Thursday, September 12, 2019

Stoic and "getting my shit together."

Today was my annual check up with my neurologist. My strokes were more than seven years ago, and this annual checkup was “routine.”

“Routine” is a subjective term to me. My routine has changed. My routine has to change to survive.

I feel unsettled. I feel depressed. I haven’t done a blog post for months because I’m not sure what to write. 

My wife recently told me that I “need to get my shit together.” My adolescent son wonders why dad is always angry.

I told my neurologist about my depression. We had a blunt conversation about my medications. I really took any medications before my strokes. Today, to prevent strokes and seizures, I take many medications such as blood thinners and anti-seizure medications. In addition I was prescribed an antidepressant.

“Why” you might ask? When you have a massive stroke and your life becomes a quagmire of grief, stress, and worry, I believe I have the right to be depressed.

However, the medications I take are a delicate balance. The anti-seizure medications can cause depression and I take depression medication to counter  the other meds. But the medications that I have to take to keep me alive make me depressed. A vicious circle.

Depression can’t be solved by pill. You also have to make some changes in your life.
There are some changes in my life. Certainly I’m getting older. 

But I have decided to stop doing some activities because it's too stressful.

As a public official, I won’t detail but I am eliminating because it could be public and the media will question my solutions. Honestly, the media really does not have the “right to know.”

In addition, I’m actually trying to reach out for help. I cofounded a stroke and Aphasia support group several years ago. I chair the group, and every week, I ask my fellow survivors “How are you doing really?” Yesterday, I told the group that I need support. They “get it.” Nobody else does. I need them.

It’s hard for me to admit that I’m sad. I’ve always been the one to offer support and offer solutions. I’ve always just tried to persevere. I am the case study of being stoic: “A person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.”

That trait is probably genetic but also learned. I was raised to “do something and not be bored.” Less activity means you were useless. My mom drilled that behavior into my psyche.

My strokes became my next mountain to conquer. Every kind of therapy, even more strenuous activities such as boards to help other people, and ignoring the mental and physical exhaustion.

But after seven years striving and surviving, it’s time for me to step back and concentrate on my mental health so I can be there for my family. I am not sure what the really means yet.

So my neurologist upped my depression medication. I’ll take another pill. Really....

Friday, May 3, 2019

Sensory Overload and Starbucks!

Yesterday, I spoke at a hospital about my Idaho Aphasia, Apraxia and Dysarthria weekly support group. 

The audience for my presentation were other stroke survivors who do not have the conditions referenced in the title.

The stroke coordinator at the local hospital asked me to speak mainly to talk about the Facebook page I developed several years ago.

I post at least three times a week using current articles and YouTube videos about these conditions.

I used my Idaho Aphasia Facebook page as a basis for my presentation. One stroke survivor asked about Aphasia which does not happen to many stroke survivors.

Rather than doing a clinical diagnosis I showed a YouTube video about Aphasia. Showing a video about Aphasia is the whole purpose for my aphasia Facebook page.

I have posted hundreds of articles and videos through the years. Recently, a man from Pakistan who follows my Facebook page asked for help. I’m seeking answers for him given the conditions in his country.

I also showed a video about emotional flooding which is common for stroke survivors. I mentioned that my Facebook page is not just for Aphasia survivors. Rather, I post articles and videos to help all brain injury survivors.

I showed a video about the concept of emotional flooding and the survivors were shocked when they realized that they have the same issues.

So what is emotional flooding?

Here’s a great description:

Following a significant brain injury some people find that exposure to normal, everyday levels of particular stimuli (e.g. bright lights, loud noises or touch), is now uncomfortable, overwhelming and/or distressing. This problem may be referred to as ‘hypersensitivity’, ‘over stimulation’ or ‘sensory overload’. This may lead to fear, anxiety and avoidance of particular stimuli (e.g. keeping curtains drawn to avoid light) and environments (e.g. avoiding noisy situations such as supermarkets).

I had a very graphic example this morning. I went to Starbucks for a business meeting. It was a very complex subject. Two people use the PowerPoint to convey the topic. It is a very important and fascinating concept. The whole presentation including questions and answers took about an hour and a half.

Starbucks is not a great venue when you have a brain injury. While trying to concentrate on the presentation, I became distracted because of the sensory overload. Loud noises, the barista banging coffee grounds, customers ordering, a couple of children laughing loudly, the glare from the front door, etc.

I kept focused yet I got incredibly distracted knowing that a headache was forthcoming.

It was a very successful meeting yet I could not wait to leave. I got into my car and sat silently for five minutes just to regroup my brain capacity.
I drove home carefully yet quickly. I got home and sat in a dark room for about half an hour. And honestly I had to take a massive pain killer.

I do understand the triggers for my sensory overloads. Often because of business needs, I just deal with it. Normally a 90 minute conversation at Starbucks is fine. However, today is Friday and I have had many meetings this week. As a result, a normal 90 minute conversation on a beautiful Friday morning simply blew my mind.

Blowing my mind it’s kind of funny because 20% of my brain is dead tissue.

I cannot wait to sleep tonight. Unfortunately, my wife wants to go to Costco. Talk about sensory overload!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

How much can my son handle?

My son is 14 years old. He was six years old when my two strokes happened. I got out of the hospital on his seventh birthday.

His whole childhood has been colored with strokes and the possibility of "Dad having another one."

Dealing with teenage angst and emotions is bad enough in general. But I’m always concerned that my strokes have had a profound and negative impact on my son’s life.

I read an article recently that made me think about my son and the impact of my strokes in his life.

Here’s an excerpt:

Indicators that children may be experiencing difficulties

Indicators that children may be experiencing difficulties coping with their parent’s illness may include:

  •   incomplete homework
  •   poor concentration in class
  •   a decrease in academic performance
  •   messy schoolwork
  •   unkempt appearance
  •   tiredness
  •   irritability
  •   being withdrawn, tearful or aggressive
  •   an increase in absences from school
  •   an increase in somatic complaints, including stomachaches and headaches
  •   disengagement from peers or changes in friendships
  •   over-willingness to please
  •   over-helpfulness
  •   perfectionism.

These changes in behavior tend to coincide with a change in the parent’s health, such as during and following a period of
hospitalization. However, many children who are suffering from anxiety in relation to their parent’s illness may not present with obvious or dramatic symptoms. For some children, school is a safe place and they are able to ‘tune out’ from the demands of the parent’s illness and focus on participating in school and enjoying time with their friends.

Our son is a great kid. But he had grown up way too fast. And now with a diagnosis of his celiac disease, I worry that his stress level is too much to handle.

When I have a headache like today and I need to be in a darkened room, this is his reality as well. When I can’t help with his homework, I feel like a failure. When my son is silent, should I be worried? Is this the normal Father/Son dynamic?

There are no manuals about "Dad is chronically ill so what should I do now?" So many unknowns.

Monday, April 22, 2019

My limits

I have often thought about my “limits.” Before my strokes, I might’ve been too arrogant to realize that I do have limits. 

I just thought I could handle everything. I thought I could do whatever I wanted in this world. 

In the “Merry Wives of Windsor.” Shakespeare reflected my old life: “Why, then the world is my oyster, 
Which I with sword will open.”

It seems my oyster has a bitter aftertaste. I simply tired of fighting battles that I can’t win anymore. 

It was different when I knew I could conquer every hurdle. I could multitask and solve every problem with ease.

Since my strokes, everyday is a challenge. And I am happy that from the outside, people I think that my recovery is complete. Mainly because I’m not paralyzed,

But often I am paralyzed with a fear of failing. I am paralyzed because of my aphasia. Being a high-profile person in the community, I have a fear of making mistakes when I speak. “Word finding” is a problem especially when I am emotional and angry. My words do matter because it could affect public policy.

Recently, I have tested my limits because of a public policy issue. “MY words” do matter. Yet I am at a loss for words trying to explain my positions about some strategic and human resource issues.

As I second-guess myself, people have approached me to run for a noteworthy political office.

The good news is people think I have the leadership capability to do the job. The bad news is, the same people I have no idea about my limits.

Though I have run for public office three times successfully, I have to realize that my limits are real. I did harbor ambitions to seek higher office. Those dreams were shattered like a broken mirror of strokes and aphasia.

I am flattered that people think I can do what I used to do. I’m flattered that people think that my recovery was so amazing that I am “just fine now!”

Richard Bach wrote “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they're yours.”

My limitations are self evident to me. I just can’t do it all.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Teaching and faculty

CWI Library was recently awarded an Excellence in Academic Libraries Award, which is the academic library equivalent of winning an Academy Award. The award is given by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) to honor an outstandingcommunity college, college, and university library each year.

It is a great achievement!

That day included a College of Western Idaho training session for our innovative faculty.

I listened to a presentation about new technologies and how to reach out to the new generation of students.

I thought about my first experience teaching. I was in adjunct speech teacher at Boise state. I was 23 and nervous.

It was a night class. When I introduced myself, several people seemed shocked. “You’re the teacher! You look like you’re in high school.”

In the early 80s, technology consisted VHS tapes, old educational videos, and one old decrepit podium.

I made sure that I used every available technology to engage my students. Fast forward 30 some years, I ran into one of my former students at a lunch. She told me that I was a great teacher and she learned a lot from me.

Around 2006, I started a real estate school with a good friend of mine.   Teaching full-time, eight hours a day, for two weeks to complete the Idaho legal requirements to become a real estate agent was a challenge!

My students ranged from 18 to 70. In one class! How do you reach a cocky 18-year-old and a 70-year-old woman who hasn’t taken a class since she was in high school? I used every available to including weird videos. 

Adult learners are scared of math. I used “School House Rock” to ease them into math which is key in real estate.

My students watched clips from the movie “Mr. Blanding Builds His Dream House.” There are funny yet relevant scenes about home inspections and paint colors. 

After my strokes, people asked me to go to schools to talk about strokes. My audience were 4th to 8th graders. I have Power Points for those age groups.

I’ve also developed presentations about strokes for adult learners. Sometimes I speak at survivor groups and use technology tools for my presentations including YouTube videos.

I also chair a stroke/aphasia survivor support group which meets every Wednesday in Boise. I developed a Facebook page in 2015 using videos and articles. It is been very helpful.

So when I listened to the CWI faculty I was in awe of their commitment to teach more effectively. 

I wonder if I made a difference?

This afternoon, I dropped my son off at tennis practice at Julia Davis Park. I crossed the Boise River and entered the Boise State campus. 

My long history of higher education  when I was an adjunct faculty member at Boise State teaching speech communications in 1985.  I only taught one semester. 

10 years later  I was asked to be on the Board of the Boise State Alumni Association. I served as the president of the association in 2001. 

In 2003, the State Board of Education asked me to be on the search committee for a new Boise State president. Ultimately, the state board hired Bob Kustra.

A year later, President Kustra asked me to change my career and work for him. For 2 1/2 years, I was the Director of Government Relations and ultimately the Interim Vice President of Institutional Advancement at the University. 

I resigned because I didn’t want to deal with the "silos" in a university setting.   In addition,  despite my credentials, I didn’t have a PhD so faculty did not respect me.

A year later, a initiative was passed to form the College of Western Idaho.

Given my experience in higher education, business, and lobbying, I put my hat in the ring to be one of the initial five trustees provided in state law.

Over 100 applied, and I was honored to be selected to be one of the initial trustees of the college. I took my oath of office in July, 2007. 

We had nothing other than two buildings, 100 acres, and a dream. We did not even have a telephone. We had no staff.

Our first enrollment in 2009 was less than 1,300. At the time, a local news paper essentially said we were a failure.

In May, we will celebrate our 10th graduating class. We have more than 33,000 students. 

Some failure.

In the last decade, I have put my whole heart and soul into the College of Western Idaho. 

I have ran three times for election and won. College trustees are not paid. It is a volunteer commitment.

I do this because I love our students and their success. I am passionate about the CWI.

My commitment was tested in January of 2012 when I had two ischemic strokes. The second one almost killed me. Weeks in the hospital, years of therapy, and communication issues still linger.

I never missed a meeting.

Today, I wandered around Boise State campus today thinking about my commitment to education and my history.

I saw my 7th floor office near the river and I remembered why I resigned. 

I was a husband with a two-year-old son and I had no job. I simply could not deal with the higher education bureaucracy. 

I was excited to be part of a new community college. It would be different.

Almost 12 years. 

I wonder if it’s really different. I wonder if I’ve made a difference.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Hanged in the morning?

There is an old saying resonates with me now: "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

I’ve been focusing a lot on flooding after brain injury. Here’s a concise definition:

There is the issue of mental flooding after brain injury flooding occurs after brain injury because the brains filters. Often the brain no longer work properly. These filters normally allow us to sort through everything that comes into the brain sounds. sights touch smells movement questions problems demands etc.

I sense the flooding is more frequent now. But perhaps I’m more aware of it because I’ve researched a lot because of my aphasia class that I chair. I’ve tried to research to see if the flooding gets worse over time.

However I have not found anything definitive about flooding over time.

Nevertheless, it certainly seems that it has gotten worse for me.

I often lay in a dark room surrounded in silence after any activity that stresses my brain.

Of course, doing this blog post stress is my brain as well! Conundrum...