Over brunch, a friend who is a brain doctor described to my wife and me a college seminar she recently taught about different famous cases of traumatic brain injury. She called the seminar “Headcases.”
My wife suffered several concussions when she was kid. After one of them, she said she slept for about 12 hours. Which is, of course, the exact opposite of what a concussion patient is supposed to do.
I know I’m not the only one who finds the human brain fascinating, and loves to read about the strange ways it can react to trauma–someone gains a skill they never had before, or loses one, or starts to speak with an accent. But as more and more examples of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) start to publicly manifest in football players, and we outside of medicine learn more about the awful long-term effects of concussions, brain trauma has become less of a fascinating medical oddity to me and more of a reminder that the abuse my wife suffered as a child might never truly leave her be.
Our brain doctor friend asked my wife if she experiences symptoms related to her concussions and my wife said she seems to go from 0 to 60 with things like depression and anxiety. As in, she feels them suddenly and dramatically. Our friend said that would seem to fit with a history of concussion.
I cross my fingers that my wife’s young brain did recover fully from its injuries. I pray for her sake and mine that there isn’t a related symptom waiting for us down the road–a medical jump-scare.
My wife and I agree that marriage has changed one thing in our relationship, which is how we look at the future. Not that we didn’t think about our entwined futures before, but now that we’re forever, certain eventualities have come into focus. We will be married when our parents die, when we and our friends age and fall ill, as some inevitably will. Morbid thoughts for sure, and hopefully all of that is a long way off, but we will be together in good and well as in bad.
I take taking care of my wife seriously. And now I feel an even more urgent need to take care of her, because I want her to be happy and healthy as much as possible for as long as possible.
Taking care of myself … I’m not always so good at that. But I’m trying to get better. Inspired by a post I saw on Pinterest, I’ve been working on a self-care checklist. It’s just a list of things I can do in the morning, during the day, once a week, and a few times a week that will help me take care of myself. Things like: eat a healthy breakfast, leave my desk and take a walk during the day, spend some time in nature, use only one electronic at a time, and get lost in a book.
One small thing that has already made a big difference is using some of my morning train time to do a ten-minute guided meditation. I’ve been using an app called Headspace, which gives you ten free guided meditations. Unlike other apps I’ve tried, these meditations aren’t narrated by someone who sounds like they’re floating in space. These are voiced by a guy named Andy with a Bristol UK accent. I like these particular meditations because of how they are structured–going back and forth between bringing awareness to your body and surroundings, breathing exercises, and observing your mental traffic. I haven’t explored many of the app’s functions beyond the free meditations and the associated animations that illustrate different concepts related to mindfulness and meditation, but I find it generally charming and easy to use.
After doing my ten minutes on the train, I do find myself feeling less anxious and more at peace. This is a slow time of year at work, so it’s a good time to build a habit that will help me cope when things speed up again.
I’m going to see if I can sell my wife on making her own self-care checklist. I know we’ll be together in sickness, but right now I have my sites set on “in health.”