Friday, October 18, 2013

Hash Browns Supreme!

It was a weekend morning. We wanted something fancy. But eating out is pricey and often disappointing (since we've been perfecting our culinary skills and consistently choosing high quality ingredients to use in our dishes). Pancakes wouldn't do. Oatmeal gets old. We needed something SUPREME!
- 2 sweet potatoes, diced
- 2 small onions, diced
- 10 crimini mushrooms, sliced
- half a bunch of Kale, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic
- oil of your choice (I use reserved bacon fat, yep you heard that right!)
- 2 tsp each of thyme and tarragon
- salt and pepper to taste

Toss sweet potatoes, onions, and garlic in oil in your favorite pan (mine was cast iron). Cover and let cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are nearly tender when pierced with a fork.
Add mushrooms, kale, and spices. Toss, stir, till cooked to your liking. Serve with bacon and eggs, or all on it's own. Yum!

Aphasia on Screen: Ram Dass in Fierce Grace

"Aphasia is a loss of language, not a loss of intelligence." That is the National Aphasia Association's motto and tag line. It's an empowering nod to all the individuals who are living with this disorder of communication. Maybe it helps. But it doesn't cure all of the frustration and hard work that comes with having aphasia and surviving a stroke. I must say however, as someone who has sat across from so many individuals with aphasia and other communication issues, these "barriers" don't eliminate their ability to deliver some truly powerful and moving lessons.

Ram Dass is a famous contemporary spiritual leader who was at the height of his popularity in the 60's and 70's. He was(is) well loved by the "hippie" movement and spiritual seekers for his book Be Here Now and for helping to make Yoga and Hindu spirituality more accessible to Americans. In February 1997, Ram Dass had a left hemisphere stroke which left him with right sided weakness and expressive aphasia.

In 2001 he "starred" in a documentary which included his perspective on aging and his aphasia in addition to his life story. I watched the documentary recently and was on the edge of my seat! It was a beautiful illustration of  how Speech and Communication and Spirituality can be so interconnected (one of my favorite things to muse about).

The documentary opens with a clip of Ram Dass in 1969 speaking eloquently and esoterically about the discipline of the yogi to stay present through both physical/external and internal distractions. Then cuts to a more recent interview with him, gray haired and communicating with aphasia. From my perspective as an SLP, Ram Dass's aphasia is on the mild side (mild anomic aphasia to be exact), but his language skills are markedly different from pre-stroke, and immensely frustrating for such a high level communicator, no doubt. The movie was full of these juxtapositions: clips of Ram Dass pre-aphasia or people reading from his eloquent books and letters, followed by clips of current interviews or   speaking engagements. All equally moving and insightful.

Watching this film made me think about my own experiences talking with people with aphasia and the unconventional but effective way ideas are often shared. I have experienced that sometimes "odd" metaphors and word finding pauses, transparent facial expressions, and unspoken parts of an interaction can be even more powerful communication than fancy words and sentences.  Often these messages need little extra explanation. They stand alone. This is good news! It helps me to recognize that we can all be powerful communicators, no matter our real or perceived barriers to being fully expressed and to using our voice.

I had so many favorite moments in this film. Ram Dass working with his Speech Pathologist (of course I loved that). Ram Dass talking about wishing to be free from the aphasia, the paralysis, but also welcoming it as an "experiment of consciousness." A clip of Ram Dass ecstatically experiencing chanting and music. And Ram Dass delivering intensely moving guidance to a young woman who was seeking his counsel after a terrible tragedy in her life. He has aphasia in all of these moments, yes. But he was just as alive, loving, and powerful as ever. Beautiful.

You can watch Fierce Grace on NetFlix or on YouTube (here)

How to Respond to Overstimulation

I recently spent the weekend in NYC, attending a conference on voice therapy and visiting my Speechie Friend Erika. Erika and I met in 2008 when I completed my clinical fellowship year in Detroit and she has been a valuable friend and colleague since the get-go. It was her dream to move to New York, and she loves that city! I grew up in the distant suburbs of New York and I visited a lot in my youth, so the city has a special place in my heart too. But I haven't been back to visit in years. I was really struck by how BUSY it is there! After all, it is "the city that never sleeps"

SLPs (speech language pathologists) and other clinicians often think about how overstimulation and extra sensory information affect our patients with autism, learning differences, and brain injury. We know that it can lead to agitation or anxiety. We understand that it negatively affects new learning, performance, and accuracy. We even create goals for people to try to improve their performance in the presence of extra sensory input like background noise or distractions. But we don't always think about how typically developing or non brain injured individuals respond to these same situations and environments. 

My NYC weekend helped me become acutely aware of how I respond to them! My work with yoga and other spiritual practices has made me more aware of the energy of different people and places. And my intentional lifestyle, which includes early bedtime, lots of fresh clean food, and rest was definitely in contrast to my weekend on the go. I ate out almost every meal, I stayed up late to reconnect with my friend (and to match that notoriously night owl-y NYC clock), and I did a lot of hurrying around to arrive on time to busses, my course, social dates, etc. On monday, by the time I boarded the T at South Station for the last leg of my journey home, I was SPENT! I wouldn't have changed a thing. I had a blast and learned so much but I could tell the weekend had taken a toll. I was extremely fatigued and I felt like every nerve in my body was about to short circuit. I hobbled down my street suitcases in tow and got to work on damage control.

Here's how I took care of my body and mind after all that overstimulation:

1. I drank a tall glass of water. Not coffee. Not juice. Just water, to hydrate and start my intentional mini-cleanse. 
2. I played some soothing music. My favorite is the Putumayo "Yoga" album. 
3. I ate a home cooked meal. Luckily my partner had cooked the day before and there were delicious leftovers for the win!
4. I took a cool shower, with lavender essential oils sprinkled in the tub at my feet for calming.
5. I dried off and applied a soothing face mask. 
6. I finished off with the neti pot to clean out germs that had hitched a ride on my travels. 
7. The rest of the evening was all about resting and connecting. No work, no electronics. I needed to hit the reset button to be ready for the next day!

Post your comments below! What are some ways you have found to reset after being overstimulated?