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.

The most magic 30 minutes of my day

Yeah, that’s the ticket…

Yesterday I had a nap. I stepped away from my desk for about half an hour to recharge my batteries. I walked 5 minutes to my car, which was in underground parking quite a ways from my office, put the seat back, put the headphones on, made myself comfortable, and I did my progressive relaxation.

I even got about 15 minutes of sleep in the process.

And when I woke up (which was 2 minutes before the alarm I’d set), I felt amazing. Refreshed. Alive. Human.

Then I collected myself, walked the 5 minutes back to my office, and I got on with the rest of my day.

I have heard it said that naps can disrupt your sleeping pattern, and it’s better to keep yourself awake and go to bed early. They obviously do not push themselves to perform at the level I do, from the moment I wake up in the morning. From the moment my feet hit the floor, I’m in GO mode. I have to be, because getting myself up in the morning is a monumental task that takes everything I have, some days.

Anybody who thinks I can make it through my day on a night’s worth of sleep has obviously never experienced the kind of exhaustion point I get to, around 2:00 p.m. each and every day. It is pretty brutal. By the time the afternoon rolls around, I’ve been going full-tilt-boogie for 6-8 hours. I can continue push through, sure, but I am good for nothing, the rest of the afternoon. Seriously, good for nothing. Even the things that I love doing — and that I push myself to do — turn out to be a waste of time.

Wheels spin. But they get no traction.

But if I can sleep… that is another story.

Knowing that I can sleep later on, and that I’ll be able to recharge my batteries, also makes it possible for me to push harder at the beginning of the day. When I think I’m going to have to pace myself… that my energy stores from a night’s sleep are going to have to last me all day, I hold myself back in the mornings. I’ve just now realized this, actually. When I wake up tired

Today is a completely new day — or so I keep telling myself. I’m a little tired this morning, to be honest. It’s been a long week, and I’m tired already at 7:00 a.m. I will pick up speed later today, when I am working. I’m not going into the office, so I have more time to focus on working, and less to spend driving. I also have more time to spend thinking about my own projects and making some good progress on them — without the pressure of daily performance of way too much work in way too little time.

So, there is hope for me today. I don’t have to be subjected to the upset and uncertainties of all the people around me (I came back from my nap yesterday to find my teammates huddled in a corner bitching and complaining about working conditions.) I can set my own pace and do my own work, without others interfering with their emotional incontinence.

It’s a relief not to be at the office, because the environment there is pretty depressing. It’s just a constant pressure cooker of uncertainty and chaos. When I say “chaos”, I mean there is a total lack of recognizable patterns to anything that happens. That is to say, there is no regular cadence, no regular pace, not much that’s predictable at all, from a day-to-day standpoint. It’s constant interruption and constant uncertainty. It’s not like I need any guarantees in life. But it would be nice to be able to not have everyone around me intent on interrupting my train of thought to ask me questions they can answer themselves.

It’s almost as though they are just stopping by to feel a little relief from their uncertainty.

As a matter of fact, I think that’s exactly what they’re doing — just stopping by to get a little boost to their self-confidence and sense of belonging. Because that’s what I bring to the table — respect for others, the ability to calm people down when they are all worked up, and a certain sense of calm in the center of the storm.

On the bright side, it’s great that I’m able to do this for people. On the downside, it doesn’t help me get my work done… and it’s actually keeping me from making progress in my own workload. Other people not being able to manage their own internal state, is probably the biggest hurdle to my own productivity. It’s not that their frame of mind is upsetting me. They are literally keeping me from doing my work, because they keep running to me and interrupting me and hijacking my workflow, to answer questions they never should have had to ask.

Sigh.

Anyway, in another 13 weeks, this is going to cease to be my problem. Oh, hell — if I can get things wrapped up before then, I’ll be free to go even earlier. I don’t have to be locked into a specific timeframe. I have had this July deadline in my mind, because that’s when I’m scheduled to be done with my big-ass project. But I might get things done even before that.

So, there’s some leeway there. And I’ve just thought of a way I can speed things up — some of the stuff I’m depending on others to do for me, I can do myself. They’re not experienced (or actually smart) enough to figure it out. Plus, they friggin’ hate my guts for reasons that are all about their crappy self-regulation, their incompetence, their jealousy, their brown-nosed politicking (which cannot stand the glare of objective scrutiny), and their sad work ethic (or lack thereof — I actually expect them to do their jobs, ogre that I am)… as well as shoddy management which just lets them get away with anything they damn’ well please.

So, the inmates are running the asylum. In a very big way.

And I have less than no confidence in them.

But the happy and sane part is, it doesn’t matter. They can be all pissy and pitch their hissy fits from their corner of the corporate cosmos. I can just work around everyone, and actually get sh*t done. I don’t have to be dependent on them to get their acts together, in order to move forward. And on top of that, I can be sharpening some excellent skills of my own in the meantime.

This task is a huge opportunity, but those idiots are not seeing it. I can see it plain as day, and I can hear the trumpets from heaven loud and clear. Their ineptitude is opening a door for me to step through, and that makes me incredibly happy, now that I think about it. For that matter, I can spend my weekend working on this, and actually get it all done in time for Monday — AND have it be an excellent investment in my future.

So, that’s good. And it’s giving me a big boost. It’s not all a waste of my time. It’s not all an exercise in futility. Far from it. It’s actually a positive thing, and turning it around in my mind to see the opportunity and the door opening a little more to my fantastic future is the first step in the right direction.

As long as my head is clear about this, and I’m rested and energized and keeping my batteries charged, it’s all good.

Later today I will have my nap. My magical 30 minutes to recharge my batteries. But for now, it’s…

Onward.

 

A tool to help me sleep

CBT-i Coach

I have been poking around on the Apple App Store, and I found a great little app for helping me deal with my sleep issues. It’s called CBT-i Coach, and it’s a mobile phone app for vets, service members, and others who are in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia.

I’m not in CBT, but I think this could really help me.

I’ve been filling in the details for my sleeping habits, and there’s nothing like having all the data right there in front of you, to tell you where you are.

They also have relaxation and mind-body exercises (although the audio doesn’t seem to work on mine unfortunately), and they have information on developing good sleep habits and getting rid of habits that interfere with sleep.

This looks promising to me. It’s another tool I can use – and it already feels like I have another helper in my corner, to assist with my sleep problems.

Just wanted to share that.

A much-needed break

So, I have been getting acupuncture on a weekly basis, now, and it really seems to be helping me. It’s definitely helping my back – yesterday when I cracked my neck, the top of my back got in on the action, and I felt everything fall into place from the base of my skull to just below my shoulder blades.

Pretty awesome.

Whenever I crack my back (or other joints), I get an immediate rush of relief – like things can let go, at last.

It’s all good.

I’ve been stretching in general, and I’ve actually lost a few pounds, so I’m feeling more limber and flexible these days.

I’ve also been able to step away from my desk on a regular basis at work, which is helpful also. I started to post something yesterday about how weird things are at work, but it just depressed me, so I stopped writing and trashed the post.

I’d much rather write about the things that are going right, the ways that I’m improving my life, and the tools I use to keep positive and moving forward.

Feedback is a huge thing for me — internal feedback, especially. It’s a sort of science, I guess, with all the observation of what’s going on with me, how it’s affecting my life, and what I can do with what I learn. Just watching myself go through my daily routine, is instructive. I’ve been getting the hang of giving myself a break — not being so intently focused on having everything turn out exactly right the way it’s expected/planned. If things turn out slightly different than I want, then that’s just how it is. No need to lose my sh*t over it.

Of course, this is new for me — I used to lose my sh*t over every little thing. I think that had to do with the type of work I did for years — coding… having to make sure that every single bit and byte was properly accounted for and was functioning exactly right… and that OCD stuff carried into other areas of my life, which made me (and most people around me) either uncomfortable or downright miserable.

How pointless.

Of course, if I had continued in that line of work, I probably would have stayed that way. In a way, falling and hitting my head and not being able to do that kind of work anymore was a blessing in disguise. It really loosened me up a great deal, and got me beyond my old comfort zone. It forced me to change — and without having my old way of life cut off to me, who knows if I would have ever changed? All those previous TBIs served to make me pretty rigid to begin with, then the whole house of cards fell down in 2004, when I fell down those stairs.

It’s crazy.

But anyway, here I am, motoring along in my everyday life. I’ve had a plan to hold off on looking for another job until I have this major project nailed down and locked up tight. I really need to stay focused on that at work, but there are countless interruptions that keep me scattered at work.

I think I just need to give myself a break from email and any other kind of disruption, while I’m trying to get things done. I also need to schedule time for the BIG IMPORTANT things for when I’m rested and have more energy — earlier in the week.

I also need to step away regularly and rest — I’ve been doing that, recently … just stepping away for half an hour and resting… sometimes taking a quick 20-minute nap… and then bouncing back to wade back into it. Those naps are like the nectar of the gods. They make an extraordinary difference in my days. When I’m tired, I’m no good to anyone. When I’m

I need to just give myself a break, take control of my daily schedule and flow, and stop letting everyone chase and push and pull me all over creation. I don’t know why I keep hanging onto my old ways of doing things – I guess it’s just habit. But things have got to change. I’ve got to put this program in place before I go looking for another job, and I need to make sure everyone and everything is clear as clear can be, so that I can leave in good conscience.

Part of me wants to just fix up my resume and put it out there Right Now, and let the chips fall as they may. But that wouldn’t be any good. I need to just forget about all the distractions that come from people at work running their mouths and being all whoopdy-doop about every little change that comes along.

I’m out of there in 13 weeks and a handful of days. That’s my plan. I just need to stick with it, and take care of business, so I can not get incredibly distracted by every little thing that comes along. And save my energy. For the things that really matter most to me.

Giving myself a much-needed break is as much about adjusting my expectations and rigid requirements, as it is about getting relief from external conditions. It’s as much about learning to manage my internal state, learning how to relax and just let things go, instead of getting caught up in every single thing that is thrown my way — which is a lot, these days.

In some ways, the internal break is even more important than the external ones.

Because if my body and mind are in a good space, I can handle just about anything on the outside.

Onward…