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.

Three days of freedom. Absolute freedom.

Time to just chill with the reading list

I’m OFF this weekend. That is to say, I have an extra day off work, which I will value and use to the best of my ability:

  • I’ll read whatever I like, wandering the internet (especially the free text sites — the Internet Archive, and Project Gutenberg)
  • I’ll write whatever I like, typing up the handwritten notes and thoughts I’ve collected over the past week
  • I’ll sleep whenever I want, taking plenty of naps and resting up from the past week
  • I’ll eat whatever I want, whenever I want — and I’ll fast, too. For the record, eating whatever I want means I’ll make healthy choices of the foods I have in my refrigerator and cupboards. At work they have a good salad bar, but that’s about all I can really eat in their establishment. Everything else is “standard fare” that doesn’t do me (or the other overweight people around me) much good.
  • I’ll exercise however I want. I had extra time this morning to lift heavier weights and get my blood pumping. It feels really good, right now, after that workout. And I know I’m on the right path.

The great thing about having an extra day off — especially with it being the holiday — is that all my noisy neighbors are gone. They’ve all gone off to their families’ lake or beach cottages to gather with their own friends and family. That means the neighborhood is

.  .  .  q   u   i   e   t  .  .  .

Deliciously, restoratively quiet.

There isn’t all sorts of random racket from my over-achieving Type-A uber-adult peers who can’t seem to leave the power tools alone on the weekends. There isn’t all sorts of activity, with cars and pickups and minivans pulling in and out of their driveways. And there isn’t a lot of yelling and screaming and banging and clunking coming from kids who are just doing what kids do, and have every right to do it… but who drive me nuts with all their noisy activity.

It’s good for everyone. Everybody else gets to do what they want to do, and I get to do what I need to do — rest, relax, take plenty of time to unwind and let my mind off its leash… And nobody has to be held back or put down by what anyone else is doing.

That’s all I really want — the ability to be free to be myself and pursue my own interests without having to waste time on interacting with other people who seem mainly interested in proving what fine citizens they are. I don’t need to prove that. Before I fell and hit my head in 2004, I needed to do that more than anything. I was in competition with the rest of the world to show that I was worth something, that I could do anything I set my mind to, that I was worth noticing and taking seriously.

After I fell — and my world fell apart — I learned the hard way, how important it is to not let that drive me. Now my life and my priorities are very, very different.

One thing about TBI, is that it teaches you to stand on your own, regardless of what others think. It teaches you to stand up for yourself and not take things for granted. It teaches you to keep a level head and just be who you are and how you are, regardless.  And it teaches you to value the simple things in life — a quiet long weekend, when the neighbors are all gone, the area is quiet, and you don’t have a million people clamoring for your attention and energy.

Now… what shall I look up on line…?

Tired, but still feeling good

A vastly better cup of coffee

Something has really turned around for me. I have been noticing it recently – I have not felt that same bone-crushing fatigue that used to just Wipe. Me. Out. I used to feel so awful, if I had not had enough sleep — even if I did get enough sleep, I still felt awful. It was like I was constantly running on fumes.

But ever since I started drinking coffee with grass-fed butter and MCT oil in it, it hasn’t felt that way. I can feel tired, sure, but not like I’ve been flattened by a steamroller. And when I do feel tired, I’m able to take myself to bed more easily.

Each morning, I start my day with this special mix of coffee — I call it rocket fuel. It’s pretty phenomenal. And it seems to really be affecting me for the better. I’ve also been taking some capsules that have butter oil and cod liver oil in them — more oils the body needs. In fact, there have been documented cases of people literally coming back from their deathbeds, thanks to that combination of butter oil and cod liver oil.

That’s kind of how I feel. Like I’m back from the dead. I feel like I’m actually capable of participating in my everyday life, even though I’m behind on my sleep. In fact, I don’t feel like I’m behind on my sleep at all.  I mean, I know I have not gotten a full 8 hours of sleep, and I know that I should, and I’m dragging a bit (sometimes.a lot) now and then, but it’s not that old killer exhaustion that just fried me like nobody’s business.

Plus, even when I’m tired, I’m still thinking more clearly than I have in a long time.

And it makes me think that when it comes to brain injury recovery, good nutrition — especially getting the nutrients your brain and body need for energy — is key. Without the proper nutrition and sources of energy for your brain and body, how the hell are you going to heal and improve? Brain training is all very well and good — I love doing it. But if my brain doesn’t have the proper support to make those changes and physically alter itself for the better, building up different synapses and connections, then WTH?

Why even bother?

And that’s the thing that has really eluded me, all these years — the proper nutrition that zeroed in on the specific needs I had that were not being met — certain kinds of oils and fats that my body and brain needs for energy. For so long, I relied on carbs to keep me going. Carbs and sugar and unhealthy fats.  That, in my opinion, is the biggest culprit that prevents TBI recovery — poor nutrition that puts you on a physical and emotional roller-coaster, and keeps your mind and body stressed for the sake of cheap energy.

That energy always goes away. It always disappears. We have trained ourselves — individually and as a group — to revel in eating and drinking that cheap energy that weakens us, instead of making us stronger. It literally is killing us, in so many, many ways. And it’s keeping a lot of us from getting better from the things that are doing us in.

It’s funny — I’m sure that I’ve heard a lot of people say this, over the years. But not until I had the personal experience myself, did it sink in. Having other people tell me things just isn’t the same as me experiencing things for myself. I have a kind of “expert filter” that’s hyper-active, because in our marketing-driven world, where everyone is selling something, and everyone is billed as an expert in one thing or other, I tend to actively discount their input. It’s all very well and good for someone to present themself as very knowledgeable in certain areas, and hearing what they say can be compelling. But unless I can have the experience myself and find something that works for me, all their expertise doesn’t impress me terribly much.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve been knocking around on the planet long enough to know lots of things for myself.

Anyway, whatever the reason, I rely on my own experience. And I’ve got plenty.

My most recent experience has to do with simply feeling better.

Getting a new bed. Drinking my rocket-fuel coffee in the morning. Juggling. Doing my brain training exercises. Cutting out sugar and carbs. Eating right. Eating less. Intermittent fasting. Doing all these things to support my physical health has really improved the state of my brain and mind. It’s all good.

And I feel a lot less tired. It’s amazing. I know I’m tired. I’m just not wiped out and really struggling like I have been for years. I have energy. I’m alert. And even when I know I am tired and feel it, it’s not killing me like it used to. It’s just there, and I can function anyway.

Oh, sure – there are those times when I am really struggling with fatigue. Yesterday I had to step away and sleep for 20 minutes. I was completely wiped out by mid-afternoon. But I was able to actually remove myself from my work space and chill, without getting all tangled up in a foggy brain and indecision.

I knew what I had to do, and I did it.

There it is.

The day is waiting. ON-ward.

Finally got to sleep last night

Getting ready for action

I’m giving notice today.

This weekend has been a tough one. Looking back, I can think of 20 different things I could have done differently to make it easier and more enjoyable for myself, but I did the best I could, under the circumstances. I really should have exercised more… but that’s water under the bridge, and I was so stressed and nervous about how I will handle myself today when I give notice… I could really feel it, with my blood pressure surging, my anxiety at an all-time high, adrenaline pumping through my veins non-stop, and all the thoughts in my head going wild — not a good feeling.

I’ll be very happy when today is over, and I can start transitioning to my next job.

Last night, I started to bed early-ish (10:30) and had every intention of getting to sleep as soon as possible. I was so tired — wiped out — I thought I’d be able to easily fall asleep.

Untrue.

I tossed and turned for another hour… then past that… all the anxiety pumping through me, the sadness, the upset, the frustration, the anger, the resentment, the regret, the loss… all of it. I could not get comfortable AND my head would not shut up.

The same thing happened to me earlier on Sunday, when I tried to take a nap. It just wasn’t happening. So, I just lay there and tried to relax. It was something. But I really needed the sleep instead. Oh, well.

So, last night (or rather, this morning) as the clock ticked farther and farther past midnight, I read my Legends of the Samurai book. That always helps me put things in perspective. Reading about warriors who overcame odds and did an elegant job of it (or who screwed up and were disgraced, but still survived) is a great mental tune-up for me. The stories are so basic, so fundamental, so human. Stories of courage and cunning, betrayal and defeat, uprisings and victory… just the sort of things I need to read about, to put my own mind at ease.

The main thing is finding a way to not feel so alone. When I read about the obstacles those warriors had to overcome, all those hundreds of years ago, it reminds me that I’m not the only one who has to face these sorts of things — and yes, it can be done with intelligence and skill.

I don’t know how today is going to go for me. I’m sure it will be challenging.

If nothing else, it will be an experience.

I just need to stay strong, not let others beat me down and treat me like crap and take out their frustrations on me. I need to stand my ground and just do what needs to be done. And be quit of this multinational corporation that cares about me even less than it cares about its office furniture.

Onward.

Rest is my friend – five things that changed my habits for the better

Go to sleep, I’m a bear… Wake up, I’m better.

Today is another “on” day for me. Yesterday I had to step away from my LIST of to-do items that I’d put together on Friday, and just move at a more restful pace. I’ve been pushing pretty hard all week, with a lot of good ideas which promise to bring good things to me.

But by Saturday morning, all the Activity caught up with me, and I had to just back off a bit. I juggled a bit in the morning, wrote a little bit, then got together with friends, took a long nap, and got up to do a little bit here and there in the evening.

All in all, it was a good day. There were some things I was really hoping to get done (some that I really needed to get done), but I didn’t. And that’s that. I don’t really care, right now. The main thing was, I got some rest, caught up with myself, and gave myself some breathing room.

That’s important. I tend to push myself so hard — overachiever that I am — that I don’t give myself enough down-time to recoup. And that is far more damaging than any lack of ambition or “failure to launch”. Overwork and overtrainng are all very well and good for the short term. I almost have to do it, sometimes, to get things to lodge in my brain permanently.

But every single day of every single week of every single month of every single year?

Thankfully, I’m learning to do things differently.

It’s interesting, what changed that mindset for me. Most of the time, I try to overpower my unhealthy tendencies with raw, brute force. Willpower. Resolve. Even a bit of guilt. But that doesn’t work. What does work, is introducing a new piece of information into the mix that provides a better Idea about what will be most effective.

Case in point: Rest. And its importance.

I have intellectually “known” for a long time that rest is important. It helps the brain consolidate memories. It helps the body remove toxins from the brain. It is important for rebuilding the capabilities that you’ve fried, in the course of everyday overwork.  I know that rest helps me keep emotionally centered, as well. It keeps me from snapping out. It keeps me from getting depressed. It gives me a great sense of well-being and ability.

But have I made a point of getting to bed at a decent time and sleeping all the way through the night?

Until recently, not so much. I “knew” I was supposed to, I had the whole raft of ideas about how helpful it was. But not until I had an Experience of the incredible help that rest gives me, have I enthusiastically gone to bed at a decent hour — during the week before 11 p.m., on the weekends, before midnight.

What changed things? Having a bunch of good great experiences with Rest, that really brought home how much it helps me.

First, actually being able to rest in bed has been huge. I bought a new bed a couple of weeks ago, and ever since then, I have not had any trouble falling asleep. I used to lie in bed for hours, unable to sleep. I couldn’t afford a new bed. And I had to make do with what I had. But it was rough. I never actually put it together that the problem was the bed. I figured it was just how things were. For some reason I didn’t get that the lumpy mattress that wasn’t flat and forced me to balance my weight in different ways was keeping me up. Now that I have a new bed which is exactly flat and very firm, I have been falling asleep almost immediately. The only times I don’t, are when my body is seizing up from not stretching enough. But when I get out of bed and stretch, I’m able to relax, and I fall right to sleep. And I sleep pretty much through the night — except when I wake up in a sweat, which has been happening lately, with the change of seasons and the stresses at work. Now, when I think about going to bed, I don’t dread it because I expect to lie there for hours, unable to sleep.

Second, waking up rested is a whole new thing for me that puts a whole different spin on my day. I’m actually semi-functional, first thing in the morning. And with my rocket-fuel coffee that gets me going, my mornings are now something I look forward to, and get myself out of bed for. I wake up feeling so great, that I can’t wait to get to bed at night, so I can have that feeling again.

Third, getting a little bit of rest at work in the afternoons, has completely transformed my days. I used to really dread my days, because I would burn through all my energy by noontime — if not before. Then I’d spend the rest of the day scrambling to keep up, feeling like crap, eating junk food that would rev me up and make me crash, offsetting that effect with more coffee… and more coffee… and more coffee… and ending up so wired by the evening, that I could not fall sleep, even if I was on a decent bed. Taking a quick power nap for 20 minutes in the afternoon, when I just can’t go on anymore, has completely turned that around. Now I know the pressure is off, and if I need to step away and take a nap — or just close my eyes for a short while — I can do it. I generally keep a couple of hours open and free of scheduled meetings, most afternoons of my week, just so I know I can step away, if need be. And I do it. It makes all the difference in the world, to sleep — or simply relax. The boost I get, coming back after a nap, not only makes me more productive, but it makes me feel so much better about myself and my abilities, that I actually don’t mind being at work. I don’t dread and resent it the way I used to, which is a real blessing.

Fourth, learning to juggle much faster than I thought possible — after giving myself time to rest in between practice sessions — is truly inspirational. I love having this feeling of surprise and delight that I can actually keep more than one ball in the air. I never thought I could juggle. I tried many times in the past, and it never “worked”. But now I am learning pretty quickly, and the thing that seems to make the difference, is Rest.

The first day I was trying to keep a couple of balls in the air, I did it for a count of 42, max.

Then 37 times.

Then 35.

Things were clearly not improving, so I lay down and took a nap.

And when I got up, I kept the balls in the air for 135 tosses. That’s quite the improvement. What a confidence-booster! And I credit Rest for that.

Last but not least, I like myself a whole lot better when I’m rested. I am much easier to live with — both inside my head and outside. I have a higher tolerance for frustration. I can think more clearly about things to come up with good solutions. I don’t have the same temper flares, my fuse is a lot longer, and I don’t have the extreme outbursts that come when I’m really wiped out. Just the other evening, after helping a friend move, I started harassing my spouse about something they had done that was troublesome, but not exactly catastrophic. I had it in my head that if they kept doing this, Something Would Go Terribly Wrong, and I needed to “nip it in the bud”, so to speak.

The net result was that we were both pretty unhappy by the time the conversation was through, and I felt like sh*t as a result. There was no need for me to go off like that, but I did. Because I was tired. Getting more rest over the next few days did wonders for my mood and my stability. Too bad my spouse is the kind of person who holds grudges. They’ve recovered less well than I have. (But that’s on them – I’m not responsible for their state of mind, much as they’d like me to be.)

Now Rest is my friend. We’re on good terms. What a difference Good Rest makes.

Making the most of my time

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

So I stopped for the afternoon and took a nap.

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

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

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

That’s amazing progress.

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

Sweet.

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

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

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

And rest.

 

Trying to stop me? Yeah, good luck with that :)

It seemed fine in the store…

So, a week and a half ago, I bought a new bed. I’d been sleeping in my old bed — the first real bed I actually bought, back during my first marriage. That old bed was very sturdy and it worked just fine… except for the lumps and valleys here and there. Where it wasn’t buckling and uneven, it gave me really good, comfortable support, so (like many other things in my life), I “worked around” the peaks and valleys, and found a combination that let me sleep.

My sleep was okay, I guess. I was just so used to the unevenness, that I trained myself to arrange my body for the most comfortable position(s). And since my spouse and I sleep in separate rooms (we have for over 5 years, and it was the best thing we’d done for each other in a long time), I could stretch out pretty much any way I chose.

Except that I couldn’t. Because the bed was so uneven.

Anyway, a week and a half ago, I bit the bullet and went out and bought a new bed. I got it at a reputable furniture place, where they had a whole “sleep science” section, complete with a computer that measured where your weight was distributed and then recommended a certain type of mattress for you. I knew what brand I wanted — Sealy Posturepedic — and I knew I did NOT want a pillow-top, because I feel like I’m being smothered, and I can’t move in them.

The salesperson who helped me was very keen on making sure I got the right mattress. I told them I can’t do a pillow-top, and I tried out a couple of options before I settled on a very firm one that had a foam top. I had my reservations about the foam, and I said so, but the salesperson reassured me that it was designed to support my back and keep it straight the whole night long. They said the way we sleep is all wrong, and our backs aren’t supported, so we develop back problems. Logically, it made sense to me. And the computer graphic made a very convincing point.

I had my reservations, but lying on the bed in the store, it felt pretty much okay. At least, I thought it did, under the circumstances. And the circumstances were not ideal to be making a big decision. I was tired from not having slept enough the night before, having gotten up early and driven around and run a bunch of errands all morning. The store was huge and overwhelming, the lighting made it hard for me to see, and there were a lot of people milling around. I was on overload, and I wasn’t handling the environment all that great.

But I had to get a bed. I had gone to the store to do so, and by God, I was going to do it. The mattress felt better than others I’d tried. Anyway, even if it did feel a little “off”, the salesperson told me the bed would “break in” over the course of a couple of weeks, before it started to feel like “my bed”. I would also need to rotate it, periodically, but I couldn’t flip it, because the foam was only on one side.

I just wanted to get out of there, really. And I figured I had to trust someone. So I took the salesperson’s word for it, and I shelled out about twice as much money as I was planning to. But I figured it was money well spent  — I know I need to get better sleep, so this was an investment in that quest.

You get what you pay for, right? That was my thinking, anyway.

The mattress was delivered before the week was out, and I was really happy to have a new bed. It felt kind of strange to see my original bed hauled away so unceremoniously, because I’ve probably spent more time with it, over the course of the past 25 years, than with any other person or thing in my life. It’s also done more for me, than 90% of the people (and things) I’ve had in my life. It seemed somehow… ungrateful… to just bag it up and haul it away to end up on a trash heap somewhere. But so it goes.

Once I had my new bed in place, with its new mattress protector and clean sheets and blankets in place, I was really excited. So, as I often do when I’m happy to be headed for bed, I jumped on top — and did not bounce. My landing was buffered by the foam top, which stopped my motion and absorbed the weight of my jump.

Huh.

I wasn’t used to that. I’m used to a bounce. I like the bounce.

I lay down and tried a number of different positions — side — back — other side — stomach — and it still felt weird. Okay, I thought, I have to break this thing in. It’s going to take a few weeks before it starts to feel normal.

So, I gave it time.

And more time.

And more time.

And the only thing that seems to have happened, is I’ve pressed yet another trough into my bed — but this time the trough is padded, and I can’t roll out of it, because the foam blocks me. I literally cannot move, when I’m down in the trough that’s been pressed into the foam for five hours by my motionless body. When I wake up at 3 a.m. in pain, I can’t just roll over and find a more comfortable position, because the foam has molded to my body shape, and instead of rolling across a gentle plain, I’m climbing mountains, trying to get out.

And my torso is lower than my legs. Which means my back is torqued. And if I roll on my side, my legs are angled up, higher than my body, which screws up my hips. And my neck and shoulders… don’t even get me started. The one saving grace is that I didn’t let the salesperson “measure” me for a new pillow. Please. Who does that? The lower and flatter and firmer my pillow is, the better. I’ve tried custom fitted ones, and they do not work for me.

Holy crap. Not only have I spent a buttload of money (“buttload” has nothing to do with your ass, by the way — A butt is actually a traditional unit of volume that is used for wines and other alcoholic beverages. A butt is defined to be 2 hogsheads, which in the US is 63 gallons. There- you’ve learned something new today) — but I spent all that money on something that’s even worse than the original that I replaced.

Okay, so maybe I could return the mattress. It’s been nearly two weeks, and I’ve figured out by now that I cannot handle this soft-top mattress. Like I told the salesperson, I can’t do pillow-tops, and the soft top makes me feel terrible. Even if it’s not a pillow-top, having that foam top on the mattress keeps me from moving around and getting more comfortable. In the case that I’m in pain — which is frequently — I need to readjust my position, so I can sleep.

I got my receipt and warranty information, but when I read about the return policy, it said there was a 7-day limit on returns. And I was on Day 10. Oh. That’s not good. From what I read in the paperwork, I was stuck with this bed. Like it or not. Comfortable or not.

It’s been screwing with my sleep in a very big way. First of all, I haven’t been sleeping through the night, every single night. When I sleep through, I’m fine. But when I wake up at 3 a.m. — like today — I can’t get comfortable. I cannot just roll over and go back to sleep. I cannot just roll over, period. Because I’m sunk down into the foam, and it’s not giving to make room for me.

Sh*t.

And then, on top of it, I start beating myself up, because I let that damn’ salesperson talk me into buying that bed, against my own better judgment. And I get upset because I spent so much money, and I don’t have the money to replace it. And I didn’t check the warranty soon enough, and I trusted a salesperson (of all people). Which all just keeps me awake. Even if I could get comfortable on the bed — which I can’t — my spinning head would keep me up.

Anyway, this morning after spinning my wheels for several hours, it occurred to me that maybe I could flip the mattress and put the foam side down. If it’s a hybrid mattress with springs on the inside and foam on the top, then maybe I could flip it over and sleep on the coil side.

So, at 5 a.m., that’s what I did. Pulled the blankets and sheets and mattress cover off it, and flipped it over on the box spring. And lo and behold, it seems to work. I might just have mattress I can sleep on. It’s firm like I need it, and it’s level. It also has a little bounce, and I can roll around on it and get comfortable like I need to. I’m not out all that money with no viable options, and I don’t have to send a nastygram to the salesperson to see if they’ll take it back… or list my mattress on Craigslist… or see if anyone I know wants it. I can keep what I bought. And if the surface gets a little too hard for me, I can find a pad to put down that won’t suck me into a trough that contorts me all out of whack.

This is good. I figured it out. I don’t have to suffer, I don’t have to make the best of it. I don’t have to go ballistic. I don’t have to beat myself up and come up with Plan B. I have options, and with a little creative thinking and flexibility, I’ll figure something out. I usually do.

And with that, it’s time to get on with my day.

Onward.

 

Knowing when to call it a day

I had a pretty long day, today. I’ve been wrangling with some logic problems I’ve been studying, and I’m not getting any closer to a solution (I think).

So, it’s time to pack it in, get some rest, and hopefully the answer will emerge in the next few days.

Bottom line is, if I’m tired, I’m not going to be thinking that well, anyway, so I might as well make the most of the opportunity and sleep.

Just sleep.

Tomorrow is another day.

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.

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