Sleep, work, eat, live… rinse and repeat

Get the right stuff — to your health!

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

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

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

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

We see how that worked out.

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

That clearly does not work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to make a shopping list…

Downtime and Uptime

I’ve been having a really excellent weekend, which just got better, thanks to cancelling plans that would have taken me and my spouse into a nearby city to run errands and deal with traffic, lots of people, and a lot of excitement — all on top of making some big buying decisions.

What a pain that would have been. We both have a lot we want to do at home today, so we tabled those plans till later this week, when it fits our schedule much better.

This gives me time today to catch up with old friends I haven’t communicated with for several months. I am also sorting through pictures I took over the past several years, which I threw onto my hard drive without really organizing very well.

It’s wild, taking the trips down memory lane.

I’m due for a nice long walk. I had thought about going for a bike ride, but I haven’t been feeling all that great, and I don’t want to ride out when I’m not feeling 100%. I’ve been feeling about 75%, lately, for some reason. Foggy and dull and anxious. Things at work have become challenging for me, but fortunately, folks there have my back, and they’re making some accommodations for me — I’m new, after all, and the things they’re giving me are not small things.

So, it’s good to feel supported in that.

It really is a beautiful day. I’ll have my lunch, go out for a walk, then get up and take care of some things. I feel so much better, not having to drive into the city. What a relief.

I do hope I start to feel better… Maybe a nap will help.

 

 

 

 

Walking on a different wild side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After TBI you’re still human

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

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

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

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

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

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

What could possibly be wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

It all just feels so precarious.

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

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

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

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

How I can get hurt – again and again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But reason failed me. In a very big way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering why I’m doing all this

It all stacks up, after a while

So, I’ve got a bunch of writing projects going, and in my usual fashion, I’m devising great plans for these works. I’ve always had a bit of a superiority complex with regard to my thinking. That’s mostly because I spent the bulk of my life locked inside my head, without a lot of “intrusions” from the outside.

So, of course I was the most brilliant person I knew! ;) When you’re the only one in the room, you can easily be the smartest one there.

On the other hand, my perception of myself in the outside world has been extraordinarily poor. In my mind, I’m the dumbest person outside the safety of my own head. That’s not such a stretch, when you have trouble remembering what people said to you, 5 minutes before. Ever try to hold an extended conversation with someone, when you can’t remember what they said, a couple of ideas back?

It’s not easy, that’s for sure.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, I’ve been writing and thinking about who I could send my pieces to. My head has come up with a massive publicity campaign that will get the attention of People Who Matter, and I’m already envisioning fielding all the phone calls from people who want to explore the possibilities of what I’m suggesting. I have a whole drama designed in my mind.

The thing is, it’s starting to get overwhelming. I’m starting to freak myself out. And I have to remember why it was that I started these writing projects in the first place:

For me.

To work on my thought process.

To refine how I think and get better at research and systematic thought.

To get better at continuing projects and sticking with them till they’re done.

That’s why I’m doing this. Not to get rich and famous, not to revolutionize a whole field of research, not to stir things up. But to refine my own thought process and become more organized, clear, and systematic in my thinking. Much as I like to dream big, the practical reasons behind this are even more important. Revolutions come and go. Rich and famous is nice, but I’m not getting there without working on myself. And stirring things up without having a solid, well-organized thinking foundation is just asking for trouble.

I’ve been unhappy with how I’ve been working, over the past… 30 years. I’ve started so many things, and then I never finished them. Some of them are really good ideas, too. And I’ve got to change this pattern where I’ll get going, then I get distracted by something else that seems like more fun, drop the thing I’m working on, and go off and do something else. As a result, I have a lot of good ideas sitting in my desk drawers that are half-baked, just kind of sitting around, gathering dust.

I don’t want them to gather dust, anymore. I want to be able to complete a project — or two or five or ten. I want to finish what I start, and be lifted up in the process. And I want to do it for the sake of doing it. For the sake of being lifted up. If anyone else benefits in the process, that’s fine, but the main focus needs to be on myself.

Okay, time to get back to work. There’s a lot of progress I still need to make.

Onward.

Doing AND Enjoying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that pisses me off.

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

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

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

And that’s good.

Onward.

Now past 250,000 views on this site

Thanks for listening Thanks for listening

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

But I forgot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So… onward.

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.

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.