Someone Walks into a Bank – Brain Injury, Modern Technology and Isolation

This month I’d like to highlight isolation. To help, I’ve the story of Mike. Mike is not a real person, but he is inspired by several real people – people living with the social effects of brain injury as well as cognitive.

What is Isolation?

The state of being separated from someone and/or something else. A “something” might be our community, which means being separated from lots of people. “Community” also implies, by its own definition, that those lots of people are helpful to each other.

So isolation can also mean ending up without help.

Chains of Isolation
  • Invisible cognitive problems
  • Communication difficulties
  • Emotional difficulties
  • Poor access to work
  • Reduced daily living skills
  • Relationship strains
  • Feeling sidelined
Modern Life

On the theme of computers and social skills, here‘s a “Little Britain” sketch I thought you might like before reading about “Mike”. Enjoy!

(Mike’s Story)

One Saturday morning, Mike decided to visit his bank. He had to cancel a direct debit. Not feeling confident, he had it in his head that a staff member would help from across the counter or in one of the side offices.

A reminder on his mobile three hours before the bank closed prompted him why he needed to get up in good time. (Being a Saturday Mike’s bank closed early.)

He arrived at the bank and stood in line to be seen. As he waited, a member of staff approached him. She had an ipad in one hand and a cheerful greeting for him. Before he could answer she asked if Mike banked on line. She told him that if he did, he need not have made the journey into town.

Mike felt awkward. He heard himself say: “I’m not interested. I’m just here to cancel a direct debit. Sorry.”Bank2

She carried on regardless. Mike tried to concentrate, but panic rose and her words began to wash over his mind. Anger began to take over from panic. The level of his voice matched the level of his emotion. “Stop!” Embarrassed he apologised. He tried humouring her. “I’m a dinosaur. I don’t get on with technology. I prefer to speak face to face with someone.”

Eventually, Mike felt telling her he had a brain injury was the lesser of evils. He coped better when not having to think about PIN and customer reference numbers, and yet another password. Telling her was his only way out of this situation. He did not like doing it; he worried who else might be listening.

The lady accompanied him to a desk and another member of staff. And even though that member of staff tried to help, her computer would not allow her to authorise the cancellation. In the end, Mike was led into a cubicle with a phone and given a number to ring.

Eventually Mike and the voice at the other end cancelled the direct debit. It had taken the voice several ways to answer Mike’s one last question, but the voice did not mind. The voice belonged to a human whose relative had had a stroke.

Mike was grateful but eager to get home. He felt drained and in no hurry to talk to anyone else that day.

As the “Little Britain” sketch shows, you don’t need to have a brain injury to be frustrated with modern technology. But for those with ABI, the problems can double.

Take care for now.

Sean

 

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Panic Buttons for A.B.I.

This month I’ve been asked to write about panic attacks. Wow! I thought. Why haven’t I covered it before? When any of us are unable to think straight, our biology, our emotions carry us along.

Where they carry us, we don’t know until we stop, draw breath and take in what we can of our situation. Up until that point, we don’t know which direction we’re taking ourselves. We become proverbial “headless chickens”.

Before any compensatory therapy or strategy can prove useful, Step One has to be a willingness to face fears. This is most true of clients whose cognitive functioning can be problematic, even on the happier days.

TV Static

The clouding of consciousness (brain fog) is for ABI clients / patients, physical. In a lot of cases it does not go away. Emotions determine the degree of cloud cover, but it’s always there to be lived with.

Another way to describe an injured brain might be as a faulty TV set. I am reminded of Sunday mornings I spent many, many years ago – playing around with the aerial of my parents’ gogglebox – trying to get an undistorted picture of the BBC test card before “Mr. Benn” started.

As therapists, the most we can do is reduce the amount of static and suggest positions the aerial might work better. The aerial’s actual positioning to stabilise their picture behind their static is our clients’ job.

There is no real, by the book, “how to…” with this. In my view, it has to be person-centred. Here‘s a link to Part One of a counselling session (not one of mine) with a head injured client. It lasts 9 or so minutes.

N.B. The client reports being “snappy”, NOT “panicky”.

Panic Button Controls
  • DON’T FIGHT, TAKE FLIGHT. Remove yourself from the environment / situation causing your panic.
  • Find somewhere you can be safe and quiet.
  • Begin listening to your own breathing, taking slow, deep breathsABI and Panic
  • Close your eyes and, if possible, imagine you’re in your favourite surroundings, doing a favourite thing.
  • If imagining you are somewhere else is impossible for you, hold an object in both hands and look at it. Keep listening to your breathing as you notice each of the object’s details – shape, colour, texture, markings…
  • Keep practicing. Set a special time andplace aside for yourself.

Reading what to do might be easy. Remembering and doing it, as we all know, is hard. It helps most to be with someone while you practice.

Click here for Part Two of the counselling session. Again, not a counselling session of mine. Part Two also lasts around 9 minutes.

Patchy Reception & Counselling

If you are perhaps wanting counselling, the following points may help you decide.

  1. It offers you a room clear of clutter and distraction – space to breathe and relax.
  2. Regular time slots (50-60 minutes) that can be used to off load – kind of scatter thoughts, feelings, experiences into and around that room.
  3. It provides someone who will support, not judge. Part of that support is in helping take control of the panic. Part is in helping you get organised.

If I was to counsel you, I’d combine listening with breathing techniques and other Mindfulness exercises. A new sense of self can grow. Because as your new self becomes less patchy, you could begin to identify your gut instincts – which situations cause panic more than others and how to deal with them yourself.

Take care for now.

Sean

 

SMART Pacing

 

pacingHappy New Year Everyone!

Here we are at the start of another twelve month cycle. If you’re anyone like me, this thought will have crossed your mind: “Is making a New Year resolution good for me?”

The Problem With Me

My neurologist once told me: “Sean, you can do most things most people can do. The difference is that they only need fuel themselves on one Mars bar. You need two.”

I’ve come to the conclusion, having a brain injury myself, that eagerness and enthusiasm to achieve works against me. I set myself too many ambitions. And those ambitions have been too big. I try to run before I can walk. I get fatigued and burn myself out.

I also set myself one year in which to achieve my goals. I’ve already said: “Here we are at the start of another twelve month cycle.” BIG mistake! Next Christmas becomes a Finishing Line. A Finishing Line that’s only half way down my imaginary racecourseeaster bunny.

When I get to Christmas, I feel a failure. My ambitious project still has a lot of time to be spent on it. In any case, the truth is I’d be out of puff before I’d got to Easter.

SMART Eggs

Specific   Measurable   Actionable   Relevant   Time-boundaried

That’s what S.M.A.R.T. stands for. It’s a way of working out the best goals to set. No one needs to be an egghead to use it, either… (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

Rather than have a New Year resolution, why not start smartly at Easter? Easter’s about new beginnings too. Better prepare yourself. Give yourself the best step forward. Consider your current experience and go on from where you are.

For example, the need for memory aids etc. Knowing who to talk through your hopes and wishes with might be your first step. Collaboration can help everyone involved be more aware and focused.

(Specific)

Be clear and certain. Set your sight on something simple. Very often, brain injury lets in all sorts of clutter – too much info’ from too many places – facts, opinions, advice. The more specific your target, the greater your chance of staying on track.

Let’s use the example of changing weight. “Changing weight” is an unclear statement. “I’d like to be 10 stone” leaves no-one uncertain about what’s wanted.

(Measurable)

For the purpose of demonstration here, let’s say “One pound difference a fortnight”. Weight can be measured every two weeks and a record kept.

(Actionable)

Again, stay specific. What treat can you not do without? Are medication and special dietary needs important factors? What is realistically achievable?

Memory and organisational problems can be reduced by dicussing meals for each day of the week. If need be, ask someone to add them to your diary, or tablet, or on something stuck to your fridge’s door.

It doesn’t have to be as strict as keeping count of how many calories per plate. Once a sensible menu has been agreed, just keep to that day’s meal.

Exercise, however possible is also something to be discussed.

(Relevant)

How relevant is weighing 10 stone to health and happiness? Maybe our existing weights are already ideal for us. Maybe something else is in more urgent need of attention.

(Time-boundaried)

Let’s say the difference between our start weight and the desired 10 stone is 3 stone. There are 14 pounds in 1 stone. 14 (pounds) x 3 (stone) = 42 (pounds). Pacing, targeting and measuring one pound difference every two weeks sets the target time 84 weeks… So we may as well, allowing a bit of leaway for celebrations and lapses, set a time boundary of two years.

And hey, if the 10 stone weight is arrived at sooner, what the heck?

Take care. I’ll be back in February.

Empathy v Sympathy

Hello everyone. This month’s post is in response to another recent email. A counsellor who, unlike myself, prefers to keep her brain injury under wraps from clients unless they ask.

There is no hard rule about it. I had my own discussions over it in supervision. For me too, how I share my experience was and is important. My most important question was: “Who really benefits from my openess?”

Answer: My therapeutic relationship with whoever my client is at the time.

Empathy
Seeing through the eyes and walking in the shoes of someone else

On the back of my business card, and on my website, I highlight that there is more to my work / life experience and skills than brain injury. It’s just that I have a more instantaneous empathy when it comes to the issues around having a brain injury than a non-brain injured counsellor.

Of course, not all clients arrive having read my website. My limp and poor co-ordination make themselves casually obvious. Together they make a warm, but brief ice-breaker. The briefer, the better. If brain injury is the issue, it is as unique for that client as mine is to me.

(Mirroring)

Speaking of “instantaneous empathy”, I feel inclined to share a conversation I had with my neurologist about it. But before I do, here’s something to whet your appetite. Click here for a cartoon on empathy. It is narrated by Brene Brown, a reasearcher-cum-storyteller.

Here’s my own story: During one of my regular appointmets with my neurologist a few years back, he did his usual thing of asking how life was going, how well I was managing my everyday work, and if I’d yet finished my training.

“Not yet,” I told him. “But I am doing some voluntary counselling on placement. In fact, the funniest thing happened last month and I wonder if you can shed some scentific light on what happened.”

I then went into a bit of a ramble about listening to and observing my client – and myself. I realised whenever my body mirrored his way of sitting. Or copied one of his gesticulations. Anyway, in the middle of doing all this, I began to get a deep sense of my client’s wider world. By that I meant my client’s hidden emotions and his unspoken distractions. It all felt so tangible, it was as if I was being him.

“Read this!” said my consultant excitedly. He quickly scribbled me a yellow post-it note. It read: “Mirror neurons”. My neurologist told me some studies had been carried out on elephants and had discovered that they too may very well have empathy. It was all down to mirror neurons located in the frontal lobe.empathic elephant

I could go on about how sympathy is often unhelpful. But I’m sure that’s a given to a lot of you out there. Above all you want people to understand what it is like to see through your eyes, walk in your shoes. Or not get up from a wheelchair for the most part of the day.

I’ll leave you with a hero of mine, Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran, and his Ted Talk on “The Neurons that Shaped Civilisation”. Be warned, though. It runs over 7 mins.

No yawning at the back!

Enjoy.

Baring Things in Mind (Part Three)

Hello all.

Thank you to those of you who’ve got in touch. It was especially nice to get an email from a fellow counsellor with cerebral palsy. Yes, I agree we should chat more about its impact and on us as practicing therapists. I’d be very happy for this here blog to be a place to come and share.

If you find Neurolations interesting, entertaining, dare I say useful, please do spread the word. How many of us brain injured therapists are there across the U.K? It’d be great to learn how you connect your chosen form of therapy to your brain injury.

That said, I will restate my blog’s other purpose.

You may not be a professional; you may have short-term memory problems, difficulties keeping track of days, appointments, budgeting, knowing who’s who, controlling your reactions and times when strangers think you’re drunk or just plain wierd. Neuronations is also about helping you.

With all of the above in mind, I thought I’d share an idea with you this month. A work-in-progress, really.

I am always interested by close similarities and cross pollinations of psychotherapy approaches. Psychodynamic therapists and analysts talk  of “personas”; cognitive behavioural therapists refer to “schemas” and “models of behaviour”; transactional analysists speak of “ego states”. The list could go on. But let’s keep things interesting.

Can the triune brain  (lizzard, limbic system and neo-cortex together) form the basis of a new way of looking at Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy?

I think it can. But my thinking is only based on my experience. I’m wondering how much of your own experience and concepts you can attach to the triune brain. Today I found a thought provoking video about it on Youtube: “Therapy in a Nutshell”. (Don’t you just love it when Serendipity comes along?) N.B: The video does NOT represent the hard science of how the brain works. It is a SIMPLE WAY OF EXPLAINING the brain and personality working together.

triune triangle

The world already has loads of pyschological ways of dealing with what it is to be human. Does it need another one?

The thing is, I’m not sure if any counselling approach takes physical, neurological injury into account. A whole range of books have been written about emotional and psychological disorders. Entire training sessions are given to learning about depression, eating disorders, addiction, anger management and so on. But much less so the interelatedness of brain injury and personality changes, for example.

Anything that does deal with A.B.I, as far as I’ve found so far, is just concerned with the neurological function of lobes and the effects of damage to them – almost in isolation from the rest of the brain. Useful knowledge in an operating theatre. Not so helpful when someone describes to you the loss of balance caused by loud noise but you cannot sense that with them.

Until next month, take care for now.

Baring Things in Mind (Part Two)

One of my followers asked last month if I’d used the correct spelling in the post’s tbrain in handitle. Most people say: “Bearing things in mind” – with an “e” – meaning holding things in mind.

True, but I just cannot resist putting a twist on things. I love a good pun. Besides, where my brain is concerned I am overwhelmed with multiple goings-on and meanings all in the one instance. I’m  at once expressing  I’m  wanting to uncover the mind, put it on show AND let readers behold it.

As last month was all about our so-called lizard brain – that part of us that processes what we sense, this month, I thought I’d give a case study of a client unaware of his bodily senses. With his permission, I have changed his name to protect his confidentiality.

 (James)

James was caught in a mix of family feuding, physical and emotional abuse. Though he requested anger management he came across as quite nervous.

James had no problem retelling all the incidents and background facts leading to his present situation. He had no problem getting excited about his ambitions. But when it came to recognising his excitement as he lived it, or what he was thinking in real time, he was speechless. He simply agreed with my tentative observations.

It was only after some silence in his second session he fixed eye-contact. He asked what thinking was. My description of what thinking is to me, satisfied him. He decided to give guided Focusing a go as something to do other than talk.

Guided Focusing is a series of directions that lead the focuser into and around their body starting at the toes. Sharing their experience is optional.

The idea seemed strange to James. To him, people existed in their head; their bodies just carried them around. So it was enough for him to at first do no more than note for himself his body’s physicality. And even this came hard to him. When not Focusing I introduced him to Stephen Karpman’s Drama Triangle.Karpmans-Drama-TriangleStudying it on my whiteboard was easier for him, with its systematic take on relationships. He saw himself in it.

James used his third session to separate out negatives in his past and positives in his present life.

He was happy to try Guided Focusing again. This time we combined it with the head-held, theory based, Drama Triangle. Focusing became more instrumental in this when he reported feeling ‘composed’. This was his label for his embodied experience and abstract understanding joined together. I re-worded my ‘guiding in’ script to suit.

‘Composure’ became the theme over the following weeks. James grew able to acknowledge and identify his changing emotions in relation to the different roles on the Triangle he felt himself to be as he told me about his week.

When I asked how his smirk was making him feel while he relayed what he’d like to do to get his own back on a particular person, his perception of himself switched from Victim to Persecutor. He called taking himself to his room and listening to music whenever ‘things invaded [his] head’ his Rescuer.

James struggled throughout with very hypothetical stuff. The whiteboard helped us both. Session 10 came. James decided he no longer needed to visit. He felt more confident at work (something also remarked on by his boss) less angry at home and more in control of his life.

Summary

That’s it for another month. But just before I go, to sum the Drama Triangle up, click here for a bit of “Penelope Pitstop”.

‘Who?’ some of you may ask. Don’t worry. I’m just showing my age. Best wishes to you all.