A fresh new day

Get out there and make the most of it!

I’m feeling pretty good, this morning. I have the whole weekend ahead of me, and I feel much more focused than I have in a long time. I think the move to the new location at work is going to really help me. I will be close enough to home, that I can come home over lunchtime and take a quick nap. I think that’s going to make all the difference in the world. That, and not having to deal with long drives down the freeway in bad weather. This past week has been very tough, because the weather has been bad, and the traffic going to and from work has been pretty challenging.

In less than a week, that’s all going away, and I can live my life again. For the first time, really. I’ve never worked this close to home before, and it’s about damn’ time.

Also, in another couple of weeks, I can quit working from 7 a.m. till 8 p.m. (with intermittent breaks in between to do things like, oh, take a shower, drive to work, and grab a quick bite to eat). I’ve been working double-duty, fixing stuff that got broken, during my last couple of projects, making sure that people know what to do — and are doing it. Managing projects where cannot manage their own time and workload is no friggin’ fun, and that’s how it’s turned out to be.

Here, I thought that I could rely on others to do their jobs and finish up in good order. Untrue. They apparently only do what they’re hounded to do, and while I can do the “hound thing” (arf, arf, arf), it’s not my idea of a fun time.

Plus, the farther I get from the old world, where I was so totally stressed out about everything in my life, and the more I relax and come to my senses, the more I realize that I’m really not all that keen on working in technology or working for companies that produce stuff that people want, but do not need. There’s something about working for a company that provides a needed service (rather than luxury/consumer products and services) which really gets me going in the morning.

I used to have a job like that — I used to work in an industry like that. It was an indispensable line of work, and what we did was desperately needed — essential — for people’s lives.

Not so, nowadays. I’m managing projects that are all about stuff that people find cool and interesting, but isn’t critical to everyday life. And it feels like a bit of a waste, to be expending so much time and energy on frantically selling stuff that people could really live without.

At the same time, I’ve got to count my blessings. This job — once I get the hang of it — will be ultra-cushy, to be sure. It’s not rocket science, and since we’re not exactly dashing into danger and saving anyone from a fiery building, there’s less of the intense pressure I was under at my past employers. In my past “professional incarnation”, I worked for companies that actually kept people alive and made it possible for them to live longer, more productive lives. And there was no margin for error. Now, there’s plenty of margin for error.

People kind of wonder why I get so tweaked about things not going perfectly. It’s probably because of my past experience, where everything mattered so intensely. I just got used to working that way.

Nowadays, I can take the pressure off and relax a bit.

Although… that comes with its hazards. Now that I’m not all stressed out, I have the bandwidth to notice how I’m really doing. I’m not running from tyrannosaurus rexes anymore, so I have some time and energy to check in and notice how I’m doing. And in all honesty, it was easier in some ways, when I was stressed.

See, the thing is, all the stress and pressure and discomfort kept me “ON” — engaged, focused, and it kept my mind off the general sense of my life, which was not always that stellar. I didn’t have the time or energy to focus on how I really felt in my own skin, or how my overall system was operating. I had to just focus on putting one foot in front of the other and keeping a fine balance to everything, because I never knew if I was coming or going, there was so much chaos going on inside my head and body all the time, and I couldn’t afford to lose focus… or else.

All that chaos was a bit of a blessing, because it kept my mind off all the confusion, the frustration, the pain, the discomfort… all of it.

Now that things are calming down, I’m noticing the things I didn’t have time to think about before. Like the fact that I’m approaching 50, with a spouse who is basically disabled and is a number of years older than me, and we have no retirement fund. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. We need to make some significant house repairs, and we are just now getting close to being able to pay someone to do the work. I’m working, yes, but I have no disability insurance, and without a safety net, we’re living kind of close to the bone.

We’re getting by, and we do have a pretty sweet life, all in all, and we have a lot to be grateful for, yet there are significant ways we’re at risk, and it’s no fun thinking about “what might happen”.

I’ve been so busy, just keeping it together, that I haven’t dwelled on that very much. I’ve been too busy just keeping myself upright and functional.  I haven’t focused on the pain I’m in, I haven’t had time to deal with headaches, other than getting acupuncture and stretching and not eating a lot of crap. I haven’t had time to focus on the weird sensations in my face, the twitching and jumping. It’s all nerves, most likely, so I just keep going. If it weren’t nerves – if it were something else – I’m not sure I’d have the time and energy and resources to really explore all my options.

Now, though, things feel like they’re closing in on me, because I have time to think about them – and I’m not liking what I’m seeing. Or feeling. It’s depressing.

So, screw all that, I’m going to get myself busy again. On things that I want to be busy on — writing books, getting out in the day to have my walks and explorations, taking care of chores and odd jobs (like getting my cars inspected — I overlooked the fact that they were both due for their stickers, two months ago — just got busy, I guess). And just live my life. Get into my life, see what’s there, and use this fine new day for what it’s worth.

There is so much screwed up in my life right now, so much that feels weird and strange and trying… It’s been that way for a long time, but I’ve been so stressed out, I haven’t had the bandwidth to really address any of it. Now I’ve got the time. Maybe I’ll be able to address some of it. Maybe I’ll just end up keeping busy instead, because trying to hang onto the horns of the bucking bull that is my life, is a losing proposition.

We all have our challenges, we all have sh*t we need to deal with. I’m no exception.

Now I need to learn to handle the good times as well as I’ve learned to handle the bad.

And with that, it’s time for a walk. It’s turning out to be a beautiful day.

 

 

 

Swimming through the downwelling — Got my STP going on

Good stuff for a tired-ass rainy day

When in doubt, Stone Temple Pilots are good company to keep. I’m listening to No. 4, and it’s as good as ever. I went through a period, over the past few years, when I didn’t listen to much rock music. It was a lot of electronic stuff — trace and whatnot. Always good for getting me flying down the road, to and from work.

Lately, though, I’ve been getting back to my good old rock ‘n’ roll. Lots of hard rock, as I drive to and from work. And it feels normal again. Like I’m picking up where I left off, a few years back.

It’s like I went on a detour for a few years. Thinking I was going to be or do something different. I blame that last job I had, where I was so out of place, and I just didn’t fit in at all, and I needed to take the edge off things.

The whole last ten years feels like a big-ass detour for me. It was that damn’ mild TBI in 2004 that screwed me up. I’m still pissed off about it, and how it derailed me. I’ve been swimming upstream, trying like crazy to get where I’m going, fighting a current I couldn’t see — a downwelling, as they call it in the ocean – watch a video about surviving downwelling here.

In a downwelling, when you’re scuba diving, an invisible current hits you and carries you down-down-down into the depths — potentially past your approved depth. It can take you down very quickly — fast enough to increase the nitrogen in your blood enough to make you feel — and act — drunk. And also pressurizing you very quickly. It’s crazy. If you get caught in a downwelling and can’t get out, you’re done for.

That’s kind of like what chronic mild TBI / concussion is like. Most people see their issues resolve in weeks or months, but some of us are stuck with them, and they can catch us unawares and plunge us into the depths — towards the abyss — before we even know what’s happening. It can be deadly. And if you choose wrong, you can get totally screwed up.

I didn’t realize until late 2007, that there was really a problem — three years past my injury. Everything went downhill, and I didn’t even realize it. Money was disappearing so fast, I might as well have set piles of it on fire. I jumped from job to job, not realizing how it would affect my future job prospects. I could not read, I could not learn, and I felt like I was literally disappearing from my life. I could not go outside very much, because of my light and noise sensitivities, and I had cataclysmic panic attacks that felt like seizures.

I was in the grip of a “life downwelling”, and I didn’t know which direction to swim to escape.

A number of things happened to help me along the way

  1. I realized that something was wrong
  2. I realized I needed to do something about it
  3. I hunted high and low to find information and people who could help me understand what was happening
  4. Almost by chance, I connected with an excellent neuropsychologist who was able to help me soldier through
  5. I just kept going, no matter what

I’m now at a place in my life where I’m back on track. My mountains of debt are gone, my job situation is stable, and I’m able to read again.

And yet, I feel like a stranger to myself.

Technically, I supposed no one really knows themself inside and out. We all delude ourselves to some extent. But with TBI, it feels to me like there are a ton of gaps that I just can’t fill. I don’t even know where to start. It’s like my life is a big hunk of swiss cheese with a lot of holes in it, and I don’t even know the holes are there, till it’s too late. I’m in trouble again.

Anyway, STP helps me get my mind off that. They help me just keep going, even when I’m not feeling up to it. Keeps me swimming — out of the downward spiraling current and up towards safety again. A good dose of heavy guitar and rock lyrics gets me back on track in useful ways.

Gradually, I’m coming back to where I want to be. It takes time. And I need company, along the way. STP is good company. Thanks, guys.

Music is the best company I can think to keep. It’s there when I need it, and I can always turn it off, when I’m done for the day.

Speaking of the day, I’ve got to get on with it. I’ve got a handful of things I need to do today, including resting up. It’s been a long, long week, and I need a break, for sure. I’ll get that break later today after my chores are done, and I can comfortably settle into my bed, pull the covers over my head, and just check out.

Looking forward to it.

But in the meantime, there’s always hard and heavy rock music.

I didn’t fail. I just got tired.

So much depends on your outlook

I had a revelation this morning, as I was waking up. In the space of a few seconds, it turned an imagined failure into a chance for long-term success.

It was the realization that when I started to lose my temper with my spouse last night, it wasn’t a sign that I was failing at my attempts to be more level-headed and calm, no matter what the situation. It was a clear sign that I was tired, and that my brain needed sleep.

I have been working on being more level-headed — no matter what the situation. This is a lifelong pursuit, actually. I saw the need for it, when I was a teenager and a young adult… as an adult in the working world… and it continues to be important to me. It’s not that I want everything to be perfect for me all the time and give me no trouble. What I want, is to be able to handle my circumstances, be okay with them (within reason), and make the best of any situation’s opportunities, no matter now “bad” it may look at the time.

I have had some good success with this approach over the years. After all, I have seen the ill-effects NOT having a level head in challenging circumstances, and the results are rarely pretty. I have had plenty of opportunity to witness this in the people around me — in my family, especially, when my parents could not hold it together with one of my “problematic” (that is — drug-addicted, alcoholic, sleeping-with-anything-that-moved, drug-dealing) siblings. It was bad enough that my sibling had all those problems (which were signs of something far deeper going on with them). But my parents could not maintain their composure or clarity of thought when it came to my sibling, so that made a bad situation even worse.

I’m not judging my parents — they were not equipped to handle it, and we lived in an area where any problem with kids was a reflection on the parents, so they went from being respected members of society to being “those people” who everybody handled very gingerly.

Anyway, I’ve seen many examples in my own life, where keeping a level head and a calm demeanor helped me through tough times. I actually credit my many TBIs (I’ve had 9+) with helping me with this, because they slowed down my processing speed. When your processing speed is slowed down, it makes it pretty difficult to get on the same wavelength with everybody else… and in case you haven’t noticed, being on the same wavelength as everybody else leaves a lot to be desired.

Everybody gets so worked up over things. But when you’re not thinking as quickly as everyone else, you can’t jump to the same conclusions and get to those snap judgments that can send you careening into HOLY SH*T WHAT THE F*CK land. Everybody else is freaking out — oftentimes about something that isn’t worth freaking out about — and you’re still trying to figure out what just happened…

So, if you think about it, slower processing speed isn’t always a bad thing. And equanimity… peace of mind… level-headedness in the face of a crisis is a definite advantage. Especially when everybody else’s “normal-fast” thinking is vectoring off in a really unproductive direction.

Anyway, that’s one half of the story. The other half of it is less cheery — that’s the aspect of my thinking that is WAY more reactive than others’. It’s the instant-freak-out part of my experience that has made me nuts for years. At an instant’s notice, I’ll suddenly FREAK OUT over something. It can be a dropped spoon, or a missed channel that I’m trying to change with the clicker, or something my spouse says or does that rubs me the wrong way.

When things go haywire in my head, they go really haywire. There’s no middle ground. Everything goes nuts. I know I’m being unreasonable, I know I’m being crazy, I know there is no logical reason for me to be freaking out, but it’s happening anyway. And it’s never good for anyone. I’ve lost more relationships than I can say, because of this. That includes a really good job I lost in 2005 after my TBI in 2004.

People are afraid of me, when I start to get agitated and aggressive — which may have to do with me, or may have to do with them. I don’t want to give anyone any reason to be afraid of me. It’s counter-productive. And it hurts everyone involved.

So, there’s all the more reason to keep tabs on myself and foster a calm demeanor, a cool head, and a self-possessed state of mind. And with that goal in mind, I have pursued a number of different practices and philosophies that might help me with that. I have worked on practices that emphasize acceptance, calmness, not reacting to things around me, and philosophies that teach about how transitory life is, and how important it is for us to understand what we can and cannot change, and not make ourselves nuts trying to alter things that can’t be changed.

Like the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.

This has been a very powerful concept in my life, and I have it displayed in my kitchen where I will see it each morning when I get up and make my coffee.

Along the way, I have had many surges in interest in deepening this practice — in really getting to a place where I can make peace with the things I cannot change, and make the most of the opportunities that are hidden there. I’m a big believer that some of our worst hurdles and challenges offer us the greatest rewards — and when we resist those challenges, we miss out on the chance to become bigger and better than ever before.

Some things I can accept and work with — political changes, cultural changes, relocations from one area to the next, and small-scale changes at work. Other changes I have a harder time with — job changes, especially. The ones that make me the craziest are the ones I feel like I cannot understand or control — or that go off in a direction that is completely different from the direction I see myself headed.

Other things I cannot seem to accept, are the foolishness of others — the stinkin’ thinkin’ that my spouse indulges in, their constant anxiety, their devotion to drama, their bad habit of telling everyone exactly what they want to hear instead of the constructive truth. I have trouble with the attitudes of people at work, who can be cliquish and juvenile. I have trouble with the judgment of Management at work, when their decisions seem counter-productive and get in the way of us doing our work. My siblings also depress the sh*t out of me, with their choices and their prejudices and their holier-than-thou attitude. My parents are a little easier to deal with, because they are many hours away, and I don’t see them that often.

It’s the people who are closest to me, who I have the greatest investment in, that get me with their unhealthy habits of thought and action, their outlooks, their attitudes, and their behavior that seems to serve no useful purpose, other than to make them feel good about themselves — at the expense of everyone else.

The thing is, their behaviors and beliefs and actions have almost nothing to do with me. Even my spouse’s bad habits have more to do with them, than with me — no matter how much they may blame me for their anxiety. I am making myself unhappy over things that are far beyond my control, and it’s not helping me at all.

So, there is all the more incentive for me to calm myself down, not react to what they are doing, and step back and look at them and everything from a distance.

I have found some philosophies and outlooks that can help me do that, and I have pursued them eagerly, on and off, over the years. The thing is, I get to a certain point, then everything falls apart. My equanimity dissolves. I melt down, inside my head and heart. My temper explodes. And I end up feeling worse off than when I started. I feel like I’m back to Square 1, without having made any progress at all.

But in fact, I have made progress. My meltdowns and explosions do not mean that I have utterly failed at learning a new way of thinking and being and relating to others. They do mean that my brain has been working hard, so it is tired. And I need to rest it.

Because changing yourself and your brain and your patterns of thought and action and attitude is hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight. And the fact that I am getting frayed and losing it, actually means that I am making progress — I just need to take a break, rest up, learn what I can about what sets me off, and resume learning again, once I am rested.

This realization is just what I’ve been needing — for a long, long time. Getting frayed at 10 p.m. over someone being a pain in my ass is NOT a sign that I’m failing. It’s a sign that I’ve been working hard all day at changing my mind and my brain, and that it’s time to rest. It’s not a condemnation — it’s a diagnostic tool. And far from being an indication of my inferiority, it’s evidence that I’m actually making progress.

The simple fact is, I’m a brain-injured human being. If you think about it, there are a lot of people who are injured in one way or another, and we are all working our way through the maze called life, trying to find a better way to live. And because of my injuries, because of my history of experiences, my individual makeup, and all the different things that have made me what I am today, I have certain limitations I need to be mindful of and accommodate, so I can work around them and not let them get to me.

Fatigue and the irritability that comes from being tired are a couple of those limitations. So is:

  • a sharp tongue — over little things
  • a hot temper — at an instant’s notice
  • slower processing speed than one would expect
  • the almost constant pain that I’ve become resigned to living with, the rest of my born days
  • perpetual, never-ending tinnitus
  • light-sensitivity
  • noise-sensitivity

And so on.

It’s not that my life is awful. It’s pretty sweet, to tell the truth. I just need to be aware of these issues, not forget them — or when I do forget them, find a way to remember that the things I’m doing and saying are about my brain injury, NOT about my character.

So, there is hope. There always is, so long as I don’t give up.

And speaking of not giving up, I’m going to get ready for work and get into my day, knowing that I didn’t fail last night, when I got cross with my spouse. I was just tired, and no animals were hurt in the filming of that movie.

Onward.

The shell-ter we carry with us

Our home is what we make it

One of my readers made a great comment over at a recent post:

I have come to recognise and realise, we people with TBIs need to embolden a special type of shell-fish (to otherwise be read as selfish.) The “shell” to house us from what would otherwise be attacks, accusations and allegations over being or feeling “bad” or that we may seem self-centered, any of our actions taken had very real and perceptive reasons and consequences.
Only when we debride a wound, or reach deep within residual scar tissue, are we allowed to uncover (very necessary to the healing process) healthy tissues.
A thorough study of the self amid the healing process, is a study in contradictions. The study of the self in TBI is, filled with cyclical change, growth, angst, beginnings. It is as though we are of two or more persons; walking through the situations in real time, taking the time to study, perhaps rehearse and may even attempt to resolve the consequences of earlier decisions.
Are these not the habits of people without TBI? Of course.
Therefore, the “shell” of being shellfish in TBI, may need to be a little more hearty and courageous, mayhaps even a little outrageous, to understand the absolute truth of these matters.

It’s very true. Like a hermit crab, we need to find shell-ter where we can, develop our defenses like a protective shell, and learn to carry it with us, as we go through life. No one else can know 100% what we are going through, so we need to develop our own defenses, our own sense of self, our own techniques and tricks to get us by.

I was just thinking about this yesterday — how I can basically make it through most situations in life without alerting everyone to the fact that I am struggling so terribly at times. My memory fails me.

The noise is too loud, the lights are too bright, and I have deafening ringing in my ears.

I am in pain.

I am off balance, struggling with vertigo, feeling like I’m going to lose my mind with having to keep upright.

Or I am boiling on the inside and fighting back my intense desire to either run screaming from the building or punch someone in the face.

Or I am dying inside, feeling like I am just not keeping up, and I have no idea what is going on in the conversation I’m participating in, even though it really matters a lot that I keep up.

I can get through those situations intact, because I have a shell of collected tactics I have built up over the years. Some of them I’ve been using a long time, while others are fairly recent.

But whatever their source or “vintage”, they work.

They keep me safe. They are not me, and they are not something I want to have, but I lost my “real shell” a long, long time ago, so I make do as best I can. And it works.

That’s the main thing. My internal state changes frequently, often without making any sense to me. It’s usually connected to my physical well-being — when I get tired, everything gets harder, and I am tired a lot of the time. So, I have to have a way to offset that effect, so my life can continue.

It’s not easy. It’s pretty painful at times. And it takes a lot out of me. But it works.

And that’s what really matters.

It’s bad enough that I have these issues. But having them screw up my life at the same time? That’s no good — not if I can at all avoid or prevent it.

And so I do.

Onward.

 

Body practice for brain improvement

I’ve added a new piece to my morning/evening routines — when I am about to brush my teeth, I pull my toothbrush out of the holder and toss it from hand to hand. Sometimes I flip it around and try to catch it. Sometimes I can, sometimes I miss… drop it, and have to wash it thoroughly before I brush my teeth.

But I have noticed my hand-eye coordination improving. And my response times improve, as well. Also, I have noticed that I have been able to catch things that I start to drop more easily than ever before.

Like silverware falling out of my hands and headed for the floor — I have caught them several times.

Like a travel mug full of coffee that tipped over, and I was able to right before it spilled all over the place.

There have been a number of situations where my eye-hand coordination is definitely better than I can remember it being for a while – perhaps if ever. I was very active as a kid and played a lot of ball games, but I was a little spastic and had trouble coordinating my movements.

And I was convinced I could not juggle, because I was so “dorky”. I was convinced I was a lot of things (not all of them flattering) because of my coordination problems. My issues were probably a lot less than I believed they were, but because they didn’t match what I was expecting, I considered them terrible.

And I kept myself from doing a lot of things, because I figured, “Well, that’s just how I am, and I have to live with less as a result.”

Sad – pretty much of a waste.

Now things are different. Now I’m not convinced that anything I believe about myself is actually true. I’m questioning it. Trying new things. And discovering more things about myself than I ever did before.

Juggling helps me. Even just tossing around a pen is beneficial.  How?

  1. It improves my eye-hand coordination. I am getting better at catching things I toss from one hand to another. And when I spin the thing(s) I toss, it challenges me. I have dropped a lot of things, but I am getting better.
  2. It improves my self-control. When I drop things, I typically get very upset and start to blow up (inside mostly, sometimes outside). This is very disruptive. Knowing that I am practicing keeps it chilled out for me. Tossing a non-essential object, dropping it, and then practicing self-control and not flying off the handle, is helping me in my everyday life, when things go wrong unexpectedly.
  3. It improves my sustained attention. I can focus for longer and longer periods of time. I notice that I drop things when my attention wanders. Focusing on the object I’m tossing from hand to hand for a few minutes… then a few more minutes… then a few more minutes… is helping me to stay focused longer.
  4. It teaches me to block out distractions.  This is different from sustaining my attention. It’s one thing to lengthen the amount of time I can focus single-mindedly on something. It’s another thing to know how to block out sudden distractions that pop up into my field of view, or come to mind. Most of my distractions actually come from inside my head. I’ll start thinking about something else… and then I’m toast. I drop what I’m trying to catch. Or I toss something in the wrong direction. Practicing tossing things from one side to another — and most of all practicing not getting my attention pulled away — has actually helped me a great deal.

Recently, a reader posted a comment:

I saw a documentary on the brain and neuroplasticity and heard that juggling tennis balls can improve executive function.
I think it worked:
It only took the (uninjured) guy in the movie one practice session to be able to juggle several tennis balls.
It took about 2 months for me to be able to consistently juggle one ball.
I could only do a few minutes once or twice a week because it used so much of my brain energy.
After a few weeks I noticed my thinking seemed faster and switching between tasks was easier. There was also a measurable jump in my typing and reading speeds.

Now aprox 3 months later; I still do a few minutes, two times a week, but can use 2 balls. I just tested my typing speed again and it is aprox. twice as fast it was when I started the juggling exercise.

It’s worth a try: low cost, no side effects. Be aware that it took lots of patience and really used up a lot of brain enery when I started (so plan accordingly), but it got easier.

This is WAY cool. As they said, it is low cost and has no side effects — other than improvement in important areas.

It also takes a lot of brain energy at the start — I can also attest to that, because when I started tossing my toothbrush from hand to hand, first thing in the morning, I dropped it a lot, and spent a lot of time rinsing it off. (Why did I used my toothbrush? Because tossing something important raised the stakes and forced me to pay close attention.) It was very challenging when I started, to tell the truth.

But bringing in a tennis ball has expanded this — and it’s something I can do just about anywhere, just about anytime. In fact, I sometimes take a break at work to go to a quiet room and toss a tennis ball around. I may just add another ball to it and practice juggling.

Now, it’s all very well and good to learn how to juggle. It’s fun. It aids neuroplasticity. And it will be an accomplishment, if I ever manage it.

But the real benefit is not the juggling ability alone. It’s the psychological, experiential, and behavioral benefit I get from it.

Having better eye-hand coordination can reduce the number of “clumsiness events” in my life that not only drive me crazy but make me feel stupid and dim.

Being able to catch a tipping cup of coffee — that I can’t afford to spill — is a huge boost to myself-confidence. And it also spares me the internal storms of anger, range, frustration, and self-recrimination. It’s also good for my self-image, which can use a lot of help.

Being in better contact with the world around me, and having a more fluid interaction with my physical environment can offset the effects of my dizziness and the times when I am “off” — for one reason or another. Developing my coordination, my muscle memory, my ability to skillfully adapt to sudden changes in my environment… it’s all good, and it only helps me.

Overall, the strangely wonderful side-effects of tossing objects from one hand to another are helping me feel better about myself, feel like less of a klutz, and make me more relaxed and at-ease with the world around me.

And that’s a good thing.

So, onward…

 

 

After the storm

So, the past few days have been a little dramatic. With the changes in our organization, people are confused and intimidated and upset, and some are handling things better than others. For some, the changes are really disorienting — especially for those who are not located at the home office. The locus of power has shifted from one office to the other, and both offices involved are many, many miles apart, with completely different office atmospheres and cultures. So, there is a great deal of tension – especially because the power has completely shifted from one side of the company to the other.

So, the ship is listing a little bit, till everybody finds their footing again.

The beginning of this week was very stressful, with a lot of tension and aggravation and venting and pressure. I have some deadlines I need to deliver on, and it’s been a real adjustment, getting used to the extra workload and managing my existing chores tasks. But I’m getting there. I was able to really turn things around from one day to the next — having multiple meetings with the same people, and getting them from a place of confusion and antagonism, to clarity and direction.

People just need to direct their energy into productive directions. That’s the biggest piece of the puzzle. And even the most problematic troublemakers turned out to be allies during a meeting I led yesterday. The difference from one day to the next was like night and day — and I think that just keeping people in the loop is a huge thing for us as a larger team.

So, that’s my primary goal and objective, these days — to just keep communicating and keep everyone in the loop to discuss the best ways to do things, instead of steamrolling them and enforcing my dominance and authority.

It’s just basic humanity, along with clear vision and decisive leadership. Technically, I’m not the person in charge, as I’m several layers “down”, but that shouldn’t keep me from stepping up to provide the direction and leadership that people are looking for. There is a massive leadership gap where I’m working — folks in charge seem to think that if you reach out to people as human beings, it will make you look weak and also “coddle” them. But from what I’ve seen, ignoring the human element just sows seeds of discontent and more confusion and frustration.

So, I’m going to do my small part about that and see if I can’t turn my own situation around. I’m working with a lot of people, all across the group and larger company, so I have a great opportunity here.

I just need to keep focused and not get pulled into all sorts of political intrigue and gossip and what-not. That doesn’t serve me or anyone else, and it just distracts me from what I need to be doing. It’s not like I have a lot of time and energy for extra fluffer-nutter stuff, anyway.

So yes, this is a great opportunity for me to show how things can be done differently. I know I’m a total dark horse, here, without the political clout and profile to figure prominently in the political landscape. But who knows? That could change, based on my work this year. It could really do wonders for my reputation and career prospects at this company. Interestingly, I’m not really wedded to the outcome on this. If I become rich and famous within the context of this company, then great. But I’m really treating this like a stepping stone to something else, because this company does a lot of things I do NOT agree with, and I don’t really want to support their business activities for the long term. In fact, I spent much of my early life radically opposed to what they do, so it’s a real moral stretch for me to be working here at all.

But I’m here now, so what can I do with this situation?

Treat it like what it is — a stepping stone to other things. I’ll put together this plan of action and follow through on it for the next year, build my contacts with executive recruiters on the side, and report in regularly about what’s been happening in my world, what I’ve accomplished, etc. I’ve heard that’s how you do things. And in any case, it will help me to better define where I am going in the future, with this evolving career path.

Above all, I need to stay on track, focused, and really keep myself in good shape. Get enough sleep. Eat right. Exercise on a daily basis — even if it’s just a little something in the morning while I make my breakfast. I’ve got a bunch of physical issues — aches, pains, headache, pulled muscles, vertigo, deafening ringing in my ears, nausea… I could list ‘em all out at length. But that would take my attention away from what I really need to do. I mean, it’s nice to think that I could be free of the constant presence of these things, but I don’t have a lot of faith that it can really happen to the extent I would like it. And even if I get there, I’m not sure it’s going to last.

I’d rather just keep going.

Speaking of which, I’ve gotta get going – the day awaits.

Onward

 

Each year better than the last – I hope

Looking back… looking ahead

Now that Christmas and Hanukkah and Winter Solstice have all passed, it’s time to start looking ahead to the New Year. Kwanzaa is still underway till January 1, and the Seven Principles that mark this time give me good food for thought, even though I don’t actually celebrate it formally. Yuletide is also underway till January 1 (or the 13th, depending what part of the world you live in), allowing everything to just slow down for time to reflect and look ahead to the new year.

I’m celebrating the spirit of Yuletide more than any other holiday this season. It’s been a quiet time, without a lot of travel, and minimal racing around to take care of presents and what-not. If anything, I’ve been pretty neglectful of others, this holiday season. But you know what? They’ve been totally neglectful of me, too, so we’re even. If anything, the past years have been about me and my spouse doing a hell of a lot more for them than they did for us — doing more travel, making more of an effort, going out of our way to keep everyone aligned and on track with coordinating our holiday activities. This year, we haven’t done all that — and guess what… nobody picked up the slack. So there you go — they must not care that much, so… what-ever.

It’s time to us to take care of ourselves for once.

And we’ve done just that. I’ve been in a pretty low-key frame of mind since before Christmas — all the excitement of work notwithstanding — so, it’s been a very “Yule-like” time. Things have slowed down. I’ve allowed them to slow down. I’ve taken time OFF from all the sense of obligation and duty and required activities, to just rest and relax and not race around like a chicken with my head cut off, as I did in prior years. I’ve done energizing things that are good for me, and I’ve been eating lots of new foods that support me and my brain, as well. I’ve cooked up some pretty excellent dishes lately, if I say so myself, and my spouse says I’m becoming quite the chef :)

Looking back on the past year, it’s odd — I can remember bits and pieces of it, but I don’t get an overall sense of how the year was. I know it’s been challenging, and I’ve been actively looking for a new job for much of that time — especially in the past three months. At home, things have stabilized somewhat — with less undercurrents of stress and strain, but some extreme meltdowns that have taken a toll on my marriage. I’ve been through a lot of intense challenges with my spouse, including issues with money and infidelity and physically unhealthy choices. All in all, though, I think we’re on the up-swing, and taking time out from all the travel to see family, as well as me getting my own “house” in order, has benefited us a great deal.

I feel stronger and more stable than I have in a long time. Perhaps ever. And yet, there’s a constant sense of confusion and disorientation that is always in the background. I am more functional than I can remember being in a good long while, and the circumstances of my life are leveling out and becoming more “structurally sound”, but at the same time, I’m in a fair amount of general pain much of the time, I have tremors and shakes, and my brain is definitely not firing on all pistons. I feel like I’m maybe at 65% on a regular basis. 85% if I’m lucky.

And that makes me sad.

But I think perhaps I am acclimating to the instability. I’ve decided I’m going to just get on with my life, even though I can’t seem to get rid of the memory problems, the sleep difficulties, the constant sense of fatigue, confusion, distractability, getting things turned around, and getting lost and not knowing where I am for a few minutes at a time… and more.

My solution is to just keep going and not get sidetracked and depressed by what’s going on inside my head. If I can just keep going, keep working at things, and do my best to learn from my lessons and try again, this all doesn’t need to hold me back permanently. It might slow me down, but it’s not going to stop me.

I’m also coming to terms with the idea of not being Alpha in every situation at work — and beyond. At work, I have been long accustomed to being Alpha and being in a leadership position of some kind. But now that things are shifting and changing at work, I’m not sure if this is going to last. There are so many people at work who are a hell of a lot more possessed by the demons of blind ambition and greed, and I just can’t see competing with them around the clock. There’s all sorts of politicking — and if it takes politicking to get ahead, then I’m going to step back and not engage with that, and allow myself to simply be happy in the position where I am.

Now, I don’t for a minute expect that I’ll stay in that subordinate position for long, if I get the attention of the right people who recognize what I’ve got to offer. I do want to get ahead. I need a raise. I need a promotion. I need to really put what I know and have learned into action. But I need to be smart about it and not just charge forward into the gap, without understanding what’s ahead of me. If a promotion means I’m going to have to travel all over the world and not be home more than two weeks out of every month, then I’ll pass. There is that possibility. But who can say? Who can say…

Anyway, I can’t invest too much time and effort in thinking about what may be… inventing all sorts of dramatic stories about what that will mean for me. Who knows what will happen? I need to conserve my energy, because I continue to have some limiting difficulties — the headaches and the joint pain which suck a lot of energy from me… the confusion and disorientation that keep me guessing and demand even more energy from me to keep up and do my part… the vertigo and tinnitus that are just so damned distracting… and the attentional and distraction issues that interrupt what I’m doing with a regular dose of screw-ups.

I need to keep going, and in order to do that, I need to take good care of myself and also practice things that will keep me sharp and make me sharper, while not using up a lot of time.

  • Ride the exercise bike or move and stretch, first thing in the morning to get my blood pumping and clear out some of the sludge that’s built up. (10 minutes a day)
  • Practicing juggling one thing at a time, tossing it into the air, and then catching it.  I do this with my toothbrush each morning, to improve my eye-hand coordination and also my focus and attention. (1-2 minutes a day)
  • Working on my balance and leg mobility with exercises on a daily basis. (5 minutes a day)
  • Doing my measured breathing that regulates my heart rate and keeps me calm. (5-10 minutes a day)
  • Allowing myself to really, truly relax on a regular basis — just letting myself collapse into bed or on the couch, and letting the fatigue just wash over me. (The first few minutes when I go to bed)
  • Increase my dopamine levels by eating more foods with L-Tyrosine and also taking the supplement… and also taking Oil of Oregano, to keep my body from breaking down the dopamine and seratonin in my system. (In the regular course of my day.)
  • Drinking plenty of water to flush out the sludge.
  • Studying anatomy and physiology, to help me better understand the inner workings of my physical life — and how to improve my health.

All these things are really good for me — and I can work them into my daily routine. The biggest challenge is figuring out how to do them as a regular part of my life, without up-ending my routine. That is totally do-able, because I can find time when my breakfast is cooking, and I’d just be sitting around anyway.  I just need to do it. And I need to not just take things for granted, because I’ve been doing them a while and it feels like I don’t need to do them anymore.

That’s probably the biggest threat to my well-being in the new year — getting complacent and just assuming that “I’m good” and I don’t need to keep up my routines and activities. That state of “good” can rapidly decline, as I’ve learned time and time again.

So, as I look forward to the new year, I’m thinking about the basics. Focusing on that, and not making myself crazy with a whole lot of dramatic schemes and Big Plans, like I have in the past. I’m settling in, in a way, and it feels pretty good. I just can’t get complacent. Gotta keep working at it. Each day.

Well, speaking of working at things, I need to get a move on and get my ass in gear. I have some errands I need to run before everything closes for the day.

Onward.

And I slept like a rock

Injured toe notwithstanding, I had an extremely productive day yesterday – got a ton of things done, and the busted toe didn’t even bother me, as long as I was keeping busy. As long as I was concentrating on what was in front of me, I didn’t feel the pain. Later when I just walked around the house, I felt it, but not so much.

I realized (again) as I was walking around yesterday, just how accustomed I am to adjusting for injuries and keeping going, in spite of them. I really hurt my right big toe, which I use a lot when I’m moving around — from days of playing a lot of sports and being very active, I am a very “active” walker — I use all parts of my foot to pivot and move me in different directions. I don’t just walk heel-to-toe. Sometimes I walk toe-heel-toe, and sometimes I walk on the outsides of my feet. Looking back on my youth, playing a lot of football and soccer and baseball/softball and some lacrosse, I realize how much I was trained to have “quick feet” — being able to move myself quickly in different directions, thanks to nimble footwork.

It wasn’t something we did deliberately or intentionally – back then, we didn’t have the same level of sports science we do now, and training consisted basically of going out on the field and just playing till we couldn’t play anymore. There wasn’t a lot of isolated specialized training like there is today. But still, I learned. And it’s helping me now.

Another thing that’s helping me deal with this toe issue is all the years I spent learning to stay upright even when I was constantly feeling like I was falling over. I’ve always had balance issues, and when at their worst they have drive me over the edge of insanity, turning me into a crazy person who would snap at anyone like a German shepherd with hip dysplasia who gets smacked on the back-end. But physically I learned how to keep my balance, even when things felt like they were all falling towards me, or I felt like I was about to go down hard.

I never found anyone who could give me a pill or a shot or counseling to help me with my nausea and vertigo. And I think it’s because it’s basically an autonomic nervous system issue, which is better handled with things like progressive relaxation, intentional breathing, and learning how to manage and tone down the fight-flight impulse. I believe that poor diet also contributed to my vertigo — when I cut out a lot of carbs and wheat, the issues fell away rapidly. So there’s also a dietary piece of it, too. No pill is going to fix a food allergy. You just have to go without whatever is making you miserable. Not that this is a terrible sacrifice to make…

In the meantime, till I figured out how to address my vertigo, I learned how to keep upright even when things were feeling pretty bad. I’m feeling kind of bad, right now — still foggy, out of it, in a bit of discomfort from being really active all weekend in ways that I am rarely active. It’s all good – I just don’t feel particularly great right now.

But still, I got about 7 hours of sleep last night, which is good, considering my recent run of 4-5 hours. I’ll take that 7. And I also slept hard — as a rock. Like a lump of cooled magma that had dropped where it fell, after being spewed out of the mouth of a volcano. Dramatic, I know, but that’s how yesterday felt — an all-out race to get everything done on my loud, fume-filled construction project — and get the house aired out — before my spouse got home. They’re extremely sensitive to smells, and varnishes and paints send them straight to hell with all sorts of allergic reactions. So, the pressure was on. Fortunately, I performed — and good thing I got everything squared away yesterday evening (instead of today), because they came back a day early.

Whew.

So, yeah, my mad dash to get this project done was a success. And at the end of it all, I crashed — I landed so hard, I didn’t get a chance to turn off the light. And I slept through till almost 8, which is a bit of a miracle, these days.

Anyway, no worries. This coming week I start readying my resume to send out to recruiters. Looking at my timeline, I should be able to exit this company in about 8 weeks. I’m looking forward to that.

So. Very. Much.

But for now, it’s back to the office. The uber-uber-uber boss is flying in from overseas to check up on us and tell us all what a shitty job we’re doing, for a whole week. That should be fun.

Whatever. All I know is, I’m making fantastic progress on my projects, and life feels pretty friggin’ awesome right now. The toe will heal. I’ll manage to stay upright. Life goes on.

Rested, exercised, cleaned… ready to go

Starting the day right

So, I got off to a good start today.

Got some decent sleep – almost 8 hours… got up and moved with my weights… and I cleaned my bedroom a little bit.

While my spouse is away this weekend, I’m sleeping downstairs in the living room where it’s cool. It’s been crazy hot, for the past week, and the A/C in my bedroom is on the fritz. On the one hand, it might not make that much of a difference, because I tend to overheat at night, anyway, and the heat might not even get to me. But it’s like a psychological thing with me, so I pulled out the sleeper sofa and made myself cozy in the living room A/C.

I woke up dizzy again, but less than yesterday, and definitely less than 2 days ago. I stumbled/wobbled around for a little bit, till I got my bearings, then I did some exercises to get my system back online. Doing the movement with the weights really seems to help me get my balance – pushing myself a little bit to stay upright with the added weight of the dumbells seems to kick my system into gear. I’m still dizzy, and I’ve got a sick throbbing headache, but I’m better than I was an hour ago. At least I can stay upright and I can see better than I have been, over the past few days.

Yesterday when I was running errands in the morning, I was having a hard time seeing. Nothing would stay in focus, and I couldn’t read very well. Crazy. I had to do a lot of driving around in the morning, so I had to stay 1000% focused on the road, on driving, talking to people, getting things done… all of that. I got some weird looks from people who maybe thought I was a little drunk, but so what. I had things to do, and I was going to get them done. It probably wasn’t the safest thing for me to do – driving around in such a state – but I had no choice. The stuff had to get done. Before noon. There was no waiting and there was no other option. I did manage to get it all done, with some minor snapping at my spouse — they were really pushing me, and I wasn’t in the mood to be pushed. But then I lay down for an hour and listened to my stress-hardiness tape, and I got a little sleep. So I woke up better than I was when I lay down.

Now my spouse is gone for a few days, and I have peace. No panic. No anxiety. No constant hounding about this, that, or the other thing… How do people live like that, with the non-stop worrying? I’ve got my own panic-anxiety issues, but it’s not this constant thing. At least, not anymore. Once upon a time, it was, so I know what that’s like.

The thing I don’t get is how someone can let themself stay in that state, year after year. It’s like my spouse isn’t happy if they’re not stressed out about something. Then again, I know what that’s like, too, so I need to have some damn’ compassion, already.

Yeah, okay. Point taken. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming about my own stuff and my own life and what I’m doing to take care of myself and keep myself out of trouble…

After I exercised, I went upstairs to grab some clean clothes, and I noticed how messy my bedroom is. I sleep in a separate room, because my spouse stays up late and then reads for hours, and it’s impossible for me to sleep through the night with them crawling in and out of bed and keeping the light on. They also need to have one of those salt lamps on at all times — apparently it cleans the air? If nothing else, it makes them feel safe – they cannot stand a totally dark room. It just terrifies them, I guess because of bad things that once happened in dark rooms when they were a kid?

I don’t have those issues. I like a completely dark room. The light of the salt lamp made me nuts, and they were not going to change, so I relocated to the guest bedroom some time ago. I have to say, it’s been really good to have control over my own sleeping space. I went out and got some light-blocking curtains, hung some new curtain rods, and now I’ve got a veritable cave that is pitch dark when I arrange the curtains correctly — even in daytime. It is amazing – what a huge relief it was, when I first started sleeping there. No more salt lamp light. No more being woken at 2 a.m. by someone getting into bed, no more sound of pages turning in bed beside me. And I could stretch out and toss and turn to my heart’s content and sweat like I was in a sauna, without someone pitching a fit.

People tend to think that sleeping apart means spouses are incompatible, or their relationship is on the rocks. In some ways, that is true for us. We have seen better days. However, sleeping apart has actually helped our relationship over the years. The biggest hurdle we’ve had to overcome with regard to sleeping apart, is the internal bias against it — getting ourselves used to the idea that this is a good thing and not a sign that we can’t be married anymore. Once that was overcome, things got a lot better, and now I’m feeling 100% fine with the sleeping arrangement.

So, back to the cleaning bit — I picked up around my bedroom a bit, which was overdue. It was starting to look like a — well, never mind what it was starting to look like. For some reason, I couldn’t get started with picking up — I would just drop clothing into an appropriate pile and move on. It wasn’t terrible — not like you see on “Hoarders” — but it was getting to be a bit much.

So, I took 15 minutes and got rid of the piles. Folded up t-shirts and jeans and put them in my closet. Sorted the socks and underwear and put them in their respective drawers. I could have done more, but that was enough for the moment. It made a noticeable difference, and that’s fine. I’ll get to the rest of it later.

Cleaning is something I really need to do better at. I keep pretty busy, and then I get distracted and don’t spend enough time cleaning up after myself. I don’t live in filth, by any stretch — the house is clean and functional and fairly well-organized. On the other hand, there are a bunch of piles of stuff — papers and miscellaneous items — around the house. I’m looking at a pile of papers right now. They will be easy to deal with, if I just take a few minutes to do so.  The trick is just spending a few minutes, which is hard for me to do.

I think part of the reason I don’t pick up more often is that I have a hard time stopping, once I start. I sort out one pile, then I’m in the swing of things, and I sort out another pile… and another… and another… until I’ve taken care of a bunch of things, and it’s all good, but I have lost track of time and I’m behind on other things. Later, when I think about cleaning, I have this association in my head that it will take me hours to do the work, and it will set me back on other things I’m supposed to be doing. It’s unconscious, and it’s pernicious, and I need to find a way around it.

So, here’s my new strategy for cleaning, which is very similar to other strategies I have set for myself lately — only give myself a short period to do it. Limit the period I’m going to do it, and then stop when the time is up. I’ve got a timer I bought a number of years ago for exactly this purpose, but after using it for about six months, I got bored with it. I also got sick of the ear-piercing beep, so I decided to not time myself anymore. But I can start using it again, and that will be fine. Heck, I can use the timer on the stove to time myself, since that’s a lot less obnoxious.

Sounds like a plan.

So, life is good. I got almost 8 hours of sleep last night, I woke up feeling pretty rested — albeit pretty dizzy and with a sick headache. I got my exercise in. And I cleaned a little bit, which is good.

I’ve got a lot of things I want to do today – I just need to get myself on a timed schedule for much of them, because I’m noticing that the same thing that keeps me from cleaning, keeps me from starting other things — I anticipate them being so big and taking so long, that they will consume me and I will get lost in them and not do the other things I need to do.

Breaking them all up in chunks will fix that. And sticking to that “deal” I’m making with myself, to ONLY do things for as long as I give myself, is essential.

Now, off to get some things done.

Onward.

Connecting the Busy-Dizzy Dots

Okay, so this is interesting… I woke up today incredibly dizzy and feeling out of sorts. Sick on my stomach, wobbly… just not right.  It reminded me of so many times in the past when I was almost unable to keep upright, and my temper was about as short as an icicle’s sojourn in hell.

Crazy. It didn’t make sense. I thought maybe I was having a reaction to the Italian sub I ate last night for supper – I haven’t had a lot of bread, lately, but last night I had a sub roll and also some crackers. So, my swearing off bread and wheat only got me so far last night. I did have a soda with my dinner, which is rare. But I can’t imagine that a root beer is going to throw me off this much.

I worked out a little bit this morning — I’m getting back into it, in a slightly different way that makes me feel really good. Instead of doing repetitions of exercises, I just pick up some weights and move around a lot, feeling the resistance at different places, and moving as much as I can in as many different directions as I can. My logic is that in the course of our lives, we never do single motions in one direction for extended periods of time – our whole bodies need to be coordinated and equally strong. So, my emphasis is on strengthening through continuous movements.

That made me feel better, and I noticed when I sat down to catch my breath and do a little measured breathing, I wasn’t able to breathe from my belly very well.

That told me something was up, for sure. In the past, I’ve been primarily a “belly breather”, and in recent memory I have not had big problems doing that. Today, though, it was just not working. And it occurred to me that my dizziness is probably directly linked to how busy I’ve been lately with my projects.

There’s been a lot of pressure — which I’ve put on myself, to make sure I follow through — and there’s been a lot of adrenaline pumping in the past weeks as I motor towards my ultimate destination. The pressure has been necessary — if I ease up too much on myself, I have a habit of just dropping things that I need to complete, so this has really been a proving ground for my future. I’m learning as I go, of course, and keeping my energy up has been an important part of the whole process.

Some, including my spouse and friends, would tell me to ease up, to not work so hard. That’s not an option with me, though. It’s just not. Sure, I need to be sensible about things and not wreck myself, but not working my ass off — that’s not for me.

So, on days like today, when it all catches up with me, I need to be smart about how I handle things. I had a good breakfast and got some exercise, and that helped. I also settled down and took care of some basic things that needed to be done, to clear the way for my work. I cleared off my desk, getting those extra papers out of the way, and I had my breakfast in the kitchen, instead of sitting in front of the computer. I also paced myself — gave up the mad-dash thing for the morning, and just plugged right through.

The nice thing was… as I did that, a lot of the incredible anxiety that gripped me all day yesterday lifted. I couldn’t get to sleep easily last night, I was so nervous and jazzed up over my projects, and that was one of the things that made it worse for me this morning, I believe — adding to my adrenaline overload, which really threw me off center.

And I think about that article I came across at the Concussion Blog, about dizziness being connected to autonomic nervous system dysfunction — being in intense fight-flight apparently contributes to dizziness, and I have certainly been there. It’s not just about the inner ear. It’s about the nervous system. Makes sense to me — especially because I can often correlate dizziness with episodes of extreme stress.

So yeah – I have been incredibly busy and driven for weeks — months, in fact. And it takes a toll. But I can’t let that stop me. It can certainly inform me and cause me to make different decisions, but it’s not going to derail my plans. That will never do.

That being said, I’m going to take the rest of the day off from my projects — to enjoy the Fourth of July and run some errands for other things that are going on. I’ve got three more days ahead of me to work-work-work, and two of those days I’ll have the house to myself, so I can buckle down and really kick it. I have a bunch of things I need to get sorted out, but all in good time.

Busy-busy-busy can lead to dizzy-dizzy-dizzy. So for the sake of my safety and well-being, it will do me good to pace myself, take frequent breaks to regroup, and not undermine myself with blind and mindless activity.

It really feels like a new day is dawning for me.

What and how do I want it to be?

Onward…