I was checked for a hematoma and nerve damage, the physiotherapists treated my skeletal and muscular issues, the neurologist just wants to give me meds to deal with the pain instead of addressing why I get the pain in the first place. No one seemed to think that brain damage was an issue, although by definition, that’s what a concussion is.

The health professional I’m currently seeing says there is absolutely a brain-gut link – what you eat will affect how you feel, and he’s given me the studies to back up the claims.

It’s a slow process and given my experience with professionals from both the alternative medical track and the traditional medical track, I’m not holding my breath, but I’ve started to notice very small improvements – for one thing, writing is becoming easier again.

 

The Ultimate Deadline

St. Andrew's by the Sea, New Brunswick, (Marriott Hotel)

St. Andrew’s by the Sea, New Brunswick, (Marriott Hotel)

I was horribly shy growing up. I hated meeting new people as I was terrible at starting conversations. I worried about what I would say, whether I looked “normal,” etc. By normal, I mean, Did I blend in? Standing out is something I was never interested in. My motto was: “Don’t make waves, just stay in the background.” I have always been comfortable with that — sure there are no accolades, but there is also no criticism. All of that is fine unless you want to do something with your life, like write, for instance. Anything except for journaling needs an audience, and that means putting yourself out there — your work will be criticized (which means YOU will be criticized), but hopefully your work will also be liked by your target audience. Art as self-expression is a double-edged sword. Until you are confident enough to accept that what you do won’t ever be liked by everyone, you should probably be happy keeping it to yourself or your family.

As I approached the golden age of 50 not too long ago, I figured I was fine with the whole ‘getting older’ thing. My husband had had a particularly hard time with it –but  I believed I went through my “mourning lost youth” period when I turned 39. On the morning of my 39th birthday, I balled my eyes out.

About a month before my 50th birthday, however, my perspective changed. I couldn’t believe I was turning 50. Where had my 40s gone? What had I accomplished on a personal level? Yes, raising three kids is important and I treasure all the time I spent with them — (a lot of it in hockey arenas cheering them on) — but if I want to get stuff done, I’d better start now. I have a few measly decades to accomplish things and when I turn 60, I don’t want to look back at my 50s with regret wondering where the time went.  So, what does a mother do when she has a ton of things she wants to do and doesn’t know where to start? She makes a list of course!

Not only did I make a list, but I also broke it down by year so I knew who was — in theory — doing what, when and what kind of free time that would leave me.

A lot of my list revolves around traveling, and that involves both money and time — two things I’m still short on. I anticipated that problem for the first few years of my 50s, so I put smaller travel goals in there (ie., go to New Brunswick for a holiday — check! St. Andrew’s by the Sea, 2014. Beautiful, I might add). There are non-travel things I want to accomplish too: write three novels before I’m 60.

So, here’s the thing: I have been dicking around for years with my fiction writing, not paying any attention to time. But I always thought that “someday” I would publish something. But when the looming deadline of death rears its head, you realize you haven’t got all the time in the world and it’s time to stop caring about what other people think, and start caring about what YOU want to get out of life.

This new look on life has been absolutely freeing. Not that I plan on deliberately making a fool out of myself so practice and continuous improvement are a part of this plan, but I no longer worry about how I will react if someone doesn’t like something I’ve written. I have a mission, and fulfilling it to the best ability I can, is the most important part of it.

I am almost three years into this new plan. For the past two years, just before my birthday I pull out my To Do list and review it, wondering if I have been able to tick off a few goals and take a look at what I have planned for the coming year. So far, I have accomplished most of the goals I laid out for myself for the first two years. There are some that were on the list that no longer interest me, so they got crossed off. There are others I’ve added as new interests develop.

The key to this list is having a “deadline.” It has helped me accomplish things that I have been pushing aside due to fear of (negative) judgment or sticking out. Artists already know this and they must have a gene that helps them launch forward in the face of possible public criticism. But for the rest of us with hidden artistry beneath, we have to realize that it’s more about rising to a personal challenge than pleasing everyone. With that attitude, you can develop the confidence to try things you never thought you could.

The longest tennis match in history

If you’re a tennis nut like I am, you might not forget the famous match played by John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010. It was played over three days and the final score 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7–9), 7–6(7–3), 70–68 for a total of 183 games. see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isner%E2%80%93Mahut_match_at_the_2010_Wimbledon_Championships.

I am sure that this game was the basis for Seven Days in Hell, an upcoming HBO program that has one of my faves, Andy Samberg, playing an André Agassi-like character (at least in terms of hair) vs. a vacuous Brit played by Kit Harington. There are appearances by Serena Williams, Chris Everett, John McEnroe, etc..

July 11, 10pm, on HBO.

This ought to be fun!!

 

Jesse the blind dog

 

As Harris passed Jesse, she faced the wall across from the goat and sheep pens, her nose about six inches away from it, wagging her tail. Harris just looked down at her, then followed Tom. “What’s with your dog?”
Tom looked at Jesse, wagging her tail, staring at the wall.
“Come on Jess! Over here!” Jesse looked in Tom’s direction and the bounded towards him, tongue flopping about. “Slow down girl!” He put his hands out to stop her, but she crashed into his legs anyway. He patted her and she whimpered, while he grunted, since she’d crashed straight into Tom’s shin. “She was born with congenital cataracts. She’s been blind since she was two.”

So then you would be her seeing-eye…family?”

“Pretty much. Generally she copes well on her own, it’s just she’s still not very good at judging distances, so she tends to crash into things. Like my legs.” Now Jesse was staying close to Tom’s side. “There’s not a lot of gray matter in there either.”

Excerpt from A Vintage Year

Why bother making things up when life can bring you interesting ideas? One of the minor characters in my book is a blind black labrador named Jesse. We humans don’t often come across handicapped animals, especially dogs all that often. In fact, normally it’s the other way around and they look after us.

One of my friends had a dog that was born with congenital cataracts and gradually lost her sight starting at the age of 2. The vet told the family that he could operate but that they would just grow back. The dog was happy and managed pretty darn well without sight for the rest of her life. It was funny watching her sometimes, wagging her tail, staring at a wall. If you didn’t know she was blind, you kind of looked at her like she maybe didn’t have all her marbles. She adjusted to her lack of sight very well, comfortable going for walks even in the city. You had to tell her where the sidewalk curbs were, but other than that, she coped just fine.

She was a great dog with a gentle temper who led a long and happy life. She died not too long ago of old age.