Who am I today?

Summary / Bottom Line

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

But am I really where I want to be today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward.
 

I must be getting better… a lot better

Sometimes you have to bring your own light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, it’s time to get on with my day.

Onward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making the most of my time

I had a very interesting experience yesterday. And today. I started practicing juggling a couple of balls, to rewire my brain and explore some neuroplasticity. I thought it went pretty well. I was able to juggle two balls for about 40 tosses. Then I would find myself getting distracted, and I would drop one of the balls. I noticed my scores were getting worse — from 42 to 35 to 34…

So I stopped for the afternoon and took a nap.

When I got up, I tried it again, and although I wasn’t counting, I was able to juggle the balls much more fluidly, much more easily, and I’m sure considerably longer than 34 tosses.

I practiced a little bit yesterday, then I tried again today.

And this morning I was able to juggle two balls for 136 tosses.

That’s amazing progress.

And the best part is, I didn’t have to force it, I didn’t have to push it. I just relaxed and let the muscle memory that had built up yesterday take over.

Sweet.

I have half of Sunday left, to rest and relax. I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted, last night, so I do need a nap. I’ve been reading some motivational info this morning, and it’s been really good. I’ve also been taking a long, hard look at the ideas I have about myself that hold me back and seem to be killing my dreams on a regular basis.

A lot of what I believe seems rooted in past impressions — not memories, exactly, because my memory is kind of crappy. But impressions and emotions I have about who I am and what I am capable of doing with my life.

At this point, I the best use of my time is to take another nap. Let the information sink in. Let my brain catch up. Don’t push myself so hard, as I usually do. Just let myself be…

And rest.

 

Help for a racing heart rate

This post How I learned to slow my heart rate is by far the most popular one on this site, and it has helped a lot of people, from what they tell me. Folks have shared links to it, and hundreds of people see it each week, which makes me very glad.

Some have even said it helped “save their life” — and that makes me even happier :)

It’s actually a really short post, so I have written an extended PDF version of this that you can download and save to your computer, tablet, or smartphone. You can also share it with others. It’s free.

Here it is: How I slow down my heart rate (click here to download)

Please remember: I am not a doctor. I am not qualified to give medical advice. I have just found a technique that works for me and helps me get my heart rate under control in a few minutes. I hope it helps others, but it’s not a substitute for medical care. See your doctor if you have issues and/or concerns.

Thanks. And be well.

What do I want for today?

The days just keep slipping by…

So, it’s Friday. Finally. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it is a huge relief to be done with the week. On the other hand, I have so much to do and so many deadlines, that taking a few days off just makes me dread next week.

I’ve been doing a lot of dreading, lately. I am behind on a number of of my projects – there are just too many of them, and they are all TOP PRIORITY in the eyes of others. I’m keeping things running that need to keep going, and I’m also working on building new pieces of the puzzle that is my occupation. And the new pieces are getting intense push-back from people who want things to stay as they were.

Which all seems pretty unfair to me – it wasn’t my idea to make all these changes. My job is just to make them happen. But I get the brunt of people’s objections and opposition, while management sits back and lets the underlings duke it out. Which is incredibly uncomfortable and bothersome for me.

Really, what I want for my life is some peace. I have had a hell of a decade, and I value peace and common sense a whole lot more than I did when I was in my 30’s. I’m nearing the end of my 40’s, now, and I feel it very strongly. I have changed. My injuries have changed me. The upheavals of my life have changed me. All the drama I have gone through in the past ten years since my TBI in 2004 has changed me. It’s almost like life was on the lookout for my 40th birthday, and as soon as it was in sight, all hell broke loose. It didn’t even wait for my 40th birthday, because everything started to come unraveled a few years before… which contributed to my fall down those stairs in ’04.

Interesting… I’m seeing a lot of 0’s and 4’s in the last paragraph. Not that I’m superstitious or anything…

Anyway, enough bitching about how hard life has been. Everybody has it hard, in one way or another, and it’s really up to me to decide what to do with it. Rather than fighting things and resisting them and wishing they were different, I could be facing up to what’s ahead of me and just going for it, treating it like a learning experience, rather than proof that I’m a screw-up and will never get anything right.

When I approach everything like a big ole learning experience, so much the better. Teach this old dog some new tricks, and see how far it can go.

It really does take the pressure off.

And that makes all the difference in the world. It changes the tone of my whole experience, which is exactly what I need. The longer I’m alive, the more I realize just how elusive true happiness can be, and I value inner peace and equanimity all the more. I understand more than ever just how destructive unchecked anger can be, I know from experience just how much time is wasted by indulging fleeting emotions and giving them the ability to mushroom into Major Events. I have watched the last 10 years of my life be undermined and shredded and dragged down by rage and anxiety and poor self-management, and I have seen years of quality experience prior to that go wasted, because I was too busy being angry or hurt or confused or frustrated or worked up about something, to make the most of my past.

And today, as I look ahead to a day I’m not looking forward to, when I’m going to be working with people who are NOT on the same wavelength and revel in all sorts of discord and disruption and downright treachery, the painful truth about what my TBI cost me, is very clear to me – front and center.

Days like today are one of the big reasons I am so intent on my TBI recovery — regaining my equilibrium… mastering my emotions… taking care of my physical health… fine-tuning my behavior and how I think about myself and others. I don’t much care for the situation I’m in, and I need to build up the resources and the ability to extract myself from this situation.

The first step is extracting my mind from a situation of dread and avoidance. I hate dealing with some of the folks I have to deal with… come to think of it, I hate dealing with just about everybody I have to deal with. But the thing that makes it harder, is avoiding and refusing to engage with them. When I just step up and do what needs to be done, the wheels start turning, and the anxiety and frustration really decrease. Even though I’m not happy, and I really dislike dealing with these folks, still, I’m doing what needs to be done … to get the hell out. I have to deliver a project before I leave, and there is a big-ass deadline on it. And I need to have so much done before that date. Crazy. But as long as I hold back and don’t do what I need to do, it’s even crazier.

So, enough procrastinating, enough avoiding. It’s time to get on with the day, go deal with these … people, and take yet more steps towards getting the hell OUT. Time to make this day what I want it to be.

Onward. Oh, yeah. Onward.

Everything in its proper order

Everything has its place. It fits.

I’m taking the opportunity tonight to put my situation in order. I haven’t been feeling well for the past couple of weeks, but people are counting on me… so I am taking some extra time to get my ducks in a row before I travel again next week. I’m doing laundry, sewing a rip along the pocket of my good overcoat, and collecting all my gadgets for the road. I didn’t  take my tablet with me, last time I went, and I regretted it during all flights, both to and from.

I really don’t want to go on this next trip. I want to stay home and rest, not hob-nob and network. I want to go for long walks in the woods and contemplate abstract concepts, not wrangle with taxi drivers who don’t speak any English. I want to lie around the house in my sweats, read books, and cook good food to eat, not live out of a suitcase and have to steam the wrinkles out of my suits by hanging them on the door while I shower.

There are a million different things I would rather be doing, including feeling strong and rested and good about myself, instead of tired and weak and harried and frustrated over the concealed slowness that always threatens to derail my progress and expose me. Expose me.

I’m feeling pretty exposed, these days. My head hurts. A lot. And I haven’t been moving and exercising the way I should. I just don’t feel like it. I don’t want to slow down and mindfully “move into my day”. I just want to get up, eat a little something, and dash off to work. I want to get moving, I want to jump into the flow, not pause and concentrate on my motions, my form. I want to just go. Just do. Just roll on into what comes next.

Which is a positive sign, I suppose. It’s not just me wanting to escape what’s in my mind — although that is part of it. It’s also me realizing that there’s a whole world out there, and I want to be part of it.

If only I weren’t so tired.

But I do tend to be tired, so here’s my conundrum — hold back because I’m beat, and take care of myself so I feel better… or just keep on keepin’ on, and make the best of things as they come.

Better yet, I could decide not to choose. I could do both. I could look for balance.

Yes, balance. I’ve heard of that.

Let’s try balance.

Balance, plus a little bit more. Seeing as I’m back to reading again, I feel this intense need to read about and to study as much of life as I can get my hands on. Books by heretics. Books by brown-nosing sycophants. Books by partially talented (though who am I to categorize anyone?) writers who long to take wing and burst into song, and give it their all in the process. God, but I need to “un-couple” — you know, lift the linchpin out of the coupling that binds me to the train of boxcars that rolls through my ordinary life, and really — by all that’s right and fair and wrong and unfair — let myself slow. Or jump the tracks. Or simply break pace for even just a few seconds from the momentum of the day-to-day.

Drink bitter tea that will kill my cold before it gets hold of me. Eat spoons full of honey that take the bitter edge off my frustrating days. Lie down on the couch and look at the whorls of the ceiling while my spouse talks to their family about the latest kindred drama. Pick up a thick pen and feel the heft of it as I scrawl across a piece of paper.

This, all, is what makes it all worth it for me — so much in the details, so much to be felt, seen, thought, sensed, lived. So much in the cracks and corners of life — the sight of a wide open field under the morning sun, as I roll by on my way to work, the sound of one of my favorite songs that Pandora just happens to play, the creak of that janky strut in the back of my car… All of it adds up to one big — well, life.

And here I am, back to the balance idea.

Because it’s all there, you know. It’s all there for us to see, feel, think, sense, taste, touch, hear. To live. I can let the fatigue knock the stuffin’ out of me, as it almost did on my way home from work tonight. Tired… so very, very tired… and the darkness all around me streaked by the lights of cars and houses passing by…

Into the night… through the night… there is dark and there is light and there is everything in between. It all has its place, and my own place seems to be as much about getting out of my own way, as it is doing anything at all with what I’m given.

I’ve been given a lot. I’ve also lost a ton. I can read again. That is something. It’s really something indeed.

And for that, I am very grateful.

Onward.

Movement is the key – feed the good wolf

Gotta keep moving. Some way. Some how.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is not good.

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving

We all have much to be grateful for. And in spite of the odds, so many of us find a way to not only move on, but grow stronger in the process.

Here is a video that has been on my mind ever since I saw it the other day. It is a huge boost for my appreciation of what I have, as well as the power of a courageous spirit. I hope it does the same for you.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Gratitude adjustment

Indeed.

Today has started out on the rough side. I got in bed before midnight, but I wasn’t able to sleep past 5:00. So, here I am, operating on about 5-1/2 hours of sleep, with a full day ahead of me. Oh, well, I guess I’ll do the Thomas Edison thing and take a long nap later today. By his own admission, the inventor of the light bulb considered sleep to be a waste of time and missed opportunity to work and invent. He once wrote that he considered people who slept 8-10 hours a day to be “never fully asleep and never fully awake — they have only different degrees of doze through the twenty-four hours“.

Of course, he did nap an awful lot (and there are lots of photos showing him taking “power naps“), so that’s where I’m putting my focus — on just getting a nap later today when I can. I’ve got the whole day — and I’ve got tomorrow, too — so waking up early isn’t such a terrible thing.

So long as I use the time productively, of course. The thing that actually got me fully awake after I woke up was not such a great thing. It’s something I don’t often have trouble with, but today, it’s a big ole burden — Jealousy. Frustration. Feeling like a relative failure.

See, yesterday afternoon I called a creditor who I’ve been paying off for the past couple of years. We arranged monthly payments which have been pretty intense to meet each month, and according to my notes, I was going to be all paid up as of this coming January. Well, in talking to them, I learned that I’m nowhere near being fully paid up — I have about another year to go at the current rate — before I’m all paid up. This puts a huge kink in my plans. Having $400 less each month that I have to pay out has been a huge part of my planning for 2014. It was going to free me up, let me pay off other things that have been hanging over my head, and open up the options for work I can take on.

Because if I need to spend $5000 less each year, that means I don’t have to earn Top Dollar for my work, and my options for what kind of work I can take in, will expand. I hate to settle for less, but in my discussions with recruiters, I haven’t been very encouraged by what they’re telling me I can make. Times are tough all around, that’s for sure. And that $5000 break was something I was banking on.

Then my mouse died — the left button doesn’t click. And I realized that I have a lot of things I need to take care of this weekend, which I did not do for the past few weekends (I forgot I had to do them). And money is very tight – the mortgage is going to be paid a month late for the next three months, by my calculations. And the bank loves to call me, even though I technically have a 60 day grace period before they send me to collections. Last night, it was all starting to come in on me, and I went to bed feeling overwhelmed and generally put-upon.

I woke up this morning in a funk, pissed off at myself for not having called the creditors sooner and basing my future plans on a mirage… pissed off at myself for forgetting the things I needed to do… pissed off at TBI for screwing up my life back in 2004 so much that it’s taken me almost 10 years to get back to some semblance of normalcy… pissed off at how hard I have to work at things, how much I need to constant re-think, how much energy it takes, and how overwhelmed I feel.

All. The. Time.

I feel like I can never catch up, and it makes me crazy. No sooner do I come close, than my goal moves out of reach again, and I have to work all the harder.

Geeze. What a rotten way to start the day.

But it gets better (not)… then I got to thinking about an old friend of mine who has really been pissing me off, lately. I first met them when they were an admin at a massive, faceless, soulless corporation, just putting in the hours and hating their life, and longing to do more. They had some health issues and left the 9-to-5 for a while, then they returned to the workforce… and then married someone with a great job, and moved out to the country where they were going to focus on their writing and try to become a published author.

We kept in touch now and then over the years, and one day I was messaging back and forth with them, and they were saying how they wished they could get feedback from other people for their writing. They were enjoying being able to write all the time, but they felt very isolated in the country, just doing their own thing by themselves. They weren’t working a regular job, because their spouse made enough for them to stay home, but the solitary life was not for them.

I suggested they start a blog — blogging was brand new, back in 2006 — and they said, “What’s a blog?” I told them about blogging, how awesome it was, how liberating. They could write each day, work on their style and their “voice”,  and they could get feedback from readers.

So, they did just that. They started a blog. And within a few years, they had a regular readership of thousands of people each day, they had advertisers, and they were starting to get requests from magazines to write for them. Big magazines. Well-known magazines. Jackpot. One thing led to another, and now they’re working on their third published book, they’re doing international book signing tours, and they’re leading online classes that are in high demand.

Holy crap. What an amazing success story. They literally did everything right, and I’m really proud that I helped make that happen, because a lot of people have benefited from their blog and their work.

On a good day, that’s how I feel — proud of them and gratified and in awe of how well they’ve followed through on everything.

On a bad day — like today — it bugs me to no end. Because despite the fact that I’m the one who encouraged them to follow their dream and I’m the one who told them about blogging in the first place, never ever have they actually thanked me for that tip. They did thank me once for supporting them with a little pep talk atta-boy email I sent to them, but other than that, it’s been crickets. I guess they’ve been so busy, they may have forgotten about my tip. But in other ways, they’ve just kind of brushed me off, whenever I’ve reached out to them as a peer.

Like I’m not good enough for them anymore. Even though I was there for them, when no one else could be bothered.

In fairness, I didn’t do myself any favors in our friendship. When we were still in regular contact by email and IM, I was a few years out from my last TBI, and I was pretty erratic and unpredictable. They actually sent some business my way that I couldn’t follow through on, and I think I kind of screwed things up for them and the people they referred to me. I also posted some stuff on their blog that was a little “out there,” and I’m sure it made them wonder if I was right in the head (for the record, I wasn’t, at that time).

Even so… it sticks in my craw that I have to really work at the most basic things, while they seem to be swimming right along. And when I read their Facebook posts and their blog posts about how fantastic everything is… how awesome their life is in their bright new apartment that’s getting new hardwood floors and has plenty of sunlight… and how exciting life is in their very popular, up-and-coming locale…. how connected they are with their professional connections and their readers… how stimulating it all is… how much they love their spouse… as well as the next member of their perfect family who’s on the way and due in just a few months… God, it really works my last nerve.

Okay, I get that we all make our choices. I didn’t get where I am totally by accident. But this is one of those mornings, when everything feels terribly unfair. The main reason they were able to do all they’ve done, is they’re married to someone who has made it all possible. They haven’t had to work for anyone else for close to 10 years, and they’ve been able to travel all over the world, because of their spouse’s connections. They’ve gotten insider tips on places to live and business connections, thanks to their spouse’s connections, and they’ve had the freedom to make plenty of mistakes along the way, without it hurting their work, their business prospects, or their vision.

It is really unlike me to be all pissy and envious like this, and it doesn’t feel good. I know that comparing myself to anyone else is a losing proposition, and it just drags me down for no reason. I don’t know what kind of pain and suffering they’ve experienced in life, I don’t know the reality underneath the facade of perfection they put forward, and who can say if they are anywhere near as happy and truly successful as they seem to be? Heck, for all their books that have been published, who knows if they’re even seeing much profit from it? And who knows how much creative license they’ve had to part with, in order to work within the system?

Who can say if they’re even that happy? I know they seem to have all the ingredients in place — attractive spouse, trendy house, new baby on the way, world travel, a successful blog, and a string of publishing credits that keeps getting longer — but who can say what their actual experience is?

Heck, they might be even worse off than I am, on the inside, whilst putting forth the right impression on the outside.

Who knows? All I know is, there’s this thought in my head that they have it so much better than I, that they’ve had it so much easier than I, and that they’ve succeeded as a result of others’ help, which they aren’t even acknowledging.

But that’s an ugly way to start the day.

I’ve known that since about 5:15 this morning. I’ve also known I needed to change my attitude, one way or another, since about 5:17 a.m.

Thinking through how I felt about that old friend of mine this morning, I gradually found my thoughts turning to another old friend who’s on the other end of the spectrum. This is someone I became good friends with, several years after the above-mentioned Friend No. 1 disappeared from my daily life. Friend No. 2 and I were great buddies for years, working closely together and producing some great projects on a regular basis. We’re very simpatico, with similar world views and values, and we’ve kept in touch intermittently over the years. Whenever we’ve caught up for coffee, we’ve had some great discussions, and we’ve talked about collaborating on a number of projects — none of which ever panned out… but oh well…

Anyway, Friend No.2 and I caught up about four months ago, when I told them about a project I was launching – starting a new business on the side – and I showed them my product. They were really impressed and we had what I thought was a great conversation and a jump-started connection.

One thing that really struck me, though, was their attitude. After years of what most would consider a very successful career, a solid marriage, and the ability to take time off work for a few years, thanks to smart investments and prudent savings, they seemed… well… bitter. Like life had been unfairly unkind to them, they’d been used and abused, and they were running out of options. They didn’t seem to have a whole lot of enthusiasm for their future, and they seemed a bit depressed when they talked about their general situation — which to me looked pretty good.

I mean, seriously — they have a really nice car that’s paid for, their marriage is strong, their house is paid off, they’ve got an amazing new riding mower with all the tools to keep their lawn in tip-top shape, they know who they are, and they know what they love to do. They have a lot of the things I lack — and am suffering for pretty intensely at times.

And yet, they’re bitter. They can’t do some of the things they used to do all the time — like go out to clubs every weekend and listen to live bands because it’s way too loud. They have ideas for inventions, but they can’t figure out how to turn them into money. They’re brushing up on their technical skills, but they can’t seem to find an exact match for what they want to do. They’re feeling used and abused and washed up, like their life is over and there’s nowhere else for them to go.

It really surprised me to hear them talk about the things that get to them. It’s like they were just settling for turning into a curmudgeony old coot without even putting up a fight. They’re about 15 years my senior, so they are getting older, but still… I’ve got relatives who are in their 80’s, 90’s, even past 100 years old, and they’re still going, still engaged, still enjoying their lives.

After what was mostly a good meet-up, Friend No. 2 disappeared. I gave them a call a few months later to see if they were interested in helping out with this project. When we met four months ago, they said they’d love to help with it, but when I called them again, they couldn’t talk at the time and said they’d call me back. I never heard back from them, and frankly I’d be surprised if I hear from them ever again.

Friend No. 2 is gone. By their own hand. It’s a loss for me, because when they were “on”, they were great to talk to and hang out with. But if they’re not going to be “on” and they’re just going to be bitter and resentful about every little thing that doesn’t work out for them, I really don’t need that in my life. And I doubt they’re going to come around.

So, there’s my tale of two old friends. I’m probably going to un-friend Friend No. 1 on Facebook, because their self-congratulatory tone just rankles me and serves no purpose in my life. Friend No. 2 is out of the picture, probably for good. And here I am in the middle, looking for a way to find gratitude to buoy me up out of my morning funk.

Comparing myself and my life and my success to others makes no sense. I can only compare myself to myself — and when I do that, I can see how incredibly fortunate I’ve been to receive the gifts I’ve gotten over the years. The TBI in 2004 could have ruined me, no doubt. But through divine grace, a bunch of risks I took that worked out, and a ton of hard work, I’m back on track and moving towards something truly fine. I’ve got love in my life and a spouse who is still with me, even after 23 years of some very challenging times. I have a house, a commuter car and a late-model minivan, I’ve got a regular job with a regular paycheck (which I’m probably not going to be leaving soon, because of the change in my financial timeline), and I’ve got my health. I have personal projects that keep me engaged and involved in my own life, and our local libraries have amazing collections which I can request from anytime I like.

I really do have so many blessings in my life, and considering where I come from, I have every reason to start the day feeling grateful and proud.

So, that’s where I’m at — having a gratitude adjustment, so my day doesn’t need to fall prey to bad thinking habits and mental laziness about things that may or may not be true. Yes, I’m tired. Yes, I’m disappointed that my financial plans for 2014 have been altered. Yes, I have to work a little bit harder than I’d like, today, go buy another mouse, and try to catch up with things I forgot to do for the past month.

But life doesn’t happen by itself, and things happen for a reason. It’s dawn. The sun is finally coming up. Time to find my reasons, and help things to happen.

Onward.

Back in the swing of things

So, it’s Monday, and I have to say I’m relieved. This past weekend was kind of sh*tty, and I didn’t get much of anything done that I had planned, which is a bit of a problem, because I have a lot of things I need to get done, and I had two whole days to do them.

Oh, well. Next…

It’s always interesting, seeing how my best-laid plans turn out. I mean, I had the whole weekend choreographed within an inch of its life, and then Friday I flared out and spent the weekend feeling like crap, fighting with my spouse, recovering, and just trying to feel like an normal person again.

Now it’s Monday, I’m back in the swing of things, and I’m actually feeling better — even though I am still foggy and dull and not nearly as sharp as I’d like to be.

The thing is, during the week, there’s all this energy, all this activity. And on the weekends, there’s not. It’s a massive disconnect, and I think that’s what makes me sick — just not being able to keep moving. My spouse has a lot of issues with my “energy levels” — they say I make them anxious, and I’m “too kinetic”. Yah, well, whatever. Kinetic gets the bills paid, you know?

At the same time, they do have a point — I do push myself too hard at times, and I burn out. That is my doing, and it’s the result of me not taking sufficient breaks and not allowing myself sufficient recovery time to come back from my flurries of activity. I need to do a better job of that, and I’m working on it.

One other piece of the puzzle, though, is how much my spouse has slowed down over the past years. They’re a few years older than me, but they act like they are a LOT older than me. We each have very different ideas about lifespans and quality of life — they are convinced that they’re going to live only a few more years — as long as their parents (who both died years sooner than they should have) — and at the same time, they’re terrified of dying. I, on the other hand, believe I’m going to keep going for decades to come, and my main concern is keeping myself mentally sharp and active and able to be involved in my life for the many coming decades. So, I’m ramping up at the same time my spouse is slowing down.

Total disconnect. It’s pretty tough to see someone so close to you, who has been such an integral part of your life for the past 25 years, just giving in to the hype and giving up hope of anything different happening. They say they don’t want to die, and they say they want to live a long time, but they actually don’t act like it. Actions speak louder than words, and their actions say they’re getting ready to pack it in and pass on. The bitch of it is, at the same time they’re doing less for themself, I’m required to do more.

Yet another reason to keep my strength up and keep fit. I can’t imagine the next 10-20 years with them (if we have that long) is going to be a cakewalk.

Well, anyway, what can you do? I’m just glad the weekend is over, and I can get back to my regular routine, taking care of what needs to be taken care of.

I did my warm-up exercises this morning — some weight lifting and some balance work and some coordination footwork. I’m focusing less on building strength and endurance with extended workouts and focusing more on warming up, feeling good, moving, and getting in the swing of things. Waking myself up, and feeling good at it, too. Just moving. Getting the blood pumping and getting a bit out of breath. Pushing myself a little bit, and then giving myself a chance to recover.

I’ve got my list of things I need to do, and I started on one of them this morning. Having my list makes things so much easier — I don’t have to keep things in my head, and I can put everything in perspective by seeing it all on paper in front of me.

That helps. When I try to do it alone without any tools or props… look out.

Speaking of looking out — the day is waiting. Gotta get a move on and see what the day has to offer.

Onward