Archive | October 30, 2015

Free From Fatigue: Breaking Free at Last

breaking-free

Free From Fatigue: Breaking Free at Last

~ with endearing appreciation to those who have been following this series ~

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 6.40.40 PMThis post completes my 31 Day Writing challenge. I have been writing in the evening before going to sleep, but last night I was so exhausted I just could not write coherently. When I signed up for this challenge, I never heard of it before and had no idea what to expect. The notification for the t-shirt caught my eye because it had feathers on it. I also liked that it said, “Challenge Accepted,” because I have had to accept many challenges in my life.

When I took this challenge, I had already been thinking about how I could break the neck of my fatigue, which is a bad choice of metaphors given my neck injury from whiplash and the subsequent swelling that nearly ended my life. Nevertheless, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I had the vague hope that maybe writing my way through the last vestiges of my recovery might prove helpful.

Silly me. As much as I gained from writing 31 days in a row, the last thing I did was end my fatigue. In fact, writing just agitated it, and I should have known that. The sedentary activity of writing works fairly well with my chronic exhaustion brought on by acquired traumatic brain injury (ATBI), and it is easier to tolerate than is physical exercise, but sedentary activity is not the best for my heart and lungs. Because my respiration was also affected by my injury, it is important for me to be outdoors daily. I don’t breathe deeply otherwise, so I need to work my body to force better overall blood circulation; in fact it is crucial to my overall health–I don’t get enough oxygen to my brain if I don’t. I’m caught in a bind between being weak and frail (my muscles lost tone and I tend to fall often) and needing to move to build strength, which often leads to the physical fatigue/exhaustion and pain I’m sick and tired of (going on year nine). However, writing, while sedentary, causes cognitive fatigue and that presents as head pain, lots of heat pouring out of my head, and many slurred or lost words–the basic inability to access what I was thinking or doing two seconds ago–so short-term memory lapses. These neurological challenges are not fun, but I am ever cognizant that they could be worse. I’ve made a lot of adapting, but it’s just not the lifestyle I envisioned.

The challenge began with our being told to pick a theme to write on for 31 days. I was unprepared for this requirement and had no idea what to choose. Later, I realized that this challenge was more of a blogging event than a writing event and even that the term “writing” was a little misleading, because most of the bloggers were happy to stay within the 300 word length of a typical blog post. I appreciate this, but it isn’t the best formula for working one’s writing muscles, as the more we write the better we usually become.

Since growing my blog was not my main motivation, I stayed focused on the writing aspect of the challenge. Writing also improves cognitive healing, while growing one’s blog readership does not. Writing causes fatigue, while growing my blog readership causes stress (which can lead to fatigue). I wasn’t prepared for all the technical and marketing requirements of this challenge, and instead felt overwhelmed by them to the point where I just had to try to ignore them. I chose to stay focused on the writing, but as far as I could tell from the communications exchanged, I was alone in this endeavor.

The technical matters were by far the worst part of the challenge. We had to create an electronic button of a certain format using specified dimensions with apps I’d never heard of. Then we had to use social media almost as intensely as I was writing; again, something I’m not adept at yet. Even when I tried to follow the expectations, there were glitches, and as with all technological challenges, people were working at all different levels in all different places. I began to feel that this would have been more aptly titled the Writing and Technology Challenge.

I did see my Twitter followers quadruple in membership, and this led to some notable reads and shares of some of my posts. Then I saw that my readership wasn’t growing nearly as quickly as many of the other challenge members, and again I had to wonder what I was doing wrong, or more likely not doing with some app or plug ins. I was introduced to many things I didn’t know existed. While overwhelming, I do welcome the learning. It’s not that I am opposed to increased online exposure, it’s just that I never really thought much about it before, as I am mostly interested in the writing aspect–which offers challenge enough.

As for my own writing, I feel apologetic for the length of my posts–but only where readers are concerned. The work is vital to polishing my skills, which were compromised by the brain injury. Here are some of the errors I’m making now that this challenge brought to light:

  • an increase in misspellings, sometimes inadvertent due to typing (such as “to” for “too”) but even more frequently, loss of word picture. Where before I could “see” a word instantly, now I have to search my mind for its spelling. In the past, I was 98% of the time correct; now I am about 51% of the time wrong.
  • an increase in typos–where I used to write consciously, knowing at every second where I was in a word and in a sentence, now I tend to write unconsciously in a sort of semi-sleep state…plus my hands don’t work as accurately on the keyboard. I find myself once in a while searching for a letter on the keyboard, where before my mind knew instantaneously where to go.
  • laziness or fatigue–by the time I write a post, I rarely want to proofread it, where once I was very conscientious about proofreading. Now, it’s practically torture for me to sit through a text once I’ve written it, combing it for accuracy. Where once I was diligent, now I am impatient. This is not a “personality change” so often ascribed to brain injury survivors so much as it is a cognitive change, (although it may present to onlookers as a change in personality).
  • misplaced modifiers–I do this constantly, including in simple ways such as splitting verb parts, “have frequently been given” when I mean “have been given frequently.” Misplaced modifiers are even more involved than this, but one I catch most often in my writing now, which brings my writing back to the level it was in high school, not where it was after advanced degrees and 25 years of teaching English.
  • style–my writing style has become very expository, when once it leaned more heavily toward the poetic. This comes, in part, from teaching expository writing for so long, but it also has to do with the embedding in my brain, which lost sophistication, and which is part of what I am working to regain.

The best part of this writing challenge was the satisfaction the pure act of writing brought me. Every day I wrote I felt happy while writing and once completing a post, and this mood elevation lasted throughout the day. I hadn’t anticipated that but it was sort of a built in picker upper. The accomplishment of writing so much over such a long period of time helped my self-esteem, which took a big hit when I was injured and recovering. My husband and I had many laughs about the work as it was unfolding, and this bonded us in ways we also had lost while I was ill. It felt like his respect of my intellect returned, after feeling that after my head injury, he saw me as retarded and unfocused, which I was sometimes. Best of all, the occasional responses from readers showed me that I can write and that my writing does have merit in the world. Finally, all this writing I’ve done–sometimes as many as eight hours in a day for 31 days in a row–proves to me that I can write a book, that I can complete the book I’m writing (even though I already lost all my files, ugh technology)! This is great energy moving forward.

Yesterday, with one post left to complete the challenge, I was like a kid out of school. I ran around when I should have been at home writing or outside walking. When I returned from the store, I made some treats for our granddaughters, including a fresh banana birthday cake from scratch for the 2 year old, and some Rice Krispy treats for the 16 year old. I made a meal with a salad to take to the grandkids’ so that we don’t have to eat at a restaurant and can enjoy family time more leisurely at home. I cleaned and did laundry. When it was all over, I was exhausted–but who wouldn’t have been? For the first day since this time 2007, I was myself again–busy, productive, happy. I would say, no matter how tired I am now, that this indicates that I have indeed finally broken free from fatigue. I have accomplished my long desired goal. I am back at last to living life and to doing something I have always loved to do, writing.

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This is Day 31 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

This completes the challenge.

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

Trick-or-Treat: Happy Halloween 2015!

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Trick-or-Treat: Happy Halloween 2015

Tomorrow is the last day of the Write 31 Days challenge and it is also Halloween. Or maybe I should say it like this: Tomorrow is the last day of the Write 31 Days challenge and it is also Halloween!

All occasions and holidays have their own ambiance, don’t they? Halloween is supposed to be scary and frightful. It certainly can be! I have always felt that Halloween should be these four things:

safe

simple

fun

hilarious

I haven’t been able to enjoy too many Halloweens these past several years, but I plan on enjoying this one. We are going to see our grand girls, and the baby is going to be one of my personal favorite characters, Raggedy Ann. Her mother sent me a photograph this morning of trying on the costume; she said grandbaby loves the wig! Last year, when the baby was only twelve months old, she was Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz; she cried because her dress felt itchy–it didn’t last long. She did, however, love the ruby slippers Grandma bought her. She wore those long beyond her first Halloween.

In just one year, it appears her imagination and tolerance has developed.

our granddaughter, trying on her Halloween costume

our granddaughter, trying on her Halloween costume

Seeing the photograph of our grand baby dressed as Raggedy Ann made me think of two other costumes I saw on Facebook…The Crazy Cat Woman and Cruella De Ville (sorry, I can’t credit the photographers..I just saw these as loose shares)…

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I have never been one to have much of an elaborate costume for Halloween. It seemed I was always too busy to spend much time fussing over it. The years I tried to get elaborate, I had more trouble making the costume than it was worth. One year, I tried to make my daughter a Little Mermaid costume, and I got so busy at work that I was still hemming the skirt when trick-or-treaters were ringing the doorbell. Even though I had picked the perfect fabric, running so far behind made me feel like a failure. I vowed to myself to simplify in the future.

It’s nice to have a great costume, but the focus is really on the celebration and the fun, or it should be. Here are some of the simple costumes I created over the years for myself to wear, using what I had available in my own wardrobe:

a hippie

a go-go girl

a nun

a farmer

a pregnant woman

The pregnant woman was one of the last costumes I wore before suffering an acquired traumatic brain injury in 2007. It was the easiest costume to put together, since I had an old maternity dress and a nice, big squishy pillow that I could anchor under my pantyhose. I got the idea to go as pregnant because my daughter’s boyfriend had a costume of a pimp, which I am pretty sure he and my daughter did not know the meaning of since they were still in high school; it was just one of those inexpensive ready-made costumes that they probably knew had some forbidden meaning. We needed something for my husband to wear, so he borrowed my daughter’s boyfriend’s costume (which may have belonged to the boy’s father, possibly), and we went to the party as a pimp and his pregnant girlfriend.

Because you know, Halloween.

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Everyone else at the party also wore simple costumes, but they all worked well enough, and together we made a pretty ghoulish crew. We had a lot of fun that night, but we usually did whenever we got together.  One couple brought with them a plastic monster–for whatever reason–because they had it? I guess to be scary. He had a name, which I’ve forgotten now. Maybe I was even the one who named him.

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We were enjoying visiting with our friends, laughing and talking.  The grim reaper you see above and I started acting out a scene of an obstetrician attending the delivery of a baby: that is, ahem, me trying to birth the monster…which of course, as parents, we all thought was pretty sassy.

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Believe it or not, we were not drunk! We were just having fun, being silly. I have long had a stand up comic routine I do about giving birth, which magnifies the experience as comedy does, but also illustrates how labor feels so much worse than it looks. I act out the physical pain and the voices of the doctors and the nurses, who can say some pretty funny things in their urgent ways. So that is part of what I am doing in the videos you see here (linked below), where I am both the nurse (telling the mother to PUSH) and the mother trying to deliver the baby:

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Oh, the hilarity!

The best thing about Halloween is that you can have so much fun, just getting wild with your friends.

That, and of course, the candy!

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I hope you have enjoyed reading Stumbler. One more day to #31!

This is Day 30 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com