cognitive overload;, focus, mental fatigue, resting brain, Spirit

Michael and I went to Myrtle Beach for a few days this week.  I think this is the best time to go since hotels are cheaper and we can take Sparky.  Pictured at left is Michael and Sparky as they romped on the beach.

I’ve never really understood the need for vacations.  Oh I like going places but traveling is difficult for me.  I do better when things are consistent which is why I like staying home.  I know where things are and I don’t do well with anything unexpected. In fact, new information causes cognitive overload which makes me tired. I seem to have to “rest my brain” a lot which annoys me.  Michael convinced me that it would be good for me to get away from things for a few days so we went to the beach.

He was right. There is something about water that is healing to my spirit.  I enjoyed walking Sparky on the beach and wading in the water.  He’s not a water dog but he likes anything new and different so he had a good time as well. It was fun watching him take a big drink of the ocean and end up with a mouth full of salt water!

However, I did have something on my mind that I just couldn’t seem to get out of my head and as a result I used my Android to communicate with folks back in Asheville. It drove Michael a little bit nuts and at one point he got a little peeved with me.  He brought me back to my senses and I was able to put things aside.

The experience did get me thinking though.  I often get something on my mind and I need to deal with it right then.  I have a hard time putting something aside for later. I think sometimes I get too focused on something and then I suffer from mental fatigue because I’m thinking about it too much!

I had a phone meeting with my cognitive therapist last week and one thing she helped me with was coming up with a list of things I can do that are vital to my well being.  Among her suggestions were the following: “Be clear about my strengths and what I can offer. When I get stressed and stuck, put it down and do something else. Find my creative spirit on a regular basis.”

The beach put me in touch with my creative spirit.  Also when I helped drive home, we listened to the Dvorak Cello concerto as well as some pieces by Ernest Bloch.  Music is a sure fire way to tap into my creative energy as well as the Spirit and  I must say, I do feel better today than before we went to the beach!          

Psalm 75

focus, Garden

This is a picture of me trying to find the peas growing in the garden at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church.  The peas are very hard to find because they are buried deep among the leaves.  The job is a tedious one and most folks don’t enjoy hunting for them.  In fact, as we worked we wondered how folks did that day in and day out. 

This certainly hits upon one of my weaknesses since it is difficult for me to focus on something when there are many things around it.  I concentrated and worked slowly. I must say, it seems I have to do most things slowly and sometimes I get frustrated with this.

When I begin to feel like this, I like to turn to the Psalms.  The Psalm writers have so many emotions and when I’m feeling low, it helps me to read them.  I especially like Psalm 77 by Eugene Peterson.  Peterson’s is not a direct translation but his words are very earthy and seem to get at the writer’s coontemporary meaing.

“I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might.  I yell at the top of my lungs.  He listens.  I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord; my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal.  When friends said, ‘Everything will turn out all right,’ I didn’t believe a word they said.”

“I remember God – and shake my head.  I bow my head – then wring my hands.  I’m awake all night – not a wink of sleep; I can’t even say what’s bothering me.  I go over the days one by one, I ponder the years gone by.  I strum my lute all through the night, wondering how to get my life together.”

“Will the Lord walk off and leave us for good?  Will he never smile again?  Is his love worn threadbare?  Has his salvation promise burned out?  Has God forgotten his manners?  Has he angrily stalked off and left us?  ‘Just my luck,’ I said.  ‘The High God Goes out of business just the moment I need him.’ “

“Once again I’ll go over what God has done, lay out on the table the ancient wonders; I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished, and give a long, loving look at your acts. Oh God!  Your way is holy!  No god is great like God!  You’re the God who makes things happen; you showed everyone what you can do – You pulled your people out of the worst kind of trouble, rescued the children of Jacob and Joseph”

“Ocean saw you in action, God, saw you and trembled with fear; Deep Ocean was scared to death.  Clouds belched buckets of rain, Sky exploded with thunder, your arrows flashing this way and that.  From Whirlwind came your thundering voice, Lightning exposed the world, Earth reeled and rocked.  You strode right through Ocean, and nobody saw you come or go. Hidden in the hands of Moses and Aaron, You led your people like a flock of sheep.”

I love some of his language in this Psalm.  “I strum my lute all through the night, wondering how to get my life together.”  I don’t strum my lute but I do read the New York Times and drink too much coffe much when I feel like my life isn’t together! 

 I like that the Psalmist thinks back on what God has done.  This helps me immensely to look back on my life and see how God has led me. I remember a couple years after my injury I couldn’t find a volunteer position that used my gifts.  However one day out of desperation, I walked into a local retirement center to see if they needed a volunteer chaplain.  They did and I learned a lot there.  I’m trying to be patient and it helps to remember all that God has done for me up until this point.

Do you have moments in your life when you feel like God isn’t leading you?  Does it help to look back and see how God has been with you in the past?  Feel free to comment here or email me directly at


focus, overstimulation, stress

The picture on the left doesn’t have anything to do with my speech but rather is a picture of my coffee grinder. This morning I ground some coffee beans and brewed up some fresh coffee in my super-duper coffee maker. I don’t drink coffee every day, only for a treat. When I drank it every day, I found I was addicted to caffeine and I didn’t like this. So now I brew it a couple of times a week but I make sure it is good coffee. No Folgers for me!

I’ve got a lot on my mind. It doesn’t take much now for me to get stressed out but I’ve learned how to deal with it. Prior to drinking my wonderful coffee, I went to the Y and swam laps. Normally I take an aerobics swim class but today I didn’t feel like following an instructor’s directions while making sure I didn’t run into other class members. I even worked on my speed something I rarely do. I felt wonderful afterwards.

This past Sunday I did a short stewardship moment at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. I’m not one for speaking about stewardship but the theme I was asked to speak about was right up my alley. I am having some problems with double vision again. The doctor said it wasn’t bad enough for another surgery but he wanted to try something different. He blurred the vision in my left eye with the hope my brain would make up the difference allowing my right eye to do the work. Well, my double vision went away but everything was blurry. When I speak, I always enlarge the words but this time I needed to make them really big to make up for my blurred vision. I tolerate the double vision must better than the blurriness so I ordered new lenses yesterday.

On Sunday, I made a point to sit on the right side up front since I knew I was going to speak from the pulpit. Unfortunately a child sat in front of me. I like children but I don’t do well when a child fidgets and squirms. This is why I always sit in the front since I’m usually away from any distractions. I could feel myself getting overwhelmed and I looked to see if I could move somewhere less chaotic but there was no where to go.

I then remembered what I knew about over stimulation. One is stimulated in several ways: sounds, bright lights, touch and visual stimuli. The boy was getting up and down in his seat, playing with his cars on the pews and writing in his book. I decided to close my eyes to block out this visual stimulation. It worked! I could feel myself relaxing and when it was time to speak, I was fine. Of course, I worried what people would think when they saw me closing my eyes during the sermon but I figured it was a small price to pay.

I know I”m a good speaker. It stresses me out by I like to do it. When I was first injured, I repeated endless word lists trying to learn how to articulate again. I know plenty of folks who have a brain injury whose speech is not clear. This next Sunday, I’m going to preach my first-person Hagar sermon at Circle of Mercy. I’ve preached this one several times and it is a fun one to preach. I’m doing everything I know to deal with the stress (ie swimming hard laps this morning) and it will be fine. I probably don’t even need to enlarge the words much since I know it so well. I wish I could preach it without notes but I don’t trust my memory.

How do you deal with stress? If you have a brain injury, do you struggle with over stimulation? See above right for commenting instructions. I’m still not able to comment here (I think a friend is going to help me figure out why that is) so if you would like a response, email me directly I see this blog as a way for folks with a brain injury to be able to share their struggles but I’ve discovered commenting here is difficult. Would you comment if it was easier to do so? I can switch to another service but I don’t want to do this unless folks will use the commenting section. Email me your thoughts.

General Assembly

focus, Occupy Wall Street, spatial orientation

Posted on the left is a picture that a friend from Circle of Mercy sent out. The Occupation has folks with different beliefs about a higher power but I thought it expressed my own beliefs well.

I’m writing a lot about the Wall Street protests this month because they are on my mind. Here in Asheville, there is a general assembly (ga) meeting every night downtown. It’s at 7 PM and getting there is difficult since I don’t see well in the dark. (This is result of the TBI) However, on the weekends they are in the afternoon so I can get downtown then. This past Saturday, I went to Pritchard Park for the meeting at 3 PM. Downtown Asheville is only about 15 minutes away but I can never remember exactly how to get there. I usually use my GPS but a parking garage doesn’t have a direct address so I used written ones. The problem was my directions were wrong.

I couldn’t find one parking deck but I did find the smaller one. Finding my car when I return is always a challenge so I looked for a sign telling me which floor I had parked. I saw no sign but I realized I was one floor above ground level. After exiting the garage, I didn’t know how to get to the park. Fortunately this town is small so I figured asking for directions would be easy. Asheville is a tourist town and I asked three people who couldn’t help me since they were visitors. Finally I asked a police officer who gave me the correct directions. I wrote them down so I could look at them when I returned home.

I’m glad I attended. I sat in the front so I wouldn’t be distracted by the crowd. I managed to focus on what the speakers were saying despite the noise of traffic driving by and music on the street corner across the street. I think ga’s are more streamlined now because this one was only 1 1/2 hours. I took a notebook and wrote down people’s names so I would remember them later. There are a couple of different facebook groups and I like to try and put names and faces together when I can.

Going back, I didn’t have any trouble finding the parking garage but I did have difficulty finding the car. My notes about its location were a bit haphazard and I had to hunt for it. I put bumper stickers on the car so I can recognize it when it’s parked in a lot. This has helped me numerous times. After finding my car, I then used my GPS to get home.

I haven’t written anything about the meeting but I wanted to express how difficult it is for me to get to places. Once I’m there I have to deal with all the challenges involved in attending the event. I don”t want to complain but sometimes this does get on my nerves. I want to be involved in things but I’ve learned to set limits and try to be involved in the ways I can. The challenge for me is to not feel guilty. I try and remember this is who I am now and I do what I can.

International Day of Action

attention, cognitive overload;, compensatory strategies, focus, Occupy Wall Street, resting brain, structure

Sunday was the day when all cities involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement came together and had some sort of action. Here in Asheville, there was a rally in Pritchard Park with music and speakers at 2 PM. The picture above is of that rally. Following the rally was the general assembly followed by picketing. Lorettas’s Kitchen has been providing meals every day but I’m not sure they did this on Saturday. There was plenty of donated food, however and it was a great day.

The Asheville Citizen Times did a story on the occupation Sunday. This movement doesn’t have any leaders and it”s been hard for people to pin down exactly what the demands are. When I attended the General Assembly, we broke up into working groups and I sat in on a group trying to come up with specific demands. A proposal will come before the General Assembly which will then decide by consensus whether to support this proposal.

I support this movement 100% but it is not a good project for someone with a brain injury to be involved in. Due to my frontal lobe injuries, I need structure and organizing anything is very difficult for me. This movement has no structure and is figuring things out as it goes along. Yesterday I was fortunate to sit next to a couple of folks involved in the organizing process and listened in on their conversation. They mentioned many of the things I’ve been concerned about. I was impressed with their thoughts and it gave me hope that this movement is going somewhere. I don’t need to step up for there are others willing and able to do this.

Let me mention a couple of my challenges. I’ve mentioned cognitive overload before and it was really a problem for me during the meetings. So much goes on and I have to “rest my brain.” Toward the end of the rally I knew that I needed to go somewhere, put in my ear plugs and sit quietly for a few minutes. The problem was, we were at Pritchard Park in downtown Asheville so there really was no place for me to go. I ended up walking to the back of the park and finding a place by a wall and under a tree. I put in my ear plugs and sat down on the ground next to the wall. The ear plugs didn’t block all the sound but it was enough. When I heard the meeting was about to begin, I joined it again.

It is difficult for me to focus and to pay attention in these types of environments. I have discovered the best way for me to focus is to sit near the front. I’ve gone to two other partial general assemblies and I sat in the back. This caused problems because I kept hearing people talking around me and I could not focus. This time I decided I would sit right in the front. I found a place for the rally but when I left to “rest my brain” for a few minutes, I had to find another place in front. I felt a little uncomfortable moving to the front like I did, but I knew it was the only way I would be able to focus on the conversation.

I wish I could remember names! I watched Sunday’s meeting last night on the live stream and one of the organizers said something about homeless folks and I had some resources to share. I didn’t know his name so I spent a good part of today sending emails to the facebook group. I finally reached someone by messaging on facebook. I don’t even know if my resources would do any good but at least I got them to the right place. I’m going to start a file with a list of the names of different people from the group. There is a facebook page with 3000+ members and I’m forever getting confused as to who is who.

I plan to set limits as I do with other things that are difficult for me. I won’t be able to attend many general assemblies but I will attend the ones I can. I plan to read the information on the web site and listen to the live stream. I really support this and I want to be involved in any way I can.

If you are a brain injury survivor, are there things that are difficult for you to do yet you still try to do them? Is it hard for you to accept this fact? Do you find compensatory strategies to do those things? See above right for commenting instructions. I’m still not able to respond to your comments here do to technical difficulties but feel free to contact me directly at if you’d like a response.

Occupy Wall Street

focus, Occupy Wall Street, spatial orientation

Several weeks ago, a group of protesters camped out at a park by Wall Street to protest how 1% of the population makes many of the financial rules for the other 99%. One day last week, 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn bridge. I’ll write more about this movement later but it has grown across the country. The following video has become part of the many videos and programs being produced around this. I think he made this back in August before the protests began which is really amazing.

A protest has sprung up here in Asheville but it’s been very difficult for me to be involved. General Assemblies are held every night downtown and since I don’t drive at night, getting there has been difficult. Plus my brain shuts off after about two hours in a meeting and sometimes these meetings go longer. I’ve only attended two meetings in Pritchard park and I’ve had a hard time focusing due to all the outside noise. The organizational structure is a consensus model with no leaders. This means meetings can be long with much time spent trying to come to consensus.

Tomorrow is set aside for all groups to meet in their respective cities and come together in solidarity. The movement is still very new and organizational things are not yet in place. This means communication has been a problem. It took me most of the day to finally figure out what is happening. I think I’m going to go with someone which will be great. My spatial orientation issues make driving and walking to different destinations downtown a real challenge. This is an exciting movement and I want to be part of it however I am able.

Against the Wind

cognitive overload;, focus, overstimulation, resting brain, spatial orientation

This is my second post on two different sermons I heard last week on Matthew 14:22-23 (see “Water Walk on August 8). Mark Ramsey, the Pastor at Grace Covenant Presbyterian, preached this one and like Ken’s, I found ways it applied to me as a TBI survivor. Mark said,”But while he was praying, the wind came up and waves began to batter the disciple’s boat. Whatever you believe about the rest of this story, surely you can believe this part: the wind was against them.

As a TBI survivor, the wind is against me. It’s against me when I get lost all the time. (spatial orientation) It’s against me when I have difficulty organizing my thoughts. It’s against me when I get overstimulated from the various sounds around me. It’s against all of us but we find ways to push against this wind.

I think of an experience that happened at an brain injury support group in Atlanta of which I was a part. The group consisted of survivors and their supporters. On one evening we were talking about a difficult situation occurring in the Georgia Brian Injury Association. Some of us had strong feelings and it got pretty tense. Suddenly, Brian shouted “Stop.” Now Brian uses a wheel chair and has great difficulty speaking but everyone quieted down to hear what he had to say. With great difficulty he continued. “We’re all on the same side!” After he spoke, no one said a word because everyone knew he was right.

If we are going to push against the wind, we need each other. That’s why being around other brain injury survivors is important. We can understand what the other is going through. We started a support group here in Asheville called “Brainstormers” because we needed a place where we could share our struggles together and give each other support. There is another support group here but it has a different focus. Unfortunately, we havn’t been able to keep it going but I don’t want to give up on it yet. I’m going to try and find someone who can work with me to push against the wind.

Mark also said, “In this story it was not the storm that sank Peter. It was fear and his inability to believe in the sustaining presence and power of God in the midst of the storm” Fear encapsulates a lot of things with worry and distress among them. I worried when I went to the rally downtown on Wednesday. I worried about parking so I took the bus. I used to take public transportation in Atlanta when I couldn’t drive. I always wrote my bus numbers and stop times on a little piece of paper because I couldn’t remember them. I saved each piece of paper so I could use it again when I needed to take the same trip over which was often.

On Wednesday, I used an umbrella to shield me from the hot sun as I waited for the bus. I shared it with another woman and was remind again how hard it is not to have a car in Asheville. In the process of paying my fare and putting down my umbrella, I lost the little piece of paper which told me how to get to the rally. When I got to the bus station, all I could remember was I needed to get to Pritchard Park. When I arrived there, I discovered it was at Pack square. At least I had the “P” right! So I got directions to Pack Square and arrived only a little late.

All the stimulation of taking the bus, trying to focus on the speakers and standing in the hot sun overloaded me cognitively and I needed to “rest by brain.” So the next morning, I swam hard laps. I usually take a high intensity water aerobics class but I didn’t need to focus on an instructor or try to listen to her with all the noise from a children’s class on the other side of the pool. Swimming laps and praying later, allowed me to “rest my brain” so that I could continue pushing against the wind.

Mark also said, “Faith is not the absence of fear (or worry and distress) but courage to walk through the fear and take the hand that is offered. To be courageous is not to be fearless; it is to be able to act in spite of fear.” We need others in order to push against the wind.

With all your challenges, how do you push against the wind? Do you have support networks? I would like for this blog to be a place where brain injury survivors can share their struggles. If you have a comment, see the directions on commenting above right. Due to technical difficulties, I am unable to respond here but I read every one. Hopefully, I’ll fix this soon. Feel free to comment directly to me at


focus, spaciness, spatial orientation

I’ve always had a reputation for getting lost. Oh I managed to get to where I was supposed to be for people depended on me. After all, when I was in my twenties I worked as a freelance violinist/violist in Kansas City. I played at wedding receptions, churches, restaurants, and other places all over the city and I was paid to play and be on time. I knew how to focus because I had to in order to perform even if I had driven all over the city to get there.

I’m reminded of this now especially since I have no spacial orientation. This means I have no sense of direction which is a direct result of my TBI. Being lost isn’t new to me but this “spaciness” is. I don’t know exactly how to describe it. This afternoon I went to the Blue Ridge Polymer Clay Guild of which I’m a member. We meet once a month to share ideas and tips on making various things out of polymer clay. The guild is full of very gifted folks who make incredible pieces. There are also folks like me who simply work in clay because it’s fun.

I keep a notebook with the directions to every place I go. Whenever I go somewhere, I pull out the directions and follow them. I’ve attended the guild for the past five or six years with the last five driving there from my current home. I haven’t attended since October because I had hand surgery. Even though I’m still not ready to use my hand, I wanted to attend today because it was a special day with many gifted artists attending and I wanted to be among them. Although I don’t consider myself a polymer clay artist – just someone who messes around with clay – I become energized when I’m around such creative energy.

I didn’t take my directions because I figured I knew where I was going. This was a mistake. I took the wrong highway going the wrong direction! I ended up driving several miles the wrong way before I could turn around. When I did turn around, I felt really spacey. I still wasn’t sure I was going the right way. I’m a safe driver when I’m “spacey” but if someone tries to talk to me then, I may seem drunk. I know folks who are brain injury survivors who’ve been walking down the road and have been stopped by the police because it appeared they were drunk. In fact they make necklaces with a label saying the wearer has a brain injury and may seem unfocused because of it.

When I managed to find the right road and realized I was heading the correct way, I took a few deep breaths to center myself. When I get “spacey” I focus on my breathing which helps me become more present in my body. I often take a few minutes before I do something to center myself. It seems I’m having to do this a lot lately but it really helps.

Do you have spatial orientation issues? This could be apparent in other ways besides driving. I always lose my way in a new building (I don’t go to large malls or even small ones for this reason) and it usually takes me many visits to a new place before I can find my way around. Feel free to comment here by clicking on “comment” or email me directly at