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Saturday, November 15, 2014

How can I be objective about my own brain health? Some personal reflections.

When things go wrong, or make me angry, that's when I tend to post my thoughts to Facebook.

Sometimes I make positive posts as I'm coming out of a slump, which tend to be a form of self-encouragement. When things are very bad or very good, I'm not on Facebook at all, generally. I also don't tend to post when I'm mentally at my best. That's when I'm doing catch-up projects for the times when I was not doing as well. I post a lot of things just to make sure I have a record of an important event. Everything I post gets archived and indexed for personal searches on Evernote, and often Facebook is the tool I use to overcome memory difficulties, by sharing what has happened. Posting creates records, and it also involves others. Involving others ensures my continuing awareness of my own life, because other people talk with me about my posts, and remind me of my own life in a social context.

However, excessive posts create an overall negative picture of my life. Recently I have started noticing that many people seem to believe I have nothing to contribute. I don't feel that's true, although honesty demands I acknowledge it is true, sometimes. I believe I have finally crossed the point since my head injury that I am aware and sharp more hours of each day than I am slow and confused (although I'm never as sharp as I imagine I once was...).

It is hard to decide what activities are most profitable. The obvious things tend to be so draining on my mental focus that it's hard to distinguish between the things that are actually hurting my health and the things that are helping me get stronger. "No pain, no gain" is what I have believed for a long time, but recently the wise choice has been don't push too hard or you'll go backward instead of forward.

My current strategy is to make sure I cover a group of "basic" activities that every healthy person should do: Bathe and shave, plan meals and snacks, and don't let feelings push my appetite. Do something physically active each day, track the time, and keep increasing it. Do something mentally challenging each day, even it it's just a puzzle, but don't let the mental fatigue push me to the point that I need to take a nap sooner than I would other wise.

Keep scheduling naps rather than allowing how I'm feeling to dictate them. (I'm down to 16 hours of sleep a day. My goal is to keep it at ten hours, knowing my sleep needs will always be greater than most.)

I have made a new (probably strange-sounding commitment) to eat one ounce of dark chocolate per day, one ounce of walnuts or pecans (or almonds, if I run out of the others) per day, a cup of blueberries, (or the equivalent amount of resveratrol, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C as supplements if we are out of blueberries) each day. A limit of 1600 calories per day, while making sure V8 low sodium vegetable juice plus fresh vegetables and fruit accounts for more than half of those calories. (My doctor ordered 1500 calories, but I at that level, I kept cheating and lying to myself, and was actually consuming more than 1600 calories when I tried to stay at that level, and I was feeling deprived all the time, which probably accounts for the difficulty. 1600 seems ideal to me. I loose weight at that amount, but much more slowly than I would at 1500, but I don't catch myself "forgetting" about things I should be recording.

Also on the list is to do something social each day (mostly this means not squandering the opportunities that present themselves by keeping mentally alert as much as possible), and following a generally consistent schedule and chore list. Finally, tracking daily progress via notes and a daily written reflections so I have an objective basis for evaluating my progress.

I want to locate or create a daily set of questions to answer to make my daily progress easier to evaluate. A big problem with recovering from mental difficulties (in my case because of a brain injury) is the tendency to feel better because I'm less aware of being worse, and vice versa--the days that feel the worst can indicate greater awareness, and actually would objectively be the better days. I'm not satisfied that I have established a truely objective means to evaluate my day-to-day progress even yet.

My most recent example of this dichotomy (how I feel versus how I am) was when I got the knee injections of cortisone toward the end of August(?). The lack of pain was amazing, and my impression was that I was doing better mentally also, but as the pain slowly returned, I became more and more aware I had actually slipped mentally. Now that the pain is beginning to come back full-force, my mental clarity is obviously better, not because I feel better, but because my writing is clearer, and my awareness of my deficiencies is stronger than ever. (The beginning of next week, I'm getting a lubricant injection in both knees to make up for missing cartilage. The lubricant won't ease pain as the cortisone did, but it also won't have the negative effects on focus and memory.)

I think my best posts have been the ones I have written to help someone else through a problem. One of my goals (which again, will be difficult to measure objectively) is to use this principle (of focusing on others) to benefit myself.