Gabby Giffords

Gabby Giffords squelched all talk about whether she would run again for another term in Congress by resigning this week. I must say, I am not at all surprised. A part of me was fearful that she would run again for lack of awareness is very common for TBI survivors. I thought I could go back to full time ministry and figured I would be able to do this after resigning as an associate pastor. I volunteered as a chaplain at a retirement center thinking eventually I would go back to full time ministry. After doing this for several years, it became clear to me this wasn’t going to happen.

She has received much attention in the press. I can’t imagine having to deal with the challenges of TBI while being so much in the public eye. I would love to see her recover to the point where she could work as a congressperson again but I really doubt that will happen. I remember my TBI therapists tried to steer me away from ministry but I wouldn’t listen. I was convinced I would be back.

I think I am ultra sensitive to any talk about working as I did before. I want Gabby to go back to Congress while at the same time, I would be jealous if she did. Thoughts would probably flood my mind. “Why did God let her go back to what she loved, but didn’t allow me to return as a minister? What is wrong with me? Did I not try hard enough?” Today I just have to tell myself to stop thinking this way. It serves no purpose and I only feel worse when I do.

I looked at that “Welcome to Holland” piece again. (Feb. 9, 2011) It helps me see the things I have gained among the losses and how the pain of this is never going to go away. I’m also reminded that in many ways, I’ve become stronger. Gabby and other brain injury survivors in the public eye are helping folks become more aware of this injury and that’s a good thing. Every brain injury is different and just because someone else can return to what they did before, doesn’t mean everyone can. (And if I’m totally honest with myself, I don’t know a single survivor with an injury as severe as mine, who has been able to return to the job they had before.)

Today a friend gave me a wonderful gift. She made some moon earrings for me to wear. Moons are a powerful symbol for me and I will wear them as a reminder of the moon which shines brightly in the dark sky despite everything.

What are your thoughts about Gabby Giffords? If you are a survivor, what has changed for you and what has if anything, remained the same or gotten better? See top right for commenting instructions.

Errorless Learning

First Presbyterian Church in Asheville opens there fellowship hall on Saturday afternoons for what they call “Saturday Sanctuary.” During the winter months no homelessness services are provided so this program offers a place to come out of the cold. The program began in a small building behind the main chruch but it grew making that room too small so now they open their fellowship hall. This space is much larger which makes it easier for me. Clean-up of the smaller space took much less time but in spite of the added time for clean-up, I think it is much more hospitable.

However, it is not a good environment for someone with a brain injury. It was especially difficult for me in the smaller room since all the noise provided several challenges for me: dividing attention, cognitive overload, over stimulation: to name a few. However I have a real interest in issues around homelessness so I decided since the shifts were only two hours, I would try it.

There have been times when it is boring. I try to talk with folks but often no one wanted to converse so I just stood around until it was time for clean-up. This past Saturday, I made a point to try and play a game with some folks. I wanted to play Jenga but I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to play. Instead, folks wanted to play dominoes which I have never played so I thought I’d learn.

I forgot about all the challenges of trying to learn in this environment. Our table was close to the television where people watched a movie. Since I’m not able to divide my attention, trying to block it out was impossible. I thought about asking if the other folks wanted to move away from the sound but I wasn’t sure I could get the hang of dominoes and didn’t want them to go to all that trouble.

I learned that dominoes involves adding. I did not excel at math prior to my brain injury but now trying to add anything is just plain embarrassing. I have to use an Android application to help me figure out a tip for restaurant meals and my restaurant tabs are usually pretty low. I use compensatory strategies such as a calculator or my Android app but I thought it would look pretty silly for me to pull out a calculator to play dominoes!

I think dominoes is a fairly simple game and if I was in a quiet place with lots of explanation, I’m sure I could learn . Learning new information is very difficult for someone with a brain injury. The best way to learn new information is called “errorless learning.” For example, if I’m trying to learn how to do something on this blog, I’ll write down the directions and then follow them over and over again. After several times, I might try to do part of it without the directions.

“Trial and error” learning does not work for brain injury survivors. Errors confuse the learning process and only frustrates the person. “Errorless learning” may seem odd but it really does work. I will quit trying after only a few times which is why “trial and error” does not work. . In fact, I posted the rainbow at the top of the page without using my directions at all. I’m working at trying to find the directions for posting pictures somewhere else in the blog but for now they will all be at the top.

If you have a brain injury, do you use “errorless learning” to learn new information? See top right for commenting instructions. I tried to see if I could post a comment and I was able to do so. My problem now is, I don’t know how to delete my comment!


I’m doing it again. I’m overwhelmed with too many thoughts about too many things. I have to learn that I cannot be involved in as much now or when I get involved, I can’t expect to “save the world.” God doesn’t expect this of me but rather to do only what I can. I don’t have to do it all.

I remember at a session with my cognitive therapist, she reminded me that sometimes I just have to say to myself loud and clear, “stop.” Right now many ideas and thoughts are darting through my mind about the Occupy movement here in Asheville and I must realize that it is not a good environment for someone who has a brain injury. I need structure and it is very unstructured. I can choose to leave it but I’m not ready to do this yet. I am in some discussions with folks in the movement about this so hopefully something will come out if them. I do need to stop thinking about it so much. It only stresses me out which makes it difficult for me to function.

The other thing I need to do is set boundaries. I have an Occupy folder so I can put things in there, close it and forget about it. As I was writing this post, someone from Occupy returned my call. There is a Facebook page for the movement that contains a lot of drama. I’m on it a lot since I’ve not been able to do a whole lot else. The person understood my concerns and seems to know many folks in the movement. I think he can help me plug in.

My conversation with him reminded me of another one I had with someone else really involved in the movement. I came away from that one feeling as I feel now. There are some good organizers in the group and they’re staying out of all the drama that is Occupy Asheville. I need to stop thinking about the drama and just get down to business. I’ll be a lot happier.

A New Year

A new year has begun and I can’t seem to get myself going. I managed to block out the commercialized Christmas season by having a nice quiet Christmas at home. Circle of Mercy had a live nativity scene at a farm of some of the members which was a wonderful event. I then went to worship on Christmas day along with a few other people. Having Christmas on Sunday means a lot of people stay home!

I did feel sort of out-of-it since I don’t have the family Christmas events that everyone else seems to have. You know something? That’s okay with me especially since I don’t like large gatherings (cognitive overload) and I realized that there are lots of people who don’t have these sorts of events. The message we hear from our world is that something is wrong with us if we don’t celebrate the way everyone else does. I ignored these messages and had a nice Christmas season anyway.

Now it is the New Year and I think I need to push myself since I don’t feel like doing anything. (initiation) This is one of the problems with not working because it is easy to sit around drinking coffee and reading the New York Times. I always feel better when I push through these feelings so this is what I’m trying to do.

There’s a picture of a moon at the top of this page. (I don’t know how to crop it) Moons and rainbows have always meant a lot to me when I am in the darkness. A moon reminds me there is light within even when my life seems dark and dreary. I used to have a pair of moon earrings that I would wear to remind me of this spirit. For the time being, the picture above can help me remember.

Are there times when you feel particularly blue? How do you manage this? Commenting instructions are on the top right. Please remember that due to a computer glitch, I’m unable to comment here so if you would like a response email me at