Brains under Covid fire — what to do?

It’s been 76 years since the end of the last time a global catastrophe profoundly impacted every corner of Planet Earth. That was the end of World War II.

For the first time since then, the entire world is under threat. This time, by a common enemy in Covid-19. And this time that foe is attacking every tiny corner of the Third Rock from the Sun.

It’s no wonder so many of us are stressed and fatigued. Never before has it been more important to be mindful of our mental health.

I spoke to Dr. Angela Grace to get her take on this. Dr. Grace is a Calgary-based Registered Psychologist and, like all of her colleagues, she’s been busier than ever during this Covid year.

“There are some times through Covid that I’m a front-line worker for front-line workers and I’m noticing myself getting exhausted,” she said. “We’re all human and we’re meant to go through a range of experiences and a range of emotions, but even myself, this is what I do for work, but I am still impacted.”

If mental health pros feel stress, nobody should be ashamed to accept that they feel it, too. But what to do? And how do you determine if stress is ‘manageable’ or if you are beginning to go to a dark and dangerous place?

“To me, the difference is your ability to bounce back,” said Dr. Grace. “What I do is look at what is the consistency and longevity of the complaints, of the concerns, of the emotions of the feelings.  I even watch it in myself. If I had a really crappy day can I have a hot bath and get a good sleep and meditate in the morning and am I going to feel better? Or, am I still feeling terrible about everything?”

Time is key here.

Dr. Grace said she and her colleagues look at length of time when assessing stress levels.

“If it’s a few days or a few days a month when you go into a slump and you know how to pull yourself out of it, that’s emotional resilience, that’s good self care, that’s good honouring of your feelings and experiences,” she said. “But if it goes on and on for a couple weeks, a couple months, if you can’t seem to pull yourself out of the slump or don’t have the resources to help with that, then it’s definitely time to reach out for professional help.”

When I hear Dr. Grace speak, I realize that caring for our mental health is a lot like nurturing a beloved car (only a million times more important, of course :-)). Sometimes your ride needs major work. Most of the time regular tune ups keep it ship shape. And it always needs a little TLC.

We’re no different.

“Sometimes it’s a friend we need, sometimes it’s a colleague we need, sometimes it’s a family member that we need,” she said. “And sometimes it’s somebody completely outside of our lives who we can spill our guts to and have that outside perspective and just know our secrets are safe. And our deeper inner feelings that we’re afraid of being judged on by family and friends are going to be taken care of.

“Sometimes we need that skilled outside observer because we’re too close to the situation. We’re too close to what’s happening. We can’t see things objectively. We can’t hold on to a higher hope. We don’t have the skills to get out of it without that outside voice.”

But too many of us see asking for help – whether from friends or professionals – as a sign of weakness. Others don’t believe that real help is out there.

“There’s still a stigma about mental health that we should be able to ‘snap out of it,’” said Dr. Grace.

That’s a mistake.

 Dr. Grace said that caring for our mental health is critical to a complete life.

“We always need to be doing things to boost our mental health, just like with our physical bodies,” she said.

Often, we can do this at the same time.

“One of the known prevention factors for depression and relieving anxiety is a good amount of exercise. So, weightlifting, getting some cardio, getting your body moving,” said Dr. Grace.

This is another way that Covid in combination with the recent cold weather has taken a bite out of us.

“I’m fortunate that I’m a yoga instructor and a dancer. I can dance and do yoga in my house and I’m fine with that,” she said. “But for the people who need that socializing at the gym, who need that routine of getting into the water for a swim, there is none. That is going to take a toll on people.”

That’s why Spring 2021 is going to be so important, literally opening the door for us to get out and active more often. It’s not just getting out, either. It’s getting the suns’ rays shining directly on us.

“We need that light for our circadian rhythm,” said Dr. Grace.

Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. These natural processes respond primarily to light and dark and affect most living things, including animals, plants, and microbes.  This includes us.

“This is one of the hardest seasons. We’ve just got to get through the next few weeks until the sun comes out again and spring comes,” said Dr. Grace

But there is an option if you can’t get out in the sun and for those long nights and dark days of winter.  They are special ‘sun’ lights designed for people with seasonal effectiveness disorder. She shines hers on her first thing in the morning for 20 to 30 minutes.

The other Covid challenge is that many of our outside stress relievers are shut down. This limits all of us and the options that Dr. Grace and her colleagues can suggest to patients. So, we can’t go do that hobby, like making pottery, we can’t go have coffee with a friend to debrief and unwind. These aren’t just ‘nice to haves.’ These activities are key to our on-going mental health, she said.

There’s another thing.  Even some of the tools that are helping us get by through Covid are causing us stress.

“There really is such a thing as ‘Zoom fatigue’ where our brains can’t handle that much screen time,” said Dr. Grace. “I actually find it more tiring to do sessions by Zoom that I do in person because you just don’t’ get the same sense.”

She found that she needed to cut back the number of sessions she does a week to counteract this.  It’s not just the screen time, either.

“I’ve also felt the stresses of kids home from school, husband working from home, my grandma passed away in November. I’ve got my own stuff to deal with and I can’t get over extended and truly be there for other people in the best way if I’m not well,” said Dr. Grace.  “And I know a lot of my colleagues who I’ve spoken to recently have said the same thing. They’re closing the doors to new people for a couple of months because they’re full and overwhelmed. Just like our doctors and our nurses and our front-line workers, we’re not robots. We can’t give, give, give without that replenishment.”

What’s true for the professionals is true for all of us. Balance is always important, but especially now. Pushing ourselves too hard is a mistake.

“One of the biggest things is we need to notice our levels of fatigue and honor our need to rest,” she said.

Dr. Grace suggests trying to use the period as a time of growth.

“How can I turn it around into ‘how can I understand myself and humanity and how the world works just a little bit better,’” she said.  “With some more hope, humility, letting go of the things you can’t control and turning it in to something that can be meaningful.”

But this can’t be accomplished by just sitting and meditating and being in a peaceful state.  She said that you’ve got to feel the outrage, you can’t be benign with your feelings or try to sugar coat what’s going on around you. Again, working this through with friends and colleagues can help. It can also be great to talk to professionals who are trained to help you unpack your feelings.

For help finding a psychologist you can do what I did for this piece and connect with the Psychologists Association of Alberta. Their website is: www.psychologistsassociation.ab.ca

They have tools on the sight that can help understand what their members’ offer and guide you in choosing the right fit for you.

“It’s always a good idea to have your go-to therapist that knows you and can be that voice that says ‘hey, maybe you are in a real slump right now and we need to get some more resources and help in place,’” said Dr. Grace.

But she notes that not every situation is the same. If how you are feeling seems severe, go to the hospital, they’ll do an assessment there and lead you to the right support.

Back to the idea of finding the positive, the growth opportunity in a time of stress and turmoil, Dr. Grace points to Kazimierz Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration.

In 1967, the Polish psychologist, psychiatrist, and physician observed that adults go through a second adolescence. But this time, instead of their bodies going through pain full, dramatic changes and re-emerging as adults, in the second adolescence it is a person’s soul and belief system that have to fall apart to be transformed.

 “It’s at this point that we can completely disintegrate and go into severe mental health issues, addictions, destroying families,” said Dr. Grace. “Or, we can turn this into a positive disintegration where we re-evaluate what’s important to us, re-evaluate our values, come into alignment with who we really are and what really gives our life meaning and so the disintegration becomes positive. “

For me, my stroke may have taken me through this disintegration. Looking back, I feel like it did and that I came out of it on the positive side. For many people, Covid may be the trigger for this disintegration.

With all that’s going on these days it’s easy to focus on just keeping your head above water. But keeping it dry isn’t good enough, you need to keep it healthy.

If you want to reach out to Dr. Grace, you can connect though her website: www.heartcenteredcounselling.com

Yoga, milestones & books…

Oh, BTW, I took to yoga after my stroke. It was the first thing I’d found since my karate days that took my head right out of whatever had been stressing it since I’d had to stop practicing karate.  Now one of my daughter’s, Kristina, is a certified yoga instructor. If you want ton try an on-line class, check out her website at: https://kristinaseefeldt.cloudstudios.com

Another thing – this coming Monday, March 15, marks 11 years since my brain sizzle. It’s my first strokeversery with a book done and in the can, with the hunt on for a publisher, so that’s cool. I always get some weird vibes on that day, though.

While I’m on about the book, the five publishers who were looking at it in December are still looking. Or, at least they haven’t said that they’ve stopped looking. One additional one asked to take a peek and quickly said ‘no thanks.’ It’s nice to have top publishers interested. I’ve had some good feedback, as well. That eases the sting of a ‘no thanks’.

Who knows, maybe my next blog will lead with details on a new book deal?!

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I’m baaaaack

I took a break from this blog.

The break turned into a hiatus. The hiatus to an absence. And now, here I am – more than two years since the last helping from the Brainfood Cafe.

The point of the break-hiatus-absence was to focus my writing on finishing my book – the tale of an average fella who one day wakes up dazed and confused with a misfiring melon.  As you may recall from past blogs, it turns out that this fella – me – had a stroke, losing the ability to read, write and do arithmetic. My memory was shot and much of my cognitive skills were set back 40 years or so. Not too good as I was 45 when the stroke struck.

Me, my lady & my girls.

I figured finishing the book would take a few weeks. Maybe two or three months.

As well as I’ve recovered from the stroke, my math must still not be too great ‘cause I didn’t put a bow on the book until the summer. This past summer — 2020 COVID-19 Summer.

Why so long?

Because it was damn hard. Re-living the worst months of my existence took an emotional toll and required regular stoppages to reset my mind and rest my soul. And I had to get the writing right. Hemmingway said writing is easy, just sit down at the typewriter and bleed. There’s even more bloodletting when what you’re writing about is so personal. In the book I write about demons that haunted me as I fought to recover. Those demons also struck me as I wrote, making me question my words and my recovery.

But I finished.

And that felt great. My life’s goal was to write books, which is why I became a newspaper reporter way back when. It made sense at the time, but that trade left me with a lot of good ideas and partially thought-out beginnings. After career changes and years of starts and stops with my writing, along came the stroke, wiping away my ability to read and write and presumably putting a definitive end to my dream.

But now the dream is reality (I hate when cliches fit).

I’ll never forget the morning early this past June when I stopped typing, re-read what I’d just finished and realized that this was it with the book. I’d tied the yarn together, it was complete. At least complete enough to get it out in front of other sets of eyeballs.  My bride, Patricia, had a final read for me with some suggestions. Then I reached out to writer friends of mine about agents and advice on the path to publishing. I got some great feedback and advice.

Edmonton writer Wayne Arthurson (The Traitors of Camp 133, Fall From Grace, The Red Chesterfield) gave my yarn a spin and suggested an epilogue. That was a brilliant idea. Then it turned out that Wayne is also working as a successful agent. We shook hands electronically and Wayne is now shopping my book around.

I’ve been warned about how hard it is to get a book published. Told not to get my hopes up. Cautioned how difficult it is even to get a good publisher to just read a synopsis. But so far, Wayne has managed to get these folks to take notice.  I’ve even had the most inspiring rejection that I could ever imagine from a major publisher.

“Tim writes with poise and emotion (not surprising given the ordeal he’s been through!) and I feel he has a good voice here, and a sense of what he wants to convey.”

This publisher feels that my book isn’t the right fit for his company, but also believes that it is worthy of seeing the light of day in book stores.  I’ll take that – for now.

 At last count, five publishers are considering my yarn. It really feels like this thing will be hitting store shelves and e-readers sooner or later.

So, with that happening, I figured, the extended Brainfood hiatus is over.  I can take you all on the journey with me as I wait for news on a publisher, write about the talks I’m preparing to start giving again and share with you the new writing I’m working on. Oh, and you’ll also get the scoop when a publishing deal is (is, not if it is) struck.

The other inspiration for getting back on the blog horse is the milestone I hit while we were all dealing with the new Covid-19 realities. March 15 marked 10 years since my mind was sizzled by the stroke. My plan had been to celebrate that day with a book on store shelves and an incredible trip somewhere. I didn’t finish writing in time for that and the Coronavirus killed the dream of sipping Corona beer on a warm beach, in any case.

So, while I put all that on hold, I want to get back to writing stories that inspire stroke survivors, and the people who love them. Stories about different paths to recovery and to great new normals that can be even better than before. Like, for instance, writing a book after a stroke wiped out your ability to read and right 😊.

I also want to write more about the big beautiful brains we all have and explore with readers how to get the most out of them, how to treat them with the love and kindness that will keep them firing on all cylinders. And that can maybe coax just a bit more brain power out of ‘em, too.

All of this is what you can expect in future helpings of Brainfood.

Stay tuned!

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RIP John Le Carre

Ouch!

It’s amazing what you can forget, spin and avoid altogether.

Post my great brain buzz of 2010 I did plenty of each. It’s all about self-defense.

I purposely – and sometimes subconsciously – forgot many things. When I was told I may not read again, relearn functional math or hold a steady job, I’d choose to forget and ignore. My faulty memory helped a lot with this in the earliest days.

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Anna, me, Patricia & Kristina

When I’d be told that it could be a year or longer before I could think about getting back to work I’d spin the message as acknowledgment that I would get back to work.

“No, Tim, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get back to work,” the experts would clarify. “But if you do, it could take…”

“Na, na, na, na,” I’d retort back with my fingers plugging my ears. “I can’t hear you.”

Maybe it was my history as a reporter and a spin doctor, but if there was one thing that stayed strong during my early weeks and months of stroke recovery it was my ability to spin the truth and selectively forget.

As years past, I used my selective memory to focus on not forgetting what me and my family had been through. It motivated me to stay in shape, to arm myself against another sizzle. It motivated me to spread the stroke awareness gospel, talking to individuals and groups – anybody who’d listen — about ways of living to avoid a stroke, recognizing the signs if it does strike and motivating victims to make their best recovery.

This has always been a healthy thing for me. Sometimes it’s emotionally draining to think and talk about the brain buzz experience. But it feeds more than it bleeds. And it helps motivate me to deal with the remaining scars I’m left with.

But there are some bits of what the stroke did that I chose not to remember and – in some cases – made a very conscious decision not to know.

One of those things is exactly what my kids were going through in real time in the moments they watched their blubbering, confused dad being carted out of their home by paramedics. And the hours and days that followed before I next saw them.

Then, following last weeks’ Brain Food, Kristina, my oldest, penned a new entry in her blog, West Meets East.

In response to my entry she shared my brain buzz through the eyes of her and her kid sister, Anna. They were 13 and 16 at the time.

Here’s a bit from Kristina’s blog:

Eight years ago today, I was waiting for my dad to die. Hoping, praying, and pleading that he wouldn’t, but waiting for that phone call all the same. 

It was early in the morning, and 16 year old me was getting ready for school. Something felt ‘off’; not immediately, but the feeling was gaining traction steadily. I went into my parent’s bedroom to say good morning, and my dad was sitting on the edge of the bed. His head was in his hands, and he was clearly agitated. Asking him what was wrong, he made some brusque reply, clearly not wanting me to worry, but also clearly worried about his well-being. He stood up, momentarily paced, and literally ran downstairs to shower. Looking back, I know he was trying to attach himself to some feeling of normalcy to distract himself from the multitude of sensations he was experiencing. 

I looked at my mom: “he’s having a stroke.”

I had recently completed my lifeguard training. There are two situations taught in lifeguard training where, unless you’re a doctor with a plethora of medical resources at your disposal, you’re truly fucked (besides calling 911 and treating for shock). Those two situations are heart attacks and strokes. 

I ran after my dad and tried to convince him to sit down so I could treat him for shock before the ambulance arrived. He refused. I remember sitting on a chair in the living room, looking at my mom and saying, “he won’t let me help him.” We looked at each other for a brief moment, but that moment expressed every fear we had. I can’t quite summarize that instant. My mom ran after my dad. 

Madness. That’s how my dad describes how he felt from the moment he woke up that morning. We wouldn’t have the conversation about how he felt that morning for months because he lost most of his ability to speak. After what seemed an eternity, the ambulance arrived, and my little sister and I were left to our own devices.

 My sister was 13, and being the protective person I am, I tried to maintain my composure for her sake. What do you do after you see your parents at one of the most vulnerable moments of their lives? Anna and I just looked at each other, and commenced our longest Sims marathon to date (12 hours straight, if you’re curious). When I look back on this day, I think of three things: helplessness, endless hours of waiting, and playing The Sims.

Eventually, Anna and I learned that Dad was still alive, but even learning this offered little comfort. How would Dad be able to recover from a stroke, if at all? At the time he was in his early 40s. Would his age help him? Mom was a stay-at-home mom…how would Dad be able to continue working? There were so many questions, so little information, and no answers. 

You can find the entire thing – and other great stuff – here: https://httpwestmeetseast.wordpress.com/2018/03/15/happy-strokeversary-dad/

Ouch. Wow. I did that to them? That doesn’t feel real good.

Pre Kristina Tim never really saw himself as a dad. But when Kristina and Anna came around, I took to the ‘protect at any cost’ thing pretty naturally. Then I stroked out and put them through that? Sheesh.

I’m going to have to mull on this a bit. (Is that how you spell ‘mull’ as in, to ponder? Damn stroke played tricks on my already so-so spelling skills:-))

Anyway, until next time…

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Happy strokeversary, baby

Today is my Strokeversary.

It was March 15 in 2010 that my brain misfired and forced me to redefine who I am. And who I am not. So today seemed as good a day as any other to fire this blog thing up again.

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March 15 was a Monday in 2010, so the stroke struck on the first working day after the clocks rolled forward to daylight savings time. Now it always makes me laugh at how hard a time people have with the switch each year, all of the troubles an hour of missed sleep causes from more fender benders to increases in work place injuries to a general cocktail of bumpiness and lack of energy.

I think I have a lot of people beat on this front. But that’s not what this is about.

I’m back to blogging after seeing a picture of me and my old friend and work mate Jonathon Jenkins. It was taken back in 2009 at a memorial celebrating the life of David Quigley.

Quig made both our stories better when he was running the news desk at the Edmonton Sun where JJ and I each plied our trade as reporters in the mid 1990s. Quig left this earth too soon. About a year later I stroked out. And in 2014 JJ was taken away. Cancer.

This isn’t meant to be depressing.

What really upsets me is that I let both of those guys drift out of my life.

I didn’t even know that JJ had passed until a year or two after the fact. Another friend of mine had known him and when he realized JJ and I had worked together he brought up his passing, surprised to learn that I was clueless to it.

There was a time when JJ and I were fast friends. Aside from working together, I was the worst member of a band that had JJ as both drummer and heart and soul. After I left the news biz, I travelled to Toronto – where JJ moved to in 2000 – every couple of months.

And yet the only time I saw him after he left Edmonton was at Quig’s wake.

What am I on about? A couple of things.

First, that ‘ole clock never stops ticking but the sound of it slips to the back of your mind until you blink and your kids are grown up, you’re working with people born when you were in college and some of your friends have passed away without having a chance to say goodbye. You realize you’ve missed important chunks of the lives of people important to you.

Second, it’s a cliché, but there’s no making up for lost time. It’s gone. Kaput.

Finally, I’ve been thinking lately about how in my quest to get the most out of my post stoke brain, I’ve been giving short shrift to the soul. The two go hand in glove. Ignoring the soul leaves the brain alone to work as just a machine. So from now on this blog will be about heart and soul – heart of the brain, soul of the spirit.

Hopefully that’s not too heady.

You know, while that pic of me and JJ at Quig’s memorial led me down a remorseful path, I love how photo can kick start so many memories. This is why I’m digging Instagram.

I fire it up and find a pic of me and my girls at an event and for every aspect of it fires to life in my head. Another shot of me and some buddies from a trip a few years back and it’s like it just happened. Powerful stuff.

When I’m frustrated with my reading disability, I pull out images of the old flash cards my therapist used on my right after the stroke. Stuff with the ABCs meant for kids just learning to read. This reminds me how far I’ve come much more that words can.

Anyway, until next time…

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The hamster wheel

I’m supposed to be smarter than a rodent. Even considering my brain buzz.

But if that’s true, why do I spend so much time on the hampster wheel? Why don’t I spend more time — most of my time — on things that make me scream Awesome! Yes!?

 

 

 

 

I don’t know.

You’d think that after some of the crap I’ve been through I’d be like one of these guys you see in the movies. You know, life changing experince leads to a new lease on life. No more wasted time, not a minute spent on stuff that doesnt REALLY MATTER. 24-7 on what’s awsome and makes a fella scream ‘yes!’

But then life kicks in. Routine. Responsibility. A few days pass without tapping out a blog or working on the book.  Days turn to weeks, Weeks turn to months. Ground hog day. Time is spent doing necessary things, but more time is wasted doing unnecessary  stuff. The stuff that keeps a guy busy doing everything but the things he’s supposed to do.

Time passes, frustration turns to passive acceptance that the writing isn’t practical. Energy turns into frustration before it fades to the most evil thing of all — benign content.

Feels a little cliched as I write this. But I’m living this cliche, I guess that’s how cliches become cliches. So I’ll go on,

I took in a seminar the other day where some cliches hit me like a mike Tyson body shot.

They talked about things like, if a fella doesn’t spend regulars time  working on one’s self, a fella can’t get off his hamster wheel. He can’t really take the time to develop his own special, true gifts to their fullest potential.

And that’s a disservice to him. But it’s also cheating one’s community.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be successful without developing your passion, your real gifts. I think you can be really successful doing the wrong things.

You can make money or praise without doing the things that you’re meant to do. And I think that gnaws at your gut.

Jimmy Hendrix might have had great skills as a carpenter — but I’m sure glad he focused on playing the guitar. The world’s a better place and will be as long as his recordings electrify the planet.

My session also talked about spending time every day on visioning the day and reflecting on it’s successes and misses. Giving deep thought to learning and adapting from what’s gone on with an aim to getting better the next time out.

It also makes me think of world class athletes. They visualize making even the smallest corrections to get just a step faster, a bit stronger, doing the small things that add up to being number one. In team sports, focussing on making themselves better makes the steam that much closer to being great.

It always feels to me like it’s selfish to spend time focussing on myself. But it’s not if that focus makes me better at servicing those I was put on this planet to serve.

The session also talked about thinking about gratitude. It turns out that gratitude isn’t just nice, I’m told that science shows that it actually can make you more successful. If you’re grateful for what you have each day — truely grateful and you reflect on this — you are more successful. The trick is, you can’t fake this stuff. You really have to be grateful. I was pretty sure that gratitude was a good thing. I just didn’t know that it was it was also a powerful thing.

Things that make you go ‘hmmm.’

So, i’m going to take a real shot at being really grateful for what i’ve been given and what even the shitty things have provided me. I tend to think of gratitude at dramatic times, intense times. I want to think about it all the time now.

And I’m going to dedicate time to  every day to self reflection. I’ve been doing this for a little while now. Nothing fancy. Just real reflection, opening my noggin to what’s out there. Thinking through what I’ve done each day, thinking about what I should be doing, what I could do.

I’m hopeful this will clear my mind to write what I need to write. If it doesn’t, I’ll be satisfied with whatever clarity shows me.

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Buzzing brain pain

I’ve started another push on my brain book.

Tentatively titled Where Are My Shoes or Stroke Boy, it’s been a labor of love and hate. Love because I need to get this story out. Both to, well, get the story out and to prove I’ve got my writing chops. I’d love to do that.

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Hate because it can be so damn painful.

The pain is emotional — every time I revisit strokey moments I stir up  baggage and pain. But it also hurts physically. My brain works really frik’n hard writing past the damage in my melon.

There’s just so much more effort involved in the process now.  The cheats I use to get around my stroke-caused reading disability simply requires more effort with each tap of the keyboard. I turtle read sentences I just wrote, I employ my reading device to replay passages and to do full edits. I can’t just skip back a sentence or two without having to finagle my reading device. When I try to free bird it pains my brain and slows me to a near standstill. My noodle just has to work so much harder to do everything that it drains the brain.

It sucks. But it’s better than not being able to read and write, so…

I don’t mean to bitch, but there’s so much that slows me down and befuddles my noggin. Virtually everything takes additional effort. A little here, a little there and by the end of the day my brain is bushed.

I have a device to read emails for me, but on my mobile phone I need to turtle read texts and emails. Slow and painful by the end of the day. Ahead of Mothers Day, checking out cards for my bride took 45 minutes and frustrated my fellow shoppers who seemed to wonder why I gazed at each card for so long.

Bank machine visits, some new road construction sines and trying to make my way through some hand written notes all play head games on my over worked noggin.

There’s nothing I can do about this. There doesn’t seem to be a way to get my old speedy reading skills back and the attach on my brain could have been so much worse.

But still…

The trick is I need my brain and me to stay friends. I need to push it enough to do my job, do my writing and all of the other stuff it’s so handy for. But I can’t burn it out in doing so. At all costs, I can’t send it over the edge again.

What’s my point? I just needed to bitch.

And for those who are wondering where that damn book is after all this time, well, now you know some of it is still locked inside my head. But I’m hoping to unlock it soon.

BTW, I often get my bride or one of my girls to proof read for me after I’m done with all of my device readers and spell check cheats. But today none are available. Hopefully my bugged brain caught enough typos to make this make some sence. Or is that sense? I’m sure it’s not sents….

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Ode to Mr Lee

It’s been 11 years since the world’s best dad passed away. I’ve been trying to do my best to be a little bit as awsome ever since.

My Dad, Lee Seefeldt, was the king of dads. There’s no doubt.

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He taught me how to be a great man just by living as a great man. I haven’t usually lived up to what he thought, but the bar has always been there — something to aspire to.

My Dad was great as a captain of industry or a political force. He was just great every day being true to the people he loved.

My Dad was bricklayer and average man from a quick glance. But he was far from average.

You could count on him, full stop. No questions asked. If you needed Mr. Lee, you didn’t have to ask. He showed me that with his actions and he reinforced with with his words.

He took life seriously, but not too seriously. He told me to read the newspaper everyday, to always vote and to think hard every time I went to a ballot box. He thought me that the little things are what matter. Your kid, your wife — it should be crystal clear every day that you love them — they should feel it and they should hear it.

He taught me to aspire to be great at your craft, but not to neglect the other things and the people in your life,

He taught me how to step out of my comfort zone to do what needed to be done when it needed to be done.

And he taught me how to be brave and gracious in troubled times — something he really drove home in his final days.

He even taught me how to get along without him — evern though it sucks to do so.

Dad I pray there is a lake in heaven with fish that can’t resist your hook. And that there is a bar playing 50s music where you and mom can jive the night away. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

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Ode to Mister Lee

It’s been 11 years since the world’s best dad passed away. I’ve been trying to do my best to be a little bit as awsome ever since.

My Dad, Lee Seefeldt, was the king of dads. There’s no doubt.

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He taught me how to be a great man just by living as a great man. I haven’t usually lived up to what he thought, but the bar has always been there — something to aspire to.

My Dad was great as a captain of industry or a political force. He was just great every day being true to the people he loved.

My Dad was bricklayer and average man from a quick glance. But he was far from average.

You could count on him, full stop. No questions asked. If you needed Mr. Lee, you didn’t have to ask. He showed me that with his actions and he reinforced with with his words.

He took life seriously, but not too seriously. He told me to read the newspaper everyday, to always vote and to think hard every time I went to a ballot box. He thought me that the little things are what matter. Your kid, your wife — it should be crystal clear every day that you love them — they should feel it and they should hear it.

He taught me to aspire to be great at your craft, but not to neglect the other things and the people in your life,

He taught me how to step out of my comfort zone to do what needed to be done when it needed to be done.

And he taught me how to be brave and gracious in troubled times — something he really drove home in his final days.

He even taught me how to get along without him — evern though it sucks to do so.

Dad I pray there is a lake in heaven with fish that can’t resist your hook. And that there is a bar playing 50s music where you and mom can jive the night away. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

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A bad sign of the times

Technology has mostly been my friend post the brain sizzle thing.

The program that reads my writing back to me allows me to edit what I write. And the reading feature on my Kindle means I can get through a book or newspaper at regular speed like you and other “normal” people.

Without these bits of tech my 50 word per minute turtle reading would make getting through a book a months long project. And as far as work goes – I just wouldn’t be able to keep up with the emails, reports and constant churn of other reading that I need to get through each week.

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I don’t like to think where that would leave me and my stroke modified mind.

My mobile phone is also a life saver taking voice notes and photos that I can use to counter act my zapped reading old school writing skills. Gads of other gadgets and tech toys have made it much easier for this brain zapped boy to keep up with the rest of the world.

Yes, technology has really evened the playing field for me post stroke. But sometimes technology runs amuck. Too much of a good thing can go bad.

I was at a fast food burger joint the other day where they wanted me to order on a screen, tapping as pictures, words and dollar signs flashed by. I was with my bride and we got through. But it was touch and go there for a while.

How long will it be before all people are replaced by tech tools at checkout counters and the like? Before gadgets and gizmos that were designed to help us start running the show?

Take the checkout counter at a grocery or department store. It’s great that technology makes it easier for staff to work faster and reduce mistakes. It’s even ok to have self serve options to make things move faster on a busy day. But it seems to me that I see more machines and less people working every time I drop by a supermarket.

So many new technologies start by making things easier for average folk. But then as we get hooked on them, they often go too far. The focus becomes only about moving things along faster and cheaper and the human bits are zapped. And that’s where things go south.

Convenience is great, but I choose the real teller over the automated one because I don’t have to struggle reading the screen, I get to shoot the breeze with the teller and I help make their job continue to make sense to management. Often times a good teller provides real value – a heads up on a soon to come sale, noticing a missing button on a shirt I’m about to buy and just being nice making me more inclined to return.

It may be old fashioned, but I have a feeling that customer service and product knowledge are actually pluses that help a business thrive over the long term. Enough well trained real people in a shop actually help move happy costumers quickly. And tech gadgets make their share of mistakes, as well, BTW.

I get that some folks prefer to skip real people and that’s a choice I can accept.

But what I’m noticing with a lot of new technology is that it’s rushing folks along so quickly that it’s eliminating all human connections. You press buttons into the machine and stand silently for a few minutes with other people who’ve just tapped their orders in, somebody calls your number, your grab your stuff and off you go.

No time for convos. No time to waste. No time to get to know new folks and to learn the stuff we learn through random human contact.

For me it’s a double nightmare because I just can’t keep up to these screens. I time out, things buzz and zap and I end up with the wrong things or nothing at all.

Some stuff I can learn, like gas station pump keyboards and bank ATMs, as long as I stick to one brand or company. But the more complicated the questions and the prompts, the more likely I am to pay too much for something, get the wrong thing or wind up in secondary screening at the airport.

And every time I chose a machine versus a person, I’m missing out on a conversation. And that can cost me anything from a great story to a good deal.

The more tech becomes the norm over people at our shops and customer service counters, the fewer options folks like me and others with reading, vision and learning disabilities will have.

But that’s really only a small problem in the big picture of things. The more the norm is to connect constantly on our devises, to connect with computerized order takers and service ‘bots, the more distant human connections become. The more we’ll see groups of people in coffee shops and bars alone with their devices.

People won’t ask people to dance or strike up conversations in pubs…they’ll just hook up digitally and slowly but surely the skills and thrills of human interaction will slip away. It’s already happening. I was recently in a pub when my beer mate shuffled off to the loo. I took a peek around the joint as I sat alone and noticed at least 10 tables with two or more people where no conversations were happening. They were together but alone, focused on their devices.

If my disability keeps me talking to real people, I guess I’ll count it a blessing.

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Make’n it work takes a little longer

My bride and I recently took in the uniquely soulful sounds of Lyle Lovett. He was playing at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium – a venue with almost perfect sound.

It was something.

Fellow troubadour John Hiatt was on stage with him. It was just the two of them with a collection of amplified acoustic guitars. They went back and forth, a Hyatt song followed by a number from Lyle. And lots of stories and quirky conversations filling the spaces in between as they changed guitars and tuned.

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My cousin Carrie was there with a friend, sitting a few rows ahead of us. From what I could see, they knew every word. When it came to Lyle, Patricia and I did, too. And while we have a pile of his recordings, they don’t get played every day. But there the words were, rolling out of our minds and through our lips, quietly, though, so as not to spoil the sound coming from on stage.

So where were these words coming from?

Even John Hiatt admitted during the show that he couldn’t quite recall the words to one song a member of the crowd shouted out for him to play. And Lyle once turned to his mobile for some memory help during an exchange between the town artists.

Yet all of the words to Lovett’s numbers from the 80s and 90s were rolling off of our tongues.

We listened to a lot of Lyle when we first start seeing each other, it was one of our musical bonds and it sparked memories beyond the music. Powerful stuff, that, I guess.

Memory – the brain – is a strange thing.

Back in the 80s I saw a lot of a mid level band called Doug and the Slugs. They had a number called Making It Work. I can’t hear somebody say; “we’ve got to make this work” without hearing that song play in my melon. And without seeing Doug and a couple of his Slugs.

But can I tell you what I had for breakfast yesterday?

Doug and the Slugs was an OK band at best. But they were fun and when I saw them it was collage days, heady times with profound experiences.

Then there is Madam Gimber. She was my Grade 7 French teacher. I had tremendous crush on her. As the class became tougher throughout the year and my concentration levels faltered more and more I dropped from a B to a D. When I struggled to make certain sounds with my monotone mouth and she’d come closer to try to encourage me along, it had the opposite effect. I’d just be gobsmaked by her presence and falter even more. She eventually told me she’d pass me if I agreed not to take French in Grade 8. I was crushed. And I can still see her crystal clear from some stored file in my head.

Memory is so strange. The brain is so complex, weird, wonderful and sometimes cruel.

There’s a spot on the QE 2 Highway between Calgary and Edmonton where I often recall the words to the Stone’s song Sympathy for the Devil. That’s where I heard it loudly; where the volume seemed to eerily increase, as I was driving home from visiting my grandfather — my mom’s dad – for the last time.

My point? I’m getting to that.

I often have friends and colleagues tell me that they are losing their minds without the assault of a stroke or brain injury. Half jokingly half with worry, they fret that it’s concerning that they’re losing mental capacity without anything be age and time to blame. And that a brain bashed dude like me has a better memory.

I don’t.

But what I learned coming out of my stroke is a brain is one of those use it or lose it kinda things. Loads of stuff is locked away in there. Even with damage like me and my fellow strokies have gone through, there are ways to find new paths to get it out.

For most average folks, it’s just a matter of working it. You can’t not have exercised since high school and expect to do 100 sit up and run 10 clicks. But you can work at it and – sooner or later – you can be back in fighting shape.

I was forced to do memory work and other mental calisthenics. I had no choice. And that’s helped me get better. I still have to work my brain to make it work well. I have to play mental games to unlock names and other stuff I need to pull out of my noodle.

Sometime choice can be a bad thing. If nothing forces you to do something, sometimes it’s easiest just to melt away. And today, with phone numbers stored on our mobiles and loads of other devices designed to do our thinking for us, it’s easy to slowly use our real minds.

My brainy advice to anybody in their late 30s and beyond is to try to remember the odd phone number and dial it rather than just hitting a prompt on your cell phone. Drive some place after looking it up on a map, try to remember the route rather than letting a voice on your phone talk you through each twist and turn.

Try to lock in experiences in your mind. Work to make day to day interaction stick like the profound situations do automatically.

This isn’t always fun. Pushing the brain can be taxing.

It can be made more fun through brain games. There are lots of them out there.

There are also more subtle things to do to spark the brain. Listen to music that’s not normally your thing. Go see a movie with subtitles. If you’re not into art, go to a museum. If you’re not into sports, check out a hockey game. This stuff sparks up the less used bits of brain. I know of advertising folks and other creatives who do stuff like this to prompt ideas outside of their norms.

Close your eyes in different settings and listen. Deeply. It’s amazing what that can spark.

Often negative memories hold stronger in your head. But that’s because these profound events don’t require trick to lock ‘em in. A car accident hold tight because you don’t have a lot of them – hopefully – and they can have such profound implications. With work you can make more routine stuff stick, too, though.

One thing that I don’t have to make any effort to recollect is my Strokeversay. It was on the first Monday of the time change to daylight savings back in 2010 when I stroked out. Every Spring forward since I profoundly recall my strokie version of that horrible day. And the days, weeks and months that followed.

I get angry that it happened. I feel fear that it could happen again. Then I make a toast that no matter what happens next, I’m not going to let my days or my brain go to waste.

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