Rocket Fuel Coffee — It’s not for everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How indeed?

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

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

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

And so I am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But right now is not one of those times.

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

Onward.

The TBI/Concussion Energy Crisis – Part 2 of 2

This is Part 2 of a long post that I’ve split into two parts. The first part is here:

Running on empty?

Long-term outcomes after mild traumatic brain injury — and persistent post-concussion syndrome that doesn’t resolve in the usual couple of weeks — have baffled researchers and practitioners for a long time, but to me it makes perfect sense. There is a cumulative effect of stress and strain that comes over time. There’s plenty of research about the long-term effects of chronic stress. But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of research about the levels of stress among mild TBI and concussion survivors.

Everybody seems to think things just resolve. And they don’t seem to think it matters much, that we are no longer the people we once were. They don’t seem to realize what a profound and serious threat this is to our sense of who we are, and our understanding of our place in the world. At most, it’s treated like an inconvenience that we’ll just see our way through with time.

But it’s bigger than that. Losing your long-held sense of self when you’re a full-grown adult, with a full docket of responsibilities and a whole lot invested (both by yourself and by others) in your identity being stable, is a dire threat to your very existence. It is as threatening to your survival, as surviving an explosion, a flood, an earthquake, or some other catastrophe that nearly does you in.

It’s traumatic. But because it’s not over the top and in your face and dramatic — and it doesn’t register on most imaging or diagnostic equipment — people think it just doesn’t matter.

Or that it doesn’t exist.

Frankly, the professional community should know better — especially those who work with trauma. They, of all people, should know what trauma does to a person — in the short and long term. I suppose they do know. They just underestimate the level of stress that comes from losing your sense of self and having to rebuild — sometimes from scratch. I’m not even sure they realize it exists.

But they do exist. Dealing with the daily barrage of surprises about things not working the way they used to… it gets tiring. Trying to keep up, takes it out of you. I know in the course of my day, I have to readjust and re-approach many, many situations, because my first impulse is flat-out wrong. I have to be always on my toes, always paying close attention, always focused on what’s important. Always reminding myself what’s important. I have to perpetually check in with myself to see how I’m doing, where I’m at, what’s next, what I just did, how it fits with everything else I’m doing… Lord almighty, it takes a lot of energy.

What’s more, those stresses and strains are made even worse by being surrounded by people who don’t get how hard I’m working. I swear, they just have no clue — my spouse and my neuropsych included. They seem to think that this all comes easily to me, because I do a damned good job of smoothing things over and covering up the turmoil that’s going on inside of me. I have trained myself — through a combination of techniques — to at least appear to be calm in the midst of crisis. Even when things are falling apart around me and inside me, even when I am at my wits’ end and am about to lose it, I can (usually) maintain a calm demeanor and chill out everyone around me.

Heaven knows, I’ve had plenty of practice over the years. If I hadn’t learned to do this, I would probably be in prison right now.

No, not probably. I would be in prison. I like being free and un-incarcerated, so I’ve learned to hold my sh*t.

Which is where sleep and proper nutrition and exercise come in. Because after years of thinking that sharing my experience with the ones closest to me would enlist their help, I’ve realized that doing that will never ever achieve that goal. People just don’t get it. Even my neuropsych doesn’t get it. Everyone has this image of me as I present to them, which is totally different from what’s going on inside of me.They seem to make assumptions about how I am and what I am and what life is like for me, that have nothing to do with how things really are.

Inside, I have a ton of issues I have to manage each and every day. Today, it’s

  • confusion & disorganization
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • neck, back and joint pain
  • noise sensitivity
  • dizziness
  • ringing in my ears that’s not only the high-pitched whine that never goes away, but is now accompanied by intermittent sounds like a tractor-trailer back-up alert beep. Nice, right?

And that’s just for starters. Who knows what will happen later today.

But I’ll stow the violins — the point is, I really can’t rely on others to figure things out for me — even the trained professionals. I can’t rely on them to understand or appreciate what my life is like from day to day. I need to rely on myself, to understand my own “state” and to manage that state on my own through nutrition, adequate exercise, rest… and to advocate for myself to get what I need.

I have to keep those needs simple — rest, nutrition, exercise — and not complicate matters. Getting more elaborate than that just works against me. It’s hard to explain to people, it gets all jumbled up in my head, and the other people try to solve problems they don’t understand, in the first place.

On the one hand, it can get pretty lonely. On the other hand, it’s incredibly freeing. Because I know best what’s going on with me, and I know I can figure out how to get that in place.

The bottom line is — after this very long post — TBI and concussion take a ton of energy to address. It’s not a simple matter of resting up till the extra potassium and glucose clear out of your brain. There are pathways to be rewired, and they don’t rewire themselves. Depending on the nature of your injury — and a diffuse axonal injury that frays a ton of different connections, even just slightly, can introduce a wide, wide array of frustrations and hurdles — you can end up spending a ton of time just retraining yourself to do the most basic things. Like getting ready for work and making yourself breakfast without missing any important steps (e.g., taking a shower or turning off the stove).

And when you’re trying to rewire your brain and retrain yourself to get back on track, at the same time you’re trying to maintain your life as it once was… well, that’s a recipe for a whole lot of hurt, if you don’t give yourself the energy stockpiles you need to move forward, and if you don’t take steps to regularly clear out the gunk that accumulates in your physical system, as a result of the stresses and strains of the rewiring process.

That being said, I wish that someone would do a study on the stress levels of concussion and other mild traumatic brain injury survivors. We need to collect this data, in order for professionals to better understand us and our situations, and to better know how to treat us.

For the time being, however, I’m not holding my breath. I know what works for me, with regard to my recovery — having someone non-judgmental to talk to about my daily experience, keeping records of my daily life so I can self-manage it, regular exercise, pacing myself, good nutrition, intermittent fasting, keeping away from junk food, adding more high-quality fats and oils to my diet, and getting ample sleep with naps thrown in for good measure.

Those are really the cornerstones of my recovery. When I do all of them on a regular basis, I get better. If I overlook any one of them, I slide back in my progress. It’s an ongoing process, for sure.

The TBI/Concussion Energy Crisis – Part 1 of 2

This is Part 1 of a long post that (out of consideration for your time) I’ve split into two parts. The second part is here:

Running on empty?

I’m having my butter-fat coffee this morning, thinking about how I’m going to plan my day. I have some back taxes work I have to do — I need to refile from prior years, because I messed up a couple of times and I need to make it right. Fortunately, I erred to my own disadvantage before, so fixing those errors and refiling will bring in a little extra money, which I can really use.

I had a pretty restful sleep last night. However, I woke up at 5 again, which I did not want to do, and I was pretty stiff and sore from all my activity yesterday. That’s the thing about getting a sudden burst of energy — I want to use it, I want to experience it, I want to feel what it’s like to really move again. So, my body ends up moving more than it has in a long time, and then I get sore.

Fortunately, it’s a “good sore” which is a sign that I’m getting stronger and more active. This is one of those rare cases where “pain is weakness leaving the body”.

I considered getting up, because I would love to have an extra useful hour or two in my day. But I was still pretty tired, so I stretched a little bit, then relaxed with my guided imagery recording, and went back to sleep with earplugs and eye mask. I have light-blocking curtains in my bedroom, but sometimes the light gets in, so I use an eye mask. In the winter when it is cold, I wear a winter cap in bed to keep warm, and I pull it down over my eyes to block the light. But now that it’s warmer, I can’t use the cap. So, the eye mask it is.

Something about the eye mask helps me sleep — it’s a Pavlovian response, I think. I usually use it when I am trying to fall asleep during the day, and it works.  So, I have an ingrained response to relax when I put on my eye mask. And it worked. I got another hour of sleep, and I woke up feeling much more human.

Yesterday I had written about how it’s energy shortages that make me so tired, rather than lack of sleep. Well, let me just say that it’s really both that get me. If I’m over-tired, no matter how many high-quality fats I put in my body, I’m going to run out of steam. And if I don’t have enough high-quality fats in my system to convert into energy, all the sleep in the world isn’t going to fix me up.

One of the things that I think really bites mild TBI and concussion survivors in the ass, is also probably one of the most overlooked — The Energy Crisis. I think that people (especially health care providers) really don’t get how hard we have to work to reorient ourselves and retrain our brains after a mild TBI or concussion. There are so many subtle ways that our regular routines and regular thinking patterns are disrupted, and we can totally miss those subtle disruptions until they balloon in to bigger problems.

One thing after another goes wrong. Sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we catch it in time, sometimes we don’t. But so many little tiny things can be so different from before — even just feeling different — that it’s overwhelming. And the end results can be devastating — failing work performance, failing relationships, failing finances… failing everything.

For no apparent reason.

So, we end up either being hyper-vigilant and always on guard. Or we just give up and go with the flow, because who the hell can keep up with everything that’s getting screwed up? We go into either crisis prevention mode or crisis response mode. In either case, our lives are marked by crisis. One. After. Another.

And that is tiring. It is SO tiring.

So, we run out of steam. It can happen from just being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of adjustments — large and small. It can happen from feeling like we’re under constant attack from within and without — which we often are, as our internal systems are disrupted and the “ecosystem” we have been operating in starts to rag on us because we’re not keeping up. It can happen from being on a constant adrenaline rush, just trying to keep up and respond. It can come from crashes from all the junk food we eat to make ourselves feel less pain… to have more energy… or just take our minds off our troubles.  Usually, it’s all of the above.

On all levels, we’re getting hit — our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual existence is in turmoil. And it takes a huge amount of energy to keep up.

If we don’t get enough of the right kind of sleep, and we also don’t have the right physical support to keep going, our systems short out. I believe this is why mild TBI folks can actually see worse outcomes over the long term, with problems showing up years on down the line. All the little “hits” we take in the course of each day all contribute to our biochemical overload. There’s more and more “sludge” in our system, in the form of waste from stress hormones processing, to buildup from the junk foods we eat to keep going, and that sludge adds to our overall stress levels, causing us physical stress and strain — which then contributes to our mental and emotional instability.

And years on down the line, when we “should be fine”, things really unravel, and we end up in terrible shape, without any clue how or why — and nobody there to support us, because they don’t know why either, and they probably wouldn’t believe us if we told them.

Keep reading here >>

TBI Energy Hack – A different kind of coffee

I tried it – I loved it

Yesterday, while I was fasting, I was pondering how much it sucks to be tired all the time and how I want to change my life but tend to run out of steam.

A lot of different things come to mind when I’m fasting (I’ll go without food for 18-20 hours, once a month or so, to “reboot” my system, give my metabolism a break from processing food, and help me increase my self-control. I was feeling pretty good all morning, then around noon I started to fade big-time (probably also because I was overtired), and I needed a little boost.

So naturally I started surfing around the web for ideas about how other people handle intermittent fasting. I came across information on “Bulletproof® Coffee” which is a special blend of high-quality coffee with a couple of unexpected ingredients that are supposed to enhance your brain function, give you more energy, and support your system – especially if you’re doing intermittent fasting.

I read up on it a bit over at Bulletproof Exec, and it made sense to me. Add a few unlikely ingredients to your morning coffee, and you can give yourself a much-needed boost that won’t fry your system like straight coffee does.

Those ingredients:

  • Butter from grass-fed cows. A big hunk of it.
  • MCT Oil (some folks use coconut oil, but you have to be careful you don’t get kinds that may have mold in them from the coconut pressing process).

You take the butter and the oil and you blend it together with two cups of coffee. You can use an electric blender or you can use a hand blender.

Reading up on how the fat in the butter and MCT oil supports your brain function, I was pretty intrigued. Plus, grass-fed butter and oil aren’t pharmaceuticals. They’re naturally occurring (well, the MCT oil is synthesized from coconut oil, but it’s not a concoction that originates only in a lab), and they work with your system, instead of overriding it. Plus, they’re freely available without a prescription.

I happened to be going food shopping last night, and I have some coconut oil in the cupboard, so I picked up some unsalted Kerrygold butter (grass-fed — it’s in tiny print on the label, so I had to look for it). And I prepared myself for a slightly different coffee experience this morning.

I sorta kinda followed the instructions — I don’t have “high quality” coffee in the house yet — I ordered some off the guy’s site, and I’m looking forward to getting it soon. I used only about a tablespoon of butter and coconut oil, not the globs of stuff the Bulletproof guy suggests. I also couldn’t use the electric blender, because that would have woken up my spouse, which is never a good idea — it’s best not to poke a sleeping bear. But I made do with what I had.

I tossed a little blob of butter and some coconut oil in a small metal mixing bowl, sat it in a larger pan of hot water to let it melt, then I made my coffee (which I always brew with a drip filter using brown paper filters anyway). Then I poured my first cup of coffee in with the butter and oil in the mixing bowl and got out my trusty hand blender. I mixed up the butter and oil with the coffee until it was well blended and there was a little froth on top. Then I filled my one coffee mug as far as it could go, and poured the leftover mixture into the second cup of coffee I had waiting. I wanted to try it in different strengths, just in case I hated one. I didn’t want to waste two perfectly good cups of coffee.

I usually make two cups of coffee in the morning anyway, so it wasn’t a change in the volume for me. I wasn’t in danger of getting wired. I must admit I was skeptical about this actually working for me. I wasn’t sure it was worth the extra effort, but I coordinated the Bulletproof coffee prep with frying up my morning egg, and by the time the egg was done, the coffee was ready, too.

Now, I’ve been a hardcore black-and-bitter coffee drinker for years. I cut out milk and sugar about 6 years ago, and I haven’t looked back since. So, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this new concoction. Putting butter and oil in coffee? Who does such a thing?! I was also concerned about the drink getting cold and turning into a fatty glob that I couldn’t get down. Sometimes I get caught up in my work before I finish my coffee, and both the butter and the coconut oil are not cheap, so I didn’t want to waste them.

However, I was really pleasantly surprised by the effect. It didn’t taste bad, actually. It was pretty good. In fact, my body really seemed to crave it. I had a hard time waiting for it to cool, actually. I kept wanting to drink it. I got a pretty good kick from it. Maybe it was the reading I’d done that suggested I’d feel sharper from this stuff, that made me feel… well, sharper. But whatever – I did. I got this real boost of energy that was nothing like I’d known in quite some time. It was this steady flow of energy — not like rocket fuel Red Bull.

And you know what? 2-1/2 hours later, I still feel really great. All through. Not just my head, but my whole body.

Verdict after Day One with Bulletproof® Coffee?  Holy smokes. This is really good. I haven’t felt this with-it in the morning for a really long time, and mornings are the sharpest time of the day for me (which says a lot about how pitiful my afternoons and evenings are). They’re also the time when I need to be the most “on”. So, this new approach to coffee, with grass-fed butter and coconut/MCT oil is a keeper.

This one is a “go”, for sure. I’m doing it again tomorrow.  And I’ll keep doing it, till it stops doing what it does.

Onward.

TBI Anger Hack – from cracked.com

Cracked.com has a great piece on 5 Brain Hacks That Give You Mind-Blowing Powers. The title is a bit overblown, but it hooked me, so I picked up some tricks… and found this useful piece of info. I’m going to add it to my collection of lifehacks to deal better with all the crap that gets sent my way. The principle is the same as with intermittent fasting — which helps me with my self-discipline and helps me learn to better manage my internal state when I’m just a little stressed. Here’s what they have:

#2. Control Anger by Using Your Less-Dominant Hand

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com

Everyone knows at least one guy who hulks out over the stupidest things — a messed up coffee order, a red light, global warming. Usually these people are just harmless joke fodder until they road rage on an elderly person over a politically charged bumper sticker. If you don’t know one of these people, consider that it might be you.

Of course, there are all these tricks that your mom taught you that are supposed to calm you down (“Stop and count to 10!”), which of course don’t work because in the moment you’re enraged, you can’t think logically anyway. What you need is to beef up your anger defenses before it gets to that point.

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com
“Somebody stop me before I rob a sperm bank and make this town disgusting.”

The Hack:

This one comes from the University of New South Wales, who found the perfect anger-management trick, and it wasn’t cool jazz music or playful kittens wearing sunglasses. People who had anger issues were asked to spend two weeks using their non-dominant hand for anything that wouldn’t endanger anyone: opening and slamming doors, writing hate mail, pouring coffee, and other dirty activities that are now crossing your mind. After two weeks, the subjects could control their temper tantrums better, even when other participants deliberately insulted them to get a reaction.

Why would this possibly work? Well, looking at angry people under brain scans shows that outbursts are less about too much anger and more about depleted self-control. That’s both good news and bad news. The bad news is that self-control is a finite thing, and you can run out of it. The good news is that it’s a physical mechanism of how your brain works, and you can strengthen it (or hack it into working better).

Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images
“Fudge you, mother lover!”

Now, you’d assume that the only way to do that would be some kind of meditation or long classes in anger management. Or maybe to pay somebody to make an annoying noise in your ear for hours at a time and slowly decreasing the frequency with which you punch them in the head. But it turns out it doesn’t take anything like that — just asking these people to use their clumsy hand to do everyday tasks forced them to deal with hundreds of tiny, totally manageable moments of frustration. But that was enough to make them somewhat immune to it.

So, when things got ugly, suddenly they found that the walls around their internal anger demon were stronger. And it’s probably also calming to know that if things get so bad that a gunfight breaks out, you’re now capable of dual-wielding that shit.

BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images
“Oh, hey, you are totally correct. The grass is indeed purple. My mistake.”

TBI Lifehacks – My ticket back to health, wealth, and success

Once you know how things work, you can come up with new solutions

So, life is becoming pretty awesome for me, I have to say. There are a lot of challenges in my life, still, but working so hard to overcome all the craziness from the past ten years is really starting to pay off.

I find out next week if I get a raise. If I do, it will be a big friggin’ deal, because although I did get a slight increase in pay last year, this year is different, because it’s not all going back into paying off debts. This year, it’s an actual raise, because it’s coming to me, instead of creditors.

I have successfully wiped out about a year’s salary worth of outstanding debts, and that’s not a small thing. It’s taken me four years to do it, but I finally made it.

I made it. And now I can truly have take-home pay, instead of being a way station for money that comes from my employer and goes directly to someone else.

So, if I get a raise, then so much the better. Heaven knows, I’ve worked for it.

God, have I worked for it. My life has been pretty much centered around my recovery from multiple TBIs, ever since I realized back in 2007 that this was going on with me. I happened up on information about mild traumatic brain injury almost by chance — I was taking care of a loved-one who’d had several strokes, and I was researching the brain and brain injury. And as I read about brain injury, I looked at my own life, and I realized that it all sounded eerily familiar. And I realized that despite cashing out of a good job a few years before, and getting two years’ worth of salary from stock options, I was nearly broke. And I realized I didn’t know why.

Suddenly so much made sense.

So, I have dedicated my life to learning as much as I can about my own particular situation and finding ways to approach and address it that will lead to greater health and balance. Wealth and success are welcome, too… especially since I was somewhat wealthy and very successful before I fell in 2004.

A lot has changed, and a lot has improved dramatically over the past 7 years, since I first embarked on this quest. And looking back on my life and my activities, I realize now that what I’ve been doing is what you could call “life hacking” — finding”an inelegant but effective solution to a specific problem in [everyday] life.” (See the Wikipedia explanation of life hacking here)

Life hacking refers to any productivity trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method to increase productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life; in other words, anything that solves an everyday problem of a person in a clever or non-obvious way.

This is essentially what I’ve been doing for the past 7 years. “Hacking” as most people understand it, is a bad thing that breaks systems and lets criminals do bad things. But hacking is really about understanding a system, how it works, how it’s put together, and then based on that understanding, coming up with an unorthodox solution to problems that arise.

If you look at the Lifehacker web site or instructables.com you’ll find a ton of tips and tricks and approaches to things in everyday life that are not only cool, but also time- and money-saving, which is the whole point. People are figuring out everything from using voice recognition to write software code more efficiently, to putting handles on your grill, so you can add charcoal more easily. It’s all about making life better, by doing things a little differently… because you understand how the system works, and you can bend the rules here and there to take advantage of certain aspects of the system that other people take for granted as set in stone.

Few things are as set in stone as many people believe, and that especially goes for the brain. It’s an amazingly complex system, and it varies from person to person (as does TBI), so there are countless ways to improvise and innovate, once you know the underlying principles behind it.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist (or a brain surgeon) to address TBI from a hacker standpoint. You just need to know some fundamental principles, be willing to experiment and try new things, you have to be willing to pay attention to what you’re doing and what happens as a result, and you have to be brutally honest with yourself about what’s really going on with you.

You’ve got to be both awed by the vastness of the interconnected system inside your head, and also be a bit of a heretic who’s willing to push the envelope with what’s “possible”.

The things that have been the basis for my own recovery have been:

  1. Understanding that the brain is indeed “plastic” — that is, it changes in response to input and experience. Any kind of learning is an example in plasticity, as are the changes that people go through in the course of their lives.
  2. Believing that by trial and error, I can find the best way to live my life — and also change my brain. It’s fine to read books about how others do it, but there’s nothing like real life experience to make it real — and make real progress.
  3. Re-defining “mistakes” as opportunities to learn and change and grow, and not shying away from making as many mistakes as possible.
  4. Believing that nobody can know better than I, what works best for me and my brain. I can listen to what others say and try out what they suggest, but nobody knows better than I, what really works best. Things that look great on paper and have a good success rate in formal circumstances, can turn out to be useless — or even harmful — for me.
  5. Trying… and trying again.

Observing has been a huge part of my recovery. Observing and adjusting. When I came across the Give Back TBI Self-Therapy Guide and started working with the principles, it really made a lot of sense. And best of all, it turned out to really work well for me. Some of the suggestions aren’t so great for me, but the fundamental underlying principles are sound, in my experience, and they’ve been hugely helpful for me.

Also a big part of my recovery has been sharing my experiences with others — here on this blog, and also with a neuropsych, whom I’ve been meeting with on a regular basis since 2008 or so. Just the process of sitting and talking with another human being who doesn’t judge me, who doesn’t make fun of me, who doesn’t roll their eyes and dismiss me… My neuropsych is the only person in my life who lets me just work through what I need to work through, without either jumping in and trying to save me from myself, or judging me and pushing me away.

They also have the same orientation as I — that change is possible, even inevitable, so why not make the most of it and really step up and take charge of the change.

Also writing on this blog and checking in regularly, has been a huge help. It just gets me out of my head, and every now and then a reader provides some support — either encouragement or a much-needed reality check about me feeling sorry for myself or being a whiner or some other valuable critique that gets me to stop and check my head, and adjust my approach in some way.

So yeah — hacking TBI. This is what I’ve been up to. Hacking, in the sense of

  • Identifying problems I need to solve — sleep/fatigue issues, anger issues, mood issues, sensory issues, attention/distraction issues, pain issues, relationship issues
  • Learning about the systems where the problems occur, inside my head — and whole body in fact… central nervous system, enteric nervous system, autonomic nervous system… lymphatic system… senses, impulses, instincts…
  • Letting the knowledge sink in, so it made sense to me and I could work with it.
  • Figuring out how I can tweak the system(s) to fix the problems — how I can do things a little differently, or take advantages of one of my systems to offset problems in another one.

A classic example of a TBI Hack that worked like magic was this:

Problem: Exploding with anger each morning when I would wake up and try to make breakfast, and I would drop things. I would explode with frustration when something simple would happen — like dropping a spoon or losing my grip on my coffee cup handle. My explosions were more internal than external (though I have been known to throw things, before I get my coffee in the morning). But they still tore the crap out of me, first thing in the morning. That’s a hell of a way to start the day.

System Issues: I learned that one of the after-effects of mild TBI is a change in “tonic arousal” — or general level of wakefulness in my brain. When I have low “tonic arousal” — my brain is slower to respond to things around me, because it’s less “awake”. When it’s less awake — especially in the morning before I have my coffee and get going — it’s more irritable and more reactive, and it’s harder for me to manage my moods. So, when I am waking up in the morning, I am naturally more inclined than most people to be grumpy, and to fly off the handle at little things.

Letting It All Sink In: Just knowing that it’s my injured/rewired brain — not some character defect — that’s making me more prone to fly off the handle, has been a huge weight off my shoulders. For the longest time, I thought it was a problem with ME. I thought that Icouldn’t handle sh*t. Icouldn’t figure out how to keep an even keel over such small little things as dropping a spoon or losing my grip on my coffee cup.

Tweaks and Fixes: As it turns out, just knowing that it was my injured brain, not my personal character, that was giving me problems helped me to better manage my state in the mornings. I would still lose my grip on things and still drop things, now and then, but when I did, I wouldn’t fly off the handle and explode, internally and externally. I would take a deep breath, let the the flood of anger and frustration wash out of me like a receding wave, and I would try again.

I found that being aware of my state of wakefulness let me make better choices about what to do. I slowed down, for one. I quit rushing around like a crazy person, first thing in the morning.

I discovered, too, that when I treated the situation like the challenge that it was — getting my breakfast without blowing up — and I applied effort to my morning routine, it made me more alert. The Give Back program says this — you have to realize that TBI recovery takes effort, and you have to apply yourself, not assume everything is going to work like it did before. Fairly recent research (2010) Perceived mental effort correlates with changes in tonic arousal during attentional tasks, says exactly that — when you perceive that you have to work harder at something, it increases your tonic arousal — and that’s exactly what I wanted to achieve.

I also came up with a checklist and a plan for how to do things. I didn’t take anything for granted, because, well, I couldn’t. I would forget things all the time, and it was very dispiriting. My checklist approach, listing each thing I needed to do, in its specific order was admittedly rudimentary and probably looked fairly remedial (well, it was, in the sense that it helped me remedy my situation), but it worked for me.  I stuck with my checklists for quite some time — probably at least a year. Maybe two. Until I didn’t need them anymore.

Bit by bit, I practiced and tweaked my morning routine so that eventually I could get through the morning without a blow-up inside my head.

This would have been impossible without the underlying knowledge about the systems at play. I had to understand the system, in order to tweak it.

And I had to understand there was a problem that needed to be solved.

So, as I approach the 10th anniversary of my latest TBI, this coming Thanksgiving, I think about how much things have changed for me — in difficult and good ways. All in all, the challenges I’ve faced have made me stronger and smarter in new and different ways. There are some things I’ve had to let go of — all the crazy busy-ness, for one, as well as going without sleep and driving myself from one project to the next. I’ve also parted ways with a lot of people. But those sacrifices have given me more rewards than cost, so it’s all been so worth it.

Sure, I would like to have never had to deal with this TBI stuff. But it’s been a fact of life for me, since I was a little kid. Better to deal with it.

And what better way to do it, than hacking into it, taking my life apart, and then putting it back together in all new ways?

The sun is up, and it’s looking like a beautiful day.

Onward.

 

 

A whole new exit strategy

It makes much more sense to me now

So, the reality of my exit is starting to sink in. I’ve been back and forth on this for quite some time, and it’s been weighing on my mind. I’ve been through the whole grieving process around it, and I’m finally at a place where I am feeling comfortable and good about things.

The one thing that has held me back from moving on has been the idea that I have to stay to follow through on a program I’m supposed to be putting in place. It’s a huge project with a ton of visibility, and I have NOT had the time to focus on it, because I’ve been “in the weeds” of day-to-day maintenance, and just keeping things going. I haven’t wanted to leave before my big project launches, because I didn’t want to abandon the project and have it fail.

But I realized yesterday that I actually have an alternative – a break from my dreaded plan of action. I’ve been thinking that I’ll need to stick around until July, when my big project rolls out. But now that I think about it, I may not need to stay even that long. There are some personnel shifts going on with my team, and my “official” manager is coming back from family leave in May, so the person who has been temporarily managing me will be freed up in May.

If I leave before July, they can take over my responsibilities and roll out the project that I’ve been putting together. They’re more suited to rolling it out, anyway. They’re much more social, much more connected, much better at connecting with people and making things happen within the organization.

Professionally, I need to stay on the technical side, and be more localized in my work… not be dragged all over creation in the company, networking with a gazillion different people.

How tiresome that is for me. But it really energizes my temporary boss.

And it would be a huge feather in their cap, to roll this out.

For me, tying myself and my future to this project is actually keeping me from getting on with my life and doing what I need to do. It’s not even the kind of work I want to be doing, long-term, so any more time and energy I invest in it will be wasted. My past experience will be wasted. My future prospects will be wasted. This project presents one problem after another for my career and my ability to earn a good living. Seriously, staying in this “pocket” of experience cuts back the amount of money I can make by tens of thousands of dollars.

And that’s no good.

It’s funny — as I’m re-learning my technical skills, I am realizing that I am actually better at programming than I was before. I realize that in the past, I thought I was really good, and that I understood everything… but I really didn’t. Looking back at the code I’ve written before (as I did last night), I see that my technique left a lot to be desired. But I never really understood it, because I was still working with the unaddressed issues of multiple mild traumatic brain injuries. All those concussions over the years really screwed up my thinking process and blinded me to my limitations.

Now, coming in with a new perspective, basically learning a lot of things from scratch, I realize just how much my thinking technique and my programming has actually improved.

And rather than needing to leave that line of work because of the different ways my brain works, finding the new and better ways of dealing with problem-solving has made me even better qualified to pursue it.

So… onward.

 

 

 

 

 

Another fasting day today

A day without food means a day with more time, more focus, more clarity

Today I fast again. It’s been about a month, and I’m feeling like I need to focus my energy more, instead of building my day around breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I have a lot that I want to get done, and the whole hunger-tyranny thing is getting in my way.

I spend way too much time during the day, thinking about where my next meal is coming from. I have no shortage of nutritious food around me. All I need to do is buy it and/or prepare it. I don’t eat a lot of junk food, and my diet is fairly limited, because that’s what’s healthy for me.

But I find myself spending an awful lot of time thinking about food, planning my meals, and thinking about what I’m going to eat in a few hours. I spend too much time thinking about whether or not I’m hungry, what I should eat, how much I should eat, and

It just takes up too much of my time. And I have way too much to do, to spend a lot of time frittering away my hours thinking about… food.

Plus, I have a fairly easy day today — no long commute, because I’m working remotely, and I don’t have a ton of critical meetings today. I have a fairly balanced schedule, and I should also be able to get a nap in there, somewhere. Just a short one. On the new bed I’m getting delivered today.

I’ve been sleeping on the same mattress and box spring since 1989. I know. It’s crazy. 25 years is way too long to be sleeping on the same bed. It also dates back to my first marriage, which was pretty much of a disaster, so it will be good to get it out of the house.

Why didn’t I do this before? Simple. Money. Beds are expensive, and frankly I like the old style mattresses better than the new ones. There’s been a sort of comfort in the familiarity, to tell the truth. And it’s been years since I had any association between the mattress and my first (failed) marriage.

So yeah… time. Fasting to save the time of planning meals, eating, and then digesting. Fasting to get my head back on straight. Fasting to get free of the impulses that drive me by instinct and reflex… getting out of the reactivity, and into deciding for myself what I will feel and think and do.

I applied for a job today with one of my old employers. I was with them for over 10 years, total, and they’re the place I worked when I fell in 2004 and had that TBI that really screwed me up. I wasn’t able to hang in there with them for more than a year after my brain injury, and that’s where things really melted down for me. I went back and worked for them, a few years ago – just prior to my current position. I was still on the mend — it was five years ago, that I was back with them again for about a year.

I had a mixed experience with them, the last time I was there, and I was happy to leave. But the past four years have been unbelievably trying for me, in this new position, and even though I have really made great strides in my recovery, I wouldn’t mind going back to a company that has a clue. The company I’ve been with for the past four years has a long way to go before they’re worth working for. It started out okay, then the restructurings started to happen, and now they’ve tipped even closer to useless.

Of course, in a world where people just move on ever few years, who the hell cares about whether things will work properly in the long run?

That’s the mindset I’ve adopted, lately. It’s a little sad, that I’ve just let go of the idea of staying there. I do enjoy the people I work with — somewhat. Mostly, the appeal of my teammates is that they are familiar to me. I don’t absolutely hate every single one of my coworkers, which is a plus. A handful of them, I enjoy talking to. But I don’t seek them out for company while I’m at work. Ironically, I have a better rapport with people I don’t work directly with — who I know from socializing in line at the cafeteria or getting coffee or water in the employee lounge.

And to be honest, if I never saw most of these people again in all my life, I wouldn’t care. I just wouldn’t. I don’t miss the ones who have moved on, and I can’t imagine I’m going to miss many of them when I move on. I’m not even sure why I bother with most of them on Facebook.

Anyway, I’ll get what I can out of the experience I’m having, and quit worrying about the change that comes along with finding a new position in a new place.

I just figured something out that can free me up to move sooner than I’ve been expecting to, and that really takes a load off my mind. Getting more flexible with my thinking… that’s a good thing, for sure.

That’s one of the things that fasting does for me — it gets me thinking along different lines. It gets me out of my comfortable routine — if only for a day. And it frees up the energy and time I’d usually spend spinning my wheels about meals, to think about other more important things – like my next steps. It clears my head — all the junk gets sorted into separate piles, and I’m not on autopilot like I usually am. And that’s good.

So, the day is waiting for me to step up.

Onward.

When I calm down, everything changes

So, I haven’t been doing as much sitting and breathing as I was before.

I almost feel like I don’t actually need to, right now. I get to a certain point where I am comfortable and not in pain, and I don’t feel like I need to do anything “extra” over and above my daily activities.

Of course, that’s not necessarily the case.  I still need to sit and breathe, even if I am feeling calm and good. I still have stress, and I still have situations in my days that I need to manage and take the edge off. So I’m working the sitting and breathing into my daily routine at a time that’s better suited, than first thing in the morning. I’ve been getting to bed earlier than I have been, over the past months and years, and I’m taking a few minutes to just sit and breathe, to get myself to chill out.

I still need to take care of myself, even though I don’t necessarily feel like I do.

And when I am in a good space and feeling calm, I can see that fact. When I’m stressed out and I think “I feel good”, I don’t do the things I need to do to stay healthy. When I’m not calm and I’m on edge, everything feels like it’s made out of plastic, and nothing is real, and nothing really matters.

If that makes any sense…

But when I am calm, everything changes.

It’s like I get my life back. And I can breathe again. I can feel again. Everything is real again.

So, that’s where I’m putting my attention, these days: Keeping it real, keeping myself calm. And not letting everything get hold of me the way it used to.

That’s progress.

Onward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second chances – found by accident

I have a full day ahead of me. And it’s all good. I have some programming techniques to learn and test out, and I have some documentation to write. I have some busy-work to do for my day job, and I have another set of house chores I need to take care of.

The beauty part is, I can get it all done. I can do the programming for a few hours this morning, while everything is quiet… then I can move on to the chores that need to get done. Then I can have my lunch and a nap, and then move on to the other things for work-work. I’ll get a little bit of exercise, while I’m running my errands, and I’ll get out and about a bit. Heck, I might even be able to catch up with some friends for lunch.

On second thought, I need to not cram too much stuff into my day. I need to keep things simple, because life will become complicated enough on its own. Just because it does.

I feel incredibly hopeful, because I know that I don’t have to run out of steam and drag through the second half of my day like the walking dead. I don’t have to live that way anymore – especially because today is Saturday, and I don’t have to be anywhere, or do anything that I don’t choose to be or do. And tomorrow is Sunday, which gives me yet another day to move at my own pace, get things done, and really take good care of myself and my life.

Now that I have figured out how much just a 20 minutes of sleep in the afternoon helps me, and I have found a way to make sure I get a nap in regularly, it’s like I have a whole new lease on life. Seriously. It makes all the difference in the world, to not have to cram all my important activities into the first two hours of each day, and then spend the rest of the day worried that I’m not going to have the energy or the resources to make it through in top shape.

Having a nap in the middle of the day is like having two days instead of just one. It’s like that stock split at Google, which has pretty much cemented the two founders’ control over the company. Having some more rest in the middle of the day, when I have completely wiped myself out with all my going… and then having a second chance to pick up where I left off.. or just start something completely new… THAT is an amazing thing.

The other amazing thing is that having a nap in the afternoon actually helps me get to sleep at night. I can just allow myself to feel tired, not push myself through like a crazy person. I can just let myself feel exhausted, not force myself to be ON, like I used to have to, before I got into the whole nap thing. And when I really get into feeling how I feel, and I allow myself to just feel tired, then I can call it quits for the day, when it makes sense to do it, and just get myself to bed.

I did that last night, when my spouse wanted me to stay up and watch more episodes of a show we both really enjoy. I wanted to stay up a bit longer, and they wanted me to do it, too. But I just couldn’t do it. So I turned in at 11:30 — later than I wanted to, but earlier than I might have. After all, it was Friday night, so I “deserve a break” and should stay up as long as I damn’ well please, right?

Wrong. Staying up that late does a number on me. And today I woke up at about 5:30, so that means I got maybe 6 hours of sleep, if I’m lucky, which is not enough.

The pressure’s off, though, because I can always nap later. And because I have been getting more sleep lately, and I know I will have time later to nap, I don’t feel this intense pressure to be ON for the next four hours — or else. I can relax. And that’s so important.

Another benefit of getting additional sleep is that I have been making better choices with the time and energy that I do have. I have a number of new things I need to learn, and it’s easy for me to spin my wheels and run in a million different directions, but I’m better able to stop myself from getting too distracted, and I’m finding it easier to just choose to NOT do or learn or try certain things.

Life is better with naps. And I realize how much it was stressing me out, to feel like I only had about four good hours each day to work with. Nobody really gets just how exhausted I am — all. the. time.  They just seem to assume that because I can keep going, I should keep going. That because I don’t complain or draw attention to my exhaustion, it must not be that bad.

It has been bad. The fatigue has been crazy. And it really screwed up my life for years and years.

But now I have alternatives, and it’s good.

Onward.