Good gone bad in a hurry

Bummer… and things were going so well

So, last night I was fixing supper, and I messed something up. My spouse was in the kitchen with me, and they started saying things that sounded critical to me, like they can do better than me. I got really agitated and frustrated, and I had a bit of a blow-up at them. I was really angry over them finding fault with what I was doing and comparing their own performance to mine. It was a double put-down. 1) I screwed up, 2) they can do so much better than me.

It really pissed me off, and I got so angry, and then they went into their usual behavioral “repertoire” of acting like I was a bad person for getting angry and yelling — like I was threatening them and being abusive. Oh Lord, oh Lord, oh Lord… I was upset and trying to express myself, and all they could do was make me look like I was the one at fault, and my anger was a threat to them.

I got pretty angry — not over the top, throwing-things angry, but so frustrated and agitated that I almost couldn’t see. And then POP, something in my head felt like it snapped, and I had this sensation of my brain locking up and slowing down to a crawl. It was like someone cracked open a smelling salts capsule — but it had the exact opposite effect. I instantly felt dull and numb, with my face numb and tingling, and my hands tingling. I could physically feel it in my head. I turned into an instant idiot — it was hard for me to understand what was being said, and I couldn’t put words together. My head felt like it had filled up with cotton, and I was suddenly so dull.

I didn’t think it was a stroke, because I haven’t been impaired on one side of my body or the other — and I stuck out my tongue to see if it bent from one side or the other, and it didn’t.

Then again, according to the National Stroke Association, here are the signs of stroke:

Stroke symptoms include:
  • SUDDEN numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg – especially on one side of the body.
  • SUDDEN confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • SUDDEN trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • SUDDEN trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • SUDDEN severe headache with no known cause.

So, maybe it was one. I don’t know. One side of my body wasn’t weaker than the other, which is what I usually associate with stroke. I have a meeting with my neuropsych this afternoon, so I’ll check with them. I’m hesitant, because I don’t want trouble from all this. Plus, it has happened to me before — about 3 weeks ago after a meeting when I got really upset with the behavior of some of the folks in the meeting. It was very similar to that time — I felt something “pop” in my head, and I turned into an instant idiot — couldn’t put words together, had trouble speaking, felt slow, and had a low-grade headache.

This time I didn’t get nearly as angry. But the feeling was the same, and now I’m dense and dull and I’m having trouble putting words together. Three weeks ago, it passed. And it didn’t seem like a big enough deal to investigate. It was not much worse than other “episodes” I’ve had in the past, and when I tried to investigate them before, nobody seemed to think they were that big of a deal, and I felt like an idiot for even bringing them up.

I know I’m supposed to go to the ER as soon as I suspect I’m having a stroke, but how would that work, exactly? I can’t miss work, because then I don’t get paid. And my mortgage won’t wait. I’m the only one who’s supporting my household, and if I’m out of work, we’re all pretty much screwed.

I started to get a headache after a while, last night, and I took some Advil, but it didn’t really help. I still have that headache in the front and top of my head, and also towards the back where I hit my head on Saturday.

Seizure? Stroke? Whatever. I’m sounding a little nonchalant about this, I guess, but my feeling is that this kind of stuff has happened with me so often over the years, it’s just one more thing. And even if I did have a stroke, I know how to fix my brain, and manage my issues, so I’m not all that worried. Hell, even if I do become really hampered by my brain, I know how to live my life in a way that brings me happiness and joy. I know how to bounce back and keep going, so I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing.

I am reminded of a number of things I need to do is stay vigilant about:

  1. Remember that my spouse is actually mentally ill. Their panic/anxiety disorder has wreaked havoc, and it is a genuine mental illness. They seem to believe that their anxiety is keeping them “safe” from whatever dangers may be out there, and the “help” they are getting from friends and their therapist seems to only reinforce their fears and their devotion to their “precautions”. They are so absolutely imprisoned by their fear about every conceivable thing on the planet, that anyone around them has to abide by their brittle rules or bear the brunt of their wrath. They feel safe when everything is going their way, but it’s absolutely smothering and restrictive for anyone who does not share their view.
  2. Underlying all this anxiety is a handful of neurological issues which are screwing with their thought process. It’s not something I can take personally, when they go off on me. I love and adore my spouse and would love to spend more time with them. Still, it’s really hard to be around them. The other thing that makes it all hard, is that I’m just about the only one who can spend any extended time around them — they’ve chased off just about everyone else with their anxious control. And they don’t understand why that is. Explaining won’t make any difference, because to them, their fears all make perfect sense — and it’s neurological. So there’s only so much explaining I can do.
  3. I need to take care of myself and get what I need for myself to stay strong. I was tired, last night, and I pushed myself too hard. I need to back off and take some time to myself, especially when I spend extended periods with my spouse. My spouse and I had gone for a drive earlier, yesterday before my outburst, and they are so anxiety-ridden about just about everything, that it’s very stressful to be around them. It’s like a never-ending drama — over huge dangers and threats which seem like they’re nothing to me. When I do the driving, they constantly boss me and yell at me about how I drive, where I should turn, what I should do. It’s a total friggin’ drain.
  4. I need to keep to a regularly active schedule. I was out of sorts already, last night before my outburst, because I was off my regular schedule. I also did not expend enough energy over the weekend and wear myself out physically. I need that. I need to keep active and tire myself out, so I don’t think too damn’ much.
  5. My spouses’ way of living is not healthy — for them or for anyone. They spend a lot of time sitting around thinking about shit that makes them crazy, and they end up pulling me into their undertow. When I am around them, they use me as a “sounding board” which just sucks me into their downward spiral. This is not good. I need to keep myself up and elevated and healthy and take regular breaks when I spend a lot of time around them.

Truthfully, I actually need to protect myself from the one person I love with all my heart. It’s kind of tough, but there it is. If I can think of it as protecting myself from the demons that are eating them alive, that’s a better way to look at it. But it’s still very painful to watch them on that downward spiral, and be helpless to do anything about it.

Having extra days off can be good, but they can be be bad, too.

I just have to keep all this in mind and take the best care of myself that I can.

My head hurts. I’m foggy and dull… and a little bit afraid of bringing up the episode last night with my neuropsych. I’m afraid of what might happen if they tell me to go to the hospital and get checked out. But at the same time, if I don’t get the help I need, then what?

On the bright side, I’ve got almost four months’ worth of pay stashed in the bank, so if I do have to take some time off, I can. My mortgage is taken care of for the next month, and I’ve got enough to at least keep going, if I need to take some time.

Ideally, it won’t come to that. But when I think it through, the fact is, I can afford to take a week (even a month) off work, if I have to. I could even go to part-time for the short term, and we’d be okay for at least three or four months.

Anyway, speaking of work, I’ve got to get going. My fingers aren’t typing very well, and I’m fortunate to work with folks who have never seen me at my peak, so they have no idea just how impaired I am, right now. I’ll just get through the day, talk to my neuropsych, and try to keep as clear as possible, so I can make the right decisions and do the right things.

Main thing is to keep chilled out and cool. I’m really bummed out that I couldn’t even make it through a weekend with my spouse without yelling and getting upset. We were doing so well… that is, I was doing so well. They were doing really shitty. But all I can control is myself. So, I have to take care of what I can control — myself — as much as humanly possible.

Screw it. Onward.

Quiet is good

Long walk, down a country road…

I’ve had a very quiet few days… when I’ve been at home, that is.

This past week has been crAYzy, and I’ve spent my time at home relaxing and just enjoying the quiet.

Interestingly, these days, I don’t have much interest in going online, when I’m not at work. I think it’s about just being all maxed-out with the computer — all day, every day — and really enjoying not having to type anything…. or be in front of a humming electronic box, when I don’t have to.

So, I’ve been spending time reading and thinking… sketching out some ideas I’ve been having, and just working through a lot of logical problems in my head.

That’s my new thing — exercising my brain on “problems” I invent, and then try to solve. Some of the problems are very practical and everyday — like, how best to organize people at work to get all the jobs done, without completely frying their systems. Some of the problems are very abstract — like, what do we really experience, and how do we know what we know?

It’s good practice for me. And it gets me thinking in all new ways.

It keeps me honest and it keeps me humble. And it also keeps me on my toes and reminds me to take care of myself and my brain. I tend to wear myself out a bit, when I think too much about things.

That’s another thing I’m working on — patterns of thinking that move me forward, instead of wearing me out. What’s the best “cadence” for me? How do I best function? When is the best time of day for me to “do thinking”, and how can I organize my day, so that I can put my brain to work on different problems, and still have a life?

I think I have some good ideas around this. I pace myself. I also think up to a certain point, then step away and do something completely different. Like today — I read about a new type of computing, and then I cleaned the bathrooms. My spouse has mobility issues and cannot get down to floor level, or lean over to clean under the commode basins, so that was my “quest” for this morning. I promised myself I wouldn’t spend more than 30 minutes on the task, because I have really bad recollections of being forced to clean toilets when I was a kid, and I am also sensitive to the cleaning supplies. So, I worked as quickly and as efficiently as I could, and I was done.

And then my mind was clear again to go back to what I was reading before, and come at it from a new angle.

Now I’ve been reading and researching and thinking for another half hour and it’s time to go for my long walk again. I walked for 2 hours yesterday, and I got some great ideas, along the way.

Time to walk again — this time in a different direction. Who knows what will come to me then?

And this afternoon, while I have the house to myself, I’ll take a nap, then get up and do some chores… make some supper… and get a good night’s sleep.

I’ve got a good cadence going. Last night I actually got in bed before 11:00 p.m., and I got over 8 hours of sleep.

It’s amazing what a little balance will do for you. That, and exercise.

Onward.

Taking a much-needed break today

So, I had a good session with my neuropsych yesterday. We ended up running pretty late, because there’s a lot to cover. As much as I have rebuilt my basic functionality, I still have work to do on my decision-making.

I may be at a point far beyond what I ever believed possible, in terms of human relationships and daily functioning, but I’m still really lagging, in terms of thinking things through. Prefrontal cortex and all that.

As it turns out, I’ve been making some really dangerous choices. I know I make iffy choices on a regular basis, but a lot of them I haven’t thought through well enough to realize just how dangerous they are. Driving down the road in undriveable conditions… having conversations with self-identified criminals, in relatively secluded areas… jumping on the back of a motorcycle with someone whose skill level I don’t know, and who pulls some extremely dangerous stunts along the way to where we’re going.

Thanks, mild TBI, for making my life so exciting.

Actually, it has made my life very exciting. And there are a lot of things that I’ve experienced, that most people wouldn’t, because their decision-making abilities are much better than mine.

So, yeah. I have some work to do. And when I got home last night, instead of exercising or reading or even watching television, I did a little bit of work to get oriented to a really challenging job I have on my plate. I didn’t overdo it, either. I worked for 45 minutes, while I ate my supper, and then I closed up shop and went to bed.

Smart. For once.

In the past, I would work till midnight, pushing through to make good headway — all the while producing work that was not nearly as excellent as it seemed at the time. I would waste a lot of time. I would also tire myself out more than is healthy, and I would suffer for days after that.

And so would my work.

It’s a multi-part conundrum. First, I’m not thinking things through as well as I might. Second, I get caught up in the work and feel so energized and alive, that I don’t want to stop. Third, I “get in a groove” and stop being responsible about how I use my time and energy. Another component of this, is wanting to wake myself up and feel more alive, feel more like myself, so I stress myself like crazy to get to a state that feels “normal” for me.

The only problem is, my “normal” is everyone else’s extreme.

And that doesn’t help.

So, today, instead of pushing myself to ACCOMPLISH THE IMPOSSIBLE this morning, I’m easing into the day. I worked out pretty thoroughly yesterday, with a longer bike ride than I originally planned, and some good all-around exercise, going pretty close to failure a couple of times. My body needs a break, to rebuild and recuperate, and I need a break to ease into my day. The nice thing is, I got a good night’s sleep last night — close to 8 hours — so although I am feeling foggy and a little dull this morning (and I can’t seem to spell to save my life – thank you spell-check, for helping me), I don’t have that crazy sense of being all jammed up that I often get to.

I really need to take a break. And I’m getting better at it. I’m actually able to consciously relax — which I am doing right now with my breathing and my state of mind and body — and it feels pretty awesome. This is a new skill for me — relaxation. And with practice I get better. So I’d better practice.

Taking a break is not, as I used to think, an interruption. It’s actually a chance for my whole system to catch up with myself. I’ve been juggling intermittently – not daily like I used to – and my skill level is actually improving each time. I don’t have to push myself past my limits every single day, in order to make good progress. If anything, pushing myself, then backing off for a little bit, then coming back to push myself, is working out much better.

And it feels fantastic.

I’m really looking forward to this day.

Onward.

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…

Aaaannnnddd… Problem solved.

Like mine, but in better condition

I’m glad I didn’t get rid of my old bike — “Old Ironsides” I call it, because it’s an ancient three-speed similar to the one my dad used to ride to work each day. I guess I hung onto it, because it reminds me of those days when my dad was still young and vigorous and had the energy to bike to and from work — and come home for lunch in the summers so we kids could spend time with him.

Anyway, I picked up Old Ironsides one day when I was out doing errands. Where I live, when people don’t have use for things that haven’t yet worn out, they put them out on their curb with a ‘free’ sign, so people will help themselves. I threw Old Ironsides in the back of the van, and it’s been in my basement for the past 11 years or so.

I’ve pulled it out, now and then, to ride around, but it’s an old rattle-trap, with a slightly bent wheel in the front, and a bit of of bumpiness when you ride along. But the brakes work, and the gears still shift. It’s still a solid bike, and I’m glad I hung onto it.

I have been really challenged with my physical fitness, lately. I am lifting weights more deliberately now, and I also spend time each day juggling, which is good for my coordination — and my frustration tolerance. I have an exercise bike, and I ride it sometimes. I also take long walks on the country roads around my home, as well as hike in the woods. But sometimes I need more.

I used to have a really awesome bike — a Specialized Roubaix road bike, which was so light, and so good on bumpy surfaces. It was easy to ride, easy to handle, easy to put in the back of my little car and take wherever I wanted. The thing was, when I had it, I was struggling with balance issues, and I was not doing well with being out and about on my own. Riding my bike on back roads really concerned me, because of traffic and distractions and the potential of falling.

So, I sold the bike to someone who would love and care for it very well. It was a wise choice. But I have missed that bike ever since.

In the past years since I sold it, I have gradually gotten better about my balance and my ability to stay focused on what’s happening in front of me. I am still uncomfortable with the idea of ranging far and wide beyond my home on a bike, because I can’t afford to get hurt and not be able to get home. There are also lots of hills around my house, so it’s a killer workout to ride bikes around here.

But within two miles of my house, there are enough gently rolling hills and enough untraveled back roads that I can ride Old Ironsides on. It really gives me a workout, just pedaling up gentle inclines — let alone the 45-degree slopes not far from my front door. I have enough road to ride, just within a 2 mile radius, to get some exercise, get my blood pumping, and feel the wind rushing past me. Also, my bike is not good enough to go that fast, so the issue of velocity is… negligible.

So, this afternoon, I dragged Old Ironsides out of the garage, hauled it down to the gas station, filled up the tires, found my good bike helmet, threw on a fluorescent orange t-shirt, and took the bike out for a spin. I didn’t have to go far, to tucker myself out — but I also had a good time pedaling and covering some ground. I know it’s not the most advanced piece of machinery, but it got me exactly where I wanted to go, and back, so that’s good.

I’m feeling really positive about this. Another fall is not something I care to experience, and that chance was always in the back of my mind with the other bike. This one is literally incapable of moving at the kind of speed that’s a danger to me. It’s sturdy, solid, and it does the job it’s meant to do — move a person from one place to the next quicker than they could go on foot.

So, I’ve had my exercise for the day, and I’m looking forward to doing it again, when I get some time. Safety first. And then plenty of fun.

Well, it’s time to get some supper.

Onward.

Ups, downs, and everything in between

I’m feeling considerably better today… getting some sleep makes all the difference in the world. I have been pretty exhausted by the end of each day, and two nights ago, I got about 8 hours of sleep, which is always welcome. Last night I got about 7 hours, which is good, too.

Sure beats 5-1/2 hours, that’s for sure.

So, I have the day ahead of me. I just finished my workout with weights, and my arms and back are tired. That’s good. I need to push myself, physically. I haven’t done that for quite some time, for some reason. Just up on my head a lot, I guess.

But now that’s changed, and I’m on the good foot. Does this mean, though, that I will never have a down day, or I will never get sucked into a dark place?

Oh, no. The dark and the light go together. It’s just when one gets the upper hand and takes over the show, that things become a problem. If I can just let myself be, and let the feelings come and then pass, so much the better.

I’m still feeling pretty positive about my job. I am treating it like a form of rehab — no, not exactly rehab… more like a stepping stone to something greater. What that “greater” is, I will eventually find out, but I’m on a trajectory UP — with a few downs thrown in for good measure.

The project management work I’m doing now really suits me, and it’s the kind of work I realize I should have been doing for quite some time. I’ve long been frustrated by the way others managed projects, but for some reason, it never occurred to me to take on that role, myself. Of course, being a project manager is a little difficult if you don’t feel comfortable dealing with people or managing situations. It’s taken me a number of years to get past the conviction that I couldn’t talk to people, and I wasn’t any good at connecting with others. That’s not true at all, I see now (thanks to working with a neuropsych on a regular basis for the past 5 years). And now I can do my work.

The beauty part is, that old dread about my skills becoming obsolete is a complete non-issue now. Looking back, I realize that I was under constant pressure to keep up… keep up… keep up. Back in the day, that anxiety and pressure fueled me, but it took a toll. It felt like it was making me smarter and sharper, but the long-term effects of that kind of pressure were not good for my brain.

Looking back on my life, considering all the head injuries I’ve had, I’ve spent an awful lot of time in stressful jobs — because they were stressful. That fueled me — or so I thought. It was a constant source of adrenaline and pump. The thing is, ultimately, your brain pays the price for constant stress, and even though you feel sharper in the moment, you’re actually impairing your brain’s ability to learn new things and reason through more complicated issues.

Not many people know that — they think that the pump is all they need. But while we’re sorting through new situations and adapting to them, we also need to step back and let our brains and bodies integrate all the new information — your brain and body literally need to digest it all, just like you would a really big meal. If you’re running around in a state of mental indigestion, it doesn’t feel very good. And your life can’t change as positively and as effectively as it otherwise could.

It has taken me years for this reality to sink in. I’ve known it — intellectually — for a long time, but in practice, I haven’t been able to put it into action. I’ve stayed with the high-stress, high-pressure situations that made me feel sharper and kept a steady stream of stress hormones in my system. While I was in the midst of it, it felt normal. It felt natural. But now that I’m out of all that, I realize just how big a toll it took on me. It literally dulled me, made me feel worse, and dragged me down. And all the while I thought I was so alive…

This is a huge issue with me, and I feel like I need to recover from that long haul of stress and strain, so I can move into the next phase of my life. I just had a birthday, and in less than a year, I’ll be 50. It feels like there’s this imaginary line in the sand that I’ve moved across, and I need to gear up for the next half of my life — with all my faculties as intact as can be.

And I’ve been worried about the job situation, thinking that I wasn’t going to be able to hang in there. Justifiably so. Technology and programming and all sorts of esoteric details about how code works, are the kinds of things you need to constantly keep up with. But that doesn’t need to worry me, because I’m now in project management  — which is the kind of work that draws on the skills of many people, not just you. It’s also the kind of work where you can actually get better as you get older and more experienced. It’s not like the frantic rush of being a programmer, where you have to constantly keep your technical chops up to snuff, with the pressure to do your one specific job in a way that will never fail. What hell that was… I can see that now.

At this point in my life, I’m on a path that offers me some real long-term employment security. Good project managers are in very high demand, and the work really suits me, thanks to my background in design and authoring and programming. I can speak the language of just about everyone I talk to, and I enjoy working with them as much as they enjoy working with me.

Of course, I’ve been on the job about six weeks, so it’s early, yet. But I’ve known within weeks, in the past, if a job situation wasn’t going to be that great… and I have none of that sense right now. People at work are moving on, and there’s some turnover (because we’re going to be moving offices in the fall — closer to my home, actually). But the people who are moving on are folks I don’t actually “click” with, so it’s no biggie for me. I haven’t worked with them long enough for it to matter to me personally that they’re leaving.

So, it’s another day. Each day is a new opportunity to find out something new about myself and the world I’m in. I’ll have my ups and I’ll have my downs, but ultimately I’ll still have me.

And that’s pretty cool.

Onward.

Committing to failure – on a regular basis

Good to be back

With the long weekend, I have had time to rest up and pay attention to things that normally sneak by me in the course of my busy life. I’m getting back the energy I had lost to that horrible commute to and from that horrible job, and I’m noticing things that I let slide for about three years.

My level of physical fitness (or lack thereof) is front-and-center with me, these days, as I am wearing lighter clothing and noticing how weak and spindly my arms and legs have gotten. I’ve also been having a lot of back and hip pain, which partly came from those years of driving so much each day, and partly came from poor posture — which came out of the commute, I’m sure.

Also, my level of cognitive fitness is getting my attention. I have made huge strides, over the past several years, however I’m not quite where I’d like to be. I still have issues with feeling foggy and slow — much moreso than I am comfortable with. And while I have been reading more and making more sense of things, and my ability to respond to ideas and comments by people has improved by leaps and bounds, since I started juggling and also having my butter-coffee each morning… my brain still feels foggy and slow, and I need to address that.

I know what has helped me in the past, on both counts — exercise. It’s one thing to want to keep fit so I can have a longer life.  I do, absolutely. At the same time, I want to get fit, so I can have a higher quality life, here and now. In the past, I have exercised deliberately and regularly, and I really benefited from it. Back in 2010, I read about how exercise helps the body AND the brain, and I developed a morning routine that was satisfying and also challenging.

Then it became regular – routine – and it got boring. So I stopped.

And ever since I’ve been on a downward slide. The slide didn’t start right away – it probably took me about a year to see the benefits erode. But for the past couple of years, I’ve really felt like I’ve been declining. Back to being fuzzy and dull — not sharp, like I used to feel.

In the past, I had a routine of lifting relatively light weights for 10 reps of a set sequence of exercises. 10 arm raises to the front, 10 arm raises to the back, 10 press-ups, 10 flys, 10 rows, 10 biceps curls, 10 triceps extensions… It was all very predictable and measurable, and it felt good. It helped my brain as well as my body. And I felt very sharp, indeed.

However, I did it every single day, and there were days when I used heavier weights, and I did not rest afterwards to give my body a chance to catch up. So, I overtrained. And it wasn’t much fun anymore.

I needed to give myself time to catch up, but I frankly overdid it on the “rest”  — and now, after several years of resting, I am pretty much a lump, and it’s not only draining my energy but also my self-esteem, as well.

I used to be in terrific shape — not Ah-nold Schwarzenegger shape, but more of a “swimmer physique”, and I was able to do just about anything physical I set my mind to. Now it’s very different, and the concept of myself as being physically capable has really eroded.

So, I’m doing something about it.

I have made a pact with myself to remedy this by working out on a regular basis and pushing myself to failure each time. Pushing to failure really strains your muscles, it creates micro-tears in the tissue, which then rebuild later to make you even stronger. At first, it’s tough and painful, but eventually the body rebuilds (if you give it a chance) and you end up stronger than ever.

I won’t exercise every single morning, but I will do it at least 3 – 4 times a week. I will go to failure each time, and I will not exercise the same muscle group two times in a row, to give my body time to rebuild and restore. I’ve doubled the weight I was using before, and I’m doing fewer reps, which feels good.

Half an hour of vigorous exercise in the morning, 3-4 times a week, is what I’m setting my goal at. I’m going to go to failure — gradually working my way up, and concentrating on specific muscle groups each time. I’m going to keep my caloric intake the same, and cut down on the carbs (yet again — the 4th of July weekend, with its chips and potato salad are killer). I’ve kind of gone off the reservation on keeping to my diet, eating coconut or almond milk ice cream with abandon (it’s almost as good as dairy ice cream), and chowing down on chips and popcorn while watching t.v. at night.

I’m also back to doing intermittent fasting (IF) — I did that on Friday, until I broke my fast at 7 p.m. with hamburgers, potato salad, and chips. And I’m going to do it once a week, to get myself trained to not be so driven by food. Each time I do IF, it gets easier for me, so I need to keep at it. Going without food for 18 hours, one day a week is not going to kill me. If anything, it’s going to make me stronger in mind and body.

I’m feeling really positive about all this. And I want to keep that positive mood going.

I did this new workout routine this morning, going to failure on my biceps and shoulders. I might have done things a little differently — and I will next time. But for today it feels fantastic. My arms were tired after I was done, and I could feel the effects. And then the good energy set in. I notice that when I really wear myself out with exercise, it may make me feel terrible for a while, but then the good energy kicks in, and it lasts a long time. It also helps me sleep.

I have no idea why I quit exercising like that. Maybe I was afraid the headaches would come back, and I might have a stroke or some other injury. Or maybe I just didn’t feel like having a headache all day. So far, my head isn’t feeling too bad. It’s a little tight, but it’s not pounding. And that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, speaking of energy, I’ve got to run and take care of some things before my weekend is over. I have removed an afternoon-long commitment from my calendar, so that takes the pressure off… and it leaves me more room to move at my own pace, while getting a whole lot of things done.

Yep. Onward.

Does *everything* have to be professionalized?

I’m visiting my family this weekend. I drove to my parents’ place all day yesterday, which took longer than I anticipated. It was an amazingly beautiful day. Just phenomenal. Everything was so clear and beautiful, I had to take breaks from looking at it. It got overwhelming. I had a really good drive, and I took breaks at regular intervals. I needed them, too. All in all, it’s about a 7-hour drive, and I was on my own.

Near the end of my trip, with an hour to go, I was so tired, I was falling asleep. So I pulled over at a rest stop, had some coffee and chocolate, and I juggled a little bit. I also had an interesting conversation with someone who saw me juggling, and it turned out we shared a love of the same vacation spot — which was far, far, far from the rest stop where our paths crossed. Buoyed by that conversation and the caffeine and sugar (and whatever else is in chocolate that wakes me up), I made the final hour’s drive to my parents’ place.

Once there, I took a shower, grabbed a quick nap, and then we  had dinner and went over to one of their gardens, where they grow a lot of their food. My parents have always gardened; most of what they eat, they grew themselves, and most of the meat they eat either comes from my father’s hunting trips, or a local farm. After dinner, my brother and his family arrived. He and his wife have three growing boys, and we had a really active evening, playing and going for a long walk at a local park. I turned in at a decent hour, and I got about 8 hours of sleep by the morning.

Being in this part of the country — which really is country — I am keenly aware of how self-sufficiency is a disappearing art in so much of the U.S.A. My brother lives in the Midwest, in a farming community, and he and all his neighbors do pretty much everything for themselves. They grow their own food. They fix their own cars. They build their own houses and make their own repairs.

If they need something done, they don’t wait for a professional to take care of it for them. They take care of it themselves. And there it is. They don’t hire someone to come in and do things “properly” for them. They do them properly on their own, and it works out. It’s not always “professional grade”, but you know what? Sometimes it’s pretty darned close. They do things often enough for themselves that they learn how. And they do things well.

I’m not nearly as self-sufficient as my parents or my brother or my other siblings, though I take care of most of my own plumbing repairs and I’ve been known to fix a thing or two around the house. In my own way, I see that same self-sufficiency playing out in my TBI recovery. I do see a neuropsychologist on a regular basis, but by their own admission, they don’t actually do that much — I take care of a lot of things myself. I identify problems, I figure out fixes, and then I report in to them to do a reality check after the fact. It’s s “formula” that’s worked for me for years, now.

Having “professional help” has been a benefit to me — mostly because my neuropsych is someone I can trust, someone I can run my ideas by and who will give me their opinion about how things are really working out for me. I have a tendency to delude myself (as most of us do), and having an independent view from someone who isn’t a friend or relative or someone who wants something from me or who has some other kind of ulterior motive… that has been incredibly helpful to me.

In the past, I have really needed a helping hand to understand the ins and outs of my situation. But I haven’t been the sort of person who runs to someone and says, “I have a problem – figure it out for me!” I just need someone as a sounding board, to give me their opinion, based on science and advanced theories, about whether what I’m doing seems prudent or not.

Sidenote: I have got to lose some of this weight. The room I’m staying in at my parents’ place has a mirror in front of the desk where I’m working, and I’m getting a much closer look than usual at how heavy I’ve gotten.

It’s interesting, because my neuropsych says, every now and then, that they’re not really doing anything to help me. That’s not exactly true, though they may not running the same sorts of cognitive drills on me — or whatever they do with folks they work with. Their feedback is helpful, when I tell them about things that are going on with me. I guess the difference between how I do things and their other clients do things, is that I don’t come to them first for ideas and assistance. I take steps myself, then I check in with them after the fact — sometimes months, even years afterwards.

There are still things that I struggle with on a daily basis, that I haven’t figured out how to address with them. That day may come. Or it may never.

Anyway, I guess this is coming to mind for several reasons — first, I’m in a part of the world where there isn’t a whole lot of good professional help. The hospitals are scary, the lawyers and accountants and professional folks are not the best in the world. And most people just work at things themselves. It’s not like you get in a major city, with plenty of good folks to pick from. That has its down-sides, but it also forces you to figure stuff out for yourself.

The other thing is, watching my nephews run around last night, without any “official” activity keeping them organized and focused, just running across the wide swaths of mowed grass at the park, without an official team to belong to or a schedule to follow, I couldn’t help thinking that all the emphasis on organized youth sports has really sucked all the joy out of sports. And I’m not sure that kids today know the sheer joy of just running for the sake of running, just letting it all go, for the sake of moving and feeling the grass under your feet and the wide sky above.

That’s a shame. A damned shame.

We don’t have to professionalize every damn’ thing and organize every last activity in our lives. Where’s the joy in that?

Speaking of the joy of running and moving, it’s time for me to get going, myself. The day is waiting, and I need a cup of coffee. Or two.

 

 

 

 

A regular week — hooray

………………….Please do!

Well, I learned my lesson, last week. I worked extra hours to make up for the time I was missing when I took the day off on Friday. And it was not fun. I really enjoyed my three days off – it was bliss. At the same time, when I was at work, it was extremely difficult, and I don’t care to repeat the experience. I did enough years of 12-14 hour days, and it’s time for me to be done with them.

So, the next time I take a day off work — a week from today, when I travel to see family members I have not seen in several years — I am going to make up some of the time, but not all of it. Plus, I was given an amazing gift of two days’ pay, totally out of the blue. So, I have some extra wiggle room. And I’ll now have money for gas.

I’m settling into my routine, now. I get up early, I exercise and have my breakfast, then I read for a while and write and think. It’s heaven. I am thinking in a much more focused manner, nowadays, which is nice. I’m just focusing on getting clear, on simplifying my thought patterns, and fine-tuning the way I reach conclusions.

This might sound heady and what-not, but for me and my TBI recovery, it’s really important. I believe — based on watching my life and the messes that I’ve been bogged down in, over the years — that many of my troubles happened because I was not thinking properly. My cognition (being able to pick up clues from the world around me, sort them out, and do the right thing with what I figure out) has been totally screwed up.

It’s been screwed up because my senses have been off. My wiring has been frayed and connected wrong. When I fell in 2004, I had no idea how badly I was hurt — or that I’d been hurt pretty badly a bunch of times over the course of my entire life. I had no concept of how much my brain and my thinking had been affected by all those TBIs (9, by my last count — possibly more, because my memory is so spotty in so many places).

But my wiring was screwed up, which stressed me out.

And when I am stressed, it’s hard for me to handle a lot of sensory input. I get extremely sensitive to sound and light and touch, and my system is so busy trying to sort out the sensations and keep myself from freaking out, that I can’t think clearly about the “higher level” stuff. At all.

So, calming down my system so it’s not so stressed out, has been a big part of my recovery. Just taking the edge off the stress has become a top priority for me. That helps me think, because it tones down the sensory issues, so my brain can actually figure out how to do things — and do them better. It’s a whole lot easier to think, when your body isn’t screaming in pain over every little thing.

Y’know?

The other thing that’s done wonders for me, is starting out slow and methodical with everything I do, building up the right habits to follow, one step at a time, and then repeating those steps over and over and over, till they become ingrained habit that I don’t have to think about anymore. Making a list of steps to follow in the morning when I get ready for work, and then sticking with that list for six months, made all the difference. Even when everyone around me said I really shouldn’t need that list, and they got upset seeing me use it, I still stuck with my list, and it trained me to do things in a specific way that I am still doing today, years later. It routinized my daily life — the parts that should be routinized — so I don’t have to think about them.

I’m in the process of re-routinizing my life again — a new schedule for my daily work. A new direction and focus for my mind. And I know that this is the right thing for me to do, because going back to how things were before was brutal. And it sucked. So, I’m not doing that again. Not if I can help it, anyway.

Speaking of new routines, it’s time for me to get ready for work.

Onward.

Hard work – and stress – paying off

Yeah, it’s paying off :)

I don’t want to sing the praises of stress right now, because I don’t want anyone getting the idea that I think stressing yourself out is a great idea. I will say, however, that the added strain of working long hours, this past week, is paying off — in terms of a full day off work, so I have an uninterrupted day to do some things I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

I’m getting my neck worked on. The left side is very sore, and the tightness there is translating to a right hip that feels arthritic. I know it’s not arthritis — it’s muscular, because of the location of the pain, but it’s keeping me awake at night, and it’s making my life more difficult.

I’ve been trying to do physical therapy and acupuncture, but the results have been slow. I need to have someone just work on my neck and get my back and shoulders loosened up. Kind of fast-track it.

I also worked out this morning more than I have in months. I actually got on the exercise bike for 10 minutes. I rode easy for 5 minutes, then I did a few 30-second alternating intervals of fast/easy, and I finished up with 2 minutes of slow and steady. Then I lifted slightly heavier weights than I have been, in the past – fewer reps, more weight, with tons of attention to form.

And it felt great. Just working up a sweat felt great. It’s been a long time, since I really pushed myself — partly because I’ve been having headaches when I push myself while exercising. I do have a slight headache now, but I can live with it. I’m just drinking extra water and stretching my neck and shoulders.

I’m also taking some time to get on Facebook and reconnect with my friends there. I miss my coworkers from my last job. Well, some of them, anyway. I think the thing I miss most is their predictability. My brain and system got used to dealing with them, and it developed behavioral habits that I came to depend on, to add structure and meaning to my life.

One thing I do NOT miss about them, is how young and frivolous they can be. I really could tell that most of them were 20 years younger than me, and it’s nice to not have to deal with them anymore.

I’m also getting my head on straight about my new job. Turns out, the crowd I’m working with is about 10-15 years younger than me, which has also turned out to be a bit of a pain. Their priorities and interests are completely different from mine, and frankly I can do without every singe conversation centering around who’s getting pregnant, who’s having kids, what their kids are doing, if their kids are sick, the dance recitals, the summer vacations. There are a few folks there who don’t live their lives around “little ones”, so I’ll need to seek them out more actively. The team I’m working most closely with is quite focused on child-rearing, and I’ve got nothing to offer there.

So, I’m going to take some time today and over the next few days to do some heavy-lifting thinking and really dig into some of the writing I’ve been doing, lately. I’ve got a handful of projects I’m working on, and some of them are very demanding, mentally. It’s like I’m going down a rathole of abstract concepts, and each one leads a little bit deeper in. So, it feels like I’m “flying blind” into the abyss… and I love it.

I’m the only one who knows the details about the abstractions I’m exploring. I’ve tried to explain them to others, but I haven’t had much luck communicating. They’re “thought experiments” of sorts, just exercises to tweak my thinking process and help expand my working memory capacity.

The main thing with these thought experiments, is that they really excite me and delight me. So, there’s a real motivation and impetus to explore. To expand. To see how much I can extend my own abilities. Of course, I need to balance this out with plenty of rest and recovery, so the connections I’m building in my brain have a chance to “set” before they’re tested, again.

That’s what the past week or so has been about. I really pushed myself cognitively for a few weeks, back when I was changing jobs and everything was in flux. It was a great way to both take my mind off the stresses of my daily life transition, and also get some new types of activity going on in my brain. I really need that — new activities that test me.  Sometimes I may overdo it, but that’s where rest and recovery come in.

And it’s good. It’s all good.

So, stress… I’ll write more about that later. I am a firm believer in periodically applying stress to test the system, then backing off to let the system recover and recuperate. I believe that’s what makes us stronger — for me, with my TBI symptoms, I need to be careful about over-doing it. Obviously. But if I can realize — and remember — that added stress is the source of my issues, and then take the edge off when I need to… it doesn’t have to doom me.

The main ingredient is mindfulness. And responsibility. And being realistic about my limits and working with them so that I can expand them, rather than trying to avoid/deny them and then shooting myself in the foot.

It’s really a balancing act. And now it’s time to balance out my day with some reading, juggling, and a bit of relaxation.