Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas to all!

I am LOVE this Santa I made. Isn't he cute? It's a bit strange that what feels like an expression of happiness inside of me, my smile, turns down at the ends. At least, my eyes are smiling.

Three years ago I got the idea to sell ugly Christmas sweaters. I labored for a year, felting, sewing, gluing, altering an abundance of sweaters. Every time I saw a red sweater or a Christmas-y sweater in a thrift store, I snatched it up. I thought I had hit on a great prospect for making loads of cash since I predicted that this would be a new trend. It would go viral  #uglychristmassweater as they say on Twitter. I worked way too hard on every detail forgetting the big picture. By the time I was done, my sweaters were a little too precious. I did not really want to part with them for the measly sum folks expected to pay for a once a year joke purchase. I sold 2 on Etsy for half the price I wanted and about 8 of them for a quarter of the price. That was it. I was done. Or maybe my efforts to keep teaching got in the way. I did used to be able to do it all: make crafts, raise a daughter, make dinner every day, decorate for holidays in the style of a trained Martha Stewart soldier all while becoming an amazing math teacher. I stopped altering and selling sweaters and forgot about my brief foray in business. 

And now look! NPR reports on a woman who expects to sell 2,000 sweaters this year: Ugly Christmas Sweaters Turn A Pretty Penny

I am tempted to draw some sweeping conclusion about myself or contemporary American society or the state of the capitalist economy from this experience. I expect a big pay-off to come from my efforts and dedication. I am a dedicated and work hard with every endeavor I undertake. The appreciation and reward does not match what I feel I put in. As a result, I begin to conclude that the way to go is an easier path. Put in less so I will expect less. Or, concentrate on quantity instead of quality. I should have focused my efforts on cheaper production costs, less time invested, and appealing to the masses. I have some appreciation for successful entrepreneurs but I know way too many people who put in the minimum because it's good enough. To do that, you must have to stop thinking. You probably lack self-awareness. Who would want to see that sort of laziness or indifference in himself? 

Let's outsource the work to another country with a cheaper work force. Let's dole out sub-prime loans to make more money for now. Let's put a credit card for in the hands of every college student who is already buried in student loans.

Not me!
Not I!
No sir!
Not me!
So there!

I am not going to stop working as hard as I can. I do what I do because I love doing it. I do it because I have to. I do it because it makes me feel good about myself and if I didn't, I would be disappointed in myself. I am renewing my effort to put it out there and forget about the results. I am going to try not to care what I get in return. 

So, like they say, F%¢k 'em if they can't take a joke. 

And by "they," I mean America's Nielsen family. (A quote from one of my favorite underachievers, Adam Scho----ld.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why you wanna go some place you don't fit?

That is a good question. A better question is: Where do I fit?

I got on the #1 train heading uptown and, no surprise, the two men in the doorway barely moved to let anyone on. I entered on the right and the kid standing in front of me had his hand up holding the pole so I could not move further onto the train.

"Excuse me," I asked.
"Where you want to go?" He is looking at me and stubbornly maintaining his grip in the pole blocking my way.
"I want to get on the train."
"You on the train. You happy?"

The man on the left steps aside, encouraging me to move in that way. But, that direction was toward the center of the train where surely I would have been in the way, with no place to hold on.

I went into BIM and I refused and told the kid I wanted to go to the space behind him.

"How you gonna get there?" he challenged me.
"You are going to move your arm and let me pass," I declared with certainty.
"You got room right here. Why you wanna go someplace you don't fit?"

That was it. I hate that people are so rude. Why do they stand in the doorway when there is space behind them. They are not even getting off soon. There is no reason.

I pushed past him and when I was in the large open space I declared (maybe shouted), "I DON'T FIT? I DON'T FIT? LOOK, I CAN WAVE MY ARMS AROUND!" And I did. I had lots of room and I was waving my arms around to prove it.

But, did I fit? I had no sense of the other people around me. No one was looking at me. It was a 20 second altercation, over as quickly as it started. And there I was happy to be standing in an open place where I could put my bag down. Was there really enough space there before I pushed my way on? I don't know because I did not take the time to assess the situation or consider the appropriate thing to do. I doubt anyone was happy that I was there. My place on the train? My place at my job? My place in the world? Why I wanna be someplace I do not fit?

I may have been a square peg in a round hole before my surgery but now I am a loud, squeaky awkward peg determined to insert myself somewhere. It doesn't feel that way when it is happening. It feels normal. It feels like what anyone would do, until I hear myself shouting and see myself waving my arms around and I remember that this is not normal behavior. Fortunately, I did not feel too bad afterwards. There are times when this happens that I feel so angry and upset that other people don't understand me. I berate myself for acting so inappropriately. Today, I didn't care so much. Who saw me? Who felt embarrassed for me? I don't care.

I imagine other people took it in stride. Another day in New York. Another wacky subway fight. I just hope I do not end up on YouTube.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Contributing member of society

A woman I met who used to be a teacher and had to stop work because of a brain injury asked what gave me a sense of identity now? what made me feel like a contributing member of society?

This was my response:
I still sometimes think I was an awesome teacher even after injury. I left kicking and screaming. It is only after I saw the relief on the faces of my husband and family that I realized how much I was spinning my wheels. I could stay in my classroom working until 8 or 9 at night (no sense of time anymore), then take work home, and still accomplish nothing. I was lucky I could think on my feet and that the kids liked me but I could not plan lessons, have the correct materials and papers ready before class, or work with my colleagues. I thought my boss, my co-workers, and my assistant were plotting to drive me crazy with their accusations of my misdeeds. I still wake up in the middle of the night kicking or yelling in anger.

I am working hard to let go, just for my own sake. Being on disability and working on just being, feels pretty good right now. As far as identity, that is why I fought so hard to keep teaching. It defined me and it was what made me the happiest. I could not imagine losing that. After 22 years, I was confident in my abilities. I loved the consistency of the school year, a new start every fall.

Slowly, I have begun to realize how much I needed to be needed. I loved the satisfaction of seeing my students grow and learn, the appreciation, the praise, and the positive feedback from the parents.

Someone gave me some excellent advice recently. She said, "Your career is like a boyfriend who broke up with you. You keep trying to figure out why he doesn't love you anymore, what you did wrong, and who you are without him." That analogy has given me such a feeling of relief. I am still someone without that external association.

Am I a contributing member of society anymore? Those are just words.

My value, YOUR value does not come from a job! Sure, I have MANY days that I never get dressed or move from in front of the TV. I am working on building a routine, exercising, and taking better care of myself. I am here and I matter to a small number of people, my husband, my 25 year old daughter, and my mother. Working to be well matters to them. It is very important to just a few and that is enough for now. Screw society!

Cavernous angioma MRI pics

I don't think I ever posted these. Can you imagine seeing that in your head? WTF!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I am grateful today.

Last night I went to a new brain injury support group. I liked the people and there was pizza. The leader does not have a brain injury so there is actually some kind of order. The last time I sat down to post on my blog I was very upset. I had been asked not to return to my previous support group. The leader did not think the group was "a good fit" for me. I think she just does not like me. I can understand it. She reminds me of all the brain injured traits that I display. When she talks I hear myself and it is disconcerting. I talk too loud or too much. I ramble or elaborate excessively out of fear that I am not being clear. So, I was asked to leave the group because I was being too brain-injuryish?
In the new group nobody talks too much. People listen and respond. There are enough people so you get a balance of responses. The dogmatic are tempered by veterans with more balanced views. And, best of all, there is humor. I laughed hard a few times. I feel pretty good about that.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cerebellar Cognitive Affective Syndrome

I read an article this weekend about CCAS, the brain injury type that is the cause of my disability. This excerpt was of particular interest. I wonder if anyone else thinks this sounds a little bit like me. Hmm...

"Following the uneventful surgery for resection of the benign mass, she was noted to have a marked personality change, becoming disinhibited, disrespectful,  and childlike. Testing using the simple tools of behavioral neurology revealed impairments in working memory, perseveration, distractibility, and lack of mental flexibility. She also showed deficits on visual spatial performance.
Over the next few months her mother recounted that the patient would report inability to make a sandwichnot knowing what to do first, and in what order. With time she improved many of her abilities, but executive functions remained impaired, and the next two decades have revealed a pattern of personal choices, psychosocial interactions and judgment that have left her requiring regular family intervention to provide support and safety.
This combination of mood and personality changes with the cognitive impairments that could be demonstrated on neuropsychological testing were the first indicators of the persistent pattern of executive, visual spatial, linguistic, and affective impairments in the remaining 19 patients that we studied prospectively over the next 6 years, and which we identified and named the CCAS."

I might have been able make a sandwich but I could not pack a bag. My first day back at school in August 2007, I was reduced to tears because I could not figure out what to do to set up my classroom. I sat crumpled on the floor crying and confused. I thought I was just tired. It wasn't until spring break that year when I tried to pack for a vacation to Cancun that I started to see a pattern. I was up all night and in the morning, I could barely close my suitcase. When we got there I found I had no t-shirts, no toothbrush, and no underwear. I did have a number of empty cosmetic cases and ziplock baggies. I also had more books and crafts than I could possibly use on a week long trip. Nothing like this had ever happened to me. Doctors still said I was probably depressed or distracted because of the brain surgery 11 months earlier. I knew "depression" was not the cause but I did not no where to turn. 
What a long and bumpy road it has been to get here but here I am. For now, I remain optimistic about what may be ahead. 

Oh BTW I can make a taco, at least a taco costume. Here is Tess dressed as a taco for Halloween:

Lily was a mummy.

Aren't they so cute? I love my girls!

My best girl was Rock Lobster:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Memories of last year

Yesterday was my mom's birthday. That means last year around this time I went out with my family to celebrate and my daughter brought her boyfriend. I don't remember the dinner. I sort of remember the walk home because for some reason we were discussing Sherri Lewis's puppet, Lambchop, and imagining her as a zombie. The next day I posted an altered picture I created on Photoshop of Lambchop with blood running down her mouth (mutton chops?) and with a brain in her hand.

My sister found it disturbing. My situation at work was deteriorating. My chances of a fresh start with the new principal seemed doomed. I was losing a sense of purpose, a feeling of having any significance, and  any remote chances of belonging. I began losing control of myself. I was so sad. I felt misunderstood. After fighting for three years to do what I had done so well for the 18 years before my surgery, I wanted to give up. I hated myself for admitting defeat.

In the New York Times last week, there was an opinion piece called Starting Again After Brain Injury. The author writes:

I broke my leg last year, and it took me and my physical therapist a week to realize it, because my broken leg was unremarkable compared to my chronic neuropathic pain. Then, it was spooky how much more attention my cast and crutches elicited from both strangers and doctors than my broken brain does, even though my invisible cerebral disabilities cause more pain.
It is no wonder suicide remains a significant cause of death among people with a traumatic brain injury diagnosis. My speech language pathologist tells me I am a “survivor.” I tell him I do not feel like a survivor, I feel like someone who is still fighting for her life. I am afraid of what will happen to me. I don’t say that because I’m suicidal, but because I can’t keep living the way I am now. 

I got sick, got sicker, and then ended up in the hospital. The plan was when I got out, I was supposed to  "phone it in" at work. In other words, do as I am told at work without thinking, just show up and be of service. The day after agreeing to "the plan," I forgot what it was and felt complete panic. When reminded what we had discussed, it was alarming that I had completely forgotten what I had decided to do. Needless to say, I could not do it. The most disturbing part of this story is not my vocational demise, it is the recognition of one of the most puzzling aspects of my brain injury.

I never really heard the phrase "executive functions" before my brain injury. The ability to forward think or plan is an executive function. So remembering what I need to do before I leave the house has become a struggle. It is so hard to wrap my brain around the fact that there are functions of the brain so obvious that we take them for granted and yet so complicated that we can lose them.

What needs to be done today before I leave the house? The first things that come to mind are things that sometimes need to be done, like laundry. Does that need to be done today? Is that related to why I am leaving the house? No, but that is the type of thing that I feel secure doing because it seems practical and somehow, essential. 

When it is actually time to leave is when the many tasks that needed to be done randomly and inconsistently occur to me. My fanny pack is always packed with phone, wallet, and keys so I have that piece covered. I have gone to the bank without the checks I need to deposit, the post office with the package I need to mail, and the pharmacy with the prescription I need to get filled. I have also left myself so little time that I am forced to leave the house without eating, showering, brushing my teeth, or dressing in appropriate clothes for the weather. None of that seems devastating by itself. Those things happen to everyone. What disturbs me is the fact that the part of my brain that is supposed to take care of that for me is damaged.

I am determined to implement systems (like my fanny pack) to make sure I do the necessary tasks and carry the important items with me, even though my brain does not remember how to plan. When I have to pack a suitcase for a place I have never been before, I am fortunate enough to have a loving husband who holds a checklist while I pack and does not let me stop until I am done. 

I think I am going to be okay. I just have to remember tomorrow that I felt this way today.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Dream Brain Injury Support Group

If I was going to start a support group for people with brain injuries, this is what it might look like. Using the model of the Responsive Classroom, my goal would be to create a psychologically comfortable environment where everyone present feels significant, important, and included. We could start with a question or poll of the month posted on a board so everyone signs in when they arrive. For example: What was your biggest obstacle this month? or What did you do in the last week (or today since we have memory problems) that makes you feel most proud?

Name tags would ready and there would be some blanks for new people. There would be a growing face book poster or wall with first names and photos so everyone would have a fighting chance to remember each other's names. I would give everyone five minutes to say hello to each other and settle in before beginning the formal part of the meeting.

If we had a topic, I (or more likely a facilitator because I am not great with time, taking turns, or staying on topic) would ask the folks to turn to a partner and discuss. Then after a few minutes, each person would share what the other person said. That way we could all practice listening to each other and remembering what the other person said.

We would play games where everyone could participate. The games could help us build cognitive or social skills. Maybe someone would be "the expert of the month" and share a useful article, resource, or strategy she discovered. Maybe we could do some simple crafts.

We would work on problem solving skills to bring back home with us when we leave. We would learn relaxation techniques or simple stretches and practice them.

These are just some ideas I am playing around with right now. We have slim pickings her in New York City. I know it seems bizarre. Since we have such a huge population, you would think there would be more available. There are certainly enough folks out there with brain injuries.

How many TBIs does it take to start a support group?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How old are you now? How old are you now? I am 49 years old. I am 49 years old. I am 49 years old. I am 49 years old.

Sung to the tune of Happy Birthday to You.

Last night Sachi and I went to the Moth story telling at The Bitter End on Bleeker Street. It was kind of surreal. We both got picked to tell stories. I was picked 2nd and Sachi 7th or 8th. I had not memorized my story so I am not sure how it sounded but I tried to think of the parts in categories in a sequence each section with three points to make. It worked out pretty well, I think. The part that got the most laughs was the part I ad-libbed. Weird. I was proud of my memory. And Sachi said it was good. The worst part was that while I was talking, I was so nervous that my mouth got so dry that it was distracting. My lips felt caught on my teeth and it felt like I had to talk with glue all over my tongue.

But I did it. And people liked my story. And they seemed happy for me.

Even better was Sachi's story. I think I was more nervous for her than I was for me. She had told me her story the night before and it was great. I am not sure why I felt nervous for her. She was AMAZING! It was BANANAS! First of all, she is so totally poised, confident, and put together. I am sure this does not come as any surprise to those who know her, but it was like I was seeing her objectively compared to all the other speakers. I am so proud of the young woman she is. She has integrity! She came in second! And, I did not come in last, not even second to last. Yippee!

My birthday was wonderful! My mom came by with two yummy desserts early in the day. Blueberry tart and passion fruit pannecotta. Brian and I ate them for dessert (not really dessert for me since dinner was a handful of almonds on the bus). I got birthday emails from my daughter and her boyfriend and my friend R. Very thoughtful and quite amusing, I must say. Sachi's was hilarious. My friend J. took me out for lunch so nice, salad Nicoise and 2 desserts, chocolate mousse and bread pudding. Brian came home from work and gave me presents. A protection necklace and two drawing books I have wanted. And best present of all, his forgiveness. (I won't go into detail but Friday night I had a bad brain injury moment, BBIM of the millennium!) Then my sis came by with adorable, very thoughtful gifts: a gorgeous wrap bracelet with pretty stones (not sure what kind, but my favorite color gray) and teeny, tiny skulls, a cool t-shirt with these graphic skulls that reminded me of Mexican Day of the Dead maybe, and these super cool tiny antiquey scissors. Not really scissors but I can't remember what she called them. My friend K.P. from college called me from Michigan where she is a doctor just to wish me Happy Birthday. Then one of my former students gave me a giant cupcake. I mean GIANT! I will probably bring it to the women's brain injury support group.

I fell asleep early in a blissful, sugar coma and woke up too early so I decided to finish my post. I definitely have to go to the gym today. It might have been one of the best birthdays I have ever had!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Happy Birthday to me!

Yesterday, when I woke up my husband said, Happy Anniversary. I had forgotten. But, yes, 9 years ago we were married in a church in Harlem next to the Alexander Hamilton House. This morning when I woke up he asked me, What do you want for your birt'day? (Oh, just a husband with an adorable brogue.) No, that's not what I said. I said that I want to be surprised. Well, that did not go over so well. Groan, mumble, argh.

Every year I wind up feeling a little out out that people find it so hard to just buy or even make me something I will love that will surprise me. I have so many varied interests and a wacky but identifiable sense of style. How hard could it be? I take pride in being a good gift giver. When I see something I know someone will love, I buy it. These last couple of years that has not proven to be the best strategy since I forget that I bought them something or where I put it.

My birthday always seems to bring out this little, if I can do it, why can't they? sentiment. So, this morning, when he said, "Fine, I'll just get you jewelry," my internal pout signal went off. Then I brightened and asked if it would be a new engagement ring. (Yes, amongst the many TBI related things I lost this year -my mind, my job, my sense of self, 14 pounds - I also lost my engagement ring.) He is sure it will turn up. He kissed me goodbye and told me he loved me and left for work.

As I sat on the couch reading my blogs, the little loop started to play in my head. Why doesn't anyone put as much effort into... AND THEN... I stopped.

I suddenly realized that the best thing I could give the people I love was understanding and appreciation. They would probably prefer that to any of the "thoughtful" presents I come up with. I may be a good gift giver but there is plenty that I am not so good at and even more that I actually kind of suck at. But, I have people who love me anyway. The best present I can give my family and myself this year is acceptance. They love me, TBI and all. They have given me patience, support, forgiveness, and second chances. I think they just want me to be happy.

So here is my birthday wish list. I want more years together so that I can be here for you as much as you have been here for me. Next Tuesday I start the 50th year of my life. I have the best husband, best daughter, best adorable boyfriend of my daughter, and best mommy in the world. Could there really be anything better than that? No! That is pretty great. Maybe, something tasty from the Cupcake Cafe would nice... but that would just be icing on the cake.

Friday, September 16, 2011

There is stuff I have to do. I am coming to terms with that. Being on disability so far has been about getting used to uncertainty. I can't say I am there yet but I am working on it. Leaving my job felt like I was losing my identity. Who am I if not a teacher? My TBI doc and super specialist on the subject, like well-known in the field and all, gave me some great words of wisdom this summer. I am working so hard to let go of the anger. I still have nightmares about the Witches of Westwick. I was telling Dr. S. how one person really could have made a difference and really helped me and she didn't.

He said, "The way you had to leave sucked. It was not nice and could have been handled differently. Leaving that place, on the other hand was the best thing for you. It was not good for you to be there. Anyone who tried to help you stay was not doing you any favors."

It is time to move on. What am I going to do? Well, for now I am remaining open to possibility. B. and I may move out of the country in a couple of years. We are definitely working on selling our apartment. I am exercising and have lost 14 pounds. I am doing my artwork. I am working very hard at my cognitive therapy so I can do more outside my apartment. I am taking an online class towards my degree. This is the hardest part. It is also the part about which I am the least certain. What if I can never teach again? Dr. S. does not think I can. Why am I working on my Master's degree then? It seems kind of pointless, but I do not want to close the door or give up. I am so stubborn. I guess I need an outsider to ask me what I am doing. Am I kidding myself? I sure did about teaching for four years.

I really wish people understood how incredibly deep inside my brain my surgery was. It was not on the surface. It was way down in my brain stem and pons and cerebellum. They cut off my ear and sawed a big piece if my skull off. They went in there past the temporal lobe and looked around. They could not even find it at first. Imagine if a peach was my brain. They cut off the skin, went past the flesh, and then started probing the pit. I know a lot of other people have brain surgery. Certainly at work there were three other people in the community that I knew of. Did they have cognitive changes? Not that anyone noticed. Did they need six months to recover? No way, one of them went to a public event a week after surgery. Did they lose their jobs and most of their friends? I don't know because I am not friends with anyone from there anymore but they hadn't last I knew.

This is what I need to let go of! Nobody, nobody, nobody, I worked with will ever understand! And I have to stop caring. It does not matter anymore. I am free and I am resting and I am feeling more at peace than I have in a very long time. The only people that matter to me DO understand or at least they are trying. I do not have anything to prove to anyone.

So I am working on using my time more wisely these days. I scheduled a big clean up yesterday and then I stopped and made art. Willfully and deliberately. I hate schedules! I need some discipline though or nothing will get done. Mental rigidity! That is what I am working on right now.

"Oh, you TBI!" (shakes fist in air)

Monday, September 5, 2011

It's Two O'Clock In the Morning

and every sane person is asleep. Not, this guy. Something is keeping me up. I have not been exercising or sticking to my diet so I feel bad. I was doing so well.

Still, good stuff has been happening... until I posted my biography on the online discussion board for my Creativity class. Everyone else did a power point presentation. With like seven pages. Just exactly the way the professor modeled it for us. I thought that was just for the professor. So, I did a one page cartoon with mini captions about myself. Everyone commented on everyone else's bio except for mine. Only the prof commented and he said, "I admire your courage."

What courage? This is just my life. Does it take courage to live? I guess so but what is the alternative? I mean, I guess if I had done my own brain surgery like Tom Hanks did his own tooth extraction in Castaway, that might have taken courage. I just succumbed to the anesthesia and was operated on. Was sticking to a job I could not do in a place where I was not wanted a sign of courage? No, it was an act based on denial and fear. I believed I could still do it and I was afraid of life without it. Is taking the class a sign of courage? No, I just am not sure what I am doing anymore and since I am still officially enrolled in the Master's program, I am taking a class. Was posting a weird bio even after noticing everyone else was doing PowerPoint presentations a sign of courage? No, I thought it was creative and I thought that was the point of the class. Even in an online class where I do not have to see people face-to-face, I have managed to alienate myself. Almost everyone else is working toward a PhD. It may be very different from what I was expecting. It makes me sad I did not take this course with my classmates this summer. Two people said they missed me, but nobody called or wrote.

Welcome to my Pity Party. I think I need to examine my thinking for cognitive distortions. This type of self-deprecation isn't no good for me. I do not want to be like the guy on the subway today. I asked him if he could move over a little so I could sit down. He looked at the space to his side and said, "You can sit if you want to but I ain't moving nowhere for nobody." No, that's not me. I am moving forward for all the people who love me and for myself. That does not take courage. It takes hard work and appreciation for all that I have. And anyone who thinks otherwise can go suck it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

My latest BIM

I was so proud of myself yesterday because I actually cooked my own dinner. I made a frittata with spinach and cheese. I know how easy it is for me to forget what I am doing so I set a timer. Unfortunately, when the timer went off I went to the kitchen to find the pan filled with raw egg and cold spinach sitting on top of the stove. I forgot to PUT IT IN the oven.

Taking it in stride, laughing at myself, at least today.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Back from vacation!

I wish I could say my mind was rested. My body is. I exercised. I stuck to my diet, at least until the last two days. I read a lot. I got along great with my SO. But, I had nightmares. Kicking, screaming, crying in my sleep nightmares. I told everyone we met that I was a retired teacher. That was so much easier than saying a teacher on disability. I would not know how to begin to explain to a stranger that I was on disability. I know I do not have to explain but I am basically lying. Why would I retire? I loved my job. I still wish I could do it. I have to begin to accept that I cannot. I still feel so much anger towards the people who stopped me, even though they did not stop me.

It was my brain injury that stopped me. The only thing the people I keep blaming did was make me see that I could not teach and even now, I refuse to see it. I would rather focus my rage on them than accept where I am. Why is it so difficult to admit my own limitations? Why is it easier to make it seem like these limitations were imposed on me by others? I struggled and fought and failed and suffered trying to teach for four years after my surgery. Yes, I made a huge difference for some children. Yes, I contributed to the education of some students. Yes, there were some parents who were very grateful for what I did for some students. As a teacher, I was supposed to be able to teach many children. In previous years, I was able to teach over one hundred children in a year. I was able to collaborate with colleagues and contribute to the growth of the school. I was able to mentor new teachers, speak eloquently at parent forums, inspire minds, advocate effectively, and so on. Such is the life, the job, the expectation of a teacher. The thing is I was really good at it so when I was injured everyone just expected me to continue doing it but just not as well.

My doctors, my family, my boss, everyone just said that it was fine to just be an okay teacher. Just phone it in. Do the job and then go home. You don't have to be fantastic at it anymore. Just do the minimum and even then you will probably do a good job. A good enough job. Just say yes to whatever you are asked to do. Just agree with what you are told. Follow the plan. Stick to the basics. Go along with the crowd. It sounds so easy, doesn't it? I just couldn't do it. It was not because I am stubborn or defiant or a perfectionist. It is not because I wanted to fail or lose my job. It is not because I am in denial about my injury. It is not because I did not have help. I just could not do it. I tried really hard. No one can say I did not try. I gave up piece after piece of my job to make it easier to do the minimum. I relinquished control, I took on less, I rested, I accepted accommodations, I demanded even more accommodations but I still could not do it. It seems counter-intuitive that if I was a great teacher, I could not be a good enough teacher.

Maybe only another teacher can understand how incredibly complicated a job it is. Perhaps, there is no such thing as a good enough teacher. Every teacher is a great teacher. It is just that kind of job. It demands every ounce of your energy and every cell in your body. It demands all of your patience, compassion, intuition, creativity, ability and strength to go on every day. People envy the vacations a teacher gets but it is hard to imagine how essential they are and how often they are not enough to fully recharge the batteries.

I am not the same person I used to be. I need to begin to mourn the loss of that individual. Right now I know that it is important for me to let go and be sad. I will try to be respectful of those who tell me to be grateful for all that I still have but I know this is a period of intense letting go. It is going to be hard work and it is going to be painful but i have to mourn before I can move on. Please let me do that. Please help me to be sad, to bury what once was, to cry over what I lost. It is okay. I will emerge a stronger person after this. I promise. What was killing me last year, what I could not handle, was trying to be something I am not. I will be okay. I do not know when and I do not know how but I know I have to cry right now if I am going to smile some day.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What are you doing?

What a disaster! So much drama!

This morning at 8 AM I employed this excellent system to keep me on track. Excellent until the next BIM gets me into trouble or even worse.

My post-it said "clearing the floor" and my timer ran for 20 minutes. I got distracted at times but kept seeing that sign and that timer and getting back on task. Then I wrote "clearing your work table" and in another 20 minutes of the timer, my sewing room was beautiful.

Next, as I said in my previous post, I decided to blog about my success. Well, the picture I took with my phone would not transmit through bluetooth so I researched Apple posts about said problem and discovered it was not uncommon. I SWAPSed that problem and chose to use the digi camera but the battery was dead. While I was getting the charger, I heard a woman threatening someone outside my window. The woman being threatened said, "I am going to call 911." I HAD TO GET INVOLVED!

I will not stand idly by and allow crimes to be committed on my street. I am a responsible upstanding member of the community and I really do care. I am not joking here. A lot of people do nothing and advise others to do the same because it draws unwanted negativity. I don't want the attention or the focus but I cannot stand by and allow others to be bullied.

So, I open my window to a woman yelling. "Keep it up! I'm going to f@*k you up bitch!" from her car to another woman standing on the sidewalk with her doggie.

I tell the woman in the car (I live on the second floor, like Luka) that I am calling the police and she threatens me too. She says, "I know where you live. I am gonna to come back for you. I'm gonna send my cousin here and you better watch out. It may not be today or tomorrow but you gonna get f@*ked up!"

Well, if that does not bring out my crazy I do not know what will. I grew up in this neighborhood when it was bad. I went to school with this woman (not literally, although I may have). I let kids hit me, kick me, call me names, pull my hair or put gum in it, knock my books down, take my candy, and warn me that I better run home after school or they were going to... I did not fight back. I don't know why. Maybe, because I had my sister to defend me or maybe because I was terrified or maybe because I was tiny. I was so tiny. In sixth grade, I still wore a kid's size 13 shoe. In seventh, my Super Pro Keds were an adult size 1. My bathing suit was a size 6X. I could still fit into the shirt from the shorts set from Sears that my grandmother gave the summer I went with her to live in Puerto Rico three years earlier. Here I am in sixth grade wearing the polyester shirt. 

I have a lot of bottled up anger inside me and there are times when adrenaline takes over and subconsciously, I recognize the opportunity to unleash my rage and I seize it. With a TBI, those emotion are very close to the surface. I know this because when it was over I did a quick emotional cycle, and I realized besides fear, anger, and outrage, I felt exhilarated. I scream back, "BRING IT ON! I can't wait. I am ready for you anytime. You have no idea how crazy I am. Do you want me to come down right now? Let's do this! You picked the wrong bitch to mess with!" I do not even hear her response. I call 911 with the window still open and report that a woman is outside my window threatening to kill me. I knew the dispatcher was not taking the call seriously at all. She asked, "And how did you come to be involved in this incident?" When I tried to give her the license plate number, she said I could give it to the police when they got there. I made her take it down anyway. She took my apartment number down and assured me that the police were on their way.

Well, no patrol car came. Then I hear horrible screaming from the street and a dog barking and the woman saying something about getting the other lady up in that window too. I look out and the bully has come back without her car, bearing a pipe. The other woman ran to the safety of a neighbor's car while her Javanese-mutt blend barked menacingly to protect her. The bully did not see me and I started to feel afraid. I could not believe the police had not come yet. I had tried my local precinct to no avail by then so I call 911 again. The dispatcher tells me a patrol car came by and did not see anyone so they left. WTF! He says he'll send another car. When I go downstairs, I ask my doorman and some neighbors if they know the woman who was threatened or if the police came. My doorman talks to me like I am paranoid and my neighbors refuse to make eye contact. Nobody heard anything.

 When the police arrive, I have to will myself to calm down because the moment I start talking, they roll up the windows and get out of the car and I realize I am the one who is going to get arrested if I do not figure out how to make myself clear. It was useless. They do not understand that by not responding right away, the woman had the opportunity to go park her car, find a pipe (where? in the conservatory?), and come back to attack us. The fact that there were a couple of dozen people on the street who did not seem to even notice anything scares me even more. Kitty Genovese, here we go. I could be murdered in broad daylight in front of several witnesses and no one would do anything. And I am the crazy one? There was a lot of. "Ma'am I am trying to explain to you..." and "If you will just listen, you will understand..." They would not have even written anything down if both the other woman and I had not insisted. They gave me a slip of paper with the blank claim number area circled and all my information on it and told me to call the precinct in 24 to 48 hours to get the claim number. What? Why are they giving me back the information I just gave them? It was not even a duplicate form. They wrote nothing official down just put some stuff on the back of a piece of paper and folded it up. When I asked about this, PO Toro asks me if I am trying to tell her how to do her paper work. "I am going to copy it over. I don't like my reports to be all sloppy." I gave them the license plate number too. I want to put it here in my blog but I guess that might be stepping over the line. At least I have a line somewhere.

Four hours after I came up with an excellent plan, life and my brain injury got in the way. I need a vacation. Fortunately, I have one coming up and from the weather forecast I just read, I may be spending a lot of time indoors blogging.

Useful Systems

Yesterday my neuropsychologist said,

"You seem to have some strategies for doing things. I am wondering how successful they are."

My response, "Is that your way of asking me if they work or are you just thinking out loud," while mildly amusing at the time sent me off on a tangent.

I had just completed the cognitive testing following the completion of the exercise study in which I participated. One of the tests is to listen to a list of 12 words and repeat back as many of them as you can remember. (SPOILER ALERT: If you ever have to take a nueropsych evaluation test and you are afraid you might come across as smarter than you really are do not read the rest of this paragraph.) I find and have always found this an incredibly easy test because the words always fall into exactly 3 categories each of which has exactly 4 words. For example, there could be 4 vegetables, 4 gardening tools, and 4 jungle animals. Apparently, most people taking the test don't see this and just try to memorize a list of 12 random words. 

Later during the session after a few other sub-tests, the tester says, "Do you remember that list of words I gave you? How many do you think you can remember?" Well, to me, the obvious response is "12," or "All of them." If they want me to list the words why not say, "Please list as many of the words as you can remember?"

So, off we went on a tangent, that led to another tangent and Dr. T's query was never addressed. At least not that I can recall. When I reflected on the session during my walk home, I felt embarrassed that instead of taking advantage of my therapist's training and wisdom to learn something new, I was paying a rapt audience of 1 to practice my stand-up routine. Oops.

It left me thinking about my strategies. I am a creative problem solver and do generate many excellent strategies but do I use them enough to make them habit? No, probably not. I like to think it is the curse of the creative mind that the ability to generate many solutions is linked to the inability to execute them successfully, thoroughly, or repeatedly. A never-ending loop is developed because as one strategy is forgotten a problem is created generating the opportunity for yet another solution. Often in my infinite wisdom, I pat myself on the back for coming up with a great "new" idea, and then the mocking disorganized mess of my computer's Documents file reveals that there exists a file last modified on February 15, 2009 with evidence of that same novel concept. Yes, another BIM. That is my new acronym for brain injury moments. Without the sisyphean battle trying to hold on to my job as a teacher occupying all of my energy, I am finally able to notice, reflect on, and even laugh at some of my BIMs.

Today when my husband left for work, he said take care of what you need to do. Of course, he was referring to my effort to create a packing list for my upcoming trip. Here I am blogging. Earlier this morning I decided to try a new strategy and was so excited by how successful it was, I came up with another strategy to help me use it again. Blog about it.

Here it is:

Okay I just wasted 15 minutes (maybe more) trying to figure out why bluetooth sharing will not allow me to turn it on so I can send the photo of the awesome new system I created to my computer. I am off to use the new system to re-photograph it with a digital camera. Timer set for 5 minutes.

Well, the best laid plans... blah blah blah. My battery was dead and I got involved in a street incident and so now the police are on the way.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

RTW after TBI

I am part of a discussion group concerning issues of brain injury. Recently, I contributed to the topic of returning to work. All of the research suggests a supportive work environment with positive feedback with the goal of addressing concerns prior to a crisis. This was what I added to the discussion based on my personal experience:

The problem I had, and that I see as an obstacle for anyone returning to work is that there are "crises" that do irreparable damage and then all the review, support, and feedback are useless. It is almost impossible to anticipate what will bring out these disastrous moments. Whether you go back to work immediately or you take time to recuperate, nothing tests your limits like the stress of work (except maybe navigating the NYC subway system). Once I had my first inappropriate, emotional response to a colleague brought on by fatigue, auditory processing problems, unexpected confrontation, difficulty reading social situations, and impulsivity, I was treated differently. No amount of education or explanation that my actions were unintentional and not personal can erase the damage that was done. From that point on, the anxiety that I was going to overreact again contributed to my ability to concentrate and do my job. Working in an environment where my colleagues expected strange behavior from me became a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The feedback I got, while well-intentioned, did not help. Think about how others feel. Try to control yourself. By the time I started to get the cognitive rehabilitation I needed, it was too late. 

I am happy to be on disability now. My family appreciates the less stressed me. I can focus on my recovery. I have more time to exercise which is crucial to my well-being and cognitive functioning. I feel like a more capable member of society than I did when I was working. 

I would be very leery of going back to work now. I am not sure I could work in any capacity involving face-to-face interaction with other people. Every BI is different so I cannot speak for others, but the Internet is a beacon of hope for me. Time will tell. I really want to be of service and part of the solution. The BI community needs this and I know we can figure something out together.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How would you interpret this picture?

Last year when I was still struggling to do my job, I asked two of the kindest, most generous women at work if they would consider mentoring me. They both work in the Learning Resource Center and therefore have a lot of experience with students with disabilities. They agreed, and we met every couple of months to set goals. If I ever needed advice on how to handle a social situation, their advice was always dead on.

One day I walked into work and on my desk was a present, the above picture in a frame wrapped in pretty paper. I started to cry because on the card was written, "I saw this and I thought of you." It was signed by one of my mentors. I was not crying tears of joy. I was hurt by what I thought she meant. After discussing it with my neuropsychologist, I decided to ask her what she meant by the picture. 

I was so way off in my interpretation of the picture, it was bizarre. I am still not 100% sure how to interpret it so I am soliciting suggestions. Anyone out there reading this blog, please leave me a post telling me how what you think this picture says to you when accompanied by the message that the picture made someone think of me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Do not tempt fate!

Last night I got the news that the boyfriend of a friend of mine died. He had brain cancer and lived 27 months after his diagnosis. After his first surgery, my girlfriend asked me if I might share some of my experiences with him. I was happy to oblige. His first tumor was on the right side of his brain. He was in denial that it had affected him at all, that there may have been some residual "brain injury."

About a half an hour after reading the email, my heart rate shot up for no apparent reason. I was sitting on the couch watching The Bachelorette, thrilled that she finally said FU to the egregious Bentley. I got up to get an ice cream and the room was spinning. My eyes could not focus and my heart rate increased. I asked my SO to take my pulse and indeed it was quite high. He kept insisting that I might be having a reaction to the news but I said no. I have frequent panic attacks and this definitely did not feel like one. We called the doc and she said to go to the ER. We tried but by then I could not walk and was having trouble breathing so we called an ambulance. The paramedics arrived and my limbs were losing feeling. In the ambulance, I was sure I was dying. I saw the white light and I felt at peace. Then suddenly I was struck with the thought that I was not ready to die. I started to feel better when we arrived at the hospital but the ball was in motion and they had to do all the tests to make sure it was not a heart attack.

Needless to say, it was not a heart attack. I walked home from the hospital a half hour ago like I was Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Day. My glib post from yesterday mocked me so I had to write. More about my own denial about my brain injury to come soon.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

because I got a TBI

I was gonna clean my room until I got a TBI
I was about to find the broom but then I got a TBI
My room is still messed up even though I try
- cause I got a TBI [repeat 3X]

I was gonna get up in the morning before I got a TBI
I’m always tired and so sleepy cuz I got a TBI
I am napping all day and I know why
- cause I got a TBI [repeat 3X]

I was gonna go to work but then I got a TBI
I didn’t get the promotion cuz I got a TBI
Now I'm on disability and I wanna cry
- cause I got a TBI [repeat 3X]

I was gonna go to court before I got a TBI
I was gonna sue your ass but then I got a TBI
They got away with all of it and I know why
- cause I got a TBI [repeat 3X]

I wasn’t gonna shout in your face but I have a TBI
I was gonna keep my mouth shut but I have a TBI
Now I got no friends left and you can see why
- because I got a TBI [repeat 3X]

I was gonna take a shower until I got a TBI
I was gonna put on some fresh clothes but then I got a TBI
Now I’m sittin’ in my own funk and swattin’ at a fly
- because I got a TBI [repeat 3X]

I was gonna make some healthy food but then I got a TBI
I was gonna eat some veggies too but then I got a TBI
Now I'm eating corn flakes from the box and they all dry
- cause I got a TBI [repeat 3X]

I mess up all my sentences because I got a TBI
I lost my memory and sense of time because I got a TBI
Now I don’t know how to do what I do or even why
- cause I got a TBI [repeat 3X]

I'm gonna stop singing this song because I'm a TBI
I'm singing this song wrong because I'm a TBI
And if nobody hears me I know why
- cause I'm a TBI [repeat 3X]

Defensive Driving Tips Part 2

Know where you want to go.

I am sorry I took so long to resume my posting. The momentum for my defensive driving metaphor is diminishing as entropy sets in.

I spent about a week in Missouri visiting my aunt and grandmother. I have not been so happy and comfortable is a long time. They were both so kind and welcoming. It really felt like home.

My grandmother looked exactly the same as I remember her. She is thinner and not as steady on her feet as the last time I saw her. Her hearing is going but she does not seem to mind too much. When she picks up a piece of the conversation around her that seems interesting, she just asks. "Who is that? What did she do?" Upon hearing the information she sought, her response was so adorable. "Oh, did she? Well, how about that." I did not realize how Minnesota she sounded until I discussed it with my mom on the plane ride home.

(Total non-sequitur alert! My whole life I have always said my mother or my mom in conversation. It bothers me when someone says Mother or Mom in reference to her own parent. I know that she is using it as her mother's name but hundreds of millions of other people's moms have the same exact name. I read it on other people's blogs and it still irks me. It makes me feel like they claimed it first. Imagine a conversation between two people talking about their respective mothers both just saying Mother.

"Mother bought me a sweater this weekend."
"Oh? Mother had her art opening on Saturday."
"Yes, Mother mentioned it."

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. What was I writing about? My lovely grandmother and my awesome Aunt Kay. I had not seen my grandmother since I visited her 22 years ago with Sachi. It was the summer before I started teaching and now I returned the summer after I stopped teaching. An interesting set of parentheses around a career. Maybe a tornado picked me up the last time I was in Missouri and I have been off trying to find the wizard for 22 years. I was conked on the head and woke up muttering, "There's no place like home."

I slept and slept. Occasionally, my Aunt Kay would be suddenly appear startling me from my slumber. Not in a disconcerting way. Just a surprise. In many ways, she reminded me of me. She is funny and opinionated and a little bit cynical. She is unpredictable and would sometimes disappear, even right in the middle of a meal. She loves her sweets and her coffee, just so. She is generous and gives thoughtful gifts. The last time I saw my Aunt Kay was at my first wedding in 1985. I do not remember much about that day so my real memories of her are from my childhood. In the fall of 1970, my mother took us to live in Santa Monica with her mom. My aunt Kay lived about a mile away. One day my brother and I walked to her house alone without telling anyone. We were both so impressed with ourselves that we could find it. My mother was less than impressed when she could not find us.

I cried on the plane home, already missing both of them. I want to go back soon.

This morning I woke up with a singular thought reverberating in my head compelling me to write.

Who am I? Who am I?

I do not know the answer anymore. I am 48 years old and I am going to have to come up with a new answer. I am not "disingenuous" and anyone who accuses me of such can go suck it!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Navigating a Social Life After a TBI

I was trying to describe to my neuro-psychologist how difficult things became at work after my surgery. After one or two disastrous run-ins with co-workers, things went quickly south. All it takes is making one inappropriate comment or misunderstood joke, for people to be on the look-out for the next one. Once that started, I was doomed. I started to feel uncomfortable because of the confrontations. I realized that there had been meetings about me with the principal before any meetings with me. Combine this with not understanding exactly what was being said or what people's intentions were and I was totally on guard. When the other teachers glanced at each other while I was talking, I became very anxious. Even worse was when nobody would look at me at all. The anxiety made the confusion worse and lowered my ability to maintain self-control. I began to dread meetings days in advance, working myself into full-blown panic attacks before they even happened. If anyone dropped by my classroom unannounced, I was terrified of what I might say or do to worsen my situation. This past year I asked to be excused from all department meetings because after three years of trying to make amends by being overly obsequious, I had only made things worse. My absence was interpreted as snobbery instead of total terror. "I'm not going to share my plans with Alyson. She won't even come to our meetings."

I bought every book on how to improve my relationships at work. I tried giving sincere compliments praising their work. I recognized birthdays and other celebrations by buying gifts and cards. I brought in food for my colleagues and left it in the staff room. I made myself smile and say hello and how are you and how was your vacation. I shared supplies, bought books for others without being prompted, and offered to do errands like copying or making labels. I said thank you and wrote appreciative emails detailing any positives and ccing the principal. I admitted defeat and asked for help until finally it was just too much. How attentive could I be with a TBI? Well, not attentive enough, as it turns out.

I likened the experience, for my therapist, to defensive driving. That is how it felt. I had to be on, on, on all the time to avoid careening into oncoming traffic. The aim of defensive driving, according to Wikipedia, is to reduce the risk of driving by anticipating dangerous situations, despite adverse conditions or the mistakes of others.

The level of vigilance it took me just to get out of the house prepared for work and on time was already taking a huge effort. Being in front of a group of children trying to convey math concepts, build confidence, nurture skills, and empower children to reach their potential was also hard. Now, add in my effort to incorporate all my defensive driving strategies despite accident after accident. Eventually, I realized there was nothing I could do. I just watched the inevitable car wreck as my twenty-two year teaching career burst into a flames and skidded off the road.

Defensive driving strategies seem more accessible without the stress of work. So, I will share my approach to social situations here.

One strategy is to leave plenty of space between you and other drivers. This is good advice both physically and metaphorically. I am sometimes impulsive and if someone is wearing a fuzzy sweater or clothes with an intriguing texture, I am apt to suddenly touch a sleeve or shoulder without warning. This is not cool. Most people do not like it. I do not like when people get too close to me either so this works both ways. It is also helpful to remember that I do not need to share everything that pops into my head with the other people. Keeping some of it inside maintains distance.

I am tired so I will continue tomorrow.

Friday, June 10, 2011


I know you are probably trying to be sympathetic or relate to me in some way, but when you identify with what I am experiencing as a result of my brain injury, I do not feel heard. Often, when I tell someone that I cannot remember what I was doing five minutes ago, he or she will say, "Oh, that happens to me all the time." Or in response to the fact that I cannot remember the names of things or the word I am trying to say, I get, "Welcome to aging."

I can't tell when I am hungry or full because my brain does not receive the message my body is sending: "I know! Sometimes I just keep eating and eating."

I get lost in places that were once familiar: "Oh, I have the worst sense of direction."

I do not remember whether or not I have met someone: "I know. I am the worst with names."

Everyone has experienced the feeling of telling a personal story only to have someone turn the conversation around to that person because of a one-up story or even a totally unrelated story that your story brought to mind. Often it is in an attempt to relate but sometimes it undermines your experience or feels competitive. Take for example, Peggy and Alexis on the Real Housewives of Orange County. You know Alexis is insecure and has to make everything about her. Oh, I forgot what I was trying to say. "I hate when that happens."

Listen folks, I know we all share certain experiences and that is what makes us human. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt and not assume you are trying to say that because you experience the same thing, my brain injury is really not something unusual. When you say those things to me, I feel petty pointing out that all those things happened to me overnight. Not to mention that in combination with all my other symptoms, I now have a debilitating, chronic condition which prevents me from working. I can't imagine that you mean to undermine my experience with your comments.

Before I left work, I did and said so many things I wish I could take back. Early on, before I knew better than to try to be funny, I said something hurtful about a colleague. "Don't you want to come to the Christmas Party and watch ___ get drunk?" The teacher I was talking to was appalled and said that I was really mean. I quickly apologized and admitted that it was completely inappropriate. When I mentioned that one of the side effects of brain injury was difficulty reading social situations and impulsively saying the wrong thing, my colleague asked. "Don't you think you might be using that as an excuse?" An excuse? An excuse for what? The fact that I am actually an insensitive jerk? Yes, I am using it as an excuse. And as my doctor pointed out it is actually a legitimate excuse.

I wish I could compare TBI to some other disabling condition so you could understand how inappropriate your comments are! Would you tell someone with a prosthetic hand that you drop things all the time because you are really clumsy? Would you tell someone with agoraphobia that you also hate crowds? What about someone with diabetes, would you say that you too should really avoid sweets? Would you say that your vision is really getting bad now that you are older to a person who had just gone blind? No, all of those comments would be considered insensitive. Why then are the comments to a person with a TBI considered okay?

Let me tell you what I mean by getting lost so you can understand how different it is for me. I never had the best sense of direction but fortunately in Manhattan you do not need to have one to get around. It is a grid system so the street numbers go up as you go north, and the avenue numbers increase as you go west. Plus, I have lived here my entire life so I rarely thought about it before my surgery. Last Christmas season I met a friend at the Museum of Modern Art. I knew it was on 54th Street near Sixth Avenue but I wrote it down for myself just to be sure. I decided to get off the Seventh Avenue train at 50th not 59th because it was closer to the museum. I got off and started walking in what I thought was the right direction but when I had reached 47th Street I realized I was walking the wrong way so I turned around. When I got to 52nd Street, I thought I had gone to far so I turned around again. When I reached 50th Street again, I started to worry out a little. As soon as anxiety or frustration begin, my ability to problem solve or navigate decrease. The second time I saw 52nd Street I wanted to cry. It feels like someone is playing a trick on you and moving the street signs around. By this time if I ask someone for help, I may come across as slightly unhinged so I am hesitant. My senses are flooding with unnecessary stimulation, the noisy cars, the loud crowd, the smells of street food, the alternating puddles and mounds of plowed snow. All the buildings look the same and I no longer remember if I have walked by them or not. I keep looking back at the piece of paper and trying to figure out which way that street would be relative to where I am. It sounds absurd but this happens to me about once a week.

I have been on a campaign to become a more positive person this year. I do not want to drive people away by complaining all the time but primarily I am doing it for myself. Hence, I will vent on this blog. Like Bart Simpson punching the air with his eyes closed warning his sister that if she gets in the way and gets hit, he will not take the blame. If anybody reads this, it's not my fault.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


One of the bloggers I follow posted a list of songs she purchased as a result of watching commercials. I recognized all of the songs and commercials but none of them compelled me to purchase the music. These songs embedded in the linked commercials did manage to persuade me to part with a few bucks so I could hear them again. I think you can tell a lot about a person by listening to the music that hooks them.

"Remind Me" by "Röyksopp"

"1234" by Feist

"Flathead" by the Fratellis

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

"Chelsea Dagger" by the Fratellis

"One Week of Danger" by The Virgins

Monday, May 30, 2011

Teacher Training vs. Teacher Knowledge

I know I am not supposed to care about such things anymore but... Recent studies show if math teachers want to be more effective they need to understand more math. All the workshops in the world are not going to help you get a point across if you do not understand that point in the context of the bigger picture.

Learn more math!

Teacher Training Does Not Help

Sunday, May 29, 2011

When will I forget?

After my cavernoma bled into my brain and I had to have a craniotomy, my memory suffered a major blow. I forget a whole lot of stuff. I don't remember people I have met, places I have been, words for things, and episodes of tv shows. That last one is major since I used to be able to recite the entire plot of a tv show, often quoting the dialogue verbatim. Now, not so much. The weird thing is I cannot predict what I am going to remember and what I will forget. I used to argue with people about stuff that happened. Now, not so much. It is pretty safe for me to assume I am wrong. When I was at work, people actually mocked me by saying, "I thought you said you couldn't remember." Okay, true. I did say that but... If you want to guarantee that I will not forget something then add some emotional trauma to the incident. For example, insult me and my intelligence. Question my judgement or ability to do my job. Point out all the tiny mistakes I keep making and exaggerate their importance.

There is nothing like a whole bunch of people you no longer trust telling you that your perception of reality is skewed to feed a growing feeling of paranoia. I want to forget everything that happened at work. I want to be free of all of it. I was officially approved for disability so I do not have to worry about my ability to "do my job" anymore. It was decided for me. I am still having bad dreams, yelling out in my sleep, and waking my husband.

Today as I was basking in the sun on my roof, a voice said my name. It was a former colleague and friend. In fact, she was with me the weekend before my bleed. (My husband thinks the bleed started that weekend though because I came home complaining of a headache.) I went skiing with three friends. It was amazing. I had not been skiing for many years and I was worried about my endurance. It was not a problem. The other gals were quite athletic and snowboarded, so I skied alone. It was fantastic though. I felt very free and happy. At night, we watched The Departed over and over again. Every time we put it on two of my friends fell asleep so we kept trying to replay it. The love scene with Leo was so hot and I kept listening to that song. Only now as I think about the lyrics, "I have become comfortably numb," do I connect them to the numbness that crept down the left side of my body in the days following.

On the roof, I was struck by a wave of unpleasant memories. Everything about work and the last four years hit me and I was near tears. I worked closely with this woman for years. We both taught sixth grade math together. I went to many of her birthday parties. She came to my wedding (as did all of my former colleagues). She was never mean to me at work. She never stopped looking me in the eye or saying hello. Very early in my return to work, fatigued and overwhelmed, my emotions flooded and my tongue let loose hurtful words towards her. I accused her of not supporting my ideas in a meeting, undermining my authority as math chair, and being passive aggressive. She was so upset. I was shocked that I had made her cry. Her response was bewildering to me at the time. Was she really surprised by what I said? Of course, she was. Professional people do not say these things in the work place and I was no longer able to filter my thoughts, words, nor actions. She left the math department that years so I did not see her as much. I was filled with remorse in the year after my surgery. My lack of control swept through all aspects of my life like a tornado wreaking havoc and leaving waves of hurt and disbelief in its wake.

It turned out that my former colleague was friends with a woman who lives in my building. There are 345 apartments in my building so it is not that strange. They met through biking. She shared news from school and reported that the other two women from our ski trip both got married this past March in the same weekend. I did not know. I was not informed. I was not invited. We are no longer friends. I have little to offer and my actions are often baffling even to me. I am okay with that.

When I was ready to leave the roof, I got up the nerve to go over to her and say goodbye. I asked her about her life outside of school and she asked after my family. She said to keep in touch and gave me her email address. I cannot tell you how grateful I felt for the normalcy of the interaction. As I rose to leave, she too rose and extended her arms for a hug. It has been so long. After my brain injured actions of the past four years left everyone distrustful of me, I am filled with gratitude for anyone who gives me a second chance.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The benign indifference of cookies

So I baked some cookies this weekend. More than I should have, in retrospect. Monday I got this crazy idea in my head that I would send some to school for my former fifth grade class as a way to say goodbye. I attached a little note saying hi and I hoped the were doing well and how certain I was they were learning lots of math with their new teachers. I asked a good friend to send them to school. Big mistake. Now, as a result of my impulsive act and the school's refusal to accept the cookies and note, I have made people uncomfortable again. Worst of all my friend, with whom I had hoped to share a special day. Now, my presence is tainted with the stench of conflict and toxins of betrayal.

And all because of these stupid cookies. Look how innocently they smile up at you, mocking and shiny.

This is the one Tess got into.

Sly dog that she is, she hid it and waited for me to go to bed. She was sleeping on the couch and as soon as I turned off the lights and went into bed, she snuck off to eat it. I only caught her because she usually comes bounding into bed before my head hits the pillow. When she was quiet, I knew something was up. I never knew dogs could plan ahead. Well, at least somebody wanted my cookies, even if she couldn't have them. I am trying to take it in stride but I am deeply hurt at the rejection and being disinvited by my friend. I understand why but it still feels terrible.

I feel very alone and misunderstood right now. This too shall pass.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Sun Is Shining In My Head Today

I belong to an online support community. After a recent post, the moderator of the group wrote to me expressing concern that I get Positive Human Contact. This was my reply.

Thank you for your letter. That is one thing that I can continue to rely on. All things change and my mood is in constant flux. It is raining here in New York City so my head is hurting but physical pain can be remedied to some extent with meds.

Being away from work has relieved me of a lot of negative human contact. I think I got so used to those uncomfortable interactions on a regular basis that it became better than nothing. I was out of work three times this year before I finally left. After 22 years of working in the same private school, only a couple of my colleagues called me. I can never go back there. The email that the administration sent to all the parents and staff was so vague it left many people thinking I had a terminal illness. There is no way I can contact all the parents of all the children I taught to say goodbye. Even if I did, what would I say? I am not sick. I just have brain damage. Sorry I thought I could teach your kid but it turns out I couldn't.

A few parents did call me and so I am doing some volunteer work. It is essential to my sense of well-being. I am trying to get into a rehab program here in the city. We have the Rusk Institute and the Brain Injury Research Center. I am just starting a study on how exercise helps mood, cognition, and something else TBI related I can't remember right now. As I wrote those words, I suddenly realized the word I sought was memory. I kid you not.

On a positive, albeit harshly realistic note, my disability from the private insurance company from work was approved yesterday. I can't wrap my head around the fact that I am disabled.

I really appreciate you taking the time to reply to me privately. I don't even remember what I wrote now. When the sun is out, I cannot conjure up any memory of the rain. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Like my husband (who is Irish) always says, every day above ground is better than the alternative.

Your letter helps me remember to make an effort to find the positive. Please know that you really do make a difference.