Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and today I’m traveling to my extended family, several states away. I expect the traffic to be heavy, and I expect the trip to be long. I’ve spent the past week preparing myself for this mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I’ve consulted with my neuropsych, I’ve checked in with friends, I’ve been eating right and I’ve been working out and stretching regularly. Last night I actually got eight hours of sleep.
This year is very different from past years, in that I’m not pushing myself up to the very last minute when my spouse and I hit the road. I’ve been taking it easy, taking the different tasks in manageable pieces, not biting off more than I can chew, but keeping on task and on point. And I’ve been using my timer, to make sure I stay on schedule.
This year is also different, in that I called my parents ahead of time to find out what the plan was going to be for the next few days. I checked the weather, too, so I could be prepared to offer suggestions. I’ve requested that we just take Friday “off” and relax and do some light activity outside — the weather is going to be beautiful, and I would really like to spend time with my folks, just hanging out and talking.
I am also planning to share with them the findings of my neuropsych evaluations and work. I’ve made tremendous progress, over the past year, and I want to share the info with my parents in a positive and constructive way. I haven’t been able to do that, till lately, as I’ve had a lot of reservations about my progress (not helped by my psychotherapist, who has been trying to talk me into “accepting” (i.e., giving up on) my limitations and settling for less of an amazing life than I believe I can have.
I’m not sure how they got to be that cynical, but I’m not on the same page with them, and I am certainly not going to settle for less, just ’cause I’ve had some misfortunes along the way.
Anyway, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how much progress I’ve made over the past year or so. My neuropsych says they are encouraged and inspired by my progress, which is great. I’m really happy I can return the favor of their assistance. I really have come a long way. A year ago, I was pretty turned around, I didn’t have much direction, and I was very muddled and confused by the ramifications of my issues. I had a long way to go, to figure things out.
My previous therapist wasn’t helping matters, by constantly focusing on what my mother did, as a source of my woes. I invested a lot of time with them, essentially being led down the wrong path — it wasn’t necessarily my mother (or my father) that was the root of my issues. It was more the neurological context in which I was living in my childhood — all those unidentified, misunderstood, pesky issues that complicated and intensified every experience I had, and had me “pegging” emotionally and behaviorally all over the map.
Now, I have to say, my current psychotherapist has helped me regain my balance from before. I think my previous therapist was trying to regress me, to find some deep, dark secret hidden in the innermost recesses of my psyche, so they could exorcise my demons or something like that. And my current therapist helped me regain my balance by helping me focus on the logistics of my day-to-day life, rather than floating around in the distant past. And I am very grateful for their help (tho’ I have to move on now).
Indeed, I think the thing that has helped me the most, over the past couple of years, has been the help I’ve gotten in dealing with my everyday life — keeping my issues in mind, understanding them and how they impact me, and getting to the bottom of the problems I can expect to have, given different situations. Being aware of patterns, like:
I get tired after a full day of intense activity, and when I get tired, I have a tendency to get turned around and agitated, which adds to my internal confusion and throws gasoline on the fire of my temper… and really contributes to me melting down over every little thing
helps me immensely, and it also helps the people around me to help manage and anticipate my issues before they get completely out of control.
And one of the big things that helps me identify my patterns is examining my life on a regular basis. I take a lot of notes, and I record a lot of my experiences. I look back on my days and weeks, and I watch for issues and patterns that emerge over time. I write down the times when I am having a really hard time of things, and I identify the contributing factors. And I draw pictures of my problems and the “flow” I use to deal with them. I work with my life — the failures and the successes — as my own individual recovery plan and practice. And I see results.
Real results. Like promotions at work. Like improved relationships with others. Like a more creative approach to my life, overall. If I can get past the old bad habit of being so hard on myself, and I can treat my difficulties as challenges (from the outside — from my faulty wiring — rather than from my inside character or personal worth) to be tackled creatively … challenges just waiting to be overcome… well, then, the ultimate results of my examined life are tangible improvements, the likes of which I never thought I’d see happen.
Truly, this is remarkable. I always thought — before I knew why things were always getting so screwed up with me — that I was flat-out doomed to failure. I had precious little expectation that things would ever turn around for me permanently… I figured it was always just a matter of time, till things got mucked up for no reason I could identify, and everything I’d worked so hard for just went away, swallowed up in the sinkhole of my life.
But now that I’m paying attention to the basics, and I’m following up to deliberately study the results of my actions and see how they can be improved… Now that I’m treating my life like the miracle that it is, and I’m studying my daily “playbook” with focus and intention, and I’m refining my approaches, based on what I know about my limitations, I no longer believe that I am stuck in endless cycles of attempt-failure-attempt-failure-attempt-failure.
My life is different now. Because I’m living it differently now.
And it’s good.
In case you’re wondering how I go about doing this, here’s the basic flow of my practical-life-recovery-plan:
- I figure out what I want to do. I understand why I want to do it, and how it fits in the overall picture of my life. For example, I figure out that I need to exercise first thing in the morning, and I need to really work up a sweat, because I have been feeling a little sluggish lately and I need to “pump up” my system a little more.
- I do it. And I track what I do. For example, I do my morning workout, but I don’t manage to work up much of a sweat.
- I figure out if I accomplished what I set out to do, and if I succeeded, I celebrate in some way. If not, I ask myself why that is. For example, I make note that I worked out — and I congratulate myself for doing that — but I didn’t work up a sweat, and I wonder why.
- I figure out why I didn’t accomplish exactly what I set out to do, and I ask myself what I can do differently to change that the next time. For example, while I’m having my breakfast, I look at how I’m doing, and I realize that I’m tired and distracted. I figure out that I didn’t get to bed at a decent hour the night before, and I also see that I let to many errands wait till later in the day, which pushed my schedule back farther into the evening, so I couldn’t relax and get to sleep at a decent hour.
- I think of alternative strategies I can follow to make changes in my daily life, that will help me accomplish what I set out to do better today. For example, I spend a little more time planning my day in a way that will let me get my busy-work done first thing, and give me more time in the afternoon to take it easy and wind down.
- I go about my day and check in with myself periodically, to see how I’m doing. I make a point of remembering the goals I did not accomplish, which I really, really wanted to accomplish, and I work a little harder to keep myself in line. For example, I check my daily work list periodically to make sure I’m staying on schedule and make sure I’m not overloading myself with extra stuff in the evening.
- Last but not least, I follow up. I do a check-in later to see how I’m doing, and if I’ve accomplished the goals I set for myself, I celebrate and reward myself. For example, if I get to the end of the day without wiping myself out, I treat myself to a little bit of television, watching a show on cable that I really like. Or better yet, I make an early night of it and I get in bed at a decent hour, which lets me sleep and sleep and sleep till I’m actually rested.
- And then I do it all again the next day.
To some, it might sound arduous and like a lot of work, and it is. But it’s good work, and it’s really more of an orientation to my life, a kind of spiritual practice, if you will. In the Give Back Orlando material, they talk about how TBI survivors need to be more mindful of their lives, and I have found that to be very true. But even more importantly, I’ve found that I want to be more mindful of my life. Yes, it’s work, but I don’t mind the work. Yes, it’s different from how most people live. But I’ve never been like other people, so why start now — and why feel badly that I can’t be like them? I’m just fine, the way I am.
In the end, yes, it does take more work to live this way. In the end, yes, it is more time-consuming to do things that a lot of people do quickly and easily without a second thought. In the end, no, I don’t have as much time to fritter away on non-essential activities.
But in the end, the payoff is huge. I get to have a life.
Better yet, I get to have the life that I want to live.