Saturday, August 20, 2011

My Brain - Weighs Heavy On My Mind

Seventeen years ago I was in a bad accident and now I have a brain injury. I wrote a book about it called, "Down the Road." And one of the things that concerned me from very early on was that my body wasn't listening to me. At first it was my balance, it was all off. And I couldn't understand why. And I was dizzy all the time. And the world was confusing. The sounds, the sunlight, everything about it was foreign to me. And right on the heels of all of that was a subtle but constant weight gain.

For years I have been telling doctors about this. And they have looked at me in disbelief, stating the obvious, the only way you can be gaining weight is by eating more calories than you burn off. And that is true.

I always ate healthy and practiced yoga for most of my life and exercised and was in good shape, even up to the time of the accident. I didn't over eat or eat junk food but I couldn't exercise and move around too good after the accident.

Even though I was active on our farm and took care of the animals, livestock, a garden and three children my daily exercise wasn't enough.

When I moved I joined a health club. And slowly, over six months, I had lost 25 pounds and I was feeling better. Then I went back to Columbia College and couldn't afford the gas or fees for a health club so I had to let that go. And slowly the weight came back on. Even though I was still eating a healthy diet and had an akita to walk everyday.

When I went to a doctor I always said that my weight was my biggest concern. Not for the sake of vanity but for the sake of being fit. I knew that over time I would have other health issues because of this and it worried me. And they would tell me the same thing, while looking at me like I was another overweight woman living in denial. I even made a report with pages of pictures with captions under them and dates when they were taken so I could show them how I'd been in shape all my life. And I took pictures of how I got back into shape after each baby and how just before and after the accident I was still small. I even took pictures of the inside of my refrigerator and cabinet to show the whole grains and foods and dried fruits and raw food I ate. I was walking my akita service dog everyday and still my weight wasn't budging.

Even though I wrote down for a year everything I ate and how I felt and how much exercise I got and made whatever adjustments I needed to in order to be healthy; things only got better when the weather was good enough that I could get out in it and walk regularly or when I could go someplace to workout. I'm limited in how far I can walk. And how much I can do. I can't walk on wet or slippery ground. I can't walk when it is snowing or raining or windy because it makes me dizzy and I'm in danger of falling and it wouldn't be good to hit my head. So even though I'm active and garden and cut the grass and keep my house clean and walk my akita Coco as much as I can, it still isn't enough.

Still this paradox continued to confuse me so I accepted that I must be doing something wrong. Because it was true that the only way I could be putting on weight or keep it on was through eating too much or not getting enough exercise.

Then I realized that now with this enlarged heart, these numbers are even more serious than they had been before because I was doing absolutley everything right. For a long time I had thought that this problem was going to lead to more health problems and probably kill me and now I am facing this, right now, like a splash of cold water waking me up.

I started wondering, maybe we are both right. Of course the doctors are right. I agree with them. But I know how I'm living and I know I'm doing all of the right things too, with very, very few exceptions. So maybe, just maybe the lens of experience that we have are different for a reason. Maybe, just maybe, my body isn't listening to me. Some where along the lines of communication, my metabolism and what I am eating and how my organs are processing it all is not receiving the messages it used to before I got this brain injury.

Like when I kept telling the doctors when light changes from dark to light, like going out of a movie theater. I would be temporarily blinded by the change of lights and the ground looked like waves of water several feet deep. So I walked all wobbly because my feet didn't know how far down the ground was. And later a special doctor did tests and found that my brain wasn't reading the area between my legs and feet, my ankles. So my feet really didn't know how far down the ground was for a reason.

And like when I complained about the blind spots in my car and then I found out that even though my eyes were capable of seeing, my brain wasn't transmitting what they were seeing in large peripheral areas. My field of vision was seriously impaired and all that time I thought, when I stepped out in front of a car in a parking lot, it was because I wasn't paying close enough attention wasn't true at all. I had extensive peripheral blindness and genuinely didn't see them. And the reason I was dizzy all of the time was because my brain wasn't able to interpret where the boundaries were in a room. So by changing the way the walls were painted and going from patterned material to solid colors and making sure to use mid-tones for contrast and avoid making patterns in a room was all I needed to do so that I wouldn't feel dizzy any more in my house. Pretty neat huh. Thank you Chicago Lighthouse!!

Back when I was going to Columbia College a doctor was doing a lot of extensive blood work on me. It was during the time I was going to the health club. And I noticed a pattern at that time too. If I had blood withdrawn right after I worked out these enzimes were way too high. And if the blood was taken before I went to work out, they were still high, but closer to the top of the normal range.

So what does the brain have to do with how we digest food? Well, I know that the hormones of cows or anything they eat or drink is passed along to their calves and to those of us who drink milk or eat cheese. There are lots of documentaries and articles written about this. And there is proof that this is also true with what mothers pass along to their babies before they are even born.

There must be some connection between how our bodies process what we are nourished by; whether it comes from our mother when we are in the womb or whether we are walking around on our own two feet. So if our brains have a part in processing what nourishes us, then maybe my brain isn't doing it the way it used to anymore.

I went back to my amazing doctor recently and we had the same discussion only this time my cholesterol was high, my triglycerides were high and I'm already on blood pressure medicine. And I know he wants to help me. He is a rare doctor who actually cares about the welfare of his patients. This time I realized that now with my enlarged heart, if I have a heart attack, I probably wouldn't make it. And if I have a stroke, well, who knows?

Then I thought, what if I had a heart attack in the middle of the night? What if no-one called me that day? What if I didn't hear from anyone for a day or two? It made me so sad to think of Coco, my akita service dog. And how worried this would make her. And I wondered if she would hurt her feet trying to dig her way through a door or window to go and get help. And the thought of this made me so sad.

Okay, so getting back to the brain injury thing. I think that what my doctors have said is absolutely right. I agree with them completely. If I was processing less calories than I burned off than I wouldn't be overweight. And I know what I am also saying is true. I know this because during the year I kept a health journal, I realized I really was eating good. I had to change very little. I eliminated bread and bought only French or Italian cheeses and used them only occassionally to drizzle a little on a salad. I stopped using cheese in my recipes. But not even changing those things made a difference.

Well, I think my brain and my metabolism and my processing food stimuli have been affected by something that used to work perfectly before.

Once again I have high cholesterol and high triglycerides and I'm on blood pressure medicine and I have an enlarged heart. So just maybe my body really isn't listening to itself like it used to?

I used to think, not being able to get regular exercise is going to create complications that are probably going to kill me. And now I think that is true more than ever. I mean, by the time I can earn enough from selling my books to get a membership to workout somewhere close by I might be dead. How about that Catch 22?

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