It’s been a rough 24 hours

My fatigue and stress levels are catching up with me. And it doesn’t help that I have been on prednisone for the past week, to bring down inflammation that was kicking the crap out of me for a while.

Yesterday, I thought I was having a pretty good day. The weather wasn’t as great as I’d hoped, so I wasn’t able to get out and about like I’d hoped I would. And I didn’t get a bunch of stuff done that I had planned. I had something of an outline for my day, and I really didn’t get as much of it done as I’d hoped.

So, big deal, right? Well, actually it was. I had a TFM — Total Friggin’ Meltdown — last night, that started around 7:00 and lasted till midnight. Not good.

I have been so tired, so stressed, so agitated and nervous about my work situation and my impaired work-life balance and trying to find my footing with my new job and new schedule, trying to figure out how to pay for the commute and lunch and the rest of my life… Routine is about the only thing that keeps me sane. It may sound boring, but routine lets me operate at a very high capacity, and it lets me get through my days without having to think and re-think everything I do.

I have a tremendous amount of energy, which is great. It lets me accomplish huge amounts of work, without frying my system. But when I can’t direct that energy appropriately, when I get jammed up and stopped up, when I can’t “get my head” and get free rein, then I start to implode.

That’s what happened last night. I was supposed to do a bunch of things with a family member who has been feeling poorly, lately. We were supposed to go out and run errands and get some stuff done. We could have, too, except that my family member wanted me to take their sweet old time and just enjoy each moment, instead of getting things out of the way, and then relaxing. They wanted to amble and ramble and not rush… to just savor each moment and enjoy the springtime, chat with people, look around, just enjoy the time we had together.

I wanted to, too. I started out wanting to, with a really positive attitude. Thing is — it occurred to me at the time, but I dismissed the thought, and now I realize how right I was — I got completely overloaded with the sensory input and there was literally too much information coming in for me to process. The spring weather, changeable as it was… the sights, the sounds, the movement in town… the sunlight that was brighter than I’d expected (I left my sunglasses in the car)… the tastes of the food we ate… the words of the people we talked with… the total sensory input all proved to be too much for me.

I tried to shake it off and chill. I went for a little walk by myself to calm myself down. But I was really tired and wasn’t thinking well, and the walk wasn’t as relaxing as I was hoping it would be. When I got back to my family member, they wanted to go home right away because they were starting to feel bad again… then they wanted to stop off and do some more quick errands… then they wanted to get a DVD… then they wanted to take another detour… all the while, I was thinking they needed to go home to rest, because they were feeling sick, and I didn’t want them to feel any worse than they already did.

I was tired, myself, and I was trying to keep it together, but all of a sudden, it all bubbled up and blew up.

I just snapped. Yelled. Really yelled. Raged. Flipped out. Threw things. Accidentally hit them with what I threw, too, when I was trying to miss. I took off in the car too fast and I wasn’t driving very intelligently. Then I pulled over and said I would just walk home – they could have the car, they could have everything. I didn’t care. I was just beside myself with overwhelm and confusion and frustration and sensory overload. The whole time, there was this part of me watching from a distance, wondering what the hell I was getting so worked up over, and why was I being so extreme? Didn’t I know this family member wasn’t feeling well, to begin with? And here I was, flipping out on them… over what?

The whole danged episode lasted through most of the evening. And it left me feeling like crap. Without getting mired in the details, it pointed out pretty clearly that I need to watch my energy, I need to keep up on my sleep, and I need to make extra efforts to take care of myself, especially when I’m taking care of others. I need to wear my sunglasses when I’m out and about in the sunlight. I need to take frequent breaks when I’m walking around in town. I need to keep to something of a routine and make sure I do at least some of the things I feel I have to get done — or come up with an alternative plan. I need to step away, and take a break to calm down, too, when I start to get out of control. I need to do better at this, for sure.

Lessons learned. I only wish I’d gotten a clue earlier.

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Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

One thought on “It’s been a rough 24 hours”

  1. Ah, Meltdowns.

    Uncontrolled anger in any situation is always difficult; afterward people wonder why they acted so off the wall or they begin to paint a picture for justifying just why they were pushed to that point or something. We know that it was not a good thing. For folks with TBI meltdowns can be more frequent, more easily provoked and often leave us afterward going ‘huh? How in heaven’s name did that happen?. A few observations I have had about this from my own experiences:

    1. First off – great job in identifying things to do better next time (or things to prevent another scenario like that). That’s the most you can hope for from any experience – that you learn from it.

    2. No Guilt – absolutely none. It’s over, done. Can’t undo. Move on. Guilt has no value add whatsoever. Most people, and ESPECIALLY TBI folks, do not improve their lives based on guilt.

    3. Apologize. The sooner the better. In the past, when this was much less manageable I was so embarrassed I couldn’t even talk to the person. I regret that. People need to know that I feel bad, but they also need to understand that I am not ‘crazy’ nor hate them or carry some underlying grudge. When you apologize it might be helpful to say something along the lines of ‘I am deeply sorry I lost control of my temper the other day and became so enraged. It really has nothing to do with you. I know that this behavior is not appropriate. I have a neurologically based problem where I experience profound sensory stimulus overload, sometimes so quickly that I don’t even realize it. When this happens I can quickly hit a point where I feel overwhelmed by my environment and my reaction is anger. I believe that anger is not a good solution and I am working on ways to manage the environmental issues better.’ Depending on who the person is and how much you want to tell them you can say more about TBI or not. I have found most people don’t really want to know.

    4. One big thing that is missing from your ‘how to do this better list’. Learn to say ‘No’. I think this is a big big problem for a lot of tbi folks for two reasons:

    a. Most mild TBI folks still respond to their world instinctively, so they take on and do things that seem natural to them. Which means that they quickly assume multi-tasking or extra effort tasks, depending on their inherent belief that they can just push their way through

    b. Perhaps because of our TBI’s combined with our personalities we may feel a great need to ‘prove’ that we can do more, that we can push ourselves and so we ignore the warning signs, the fatigue etc. I had a friend with late stage cancer; she was determined to go to work, to live like life was normal, even after two days of intensive chemo. She, not surprisingly, passed out on a commuter train and knocked herself out and had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital. But I understand why she felt she had to do this.

    5. Know that you will have more meltdowns but that if you pay attention as you have, you will get better with nipping them in the bud. You cannot wave a magic wand over this or take a pill or see a therapist and have it suddenly be okay. No amount of anger from others or guilt or shame or punishment will change it (and indeed that will make it worse). You will have to practice, and the practice comes from the experience. It sucks – you may lose friendships, it may affect work – but there is no simple answer. Sorry.

    6. When I first had my accident it was all very strange and I was indeed fascinated by the experience of watching my brain recover (I have an background in this). All in all I was pretty at peace with it because I believed that I would recover, that is my brain would heal and life would just be as it was. Later I began to understand that it might take a little longer than I thought and that it might be a bit of a struggle in some areas but I still saw compensation, neuroplasticity and all that as answers, as a way back to who and what I was. More recently I have come to understand that my life is different and must be managed differently. I cannot be who I was. The impact of that is unimaginable for most people; they do not know what I mean, they see me and I look, talk and act the same as always. What it means however is things like this, like your meltdown, I cannot keep 5 or 6 balls in the air, I cannot go the extra distance – even when I want to with all my heart, I cannot function at high speed amidst chaos and disarray. Yet that is exactly who I was, that was essential to being me. Now I must learn to say no, to disappoint others, to walk away from something that I would love to do. Because at stake is the bigger picture of peace in my life, peace with myself, being productive, getting ANYTHING done, have good relationships etc. I cannot be the kind of hero I once was. BUT I can still be a hero – just a different kind. I can still do the things I love, just not all at once.

    Sooooo………now for me. I hate deficits, I hate handicaps, limitations whatever. My bugaboo. So I don’t think of the changes I have to make as ‘because of my deficits’ – I think of them as conscious choices for a better life. I have friends who are not TBI survivors, who have made similar conscious choices, to simplify their lives, to focus on their priorities, to insert more order and calm. They do it because it does make for a better life for them. And that’s the attitude I am trying to cultivate; not that I am deprived of my intensity and force but rather than I have turned my force into a laser, a pinpoint of energy toward accomplishing one thing or fewer things.

    This means learning to say no, learning to sleep more, learning to be gentler with my body (that doesn’t mean don’t push it or keep it fit; but be gentler) – and learning what matters to me, what I really do want to focus on – because I can’t spend the time on things that don’t matter to me. It can give life a great clarity, make it more certain for you.

    As a side note to this, trying to take my own medicine I made a quick list of my ‘projects planned’ and as I looked at it I realized that intellectually I have the capacity to do all of them, but as a human being the list was beyond reasonable for ANYONE. I keep wanting to be a superhuman and then get frustrated because I can’t.

    It’s hard for tbi folks to acknowledge that they have needs, that they have a right and deserve to say no, to take care of themselves. It seems selfish. But most folks really do say no. Most folks really do place their needs as a priority becasue they cannot function if they do not. You deserve no less.

    7. If you have supportive people around you – people who will understand that you are trying to achieve things here and who won’t see you as defective, pitiful, fearful, troubled, etc – then engage them in helping you say no, define priority etc.

    8. I think you have mentioned most of the key issues; getting enough sleep (even if you have to lie in bed in the dark and pretend to sleep you should do so periodically in order to get ‘rested’), eating well, keeping to a schedule. A couple of refining points that I feel work well for me:

    a. Exercise is vital. It should be built into the routine and I find it is best first thing in the morning. It can be hard for folks to do but it’s a way to guarentee you will do it.

    b. If you are not sticking to your schedule then it’s time to map how you really spend your time. When you do that don’t seek to blame yourself for ‘wasting time’ but rather understand what you need to do, and what you want to do, and what you do do. We all need to blow off time now and then, futz around, read trash or watch tv. We all need to daydream or do nothing. That needs to be built into your schedule and you don’t need to apologize for it. I always WAY underestimate how much time it takes me to do anything now.

    c. Go today or as soon as you possibly can and sign up for a mindfulness based meditation class. Even if you ‘know how’ to meditate. Even if you have taken a class before. Mindfulness meditation is particularly useful, in fact I think it should be a REQUIRED part of all mild TBI rehab programs. Mindfulness techniques will be very powerful OVER TIME in managing anger, stress, fatigue, confusion etc. They aren’t a pancea and this takes work and you will fall off the wagon (I certainly have). But it is the best way I have seen, to date, to help your brain. Mindfulness teaches you to STOP thinking and give your brain a rest. It helps you get all the chaos to settle so that you can put order back into your thoughts. It keeps emotion and rationality in balance. The point of the class is that 1) a true mindfulness class – such as Kabat Zinn has a Mass General (read his book today, full catastrophe living)will give you’re the push to begin the practice or renew your practice and 2) it guarantees that at least once a week you are clearing your head. I am looking for a yoga class right now – but it’s not the same as mindfulness, similar but not quite the same. The mindfulness class is the foundation. I have a great deal of physical pain and I hope the yoga class will help with some of that, though mindfulness has done a lot too. Mediation is not a 45 minute session of ‘ommmm’ every day (though that is not a bad thing) – but it may even come down to a 2 minute breathing exercise that you can use at work, in stress, when close to anger etc. You are already training yourself to identify when you are getting close to the edge – but you are using your reflexive suppress and move on approach to manage – and that blows up. Mindfulness will mean that you do not suppress but acknowledge, and then put aside and give your brain a breather. It will teach you that you do not have to address EVERYTHING in once moment, it will give you a quiet place to go no matter where you are. By the by, I hate getting my butt together to meditate, I always find excuses and put it off. And when I do it properly usually feel better. But not always. That’s important too – it’s not a magic drug, sometimes I am just tired and need sleep. No other answer works. So don’t expect miracles here, but this can be a very very powerful tool.

    9. As a final note; life is not perfect. We all get mad, do stupid stuff, etc. I know much of what I should do and I still don’t do it and I can’t give you a single good reason why. I try but then I don’t. So I keep trying. I meditate diligently and with enthusiasm, and then I stop and get crabby and fuzzy brained – but I still have to force myself to go back. That’s human nature in part – plus I think that when you are injured or sick you have a greater desire to ‘control’ things, internal and/or external and control is always seen as an active posture, not accepting but doing. However that frequently blows up and costs more effort. Accepting that life is going to be troublesome, that you will fail, make a mess of things AND SO WILL EVERYONE ELSE makes it less of an anomaly and more just life.

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