Sleep, work, eat, live… rinse and repeat

Get the right stuff — to your health!

I was flying solo last evening, moving at my own pace and enjoying having the house to myself. I watched a bit of t.v., then realized what a huge waste of time it was. I hate watching t.v. alone. So, I got online and started doing some research. One thing led to another, and eventually I looked at the clock and it was nearly 1 a.m.

And here I’d planned on getting to be early…

Well, it’s no biggie, because I took care of most of my chores yesterday, so I would have today free. I have a full day ahead of me, pretty much wide open without a lot of stuff I have to do. I’m thinking of taking a long walk. I exercised this morning on the stationary bike. Worked up a good sweat and got my blood pumping. That was helpful.

Yesterday was a pretty good day. I got some work done around the house, I went for a short bike ride, and I had a nice nap in the afternoon. I could have slept longer, but I didn’t want to wreck my sleeping schedule by sleeping too long.

We see how that worked out.

In any case, my goal today is to stay active enough this morning to tire myself out early this afternoon and have another nap to make up for the lost hours — and not sleep so late in the day that I wake up at 7:30 like I did last night.

That clearly does not work.

I’m also looking forward to lying in bed and reading. I’ve really gotten into a lot of reading, these days, now that I can. I’ve missed it. And I’ve also missed being able to read narratives — fiction and real-life. For years, the only thing that held my attention was scientific papers. That’s fine, if you’re a scientist and understand everything in them, but I’m not — and I didn’t. At least it was something to read. And I was under the impression that I “got it” in some way.

Whatever. It did me a lot of good. It got me reading in small chunks that seemed to make sense to me, and that were informative and very motivating.

Now I’m reading fiction. I read while I’m on the exercise bike — it gets my mind off how incredibly BORING riding an exercise bike is, plus it gets my brain engaged, along with my body. I’ve been able to ride longer and also read more, thanks to this combination. It’s really a brilliant solution to what can be prohibitive. Plus, I’m reading real-life stories (or fiction that’s based on real life), so there’s a reason for me to pay attention to what I’m reading.

I’m learning a lot in the process — mainly about how people go about their everyday lives in foreign countries. It’s like a vacation from my current life, which is really a nice break from that crazy old global deal I used to be in. I don’t have to be on European AND Asian time zones all the time, but I actually miss the variety… So, I read about those places, watch Anthony Bourdain, and think about cooking food.

I’m seriously considering taking up more active cooking. I do most of the cooking at home, because my spouse isn’t up to it. And over the past years, it’s been pretty much maintenance cooking — just getting the basics on the stove, with reliable, predictable, dependable recipes that don’t have a whole lot of excitement to them.

I think I need to change things up a bit — especially because it now feels like I’m/we’re just eating to get food in our stomachs, rather than really enjoy what we’re eating. I need some different tastes, and some different textures. I also need us to eat a wider variety of fresh vegetables. It’s summer, for heaven’s sake. Now is the time to get fresh fruits and veggies. The more organic, the better — the less chemical taste to them, the better, that is.

Food is becoming my favorite vice… or rather my salvation. Cooking does wonders for my sense of timing and pacing — my sequencing — as well as my frustration tolerance. On top of it, when done properly, a well-cooked meal feeds all the senses, which is incredibly good for the brain.

It’s the kind of activity I can really get behind. It does the body, brain, and spirit a whole lot of good.

Time to make a shopping list…

Working on foggy and dull

I’m a little low this morning. I got a full night’s sleep – almost 8 hours – but I haven’t been sleeping well for a number of days, so I have some catching up to do. I also have been kind of stressed at work, concerned about missing some dates — when it’s my job to keep everyone on track and make sure we don’t miss dates.

I have been feeling foggy and dull — not at all like myself — for some time, now. I can’t remember whether it’s been weeks or months. I think it’s actually been years. I feel so dense and dumb, sometimes… like I’m walking around in a daze. The only times I don’t really feel that way, are when I’m a little stressed over things — when the pressure is on, and I have to dig a little deeper inside to make things happen.

I realize I’ve been chasing that experience for as long as I can remember — at work, and in my personal life. My “best friends” were always folks who treated me badly, and I chose one job after another that would stress me out. In fact, the most stress the better.

Now it’s all catching up to me — I’m in a job that has a lot less environmental stress, the commute is shorter, the team is stronger, and the company culture is words better. And I’m having difficulty adjusting to the good circumstances. I’m feeling dull and blah and bland. Like there’s not much excitement going on at all.

Here’s the thing, though — I could create my own excitement and “get the juices flowing” on my own, by stepping up and pushing forward just a little bit harder. I could apply myself more, step it up just a bit, and thereby give myself the pump I need. Only this time it would be in positive conditions, which I am setting — instead of chasing something or playing catch-up.

It would appear that’s the key — to be the driver behind the action, rather than the reactor. I have been working in reactive situations for so long — where management tells people not to think, but to react — that I’ve gotten acclimated to that way of doing things although I never wanted to in the first place.

Funny how that goes.

Anyway, now I can work on that, and get ahead of things a bit. I have an old bad habit of not taking action and just reacting to things happening around me, and I have to change that. It’s a lifelong tendency, which needs to go away. I can do this.

But I need sleep to do it. I need to be rested. I need full nights of sleep, and I need to work at relaxing again, like I used to do.

I could really use some relaxation down-time around 2:30 p.m. each day, to get myself geared up for the late afternoon, which is go-time for me. It’s the time when I’m most productive, when I’m most clear, when I can focus most fully. The rest of the day is a wash for me. Not until around 2:30-3:00, do I start to really come to life. Then I’ve got about 4 hours of goodness, before I start to wane again.

Getting used to this job is a lot about getting used to a new routine and a new cadence. Part of that new cadence is being able to sleep, and not being ON, 24 hours a day. That’s going to take some recovery time — and more than 6 weeks, that’s for sure. It’s probably been a good 15 years, since I could relax and settle into my job. The TBI in 2004 didn’t help anything, but the years immediately prior to that were pretty much of a test, too.

So, here my life is, in really good shape, and I need to restructure my life so that I can be in really good shape, too — and keep my life this way. Things are pretty simple and straightforward at work. Keep people on schedule. Deliver things on time. Communicate news — both good and bad — as honestly and clearly as possible. And don’t be afraid to ask for support from management, because they can — and will — help.

So, I got a full night’s sleep, and it’s time to get ready for work. I’ve got some good blocks of time today through Friday, when I can really kick it. So, I shall.

And get some good rest, in the process.

Onward.

Walking on a different wild side

I’ve been daydreaming about chucking it all and hitting the road. I’ve managed to save up a nice little chunk of change, banking it for house repairs and emergency situations. I actually have enough for an honest-to-God emergency fund now, which hasn’t been the case for close to 10 years. It really takes the pressure off. At the same time, though, it also tempts me to do something rash — like taking my little commuter car (which just got a tune-up), filling up the gas tank, and driving, driving, driving…

But I know it would never work. Never, ever. And without a doubt, I’d end up worse off then, than I am now. No doubt.

Here’s the thing — I need a break from all the heavy-duty daily frustrations. It’s just getting to be too much, and I’m not making good choices about how to get that break. Some people smoke. Some people go on social media. I dance with danger and run the risk of getting injured all over again. It’s clear that I need to change things up and get my blood pumping on a regular basis. I need a positive and productive way to get that adrenaline pump that keeps me sane and channel the energy I have into something that helps me, not hurts me.

That all being said, I think the key for me is to step things up with my hopes and dreams. I have an “old” dream of having my own business doing consulting and training about an area of expertise I have. I know there’s a market for it, and I know others do well in that line of work, I’ve just never made good on it. I have wanted this so badly, on and off over the past years,and I’ve made some starts, here and there. But I’ve repeatedly given up on that dream over and over. I got overwhelmed or confused or just felt like I couldn’t do it. I knew in my mind that I could, but I lost courage and backed off and went back to doing what I had been doing before — holding down the fort with my 9-to-5 job and steady paycheck.

Now things are different, though. I don’t have a horrific commute anymore — if anything, it’s going to get shorter. And I’m becoming increasingly motivated to move forward, as I talk to people about my idea, and they get really excited about it. I have managed to find a job where every day I am in the midst of some very forward-thinking people who are also super supportive, and it’s really doing me a lot of good.

These two magic combinations — time to work on my ideas, and supportive people with vision — are helping me get past myself and re-start anew. I’ve started this idea so many times, I actually have a lot of knowledge about how to get off the ground. And I have enough professional connections, I can start putting myself out there — while still holding down the fort at work.

So, there is hope. And my goal is to earn enough on the side, to be able to afford some travel. That way I don’t have to drive off by myself — I can bring my spouse with me, and we can have a fabulous time. It’s a plan. It’s a bonafide plan.

And rather than wasting my time and energy and risking my neck on danger-seeking types of behavior, I’ll court danger in the form of chasing my dreams and having them come true. Putting my life in danger in questionable situations, and putting it all on the line for my dreams, are the same type of activity. The difference is, one of them will actually have something to show for my risk-taking. The first one… all I get is a system full of adrenaline, a brief burst of clarity, and the potential for things to go really, really wrong in an instant.

So, in a very real sense, my motto continues to be Onward!

After TBI you’re still human

And you still have the same types of interests and desires and needs that you had before your injury/-ies.

You want to be fully engaged. You want to be involved in your life. You want to have hopes and dreams and to follow those hopes and dreams.

Why should any of that change after TBI? Some days, it’s like the world just expects you to stop being interested in the things that mean the most to you — to anyone. Like it should be so easy to let go of the old ways that were so familiar and made you “you“. And you’re just expected to do it. To adjust. To deal with it and move on.

This is something I really struggle with on a regular basis. It’s bad enough that I have to deal with the confusion and disorientation and not feeling quite “here”, half the time. It’s bad enough that I have to think through every friggin’ thing that used to come so easily to me, lest I get hurt or screw something up. It’s bad enough that everything feels like such a CHORE, and even the fun things are hard for me to do, sometimes.

But through all this, I’m expected to do it without any recognition or support. That just sux.

Even my neuropsych isn’t much help to me in this respect, because comparatively speaking, I’m not nearly as “bad” as their other patients. I’m high-functioning. My IQ is still up there. I have a good job and a house and all the trappings of modern success. I’m in a stable marriage of 23 years. I have a bank account and a plan for how to live my life.

What could possibly be wrong?

Yeah, well, I’ll spare you the details. The bottom line is, half the time I feel like crap. I don’t feel like myself. I can’t recognize the person who’s walking around in my shoes, wearing my clothes, doing my job, driving my commuter car to and from work each day, running errands on the weekend. Who IS this person, and how did they get in my life?

Addressing this is so difficult for me. I rarely bring it up with my neuropsych, because they don’t really seem to think it’s that big of a deal, and they don’t seem to think it should impact me. After all, compared to their other patients, I’m doing grand.

Oh, except for flirting with danger on a regular basis, and being totally oblivious to what all could go wrong in an instant.

To be truthful, I have not discussed everything with my neuropsych that I could. Over the years, there have been a lot of things I haven’t brought up, because they are way too upsetting for me, and it’s more important to me that I have a regular conversation with a regular person and be able to relax, instead of plunging into that infinite, bottomless black abyss that takes me over when the emotions run too high. I have to stay functional. I have to hold my sh*t together. I can’t be sitting around spilling my guts, and then getting so freaked out and upset that I can’t even see or walk straight. My neuropsych has seen me overwrought a handful of times, and they don’t seem to understand what all is going on with me. They got exasperated, as though I were not trying.

So, I just don’t go there with them. I keep things positive and talk about the progress I’m making. I don’t have many words to explain the way it feels inside. Plus, when I get to their office, I’m ALL THERE, and nothing else outside the office exists. There are so many pieces of my life that feel like a shambles to me, even though on the surface they look good and they are holding, I don’t have much hope that a strong wind wouldn’t blow them all down. In all honesty, I’m not even sure how they’re holding together. They just are. I’m just lucky, in so many ways.

That, and people are so consumed with their own lives, they don’t notice the chinks in my armor.

It all just feels so precarious.

And it’s a strain. Because I want to have a life I can be proud of. I want a life I actually feel like I choose, and I’m involved in, not just one that other people tell me I should have, so I go ahead and go for it.

So much of my life has been about just getting by… because I was the only one who could see what kind of crap I had to deal with inside. And nobody seemed to take seriously the challenges I had to overcome on a regular basis.

Oh well. I’m still here, and I still have my hopes and dreams to follow. I’m still a human being with my fair share of challenges, and I can’t lose sight of that. It’s all a massive discovery process, and in the meantime I might just learn a useful thing or two.

So long as I don’t get myself killed, chasing danger and risk, to remind myself that I’m alive.

How I can get hurt – again and again

Yeah, I’m a bad-ass alright. Hopefully not a short-lived bad-ass.

I had an interesting conversation with my neuropsych yesterday. I have been wondering about some judgments I’ve made, in the past six months or so, which — at the time — seemed fine… but in retrospect were probably not that smart. At least, that’s what my neuropsych has told me.

About six months ago, I was offered a ride on the back of a motorcycle, and I took it. I had to get somewhere fast, and this rider offered me a lift through a shortcut they knew. This rider (I won’t call them a biker, because I think of Harley’s, and this individual was on a BMW) was a stranger to me, and I had no way of knowing how good a rider they were. I’ve ridden with really bad motorcycle drivers before, and I didn’t care to repeat the experience.

But this individual appeared to be competent, and I hopped on the bike behind them.

For the record, I don’t drive motorcycles — or usually ride them — because of balance issues and attention problems. I can get distracted and lose my presence of mind, which pretty much disqualifies me for driving a motorcycle. It’s a great way to get seriously injured… or killed.

Anyway, the shortcut worked, and I got where I was going in record time. But not before we’d pulled some really dangerous stunts — fitting the motorcycle through very tight spots that were borderline illegal, and weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds. The driver also ended up taking a wrong turn, and we ended up driving around a blind curve directly into oncoming traffic — and the bike stalled on a low barrier and couldn’t move forward or back.

So, I hopped off the back, and while the driver got the bike started, I heaved at the back of the bike and got it off the barrier.

Very exciting. And also very dangerous. And potentially fatal.

Once I got where I was going, I realized how close I’d come to something pretty terrible. And worse yet, I was far from home in a place I wasn’t familiar with, and I’m not sure how I would have gotten help if I needed it.

It all turned out okay, and it was a thrilling ride of my life. But it’s not the sort of thing I should have done at that time.

A few months later, I was traveling (again). Near the end of a really long and tiring drive, I ended up at a rest stop where I realized I was being watched by an individual who looked like trouble. I gave them a wide berth, but later they were joined by another individual who looked equally rough, and they tried to engage me in conversation. Rather than keeping my distance, I walked right up to them, shook their hands, and had an extended conversation with them. In the course of the conversation, one of them identified themself as a known criminal. I didn’t bat an eye, just finished the conversation, and they took off… as though they were up to no good and didn’t want to get caught.

In retrospect, I was setting myself up to get mugged. Big-time. I didn’t… and I actually had a really cool conversation with those two. But was it a good idea for me to interact with these two at a rest stop along an interstate? Doubtful.

Then, the other night, I was driving home from work, and I got caught in a torrential downpour, accompanied by close lightning strikes. I could not see the road. At all. I should have pulled over, but I kept going. I could have easily run into a tree — or run into someone else. I didn’t, but even as I was driving, thinking that I might want to pull over, the urge to keep going was even stronger… overpowering. I got home safe and sound, and after sitting in the car for 5 minutes, the downpour suddenly stopped. Everything was fine. But it might not have been.

On all three of these occasions, I was tired, and I was looking for a “hit” of adrenaline to perk me up. I needed a pump — a jolt — to get me going. It didn’t matter that I was putting myself in danger. The whole point was putting myself in danger. I needed to get my stress hormones going and get myself back online. I felt dull and foggy, and I needed a boost.

So, I put myself directly in harm’s way. It worked — I did get the pump and the jolt I needed. But had things gone differently, I might not have fared so well. For that matter, I might not even be here.

Riding motorcycles is something I should NEVER, EVER do. I know that. I have avoided them like the plague — like I avoid tall ladders. Talking to folks who obviously look like they’re up to no good, and going so far as to shake their hands and “hang out”, is not something I typically do, either. I know better. What’s more, driving my car through conditions when I can’t see more than a foot past the hood ornament… I know WAY better than that.

But reason failed me. In a very big way.

And that’s how I can get hurt – again and again. By actively seeking out danger that makes me feel alive… that makes me feel like myself again… that puts all the pain and confusion and frustration away, for even just a few minutes.

My life tends to feel like a jumbled-up mess of contradictions and conflicts, and it’s hard for me to get any peace. I live in a body whose biochemistry tells me things are WAY more extreme than they really are, and as a result, I usually end up on a roller-coaster of emotion. I know better… but my body doesn’t get it. And it wears me out. Mentally and cognitively, my brain loves to do its own thing and not stick with the program. I’ve been forgetting a lot of things, and I’ve been coming up short, now and then, with projects I’ve been working on… playing catch-up and all that. I keep cool and maintain calm on the outside, but inside it’s sometimes pretty chaotic and frustrating and a little bit terrifying now and then.

So on the inside, I’ve got all these experiences of chaos and confusion and frustration, while on the outside, everything is supposedly okay. I know I’m not the only one who has this — most people do, probably. That whole “living lives of quiet desperation” thing that a philosopher once talked about.

That tires me out. And the quickest and most reliable way I know to stay “with it” is to add a little danger to my life. Or a lot of danger.

Looking back, I can see how almost all of my injuries — even from fairly young — came from this danger-seeking streak of mine. I put myself in dangerous situations. I also pushed myself to unsafe levels of play in football and soccer games. I drove while I was tired, and I pushed myself to do things when I should have stopped and rested. I needed the pump, I needed the adrenaline. I needed the shot of instant clarity, in the midst of all the confusion and static in my head, that I just couldn’t sort through.

I didn’t have a death wish. I had a life wish. And the one way I could really truly live my life, was to push myself past a certain point, and get lifted up by the pump.

I know I need to change this sort of behavior. It’s caused problems for me before, in subtle ways, and it’s doing it again. I don’t want to stop being the person I am. I don’t want to cower in a corner, hiding from life. But I would like to live to see another day. I’ll have to figure out something better, for how to get what I need to be as alive as I can be.

If I don’t manage to figure that out, all bets are off.

Just happy to be here

Uh oh – I just got back from a session with my neuropsych, and it appears that some of the “adventures” I’ve been having — some of which were really fun at the time and left me feeling energized afterwards — were actually caused by very poor decisions and a lousy ability to assess risk.

So, I’m actually lucky to be alive. Many, many, many things could have gone wrong on three separate occasions over the past six months. I realize that now.

Good grief.

Well, I’m pretty bushed after that session. It took a lot out of me.

I need to have some supper and go right to bed.

Later, all…

Doing AND Enjoying

One of the things that has really become clear to me over the past several years, is that being functional is not enough for me. I need to do more than live my life — I also need to enjoy it.

What has also become clear to me, is that the more I enjoy what I’m doing, the more I engage with it — the stronger the positive impact it has on me and my brain.

So, enjoying what I’m doing is actually a big part of my TBI recovery.

I have to say that enjoying what I’m doing while I’m doing it has helped me turn the corner from a plateau I was at, a couple of years ago. I was making good progress, and I was rebuilding a lot of the kinds of self-regulation skills that went out the window when I fell in 2004.

I was better able to manage my temper, I was better able to manage how I behaved when I went through extreme ups and downs. I was better able to interact with other people. And my functioning at work was really on the up-swing.

But I felt like I was at a plateau. I just didn’t feel like myself, and I didn’t feel like I was making any more progress.

I might have been — and in fact logically I really was convinced that I was still progressing — but it sure didn’t feel like it.

For a number of years in my TBI recovery, I had beenreally locked in on an ultimate goal of being as brilliantly functional as I could be, including taking my performance to the next level and really “kickin’ it” to the highest point I could possibly reach. But I had hit a few plateaus along the way, and the experience had not been great at all. I had struggled with it so much… but ultimately through no apparent doing of my own, those plateaus had dissolved, and I was on to the next piece of progress.

So, I decided to just forget about it, and just enjoy my life. I figured, if I was going to be on a plateau, I might as well have some enjoyment out of it, instead of just mindlessly laboring along — seemingly in vain — and chafing over my lack of progress.

I also suspected that deliberately deciding to enjoy my life would kick-start something in my brain. I would take in all the sights and scents and tastes and experiences around me (as much as possible, given my limited energy and difficulties with my sensitivities). I would really see how much I could enjoy them. And I would stop, when it got to be too much for me. I would change my focus and approach, and my brain would adapt in completely new ways. I would forget about the same old working-working-working, because I had been doing exactly that for years, and I still got to a plateau, anyway. My brain clearly needed a variation from all the same kind of work.

I also figured my system needed a break, period, to rest and recoup and integrate all the new skills I was trying to build.

But most of all, I just wanted to enjoy my life. To fill it with happiness and joy in the little things, each and every day. I have been working so hard for so long. I needed a reward.

I can’t say that I’ve been particularly successful at stopping the working. I have a strong work ethic that isn’t going to quit. But when I consider enjoying my life to be a type of “work”, then I can do it. Then it makes sense.

My TBIs have cost me dearly in my life. I really resent every single one of them, because I have the sense that every time I got hurt (about 9 times, starting near the beginning of my life), it set me back a little bit, and took me steps farther away from my dreams. Each successive mild traumatic brain injury had a larger and larger impact on me, and even though they were supposed to be “mild”, the after-effects were anything but mild.

So much pain, so much suffering… not only for me, but for everyone around me…

And that pisses me off.

So, yeah, I’m going to want to work my a$$ off to overcome this. And as it turns out choosing to enjoy my life, to take in the senses of the world around me, helps me do that in a new and different way. Choosing to listen to the birds in my back yard, smell supper cooking on the stove after a long day of work, feel the light brush of ferns against my legs as I walk in the woods, sense the unevenness of the ground beneath me as I walk along my road… it all gets me to pay attention beyond the racket in my head, and it trains my brain to sort through all the different inputs… and also to relax.

Pressure and stress are terrible for TBI recovery, and anything we can do to limit them is a good thing (within reason, of course).

As it turns out, taking the pressure off and just enjoying my life has really kick-started parts of my brain that have been struggling for a long time. I’m reading again. I’m thinking in much better patterns again. I am doing better at dealing with people.

And that’s good.

Onward.

Now past 250,000 views on this site

Thanks for listening Thanks for listening

I just checked my stats on this blog, and as of today, I’ve had 265, 363 views. I’ve been meaning to check my stats more frequently, because passing the 250,000 reader mark has been in the back of my mind.

But I forgot.

No surprises there. If I’d really wanted to remember, I should have written it down, but I have been pretty wrapped up in living my life, so I haven’t spent much time looking at web metrics.

By far, the most popular post was about how I slow my heart rate. Over 25,000 people have viewed that. Whether they read it or not, who knows? But it showed up in their browser. After that, it’s the piece about the vagus nerve. That’s been viewed almost 10,000 times. And after that, people get into the concussion and TBI writings, with a lot of interest in what I’ve written about anger. Whether they were interested in anger only, or anger plus TBI, is anybody’s guess.

But the bottom line is, there have been a lot of people stopping by, so thanks everyone for giving me a great reason to keep going with this blog.

I started this whole thing back in 2007 because I wanted a record of my recovery, and I wanted others like me who felt incredibly alone and isolated to have a place to come to hear someone else share about their experiences with TBI. Actually, it’s all pretty much about life as most of us experience it, TBI or no. My perspective just happens to include a “neurodiverse” aspect.

But then, all of us feel different and deficient in some ways, I guess. Not everyone has something to attribute it to, so in that respect, maybe I’m a little lucky.

Anyway, it’s another beautiful day, and I’m going to get myself outside and WALK. I had a good workout this morning — really pushed myself harder than I have in the past, and now my arms and shoulders and back are tired, which is good. I’ve been working on a bunch of different ideas that are all keeping me occupied and keeping my head from working against me.

I have really been struggling lately with these subtle feelings that I’m just not as “with it” as I’d like to be. I’ve been forgetting things at work, which depresses me to no end. But I can’t let it stop me. I have to keep a positive attitude and remember that everyone forgets things — the people I work with tell me all the time about how they forgot things. And they’re sharing the strategies that they use. My boss is highly experienced and has been doing very high-level work for a long time, and they gave me some great pointers. I’m really lucky to have them as a boss, that’s for sure.

But listen to me… going on, when I really should be out on my walk. I’ve got lots to do today, and I’m feeling good. Keeping busy with productive activities keeps my mind off this persistent feeling that I’m not “myself” and I’m lagging in some way. I’m actually re-building my life, bit by bit, and that includes my understanding of who I am and where I fit in the world. This is not small work.

But I’m doing it. Because it’s the one thing I can do to really help myself just get on with it.

So… onward.

Who am I today?

Summary / Bottom Line

I don’t feel like myself, these days. I haven’t felt “like myself” in a long time. And all the hopes and dreams I once had as a kid, seem so far from me. But maybe, just maybe, I am truly living my hopes and dreams… I just don’t feel like I am. And that changed sense of myself is keeping me from realizing how much my life really does resemble my onetime hopes and dreams. Restoring a sense of self can be a huge challenge with traumatic brain injury, and adjusting to how things truly are, versus how they appear to be, or feel, is one of my biggest challenges.


I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about my identity… who I was when I was a kid, who I am now, and who I’ve been along the way. I recently had a birthday, and while I don’t feel like I’m having a mid-life crisis, I still have been thinking a whole lot about whether I am where I expected / hoped / planned to be, when I was younger.

I know that “life happens” and we can end up very far from where we wanted to be when we were younger. And to be honest, I’m not even sure if I had specific plans about the trajectory of my life, when I was younger.

I do know that what I wanted more than anything, was to become a scientific researcher. I wanted to go to school to get a bunch of degrees, and then focus on research. I’m not sure what kind of researcher I wanted to become — I just wanted to study, collect information, synthesize it, and publish it.

I also wanted to be a writer. Maybe more than being a researcher. Being a writer is what I always wanted to BE. Research is what I wanted to DO. In a way, being a writer is like being a researcher – it’s not the same type of science, but there’s a sort of science to it — observing, drawing conclusions, testing your hypotheses, etc.

Over the course of my life… well, life happened. I got hurt. A bunch of times. I fell and hit my head a bunch of times. I got in car accidents a bunch of times. I was attacked. I did stupid things. And I got hurt. I also had a lot of chronic pain that knocked me out of the running when I was in my early 20s. And I got in trouble with the law and some rough characters, and I had to go on the lam when I was in my late teens, which limited my future prospects.

Now, looking back, I see how so-so-so many opportunities have been out of reach for me, because of everything that happened back then. I have done my best to patch things up over the course of my life, and relatively speaking, I’ve done extremely well for myself.

But am I really where I want to be today?

I’m not sure. This life I’m leading doesn’t look and feel like I hoped it would. It feels strange and foreign to me. Hell, I feel strange and foreign to me. I feel like a stranger to myself, half the time. I don’t have that feeling of being “comfortable in my skin” that people talk about.

Now, I used to have that feeling. I used to have a clear sense of who I was and what I stood for. And I didn’t let anyone hold me back. Even when I was getting in trouble with the law and then went underground, living overseas till things quieted down here, I had a clear sense of who I was, and what I stood for. I had to change my life for a while, and I couldn’t do a lot of the things I had once enjoyed doing — like going anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted. But it didn’t feel like I’d lost a part of myself. I’d screwed up for sure, but I was determined to fix things.

When I was in all that crippling pain, 25 years ago, I had to let go of a lot of activities that had once meant a lot to me. I had to stop exercising and spending time outside in the sun. The diagnosis that the doctors came up with was probably wrong (I never had tests that confirmed or denied it 100% — they didn’t have good tests, back then). But I had to take steps in any case. As it turned out, the things that I was told not to do — exercise a lot, move a lot, test myself physically — were exactly the kinds of things that I needed to do to alleviate my pain. Movement and staying active was NOT going to hurt me. Being sedentary was.

In those years when I was dealing with the pain, I lost of lot of things that meant a lot to me. I couldn’t eat and drink the same things anymore, and I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. But I didn’t have a sense of having lost myself. I was still who I was, and I was clear about that.

Now things feel so strange and foreign to me. It’s hard for me to describe. Even though I know I’m doing better, and I have numbers and feedback from friends and family that indicate I’m improving, I still don’t feel like myself. It’s hard to describe — just that someone else seems to have taken up residence in my life.

I know my personality has changed a good deal, since my fall in 2004. And it kind of freaks me out, because that wasn’t the first mild TBI I’d ever had. I’ve had a bunch — probably about 9. I’ve been assaulted once, had at least 4-5 falls, got hurt a couple of times playing soccer, got majorly dinged while playing football, I’ve had a couple of car accidents, and so forth. But not until I fell in 2004, did it totally screw up my life.

Not until the past years, have I felt like a stranger to myself.

It’s kind of getting me down, too. At least, it has been. I try not to think about it, but it’s still always there… Who am I today? What am I going to do today that doesn’t seem “like me”? What am I going to feel and think and say and do that doesn’t seem consistent with the person I know myself to be?

That feeling of observing yourself going through life… it’s weird. Disorienting. I resolve over and over again, to hang in there and just keep plugging, until I see some glimmer of who I am. And sometimes it works. I’ve been feeling more like “myself” lately, which is nice. But at the same time, I don’t quite trust it. Like in Flowers For Algernon, when the main character stops taking the medicine that made him think and act like a normal person… and he drifts back into his old state. Whenever things are going well for me, I feel like I’m looking over my shoulder for signs that I’m slipping back into not recognizing myself.

I would like to stop this. It’s not fun, and it’s not productive. It serves no one, and being on high alert over it just kills my quality of life.

So, over the weekend, when I had time to think about it, I realized that maybe it would be better if I just acclimated to this feeling and let it be. It could be that I actually am getting back to my old self — I just don’t have the sense that I am. It could be that I’m even better than my old self. There’s a good chance of that, because my old self was majorly concussed and had all sorts of issues that I didn’t even realize. It could be that I’m in better shape than ever before… but I don’t have the sense of it being so, and therefore I don’t trust it.

I don’t feel like I’m myself, most of the time. Maybe all of the time. But maybe I actually am. Maybe the missing piece is NOT my personality and my identity, but the sense of my personality and identity. Just because the sense of being who I am isn’t there, doesn’t mean I can’t BE there myself.

Rather than getting all caught up in recreating that sense of myself, maybe I need to just get on with living, regardless of the sense of myself. Maybe I just need to trust it… not place such high demands on what qualifies me as me, or not-me.

And maybe — just maybe — the life I have now is exactly what I was hoping /expecting / planning / dreaming I’d have, back when I was a kid. Looking around at my study and thinking about how I live my life, I realize that I am doing exactly what I always wanted to do, when I was younger — reading and researching and writing and publishing. I write and publish this blog. I read and research TBI-related materials (especially concussion and mild TBI) and I spend a lot of time thinking about them.

I also read and research other subjects and write about them, though I haven’t published much of that … yet. I am getting to a place where I soon will, and then I will have that to my credit, as well. This is all done independently, according to my own standards. I’m not doing it professionally, but I have managed to help some people, here and there along the way. That much is clear from the comments on my blog.

So, even though it may feel like I’m one person, the objective facts reveal something quite different. And for me, it seems the challenge is to not let feelings of weirdness and alienation and failure stop me from just getting on with my life.

At some point, I just need to trust. I’m working on it.

Onward.
 

I didn’t fail. I just got tired.

So much depends on your outlook

I had a revelation this morning, as I was waking up. In the space of a few seconds, it turned an imagined failure into a chance for long-term success.

It was the realization that when I started to lose my temper with my spouse last night, it wasn’t a sign that I was failing at my attempts to be more level-headed and calm, no matter what the situation. It was a clear sign that I was tired, and that my brain needed sleep.

I have been working on being more level-headed — no matter what the situation. This is a lifelong pursuit, actually. I saw the need for it, when I was a teenager and a young adult… as an adult in the working world… and it continues to be important to me. It’s not that I want everything to be perfect for me all the time and give me no trouble. What I want, is to be able to handle my circumstances, be okay with them (within reason), and make the best of any situation’s opportunities, no matter now “bad” it may look at the time.

I have had some good success with this approach over the years. After all, I have seen the ill-effects NOT having a level head in challenging circumstances, and the results are rarely pretty. I have had plenty of opportunity to witness this in the people around me — in my family, especially, when my parents could not hold it together with one of my “problematic” (that is — drug-addicted, alcoholic, sleeping-with-anything-that-moved, drug-dealing) siblings. It was bad enough that my sibling had all those problems (which were signs of something far deeper going on with them). But my parents could not maintain their composure or clarity of thought when it came to my sibling, so that made a bad situation even worse.

I’m not judging my parents — they were not equipped to handle it, and we lived in an area where any problem with kids was a reflection on the parents, so they went from being respected members of society to being “those people” who everybody handled very gingerly.

Anyway, I’ve seen many examples in my own life, where keeping a level head and a calm demeanor helped me through tough times. I actually credit my many TBIs (I’ve had 9+) with helping me with this, because they slowed down my processing speed. When your processing speed is slowed down, it makes it pretty difficult to get on the same wavelength with everybody else… and in case you haven’t noticed, being on the same wavelength as everybody else leaves a lot to be desired.

Everybody gets so worked up over things. But when you’re not thinking as quickly as everyone else, you can’t jump to the same conclusions and get to those snap judgments that can send you careening into HOLY SH*T WHAT THE F*CK land. Everybody else is freaking out — oftentimes about something that isn’t worth freaking out about — and you’re still trying to figure out what just happened…

So, if you think about it, slower processing speed isn’t always a bad thing. And equanimity… peace of mind… level-headedness in the face of a crisis is a definite advantage. Especially when everybody else’s “normal-fast” thinking is vectoring off in a really unproductive direction.

Anyway, that’s one half of the story. The other half of it is less cheery — that’s the aspect of my thinking that is WAY more reactive than others’. It’s the instant-freak-out part of my experience that has made me nuts for years. At an instant’s notice, I’ll suddenly FREAK OUT over something. It can be a dropped spoon, or a missed channel that I’m trying to change with the clicker, or something my spouse says or does that rubs me the wrong way.

When things go haywire in my head, they go really haywire. There’s no middle ground. Everything goes nuts. I know I’m being unreasonable, I know I’m being crazy, I know there is no logical reason for me to be freaking out, but it’s happening anyway. And it’s never good for anyone. I’ve lost more relationships than I can say, because of this. That includes a really good job I lost in 2005 after my TBI in 2004.

People are afraid of me, when I start to get agitated and aggressive — which may have to do with me, or may have to do with them. I don’t want to give anyone any reason to be afraid of me. It’s counter-productive. And it hurts everyone involved.

So, there’s all the more reason to keep tabs on myself and foster a calm demeanor, a cool head, and a self-possessed state of mind. And with that goal in mind, I have pursued a number of different practices and philosophies that might help me with that. I have worked on practices that emphasize acceptance, calmness, not reacting to things around me, and philosophies that teach about how transitory life is, and how important it is for us to understand what we can and cannot change, and not make ourselves nuts trying to alter things that can’t be changed.

Like the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.

This has been a very powerful concept in my life, and I have it displayed in my kitchen where I will see it each morning when I get up and make my coffee.

Along the way, I have had many surges in interest in deepening this practice — in really getting to a place where I can make peace with the things I cannot change, and make the most of the opportunities that are hidden there. I’m a big believer that some of our worst hurdles and challenges offer us the greatest rewards — and when we resist those challenges, we miss out on the chance to become bigger and better than ever before.

Some things I can accept and work with — political changes, cultural changes, relocations from one area to the next, and small-scale changes at work. Other changes I have a harder time with — job changes, especially. The ones that make me the craziest are the ones I feel like I cannot understand or control — or that go off in a direction that is completely different from the direction I see myself headed.

Other things I cannot seem to accept, are the foolishness of others — the stinkin’ thinkin’ that my spouse indulges in, their constant anxiety, their devotion to drama, their bad habit of telling everyone exactly what they want to hear instead of the constructive truth. I have trouble with the attitudes of people at work, who can be cliquish and juvenile. I have trouble with the judgment of Management at work, when their decisions seem counter-productive and get in the way of us doing our work. My siblings also depress the sh*t out of me, with their choices and their prejudices and their holier-than-thou attitude. My parents are a little easier to deal with, because they are many hours away, and I don’t see them that often.

It’s the people who are closest to me, who I have the greatest investment in, that get me with their unhealthy habits of thought and action, their outlooks, their attitudes, and their behavior that seems to serve no useful purpose, other than to make them feel good about themselves — at the expense of everyone else.

The thing is, their behaviors and beliefs and actions have almost nothing to do with me. Even my spouse’s bad habits have more to do with them, than with me — no matter how much they may blame me for their anxiety. I am making myself unhappy over things that are far beyond my control, and it’s not helping me at all.

So, there is all the more incentive for me to calm myself down, not react to what they are doing, and step back and look at them and everything from a distance.

I have found some philosophies and outlooks that can help me do that, and I have pursued them eagerly, on and off, over the years. The thing is, I get to a certain point, then everything falls apart. My equanimity dissolves. I melt down, inside my head and heart. My temper explodes. And I end up feeling worse off than when I started. I feel like I’m back to Square 1, without having made any progress at all.

But in fact, I have made progress. My meltdowns and explosions do not mean that I have utterly failed at learning a new way of thinking and being and relating to others. They do mean that my brain has been working hard, so it is tired. And I need to rest it.

Because changing yourself and your brain and your patterns of thought and action and attitude is hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight. And the fact that I am getting frayed and losing it, actually means that I am making progress — I just need to take a break, rest up, learn what I can about what sets me off, and resume learning again, once I am rested.

This realization is just what I’ve been needing — for a long, long time. Getting frayed at 10 p.m. over someone being a pain in my ass is NOT a sign that I’m failing. It’s a sign that I’ve been working hard all day at changing my mind and my brain, and that it’s time to rest. It’s not a condemnation — it’s a diagnostic tool. And far from being an indication of my inferiority, it’s evidence that I’m actually making progress.

The simple fact is, I’m a brain-injured human being. If you think about it, there are a lot of people who are injured in one way or another, and we are all working our way through the maze called life, trying to find a better way to live. And because of my injuries, because of my history of experiences, my individual makeup, and all the different things that have made me what I am today, I have certain limitations I need to be mindful of and accommodate, so I can work around them and not let them get to me.

Fatigue and the irritability that comes from being tired are a couple of those limitations. So is:

  • a sharp tongue — over little things
  • a hot temper — at an instant’s notice
  • slower processing speed than one would expect
  • the almost constant pain that I’ve become resigned to living with, the rest of my born days
  • perpetual, never-ending tinnitus
  • light-sensitivity
  • noise-sensitivity

And so on.

It’s not that my life is awful. It’s pretty sweet, to tell the truth. I just need to be aware of these issues, not forget them — or when I do forget them, find a way to remember that the things I’m doing and saying are about my brain injury, NOT about my character.

So, there is hope. There always is, so long as I don’t give up.

And speaking of not giving up, I’m going to get ready for work and get into my day, knowing that I didn’t fail last night, when I got cross with my spouse. I was just tired, and no animals were hurt in the filming of that movie.

Onward.