Woke up in a panic at 2 a.m. – then I remembered, I’m going to be fine.

vultures-overhead-modI woke up this morning in a cold sweat around 2 a.m. I was starting to panic about the prospect of looking for a new job. I’ve done this so often… and I was hoping with all my might that this job I have now would be the very last job I’d ever have to look for — because the employer was supposedly so stable and dependable.

Then, three months in, they announced that they’d be merging with someone else. And becoming bigger, “leaner” and supposedly better.

It doesn’t feel hopeful to me. It feels like vultures are circling overhead. Waiting to see who will get picked off. It’s already been happening.

And it’s a problem. Not just because it’s sucking all motivation and joy out of the work I love to do, but also because it makes everything I do there feel like a waste, rather than an investment. I feel like no matter what I do, it’s not going to matter, in the grand scheme of things. And all the effort I put into it is going to waste.

That’s not something I can afford to do, at this point in my life. I need to stay current and sharp. I also need a team to work with.

One thing that this job has taught me, is that I really do thrive in teams. I never used to be that way, until I started my TBI rehab in 2008. Before that, I was always a loner, always on the outside, never really able to connect with others, because of my communication problems — slow processing speed and poor short-term working memory. It’s really hard to work effectively with others, when you constantly forget what people are saying, and you also are so wiped out at the end of each day, that the cumulative fatigue just kills whatever spark you have, by the time Thursday rolls around.

I’ve been muddling along, with maybe 2-3 good days per week, for years. Small wonder, I never felt up to the challenge of working with others.

But since I’ve done my mild TBI rehab, I now have ways to augment my limitations and work around them. I  now have ways to compensate, improve, and also avoid situations that wreck me.

And as it turns out, I work really well with teams. I’m a great team leader. I’m a great project manager. And I absolutely thrive in the company of geeks and nerds and people who the rest of the world thinks are odd.

This job that I have now would have been perfect for me, 10 years ago, when all I wanted to do was find a corner to work in and not have anything to do with anyone else. Just do my work in isolation, not worried by communication disconnects, not concerned with memory issues, because I was off by myself.

Now, though, I realize that I really do need to work with an established team. I need other like-minded people to interact with on a regular basis. And I need to be in charge of leading people towards a common goal. Hands-on, in the trenches, together with other joyously iconoclastic oddballs, like myself.

So, this job has been a great lesson, in so many ways.

Figuring out what you don’t want to do is the first step to figuring out what you do want to do. And now I’ve got that first part figured out.

Onward.

Oh. What. A. Relief.

relaxed-catI’m feeling really relaxed, tonight.

I’ve figured out what I want to do about my job.

I don’t want to stay on, for the long term. I don’t want to be part of a huge company. I don’t want to “help take the company to the next level” and “make history” or whatever else they think they’re doing.

They’re starting to ramp up for the new integrated entity, and it’s making me feel ill.

I don’t want to be at group photo shoots, designed to get different divisions on film, so we can all be photoshopped together. I don’t want to send out greetings to my counterparts across the globe. The whole thing feels juvenile and demeaning, like we’re supposed to work up all this enthusiasm for something that is completely, entirely out of our control.

I don’t want to be part of it.

So, I’m updating my resume and reaching out to recruiters who contacted me, months ago. I’m reaching out to former co-workers to see if they know of any opportunities.

I don’t have to rush. I can take my time.

It’s enough that I know I need to get out of there. And at the end of July, I’ll have been there a year, so it won’t look terrible on my record.

What’s next?

What’s next?

I’m starting to feel some hope.

Amazing day today

sunflowerWhat a lovely day it is, outside. And it’s tailor-made for me.

My spouse is going out of town on a business trip later today. That means I can do some things around the house that I normally can’t, because they can’t tolerate the dust and noise and clunking.

I get clunky when I get going, sometimes — banging, slamming, crashing, and making a general racket. And that’s no good for anyone who’s living with me, who happens to be sensitive like my spouse.

Today, after 3 p.m., I’ll be able to mow the lawn all around the house… do repairs in the basement and garage… work on some outdoor fixes that have been needed for some time… and generally clunk around for all the hours we have daylight — past 9:00 p.m., these days.

I’m really looking forward to it — just getting things done without having to tip-toe and be extra careful about my noise, my movements, my clumsiness.

Just be. And do. And fix. Make the biggest racket I can… and not have to think about it, one bit.

Then sleep. Just sleep. Tomorrow. Just sleep.

… And then I thought about it…

… and after I contemplated the implications of moving into the more-responsibility-more-visibility-more-connected position that’s open, as of next week…. I realized that I’ve worked really long and hard to get to the place where I am today — in my own quiet space at work, with a program that I am running myself, without all the stresses that come with large teams and complex projects.

So, I won’t be throwing my hat in the ring for the position that’s just been vacated. I’m sitting tight, making my way in my own fashion, in the ways that work best for me.

If they ask me to step into that role, they need to pay me a lot more money and meet my demands.

But I’m not just tossing away my current situation to go backwards to a kind of role that used to drive me absolutely nuts.

So, that’s that.

For now.

Being okay with not being okay

flooded lake
This is what my life sometimes seems like. Flooded – just flooded – with too many problems, and no clear path forward

I talked yesterday about how trial and error is a great way for me to “feel” my way through life. I learn a lot in the process, and if I can just stay flexible and adapt, then I’m good.

The thing is, it’s incredibly hard.

I have no problem making errors. That comes with the territory of being me. It seems to be my “default mode” — and I used to get so much crap for it, when I was a kid, because I was always messing up things that should have been so easy for me. Everybody expected more of me, and I consistently let them down.

That was maybe the one and only way I was consistent — I let people down, when their hopes were highest.

My parents who believed that paper route would teach me responsibility and reliability, only to watch me fall behind, mess up the math on how many papers I needed, and not get out of bed early enough on Sunday mornings to deliver the paper at the pre-ordained time.

The teacher who ran the school newspaper who was so sure I’d make a great sports reporter, only to have me start one story after another, and never finish it, growing surly and defiant when they pressed me to meet the deadlines.

The editor of a local newspaper who was so happy to have me on board, at first, then grew frustrated at how I could never seem to come to a succinct point in newspaper format (my pieces went on for pages, and I still never got to the point).

All the bosses over the course of 20 years who saw so much potential in me, only to be disappointed by one “careless” error after another, dealing with my uncooperative style, and ultimately finding me insubordinate when they pushed me to perform, and I pushed back.

I’ve long believed there was something wrong with me, for not being able to perform at the level everyone else did so easily. The really hard stuff, I could do — staying calm in a tense situation, finding creative solutions for problems that stumped everyone else. But the easy stuff — just staying on schedule, being consistent, having a good collaborative working style, and being a solid team player… that was such a challenge for me.

Everyone else could do it. Why couldn’t I?

And I felt terrible about it for years and years. Decades, really. Just terrible.

Until one day I decided there wasn’t any point to that, anymore. I think that change happened three or four years ago, when I read a book about how the human system is designed to take in feedback and adjust. So, all the “failures” and “mistakes” were actually just feedback intended for me to use and apply in my own life. It wasn’t about black-and-white success/failure. It was about data. Information. New details that I needed, in order to really do a bang-up job on what I was undertaking.

And it made sense to me. I mean, think about it — when you’re born, you don’t know how to walk and talk. You have to learn it from scratch. You don’t come into the world like a laptop from a computer company. You don’t come “pre-loaded” with everything already up and running and properly configured. You have to learn. You have to acquire the skills. You have to gather information and work on your abilities. And if you push yourself to try things you have yet to learn completely, you’re going to make mistakes. You need to learn.

“Mistakes” are how we learn. It’s how we get new information that guides us in a different direction. It’s how we alter the course of our days, weeks, months… our lives.

When I got that through my thick skull (which is actually thicker than usual – my family has dense bones, which is fortunate for us all), everything changed. Everything opened up.  I was free to fail! I was free to live my life! Woot!

Then the details of the book slipped my mind, and I went back to “rigid mode” where I got upset about screwing up, all over again. Because that’s what I knew. That was my old default mode.

With TBI, I think it’s very common for us to be rigid and get certain ideas stuck in our minds. We have A WAY THINGS ARE DONE, and we get stuck in that rut, thinking it’s THE ONLY WAY THINGS ARE DONE. We don’t want to mess up. We want to be successful, so we cling to THE WAY we think we should be using.

Over. And over. And over again.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I do that all the time, and I get so frustrated when it’s clearly not working. First I get frustrated because it’s not working, no matter how often I do it. Then I get frustrated because I forgot — yet again — that I’m too rigid, at times. I get stuck in a rut, and I get upset with myself.

But really, it’s all just lessons. And it’s all just reminders.

And if I can not get all caught up in beating myself up over it, and being hard on myself, these are actually really useful lessons. More lessons. Tons of them. In abundance.

Really, the only thing that can go “wrong” is if I overlook that, get stuck in a rigid mindset, and refuse to learn.

Fortunately, life has a way of reminding me of what I need to know.

And if I can be okay with not being okay — for however long it takes me to figure things out — then I’m good to go.

Onward.

Finding Your Inner Strength after TBI – from TBI Survivor

Several months after my TBI, when the shock of waking up after a month   in a coma had started to dissolve into the realization that things were going to be really different, I began the slow task of sorting my life out.

There were so many issues; I was unable to process conversations quickly, I felt stiff and unemotional, and I was too accepting of the things happening around me. Others thought I was passive and disinterested, but it was simply my inability to respond that made me seem that way. I was having trouble making connections to people and things around me and, as happens to many of us survivors, felt extremely isolated.

Life seemed to be whizzing by and I couldn’t keep up.

Even with all this stuff going on, there was something positive lurking that I couldn’t see. Only later, when I looked back, could I understand what had been going on.

Read the rest of this excellent post at Finding Your Inner Strength after TBI – TBI Survivor

Why have I been away?

Sometimes it's hard to see the path ahead
Sometimes it’s hard to see the path ahead

I just jump-started my TBI blogging again. Looking at my archives, I have only posted six times, so far this month. That’s quite a difference from my past. It’s been for good reasons. I’m getting a lot of things done that have languished for some time.

But I also have been depressed. I get really busy… I exercise regularly… I tick items off my checklists… then I get really tired and feel depressed. No joy left, by the end of the day. No enthusiasm on the weekends. Just slogging through my daily life, pin-balling between hyper-productivity and not wanting to have anything to do with anyone, not wanting to go anywhere or talk to anyone… just waiting for the day to be over.

It’s an odd combination. Because I’m pretty well scheduled, and I’ve got a lot of discipline and focus for the things I need to do. My upbringing stressed getting things done, no matter how you feel about it. Your state of mind was really beside the point. You just got on with life and did your part, even if you had no joy in it. Even if you didn’t care about it. Even if it had nothing to do with you.

If you were depressed, so what? You just got up and got on with your day, anyway. If you were in pain, so what? You just picked up where you could and did your part. Personal feelings and emotions had nothing to do with anything. Getting the work done and playing your role was the critical thing.

I think it went hand-in-hand with being in a rural area, raised by parents and grandparents who’d grown up on farms. When the cut hay has been lying in the field for two days and is dry, and rain is threatening for the late afternoon, you don’t get to lie in bed and say, “Oh, I don’t feel like baling today.” You get your ass up out of bed, and you go bale the hay. You work through any and all weather conditions. You do what is needed by the community, and you pull your weight, so that even if it does rain at 4:00, the hay is all baled and in the hay mow of the barn.

It’s non-negotiable.

And I suspect that’s why depression and mental illness have become more prevalent in society. It’s not that there’s so much more of it, now. There’s just more recognition and acceptance of its very existence. I’m sure there have been many, many people over the eons who have been depressed or had some other mental illness. It was just never allowed to be seen. Or if it was so extreme that it couldn’t be eclipsed and covered up by strict roles and duties, you just got sent away.

Anyway, I haven’t felt much like interacting at all, this month. The shootings in Orlando really upset me. To me, it’s an assault on diversity and community. It’s an attack on human nature and our freedom to simply be who we are and gather with others like ourselves. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re gay or straight — everybody has something about them that is different, and we need to gather with like-minded people to remember who we are. It’s just that the people in Orlando who were killed and maimed aren’t in the mainstream, so many people don’t know how to talk about it or think about it, without looking for a way that “they brought it on themselves.”

I don’t see it as a religious or political thing. I see it as the product of our society that encourages people to take violent action against others, to relieve their own pain. And the politicizing of it by the very people who believe that same thing, really angers me.

And that’s all I’ll say about it. No more comments. There’s too much of that, already.

But back to my present. I really need to start blogging again. Regularly. It actually anchors me and helps me collect my thoughts. And I don’t need to get all rigid about the “right” and “wrong” ways to do it. I just need to do it.

Because the voices crying out that people with brain injuries are broken and can’t be repaired, are too strong.

Because all the fear about concussion often seems to completely overlook the chance of recovery. Concussion is turning into a sort of delayed-action death sentence, and I think that’s wrong. It’s a terrible message to send. But of course, that’s what gets the funding flowing.

Because despite having sustained 9+ concussions in my life, things are going really, really well for me, and I need to bear witness to that. To show that I’m good. That I’m recovering. That it’s not by accident, and it’s not a fluke.

Because, well, this is a huge part of my life. And in the midst of getting everything done, exercising, trying to get my sleeping schedule in order, and generally feeling down, it’s the one thing that can get me out of my head and lift my eyes above my current challenges to show me the precious long view.

I can’t make any guarantees, but I’ve just given myself some really good reasons to re-kick-start my TBI blogging.

So, I expect to see you soon.

Trial and error – the best way I know to figure it out

I didn't swim, but I did have a good walk.
I didn’t swim, but I did have a good walk.

Things have not been turning out the way I expected or planned, lately. Sometimes it’s been disappointing. But I’ve been making the best of things.

I bought some flowers the other night for my spouse.

Turns out they’re allergic to them.

Those flowers are now upstairs in my study, on the desk beside me.

I went out and bought a fresh bunch last night — ones I know they’re not allergic to.

Those flowers are downstairs on the entertainment center. They’re beautiful and they actually look better than the first bunch I got.

So, that’s nice.

I thought I was going to go to the beach at a local lake, a few days ago. I used to swim in that lake regularly, and I’ve been missing it. I took the day off work when the weather was perfect. I had everything planned. I’d swim, and then I’d sit in the sun and dry off and read a book I brought with me.

But when I got there, there were signs telling me I could not swim because of bacteria levels. It’s been dry here. The lake was low — scary low — and I didn’t want to take a chance.

Instead of swimming, I walked around the lake, found a sunny spot, and sat in the sun reading.

And it was nice.

Even if I didn’t swim.

Today, I’m considering telling my boss I want to be considered for a different position. One of the members of my team is leaving, and it would be a great opportunity for me to step into. I’m weighing the pros and cons, thinking about what I’d gain, and what I’d lose. In my current position, I have plenty of freedom and autonomy. I can pretty much do as I please, so long as I show results.

I’m concerned that the other position will have more responsibility, more limitations, more interactions with people I don’t care to interact with. There’s definitely more stress.

I don’t know if it’s worth it.

But I’ll never find out, if I don’t give it a shot.

Trial and error. Maybe I’ll just go for it, and see what happens.

Maybe.

 

 

 

I’ve been quiet here – for many good reasons

lake-clarityJust a note to all of you, that I’ve been quiet lately, because I’m actually living my life and taking care of business. Things that used to baffle and stump me are now becoming quite clear. And I’m better able to get things done around the house and out in the world, than probably ever before.

I can’t account for the change… other than maybe this is what happens after you’ve had enough active TBI recovery time and you keep hacking away at things till they start to make sense.

Who can say? All I know is, life is a heck of a lot more straightforward now, than it’s been in a long, long, long time.

And that
is very
cool.

As of June 11, 2016 – No more gas can problems!

gas-can

My gas cans are no longer an issue for me.

Were they an issue before? Yes.

I have a snowblower and a lawn mower. I have two small (2 gallon) gas cans that I need to keep filled in the summer and winter. I never know exactly when I’ll need gas, because the weather does what it pleases, and nothing ever grows… or snows… quite the way I expect it to.

For years, I’ve been oddly stumped by the supposedly simple task of opening the gas cans, filling them, and closing them again. I felt like such an idiot – everybody else at the gas pumps on the weekends was filling up their gas cans just fine. (And I could swear they were looking at me strangely, while I struggled to get the spouts off mine and fill them properly.) But there was something about the tab on the collar that holds the spout in place that always stumped me.

I couldn’t seem to figure out when to turn, when to press, and how hard to turn. I would fumble and struggle with getting the spouts off the cans, while people at the pumps were waiting for me to get finished so they could gas up. I would press too soon and twist too soon. Or I wouldn’t press hard enough, and I couldn’t get the collars off. Or I would twist without pressing at all, and then curse at the contraption when it didn’t cooperate with me. I would pinch my fingers and/or spill gas on myself in the process. It just didn’t make any sense to me, and I couldn’t figure out WHY they made gas cans so complicated?!

And then, when I was filling them, I’d mess that up, too. I’d spill gas when I was putting he pump spout in the can. I’d overfill the containers, with a little “blurp” of gas spilling over the sides. I’d get gas on my hands. I’d get it on my shoes. I’d try to wipe it off, but that’s not possible. Even with a handful of paper towels and some water I kept in a bottle behind my seat. And then when I put the cans in my car, the whole car would smell of gas, because it would rub off on the inside of the car where the cans sat. For days I’d drive around with the smell of gas, cracking the windows whenever I could to air it out. Unless it was raining. No, even sometimes when it was raining. The smell would be terrible. It would make me feel sick.

When I messed up filling the gas cans, I sometimes felt sick for days after.

And I would just dread filling up the cans, because it was so frustrating for me — such a simple task that anybody could do, but never actually came easy for me. I’d put it off and put it off, stretching the gas in the mower or snowblower to the very end, sometimes even running out of gas. I would not even mow when I should have, because it would use up fuel, and then I’d have to gas up again and wrangle with the gas cans all over again.

It was a major logistical hurdle for me. And I knew it wasn’t supposed to be that way. But how do you explain that such a simple thing is so confusing? How do you get help for that?

Simple. You don’t. You just avoid filling the cans until absolutely necessary. And then you pray that it doesn’t rain, so the grass doesn’t grow. Or that it doesn’t snow so much that you have to use the snowblower.

That was before.

Today was different.

I’d planned to fill them for weeks, since I need to mow and I need to have enough gas on hand, just in case. But only today did I work up the nerve to do it. So, I did.

And for some reason, when I took my two empty cans out of the back of my car and set them on the ground to fill them, I understood perfectly how to open the collars and get the spouts off. It was like I’d always known. I knew how to position the pump spout just right, and I knew how to fill them almost to the top without spilling. I could actually focus on what was in front of me, and for some strange reason I wasn’t agitated and anxious about it. Because I knew how to do it. And I knew that I knew how to do it. There was no question in my mind.

Remarkable. After all those years of being unaccountably stumped. Finally — finally — years on down the line, it made sense to me. So common-sense. Like I’d always known it was, but could never actually manage before.

Seriously, it was unlike anything I’d experienced with those gas cans, since the time I first got them. I could hardly believe it.  Here, I was bracing myself for the inevitable struggle to get those goddamned collars off, fill them with fuel, and then wrangle them closed again. And none of it was a problem. At all. I got them filled, closed them back up, put them in the back of my car, and drove home.

When I got home, I realized I hadn’t closed the gas cap on my car… but there was no harm done. And at least the gas cans were filled.

And that’s one less thing I have to worry about.

Onward!