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.

Setting a new pace

Picking up the pace – just the way I like

For the first time in months, I got up this morning and exercised. It’s been way too long. I’ve exercised on and off, over the past couple of years — more off than on.

And I’ve missed it.

A lot.

The thing is, I don’t realize how much I miss it, until I’m doing it again and I remember. It’s getting me doing it again – just starting – that is the monumental challenge. I feel like I’m delaying getting on with my day, and I’m not using my time productively — though for what reason, I cannot tell.

I think it has had to do with the fact of my commute. And the feeling that I’ve had for years, that I am behind on my work, I am not making any progress, and the life force is being sapped out of me, slowly but surely, but the frustrations of that job. I’ve felt like I’ve had so little bandwidth, so little time and space for myself to just think, that I’ve coveted every last moment of free time to spend on myself and my own activities.

I think another factor has been starting to read again. Now that I am reading again, I just want to spend all my time reading, thinking, writing… My short-term working memory feels like it’s improved dramatically — or at least I’ve come up with new and different ways to think about things, so that I can remember them that much better. In any case, I don’t feel confused and feel like I’ve permanently lost my way when I’m reading, anymore. When I feel like I’ve lost the train of thought, I just back up to where I remember having read something, and I just re-read.

And if I find I’m getting pulled off in all sorts of different directions by a lot of conflicting distracting thoughts — or my head is going nuts with thinking about a ton of different stuff that’s related to what I’m reading and builds on it further in new directions — I just take a break. Or I write things down for future reference.

Now that I’m reading again, and I’m retaining it — or at least have the sense that I’m comprehending what I’m reading — it’s all I want to do. Read and write. And share.

My presentation at that community gathering went extremely well, last week. I nailed it, I do believe. And I am looking forward to doing more public speaking in the future. It really gives me a lot of energy, to stand in front of a room of people and present on something I know about. I get so excited about it, and others pick up on my excitement, as well. It’s really gratifying to share what I know with others — and to realize that I can actually do this.

It’s massive progress, compared to where I was just a few years ago. A few years ago, I was so deep in muddling through the disconnects in my brain, that I could not begin to even think of doing public presentations. I had done presentations at work in the past before my fall in 2004, and they went well, but I never actually thought much of them. They were just one more blip in the sea of churning input and data that made no sense to me and had very little rhyme or reason. After I fell, my thoughts became so disorganized, the idea of getting up in front of anyone and speaking — even according to a script — turned into an impossible prospect.

It’s taken years, but I am finally past that. Even better, I am really presenting and interacting with my audience — not just talking to a script and getting the hell out of the room as quickly as possible. I spent much more time last week on taking follow-up questions and discussing my presentation with people after the meeting, than I did actually making the presentation. And that’s a HUGE sign of progress for me.

HUGE.

I was able to not only present, but also really flow with it — improvise when I came to a slide and I couldn’t remember the exact words I intended to say. I had intensely practiced my presentation a lot over the past days, and I had practiced recovering from flubbing up many times, too. So, I was able to keep going. After all, whatever I said that seemed “wrong” in my head, was perfectly fine with everyone else, because they didn’t know what I was “supposed” to say, and the things I did say were relevant to the discussion.

After the presentation, we had Q&A, and I took a bunch of questions. Probably about five or six. And I did them so well, that the questions kept coming and they had to cut me off, to make room for everyone else. I was able to then sit down and pay attention to what the other speakers were saying — there were two that followed me. I didn’t let anxiety about how I did distract me. I didn’t sit there and fret about whether I did well or not, what I remembered, what I forgot, and those places where I stumbled and messed up. I just let it go, and I moved on to the next experience, trusting that I had done my best and it was perfectly fine.

After the meeting, I chatted with a number of folks, who had interesting things to say and some useful information to share.

It was a good meeting, it was a fantastic experience. And I am really looking forward to more opportunities to speak in public.

What a hoot. When I think back to five, six years ago… there is no way I felt that being a public speaker was in reach for me. No way. I dreamed about it, I thought about it, but I didn’t actually have the sense that it would ever truly happen for me. I was too caught up in my issues, too muddled, too confused, too insecure and frazzled by everything life threw at me. There was no way I would have guessed at the time that I’d actually be standing up in front of a room of 70 strangers, talking about something that meant a lot to me.

I had actually tried to do that sort of thing, several years before. I think it was not long after I had fallen and got all jumbled up. I actually had a pretty successful presentation, but the whole experience was so overwhelming for me, I effectively went “underground” and never dared venture forth again. There were too many people, there were too many questions, there was too much energy. I just couldn’t deal. At all.

This time was nothing like that. It was the complete opposite.

And it feels like a stepping-stone to the next stage for me… a gateway to what else is possible in my life. I have a new direction, I have a new sense of what I’m truly capable of, and with my new job and new schedule, I can truly take the steps I need to take, to move in a different direction with my life, at a pace that suits me — not that’s dictated by the outside world.

It’s all good.

Onward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left hand focus and training

Keep it going – it gets better!

So, I took a day off juggling, just to let my body and brain rest. I got pretty sore in my shoulders and legs, from the new motions, and I needed to let everything sink in.

I was a little concerned that I might forget the motions – since the brain changes that are seen after 7 days of juggling disappear, after the juggling stops. But as it turns out, taking a day off had no negative impact on my coordination, my speed, or my proprioception (my sense of where my body is in relation to other objects).

In fact, if anything, they all improved. My movements are much more fluid than they were just a few days ago, and I feel much more relaxed. Three days ago, it was a real challenge to keep three balls in the air for more than five or six tosses. Today, I got to 10 – and beyond – a number of times.

Also, my one-handed juggling — where I toss two balls up in the air and keep them aloft — has improved dramatically. Two nights ago, I was really struggling to keep them aloft, but this morning, I was able to do so with much more fluidity and control.

My left hand needs help, however. I have issues with reaction time, fluidity, and also accuracy with my left hand. It tends to toss the juggling balls off to the right very quickly, so I can’t catch them with my right hand.

I use koosh balls because they have good weight and they are also easy to handle and they do not bounce and roll away from me. I learned my lesson last weekend, chasing bouncing and rolling balls all over the room, and crawling around on the floor getting them out from under furniture (and discovering godzilla-size dusty bunnies in the process).

Man, was I sore by Monday!

Anyway, the koosh balls are working much better, and I’m making great progress.

I do special drills to work on my accuracy — holding my arms close to my sides when I toss the balls up and down… juggling with only one hand… tossing balls back and forth just beyond my peripheral vision… and also tossing them over my shoulder and trying to catch them behind my back.

My left hand just needs some help with accuracy and speed.

So, I am training it especially.

I’ll work my left hand/arm for a while, then I’ll switch over to my right for a few repetitions. Taking a break helps my left catch up, too. I can see progress in just a few minutes break. I was working on my one-handed juggling and really struggling with with my left hand. I was only able to keep the balls up for 3-4 tosses. Then I took a break and practiced with my right hand, and when I went back to the left, I was able to keep the balls up for more than 10 tosses!

Fantastic!

Granted, I have a long way to go, before I’ll be able to juggle for more than a minute at a time, but I’m making progress in leaps and bounds, compared to where I was last week this time.

This is an enormous confidence-booster. Even if I never become an expert juggler, the fact that I can learn this — and how fast I am learning, too — is a 180-degree turn from where I used to think I was. I was literally convinced that I would never, ever learn to juggle. I just didn’t think I could do it.

And now I’m doing it. And that’s huge.

It translates into other areas of my life, as well. It encourages me to take on more challenges at work, to step outside my comfort zone — one step at a time — and to expand my idea of what I can accomplish, and when.

Doing the n-back training is helping me, too — I’m going to work on my response time, especially, because that’s an area that I’ve struggled with, and it causes a whole lot of other issues and insecurities in my life. I’m tired of those issues and insecurities. Frankly, they’re boring. And they make me feel boring, too.

So, I’m going to do something about it. Especially by training my left hand — which I never thought would be very coordinated. Turns out, I’m wrong. Turns out, I’m better than that.

Much.

Onward.

A different kind of juggling

So, I’ve really been enjoying juggling – it’s really a fun thing for me, and it’s an opportunity for constant improvement, which I really like.

After getting really excited about it yesterday, I did some research online and I found a number of tutorials and clubs that teach you different moves.

I’ve been trying to juggle three balls, but it hasn’t been going that great. I think it’s too early for me, actually. I’ve been working on my technique, and I realize that I have a lot of coordination issues — especially with my left hand.

Even more than I originally thought.

So, I am backing off and taking it a little easier. And I’m back to juggling two balls for as long as I can keep them in the air.

That is actually the challenge I’m trying to solve, more than getting three balls going at the same time – it’s just keeping my attention focused on the balls in the air, however many there are.

I am working with coordinating my movements, so that my left and right sides are more independent from each other. And I’m working on keeping going. So far, I can go for about a minute or so, before I lose focus. I’m working on that.

Looking at all the juggling tutorials and videos online, the real focus seems to be on mastering complicated movements and patterns with more and more balls, clubs, knives, or other objects. But for some of us, the biggest challenge is just keeping two balls in the air at the same time for an extended period of time.

Let alone all the fancy schmancy moves.

And I remember again why I took up this kind of juggling — not to join the circus, not to do anything particularly elaborate… but rather to work on my focus, my emotional restraint, and my ability to pick myself up when I drop the ball and keep going, regardless. It gives me something to do that occupies my attention, improves my coordination, and has plenty of opportunity for improvement over time.

Those are the things that my particular “juggling for dummies” brings to me. And frankly, I’m a lot more interested in those, than performing tricks and amazing an audience. For me, the real benefits lie in not having to perform any tricks to get by in my life, and  amazing myself (and those who know me and what I’m up against) with how much better I can cope, compared with how things used to be.

If everything progresses as it has been, my next trick will be no trick at all.

Rocket Fuel Coffee — It’s not for everyone

So, I shared my “rocket fuel” coffee with my spouse yesterday, and it did not go over well with them. That’s putting it mildly. In fact, they had a panic attack from the rush of energy — which was clearly more about them interpreting the rush of energy as “DANGER! DANGER!” than anything untoward in the coffee. A teaspoon of butter and a teaspoon of coconut oil… how much damage can it actually do?

I suppose for people who are sensitive to fats, it could be an issue – and I do need to be careful about how much fat I have in my diet – and there could be allergies to the butter and oil that cause issues. But even so.

My spouse’s response to the sensation of all that energy was so over the top — nearly spiraling into a full-blown panic attack — that it was pretty clearly psychological as much as physiological.

Eventually they calmed down and managed to make it through the evening without further incident. But they spent an awful lot of time fretting about their fears and “weird” sensations.

For those with a history of unresolved traumas, my butter-fat coffee “rocket fuel” recipe could be a big trigger. Especially if you associate having a lot of energy with “DANGER!! DANGER!!” I believe this is the #1 reason why people with a history of deep trauma gain weight, develop diabetes, and have a host of other sedentary lifestyle issues. They don’t exercise because the increase in energy and blood flow are associated with DANGER! of the deepest kind, and they do everything in their power to avoid having that sensation, instead of facing it head-on and overcoming it.

This is not a judgment. It’s an observation. I wish it weren’t so, but I’ve spent the last 25 years observing many people in my life with histories of deep trauma and abuse, and I see the same patterns over and over.

That issue — the unresolved trauma, and the running from the sensation of being preyed upon — seems the biggest healthcare issue of our day.

How the hell are you going to get healthy, if every cell in your body screams in terror and shuts down, when you start to feel your pulse rise and adrenaline start to flow? How will you ever get any exercise? How will you manage to extend yourself to get beyond your comfort zone and stretch your abilities?

How indeed?

Anyway, that little drama eventually subsided last night, and I am really very disappointed that my spouse can’t handle the butter-fat coffee. It gives me so much energy — and it’s the right kind of energy. It’s really what they have been wanting and jonesing for. They said so themself. Maybe they can have a little sip — start out more slowly and move up… I just get so tired of them running from every temporary inconvenience, for the sake of feeling “safe”.

Sometimes you have to work through a little temporary discomfort to reap the big prizes. That’s what my life has taught me, anyway.

But enough about them. As much as I want to help them, if I can’t… well, I can’t. I need to focus on my own progress, my own orientation, my own perspectives. That’s what I can influence. That’s what I can improve.

And so I am.

I’ve been working hard on my tech skills, learning new techniques and approaches, and realizing just how much better I am thinking, than I was just a year and a half ago. Back in late 2012, I had a technical screening interview, and not only was I not nearly as capable as I thought I was… but I also didn’t realize how much I still had to learn, and how far I still had to go. It was crazy, really — I was interviewing for jobs, thinking that I had my act together, when I was so far from being there, it was embarrassing. But I didn’t even realize it, until I was under the microscope… and a very humiliating microscope it was, too.

Now, I’m focusing on the basics — starting at the bottom and working my way up, and it’s going much better. The things I was studying 18 months ago are much more common sense to me, and I can understand complex concepts a whole lot more easily. I think it’s a combination of being more familiar with the concepts, and also having my brain working better.

My rocket fuel coffee is certainly helping, I can tell you that. I am much clearer than I have been in a long, long time, and I have more stamina and focus overall.

Aside from the coffee, it’s pretty amazing, how much progress I’ve made — mentally and behaviorally — in just 18 months. I’ve been feeling like I’m sluggish and falling behind, feeling like I’m never going to get ahead, and my desired future is so far out of reach, it’s not even worth it to think about moving forward. But now that I’m digging into the skills thing and focusing on that (rather than concentrating on how unhappy I am with my situation), I’m realizing that my brain is working better.

Things that used to baffle me, now make a lot of sense. And looking back on the code I wrote, years ago, I can see that I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was. And I can see that I’m actually better now. I can order my thoughts more clearly, I can manage the “flow” of appropriate or distracting thoughts in my head much better, and I can tell when I’m at an impasse and need to step away and try something completely different.

And looking back, I am really glad I did not make a move to another job in the past, because no way was I ready. I just didn’t have my act together, even though I was convinced that I did. Things broke down in the interviewing and screening process for a reason — I just wasn’t ready, yet.

I’m not sure I’m ready now… but I’m getting there. I still have a fair amount to learn. And the beauty part is, I actually am learning.

It’s pretty amazing, actually. The feeling of being able to read words again and make sense of them… the feeling of being able to type things up and try them out… the feeling of seeing things that I’ve written come to life on the screen in front of me… I haven’t felt this great and hopeful for years. And I feel like I’m back on the good foot after so, so long. Almost 20 years ago, I was in this position — tooling up my skills to get the hell out of a job situation that just did not suit me. Where I was, job-wise, was totally insane, and I knew I needed to get out. Just like right now.

There are so many similarities between where I was back, in 1995, and where I am now, it’s wild. Only this time I have more perspective and more experience, so I can make my move to a whole different level. A whole new level. I know the industry I’m in much better, and I have decades of experience behind me. The best part is, employers who pay good money are getting pretty sick and tired of slackers, and they’re looking for folks with good work ethics and years of experience.

Like me.

The beauty part is, I’m actually in a good position to do this — I have tweaked my daily routine so that I have a couple of hours to learn and experiment, first thing in the morning. And I have cut out so many distractions from my daily life, that I have time to spend on my skills. I have also discovered this rocket fuel approach, which I can also do with tea (so I’m not wrecking my sleeping patterns with drinking coffee after 2 p.m.). I put some grass-fed butter in my tea, melt and stir it in, and when I drink it, I get another huge boost of energy that doesn’t get me all wired — it just keeps me going.

And then I can get to sleep at a decent hour. Last night I was in bed at 10:30, which is huge progress for me. I could have even gone to bed earlier, if I had just given up on the logic problem that was stuck in my head. I was tired. I wasn’t wired from too much coffee late in the day. And I woke up today at 6 a.m., which means I got 7-1/2 hours of sleep — more than I’ve been getting, lately. I could have easily gotten 8 hours, I believe.

“Rocket fuel” tea might be my ideal solution for late-in-the-day energy crises. I can do this and keep myself supported AND not get myself so caffeinated that I can’t get to sleep at a decent hour.

But anyway, the day is waiting. I’ve got a full docket today, and it’s going to be quite busy.

I’ve found a happy medium, however, where I frankly don’t really care about all the stress and strain. I do the best I can, and I trust what I’ve done. I don’t stress over not being able to complete everything, because I know full well that the workload they have on us is humanly impossible — and they do it on purpose, to just see how far they can push us.

I feel a rant coming on, so I’ll step away from it and just get back to “my happy place” of not really caring, one way or the other, whether things turn out well for the company or not. They clearly don’t care about my well-being, so why should I care about theirs?

Self-protective indifference works… for the time being. Soon — in the not so distant future — I’ll be in a position where I can afford to care again.

But right now is not one of those times.

Right now is the time for me to take care of myself, brush up on my skills, and do what I need to do for myself.

Onward.