Of rest and stamina

Well, it’s been an interesting month. Things have been very busy at work — and when I say busy, I mean the kind of busy that happens when you take on a job that’s been half-done by someone else for so long that the people they report to expect either that you’ll continue to do a half-job, or they expect you to come in and fix everything.

Now.

I’ve actually been doing a pretty decent job of fixing things. One bit at a time – this in the midst of expanding the job description and taking on a bunch of other tasks that just need to be done, because they’re part of it.

Some people have been happy with my work, others less-happy. But I think everyone can pretty much agree that I’m making the kind of progress that needs to happen. And then some.

All in all, I’m feeling pretty positive about the past five months. I’ve made some pretty significant progress. But it’s come at a certain price. I’m pretty wiped out, and I’m starting to show signs of wear, that people who work with me are noticing.

It’s time to take a step back, take a time out, and look at the big picture in front of me. Get up and out of the minor details that I get so caught up in, and think in larger terms. Being all caught up minutiae is one of my bit TBI gotchas. I tend to assign WAY too much importance to passing details, and that can trip me up. It takes a big bite out of my energy and productivity, and it doesn’t leave me time to focus on the big picture pieces – the pieces which are necessary for fueling my progress.

Without a big picture, I lose my motivation. I need the big picture. I truly do.

So, this weekend, I am stepping back and giving myself some time to rest. I’ve proven to myself that I can deliver on the deadlines I had this past week, and I’ve really done a 180-degree turn in my productivity, which people have noticed. I pushed and pushed and pushed myself, I went off my sleeping schedule, and I am feeling it now. And now that I have done the job (for now), I can cut myself some slack and get back to my regular routine.

  • Waking up when I wake up on the weekend – not wake myself up with alarm.
  • Do my measured breathing before I get out of bed.
  • Ride the exercise bike for 20 minutes while I read a book and make notes about what I need to do this weekend.
  • Lift my weights in the usual fashion.
  • Have a good breakfast.
  • Take it easy.

Taking it easy this weekend is key. I have a short week ahead, when I have to meet several more deadlines. And then I’m going to be traveling for work, the following week. There’s a lot going on, and I need to build up my strength to do it.

The main thing is, I’ve delivered on the promises I made before. That matters. A whole lot. To me and to everyone else around me. I’ve made this milestone, and now I can allow myself to relax and celebrate that for the true victory it is. I can let myself enjoy this accomplishment, and I can look forward to the future, knowing more now than I knew before.

It’s all good.

Indeed, one of the things that makes it especially good, is that I know how I work, and for the first time in my adult working life, I’m beginning to understand that  it’s not a bad way to work. I have a very different style from most people I work with — in that I am both methodical and instinctive. I have structure AND I have gut feelings. And there is nothing wrong with me falling back on instinct — and not being able to articulate exactly why I believe I should do what I’m doing. People have often pressed me for explanations of what I was doing, and why, and when I could not provide them, I thought it meant I was stupid. But it’s just a non-verbal way of doing things.

The past week has showed me that when it comes to tight spots and high pressure, my way is NOT a bad way to do things. I do need to do a better job of communicating with people and checking things out before I dive in. But that’s something I know about, and I am actively trying to change that. Ultimately, though, what matters is that things get done. I know I can do that — I simply need to refine my style, and then I will be golden.

Of course, there is always room for improvement, and I’m focused on that. But for now, for this weekend, I am cutting myself a break and allowing myself to enjoy what I have accomplished.

And rest up for the next round on Monday.

The stories we tell

This one was injured in the line of duty and has a mission to carry on.

The other one was hurt in an accident they can’t remember and can’t see any point in carrying on.

The other one was roughed up in a fight, and didn’t realize till years later, just how roughed up they were.

Another one is missing chunks of their life and can’t figure out how to get it back — or if they even can.

Another one isn’t sure the chunks that went missing are worth getting back.

That one just wants everything to go back to normal.

That one has given up on normal, completely.

Yet another one has redefined normal and is doing their best impression they can manage of uber-normal.

All of the above are human. Telling stories.

What’s your story?

Wiped out… and cleaning up

Holy crap, I am tired. I’ve been working crazy-long hours, trying to get everything done before the end of the year.  It’s all good, but it’s a lot to do, and I’m beyond tired.

Of course, now is exactly when I need to pay extra close attention to what I’m doing. The holidays are upon us, and I’ve had a bad habit of getting hurt around the holidays.

Fortunately, I’m not doing as much traveling this year.

I’m staying home to sleep, instead.

Looking forward to it.

When in doubt, write — but don’t forget to live

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how fortunate I am.  Life hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve had some pretty down times and my share of close calls. But all in all, I have to say, I have been extraordinarily blessed along the way.

One of the key ingredients in my good fortune, I believe, has been an inner compass and an inner orientation that has guided me through many challenging and taxing situations. I have had my share of sorrows, and I’ve had my share of issues. But through it all, I have kept myself relatively upright in the stormy seas of life. And one of the ways I’ve done that has been with writing.

Barbara Stahura’s website Journal After Brain Injury, has some interesting ideas about how you can use journaling to deal with a brain injury you or someone you love has experienced. I have to admit, I have not spent a ton of time there, but I have spent a ton of time doing the sorts of things she talks about. And I have to say, it truly has helped.

What do I write about? Well, when I first realized I was dealing with the long-term effects of multiple traumatic brain injuries, I did a lot of journaling about my past experiences – childhood experiences that formerly made no sense to me… adult experiences, I could never quite explain. I wrote pages and pages and pages of journal entries, till it started to make sense to me. And I also started this blog, where I have the chance to share my experiences with others.

Even before that, though, I was writing. In my basement and spare bedroom and study are many, many journals that I’ve kept over the years. Lots of them are full of circular thinking, ruminations, obsessive-compulsive attention to minute details that mean nothing — to the rest of the world, and even to me. I have filled more notebooks than I care to think about with the ramblings of my brain. My neuropsych cringes when I show them my notebooks — to them, they are a sign of consuming attention to minutiae that has no redeeming value. But to me, on a certain level, they were exercises in trying to find out who I was and what I was about and what was going on with me.

Interestingly, I didn’t really start to figure out what was up with me, until I put down the pen and stepped away from my hours and hours of writing. It wasn’t until I looked up from the notebooks I was filling with extensive notes, and explored the world and the real people around me, that I became able to actually interact with the world. But at the same time, writing — the act of sitting down and having time with myself — gave me much-needed pause to check in with myself and find out where I was at.

My writing habits have changed a great deal, since I started down this path of active recovery from my TBI-colored history. Now I write within limited timeframes, and I set limits on the topics I cover. There’s no more rambling from one topic to another (if you think I’m bad now, you should have seen me 10years ago!), and I don’t just disappear off the face of the earth for days at a time, in order to write. Also, the writing I do is much more public, so I edit myself more and watch what I say. Before, I would just let it all hang out.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I do think that there is room for letting it all hang out. But for 20 years? And to the point where you’re filling a 3-subject notebook every two weeks with the same things you said last month? That’s a bit excessive. Not to mention counterproductive. All those hours I spent writing the same things over and over and over and over and over… Well, those hours, those days, those months, are not coming back.

And yet, they helped. In some way they did. While my head was spinning with everything that was going on around me, I could step back and take some room for myself to figure out what the heck was up with me.

So long as I came out of that room… Which I didn’t for many years. I was absolutely intent on figuring out what was wrong with me — but the place where that was happening was a place with precious few answers. And although it was a relief for me to spend the time by myself, ultimately, it worked against me, as I concocted a number of explanations — many of them flat-out wrong — for why I was having such a hard time in life.

I still do write, as you can see in this blog. But now my writing is different. It’s focused. It’s deliberate. It’s topical. It’s not a wandering ramble through the uncharted territories of my inner self. It’s much more about how my inner self deals with the world outside me. And it’s good. It makes sense. It moves me forward, rather than holding me back.

Which is the whole point. Moving forward is good.

Repairing the damage

I’ve been thinking about the article I came across the other day about TBI unfolding over the course of months, rather than the initial timeframe of the obvious injury. My initial reaction was, “This is good – someone is getting a bit more of a clue.” Then, as I read the article, I thought, “Well, d’oh — they have to do a clinical study with rats to figure this one out, when all these people with TBI are walking around in front of them, exhibiting long-term issues, despite “just getting their bell rung”… What is wrong with the medical/scientific establishment?!”

Then I calmed down and decided to be happy that they’ve found research that supports what so many of us know — TBI can wreak havoc with your life for a long, long time, even after the physical bump on your head has gone down.

Whatever the point of view, whatever the source of information, I think we can all fundamentally agree that TBI is a bitch, and while it helps to understand the nature of the condition, its scope, and its ramifications, what we really need (and the article above speaks to this) is a way to address these issues.

The medical/pharmaceutical industry, by their nature, are likely to look to pharmacological “solutions” — pills that will interact with the hippocampus or other related parts of the brain, to counteract the progression of TBI-related symptoms. The psychotherapeutic industry, by right of their orientation, may look to psychological / cognitive-behavioral approaches. And insurance companies, by their nature, may put checkpoints in place to disqualify TBI “experiencers” from medical treatment after a certain point — say, after six weeks worth of treatments — so they don’t incur long-term costs from paying for all those people who got clunked in the head may have prolonged periods of difficulty.

[As an aside, the truly chilling part of the insurance scenario for me, is the prospect of all these people finding out about the devastation that TBI can cause, and then deciding that if they've sustained one, their goose is cooked, so they really can't expect to ever go back to the way things once were, so why not just give up and file for insurance pay-outs and/or public assistance/disability... while the medical/pharma/insurance industries are keeping two steps ahead of them, policy-wise, and ten steps behind, treatment-wise... and not only are hurt people not getting the help they need (or believe they need) from the trained experts, but the trained experts -- by right of their ignorance and/or wilful decision to avoid incurring costs and/or outright greed -- are blocking their access to real, substantive help, thus plunging the lot of them/us into a morass of ignorance-fuelled helplessness.]

Anyway, back to my originally scheduled post…

Outside the realms of medicine and pharma and insurance claims, what do the rest of us do? What can those of us do, who have sustained TBI, who are outside the fold, in terms of getting help? Are we doomed to perpetual dimness, impaired memory, a short-changed life, and a host of physical problems that our doctors cannot possibly treat?

Perhaps. Certainly, it happens. All too often. But it doesn’t have to. This has been my perspective and my belief, almost from the start of this blog — a firm personal conviction, even faith, that TBI does not have to be the final judge and jury of our lives, condemning us to a marginal existence marked by confusion, disorientation, rage, hate, and fear. Things can get better. Things do get better. They will get better.

Now, anyone could argue that with me and point to countles examples of TBI situations that didn’t get better. All the vets who return from overseas with TBI and PTSD who end up in jail or taking their own lives. All the survivors of car accidents and assaults and falls who fade away into the shadow lands of the neurologically impaired. All the folks who never fully understand why it is their brain isn’t working like it was before, and can’t figure out how to get back to a level of functioning they’re truly comfortable with. There are myriad stories — all of them true — about how TBI is a main ingredient in a recipe for disaster.

TBI does damage, certainly. Short-term damage. Long-term damage. It unfolds unpredictably over time, and too little is known about it for mainstream help to be readily available. There are steps forward, there are steps back. And since every brain is different, you’ve got yourself a vast array of possibilities, when it comes to plausible explanations for why things are so screwed up… and a vast array of possible responses to those reasons.

But here’s the thing — at least, for me. The human brain is “plastic” — that is, it changes over time, depending on stimuli and the internal workings of the person it belongs to. It responds to biochemical stimuli, it responds to physical input, it reacts to physiological conditions. And while neurons and axons and synapses may be totally  mucked up by the wrenching, tearing, shearing action of traumatic brain injury, neurons that fire together wire together, so as long as there are at least some neurons still viable, there is opportunity for change.

There is a virtual guarantee that there will be change.

And the key to me is that we are in charge of that change.

Oh, certainly, there are aspects of life which are totally beyond our control. Injustice and unfairness and exploitation and oppression are part and parcel of the human experience, and they happen to us daily — just because we’re alive. But the thing we CAN control, is our reaction to those things. We can choose how to approach these challenges in life — as violent opponents given to rage as a driving force in attacking the wrong-ness of life… as curious, engaged participants in life who choose to contribute to a solution… or as a combination of those two in different parts of the spectrum. Our reactions, our involvement in life, fashion the internal chemistry of our brains, and our plastic brains respond with gusto to whatever we send their way. They can’t help it. That’s what they do. The brain changes. It can’t help but change.

When you experience a TBI (or two or three… or nine - like me), the input that you receive can be terribly confusing and disorienting. It’s messed up, no doubt about it. Your wires are crossed. You’re confused and scared and walking around with a rage-provoking hair-trigger. Your brain is getting constant signals that SOMETHING IS WRONG! SOMETHING IS WRONG! WTF?!?!? SOMETHING IS WRONG!!!! All the old ways seem like they’re gone for good, and you can’t find your way back.

But it doesn’t need to stay that way.  Because if you stick with it, one way or another, you can find your way back. You may not find your way back to the exact same place you were before, and you may never regain the exact same old abilities you once had, but those old abilities are not the only ones you have at your disposal. You have a ton of abilities you don’t even realize you have, and if you never test yourself, never push yourself, never get outside your comfort zone, you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to discover and develop them.

In many, many ways, TBI is like a natural disaster that destroys your home. Maybe it’s like a river that floods and either washes away or damages beyond repair all that you once held dear. Maybe it’s like a tornado that touches down in your town and not only destroys your home, but the homes of everyone close to you. Maybe it’s like a wildfire that takes out one house while leaving others intact… and that leads to even more damage from the water used to put out the fire. Maybe it’s like an earthquake or sinkhole that buries or swallows your house and every earthly possession in one fell swoop.

The old ways of doing things are gone. The old ways of thinking, of acting, of relating, even of walking down the street… gone. The memories may be gone… or the sense of humor… or the sense of balance… or the quiet in your ears — gone. But you can’t just sit around and worry about the things that are gone… the things that were lost in the fire or the flood or the tornado or the earthquake. You’ve got to get back on your feet, repair what damage you can, and resume some semblance of life.

Not that any of this is easy. Far from it. But people go through disasters every day, some of them more survivable than others. And somehow we survive. WE repair the damage. We patch the holes. We keep walking or paddling or steering the vehicle in the direction of our choice.

And we survive. We even thrive.

Speaking of which, it’s time for me to get to work. I have three deadlines to meet before Monday. Three excellent problems to have.

Brain injury unfolds over months: study

Just found this news

Australian research has found the damaging effect of a traumatic brain injury, caused by a car crash or hard blow to the head, unfolds not over minutes or days but over months.

The study, conducted at the University of Melbourne, underscores the fragility of the brain but it has also uncovered a broad “window” in which effective treatment could improve a patient’s outcome.

“We have demonstrated that changes in brain structure and function after traumatic brain injury are dynamic, and continue to progress and evolve for many months,” said Professor Terry O’Brien, head of the university’s Department of Medicine.

“This opens up a window of opportunity to give treatments to halt this damage and therefore reduce the long-term neurological and psychiatric complications that many patients experience.”

Read the whole article here…

Gone for a good reason

Things are looking up, which is why I haven’t been here much. Not that I’m only using this space to vent and complain and find fault — I’ve just been really busy with really good stuff, and I’m just now coming up for air.

The job is good — extremely busy, and leaving me feeling like I’m constantly behind, but still good. The pace is blistering, which helps to keep me out of my head. It is also forcing me to take a really close look at how I do (and don’t do) things, which causes me to be either less effective or more effective.

I’m learning to be effective.

Funny — I feel like I should know this stuff already, like I’m perpetually behind, and everybody else knows things I don’t. But as it turns out, though that may be partially true, I know a lot of things other people don’t, too, so together, we get it right at least part of the time. I’m learning to give myself space and allow myself to learn. And for those things that I’m certain I used to know about, I’m allowing myself to re-learn them in a different way. Things like being part of an overall team, contributing to the whole, and maintaining my composure in tough times… these are the lessons I have to re-learn, and while it’s frustrating feeling like I to have to start from scratch with things that used to come so naturally to me, I’m giving myself the room to really experience the learning. Before, being a solid, stoic rock who could hold up in the face of any challenge came naturally to me, and I didn’t have to think about it. Now I really have to work at it. As long as I don’t get too tired, I can deal.

And so I do.

On the personal level, I’m dealing, as well. Things have not been easy at home, and the end-of-year family get-togethers have begun. I handled myself extremely well, this past weekend, when my parents came to visit. The old ways of relating to them, which were fraught with tension and conflict, simply didn’t happen this time. I know how my parents are, I know their political and religious views, and I know what to expect from them. Rather than getting upset at them not being different, or being hurt over their behavior, I ‘ran the show’ inside my own head, and I took time-outs and breaks when I needed to slow down and not get caught up in that antagonistic dynamic.

I recognized when I was getting tired, and I recognized when I was getting agitated and restless, and instead of getting all “backed up” and judging myself over it, I let myself be and reminded myself that it is normal for me to become agitated and irritable when I’m tired, so I should just step away and not let myself go down a road I’ve been down far too many times.

There’s more to tell, but I’ve got to get going to work.

I’ve been gone for a little while, but it’s been for a very good reason.

Cheers.