Well I certainly don’t suddenly feel wiser as I’m older — actually it doesn’t feel any different than yesterday. Remember those adult stupid questions when you were a kid? “Well! How does it feel to be … years old?” Duh. So, I survived the 60’s. Twice. “If you remember the sixties, you weren’t really there”, is a tongue in cheek quote credited to a lot of people back in the day, but it is strikingly apropos to my life today. A month into my 68th year I was is a rear-end car accident. The past couple of years have definitely been a struggle filled with constant pain, lost memories, brain fog and fatigue and ears that don’t hear well due to all the unending buzzing and hissing. Still… I’m getting better. I have goals to be as I was before the accident. I have lost strength and stamina and my clothes don’t fit anymore. I’m smaller in the arms and chest and bigger in the waist. I wear hearing aids to help with the tinnitus and high-end hearing loss. I find that the little suckers that I wear behind my ears also help with brain fatigue and emotional swings. Sound, like all sensation, is converted into electrical nerve impulses and is filtered through complex channels in the brain. Sound goes through the auditory nerve and courses through the thalamus in the brain. Sound is colored there with emotional nuances before it gets to the rational frontal decision-making areas. In injured brains, the normal feedback mechanisms are damaged, then sound becomes pain, confusion, causing all sorts of distress. Similar things happen with the eyes. Crazy s**t.
The other thing is the isolation. It is so hard to deal with people. Folks just don’t understand how brain processing sllooowwsss down in mTBI (mild traumatic brain injury). I have worked with that population for decades in my trauma practice and had a clinician’s understanding. The actual experience of living with altered brain function makes the clinician’s perspective incomplete and superficial. People take for granted mental focus, mental stamina, the ability to hold a thought for more than a second, staying in a mental thought stream, to complete a task. Also, the mental endurance to talk to people, to understand them turns glacial. People say something and I have to concentrate for eternal seconds before the meaning of their words is understood, while they are on to the next sentence or thought and I fall further and further behind, out of sync with the conversation. That is with one person, add another person or several to the conversation and I am completely and hopelessly lost in a normal conversation in a minute or two.
As we all know brains do not thrive in isolation. Use it or lose it is a biologic truism for all biological states including bones, muscles and brains. It is so hard to find the way out of the weeds. It hurts to use an injured brain. Use it too little and you stay deep in the injury, use it too much and you tip back to where you started. The very essence of the Sisyphean dilemma. Moving out of and away from isolation is the foundation of healing but the road to healing is a measured journey through pain and confusion and the perception of defeat. A very wise woman (I love you, Moe) told me early on that my full time job (as I was bitchin about not being productive anymore), that my full time job was to heal and I’ve taken her words to heart and now I live by them.
All that being said, I am still grateful for my life and the people in it. I wish I could express how much you all mean to me. Those who have reached out to me. Those who live their life and I vicariously remember normalcy through them. Those who treat me as a normal person and make jokes with me — how normal people treat their friends. And I am making strides to recover — I am so much better than I was last year. The challenges now are being/doing something almost normal and not going into depression when the brain fatigue and confusion rebounds. Its like taking away brain function when you get to use it for a small window and then it goes away. (By the way, just writing down this essay will cost me. Maybe later today or tomorrow I won’t be able to think clearly, and I’ll sit in my chair for a day or two in brain fog and fatigue, hopefully recovering to have another go at reclaiming a few more brain cells.)
Soooo, 70 seems like a big deal. The beginning of “old age”. I was very active and fit before my accident and I refuse to accept this sudden slippage into what is perceived as old, losing it, downward slide into the old rest home mentality. It is very disturbing to me that my symptoms appear to be grouped by some well-meaning people as the result of age. Now let me be clear, the effects of age happen to all of us sooner or later. However, my focus is on vitality and being as vital as I can be at each stage of my life. I perceive the last of my 60’s to be injury related not age related. I think it falls on all of us to live up to our potential regardless of our chronological age. I feel that we all should look at our obstacles in life as challenges to live better.
What I am stating here today is that I am not wishing or trying to be 20 or 30 again. (Although to run a sub 10 sec. 100 yards again would be delightful) Life has a way of moving forward and each age has its take-aways as well as its gifts. What I feel is that life is the gift. It is precious. It should be cherished, and we should make it shine as brightly as we can while it is in our power to do so. I look forward to the next decade of my life and I am excited to see what life reveals to me.