Mental Work Up + Exercise Staying the Same = Energy Way, Way Down with Brain Injury

Published Categorised as Personal, Brain Health, Brain Power

I learned a valuable lesson this NaNoWriMo.

As some of you many know, I began my own self-devised hypothalamus treatment in 2010 to try and address a variety of organic problems that resulted from a traumatic brain injury in 2000. One of the nice side benefits was my exercise tolerance slowly improved. Then this past October, I started being able to walk farther. I could walk to nearby places I hadn’t been able to for years. Very liberating — although as is my wont, I kind of overdid it. But that wasn’t the lesson.

NaNoWriMoNational Novel Writing Month — is a month of writing a 50,000-word novel every single day of the month. It’s taxing, both physically (if you’re typing for hours a day) and mentally (for obvious reasons). I had planned my month out carefully. I knew that writing every day would be a huge drain on my mental energy resources. I knew that it would be challenging cognitively. I didn’t figure on any greater duress on my muscles because I don’t write for hours. I don’t have the stamina for it. So I write a lot of words in a little amount of time. But daily writing is physically taxing in an energy sense. By the time I’m done writing, I’m fatigued in every way possible.

I suppose I could pace, but I’ve learned that the way fatigue works for me is that once I stop, it’s very difficult for me to start again and to remember where I was. It’s easier to keep going, feeling the energy drain out of my muscles and my brain, than to stop because then I can complete a chapter and it’s fairly coherent.

This year I wanted to blog on my NaNoWriMo progress, and Google+ provided the absolute easiest way to do it. Just write and press Share. I blogged right after I wrote each chapter (well, after a short snack break after I wrote each chapter) before I forgot the things that had cropped up during that day’s writing. It was probably not the wisest thing to do because it just compounded my fatigue and made it harder to recover. But that wasn’t the lesson.

I began to notice myself getting extremely weak and mentally stalled as the days wore on. I poured everything I had into my writing. Yet I was beginning to wake up so tired, I had barely anything to pour into it. I’d remind myself I wrote Lifeliner when fatigue was much, much worse than now, when it would’ve been impossible for me to write daily. Didn’t help. Then after a couple of weeks of will powering my way through NaNoWriMo and wondering if I’d ever have a scintilla of energy again, it dawned on me that I had not remembered a lesson I’d learned from my brain biofeedback treatment days: mental work is as taxing as exercise to a person with a brain injury. No wonder I was getting short of breath again. No wonder my body temperature returned to burn levels instead of the broil it had been on.

Increasing mental work while not decreasing physical exercise commensurately was a really bad idea.

Ramryge angels at Gloucester Cathedral, England

Brain injury grief is

extraordinary grief

research proves

needs healing.

That was my lesson.

I scaled back my exercise down to 20 minutes (or 10 on some days) from 30, and I didn’t exercise on days I went to physio or to see the doctor. And suddenly my energy rose up enough for me to take some pleasure from my writing and for my days not to be an endless desire for sleep and rest.

I am now scaling back up to my old exercise times, but it’s taking longer than I’d expected. That’s probably because I’m still recovering energy-wise from NaNoWriMo, and the appointments I’d been putting off until December have started. No rest for the weary.

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