I must be getting better… a lot better

Sometimes you have to bring your own light

Got back last night from my return drive home. Found my spouse sitting in a dark house, watching television. Now, that’s depressing. They were really happy to see me… but it only took an hour till they started digging into me and my family about in-law pet peeves.

That’s par for the course. I’ve been hearing this same litany of complaints against my side of the family for over 20 years. The thing is, it hasn’t bothered me in the past, and it was kind of a semi-annual ritual for my spouse to complain bitterly about my family being the way they are. It really is my spouse’s loss. My family isn’t perfect — whose is? But they are my family, and they helped make me what I am, so you can either spend your time getting all revved and riled about something that cannot and will not change, or you can look on the bright side, find the things that are good and positive, and focus on them.

That’s what I choose to do, and it has made life more than tolerable for me. I’ve been able to find good in even the most miserable conditions. Now, miserable is miserable, for sure. But there’s always something good to concentrate on, that keeps you from getting all worked up and unhappy about things.

In the end, it’s my spouse’s loss that they can’t see the good in my family. And the fact that I’m not willing to dive into that old back-and-forth, and I managed to keep it from sliding downhill into an all-out fight… well, that’s signs of progress.

I need to remember that my spouse always starts to get “revved” around midnight, which was when we started talking about the trip. That was a killer for me, because I should have been in bed by then, but they wanted to find out about the trip and hear the details. The thing is, because they start to “rev up” around midnight, they wanted to fight, which made it really difficult for me to wind down and get to bed. It was just a poor choice on my part. The poor choice was all about me forgetting that my spouse gets anxious and aggressive and wants to fight, around midnight, and giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Mistake. Note to self — no matter how optimistic you may be about your spouse’s mental health at midnight, every single time, they prove you wrong, and you end up getting the short end of the stick. As in, not nearly enough sleep — like five hours or something like that. If I’d had my wits about me, I would have just turned in and said we’d talk about the trip today, after I had some time to let it all sink in — and catch up on my sleep.

Also, last night showed me pretty clearly that I really am getting a lot better. I’m in a good space… while my spouse is not. If anything, they’re getting worse. They really do seem to be slipping away from me… fading away, wallowing in outrage and upset, and just getting worse and worse. I think what’s happening is that they are blowing out their system — they’re not watching what they eat or getting adequate exercise, and because of that, their vascular system is not holding up. So, when they get all worked up over things and their blood pressure gets up, it blows out the little capillaries and connections in their system — their brain, possibly their kidneys — people have talked to me about this, and I didn’t really want to come to terms with it, but being away for a few days just makes it all the more obvious to me that they are not well.

But I am.

And I’m getting better. I’m getting much, much better — each and every day. I’m focused on it. I’m working at it. I’m making it a top priority. Part of my motivation is seeing how sub-par my spouse is functioning. Seeing them going downhill so steadily is a great motivation for me to do more to keep myself fully functional — and even improve. I know in my heart and mind that we have more “say” about what happens to our bodies and our brains, than popular conventions give us credit for. I also know in my heart and mind that even if I am going downhill, it’s not going to be by default. They’re really going to have to work at killing me, to take me down.

I’m not going down just because “that’s what happens” when you get to a certain age.

Another thing that’s really motivating me, is seeing the rest of my family and seeing how they’re living. That’s not how I want to live, at all. They are constantly on-the-go, and it’s really exhausting. They just go-go-go, and they don’t spend a lot of time to stop and think things through. They’re all on auto-pilot, doing what everyone around them does, and that’s pretty depressing in its own way. They do have connections with a larger community, and they do have a strong sense of belonging, but the community they belong to, leaves a lot to be desired, in my opinion.

If their community were so great, I’d still be there. Note well, that I am not.

So, on both ends, I can see that I’m doing well. I’m doing better than ever. And while things are rough and rocky, here and there, the fact that I can see that things are not how I want them to be, is a great sign of progress.

Once upon a time, I would get sucked into the fights and arguments and bitch-fests with my spouse, and I’d feel all the more alive and invigorated from it.

Once upon a time, I could not spend any time around my family without wanting to kill myself. Literally.

Now, neither of those are true. I’m finding a healthy middle ground, and it’s good.

Now, it’s time to get on with my day.

Onward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just being grateful solves a lot

I’ve been struggling a bit, lately, with some resentments and frustrations. Starting a new job and feeling like I’m new all over again has been a little tough. I want to know what I’m doing. I want to have expertise. But I have to go through the process of doing that. And after being alive and learning so many lessons for around 50 years, now, there’s a part of me that feels like I *should* know more than I do.

I know I need to learn in my current position. I need to learn who the people are, how to use the technical tools, how to navigate the political landscape, and so on.

I just get tired, I guess. I’ve been having some long days, lately, and things at work have been quite frantic, with a deadline suddenly looming, where none was just a week ago. It’s been a bit of a fire drill, to tell you the truth, and it’s taking a lot out of me.

I am also going to be traveling this weekend, so that means I have to do more to get ready. Sigh. At least I slept till 6:30 this morning, instead of waking up at 5:30.

Of course, I didn’t get to bed till after 11:00. Oh, well. At least I got about 7 hours of sleep. That’s better than I’ve been doing regularly, for quite some time.

So, the good part is, I’ve gotten some sleep. And another good part is, this seems like a company I can be productive and happy at, for the long run. It doesn’t feel like a contract, right now. It feels like the beginning of a permanent spot, and for the first time in years, I’m happy for that. I did feel that way, to some extent, at the last company I worked at… until they moved the office farther away, mixed up the organization, and screwed everything up.

I actually do miss my old friends from there — I’ve really been feeling that, lately. But I don’t miss the company. I’m just so glad to be done with them.

Anyway, back to the present. I’ve realized that with all my struggles and difficulties — feeling tired and disoriented and harried and a bit stressed over adjusting, not to mention a bit of political drama (already… it only took me 2 weeks to screw up) — the one thing that helps the most is gratitude. Sleep helps a bit, but it can wear off. Fatigue or restedness are not things I can will into or out-of existence.

Gratitude, on the other hand, is something I do have control over. I can change my frame of mind and change my attitude, and reach a place where I am really, truly grateful for everything I have around me. I look for the good, and I look for the benefits to the situations I’m in, and it really turns around my outlook and mood. In my darkest times, making a list of all the things I’m grateful for — especially good things that are buried in the midst of tough situations — brightens my outlook and lifts me up out of my funk.

Things at work right now are pretty challenging. I have a bunch of things on my plate that I need to sort out, and it doesn’t feel like I have the time or updated ability to do them properly. But they are big opportunities. So, today I’m starting out with gratitude and focusing on the things I can do, the lessons I can learn, and I’m concentrating on the positive things that will come out of it.

People at work are starting to warm up to me. And I’m learning the lay of the land. So, things are looking up. I just can’t let myself fall into a funk over stuff that’s transitory. The sources of stress and strain right now — the unfamiliarity, the uncertainty, the lack of connection with people — will all sort themselves out over time. I just can’t let the tone for my work be set by that temporary state. Not when a better permanent state is just around the corner.

I never know when things will turn around. So, I’ve got to keep steady and positive. And look to the brighter tomorrow. For so many good things that haven’t even come to me yet, I am truly grateful.

 

Keeping that warm fire burning

It’s up to me to feed the fire

I’m in kind of a raw place this morning. I’ve got a phone screen interview for a potentially great job, later today, and I’m starting to get nervous. The last phone screen I had went really badly. And the last couple of interviews I had didn’t go that great, either.

So, I’m nervous. I need to change jobs, and this could be a great next step, but I’m pretty raw from my past experiences, and I’m concerned that I’m going to screw it up all over again.

It’s disheartening. I want to do well, and the last few times, I intended to do well, but I just couldn’t manage it, and things just tanked on me from that point. It’s been a while since I had what really felt like a win for me, job-wise.

I’m probably making it worse than it is. I know I am. My perception of myself and my abilities is much inferior to what others think of me, and when someone pays me a compliment, I have a hard time accepting it. I have a hard time accepting anything for myself that isn’t criticism and blame. I want to change this, but it is extremely hard. I feel like I have to be pretty hard on myself, or I won’t perform. I won’t pay attention. I won’t be sharp, if I’m not being stressed and put on the spot.

This is when TBI becomes a real issue for me. Or rather, the real issue is the reactions of people around me to my abilities and behavior after all my TBIs. I’ve been getting injured since I was pretty young, and people have never been particularly generous or forgiving about the problems I had with attention and memory and figuring things out and just knowing where I stood in the world.

It really blows chunks, to get beaten up on all your life, because of other people’s stupidity and failure to realize what the problem really was.

It just sucks.

It’s not my fault I forgot things and didn’t realize it. I wasn’t lying. I just didn’t remember.

It’s not my fault I was easily distracted and I got confused and tired, and I couldn’t finish big jobs I was given. I just got turned around and couldn’t figure out how to keep going, and nobody would bother to help me figure it out.

It’s not my fault that light and sound and touch all hurt me, and I pulled away from people when they tried to make contact with me. It was so painful, and sometimes it felt like they were burning my skin.

None of that was my fault. I got hit in the head a lot. I fell. I had accidents. I got roughed up a bit. But rather than giving me the benefit of the doubt and helping me sort things through, all anybody could manage was criticism and name-calling and taunting.

The weird thing is, a lot of what used to happen to me is a bit blurry. My memory is definitely not what it used to be, and when I think back, I don’t have a lot of really clear memories about what all happened. I have some memories of bad stuff I went through and some memories of good times I had, but it’s all kind of jumbled together.

So, for all I know, a lot of good things could have been happening to me, but I can’t seem to remember them. The bad things are easier to remember.

And that doesn’t help me.

It really hurts me. It keeps me locked in a partial understanding of myself that isn’t at all fair. I have a lot on my plate and a lot of things I want to do with my life, and new people are coming into my life, so I need to not let that hold me down. I need to not let those old “versions” of me define the new life I am building for myself.

Why would I want those old tales that people told about me to limit the new life I’m building?

I don’t. So, I’m taking steps.

The first step is to realize that all the things people have said to/about me, have been more about them, than about me. My parents were young when they had me — in their early 20′s. So, they were living with very limited experience, themselves. Heck, they were just kids, themselves. What did they know? On top of that, they were living very responsible lives with a lot of duties and pressure on them, and the world was not kind. So, they took it out on everyone around them, including me.

They were literally doing the best they could, under the circumstances, and if they realized now what they actually did and said back then, I’m sure they would be distressed. My parents have selective memories about my childhood — it’s like we were living on two different planets. Maybe we were. But to go back and dredge it all up… what point would there be to that? Even if I did confront them about it, would they even remember or understand?

I doubt it.

So I’m letting that sleeping dog lie.

And I’m focusing on the positive — not getting mired in what went on before, but looking to what the future holds. The main thing I need to remember in all this, is that my memories of how things were is very spotty — and it’s biased towards the negative. It could very well be that I actually was the happy, active kid my mother remembers me being, but I just don’t remember much of that. It could be that I’m forgetting a ton of great stuff, for whatever reason.

So, if I just take my mother’s word for it, and I don’t let the old negativity about my father get the better of me, it works in my favor. If I just keep in mind that my memories of things, my recollections — my “cellular memory” if you will — is partial and slanted towards survival instincts and identifying and avoiding danger, that puts things in perspective. And I can not get hung up on all the old crap. Certainly, I need to face the old pain and accept it, but the fact is, there’s more to the story than that, and I should know as well as anyone that I can’t trust my memory when it comes to details about what was really happening and what it all meant.

It’s far more productive for me to focus on the things I can change — my present and my future — and not let those old misperceptions hold me back.

That means, each day I need to find something to be grateful for, something to keep me going. I need to seek out ways to focus on my strengths and keep my energy up. I tend to “run hot” and burn up my energy very quickly, so I need to keep a steady supply of fuel for myself — mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

A lot of this is really logistics — arranging my schedule each day so that I have enough time to focus on what I need to focus on, but not so much time that I can get distracted and pulled in a million different directions. It’s also about keeping my mind engaged in positive ways — reading things that motivate and encourage me and offer me new ways of looking at my life. I need to get plenty of rest, which I have been doing better at, ever since I got my new bed. And I need to eat properly, which I have been doing — especially since my parents left, and I’m not eating any more sweets that my mother loves to bake.

Most of all, I need to stick with the facts of my life — they speak for themselves. I spend way too much time talking myself down, making light of all the things I’ve accomplished, and brushing off compliments. I need to really “own” what I’ve done in my life, professionally and otherwise, and not let others’ insecurities drag me down. That’s a huge piece of it — because I seem to be surrounded by really insecure people who love to make me feel less-than. What they say and do towards me, is about them, not about me. And I can’t let them trash my life.

They would if they could — just to prove that what I’m capable of doing is not possible, and make themselves feel better. But why should they hold me back?

They shouldn’t. I’ve got to move along, and I need to do what I need to do. I have connected with some pretty cool people, lately, and I’m getting more socially involved in areas where I have a lot of interest and skill. This is outside of my workplace, which is pretty much of a creative desert. And it’s really pushing me to upgrade how I am in the world — with myself and others.

So, that’s good. It’s what I’ve been needing. Isolating all by myself is no good. And that’s what I’ve done for a long, long time. I was just so tired all the time. But now that I have my “rocket fuel” mixture of coffee and butter and oil, I’m actually in a much better place — and I have the energy to keep going, keep moving, and stay involved with the world.

May is almost here. I can feel a big and positive change coming. It’s good. It really is.

 

 

 

Rise and Shine – At last, a reason to get up in the morning

It’s a new day. Literally

Today’s Fog Factor: 75%

I woke up at 5 a.m. again today. It was not because of an alarm, and it was not because I jolted awake on adrenaline that won’t quit. I just woke up. Because I was done resting.

I lay in bed thinking for a while, then I talked to my spouse who was also up at the same time, and we sorted some things out that they’ve been mentally wrangling with for some days, now. Then I had my exercise — just a little, not too much that messes up my head — and I made my breakfast at the same time. Making coffee fits in well with me riding the exercise bike, and frying an egg fits in well with my leg exercises. I didn’t do any lifting today, because I’m a little sore from yesterday, and the point was really just to move, not to overdo it. I may go to the gym later today. I have my gym bag in the car, so I can do that. It’s been a while since I got on the machines, and I actually miss it.

So, I’m going to go ahead and spend a little bit of time in the gym at work.

So, I woke up early and got up early, too. I’ve been waking up around 5 a.m., ever since I got back from my last trip. Having only a couple of weeks between international trips makes it hard to get back to a regular schedule I also feel like I need to shift my sleeping schedule up a bit, anyway, because I was getting too lax before… too lazy, too in love with a leisure that I cannot afford to indulge. I was getting to bed too late and getting up too late, too.

In the past, I was also pretty depressed about my job situation, to be honest. It just dragged me down terribly and now that I think about it, as valiant as I tried to be to keep on keepin’ on, it was a total friggin’ drag. Small wonder I didn’t want to leap out of bed in the morning. I was reporting to a nincompoop… who was following on the heals of a jerk… who was following on the heels of a real d*uchebag. I haven’t had many decent bosses at all, in the past almost-4 years at this company, but now at least there’s a (relatively) competent person at the helm of my group. It would be an understatement to say I’m glad that the organization has changed and I am no longer stuck in that old situation, reporting to those old bosses.

At the same time, I’m also really glad that I have this new situation. It’s more than being glad I’m out of that old situation. I’m really happy to be in new circumstances. It’s a relief, to not have to fend off idiots all the livelong day. And better yet, it’s positioning me well to move into a different and better line of work than I’ve been in for almost 20 years — a line of work that can translate across a number of different industries and disciplines — not only technology.

That new direction is project management. I’ve talked about this before as something I wanted to move towards, but there was something that always held me back. Project management is actually something I’ve been doing for years now. However, because I’ve always had a hands-on role in the projects I’ve been involved in, and I’ve always had to report to some d-bag who tried to undercut me because I threatened them, I was never considered (or permitted to be) a 100% project manager — just a coordinator or a producer or a “lead”.

That’s changing, now, as I move forward. And I can detect a distinct change in the way I’m relating to my work and going about my business. I’m thinking bigger picture — because I can. I’m not being blocked anymore. I’m a lot less hands-on than I’ve been in the past. And I’m a lot better able to step back and just let others take over doing the hands-on work.

This is a big change for me. For so many years, I was deeply invested in being THE ONE who did the work. I had to be the one who took care of things. I had to be the one who got everything squared away. I didn’t trust anyone else to do the job, because I didn’t believe they could do it as well as I could.

And back in the day, that was accurate. I could do my job better than anyone else, and it was extremely painful to see people struggling through, trying to get things done, which I could take care of far better, in a fraction of the time. It took forever. They didn’t know how to do things properly – they still had to learn. And my anxiety was out of control, to the point where I couldn’t even begin to step back and let someone else handle things — because they would do it wrong, and that was unacceptable.

Now things are very different. First off, because of my learning and reading and comprehension and memory issues, I can’t retain and process information nearly as fast and as capably as in the past. This has been an incredibly difficult thing to take. Not being able to read and retain what I read… not being able to think fast on my feet and adapt instantly to changing conditions… not being able to adjust and switch gears… it’s really been a hard pill for me to swallow. But that’s how I’ve become. And while the past 10 years have seen improvements with me, I am nowhere near as capable of picking things up quickly and adapting to ever-changing conditions, the way I was before.

I have fought and struggled against this for years, but in the past year, I seem to have finally given up on the idea that I can ever get back to my old level. That’s just gone. All the attempts at keeping up, at getting my abilities back up to snuff… well shit. That capability is just not there anymore. I’ve got to move on. I see that now.

The thing is, moving on is the best thing I can do under the circumstances. Because frankly, it gives me the opportunity to effect change at a much higher level than I’ve been able to, before. Changing my career direction makes it possible for me to actually stop things from being chaotic and frenetic and stupidly “dynamic” for no other reason than the thrill of the chase. Being in a project management position allows me to change the culture at a fundamental level and create the kind of environment that I know is productive and helpful for everyone — and that supports positive change, instead of driving everyone ahead like mad little animals being herded into a truck and shipped off to God-knows-where.

I’ve chafed against conditions of confusion and frustration and ambiguity for years. And now I get to change that — for the better. I may not solve every single problem, but I can at least make a dent.

I’ve also been given a really huge task to take on at work – and it seems well nigh impossible. So, I have to let go of my need for control. It’s impossible for me to control alone. It is simply too big for me to make happen all by myself, and I have to step back and let others handle things. It’s not optional. First, I don’t have the time to follow every single detail of every person’s activities. Second, I don’t really want to. And third, it lets me focus on the bigger picture and providing leadership to folks who are struggling to find their way.

A coworker of mine is trying to manage everything personally, with a hand in every single thing that happens, and it’s driving them crazy. It’s making them ill. It’s painful to watch, and I am learning a lot from their mistakes.

I just don’t have the time and the energy for that level of involvement. I need to find another way. So, that’s what I’m doing.

And it’s funny — all of a sudden, I want to get up in the morning. I want to wake up. I want to move into the day. I want to turn my life around.

Because on the one hand, I finally have a job that is a real intellectual challenge for me — it’s stimulating and invigorating and frustrating and confounding, and it’s just the sort of impossible mess I specialize in handling and setting to rights.

On the other hand, I can’t wait to get the hell out of there and get my life back. I can’t want to find a job doing project management that’s within 15 miles of my home, which doesn’t kill me with the commute, and leaves me time in my day to do the things I love to do — write and read and relax. I’ve had precious little of that, ever since my job moved 20 minutes east, into the thick of the worst commuter traffic in the region.

I also look forward to finding another job which all takes place here in the United States. I do like my international colleagues, and we get along pretty well. However, traveling overseas on a regular basis is, well, hell. It destroys the quality of life I have worked so hard to create, and the fatigue and logistics are serious issues with my mental and physical health. It’s taking a toll, and I need to stop it.

Plus, the people I work with stateside are unprofessional pains in the ass. Seriously, I haven’t heard this much bitching and complaining since high school.

Of these three issues, the last is probably the least likely to go away. People will be people, and no matter what the circumstances, they’ll tend to act like adolescents. But the first two, I can control, and there is hope for me there.

So, that’s my plan. And I’m sticking to it. Do my job to the best of my ability, make my internal “customers” happy and discharge my duties with professionalism and capability… and prepare my exit strategy. It makes no sense for me to continue like this indefinitely. I’m not getting any younger, and I’ve got better things to do with my time than sit in my car, wrangling with traffic. I can think of a number of better uses of my time, energy, and money, than commuting.

So, that’s where I’m going to put my energy. Just take care of what I need to take care of, and set myself up to move on with all due haste.

It’s a plan.

And it has me getting out of bed in the morning. Because I want to. Because after so many false starts, now I can truly see the end of the road ahead of me. There’s only another 8-10 months I have to do this, and things are so insane and so fast-paced, I’m sure the time is going to just fly by. I figure it’s going to take about that long to get my current situation squared away sufficiently to show results, fill out my resume, and position myself well for my next steps. I just need to study up on what I’m doing and figure out the best way to do it. I need to get clear on my abilities and interests, and just move forward with them, all the while keeping things moving along in my neck of the woods. I’ll focus on acquiring the skills and experience I need to transition into my next position, and not worry about how things are right now.

They’re going to change. It’s my job to change them. So, I’m going to do exactly that.

Onward.

 

Diving into my brain

Check out what’s in there…

Time to break out the old MRI again. About five years ago, I had a series of weird experiences that other people assured me were seizures. I honestly didn’t know what to think — my eyes would start jumping rhythmically back and forth, I couldn’t keep them focused on any one thing at a time, and I had these extreme and overwhelming floods of emotion that really leveled me. I even went blind for a few minutes, one afternoon while I was spending time with family.

After talking to a bunch of folks, including epilepsy doctors, I had an MRI and an EEG, and nothing came back definitive, other than a pineal cyst — which is common in the general population. About 40% of autopsies uncover a pineal cyst, but it doesn’t seem to make a ton of difference in quality of life, other than headaches and other issues in extreme cases. My pineal cyst was fairly small, so the doctor just told me to keep an eye on it and get re-scanned every couple of years to make sure it’s not getting worse.

I haven’t been back since, as I’m not having any symptoms or issues that seem worth the trouble. Also, the contrast agent they pump into you to make things light up made me sick, and there have been lots of reports of bad side-effects, so no thanks.

Anyway, reading about dopamine and how it’s produced in the body and the parts of the brain that are involved, I’ve dug up the old MRI files to look at, and it’s as fascinating as ever. The thing is, my brain doesn’t look like the textbook images — I must have lay on my back a lot as a baby, because the back of my head is flattened and the cerebellum is pushed forward and up. I have found other images on Google that look like me – and we certainly don’t look like what’s in the Netter’s anatomy book I have.

Fascinating. Not that this means there is anything wrong – it’s just different.

So, anyway, I’m looking at the physical structure of the brain, trying to see where all the action takes place. There’s a ton of stuff going on in there – it’s hard to distinguish between the different pieces, based on my limited knowledge, but I guess the most important thing is that everything is intact — and I have the capacity to explore and question and discover for myself.

That, in itself, gives me a rush, which is exactly what I need.

I need a rush that is for something meaningful and useful. For years, I devoted hours and hours of my time to activities that just took the pressure off and distracted me from what was really going on — writing for hours and hours in journals which never served any useful purpose, other than providing a rhythmic, solitary activity that would soothe my jangled nerves… studying history and obscure facts in order to better understand life around me (had limited success with that)… and drifting from one project to the next, each time convinced that I was going to hit the big time and make a fortune, then dropping each undertaking in due course because I got bored or it didn’t pan out the way I expected. I was really quite aimless — in large part because I only wanted to take the pressure off my head and my heart… not actually do anything with my life.

I suppose it was good for something. The interests and the discipline I developed over the years have stood me in good stead, with researching my TBI issues and figuring out how to address them. So, it wasn’t all for naught. But I spend a whole lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing — mainly because I just needed to take the edge off my anxiety and depression and low energy levels.

Now I’m able to focus that attention and activity in a productive direction. And getting the hang of tweaking my dopamine levels and increasing my general feelings of well-being, is just the ticket. It’s fascinating to me, and that can’t hurt.

So, the day is waiting. The brain is an enormous domain that’s full of all manner of fascinating areas and abilities. Looking at the anatomy can be overwhelming, but when I think about the dynamics of it — just how it works, and how I can better use it — a lot of it makes more sense.

Time to dive back in and get fascinated again.

Onward.

Hacking the dopamine drought

Food should feel good

So, I did some research on the medication my neuropsych has recommended, if I can’t get my irritability under control. It’s a dopaminergic substance that supposedly takes the edge off fatigue-based irritability and can keep me from freaking out over every little thing.

That’s fine, but I would rather manage this without pharmaceuticals, really.

Now, I have nothing against people using meds when necessary. I believe they can save lives.The thing with me is that I don’t think my irritability is so extreme or beyond my control that I have to have a medication to chill. And I am deeply concerned that relying on a medication will decrease my innate ability to cope, making things even worse, if I go off the med. I don’t want to be that dependent – especially if there is the chance that I may not have access to the meds for ever and all time. I could lose my job and lose my benefits, and end up without needed medications, and then what would I do?

Not good.

Also, if the core issue is fatigue as well as a problem with low dopamine levels in my brain, that’s something I believe I can fix on my own. I can “hack” into this system — as in, figure out how things work, understand the inner workings of it (like you’d figure out the inner workings of a computer program) — and then design a better solution, using tips and tricks picked up here and there to fine-tune the overall system to work better.

I did some research, and it seems pretty clear to me that one of my big issues is low dopamine levels. I haven’t been tested, so I can’t say for sure, but the way my neuropsych talks about it – and the way I am reading information – it sounds like that is a core issue with me. Too little dopamine in my system can lead to depression, irritability, weight gain, a feeling of blah-ness, etc. Not much fun at all.

So, to up my dopamine levels, I am focusing on diet and exercise and a supplement (an amino acid) called L-Tyrosine, which the body converts to dopamine. Ripe bananas and eggs are a good source of L-Tyrosine, and beets, almonds, avodados, meat, fish, and artichokes also help boost dopamine.

There’s a whole bunch of foods I can eat, to help my body produce more dopamine, so that’s what I’m going to focus on, rather than pharmaceuticals. I’m just going to have to be pretty deliberate about it, and also watch myself to see how it is working.

Also exercise. I’m not getting enough of it — so I ran stairs today at work — up and down four flights… twice. It actually felt really good to do it — wore me out a bit, but it’s a small price to pay. Plus, it took the edge off my antsy-ness, which was helpful.

I’m also working on my rewards system. Dopamine is connected with rewards and that sense of fulfillment and excitement that comes along with it. Frankly, my rewards system is for shit — I never really developed a good sense of rewards, so that’s something I need to work on, as well.

I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I’ll figure something out.

But for now, it’s all about the food, baby.

Onward.

Rest up… then decide

Time to go down for the count

I’m in a pretty dark place, right now… Feeling down and alone and just not “into” living my life. Everything feels so overwhelming and confusing and like there is never an end to … well… everything.

I know that I’m tired. I know I’m physically and mentally tired. The upheavals of the past week have really taken a lot out of me. It’s been constant drama with my spouse, as well as their business associates. Everybody is so busy being wounded and slighted and outraged, that nobody has any bandwidth left to just take care of things.

I’m tired of it. I’m tired of it all. And it’s good I realize this. Because I have been feeling more and more like the problem is with me, that I can’t keep up, that I can’t seem to keep an even keel with all this around me.

Earlier today, I just felt like leaving. Packing my bags and hitting the road. This is my go-to fantasy for when things feel too difficult for me to parse through, and I can’t seem to make sense of anything. I imagine what it would be like to pack a small bag with only the essentials, go to the bank, withdraw the maximum on my debit card, gas up the car, and hit the road… and not look back.

I could totally do it — if I didn’t have such a strong connection with my spouse, and if nothing else in my life were right. In fact, if my spouse passes away before me, that’s probably what I’ll do. Just take what I absolutely need, lock up the house, and hit the road for a while. Quit my job, tell my family I love them, cancel all the bills and accounts and contracts that make up the fabric of my life, and go.

Just go.

Where would I go? Probably deeper into the mountains… near here or farther to the North and West. Where there is lots of snow, big bears, mountain lions, and eagles. I might take to running a trapline in Alaska. Or just survive on my own. Build a cabin. Or build one of those self-contained houses that has a greenhouse built in. Take my time. Build it right.

Or alternatively, I’d put in for a transfer at work and move overseas for a few years. Transfer to a city in Europe. Maybe France. Or one of the northern Germanic/Scandinavian/Baltic countries. Learn French. Or German or Swedish or Danish or Norwegian or Lithuanian. And spend my life working a day job for a European company that gives me 6 weeks paid vacation, and spend my time off exploring the European continent. The Fjords. The Hebrides. Somewhere north. With mountains. And snow. And cold.

Where the nights are unbearably long in the winter, and the days never end in the summer.

Anyway, now that I’m thinking about making that kind of a change, my depression is lifting. I’ve got some creative juices flowing, and it’s entertaining me right out of my funk.

I think depression just goes with this time of the year, since it is a time of short days and long nights, and that SADD business kicks into gear right around this time. I also know that I am very, very tired, and feeling despair tends to go hand-in-hand with fatigue. Especially when my days are unstructured, such as today…. and when I’m feeling bad, physically, which I am.

Today is not a day for me to be making any major decisions, such as what I want to do with my life. Of course, when I am tired, I am particularly prone to wanting to do that. I start to mull the big picture of my life, I get depressed, and then I start to come up with all sorts of bizarre ideas about how to make it all better. Like changing careers without having any formal training in the new field I want. Like leaving my spouse. Like quitting my job — and quitting work completely. Like buying a new car and going on a driving tour to see all my relatives in all those different states, couch-surfing for a few decades, till my Social Security kicks in. Like writing a tell-all memoir that reveals intimate details from the lives of little-known people whom nobody cares about. Like writing an edgy novel, full of violence and sex, that will get people’s attention and make me famous — and a fortune.

Any number of things run through my mind.

The thing is, as I’ve said, I know I’m tired, so there’s no point in me going on about this right now. I need to just finish off the leftover hot and sour soup, drink my tea, and take a long nap. I’m on my own today — flying solo — so I have another 10 hours of solitude till my spouse returns with three other friends who need a place to crash for the night. I have a handful of things I need to get done, but for the next few hours, I need to just settle in, get some rest, and then figure out one thing to do – at a time.

See, that’s the deal — it’s not only that fatigue makes me want to make big changes in my life. Fatigue makes me want to make big changes that should never be done, instead of making little changes that need to be done. It seeks out the most exciting, most dramatic, most powerful sources of stimulation, in lieu of the regular, everyday ones, and it blinds me to the little things I can do each day to make my life better.

That being said, now it’s time to chill, take a long hot shower, and lie down for a long winter’s nap. I’ll decide what to do when I wake up.

It’s now officially winter, and I’m ready to hibernate.

Good night. For now.

Fantastic night last night

Beautiful moonlight

What a beautiful night it was, last night. The moon was full and casting bring shadows across a quiet earth… beneath a starry sky. On nights like last night, I’m glad I live in the country – I have lived in cities about half my life, and while there is much beauty to be seen there, too, there’s nothing like a full moon night in the silent wintertime.

And it isn’t even officially winter, yet.

I didn’t get to bed as early as I was hoping to. I had a late night at work, and I only finished up a little after 10, so small wonder it took me a few hours to wind down. I actually did well, under the circumstances, and I got in bed a little before midnight. I was up a little after 6 a.m., so I got about six hours of sleep, which could be better. But I’m working from home today, so I can take a quick nap later on.

I’m still feeling the burn from the weekend’s work, and I’m taking it easy with the early-morning exercise. I just need to keep moving today, to keep from getting locked up. I actually have a good mix of things I need to do, including a few out-of-the-house errands.

So, things are good today. Not perfect, but still working out.

I’ve got a nice block of free time coming up this coming weekend. My spouse is going to be away working pretty much all weekend, so I have uninterrupted time to focus on some projects I’ve had going. I’ve needed to do a number of things, but it’s been slower going than I expected. Everything seems to take sooooo loooooonnnnnggggg with me, at times — much longer than I plan and anticipate. So, that kind of takes a bite out of my self-confidence. And I feel like an idiot – even more than usual.

I know I bulk up on a lot of things to do — I do that on purpose to put the pressure on, because I work better under pressure. But it also sets me up for failure, just about every day. So it’s a balance. I guess the thing I need to do is really take the time to savor the times when I get things done, and get them done right. I tend to bounce from one activity to the next, just taking my successes and little victories in stride, rather than really stopping to enjoy them.

It will be good to have the time to myself, this weekend. It will give me time to think. Or not think. I’ve been dogged by a sense that I’m not nearly as sharp as I wish I were, and I have to struggle with a lot more things than I would like to. Nobody likes to struggle with things, I’m sure, but it seems like some things should be a lot simpler than they are. It’s so convoluted. I think I have things figured out, then I find out I don’t. And I have to start from scratch again.

It can be exhausting. The daily discovery that I didn’t get it right… again. Or that I was completely wrong in my thinking… and I have to try again. Can’t I just get it right the first time… just once?

Well, anyway. I’m sure there are lots of people out there who feel this way. I just get depressed when I think about it. So, my solution is to not think about it — just keep going. And try to get plenty of rest in the meantime, so I don’t wear myself out with all my mental concern.

Maybe that’s the key for me, to stay happy and healthy and productive — not think so much about things, and use the energy I have to keep trying, keep refining, keep growing. I can’t just sit and noodle about things all day — that in itself is depressing. I have to use my energy — the anxiety, the sadness, the frustration, the anger — as a source of fuel for my life. Keep going, keep growing, keep moving. And not stop to think about what it means in the grand scheme of things, or let it take on qualities that make it seem like it’s depression.

Now that I think about it, this seems to be the key for me — it’s what works best for me, and it’s what has made it possible for me to function at my best for so long: using the energy I have for positive, productive activities, rather than for negative ones. I mean, seriously — I have so much frustration and anxiety and anger and nervousness, if I don’t do something productive with it, it all just eats me alive. And that’s no good.

Last night, before I stopped in to get food for dinner, I sat in the parking lot of the grocery store and started to cry. All the frustrations of the day, the energy, the conflict, the upheaval that’s going on now (with yet another re-org on the horizon) was getting to me. Big time. And I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I started to feel really sorry for myself, becoming angry at my spouse, my family, my employer, my co-workers, my neuropsych, my bank, and myself… and feeling like the whole world was against me, and there was no way I was going to dig myself out of the abyss of money troubles and job troubles and pain that have dogged me for over 45 years.

It has never, ever been easy for me, and nobody seems to really appreciate just what I have to go through each day. Nobody can see my issues, most people don’t seem to believe I actually have them. And if I told anyone about what’s really going on with me, they’d probably be shocked and dismayed.

And last night, it all just welled up and got the best of me. I couldn’t see past my immediate troubles — even though things are really turning around for me — and all I knew was trouble, struggle, and pain.

This morning, I can’t say that that’s changed. People are still clueless about my situation — but that’s how I want it to be. I don’t want people to pity me, to feel sorry for me, or give me special consideration because of what I’m experiencing. I need to be fully functional, regardless, and I need to just get on with my life. Even if it hurts. Even if I’m foggy and out of it. Even if I feel like I’m going to fall over, or the lights are too bright or the noises are too loud. I need to keep moving, even if I’m tired. I can’t live any other way. There’s just no point. I need to do constructive things with my life. I need to be active, even if I am in pain and hurts like hell just to stand up and walk across the room.

I’m not sure my life is worth living, if I can’t do the kinds of things I feel compelled to do. That’s what makes me who I am, and if I’m not myself, then who the hell am I? And what the hell is the point?

Well, anyway, enough navel-gazing. It’s time to get on with my day and use some of this energy for something productive.

Onward.

 

When things turn around – for the better

I recently realized I needed to change my tax withholding information for work. I wasn’t taking enough deductibles each year (as evidenced by the refunds I’ve been getting for years), so I submitted a new W4 form a few weeks back. The results are in, and it’s pretty amazing – I actually got a 10% “raise” in the process.

If I were my mother, I’d be shouting “Praise God!” to the heavens, Praising His Name to everyone within earshot. And I’m almost there, myself.

It’s just now sinking in. The more I think about it, the bigger news this is for me. This changes everything. It’s pulling me back from the brink in so many ways. Even just that little boost is making the difference between a barely-scraping-by subsistence frame of mind, and actually feeling like I can plan my life.

It’s pretty phenomenal. I have now gone from being strictly hand-to-mouth… pinching pennies each week, sweating it out about how much I run the heat and electricity, driving on fumes till I’m almost out of gas by the side of the road, postponing necessary car repairs that will prevent larger problems later, and buying those $2.94 lunches at work each day.

For the record, it’s actually pretty filling, considering how cheap it is, and I can buy at the cafeteria cheaper than I can make it myself, but now the thought that I actually have a choice, is just phenomenal.

Holy crap. And all of a sudden, the world looks that much more friendly. I have been seriously stressed about money for years, now, and after realizing my mistake, I did something about it. This is all coming from my troubles after my TBI in 2004, when my brain stopped working the way it was supposed to… and it’s coming at a time when my spouse and I have been pushed to the absolute limit of our endurance. The money situation has been literally tearing us apart, and this break comes at a critical juncture, when we are going into a winter season that promises to be cold, with neither of us able to afford getting sick from not having enough heat.

Now, with just this little boost, I can quit hovering over every cent they spend, harassing them over every cup of coffee they buy on the road, instead of making it at home, fussing over ordering a large size versus a medium or small size, and worried over which utility is going to threaten us this month with shutoff.

Just a little bit can make a huge difference. And looking back at my tax forms, I realize that I didn’t do the math correctly there, either, and I did not get the full refunds I was entitled to. So, I’m going to be refiling my taxes from the past three years in the coming weeks, and it looks like I’ll get something from that as well.

Which means I can pay off some debts that are sucking us dry each month, a little bit at a time. I just might be able to fix my 15-year-old car with the radiator problems, iffy starter, and bad struts. I might just be able to have an electrician come in and fix the wiring in the dining room that’s been out for the past several years, because we didn’t have the money to get it fixed. And I just might be able to buy some new pajama bottoms — the ones I wear are about 10 years old, and they’re getting threadbare. When I look around the house at everything we have here, most of it has been given to us, and the rest has been cobbled together, piece by piece. We have very few truly nice things. We don’t live like paupers, and we have almost everything we need to live like normal human beings, but it’s a humble existence, truly.

I’m not complaining. I’m just noticing.

And the thought of things turning around… well, that’s just phenomenal. Indeed, coming out of the past three years of severe lack and limitation — every “extra” dime we’ve had has gone into paying off the mountain of debt we acquired over the years (especially since my TBI in 2004), and it has been hard. We have done without so very much. So very, very much. Basic medical care. Basic necessities. And the opportunities to see family, who are all several states away. I’ve had to pass up job opportunities, too, because I did not have the extra money to front the airfare to go to the home office and get “face time” with the higher-ups. It’s been hard. Really, really hard.

But this is changing. Which means I need to shift my perspective away from just survival, to how to manage this new “windfall”. 10% more money in the bank might not seem like a lot, but it’s actually even more than that, relatively speaking. See, a good 2/3 of my paycheck goes to paying off the mortgage as well as old debts, each month. So, that leaves 1/3 of my paycheck for us to live on each month. (Nothing like trying to buy groceries, the night before payday and having the cashier tell you your debit card was declined. Horrible.)

But now with this “raise”, taking the amounts set aside for mortgage and debt payments out of the picture, I am actually seeing over 40% more takehome pay, each paycheck. That puts it in a better perspective. Relatively speaking, after the money is allocated to the house and those creditors, I am seeing almost 1-1/2 times as much pay, as I was seeing before.

Yes, that makes all the difference in the world.

And that means I need to make some adjustments. I need get out of the hand-to-mouth way of thinking, and squirrel some of this money aside. I need to beef up the house and car repairs fund that we had (and drained) earlier this year. I need to look at the long-term plan for getting rid of the debit load and saving for the future. I know I need to get a new (to me) car, because my trusty little commuter car is having more and more problems, so I need to plan for that, as well.

Long story short, I have some thinking to do. And planning. My spouse and I need to sit down with the numbers and make a plan — that’s based on future prospects, rather than just a knee-jerk reaction designed to ease the pain of daily existence (as has been our tendency for many years, now). I’m coming out of a very dark place, and things are turning around for me, and I need to adjust accordingly.

So, it’s time to sit down and look at numbers. And get priorities together. And move ahead. Just move ahead.

The crazy thing is, I woke up early this morning – around 4:00 a.m. – feeling incredibly down. I was so depressed and felt so hemmed in, it brought me to tears. I felt like there was no way out, that I was stuck, and I was never going to get free… and that part of my brain that loves to give in to despair started thinking about how much my life insurance was worth, and how I was worth more dead than alive. That comes up, every now and then, when I am feeling stuck in a corner with no way out. It’s horrible.

Then I called my bank and checked my balance, since my paycheck went in at midnight. And everything started to look brighter. As in, blindingly.  Everything turned around, just when things were seeming their darkest. And it went from the abyss to the mountain top.

Now, granted, there are still challenges, and I still have a lot of work to do, but this is a start. It gets me out of the red and to a place where I’m doing slightly better than just breaking even. I have years’ worth of backlogged obligations to take care of, and now they don’t have to hang over my head anymore. I can take care of these things, one at a time. Systematically and regularly and with a good plan that makes sense and as my spouse’s cooperation. I don’t have to live in horror and dread because of a bad credit rating, because now I can suddenly afford to pay for things when they come up.

And life is good again.

How quickly things can turn around. How quickly they can change. I just need to keep steady and not lose my head over things… and make sure my spouse is in synch with reality. Already, they’re starting to talk about skimming a little bit off the top, here and there, so I need to nip that tendency in the bud, before it puts us back where we’ve been.

I’m tired of being here. I need to get out. I need to move on. Make the most of what I have — however much or little that may be — and get back on the good foot.

Use my head. Be smart about things. And go. Really go.

The bottom line is, I must never give up. Because things might just turn around radically without me ever expecting it. Never give up. Never, ever, ever give up.

Movement is the key – feed the good wolf

Gotta keep moving. Some way. Some how.

I did a little yard work, first thing this morning, then took off for the trails near my place, and it was great to be out on such a beautiful day. It’s cold, but it’s beautiful. I try to get out every chance I get — especially on the weekends. It clears my head and it gives me needed exercise, especially in the winter, when the daylight hours are short, and I spend a lot of time indoors.

I needed to clear my head of the cobwebs from last weekend, and figure some things out about why it was so difficult for me to keep my sh*t together over the long weekend. I need to figure this out, because winter vacation is coming up, with twice the amount of free, unstructured time, and I don’t want it to turn into some nuclear explosion, where everybody feels like they’ve been blasted and irradiated for days and weeks afterwards.

No thanks. Gotta figure it out, so I can just live my life.

Something occurred to me today, as I was out for my morning hike in the woods. I’ve been aware of this before, but it became painfully clear today. Namely, that I am really happiest when I am moving, when I’m active, when I’m doing something constructive. My spouse likes to “take it easy” and relax. It makes them happy to do that, and they feel most comfortable when they are sedentary and just enjoying themself.

Not me. I need to be moving. I need to be active. I have a LOT of energy, and I need to use that energy for something productive, or it “backs up” on me and it turns against me. If I can ‘t use that energy productively, it feels terrible. I feel terrible. If I’m not moving and keeping my attention focused on something specific, the general pain I have just about every day becomes too much for me, and I start to snap and bite like a German shepherd (metaphorically speaking, that is – I can’t remember ever actually biting anyone).

Using that energy for something constructive is the best way I know to keep that abundance of energy from turning me into a raving maniac. And it’s also the best way for me to actually do something meaningful with my life.

I have always had a very keen sense that I am mortal, that I’m not going to live forever, and I have a relatively brief opportunity to do things that will be useful and productive, before my days here are through. This knowledge has always propelled me forward, and I truly believe that not using every chance we get to make the world a better place, is a poor use of time and energy.

Oh, sure, it is important for us to take care of ourselves and recover from our spurts of activity. But in my book, everything needs to serve a greater purpose, or it’s just a total waste of friggin’ time.

And none of us has all the time in the world to waste.

So, yeah. I need to keep my mind and body busy. I need to keep moving. I need to be constantly headed in some specific direction, or I go nuts. The pain builds up and makes me crazy. I start getting loopy.

And when that happens, I can very easily take it out on the people around me who are closest to me.

Which is not good.

So, yesterday I stayed active, and I’ll do the same today. Even when I’m not appearing to be active, like when I’m watching television at night with my spouse, I can keep a little bit of movement going. I need to get up periodically and move. Stretch. Get some blood flowing into my cold hands and feet. Just don’t stagnate and let the discomfort and negative feelings get hold of me. I need to do something constructive with my mind, so that I’m focused on something positive instead of something negative. Sitting and marinating in all the energy I’ve got coursing through my veins… well, that’s just no good.

There’s an old saying about us having two wolves inside us — the good and the bad — and we can choose which one we want to feed, so it becomes stronger. I’m going to feed the good wolf today, and try to do that every day, to the best of my ability.