Friday, January 6, 2012

Hairapy - Saving One Brain at a Time

Tanya Comfort, my hairdresser and friend, was in a terrible motorcycle accident last August. She broke her collarbone, ribs and her back in 10 places. And she ended up with a head injury.

I visited her at the intensive care unit about two weeks after the accident. She was curled up, like a Frito, in her bed. Her every movement was monitored.  She opened her eyes, but didn't recognize me. Turns out she didn't remember anything until mid September.

Less than six months later she is back at work at Hairapy, her Elyria, Ohio hair salon. It's not a fancy-schmancy place. Instead, it's rather simple; in a small, button-cute house. Everybody knows your name and more than a little of your business. Some of the ladies come every week for a wash and set. Others - like me - come every month or so for a cut and every three to four months for a color - what I used to call a dye job.

Product with a Capital 'P'
After the hair event, I mosey over to select Product. With a Capital 'P'. I know this to be true because years ago a hairdresser eyed my hair and haughtily said: "Do you use Product?" He cut to the chase. None of this, "So, what type of products do you use on your hair?" He didn't even include a measly article - a, an, or the - in his query. Nope it was right down to business: "Do you use Product?" So impersonal. So trendy.  The way he said it, I knew it was Very Important. 

Dutifully, I began using Product. 

Anywhoooo.....Tanya is easing back into work. Always a workaholic, she's trimming back expectations and learning to be human. Her letter to her customers put it thusly: "Please keep in mind although I may look good and normal on the outside, my insides, where most of the damage was, is still healing. Therefore, my hours are going to vary." She is finally conceding that she needs to pay more attention to her health.

She's cutting back to about a 40-hour work week, down from her previous 70-plus hours a week. A few of her customers may have to set her straight. Despite what some think, hair is not a crisis. Life can be. Tanya knows this too well.

She trimmed and texturized my hair into it's familiar spikiness - what she and I call piecyness. Some might call it messiness, but the wash and wear style - along with Product, of course - works for me.

The hair stuff is all window dressing for the real work: what's happening in each of our lives. In a word: Hairapy. Part hair, part therapy - a real bargain and lifesaver.  

The recent session found us both at similar places. No, I haven't had a traumatic brain injury - quiet in the peanut gallery. But as I get a bit older, I find myself mentally challenged.

About two years ago at the watershed 50 year mark, I found myself standing before the freezer, wondering why, whattheheck? I mined the frozen depths of my brain and began a mental scavenger hunt. Sometimes it worked: Pork Chops! Other times, not. I'd wander back upstairs, the elusive somethingorother remaining undiscovered. A gnawing feeling, remained. I knew I was forgetting something, but I couldn't put my finger on what I was forgetting. Most annoying.

Words elude me. Objects too. I find myself leaving things places and not knowing where. Coffee cups fly off the top of my car. "Mom, your shirt's inside out," someone will warn. You know what they say, if the head weren't attached, it would probably get lost, too. At this point, I'm banking that it is.

I have to admit that my first memorable forgetting happened 20 years ago. I tucked my new-born Kevin into his car seat and headed out. A mile down the road, I turned around to talk to him and he just was not there. I raced back home and he was happily cooing, gurgling and squirming right where I'd left him in the kitchen. Happily this mental glitch was never repeated.

However, many other brain blips began happening. I find myself searching for words - what do you call it? The thingamajig. Um. Um. Um. Rapid-fire delivery of the kids' names - and now the dog's included in the name jingle. All in an effort to name the one I'm really trying to address. It goes something like this: "KevinPatrickColleenFinney; I mean Patrick." Sort of a mental stuttering followed by a verbal demonstration. I lose my keys;  my work cell phone.; my personal cell phone; the remote.  I am, I fear, losing my mind. 
Happy Trails to you...until we meet again?

Tanya and I swap tips on retraining our brains. It's a proven fact that new experiences build new neural pathways. My psychiatrist's prescription for me includes certain medications, but equally important is being a lifelong learner.  Our brains are, ultimately, plastic. Like young Benjamin Braddock in "The Graduate" I am learning the future is in "plastics" - of the brain kind. Plasticity. Neuroplasticity is the new lingo in brain  science, neurology and my
psychiatrist's office.

Tanya's rehab includes physical work and workouts (swimming is particularly good, it turns out for both the physical and the mental). Her physical therapist had her draw a clock face and have the hands show 10:40. The first day she tried it, she couldn't make sense of it. Two days later it had somehow locked into her brain and once again, yup, it was as easy as telling time.

Repetition helps, but so does challenging one's brain with something new. New information, new skills, new discoveries. New games. Crossword puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles. Suduko -sorry I just can't go there - it's too mathy for me....Other plasticity promoting things - at least for me - knitting, sewing, swimming, gardening, mowing the lawn, writing, reading. I like to jazz up the solitary events with sidetrips to new places - resale shops and ethnic food stores are among my favorite places. Funky coffee shops - the grungier the better. Talking to people about just about anything. Learning about history - visiting a historic site. Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland is a historic gem.

Rest and good sleep are vitally important. Just ask my dog, Finney.

Finney look-alike, in all ways
Sleep is the time for our bodies to heal - from surgery, traumatic events or the daily grind of living. Brain cells heal from the wear and tear of daily living.

Like Tanya, I am a workaholic. I have a full-time job. Add to that maintaing a house and raising three kids. I sometimes do freelance writing project. And, for the past five years, I've worked part-time at a lcoal bingo hall, two days a week. This part-time job to help defray the costs of my daughter's expenses in a Touring Choir - international trips, domestic trips, tuition, uniforms, etc. Cha-ching!

The only reason I stopped working at the Bingo Hall was because they closed down because of the bad economy - when people are paying for instants with pennies and change, you know its bad. And, if the Bingo Hall were still open, I'd still be working there Tuesday evenings (after an 8-hour day at my job) and every Sunday afternoon. To me the Bingo Hall closing was my sign that I needed to give my body and brain well-deserved rests. So, now I'm down to my full-time job and part-time freelancing, raising a family. Seven Minutes Later is a new endeavor - in my "spare" time.

Part of my "work" today includes finding comforting ways to relax - all the things mentioned above (except the overly numerical Suduko).

For my dollar a day contribution to WCPN, 90.3 FM, Northeast Ohio's public radio station, I chose the thank you gift package that included Dr. Norman Doidge's book, "The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science." Also included were DVDs, one called, "The Brain Fitness Program," which had aired on public television - yes, about neuroplasticity and the brain's ability to change, adapt and rewire itself. And, from PositScience, the "Brain Fitness Program," the program calibrates your personal skill level starting point and provides ways to improve the quality and quantity of information your brain can absorb. Sort of like mental calisthenics.  PositScience's tag line is "your brain will thank you."

I think I can hear my already hear my brain thanking me. And none too soon.

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