Just another day of struggle…

So I was up till 1am last night having a panic attack about getting documentation ready for my ODSP application, then talking through issues that ensued with my boyfriend. I was awake at 7am this morning to get on the bus by 8:40am to arrive at Staples by 9am to photocopy the application and send by ExpressPost.

What a nightmare this ODSP process has been. From rude, argumentative workers, to ignorant and rude GP who refused to read the specialist documentation I provided then wouldn’t fill out the form properly, to mail complications and ODSP customer service people who talk a mile a minute when I call in for help. *sigh* I’m exhausted just sitting here thinking about it. 

I have so much documentation to prove my disability (to send with my ODSP application) that it doesn’t all fit in the regular envelope they give me in the application package. I’m glad I thought to grab a used envelope I had held onto that is larger. I taped the smaller envelope that the ODSP office provides to the front of the bigger envelope and then put it inside the ExpressPost. Then I had to call the ODSP 1-800 number twice to ask for clarification of the address because the postal lady said the postal code is wrong. Yet the ladies at ODSP insist it’s the right postal code. So I went ahead and filled out the ExressPost and asked for a signature. Of course the address ODSP gives me is a box# and I can’t get a signature from a box# – turned out I needed a completely different address! Good thing I left myself an hour to do stuff at Staples because that’s how long it took me (to photocopy the application for myself and get the ExpressPost sorted out). 

Now I’m waiting for my first appointment of the day and I just want to bawl my eyes out because my brain is so stressed and exhausted. Thank God for coffee!

Some days I sit here and think to myself…Life is cruel.

NB: For those reading this through Facebook, please don’t comment on the Facebook post. If you’d like to reach out, please comment here or in private message. Thank you.

Day 3 With No Car: Monday

Mondays I have two clients that I visit (for those who don’t know, I’m a professional “companion” for seniors and those needing a helping hand). Luckily, the first is walking distance up the street from where I live (albeit a 45min walk). After a good hour this morning of checking my schedule, the bus routes, and discussing the events of the day with my boyfriend, I opted for getting a ride to my first client. 

Now, here I wait for bus 25 back home to grab a quick bite to eat and throw supper in the crock pot; then a quick walk to Adelaide to catch the Express Bus to Oxford, then another bus up to Wonderland, then a 20-30min walk into Old Oakridge. The only thing faster than this route would be to incorporate the bike (and ride from Express route to community) but my body is in a lot of pain lately which makes lifting the bike on and off the front of the bus next to impossible. So, altogether, I should technically be able to get from Stoney Creek community to Oakridge in about an hour and a half from start to finish. With a bike, that trip could be shortened to 55mins.

I grabbed a salad at Subway to eat on my quick 30min stopover at home. I will barely have time to eat and throw meat in the slow cooker and then I’ll be off again.  

And so it goes…

Thoughts on Day 1 of 365 Days Without My Car

I probably won’t write every day or anything, but I plan on documenting my year without a car as thoroughly as possible. It gives me something to focus on instead of all the other “stuff” I’m dealing with right now. If you’ve been following along, you probably know that I’ve found life rather challenging lately (in regard to finances, social interaction and mental health). I guess for some of us, life’s like that. 

Yesterday I was lucky to sit for an hour with someone who took the time to care – she listened intently, validated my emotions and sense of overwhelm, and she connected me with some further supports. Today I am letting my brain rest a bit. I’ve got a list of to-do’s which are necessary for getting through the day, but other than that I’m keeping it to a minimum. 

Most people have no idea how a lack of finances can effect a person’s emotional wellbeing or cognitive function. Without money, the brain has to think more and it becomes more “work” to simply get by because of an increased need for planning. So, now, throw in the “tiny” complication of my brain injury and the lack of finances causes all that much more of a problem. No wonder there is such a huge percentage of the homeless population who have cognitive or mental health struggles. 
I suppose I’ve already been mostly avoiding use of the car for 6 months, so my readers might not notice much of a difference at first. Day one officially without my car is being spent as I gather most weekends will be over the next year – staying closer to home. I’m cooking for a get-together with family later today. I will now be dependent on rides from family and friends on weekends as I have committed to buying the least expensive bus pass (which is the “Mon-Fri only” pass). I also have a bike, but with the rain/snow and colder temperatures I do not anticipate that I’ll be riding as much as I did in the summer. I borrowed my sister’s car today to help her out with a couple things, so I’m not feeling completely stranded at the moment.

Given that I will be out of doors a lot more over the coming year, I’ve already purchased a good quality set of walking/hiking shoes. But I have also been thinking recently that I will need to also purchase a somewhat decent (but less expensive) rain coat in the not-so-distant future. Taking bus and walking to save money on travel expenses means I’m paying a bit more attention to my outerwear this year. 

And so goes day 1 with no car. Cooking and thinking and resting….my mind won’t stop spinning. ?

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…

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.