Stress & My “Wheat Baby”

Life gets away from us. More than anyone with an uninjured brain, those of us with modified brains can attest to that. Stress and lifestyle have a HUGE negative impact on your body’s neurological function. So, for the injured or atypical brain that is already at risk of overwhelm because of decreased function, the lifestyle details of food and activity and overall psychological wellness are incredibly significant. The main problem being, of course, that anyone with an altered brain is likely less able to attend to these details. It’s a “catch 22” so-to-speak.

This has been my life for coming up on 22yrs. Ironic that the number matches up. As I think I’ve mentioned in the blog before, my brain injury causes problems with executive function – that involves the brain’s ability to plan and organize. It’s not that I can’t do those things, it’s more a matter of the quantity of energy it takes to do them. And of course, every day requires that I perform these types of functions in some capacity.

So, here I am…having found my rhythm finally, in work, in my social life, and in my home life. I’m saying “no” more often and getting better at communicating my needs, while honoring the needs of those around me. It’s a lot of back and forth, ups and downs, and “trial and error” really. That’s my life.

Along these lines, I’ve always struggled with boundaries. Knowing how much is too much or maybe not enough. Because of that, I’ve always struggled with my weight and physical composition (being consistent in any way). That, in turn, plays into my psychological insecurities and social struggles. Having found my stride in my late 20’s, early 30’s, I dropped a ton of weight, and began working on my psychological struggles with a brain injury psychologist. But then I had a series of unfortunate events (one after the other) with work and I lost my momentum altogether (“fell off the wagon”, you might say).

During that short time of success, I had been gathering all kinds of helpful knowledge about my health and neurological function. Thanks to those lessons from the brain-injury psychologist, I was aware enough to self-reflect and recognize what was happening to me as I fell further and further away from my healthy routines. The frustrating part, of course, was knowing what I needed to do but not having the energy or emotional strength to do what needed to be done.

When it comes to eating healthy and staying active, the ability to plan is essential. “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail” I believe is how they put it. With less time for myself, I’ve had less time for planning and prep, and less cognitive ability to handle my mental and emotional stresses. With high levels of stress comes higher levels of cortisol, and increased “off days” in the eating schedule. In fact, the cheat days become the average or regular occurrence instead of the once in a while “treat” that it started out to be. Hence, the “wheat baby” came back (note the “before picture on the left, below).

But, after some time away from the health and wellness world, I am finally stepping back in. I am almost a month into better lifestyle choices and I’m feeling much much better. I am prioritizing my psychological wellbeing, which has given me the strength and emotional focus to create better routines, which in turn sets me up for success in my eating and active lifestyle. I have discovered a healthy eating program that is scientifically proven to improve brain function and to show almost immediate results. And that’s what I’ve been needing for the psychological skill of “Mastery” – which is essentially just the momentum we experience as our brain experiences that feeling of accomplishment.

So here it is, folks…my first of the comparison photo series.  It’s hard to believe, but in both photos I am just standing in a relaxed position – I am not pushing my belly out in any way. This is me after 10 days of following the ketogenic diet (with a few exceptions), drinking more water and less coffee. I will continue to check in here with photos and reflections, as well as tips and tricks that I’m trying. Thanks for following along!

Brain Drain

Overwhelmed. Out of breath. Paralyzed. Cognitively drained. All brain processes have returned to auto-pilot or coping-strategy-mode. Emotions are high, physical strength is low. 

I’ve currently hit another low and have to take one day (even one MOMENT) at a time. Outings outside of work are fewer and farther between – if at all. Light and sound and movement are abrasive to the senses.

Social engagement is a lot of work and exceptionally draining. Though my face lights up with my auto-pilot smile and bright personality, on the inside my brain is working overtime to find the right words and put on the calm facade holding back the raging emotion which lies just below the surface. In the quiet moments of the morning, or as the day is ending, I can’t hold back the tears that bubble up from that same place. 
When I’m in my lowest of low places, this is my life – every day – struggling to figure out how I will pay my bills, struggling to look after my basic needs so that I can also look after some one else’s (for work and in my own home). I don’t want to have to think about anything or anyone. My brain just wants a break, a day to shut down completely and reboot. If only…

Happy Labouring Day!

Happy Labour Day, friends! While much of the city is having downtime, I am part of the other portion of the city who is still working away as if it was just another day. So far, my first bus ride on the new 25 route was a pleasure. The driver was very friendly, chatted with me about the new route and how he looked foreward to it. He said the drivers have been recommending a route from Masonville to Fanshawe for the last 4yrs, so it’s nice to finally see it happening. 

I grabbed my lunch, had a 45min break at home and then James and Gavin were on their way to see a movie at Masonville so they let me ride along. Now here I sit for a few minutes until my bus on the Express Route arrives. With a cursory look over the routes that I frequent, it looks as if most transfers on a normal day should be a 2-5minute wait (possibly 10 at the most). Though I need to transfer more often in some cases, in order for me to get from one end of the city to the other, it does appear that the wait times are shorter and therefore the overall trip is faster. Imagine what it will be with BRT! I’m excited!

I’m sure there will be kinks to iron out, but overall I am very excited for the betterment of our transit system. On my way home now I had to make sure to leave a few minutes earlier because my normal 19 bus route runs only once every hour on holidays. Luckily I have a boyfriend who is off work today and doesn’t mind picking me up at the mall. I’m hoping that even Sunday’s and holidays will be more accessible with the changes to come.

Change can be difficult, and sometimes painful, but in the end I trust that these things eventually work themselves out. I know there are many doubters out there, but I’m hoping that my experiences can lend a personalized perspective to the discussion. For this to be a great city, we need to be accessible for all – those with and without means for personal transportation, or those who are dependent on the public system. We are all in this together! 

Friendship

This morning Gavin and I had a conversation about God’s purpose for our lives. I explained that God gives us each special gifts and that those gifts are tied to our purpose for our lives. Sometimes we put our gifts to use in a job – like a teacher, or a leader of some sort. And sometimes are gifts are softer skills like encouragement and friendship. He responded with ways he tried to encourage his friends and the children his mother babysits. A very sweet response – I think he gets it.

Over the years, I have been struck by my journey of friendships and recently I’ve been reflecting again. In a way, I think that friendship is my spiritual gift. My youth leader, Mrs D., once told me that we have friends for many different purposes on our lives: some for short periods of time, others for longer, some for significant connections, and others for moments of encouragement or enlightenment, or even for teaching a lesson.

This has been a really important lesson in my life. I am a deep thinker and have often sought friends who are the same. Not only that, but I connect deeply and have sought others who seek likewise. But, as Mrs D advised, not all people are looking for that. Not everyone is capable of or needing such a connection. And that’s okay.

I’ve spent lots of time just appreciating the individuals in my life lately – acquaintances still in the “get-to-know-you” phase, old elementary school connections, the friends of friends I may have met at a party, and the ones who’ve connected on a deeper level over coffee and hours of chatting. And I truly do appreciate them all.

My struggle becomes a matter of priorities. Some people might not understand this, but I am an extraverted introvert. I have a loud voice – an uninhibited way about me – yet my true nature and being at the deepest level is that of an introvert. I HAVE to have alone time…and lots of it. I love people, but I don’t need or want to be surrounded by them all the time. I love my clients, but socializing all day for my job is thoroughly exhausting.

Now, add to my introversion a “catastrophic” level brain injury that significantly decreases energy and overall cognitive functioning levels, and now I’ve got quite the conundrum! So how does this relate to my blog on “friends”? Sadly, many people don’t understand or appreciate mental health challenges or brain injury struggles. It becomes tricky, then, to juggle the intricacies of friendship dynamics, the ongoing work of a romantic relationship and a blended family with Asperger Syndrom, and still manage my own survival. See what I mean yet? I might not be an ideal friend for some people because I have so much “stuff” that I often cocoon simply to survive.

Today a friend with a brain injury reminded me that “we are more loving & compassionate & open than most & that freaks some people out. Pray for her. There’s nothing unlovable about you. ❤️” Also…”I know London is a hard place to be sometimes but you really do give people a lot of hope. Amanda.. that is priceless. ❤️ Keep being you! You are making a huge difference in ways you’ll never know. ❤️”

These words of encouragement from a friend far away, but who “gets it”, were just what I needed today. And I’m reminded of Mrs. D’s adage from years back, that even if a new friend never does “get it”, THAT’S O.K! Friends will come and go. They will fill any number of various spaces in our life for a variety of different times. But in the end, no matter what, I know I can do as ‘Richard from Texas‘ suggests and send people light and love, be grateful for the space their friendship filled during the time that it existed, and then let them go.

Late summer reflections…

It’s starting to feel like fall already here in London, On. My boyfriend and I are preparing for my step-son’s new school year, and with it a transition back into routines and regularity. I love it!! 

Sitting here in the reflective mood that I’m in, I realized this morning that I am the same age right now that my mom was when I was and 15 riding in the front seat of my friend’s car on the fateful morning of my acquired brain injury. It just boggles my mind. I can’t imagine having 3 children, the oldest of whom is 15yrs old and in a car accident – let alone having children in high school! 

Life is such a funny thing. We live, we have expectations, we compare ourselves to those around us, and we strive to find meaning in our daily struggle. For some, there are more challenges than others. But, through it all, no matter the level of challenge, I believe we are all still left with the ultimate question of significance. Why are we here? What is the point of all of this anyway?

Spending time with seniors every day, perhaps I am faced with this reality more than most. Or perhaps it’s simply my reflective nature. Either way, this cool fall-feeling sunny morning has put me in a wonderful mood and crossing paths with an old friend on the bus this morning only served that same purpose.

I met with a newer friend last night and received some very uplifting words of encouragement through prayer. It reminded me of my significance in this world. And I was touched again by the impact my life (and struggle) has had on those around me. Therein I find my purpose. And on a grander scale I believe in a Higher Power at work directing it all.

Happy Friday, Friends! ❤️

#MultiModalTrial Perspective (Embrace the Suck)

So here I am, half way through my day, waiting for my bus with a soaking wet butt and grey skies overhead. The rain has stopped, thankfully, and I’ve had a chance to dry off. I told the women at the nursing home where my first client lived that I guess today’s the day I put one of my favourite “momisms” to the test: “You aren’t made of sugar – you won’t melt.”

I’ve had a few times this past week or two when my perspective was challenged. Today is one of them. As I zipped down the road on my bike in the steady but fairly light rain, I reflected on the fact that I COULD be standing in the rain at a bus stop. But I’d still be wet. And waiting for the bus meant that my day would be set back an extra hour or two (in addition to being wet) and I’d miss the opportunity for some activity (which my brain and body desperately need).

Funny that, as I was having this epiphany, I crossed paths with another cyclist at the crosswalk who must have been 30-40yrs my senior (at least). She grinned and zipped by me saying “we get a free shower!” ? Her energy was contagious even as she kept riding by. In that moment I smiled from my liver (bonus points if you know the reference). ?

That woman’s response reminded me of the choice I had – to mumble and complain about the situation, or to be glad that at least I was moving from point A to point B with some efficiency, rather than spending my day an hour behind. Of course, that also led me to the wisdom of a friend who was my trainer at the gym for a while. When the members would fuss and moan about the latest excruciating workout, Merritt used to smile and just say: “embrace the suck”. She’d explain that even seasoned athletes who had been working out their whole life knew that the secret to pushing through is expecting the inevitable (but temporary) pain and learning to embrace it.

Likewise, I’ve chosen to “embrace the suck” today. Knowing that today’s rain is not a constant downpour, but a manageable “here and there” wetting. Plus… I’ve gotta make it to Rita’s this afternoon to get groceries with my lovely new basket on my bike! I used to feel like I didn’t want to ride my bike if it was raining. But now I’ve decided that I’d much rather be caught in the rain on my bike so that I can get OUT of the rain faster! ? (It’s all about perspective).

New Basket for #MultiModalTrial 



So, here I am sporting my new basket for my #multimodaltrial. This should make buying and transporting clients’ groceries way easier now! I even took the bike on the bus tonight and the basket unclips from the front to allow better visibility for driver and better safety of the items I’m carrying. I am very pleased with this new addition! 

I am also very pleased with the education and customer service at the London Bike Cafe. The bike guys Giancarlo & Ben were excellent in guiding my basket choice and installing it, while Barista Jenn made me a coffee (at the same time educating Gavin and I on the finer points of the process). Such a great morning!

#MultiModalTrial with Bad Weather Surprises 

One of the biggest complaints about taking transit is that of dealing with inclement weather. In a car, at least there is the comfort of staying mostly dry and warm. There are also privileges with higher levels of accessibility and public services prioritizing automotive traffic. 

In bad weather cars are forced to slow down for better visibility and more control of handling. Buses are the same. However, the bus riders must also factor in extra time to arrive at their stop (and they MUST be early as drivers are known to leave before their scheduled times), as well as extra time to travel between transfer points. All in all, the planning for a transit trip is possibly tripled with inclement weather. 

Today I checked the weather while drinking my coffee and it reported only a partially cloudy day – no rain (although a couple days ago I did see rain in the forecast for today). So I went about my morning getting ready and just as I was rolling my bike out the front door (I live in a townhouse, so storage options are limited), I was met with rain. Ugh! Have you ever tried to hold an umbrella and ride a bike? I personally find rain and biking a bit incompatible. 

So, I mumbled a few frustrating comments, grabbed my hat and pulled out the umbrella, and fired up the walking to lightning-speed. I made it to the corner bus stop in the same amount of time as with a bike (and that’s even with dropping my water bottle mid-street as I was crossing at one point). I breathed a sigh of relief as I gathered myself, took a deep breath and looked at my watch after boarding the bus. We pulled away at 10:07am and the schedule reports a 10:08am departure. That might seem insignificant to most and “not a big deal”, but for a #multimodaltrial transit rider without her bike that one minute can mean the difference between making the connection and being 20-30mins late for an appointment. 

As it turns out, a call from my afternoon client that just came in reports there is no rain in Oakridge. And now that the bus is driving through south London I see this area is also dry. So now I’m kicking myself for not having my bike because it means an extra 30mins travel-time mid-day to make a connection via bus, and an extra 30mins end of day. 

I can just imagine the stories I’ll be writing come winter and the plows don’t touch the sidewalks for days at a time. I’m thankful it’s just rain I’m dealing with today.

Good People Along My #MultiModalTrial Journey

I know it seems an obvious detail in life, but it’s becoming more and more important to me that I surround myself with good people – people with generous hearts, positive energy, and genuine intentions. Today I was reminded again that I am on the right path in that regard. 

This has been a particularly rough and emotional couple of weeks for me for many reasons. I’ve had some personal set-backs and some really challenging interactions lately. To top it off, I tried for the first time getting groceries for a client on my bike – quite precariously, I might add.

Today I received an anonymous message that a nameless someone was interested in helping with my bicycle woes by adding a basket to my bike. To whoever you are, this is a very unexpected but very much appreciated surprise. I can’t tell you how much it means to me – to be reminded that, even during dark times, friends are like rays of sunshine that pierce through the clouds. 

Empathy For Bus Drivers on #TransitTrial

In the span of 20mins I watched as one driver was screamed at (with F-bombs) by a self-identified woman with schizophrenia, then the next driver is beat down by 2 passengers upset that he’s late (because traffic on Oxford is at a standstill. 

I have said it many times to many drivers, I have so much respect for them and their job. I would not want to do what they do. My dad was a truck driver for 40yrs and I know the stress he dealt with from his job. Add to that the complex component of dealing with hundreds of passengers each day and I can’t imagine the frustration.

Now the driver is talking to a passenger about the complications of BRT and “can you imagine if they go through with that – I hope they come to their senses!” I’m sure it’s been frustrating for the drivers as they deal with all the changes in routes and the congestion in the city.  I hope somehow they come to understand that the BRT system will only help them in the long run. 

I think a lot of it has to do with how we treat the drivers in the mean time. Whether it’s a situation with another passenger or a complication with traffic, we all have a choice to respond with kindness to our drivers and show them compassion and gratitude for their mostly thankless job.