I’m feeling perky today. I didn’t get enough sleep last night, but I got up and rode the exercise bike, stretched a little, and then lifted my weights. I just do 5-lb dumbells, and I focus on my upper body, and it feels great. While I’m lifting, it feels like such a chore and a pain in the butt, and I can’t wait for it to be over.
But I use overcoming this reluctance as an exercise in impulse control and personal discipline, which I sorely need to re-develop. Before my last injury, I was a machine. I would go to the gym religiously and I was intensely disciplined about my health. After the accident in 2005, that just fell apart, and I’ve vowed to get it back. It’s paying off in a big way. I feel better about myself and my ability to be the person I know I am. And when all is said and done, I feel GREAT! Lots of good energy. Plus, I don’t need to drink all that coffee anymore, ’cause my day is off to a good start, and I’ve got plenty of juice to spare till much later in the day, than if I don’t exercise.
I’m really pleased with the training routine I’ve gotten into. And I’m expanding it into social areas as well. I plan my day and think about what I want to do with myself that day. Also, I practice my conversations with other people while I’m riding the bike, which helps get my mind off the monotony of the pedaling and keeps my brain occupied.
One of my secrets to continued improvement is that I’ve gotten into practicing my interactions with important people in my life — most notably my neuropsychologist and my therapist. Those working relationships are my lifelines, and I don’t want to screw them up, because I get so much out of them. I was very dissatisfied with how I was behaving around them — not very smooth, socially, getting lost and not remembering to talk about certain important things I had promised myself to bring up. I just wasn’t performing very well at all.
I knew I could do better. I wanted to do better. So, I started “running lines” with/about these people in private. I basically practice interacting with them when I’m by myself, so when I am with them in person, I can be more fluid and relaxed and not stress out with how poorly I’m performing. I make up conversations with them, rehearsing how I intend to interact with them later on.
My spouse has gotten used to hearing me do this — in the shower, while I’m washing dishes, while I’m working in the yard, while I’m by myself in my study. At first, they thought I was losing my mind – they were just jealous because the voices were talking to me ;), but when I told them what I was doing, and it was clear I was lucid and not completely delusional, they got used to the sound of my voice having an animated conversation with thin air.
I practice outside the home, too. That’s where a cell phone really comes in handy. If I know I need to speak at a meeting or have an important discussion with someone, I rehears it with my cell phone attached to my ear. Nobody knows I’m not talking to anyone. Nobody can tell. I’ve got my cell phone clamped to the side of my face, and I’m very animated, so surely there must be someone there. I often rehearse my life while I’m driving to and from work, too. I have these really interesting conversations with an imaginary person, and if people in other cars start giving me looks, I lift my cell phone, so it looks like I’m on speaker phone, and their curiosity is satisfied.
I’m sure it sounds a little bit insane, but the rehearsal is really paying off! I’m actually able to exchange information with the most important people in my life better than ever, and I’m much more interactive than I was just a few months ago. Each time I meet with someone I have virtually rehearsed with in person, I do a little better, and I’m actually starting to look (relatively) normal when I talk with them. At least, I think so. My neuropsychs have noticed a difference, too. At the very least, I’m not tearing up and twitching when I talk to my shrink anymore, which is good progress for me. I friggin’ hate that affective lability stuff — that’s where your emotions are all over the place and you fall to pieces over absolutely nothing — it’s personally, mentally and emotionally debilitating. And it’s not like me at all.
I got the idea of practicing in advance after I came across the concept of “Stress Inoculation Training” about a year ago. It’s all about reducing the amount of stress in situations by experiencing them up front and acclimating yourself to circumstances that might cause you stress. Conversations with some people are very stressful to anticipate, so I had to come up with a way to deal with this, and stress inoculation training seemed like a good idea. I don’t have an exhaustive understanding of it, but I get enough of it to help myself.
Oh, and there’s the theater connection. I have hung out with theater people for years, and one person I know rehearses every single important conversation they’re going to have with a friend, relative or confidante. I thought for years that they were nuts… until I tried it myself in private and found out how well it works.
I must spend at least 5 hours a week, practicing for my various therapy sessions, and I’m really happy with how well it’s going. I’m actually able to show up and be myself. It sounds strange to me, to think I have to practice being myself — shouldn’t I just be able to do that? Other people can? But I think the stress just gets in my way, so I have to take other steps. And I do. It’s a thing of beauty, when it works, and it’s been working.
Now, not every conversation I have with them goes the way I want or expect it to, but practicing at least some sort of conversation with them enables me to feel more comfortable overall, which frees me up to ad-lib, which is turning out to be fun and productive. I tend to forget a lot that we talk about, but I’m doing better at remembering to take notes when it’s important.
The other nice thing is that the better I get at having these conversations with people outside my immediate circle, the better I get at having more reciprocal conversations with people who are close to me. I keep having these conversations with people that are many times longer and many times more involved than the typical exchanges I’ve had for more than 40 years. It’s quite remarkable that I was so impaired before, and I can’t quite believe I’ve gone this long with the basics of conversation never making much sense to me, but now I’m learning and figuring it out, so that’s very cool.
Expanding the idea, I’ve also been practicing going through the steps of doing tasks I keep messing up at work. I’ve been practicing talking to my new boss and new colleages. I’ve been practicing, practicing, practicing.
And it pays off.