A different kind of sleep deprivation

Getting up… or lying down…?

I’ve been thinking some more about the article in the New York Times — Rethinking Sleep — which introduces a different way of thinking about sleep: one that is actually more in agreement with what I’ve found to be true — that it’s actually more helpful to sleep less time more often during the day. And I’ve been realizing that getting hung up on other people’s definitions of what works, has cost me a lot.

Sleep has deprived me — at least, my approach to sleep has. My attitude has been that I have to have enough “good” sleep, or I won’t be able to function. My belief has been that fatigue impairs me, all across the board… from impeding my thinking and comprehension, to affecting my behavior, to making me more irritable (which can’t be helped), to making me feel like crap. And when all that’s the case, then I am less capable, I am less able to function, I am less talented and intelligent and resourceful than I could be if I were just rested.

But here’s the thing — I’m always going to be tired. I’ve realized that, over the past months, especially during my most recent vacation, when I had a week and a half to sleep and rest, but I spent just as little time resting (even less) than I do under normal conditions. There is simply too much to experience, too much to enjoy, too much to explore, to spend my time sleeping. Maybe others can, but I agree with one of my favorite Facebook destinations — I Cannot Go to Bed – There is Epic Shit Happening on the Internet. There is just so, so much to see and think and do. One of the mantras in my head has been (secretly, because I don’t want to be maudlin) — “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Because there is so much living to do, and none of us knows how much time we have left.

Not only is there so much to do and see and experience, but I also put myself 100% into most of the things I do, and when you’re going at top speed, starting from when you get up, you’re going to get tired. You just are. In fact, I’m suspicious of people who aren’t wiped out by 2 p.m. What have they been doing? Have they been doing anything at all? And if so, why are they holding back? Nobody has unlimited strength and endurance. Something’s gotta give. If folks aren’t utterly wiped by early afternoon, I figure they’ve been skating right along, taking their sweet old time, and never mind what actually has to get done. On time. Right.

What — me have an attitude? Maybe a little bit. Okay… yeah, I’m busted.

Nothing peeves me more than people who slack and don’t do diddly with their lives — not only because it pisses me off that I have to work so hard, while others laze around, but also because it seems like such a monumental, terrible, horrible waste of time. We are given certain talents and abilities, which nobody else on earth has. We are all needed, we are all valuable, we all have something to contribute, something to give. And yet countless people sit around and do absolutely nothing with what they have. It especially makes me insane when I see people who are out of work, who can’t find jobs, who sit around and do nothing all day, when they could be out volunteering or doing something truly useful with themselves to give back and be part of something larger than themselves.

I mean, there is NO excuse for that. It’s one thing, if you’re seriously injured or seriously impaired, but even then we can still do something useful and valuable with ourselves, with our lives.

And yet, how many of us sit around on our asses, watching mindless, pointless television, playing games online, frittering away our hours chatting with friends on the phone, and so on? Seriously, no one should be out of “work” because there is so much that needs to be done, with or without a paycheck. Honestly, people. We need to get a grip.

But then I think about the mindset that I was laboring under for quite some time — an idea that stopped me in my tracks, so many times, and produced the kind of behavior that I complain about seeing in others — the choice to do less, not more, the choice to favor and coddle oneself, instead of getting outside yourself and doing what needs to be done.

What was holding me back was the idea that I had to be well-rested in order to be functional, in order to be healthy, in order to use my brain. So, if I wasn’t rested, I was screwed, basically. If I was tired, I wasn’t thinking or acting or being the best I could be — in fact, I wasn’t capable of it. That was the “given” in my mind, which kept me and my dreams and hopes and activities tamped down and kept me always on edge, watching for lapses and shortcomings, due to fatigue.

Thinking back, I believe I’ve spent a lot of time commenting on this blog about being tired, being fatigued, and making that the reason (excuse) for my shortcomings. It’s been very convenient, too, because that’s the information I received from my NP, and it’s also been what I observed in my life. When I was tired, I could see issues with my thinking and cognition and behavior and ability to function. When I was tired, I had outbursts and meltdowns, temper tantrums, and freak-outs. So therefore, “good sleep” must be a pre-requisite for me to have any kind of a life, right?

Well, maybe. I mean, having good sleep is helpful, and I tend to feel absolutely amazing when I’m well-rested. But seriously, what are the chances of that always being the case? I get tired easily, I get worn out. I run myself hard, and I use myself up on what I’m doing. That initial feeling of good-ness goes away pretty quick, and then I’m left with nothing other than feeling down, and feeling down on myself about it. So, that’s only partly helpful, when I think about it.

So, relying 100% on my “sleep foundation” to function isn’t very practical. Or, it’s practical for maybe 30 minutes out of every day.

And what about the rest of my day? What do I do then? Just stop living my life? “Not a chance,” I like to tell myself. But that’s what I’ve kind of been doing. I’ve been giving up on doing more, doing better, learning and improving, because of being tired. And on top of it, when I do that, I stress myself out, because I’m telling myself “I can’t” when that’s not necessarily the case. I have it in my head that I’ll be more restless, less able to keep focused, less able to perform, more irritable, harder to handle, less capable, etc.

But that’s just in my head. Really and truly. Because when I think about it, the real mythology is that being “well-rested” is going to change anything for the better. As a matter of fact, there’s no guarantee of that. I’m just as likely to screw up, when I’m rested, as when I’m not. I’m just as likely to fly off the handle when I’m not tired as when I am, and I even get MORE agitated when I’ve had a full night’s sleep.

The thing that turned things around in my perception was realizing that even when I AM totally rested, I still mess up. I still make mistakes. I still overlook things and screw things up for myself and people around me. Even under optimal conditions, I never know if my performance is going to be up to snuff. I still need to be able to adapt and learn and change and grow. Being well-rested is no guarantee of anything.

So, where does that leave me? Basically, it leaves me looking for other alternatives to keep going, to keep focused, to keep present and on my game. I’ve tried coffee, but that fries me if I have too much. I can’t do all the sugar and carbs, because that balloons me up to an uncomfortable weight. I’ve tried exercise, and that’s helpful, but it can be difficult to work out as much and as well as I’d like, with my weird-ass schedule (which I am hoping will change before too long). Where can I get the resources, the fuel, the drive, to keep going?

Well, I’ve realized something — I have a steady stream of energy and motivation available to me at all times — and that source is pretty constant. It’s in a couple of forms — first, in the body fat I drag around with me — that’s a ready energy source that my body automatically packs on, which I can tap into. The more demands are made on me, the more my body makes provisions for it by adding fat — which I can burn to keep going.

The other source is the constant restlessness that’s directly related to how “awake” my brain is — the “tonic arousal” as they say. I am pretty constantly jazzed up over something or another, and my energy levels have been marveled at by more than one person. And the more tired I am, the more energy I actually have. The trick is, making sure I stay focused on my goals, instead of being pulled off in all directions over little distractions or anxiety about not being able to do something.

See, it’s the anxiety about my supposed limitations that keeps me down and keeps me concerned and worried, and also cuts into my focus and attention. Anxiety about being incapable or flawed or damaged or broken keeps me on edge and makes it pretty difficult to keep things simple and just relax, so I can learn my lessons. That tension literally cuts off my ability to learn and grow and adapt, to see myself accurately and self-assess my performance to the best of my ability. I cut off my nose to spite my face, by being so freaked out about not getting enough sleep.

The thing is, “well-rested” is not the beginning and end of it all. It’s just one part of the whole experience for me. It’s really what I do with my rested-ness that makes the difference — can I learn? Can I grow? Can I change? Can I adapt? And how well?  And as a matter of fact, even where sleep fails me, I can direct the constant restlessness of my brain towards doing exactly those things – learning, growing, changing, adapting… being flexible and being able to modify my choices and actions when I see they’re not working out.

My tonic arousal and restlessness — if it’s not directed — can be a liability. But if it’s directed and used properly, it can be a tremendous asset. And that’s something I haven’t actually factored in over the past years of learning to live with TBI. It never occurred to me that the restlessness might actually come in handy, but it does. It truly does. It’s a constant source of energy for me, a constant source of change and movement. And if I can simply stay motivated and positive, it can be a tremendous force for positive change in my life.

Instead of making it my enemy, I need to make it my friend. I need to understand the dangers of it, and also the benefits, and act accordingly. I need to be bigger than it all, and direct it the way I see fit. Rather than being its servant, its slave, I need to be its master. And just get on with my life.

Now, granted, I still do need to rest. This is not a substitute for sleep or rest or anything like that. I still need to get to bed at a decent hour — didn’t do so great last night: I ate some ice cream and checked Facebook before I went to bed and ended up laughing hilariously for half an hour over something that struck me as incredibly funny. What’s more, I composed whole essays in my mind about this photo I saw, and in my mind I was already going on a speaking tour to discuss the socio-cultural ramifications of the lessons we can learn from that photo.

All this, in the wee hours of the morning – not at all helpful for my sleeping.

But back to the topic — I do need to keep on top of my sleep, but I have my backup plan that takes the pressure off me, in the case I don’t get enough sleep and I’m feeling behind. My body will more than make up for what I’m missing in sleep, with a combination of adrenaline and all the other biochemical substances that spur me to action. I might not be as cognitively sharp as I could be, but I’ll definitely have the energy to just keep going, no matter what. And I’ll have the resources to observe and learn and adapt, even when I’m tired. Of that, I can be sure.

Because my body has adapted that way. And I can take advantage of that adaptation.

Again, like I said, this is not a substitute for good sleep. But it is Plan B, for those times when I’m running low on energy. Our systems are built to self-sustain, and we rarely push ourselves to our true limits. Few of us even make the effort to find out, what all we’re capable of. And I’ve been using poor sleep as an excuse to do just that. I can bitch and complain about other people being lazy, but it could be that they are laboring under the same kinds of mis-perceptions that I was — that something innate to us is limiting us and holding us back, and there’s no point in actually moving on and doing anything, because we are so fundamentally flawed. Broken. Damaged. Worthless.

It’s not true, of course, but that’s what we tell ourselves. Until and unless someone else comes along who’s even worse off than us, and we see that they’re actually doing something with their life. Until and unless we take a long, hard look at ourselves, take a step back to see things for how they really are, and then make the necessary adjustments to do better… to live better… to be better.

So there it is. Sleep is good. Sleep is great. But I have a backup plan for when I don’t get enough. I don’t have to let fatigue stop me. I can just keep going. I might feel like crap and not be 100%, but I can at least keep going, lose myself in my work, and find something about myself I never knew was there before.

Raging with the machine

I came across an interesting article on the New York Times, recently — Rethinking Sleep — which talks about how what we assume is true about sleep, might not be accurate. Take, for example, the common belief that we need 8-9 hours of continuous sleep. Turns out, this is a relatively recent development, as in past eras people wrote about their “first” sleeps — which means there was a second (maybe a third?)

So, what has this got to do with rage? Basically, I realized that I’ve been running a head-trip on myself, telling myself I can’t function without a full night’s sleep — and meanwhile I go for days and weeks and months without ever getting the “ideal” amount — and feeling like I must be impaired by it. I’ve literally been telling myself I’m impaired, even when I’ve been functioning as well as those around me – maybe even better. Sure, I’ve felt like crap, many, many times… but once I got going, was I really impaired? Maybe not nearly as much as I thought.

So, here’s the thing – and this is a longer discussion for when I have more time and energy — I’ve been thinking that in order to operate at my best, I need to have all the proper conditions in place — the right amount of sleep, the right nutrition, the right exercise, the right pace, etc. And if I didn’t have all those in place, I didn’t have a good foundation, and I wouldn’t be able to function.

The thing is, thought, that even without a “firm foundation”, I have been able to function and perform — and that’s been thanks to my old friend rage, who is always lurking in the back of my head, simmering in my gut. For some reason, I am usually pissed off about something or other, and it can be a real challenge keeping a lid on it. But the thing is, if I can use that energy and channel it to other things — focus it like a laser — I can actually function. Even without a full 8 hours of sleep.

And that’s my secret weapon — the rage that no one sees. The simmering pot that is my gut. It fuels me. It keeps me going. It keeps me primed. It has its hazards, but it lets me function — and pretty well at that.

More later about whether this is really “rage” in the classical sense, or if it’s something else.

Right now, it feels like rage. But I have had a tough week. And I am bushed.

So, enough raging. It’s off to bed.

 

 

Pick your own experience

Which side will you look on?

Something pretty important has become increasingly apparent to me, in the past week or so – namely, that I can choose my own experience in life. No matter what is happening, I can choose to think and feel any way that I want to think and feel about just about anything.

I don’t have to fixate on one side of things, and I don’t need to get stuck in only one outlook.

Everything has more than one side to it. Everything. From the most terrible events to the most fortunate experiences, if you look hard enough, you can find whatever you need there, to feel however you want about it.

Life is literally like a cut stone – it has many different facets that catch the light in different ways, and depending on which side you look at, it can be awful or it can be wonderful… or any combination in between. Usually it’s that.

The challenge is to not get caught up in what’s obvious on the surface — that something is GOOD or BAD, but just that something… IS. The other challenge is to not completely disregard the different qualities of a certain experience, because you’re invested in feeling a certain way about them.

Things like injury and hurt and harm aren’t the kinds of things you’d want to feel great about. That’s kind of like encouraging them and making them okay, which they’re not.

On the other hand, there can be good that comes out of those things, and if we overlook the learning that comes from them and dismiss the good things that came in their aftermath, then we lose out on half our lives — if not more.

That’s the stuff I’ve been wrangling with, this week. Coming back from my vacation and going back into the fray has been extremely difficult, and I’ve had some meltdowns along the way. It hasn’t been pretty, and I’ve been working my ass off, trying to catch up. I’ve been pretty down on myself, realizing that I still have a ways to go, before I can say for certain what I want to do for my next job, but I just have to keep moving, keep going, keep proceeding. And I can’t just run away from what’s in front of me, because it’s valuable experience that can help me. I still want to leave my employer — but the work I do? Maybe I don’t need to ditch that, as well.

When it all boils down, basically I’m realizing that whatever situation comes up in my life is an opportunity for me to learn and grow and get my act together. And that’s the truth. I’ve been having some tough times at home, behaviorally speaking. And at work I’ve been really on the hot seat. But these are chances for me to (re)learn how to handle myself under intense pressure, because this is certainly not the last time I’m ever going to be under this kind of pressure. Compare to what’s to come, it’s probably child’s play.

I believe it’s the Navy SEALs who say, “The only easy day is yesterday.” Googling it, I see that a lot of people say it, but it’s the unofficial motto of the SEALs. Hm. Those folks again… Is there a theme here?

It’s possible. Looking around at my world, I seem to be surrounded by folks who don’t have principles, who don’t live by any kind of a code, who are just drifting and following whatever moves them. They don’t seem to have any higher purpose than to follow what comes to mind. And suggesting that they find a higher purpose is usually met with resistance – some of it violent.

Don’t get me wrong – my relationship with the Almighty and the morals and ethics of my youth has really been tested over the years. And I can’t say I’m a perfect adherent to what I should or should not do in the eyes of others. But at some point, I have to choose where I’m going and understand why I’m going in that direction. And that often means putting aside my own selfish wishes and just getting on with what needs to be done — AND not paying any attention to others when they aren’t on the same wavelength as I.

How they choose to live their lives is their own business. It’s no concern of mine.

And that being said, as I’m taking responsibility for my actions, I also need to take responsibility for my experience. I am the only person who can hold me down and make me feel badly. Nobody else can do that to me, unless I don’t take responsibility for my own emotions and thoughts. These aren’t just things that show up out of the blue. These are things I can direct and choose to disregard or pay attention to.

And the kinds of thoughts and emotions I choose to pay attention to are going to shape my experience. So in making conscious choices, I create my own experience. I create the world I live in.

Two people can be living under identical conditions — one is in heaven, the other is in hell.

Where do I want to live right here, right now?

Not feeling sorry for myself (right now)

Light it up

So, life is going to be life. And very often the hardest things are the most rewarding. And very often I lose sight of that and start feeling sorry for myself that “everyone else” gets to just move at their own pace and do what they want to do, while I have to work overtime just to do the basics.

Boo hoo.

No, it’s not fair that I fell back in 2004 and it rearranged my life.

No, it’s not fair that other people get to just “get” things without having to push themselves like crazy.

No, it’s not fair that I have trouble sleeping, and even when I can sleep, I can never get enough of it, because life is calling me out to get on with it.

Not fair at all.

But “fairness” has nothing to do with it. We humans seem to have this odd sense of entitlement, like we deserve to take it easy, like it’s something we’ve “earned”. We treat ease like a prize we get for just being on the planet and living our lives. And if we’ve been through some difficult times, then, well, we really “deserve a break”. Personally, I think this is an invention of Madison Avenue in the 1950’s, when WWII vets and their families were really struggling with the emotional aftermath of the war, and convenience and comfort and junk food were presented as rewards at the end of a tough day — just something to keep us going. Then McDonalds came up with the 1970s jingle “You deserve a break today… so get up and get away… to McDonalds” (anybody else remember that little ditty? I can’t get it out of my head now – sorry)

It was really drummed into us – and I think maybe it predates WWII and goes back to the Great Depression, when nobody had anything, and times were so tough, and any little thing was a luxury. Or maybe it’s just part of human nature. But in today’s American society, it is so very prevalent that it’s almost second nature.

Hard work is bad (you should “work smart, not hard” – because apparently if you’re working hard, you’re an idiot). Labor is beneath us. Getting the job done is something you do through other people, not through yourself.

Might be a class thing, too — managerial class being “better” than working class, yada-yada-yada. What-ever.

Anyway, enough about everyone else. The issue with me is that I get tired, and when I get tired I get foggy and dull. Not thinking well. That’s got to change. I’ve got to learn to think/act clearly when all is going crazy around me — which it usually is. Just find that clear space in my head, heart & gut, and have that be the thing that defines me, not the craziness around me. I’ve got to learn how to do that in the moment, not wait for some down-time of meditation or quiet breathing so I have “enough time” to do it. There is never enough time. I make sure of that by having so many things I love to do, and always wanting to do them.

I’ve got to get my act together and just take care of business. And that’s what I’m doing. I’ve quit feeling sorry for myself and I realized yesterday that this is what’s going on with me — I’m just being badly behaved and I’m chock-full of self-pity. I also realize that the Big Job Change I had been wanting to make isn’t really practical. I’m trying to find the kind of work that I was doing over 2 years ago, and in this industry, those things change almost overnight. I am NOT current with my skills, and I’ve realized that I cannot and will not be spending every spare minute coming up to speed with those skills. It sounded so good at the time, when I was dreaming about just escaping where I’m at — but when I think about going back to typing all day, with my hands and wrists under all that stress… you know what? No thanks. I’ve had my vacation, I’ve rested up, and as a result, I’m getting much more realistic about my current situation.

Now, to keep myself from being down on myself for “screwing up” and trying to find work with recruiters that didn’t really suit me.

Just move on. Just get a move on. Keep going. Keep making progress.

I’ve had a couple of really long days — 14 hours of really hard work on Wednesday and 12+ hours yesterday. On the one hand, part of me feels like (and people are saying to me) that that’s wrong, it’s too much, it’s too demanding on me. But in actual fact, it feels good to be able to just knock things out, take care of what needs to be taken care of, and just get on with my life. Just get it all done. What others say, what others think, what others expect of me… that’s fine. Whatever. I’ve got my own mission, I’ve got my own agenda, and I need to stay steady with it.

I can’t run a head trip on myself about being “impaired” by too little sleep. So long as I just keep going, so long as I keep moving forward, even the little missteps along the way can be adjusted for. I’m in the process of adjusting for a ton of missteps over the past year, when I basically slacked off and coddled myself because life was hard and confusing and — frankly I was a spoiled brat.  Enough of that. Enough of the self-pity, the whining, the pissing and moaning. Just get on with it, already. Just move along. Keep steady, keep true to my vision and my own nature, and move forward. Sometimes back, sure, but ever onward.

And now, a word from Mr. Henry Rollins…

What more is there? What more indeed…

I’m in overdrive mode, right now. I’ve got so much on my plate, and so little time to do it, with so many deadlines and so few people actually able (or willing) to help me, I can’t even begin to say. The vacation of last week is quickly fading into distant memory, and all the things that need to get done before the end of the year are looming large.

I really can’t wait to leave this job. Knowing it’s not going to last forever is the one thing that keeps me going. The “open collaborative” working environment is ridiculous, the amount of work that needs to get done is ridiculous, and the one consolation I have is that I’m getting to the point where I just don’t care about anything other than getting things done.

It really clears out the clutter, when you don’t give a damn about niceties, hob-nobbing with people, making sure things are said in the “right” way, and shading your accounts of what’s going on with careful choices of words that make the “right” impression. Please. What an ever-lovin’ waste of time. What happens when people come around looking for the substance behind the words? Where, pray tell, will they find it?

I’m more interested in making sure it’s there, than running around telling everyone it’s there.

One thing my vacation gave me was a renewed sense that all will be well in the long run. It really, truly is. It’s wild, what a contrast there is between how I feel inside when I am looking within, and how I feel when I am dealing with people who haven’t the faintest idea what they’re doing — and are pretending to do it as fast as they can. Even in the midst of chaos and stupidity and posturing, I have this central sense of wholeness and completeness that puts me totally at ease when I focus on it.

Good thing, too, as I am surrounded by people who are more than eager to do less than is absolutely necessary. I’m married to one, for heavensake. I’m surrounded on all sides by people who care more about presenting well, than actually getting things done, and it’s been dragging me down. Seriously. I mean, when people just let things slide — very, very public things that make them (and the whole company) look like blithering idiots — and shrug their shoulders and say that it’s somebody else’s problem, it makes me crazy.

But now, I’m at the point where I just don’t care. I really don’t care that my boss refuses to say “no” to their boss, and that their boss is so busy making the right impression that they totally miss critical pieces of the puzzle and end up having to scramble to cover their ass (and then beat up on their minions for not covering it for them). I really don’t care that people are content to do just enough — or even less than that — because, well, they simply don’t feel like extending themselves. I don’t care that practically an entire generation has grown up with such a sense of entitlement that they can’t even get off their butts to go look for a job, and even when they get that job, they can’t be bothered to do it. I don’t care that their bosses are so permissive and so eager to be their friends, that they let that all slide, as everything falls to crap around them/us.

I can’t afford to care. Because it’s completely unlike me, it is totally foreign to me, and I really don’t want to pay any more attention to it.

People who do less than necessary just get in my way and keep me from doing what I need to do, if I pay any attention to them. Of course, if the person I live with sits around slacking all day long, doesn’t take care of little things like paying bills on time, and we end up having to scramble to make ends meet (like we are now), I’m going to say something. But I have no control over their behavior, and I cannot infuse them with that very necessary spark that makes life truly worth living for people like me. I don’t understand how anyone could be so uninterested in finding out all that life has to offer. I just don’t get it. Stay in bed all day? What’s with that? Sit around feeling sorry for yourself all day? What’s that about? It makes no sense. There’s so much to life, so much to see and do and experience. I would think that you’d want to leap out of bed every morning and find out what else is out there.

But no. Apparently life is a wretched experience best watched from a horizontal position…

It’s a pity that people have to be this way, and I’d love to say I am invested in helping it all get better, but seriously — I’ve got too much to do, to worry about what other people are and are not doing. I’ve got to cover my own territory and take care of what’s mine.

What’s theirs is theirs. What’s mine is mine. Now, to get on with my day.

Life is waiting.

It doesn’t have to be that difficult

Back into the everyday…

So, yesterday we had company – the friend who visited us over vacation who’s looking for a place to live. The morning started out good and we were just hanging out, talking everything through. By mid-afternoon, they had driven us crazy enough for us to ask them to leave. Seriously, they were spinning their wheels, back and forth all over the place, and cancelling out all their progress with a single simple statement.

Holy f’ing crap – how maddening. I mean, it’s not like they can afford to dick around with things, but they just kind of flit-flit-flit all over the place from one idea to the next. I get it, that they’ve got intense ADD, dyslexia, and a bunch of neurological issues from having been beaten a lot as a kid. But holy crap. They were just all over the map.

Then I come downstairs this morning after waking up earlier than I wanted to, and I fin the downstairs in a bit of a shambles, because my spouse was up till god-knows-what-hour just hanging out, watching t.v., and probably snacking, too. It would not have taken much for them to just pick up after themself. Just a little.

But I guess that was just too boring. Not very exciting at all. And who wants to bother with that?

I’m guilty of that, as well, though. There are things that need to be done, to just take care of everyday life, that I just don’t do. So, there are two of us in the house who slack off… just ’cause.

That being said, I got my ass in gear and did some exercises this morning. I mowed yesterday and tended to the plantings and trees in the front yard and back. I also realized that my grass is in really bad shape, which is not good, because that’s what keeps my leachfield together for my septic. I’ve been saying each year in the spring that I was going to take care of that… this year. And then the summer comes and the summer goes, and in the fall I’m looking at the sad state of my grass, wishing I’d done more for it.

But like cleaning up the living room, somehow it’s just not that exciting, so I get distracted by other things, and then everything falls by the wayside.

The ironic thing is, it’s really not that difficult to keep up with stuff, so long as you do a little bit at a time, and you do it regularly. Consistency, practice, application, repetition — those are the keys to keeping things going. And those are the things where I (and most people I know) fall down the most.

So, it starts with the little things and it moves from there. Little things, done everyday, stay little things in the short term, but turn into big things over the long term. That’s also true of the little things that are NOT done everyday, which then turn into big regrets later on. So, keeping steady is the thing. Keeping motivated. Seeing the point to it all, and keeping focused on the future direction you’re headed.

How to stay motivated? Well, that’s the question. I think for myself it needs to be a combination of work and rest — intervals of activity followed by a chance to recoup and regroup and really digest what’s going down. I have to be careful that I don’t get caught in a vortex of rumination, of course. I have to keep things moving — but in a good way, not in some crazy manic numbness-inducing grind that just dulls the pain of daily existence.

It’s important to have a life.

And it’s important to enjoy it and not get hung up on all kinds of crap and bogus drama… for nothing other than entertainment value, as well as getting yourself to feel more “alive” because you’re all amped up with adrenaline and all the rest of the stress hormones that are designed to dull pain so that you’re not suffering so terribly when you die.

I’ve got no intention of going down that route. There’s no point to it. It’s such a simple thing, to just do a little bit everyday on the things that mean something to you. It’s not always a simple thing, to keep up the motivation and inspiration and keep those things in mind. Sometimes I just get tired, and nothing means anything to me at all. But if I can find ways to keep myself even vaguely interested in what I’m doing with my life, then so much the better.

And this applies to the things I want to do with my workaday life, as well as the things I do outside my workaday world. I’ve realized that I’ve been investing waaaay too much time in work-and-work-only (9-to-5 work, that is) and I’ve not allowed my life to be full and well-rounded. I’ve poured myself into my day job, and utter exhaustion is the result — exhaustion of body, mind, and spirit.

Does it have to be this way? Oh, hell no. One thing that this vacation brought front and center is how much I miss my contemplation time. Back in the day before I got sucked into the whole career focus, got all those awards and rewards for being so dedicated to my employer, and made my workaday world the primary focus of my life, I used to spend a lot of time just sitting and thinking and letting stuff sink in. It wasn’t so much processing… it was just sitting and being, listening to music, reading, and taking time for myself. Just soaking up whatever life I could experience.

Actually, come to think of it, what took me away from that contemplative way of life was the mild TBI I had in 2004, which send me reeling… and sent me spiraling off into this hyper-drive state of constant alert and constant fight-flight fever pitch “living”. Prior to my TBI, I could sit and read and write, look at art and listen to music for hours, and lose myself in that world. I was pretty much of a hermit, and I liked it that way. Then I fell and smacked my head a bunch of times on a staircase, and I decided I had no use for that kind of life – the reading, the contemplation, the writing. All along, it was because I couldn’t read, I couldn’t keep my attention focused on anything for long, and my restlessness was off the charts. So much for a contemplative lifestyle, right? The change was really dramatic, and I can hardly believe I used to live that way.

Well, now things are different. I am really noticing this, lately. It’s like a switch got turned on with me again — a chute got opened, and all the old ability to just sit and be and make sense of my life, has started to flow in again. And that’s good. Because I sorely need that. And I needed that vacation last week like nobody’s business, because until I was able to completely unplug and step away. I had no access to the internet in the condo where I was staying, and until I had the choice to do whatever the hell I wanted to do, I didn’t realize how much I have been needing that quiet orientation, that focus, that perspective.

And now that I’m back to everyday life, I really want to keep that going. I need it. And I don’t want to sink back onto that massive fight-flight mode that keeps me so much on edge. I need to re-learn how to get back that sense of peace in the midst of the storm.

Concussion can be such a bitch, because it can fray the pathways that make it possible for you to be how you need to be. It can “reroute your wiring” and make you into someone you don’t recognize. And you can spend a whole lot of time chasing that person you used to be, trying the same old routes in your neural pathways which just are not working like they used to. And when you don’t let go of the old routes, and you don’t try to find new ones, it can be a very discouraging and self-defeating process that puts you under such stress that you develop PTSD… and maybe some other neuroses and mental illnesses to boot.

See, that’s the real danger of TBI — not the initial damage that happens. The brain is capable of creating new neural pathways to do the same kinds of things you’re used to doing. It’s the long-term disruption of your life that does the most damage. It’s the confusion that arises that keeps you trying to go down the same old pathways to get where you’re going. It’s the rigidity that keeps you stuck in old ways of thinking and doing, for fear of anything else. It’s the brittleness that comes with anxiety and fear and lack of insight and control over your emotions and behavior.

TBI is just the start — the real problems happen after rehab, after discharge, after the doctor has given you a clean bill of health. And those problems can persist for years. Taking their toll.

But it doesn’t have to all be that difficult and painful and frustrating… we have other options. We can look for different ways of doing things. We can accept that things have changed in our brains in ways we cannot detect — and we’re going to make a bunch of “mistakes” and take some “mis-steps” along the way, in the process of learning how to live life in new and different ways.

But we have to be willing to step out on a limb and take some chances. We have to be willing to endure the embarrassment of our mis-steps and our mistakes, and learn something from it all. We have to be willing to let go of preconceived notions that are holding us back. Those notions can be old ones we are accustomed to and are still holding onto. Or they can be new ones that we developed about ourselves after our injuries, which we are allowing to limit and define us in ways that are less than true about who and what we are.

I must admit, I struggle with both — but the latter more than the former. Since my fall in 2004 (and in fact throughout the course of my life, when I got hurt and then revised my view of myself), I have been in the habit of deciding that such-and-such was true about me, and then letting that define my personality and my destiny. The real truth of it was that I was going through a rough patch, and I was going to come out on the other side, but I had it in my head that I created the problems I was having and — clearly — I was somehow deficient.

I was crazy.

I was lazy.

I was stupid.

I was error-prone.

I was doomed, no matter what I might try.

None of that was true, but enough things happened that “confirmed” these suspicions, so there you go — I magically turned myself into someone I was not.

Thank you TBI. Not.

But that was then, and this is now. I really have a very different perception of myself, and coming off this vacation, I have a renewed understanding of who I am and where I fit in my world. I also have a renewed understanding of what I want to create in my world — and chasing fabulous career success in technology is not at the top of my list anymore. Getting away from it, I realize that that’s just one part of my life, and I have given up a lot in my life for its sake, while losing out on some things that were really important to me. I also realize that that tech career focus was very much about proving to myself and the world that “I can do it!” and I’ve invested so much of myself in just proving things to everyone that never needed proving, that I’ve lost perspective… and also some of the things that have meant the most to me in my life — reading, writing, reflection, contemplation… The outside world prizes highly social, outgoing, extroverted behavior. But guess what — that’s not me.

And I don’t have anything to prove to anybody anymore. I’m doing so much better with the many aspects of my life. My issues are still very much there — the 84 ways that TBI can make my life really interesting are still very much in evidence in my life — but I’ve found a way to live with them, to manage them, not try to control and stop them.

I’ve given up the tries at stopping them. They’re just there. They may always be there. But they’re also lessons I need to learn. And I know — TBI or not — there are plenty of other people out there who struggle with these same issues, on some level.

We all struggle. We are all human, after all. And if we’re living life to the fullest, we tend to get hurt. We fly… and then we often fall. It’s not the falling that’s the challenge — it’s the getting up that tends to be so hard. But when we work at it, we can learn a lot. And when I think about it, getting up doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t have to be hard. If I just accept that I’ve fallen and I need to pick myself back up, and get on with it, I can get my head off the whole mess and get on with living. Just living.

It doesn’t have to be that difficult, if I just get out of my own way, and remember — there’s more life where that came from.

Back from the edge-yness

Rigidity… taking over my mind and life?

I realized something weird, recently – how rigid and inflexible I got after my last TBI. It’s bizarre, really, when I think about it. It’s just not “me”. It’s not the way I want to be or the person I recognize as myself. And it’s probably one of the biggest changes in my personality that I’ve experienced. It’s been pretty rough for my family and co-workers — and it’s been a challenge for me, because it’s the kind of thing that seems like a good idea at the time, but is really anything but.

I used to be pretty bold and daring and willing to push the envelope. I used to be cool and cool-headed in a crisis — any crisis. It didn’t matter what got thrown at me — I was up for it. No matter what. I would just be there. I would just do it. I would just — you know, BE. And DO.

When I fell in 2004, that pretty much shattered. And all the coolness went out the window – poof! The weird thing was, I didn’t care. I didn’t care that I was a mess, that I was a simpering, weepy, foggy, hostile asshole, who couldn’t seem to figure sh*t out. I just went along like I was fine, and everything was falling apart around me. The worst thing was, I got incredibly rigid — brittle, inflexible, stuck. Things had to be done a certain way, or I would snap. I would just freak out. If I dropped something, I would blow up. If something got messed up, I would fly off the handle. If things didn’t turn out exactly like I wanted them to, I would lose it.

It’s been a real problem with me and my family, co-workers, just about everybody who’s had to deal with me. And I’ve felt like a real reject, as a result. Because part of me knew that how I was acting was really wrong, yet I couldn’t figure out the cause of it or how to address it. Dealing with it has been a two-fold process:

  1. Dealing with the loss of the old ways I used to be, and how easy it used to be for me to chill and not get all uptight over every little thing. And forgiving myself for being so rigid and difficult to live with.
  2. Learning new ways that I can get some flexibility back — mostly physiological ones: exercise and breathing — along with things like self-talk and taking time-outs when things are getting heavy. And staying open to the new things I’m learning – the new ways I’m learning to live.

Now I’ve got more information. And I have developed more coping skills. I’ve got new tools I can use. And I use them. And that’s good. Things have chilled tremendously, since I have been deliberately practicing being more flexible, and since I learned how to relax. It’s been like night and day. Just doing regular breathing exercises (lately, more in-the-moment than first thing each and every morning) has helped. Ironically, getting off that obligatory daily regimen of focused breathing has helped me. Because that rigid discipline… maybe it works for monks in a monastery, but it was making me even more tense.

Funny how that goes – the very thing that used to help me, started to get in my way. And when I changed it, it helped me even more.

Learning to do it anyway

Sometimes it feels like the weight of the world…

Woke up this morning feeling sick – headache, sick on my stomach, foggy… Going back to work tomorrow probably isn’t helping any, but life goes on. There it is.

I’m pretty much in the Emotions/Moods “section” of those 84 ways TBI can make your life really interesting

Emotions/Moods

8. Agitated, can’t settle down – I’m all wound up and can’t seem to get myself to chill to get to bed at a decent hour each night. I’m way agitated, and fidgety and am having trouble focusing in to get shit done.
9. Angerrrrrr!!! – I’m pissed off. At work. At my spouse. At myself. I’m just angry. It’s driving me — it’s driving me crazy.
10. Anxiety – Feeling vague fear, worry, anticipation of doom – Yeah, when I go back to work tomorrow, I have the feeling that I’m going to be so totally screwed by my workload and the “lost week+” that I’ve had away. Not that it’s any different than it’s been for the past year or so, but now the sense of doom is really coming in.
11. Depression, feeling down - My mood has actually been pretty good… but I have to really fight back the depression. It sets in quickly if I don’t stay on it.
12. Excitability! – I get all worked up over stuff, then I come back to it later and I can’t see what all the excitement was about. The worst thing about the excitability is that it distracts me and takes me off-course, so it takes me longer to get where I’m going.
13. Everything feels like an effort – Yeah, pretty much. It feels like everything is a massive effort, and I can’t figure out where to start.
14. Feeling unsure of yourself – Yeah, pretty much all the time, these days. I know better (rationally) and I fight it back, but that feeling is always there… like I never know what’s going to come out of my mouth or what I’m going to do next. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t, but I’m never 100% sure what’s going to happen.
15. Feelings of dread – Yeah, that. Dread and anxiety. Like I just can’t deal with sh*t.
16. Feeling like you’re observing yourself from afar - This is a weird one, because it’s really like that. It’s like I’m standing at a distance and watching myself do and say things that don’t make any sense to me.
17. Feelings of well-being – On and off. It’s not all bad, all the time. Sometimes I have these sudden rushes of feeling really good, really solid, really sound. It’s a nice break.
18. Feeling guilty – Guilty over what I’ve done and what I haven’t done… what I should have done, what I forgot to do.
19. Feeling hostile towards others – Yeah, this is a tough one. I’m not feeling that great today, and we have a friend staying over, and I have to watch myself to not come across as hostile and aggressive, because they’re pretty sensitive and have a hard time making and keeping friends, as it is. My hostility has nothing to do with them, but they could easily become a target, if I don’t manage this.
20. Impatience – Yeah – what’s taking everything so long?
21. Irritability – Like the hostility, I’ve gotta keep a handle on this. Others shouldn’t have to pay for my issues. It has nothing to do with them.
22. No desire to talk or  move – This one set in when I woke up, and it’s still there. The antidote? Get the hell up and do something. Anything. Just move, goddammit.
23. Feeling lonely – Yeah. That. The consolation I get is that I’m not alone in feeling lonely. Plenty of people do. I also need to focus on the fact of what I’ve got in common with others, and that helps.
24. Nervousness – Nervous about work, nervous about money, nervous about life. Nervous.
25. Feelings of panic – On and off. This is much less extreme than it was several years ago. I’ve learned how to relax. I’ve learned how to recognize the signs that I’m just panicking, and it has nothing to do with actual reality. Breathing helps.
26. Rapid mood swings – Yeah, gotta watch that. I’m sick and tired today, so I know I’m more susceptible.
27. Restlessness – I want to run, I want to walk, I want to jump in the car and drive away. I want to go out and pick a fight. Not my best ideas… and I know it’s just the fatigue, the fogginess, the feeling of being “off” that’s doing this. Adrenaline and novelty blocks out all the distracting what-not-ness that’s swirling in my head. Surely, doing something extreme will take my mind off it. Well, sure – but at what cost?
28. Tearfulness, crying spells – Not so far, which is good. A few days ago, when I was feeling really sick, I had this. Thankfully it passed. Of all the TBI issues that come up, the tearfulness is the worst for me.
29. Feeling tense – Yeah. That. Like I’m wound so tight, I’m either going to snap, or I’m going to shoot straight to the moon. Tense. Really Tense. Black Flag Tense.
30. Feeling vague longing/yearning – Absolutely – for something I want and need, but can’t quite put my finger on. I used to have an antidote for this: daily meditation and breathing. Then I got sick of it and stopped doing it, because I just wanted to get on with my days with out having a lot of ritual and sh*t to do, first thing in the morning.

And as a result of these things, I’m also grappling with the follwing:

Day-to-Day Activities
31. Being overly busy (more than usual) - I’ve got all this stuff I want to do, and it’s piling up. I’m making myself crazy with it.
32. Feeling like you can’t get moving, you’re stuck – And under this pile of stuff, there I am, pinned down and feeling like I can’t move.
33. Feeling like you can’t get anything done - It’s just a feeling, I know, but that’s how I feel right now — nothing is moving, I can’t get anything accomplished.

Geeze. Enough of this. Yeah, things aren’t great right now, but once I get moving, I’m sure they’ll loosen up. That’s the thing that I’ve had to learn, over and over again. I can’t start from where I want to be (feeling great and having a lot of stuff done). I need to start from where I am — even if it’s sick and tired and foggy and aggressive and a bit ragged around the edges.

Gotta get out of my head and find something to really focus on. Just gotta. I’ve got to get my mind off this headache, this nausea, this fogginess, and all the above-mentioned crap. I’ve got to just get moving and do what needs to be done today. I do have things I need to take care of, and I just need to do them. I’ve had two days to recover and recoup, and that’s been good. Now I need to kick it again and get a move on. No matter how I feel, just do what needs to be done, and then enjoy having done it.

Yeah, it’s turning out to be a beautiful day, so I can get some work done in the yard and hang out with this friend. I will need to watch myself today, to make sure I’m not all edgy around them, so I don’t chase them off the way I have chased off many other people. I just need to keep cool, keep focused on what needs to get done, and do it.

And then sleep this afternoon. Get some rest. And get ready to go back to everyday normal life. Things will take care of themselves, if I’m just honest with myself and keep an eye on myself. This is not rocket science, it’s just life. Everybody has to contend with this, TBI or no. So deal with it, I shall.

After all, it is a beautiful day.

Have you moved today?

Move those snags out of the way and keep heading downstream

So, vacation was good. I kicked back and did very little. I walked the beach, walked the town, hung out with friends, talked about a lot of stuff that matters, talked about a lot of stuff that doesn’t… listened to friends b-s themselves, listened to myself b-s them (all with the best of intentions, of course), and then came back to a house that had clearly been shut up for the week. Any house needs regular ventilation, but because of the chance of rain, we didn’t leave many windows open. So we got back to stale air and a chilly house around 12:30 a.m. Went to bed. It would wait till the morning to fix.

And it did wait. I woke up feeling like crap — tried to sleep in, was not successful, then got up and had myself a cup of coffee and my cereal. I could have moved a bit. I should have moved a bit. But I sat down to read and type up some recollections from my vacation.

I posted the things I’d written on my laptop while I was without an internet connection, and I watched some Henry Rollins videos and interviews. To be honest, I can’t remember much of yesterday, other than I felt like crap and did not get out to pick up the mail from the post office or completely clean out the car until late in the day. I had some lunch and then lay down for a nap in the afternoon, but I couldn’t sleep long.

I guess re-entry into my everyday life takes a little while. Especially when I am so far “off the grid” without contact with work or my regular daily routine.

And that’s fine, because it just means that I had a very successful vacation – I got out of the crazy grind that wears me down, day after day, and I got to completely step away and do something for and by myself without getting pulled into all sorts of drama. The main hurdles were what to eat and when, whether to go to the beach or stay in bed and relax.

Not bad, overall. Not bad at all.

One thing that was really different from my usual routine was the amount and kind of walking I did. While our friends were visiting the first weekend, I did a lot of walking into town to get coffee and breakfast. And out on the beach, I did a lot of walking in the sand, which was murder on my legs for the first few days, till I got used to it. Then it was all good. I kind of put my back out, carrying bags out to the car, but I rested yesterday, so it’s all pretty good now.

After our friends took off, I really noticed it when I didn’t move, first thing in the morning. Without them there, I was free to, well, sit around like a lump… read and write some things, and just think about everything, rather than getting out there. I also found myself a little “shy” of going out, because I actually was pretty tired, and I got a bit overwhelmed in town. I could have gone out — and it probably would have done me some good — but I opted to stay in and keep out of the crazy rush of people.

Whatever.  It’s all good.

And I had plenty of time to think about my life and where it’s been headed. I got a call from the recruiter I was talking to, and sure enough I did not get the job. The company decided they “did not want to move forward” with me. Just as I suspected, I took the exact wrong turn when I was doing my technical test, and they didn’t much care for my thought process. And that’s fine, actually. The choice I made was based on 15 years of experience, and what I heard them saying was a bunch of “purism” that only works in certain scenarios. So it probably wouldn’t have been a good match for me, considering how pragmatic I am. I was also starting to get really stressed out about the things I’d read online about that company, the commute, the drama, etc. And even if they had wanted to move forward with me, I probably would have declined any offer they made to me.

Maybe.

Then again, maybe I would have gone with it — just to see if I could do it. And then in another couple of years, it would have been this same mess all over again, with me chafing under those constraints, etc. etc. etc.

Yah, it’s just as well I didn’t test very well. Who knows — maybe that little bird sitting on my shoulder knew I didn’t really want it, and prompted me to scuttle my own ship before I got out to sea. Or this is all just more sour-grapes B-S I’m running on myself to make myself feel better about screwing up. Or it’s a bit of both — that’s my best guess.

And I thought about my life… the directions I’ve taken, the turns it’s taken on me. And I thought about how the hell I ended up here, and how the hell I can get myself out. We all make our choices. Each and every day, we make our choices. Those choices define us, they shape us, the make our days and our nights into the fuel for our future. Our destiny. I realized over that week that where I am is not at all an unusual place to be — especially considering what I’ve been through with the TBIs, the job issues, the health problems. It’s not uncommon — in fact, it’s anything but — it’s totally common, and so many people have those same experiences. And we get caught up on some of the experiences, like when you’re floating downstream in a river and your boat gets caught on a snag and you have to work like crazy to get off that equivalent of a submerged tree or root or some other piece of junk from inside your head.

Our minds are like rivers, and if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves drifting into shallow waters where there are all sorts of snags and crocodiles and black water racers… and more. Life is never easy — for any of us — and we need to take care — all of us do. No matter what we’re up against — be it mental or physical or spiritual or emotional… physiological or neurological or biochemical — we’ve got plenty to keep us busy, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we need to pay closer attention to the things in our lives that threaten to pull us into the shallows and get us stuck.

Getting stuck… it’s a pretty tough place to be, and we sometimes have to work like crazy to get off the snags of life and back out into the flow. Sometimes we get the proverbial hole punched in the bottom of our boats, if we’re not paying close enough attention or the maps of the “river” we’re on aren’t good or are outdated. Sometimes we get seriously damaged along the way, and we need to go into dry-dock to get ourselves put back in order. Scrape off the barnacles and replace some broken pieces, tighten some of the bolts and screws, and get the hull refinished… Then get back out on the river … or into the sea.

That’s the thing, see? Whatever happens, we have to keep moving, keep stretching, keep trying. It’s one thing to have bad things happen to us. It’s another, to let those bad things be the Main Defining Aspects of our lives. If you’re a victim of something, and then you start identifying yourself as a “survivor” of that — and you make that the main defining quality of your life, you end up handing over your identity, your humanity, your power, to that event, that occurrence, that misfortune.  And you lose part of who you are. Even if you ARE a survivor, when you make your life about survival, you make it about the thing you’re surviving? Make sense? I think it does. And it’s a damn’ shame.

Of course, it’s one of the most human things you can possibly do. We all want our pain and our struggles to matter. We all want our suffering to be acknowledged, so we don’t feel so alone. The thing is, everybody suffers. Everybody struggles. No matter if you’re rich or poor or thin or fat or young or old… or anything else of any kind. To struggle and suffer is human, and that’s that. The thing that sets us apart is what we do with that struggle and suffering.

We can stay inside our own hurt world and nurse those hurts because they are so deep and such a big part of our lives. Or we can remember that everyone suffers, everyone hurts, and sometimes what they look for most in life is not pity from others, but examples of how others hurt and suffer, but still move on… still keep moving… still deal with it all.

Because we do. We have to. If we don’t keep moving, keep learning, keep growing, we can end up atrophied in our pain, like leg muscles wither in a cast if it’s kept there a long time. Our lives, our abilities, our perceptions, our skills are like those muscles. Our quality of life, too. If we don’t keep using it, we will lose it. If we just give into the easy stuff in life, the simple stuff, and we never stretch ourselves to do better and be better… what chance have we got of truly becoming all that we can be?

What chance indeed?

That being said, it’s time for me to get moving. I’ve got some errands to run, and then I’ve got to help a friend with an event they’re hosting. I’m not taking on too much today — I’m still feeling a bit sick. But life goes on, and it doesn’t wait for me to feel better, to offer its opportunities and chances for positive change. So it’s time for me to get up, get moving, and get on into this day.

In closing, I leave you with this, which someone shared with me the other day. Spend the time. It’s well worth it.

Back to regular life… eventually

Vacation was great. Much needed.

Now I’m going to bed, because after being up for three hours, I realize I’m bushed.

I guess I need a vacation after all the serious fun of my vacation.

Fortunately, I have exactly that ahead of me for the next three days — an extended vacation.

This time off I planned really well, I have to say.

Then I can get back to my regular life.