My puppy brain

It was already a blizzard up there, in my brain, as we drove out to Mennonite country for the second day in a row.

By blizzard, I mean a jumble of thoughts I couldn’t control. A sense of panic. The “your brain’s like a snow globe” concept that Dr. Bicycle had referred to so many times. I finally got it.

We were on our way to pick up a puppy, and my snow globe was all shook up.

I sat in the back of the car as my eldest daughter navigated the frigid, white wilderness. The winter tires made the car so awfully loud. The heater could barely keep up with the -25 C temperature enveloping us.

I put on my earbuds. I finally tried the Headspace meditation app that I’d downloaded months ago. I listened to the Prokofiev violin concerto that I’d found so relaxing a few days earlier at my sister’s cottage. I grasped for every brain-calming technique that I’d learned over the past seven months.

Perhaps taking the time to stop was what helped me say, when we arrived at the farmhouse, “You girls go in first. I need a minute.”

At least I took a minute.

Sniega Jan30 EDITED

How did we get here?

That part I can recount with accuracy, though I can’t vouch that I was actually there. (I spend a lot of time making decisions. Why do I so often feel like someone else has made them for me?)

I agreed to a puppy after

  • my youngest daughter delivered her Prezi presentation (a two-month effort) about dogs. The health benefits. The options. A map of the best dog-walking routes …
  • all three of my daughters confirmed they were on board.
  • I felt all Zen during my first vacation since the bicycle accident. (“I didn’t think I needed to get away,” I told one of my care workers. “It’s not like I’m at work.”
    “You’ve been working non-stop since June,” she replied. “You’re in recovery.”) Koki Coby SM
  • years of planning — and not planning. My girls finally took on 100% of the planning because this brain injury doesn’t afford me much opportunity for that. (To be honest, I think my daughters may have jumped at a not-to-be-missed opportunity!)

Darija and I had finished our cross-country skiing. I looked her in the eyes and said, “Yes.”

On New Year’s Day, I woke up thinking Bring it on, 2018! Though I didn’t realize the new year would be so significantly puppy.

And so significantly brain.

When we got back home, I tried to capture how I felt in my journal.

My handwriting is tiny and almost illegible. (This happens when I feel overwhelmed or tired. Text messages, for their part, don’t quite make sense.)

We have a dog. The girls have a dog. We have a dog, I wrote.

My brain was in overdrive about the past, the future and absolutely everything to do with dogs. About the puppy my parents got the summer I spent waiting on tables in P.E.I. About André Alexei’s Fifteen Dogs. About us and what this means, and about the puppy when it grows up, and, and …

First photo shoot SM

Puppy’s first photo shoot.

My headache hung around for two days.

Phone messages and texts piled up. I didn’t care. I was so tired that I napped at every opportunity, hoping to slow down my mind.

It was like those two days of returning to work. It was like the first time I entered a grocery store after the accident. It was like all the brain flooding that I’d experienced since May 27, dialled up to supermax.

It can happen any time if I’m not carefully managing the effects of my injury. And sometimes even when I am.

I have to figure out how to make this easier for myself, I wrote in my journal.

“Ah yes, the all-night puppy potty-training,” friends would say when I told them about that first crazy week.That takes a lot of work.”

But that’s not what I meant.

My daughters were caring for our puppy 100%. I, however, wasn’t even sure I could afford to show the love.

IMG_9082For me the challenge was to my brain.

My sessions at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute were due to start the following Monday. By Sunday, I was worried that they would kick me out before we began for doing something as foolish as getting a puppy when I had a brain injury.

My previous blog post was about having no idea what was going to happen next. Now we had a puppy. We had to deal with a puppy. We had to do everything with a puppy that I couldn’t even do for myself.

Take naps and breaks.

Keep a schedule.

Be kind.

I should write that on my forehead, knuckles, knees, toes and the inside of my eyelids, I thought.

On Day 3, I wrote in my journal: I’m sleeping a lot during the day. And meditating. And listening to music. And looking at our new puppy like she’s me, and I’m her.

We both have so much to learn so that we can get through the night. So that we can get through the day without driving our owners bonkers.

I am a puppy.

IMG_8910I think that’s when it truly hit me that my brain injury wasn’t going to go away with a Bewitched nose twitch. And that I’d have to work with my brain like we’re working with a puppy.

I got away for a night at my parent’s home and woke up at 3 a.m. with a headache. (It wasn’t lost on me that I was sleeping in the room that for 30 years had functioned as my dad’s therapy office. The air was thick with self-awareness.)

When I was accepted into the rehab program at the end of November, I thought it was too late for me. Come on, I was almost well!

Now I understood that I needed help getting a handle on my energy and learning to live with this new me. I needed to clear my life of anything that was bringing me pain or stress. I needed to focus on getting better.

From that moment on, I’ve melded to the puppy analogy.

My brain is a little puppy, I wrote in my journal.

When something new happens, she goes crazy. She doesn’t know what to do.

When someone enters the room, she goes berserk. She pees on the floor in excitement. She hides in the corner.

Fireworks go off, non-stop. She’s trying to understand, to figure it all out. Life leaves my brain, the puppy, exhausted.IMG_9120

My brain crawls into the crate. She wants to sleep, but she can’t. She can’t turn herself off. The processing goes on throughout the night.

My brain gets even more exhausted, she whimpers. She fears being alone, she craves being snuggled in the warmth of your arms.

Silence, candles, a warm bath. Lying on the floor with the puppy on my chest. Walks down dark streets in silence. Insight Timer for meditation, again and again, and again.

Deep breaths.


So I can get puppy to sleep. So I can turn off my brain.


At times I’ve thought of my brain as an ultra-thin, incredibly fragile work of art made of the finest crystal.

At times I forget about her, my brain.

At times I rail at her because she holds me hostage.

Right now my brain is a little puppy.


Sleep through the night, pup. Close your eyes.

You’re safe.

Everything will be all right.


6 thoughts on “My puppy brain

  1. Wow. When I clicked on to your post the first image I saw was of the puppy and I wasn’t sure if she was yours – but I got to say I was impressed – thinking, ‘wow she got a puppy! She’s brave!’ This post is brilliant, thank you for writing. We got a puppy a year and a half ago and even without dealing with ABI our adorable pup did turn the house up side down. I love this post, thanks for your honesty and sharing. And good luck with self care, recovery and the new member of your house. – Meri

  2. HI Mara – I like your analogy of the puppy and your brain (cute pup too!) Nice to hear about your progress. Keep up the journaling and blogging!

  3. Pingback: This writing life | Postcards from my brain

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