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Managing My Energy Levels After Traumatic Brain Injury

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Ah yes… the energy topic. This is one of two major symptoms with which survivors of traumatic brain injury often have to struggle. Yes, we have a physical power source (aka, our brain) but it’s injured and may not operate as efficiently as it should. Therefore, our power supply isn’t always reliable. One day it may provide charge to get us through all, or at least most of the day… while the next, it may take all we’ve got just to roll out of bed and make a cup of coffee.

My dad introduced me to a new magazine I’d never heard of which focuses primarily on diseases and injuries concerning the nervous system. It’s called Neurology Now. I would strongly recommend checking out this magazine full of educational content concerning diseases such as: multiple sclerosis, autoimmune diseases, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and traumatic brain injury. They list and answer questions people with these conditions and caregivers have, as well as tips and tricks to better work with common symptoms.

I focused on the section that spoke about excessive and extreme fatigue as well as strategies to help us manage it better. I’m tired all the darn time. A couple days ago, I accidentally fell asleep on the couch for 10 minutes and woke up charged and ready to go. This morning, upon waking up after getting 8 consecutive hours of sleep, I felt like I only got 10 minutes worth of sleep and was even more exhausted than when I went to bed last night. This is what I mean about the power source not functioning correctly or experiencing a “short in the system.” After 8 hours, I should have been able to conquer the world (or at least felt like I could), but nope. I got to tan for 20 minutes and then right back into bed I went. It’s beyond infuriating.

The article was written by Fran Kritz and titled Energy Boost. She lists 6 tips on how to acquire energy or at least how to better maintain it throughout the day. I’d like to list her tips here, and then briefly comment on them. (All credit goes to Ms. Kritz, I’m just providing commentary).

1. “Identify the cause.” If you wake up each and every day feeling like you just swam the entire Pacific Ocean… then there’s most likely an issue you need to address with your doctor.

2. “Tweak doses.” I can’t say I completely agree with this tip, only because some of us spoonies don’t have a choice in how much medication we need. We can certainly suggest a lower dose, but each person’s body is different and thus responds differently to doses of medication. You might be like me and be someone who has an extremely high pain tolerance and thus requires a higher dose of medication to combat pain effectively. Or, you could have sensitivity to medications and require a very low dose with the knowledge it will have the same effect on you at that low dose than a high dose would on someone like me.

3. “Get regular exercise.” Again, yes and no. A person with fibromyalgia, for example, may not have that luxury of exercising effectively or hitting the gym regularly during a week. Most of us know that getting regular exercise does help with increasing energy, but those statistics are largely based on healthy individuals who don’t have to manage a laundry list of other symptoms. It’s a whole different ball game when dealing with chronically ill individuals. The article also mentions that regular exercise will help with a person’s mood. However, if I may be sarcastic for a moment, fibromyalgia spoonies might challenge that theory if they get done doing those healthy jumping jacks only to realize the nerves in their legs are shooting out an electric shock.

4. “Schedule occupational therapy.” I would have to agree. When I was in the hospital and going through about 5 months of physical rehabilitation to teach me how to walk, maintain my balance, dress myself, bathe, etc., the therapists taught me how to do all of these things while conserving energy in the process. For example, Ms. Fran Kritz states the following in Neurology Now: “In April 2016, the magazine issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy mentioned a case study which described energy-conserving strategies for a woman with multiple sclerosis and dementia. These included: sitting while dressing, eating breakfast earlier before any exercise, and resting after finishing a meal.” I very much agree with tip #4 because while in the hospital, the therapists taught me the same thing. I was to sit down while getting dressed, and seeing as though I have an injury to my brain, they recommended I nap whenever my body told me to.

5. “Use assistive devices.” Again, I very much agree with this. Fresh out of the hospital, I had to use a wheelchair for a while whenever I lost too much energy in the middle of the day. I also currently use shower grab bars because, to this day, my balance sucks monkeys, and the last thing I want to do is fall and hit my head while using my mango bath wash. That’s just a scary thought. So instead of setting my recovery back another two years, I make sure to use those suckers every time I shower, and they’ve prevented many falls. I would highly recommend using any device, whether it be a walker, a cane, a wheelchair, grabby bars while you get your scrub on… whatever helps you best. Don’t be ashamed to use them, no matter how old or young you are.

6. “Address sleep problems.” This is a big one guys. It’s bad enough that we struggle with fatigue even when we do get a full night’s rest, but tack on sleep issues… and you might as well go swim the entire Pacific Ocean. That’s like taking a walk on a 90°F day while having a hot flash. We gotta make sure we are at least getting those 8 hours even if we feel like we’ve only slept 10 minutes. It’s not just for brain healing, but sleep helps the whole body heal. They say laughter is the best medicine (and I’ve argued this before) but I disagree. Sleep is the best medicine for spoonies. Laughter certainly serves as a bonus. If you’re having sleep concerns, please let your doctor know because that issue shouldn’t be put to the wayside.

Thus concludes her tips and my commentary on each of them, but I’m more interested in hearing what you have to say about these tips. Do you agree with them? Do you disagree and why? Do you have any other tips you’ve found personally helpful with your disease or illness?

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Photo by Antonio Guillem / Getty Images.

Originally published: November 29, 2017
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