Back on track…

Back in the regular world today, after being out of it for the last week. The trip to families went extremely well. Better than expected. Better than ever. It’s hard to believe how difficult it was for me in the past, compared to how it was for me, this trip.

How amazing, that the changes I’ve been making — getting regular exercise, tracking my daily activities, actively monitoring and managing my days — have made such a dramatic difference. I think, really, just understanding that I have issues, to begin with, gives me something to work with. It gives me a baseline against which I can compare my future progress. And it lets me see the progress for what it is — nothing short of amazing.

In all honesty, I never ever thought I could have that much fun with my family. I never thought I could communicate as well as I did, or that I could relax around them as much as I did. You have to understand — for as long as I can remember, I have been an uptight, frazzled mess around my family, and I had all but written them off for good, many times in the past. I just never thought I would be up to dealing with them.

And for good reason. They’re a handful — all of them. And if I’m not careful, I can get overwhelmed and completely overtaken by all the activity. My parents are physically rough — they’re not abusive, but they are heavy-handed, and the back-thumping of my mother has long been a problem with me. I’ve secretly (or maybe not so secretly) wondered if I would ever be able to be around them.

The thing is, though, this time, I was able to be around them. And I was able to weather the constant storm that is the inside of my parents’ house. I was able to relax and be with them, and just chill. And even when I did get overwhelmed, as I did more than a few times, I was able to step away, calm myself down, and get back in the fray in no time.

How amazing. The sensory issues I’ve always had around them were not in over-abundance, as they tend to be. The overwhelm that I frequently feel with them, was not so much in evidence that it derailed me. I was able to carry on conversations with people, spend some quality time with my nieces and nephews, and really connect with everyone in a way I’ve never been able to do.

So, now I’m back into my regular life, trying to recuperate enough to get back to work. Work. Blech. I’d rather lie around and read or listen to music. I’d rather draw or paint or write. But no, I must work.

And this is where I’m going to put some of my new energy to work — figuring out how to really work well, in this coming year. Including the last few days of the current year. Work intelligently. Manage my energy, just as I did with my family. Be smart about things and set priorities. And not get too caught up in stuff that is passing and is not specific to my Life Goals.

I’m thinking about this… thinking… and doing. I didn’t do such a good job of it, today, but I’m tired from the travel, and I have a little bit of time, till I have to hit the ground running. This will take more work. And a deeper understanding of what I want to do with my life and accomplish in the world. I’m getting back, bit by bit, and it feels good.

The plan is to get back, yes. But also to move past. Up. Beyond. Onward.


My nephew has had at least 12 concussions

Or so he proudly announced to the family the other day, after he had a hard fall while sledding and was knocked loopy for a bit. He sledded down the hill to a ramp some kids had built, lost control of his sled, and landed flat on his back from six feet up. He said he got knocked out a bit, but nobody saw him hesitate. They say he looked like he just got up and went back to sledding.

My sister, who was supervising all the kids while they were sledding, was concerned. The last thing she wants is to return the kid to his mom worse than when she picked him up. But there’s only so much you can do with young teenage boys. Especially when they’re into extreme contact sports, which this kid is.

This nephew is a relatively recent addition to our family, the son of a new spouse who married into the extended family a few years back. I don’t know him well, and I don’t see much of him, as he lives a couple of states away, and I don’t get on the road much, between my job responsibilities and money and fatigue. But he’s always seemed like a decent kid, and I hate to think of what this may eventually mean for him, his behavior, and his cognitive future.

Then again, you never know what the future holds for anyone. If I fretted about all the head injuries I had when I was a kid — and there are a bunch that I don’t remember ultra-clearly, but I know did happen — I wouldn’t have any time for the rest of my life. And the fact that I have the excellent life I have, is proof that a series of concussions doesn’t have to ruin your life.

But still, it does give one pause. It makes me wonder if this kid is showing off, telling folks he’s had all those concussions. It makes me wonder if it’s a badge of courage for him — it sounds like it is. I wonder if anyone has explained to this kid what happens to football players and the brains of people who sustain repeated concussions. I’m not sure there’s much point.  It’s really his parents who should be spoken to. But his dad is really into “boys being boys” which to hims mind involves a fair amount of contact sports, falling down, brawling, and general roughness that — as I’ve witnessed — involves at least some level of head trauma.

It makes me wonder… How much is head injury actually an accepted part of life, even an encouraged one, for some people — and their kids? How much are concussion and subconcussive head injury, which are quite widespread,  a standard-issue part of some lives? What kind of future do people have, if they’re neurologically compromised by head traumas they embrace as a sign of toughness? And how much does head trauma have to do with the endemic social ills we have to content with daily?

I don’t know my nephew’s biological parent well enough to say anything about this, without seeming like I’m meddling. And I don’t know enough about childhood concussions and their prospective outcomes to say much that’s hopeful or constructive. I guess all I have to offer is my own experience and my own example of how I’m getting along in life. My nephew is a really good kid. He truly is. He’s well-spoken and intelligent, and he’s doing amazingly well with his new brothers, now that he’s in the family. I just hate to see him end up disadvantaged in life because of after-effects from all those concussions. And I’d hate to see his family suffer under the misguided assumption that behavior problems he may eventually exhibit are about the kind of person he is, rather than the brain he’s got which has been shaped and reshaped by repeated trauma.

It could be that I’m concerned over nothing. It could be that he keeps his act together and is able to build for himself a positive and pro-active life. Maybe he won’t get into drugs and alcohol, like I did. Maybe he won’t get into trouble at school. Maybe all the things that made my life next to impossible for so many years won’t be his lot in life. One can hope.

Well, you never know. Every brain is different. Every body is different. And for the most part, we all have at least a fighting chance. I’ll just keep an ear open for news of how he’s doing, and spend some time figuring out what, if anything, I can say to his folks to help them understand what concussion can do.

But I’m not going out of my way to prompt any scare stories. It could be, with this kid, we’ve all got nothing to worry about.

Looking back on the last year

I know it’s Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day is still a week off, but it’s never too early to consider the course your life has taken, and make a note of where corrections need to happen.

The things I’ve done right have had to do with learning to pay close attention to what I’m doing and be mindful of it. To see where I’m getting into trouble, and how to get myself  out of it.

The things I would like to do better, have to do with that mindfulness, as well. I need to keep steadier with regard to my self-assessments, and deepen the reflective portion of my life.

I’ve got a few days to contemplate this, while I’m visiting family for the Christmas holiday. Time to slow down and reflect. Give some serious thought to what I’ve done right, this past year — and there has been a lot of that. Also give some serious thought to how to continue this trend and make it more durable.

All good food for thought, while I’m not in the thick of things back home.

All good.

But Mr. Scrooge… It’s Christmas Eve

Whatever faith you are, whatever inclination you are, whatever you think of this time of the year… the nights are getting shorter, ever since December 21st, so that’s something to celebrate. In a few more weeks, it won’t be quite as depressing to get out of work. I won’t have to drive home in the dark forever.

In eras gone by, folks marked this time with trepidation and huge yule logs thrown on the fire, to mark the turning of the wheel of the year. They weren’t entirely sure the sun would return — especially if they were in the far north, and the sun disappeared for 24 hours each day, during this time of year. Of course, since we got all “civilized” we’ve largely dispensed with that superstitious old fascination with slowing down. We are all certain that the sun will return. We are comfortable and comforted in our certainty, so there’s no need for supplications and whispered incantations around the fire. This is the time of year to pick up the pace and go-go-go, dontcha know? And since we’ve moved away from that artificial religiosity stuff, there’s even less reason for many of us to have our business waylaid by the holiday season.

There are some hold-outs, of course. Still some folks who insist on sensing some spiritual connection with the All, and who try to take time to just enjoy family and friends. But the dominant paradigm has become a whole lot more dominant, and any religious devotion these days tends to feel like some extension of the “holy war” we’ve been waging in the onetime cradle of civilization.  The more Islamist our enemy combatants are, the more Christianist our country seems to become. And what parts of this season’s celebrations aren’t overdone de-secularization, just smack of commercial imperative… to shop-shop-shop to prop up the flagging economy.

I’ve never been a fan of mixing religion and politics. Perhaps I was born 250 years too late…? I’ve also never been a fan of commoditizing faith. Perhaps I was born right on time.

I hate to sound cynical. I hate to sound jaded. Even more, I hate to be cynical and jaded. I’m trying my best, this holiday season. The mood to celebrate much of anything seasonal just hasn’t struck me — at least, till the past few days — and I’ve been really struggling with the idea of having to interrupt my schedule to celebrate… well, anything. Money is extremely tight. I have no guarantees at work that my position will continue. I feel I’m walking a thin, thin line, these days, and while I do have some promising ideas for enterprises in the New Year, it all seems a long way off, and I’m not sure if/how/when I’m going to be able to put it all into action.

This is not an easy time for me. After vowing to do better about dealing with my therapist, I realize that they’re really not coming from the same place I am, and if I continue with them, they will continue to undermine me in subtle and indefensible ways. Every session ends in a veritable emotional “hit and run” that I cannot protect myself from, or explain away. My best friend is preparing to move halfway across the country. And my parents are on the wane.

There’s a lot of stuff in the works of my life, but I haven’t been sleeping well, and I’ve gotten a bit turned around, what with all the activity at work and trying to keep myself walking a straight line. I don’t want to be a post-concussive survivor. I don’t want to think about my brain. I don’t want to have anything wrong with me. But I also don’t want to pretend I’m perfectly, 100% standard-issue fine, the way I used to. I know better, now, but it’s a balancing act, trying to stay centered and sane, yet realistic. There’s a surreal feel to much that I undertake, these days, as though it’s bound to work… but then, it might not work at all.

I’m flying by the seat of my pants. But for the next few days, I’m cutting my engines and going to sail along… I’m gliding without an engine… Like the Cessna pilots-in-training who buzz back and forth over my house and cut out the engine periodically to test their ability to fly the plane without power. Something has cut out the juice to my motor, and I’m just sailing along on currents, checking my gauges, trying to see my way across the horizon, so I have a clear sense of where I’m going when the juice cuts in again.

I grow weary of being so philosophical. I grow weary of feeling like I have to plumb depths. But there’s part of me that senses that, as well as everything has been going, it is not in my best interests to lose sight of my human frailties… and to settle in and start taking my success for granted will mark the beginning of the end of this Very Good Run I’ve been having.

In another month, my insurance costs will jump 2-1/2 times. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for this. My spouse is out looking for work and networking with people, so that is promising. But still… they don’t have a steady paying gig, and that’s a problem. If I don’t have insurance, I can’t get therapy or rehab help. If I don’t have insurance, I can’t get help, period. I’ll likely resume my intensive self-assessments — which I need to do, anyway — but it’s a poor substitute for having a trained professional who gives a damn sitting across the desk from me, making notes and suggesting alternative solutions to my woes.

But Mr. Scrooge, it’s Christmas Eve. I’m having a change of heart about this slowing-down business. And I finally feel in my bones that this is not the time to dwell on what-may-be… What-would-be-awful-if-it-happened… Or even what-will-be. This is a time to slow the wheel, turn off the phone, stop checking voicemail, and not do much of anything besides sit and talk and share with the ones we love… those who (in the words of a song I like) “care if I live or die.”

It’s Christmas Eve. I’m with family.

It is enough.

Doing it differently this holiday season

I did something quite unusual last night — I went Christmas shopping by myself at a much slower pace than usual. I didn’t manage to buy everything I set out to, but I got everything I could, and I got through the experience in one coherent piece — and I was able to get my nap after I got back.

Normally, this time of year is marked by team-shopping with my spouse. They contact everyone in the family and find out what people want… or we talk about what we think people want, and then they make up the list. We take the list, hop in the car, and head out to stores that look like good candidates, then we slog through the process of elimination, muddling our way through… with me getting so fried I either completely shut down and become non-communicative, or I melt down and fly off the handle over every little thing.

We usually spend several evenings like this, ’round about this time of year, and we’ve both come to dread it a little. My meltdowns had become more extreme over the past few years, and this year we were both really dreading the whole Christmas shopping business — to the point where we are going to be late(!) with presents for family members in other states. That’s never happened before. We were always good about it. But my meltdowns screwed everything up.

We both recognize that doing a lot of social things, this time of year (when work is actually getting more crazy, what with year-end and all), takes a huge toll on me. Even if it’s with friends (especially with friends), all the activity, all the interaction, all the excitement, really cuts into my available energy reserves. And then I get turned around and anxious… and I either regress to a cranky 9-year-old state, whining and bitching and slamming things around… or I melt down, start yelling, freak out over every little thing, and start picking at my spouse over things they say and do, to the point where neither of us can move without me losing it.

What a pain in the ass it is. Of all things, the uncontrollable weeping bothers me the most. The yelling bothers my spouse. It’s embarrassing for me and frightening for them, and neither of us has a very Merry Christmas, when all is said and done.

So, this year we did things differently.

We split up for the day and took care of our respective activities.

My spouse went to a holiday party that was thrown by a colleague of theirs who’s married to an attorney who deals with financial matters. I was invited, too, but we both realized that it would be pretty dumb for me to try to wade into the midst of 50+ actuaries and tax attorneys and their spouses who were invited to the shindig… and try to hold my own. Certainly, I can keep up with the best of them, but marinating in such a heady soup, especially with everyone hopped up on holiday cheer (eggnog, red wine, punch, etc.) and all animated and such, would have been a recipe for disaster.

So, I didn’t go. Instead, I took our shopping list and headed to the mall to stock up on what our families had requested. We had written down in advance all the names and the specific gifts we were going to get, and we had also written down where we were going to get them. That list was my lifeline. Especially in the rush and press of the mall, which sprawls out in all directions, with satellite stores on either end.

I’m happy to report that I actually did really well. I made a few tactical errors — like not parking in the first lot I came to and walking in. But that turned out okay, because if I had parked in the first lot, it would have been all but impossible to get down to the other end of the mall. I studied the list carefully ahead of time and used a highlighter to mark the stores where I’d be going. I also kept my focus trained on the task at hand — even if it was just sitting in traffic. I also walked a lot more this year than other years. I found one parking space and used it for two different stores. And I didn’t hassle with finding a space that was as close as I could get to the building. I took the first decent spot I could find, and then I walked to the store.

Imagine that — in past years, I was possessed with finding parking as close as possible, and I would move the car between stores, even if they were only 500 yards apart.  This year, I just walked the distance. Even though it was cold, for some reason the cold didn’t bother me, and it actually felt good to be out and moving.

I think that my 5 months  of daily exercise has paid off, in this respect. I think part of the reason I was always consumed with driving everywhere was that I just wasn’t physically hardy. I was kind of a wimpy weakling, in fact — though more in thought than in body, but a wimply weakling, all the same. But having a good physical foundation — even just from doing an hour (total) of cycling, stretching, and light lifting each morning — has made a significant difference in my willingness and ability to walk between stores.

It might not seem like much, but the walking (instead of driving) between stores part of the trip actually made a huge difference in my overall experience. Walking between stores — stopping at the car on the way to stash my presents — helped me break up the activity and clear my head. It got me out of that in-store madness, the crush and the rush, and it got me moving, so I felt less backed-up and agitated. And that let me start fresh at the next store.

That was good, because the first store was a friggin’ nightmare. It was one of those big-box electronics places, that supposedly has “everything” but really didn’t. It was exhausting, combing through the stacks of movies and music, only to find everything except what I needed. The lighting was awful — extremely bright and fluorescent and glaring. People kept bumping into me, or walking so close I thought they would run me down. But the worst thing was the acoustics. Everything surface was hard and echo-y and the place was overwhelmingly loud, and every single sound was at least partially distinguishable, which drove me nuts. I’ve noticed that acoustics have a lot more impact on me than light, when I’m out shopping. The store was one big cauldron of loud, indiscriminate noise, and my brain kept trying to follow every sound to see if it mattered. I couldn’t function there. Not with the place full of people — and very agitated, anxious, aggressive people, at that.

I eventually went with a gift card and got the hell out of there. I doubt I’ll ever go back when it’s that full. When the place is low-key and all but empty, I can handle it much better. But at this time of year? Not so much.

Walking back to my car chilled me out. Sweet relief.

At the second store — a bookstore — I started to feel pretty overwhelmed. They had long lines, and the place was packed — which is good for the retailer, but not so great for me. I spent the longest amount of time there, in part because I could feel I was getting overloaded, and I stopped a number of times to catch up with myself and remind myself what I was there to buy. My list was getting a little ragged, at that point, what with me writing notes in the margins and taking it out/putting it back in my pocket. So, eventually I just pulled it out and held onto it for dear life. I must have looked a little simple-minded, but I don’t care. Everyone else was so caught up in their own stuff, anyway. My main challenge there, was not getting trampled by Women On A Mission — many of them carrying large bags and shopping baskets that doubled as ramrods to get through the crowds.

One cool thing happened, though, when I was taking a break — I had a little exchange I had with two teenage boys who were talking about some book they’d heard about. I was just standing there, pretending to look at a shelf of books, just trying to get my bearings, when I hear this one young guy tell his buddy, “I heard about this book I should get — I think it’s called the ‘Kama Sutra’ and it’s, like, about sex, and it’s got these pictures… and it’s really old… like, from India or something.”

Well, I perked up at that, and suddenly very alert, I looked over at them and said, “Oh, yeah — the Kama Sutra, man… You should definitely check it out.”

They kind of looked at me like deer in headlights, and they got flushed and flustered and stammered something about not knowing how to find it. It was about sex, and they didn’t know how to ask someone to help them. I so felt their pain…

I confidently (and confidentially) pointed them to the book-finder computer kiosk, where they could type in the title and it would tell them where to find it in the store.

“Dude, you should totally look into it. It’s got lots of information — and pictures — and it’s been highly recommended… for hundreds of years.”

They got really excited and headed for the book-finder kiosk. Here’s hoping they — and their girlfriends — have a very Merry Christmas.

That little exchange got me back in the game, so I took another look at my list and managed to find the handful of books and music and calendars I wanted to get. I headed for the line and just chilled/zoned out. I didn’t get all tweaked about how long it was taking; I listened in on a conversation for a while, till I realized it was mostly about death and health problems people were having.

Oh – and another thing that helped me keep my act together, was the 4:15 p.m. alarm that I have set on my mobile phone. 4:15 is usually when I need to start wrapping up my day at work. I need to do a checkpoint on the work I’m doing, start to wind down, and begin keeping an eye on the clock, so I don’t get stuck in town past 6:00, which is what happens to me when I don’t watch my time after 3:30 or so. I have this alarm set to go off each day, and it went off while I was in the store, which was a blessing. I had completely lost track of time and I was starting to drift, the way I do, when I’m fatigued and overloaded and disoriented.

It startled me out of my fog, and I knew I still had a bunch of things on my list to get, so I refocused and started thinking about what I would get at the next store, so I could just march in and do my shopping without too much confusion and disorientation. After I paid for my books and music and calendar, I debated whether to have my presents wrapped for free, which might have saved me time in the long run. But I couldn’t bear the thought of having to interact with the folks who were doing the wrapping. They looked really friendly and gregarious — Danger Will Robinson! Warning! Warning! Even a friendly conversation was beyond me at that point.

I realized I just wasn’t up to that, and I must have looked like an idiot, standing there in the middle of the foyer, staring at the gift-wrappers for about 10 minutes, but who cares? Everyone was so caught up in their own stuff, they probably didn’t notice me. And if the gift-wrappers were uncomfortable with my staring, they didn’t show it… too much 😉

Anyway, after I managed to extricate myself from that store, I headed for my last destination. Again, I didn’t sweat the traffic getting out of the lot, and when I got to the final store, I parked at a distance from the front doors and walked in through the icy cold, which was good — it cleared my head.

Inside, I consulted my list again and headed directly for the section that had what I needed. Halfway there, I remembered that I’d meant to buy a very important present at the first store, but I’d totally blanked on it. I started to freak out and got caught up in trying to figure out how to get back to that first store and not lose my mind in the process.  Then, I slowed down and stopped catastrophizing, and in my calming mind, it occurred to me that — Oh, yeah — they probably carried that item at this store, so I went and checked, and sure enough, there it was – score! I didn’t have to back to big-box hell. At least, not that day.

I found some more of the presents on my list, and although I didn’t get everything I needed, I made a decent dent. My partner can come with me and help me sort out the other items either today or tomorrow. Or possibly when we get to our family — they usually have some last-minute shopping to do, and they can cart us around with them. And I won’t have to drive.

By the time I got home, I was bushed. My spouse wasn’t home yet, so I called them — they were on their way home and were stopping to pickup some supper. I said I was lying down for a nap, and they didn’t have to wake me when they got home. Then I took a hot shower to get the public germs off me, laid down, and listened to Belleruth Naparstek’s Stress Hardiness Optimization CD. I had a bit of trouble relaxing and getting down, but I did manage to get half an hour’s sleep in, before I woke up in time for dinner.

My partner had a pretty good time at the party, but they said it probably would have been a disaster for me — so many people, so much energy, so many strangers, and unfamiliar surroundings. I concurred, and I showed them what I’d bought that afternoon.

We’d both done well. We both missed each other terribly, but we did get through the afternoon without one of those terrible holiday incidents that has dogged us for many, many years. Like Thanksgiving, which went so well, this Christmas shopping trip actually felt normal. It didn’t have that old edginess that I always associate with holiday shopping. It didn’t have the constant adrenaline rush. In some respects, it feels strange and unfamiliar, but you know what? If strange and unfamiliar means level-headed and low-key and plain old sane, and it means I can keep my energy up and pace myself with proper planning… well, I can get used to that.

Yes, I’ve done things differently this year. And it’s good.

Dangerously dizzy… but life won’t wait

I’ve been increasingly dizzy, the past few days. My left ear is squishy and has been making its presence felt. Pressure in my head, and fatigue… I haven’t had good sleep hygiene, for the past few weeks, and it’s catching up with me.

It’s a scary thing, because it’s so disruptive for my daily life. I have things to do and stuff to accomplish, but if I stand up too quickly or move too suddenly, the whole world starts to rush and spin and I get very sick on my stomach. It also makes me extremely irritable, so I snap out at every little thing, which makes me very difficult to deal with at times.

The only thing that really saves me, is being totally focused on what I’m doing, and not moving much while I’m doing it. Working at the computer is a perfect solution for me, because I have to sit up straight and stay focused on the screen in front of me.

The only problem is, it’s Saturday… a few days before I take off on my marathon trip to see family… and I have a whole lot to get done. Dizziness puts me in more danger of falling or having an accident. If I’m not careful, I can get in a lot of trouble. The last thing I need this holiday season is another concussion — most of my adulthood injuries have coincided with holidays, when I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off and wasn’t paying proper attention. I was fatigued and disoriented… and I fell or had a car accident. Not good.

Yes,  I need to be very, very careful, in everything I do.

I think a big part of the problem I’m having right now is the impending holiday rush. The prospect of driving through several states to see multiple families, over the course of nearly a week is making me a little nervous, and that’s setting off my schedule and my focus.

I have been doing really well with keeping to my daily exercise, which helps.  I just finished my morning workout, in fact, and I feel noticeably better than I did before it. I worked up a sweat and got my heart pumping, which in turn moved the lymph through my system to clear out the grunge. I love lymph. So basic, so essential, so useful. Without it, I’d be in a heap of trouble, and I count my blessings that I don’t have lymph drainag problems, like folks with edema do.

Anyway, I’m feeling better, and I have a full day ahead of me. But I’m pacing myself. And I’ve blocked off time this afternoon to sleep. I haven’t had a good afternoon nap in weeks, and it’s taking its toll. If I don’t nap at least once over the weekend, it catches up with me — and that’s what’s been happening.

And now I’m really dizzy, with a lot of stuff to do, and I regret doing chores last Sunday, instead of taking my nap. I had three solid hours to myself, to use as I pleased, and I frittered away the time on futzing around and doing little chores that took longer than I expected.

Ah, well,  so it goes. At least I’m aware of my dizziness, so I can accommodate it and work with it. When I’m really, really dizzy, I find that keeping my posture ramrod straight and moving very slowly and deliberately helps tremendously. Also, if I sleep a lot and drink plenty of fluids and avoid sugar, that helps, too. I’ve taken medicine for vertigo, but it didn’t help a bit. Anyway, it turns out the medicine is really just for nausea that results from vertigo, not the vertigo itself — at least that’s what the PCP I had at the time told me. Come to think of it, they could have been wrong. They were a bit of an idiot, by average standards. (And it was a scary six months in my life, when they were my primary doctor.)

But now I’ve got a pretty good PCP, and I trust them a whole lot more than the last several I went to. Trusting your doctor is good. It simplifies a lot of things, in many ways, not least of which is the office visit experience.

But more on that later. Right now, I need to stay focused on my dizziness.

Tracking back over the past week, as it’s gotten steadily worse, I have been looking for what I’ve been doing differently that has contributed to this. The one thing that I’ve been doing regularly, that is very different from before, is that I’ve been eating pieces of chocolate to keep myself going. Not just chocolate, mind you, but those little Dove chocolates with peanut butter in the middle. I thought that the peanut butter would give them more staying power, but what I’ve noticed over the past week is how much sugar is in those little puppies.

Zoinks! Who eats this stuff regularly?! They’re dangerous! Sure, they give me a little pick-me-up when I need it — like driving home late from work when it’s very dark, I’m very tired, and I’m having a hard time seeing. But I’m finding that when I eat one, I crave another one about 10 minutes later — like I spike, and then I crash and am worse off than before, so I need another “little” piece of candy to keep me going… and my system gets totally fried by all the sudden, extreme ups and downs.

Which contributes to my fatigue… and apparently my dizziness.

Not good.

So, while I’m doing my errands today, I’m going to remove the chocolates from my car — just throw them out — drink more water, eat more fruit, and be very, very careful when I’m out and about.

The last thing I need is another accident or fall.

Update 12/18/09

I’m a blogger, and this is my blog, and I haven’t posted anything for days, so now it’s time for me to do the thing I do as a blogger –


More and more people, it seems, are discussing head injury. Traumatic head injury. Concussion. The NFL announced new guidelines — the real benefit from that, I believe, is that people will start to see football as the potentially very-dangerous sport it is, rather than an all-American pastime that is a staple of every kid’s growing-up years.

A staple, sure. But at NFL levels, it can be lethal. Perhaps not right away, but decades on down the line… who am I and what happened to my cognitive function?

Anyway, I’ve had a really long day — made much longer by being over-tired, under-rested, and having a wrinkle show up in my insurance that doubled my deductible to an unsustainable level, so now I have to go insurance shopping.

Why do I think this healthcare bill isn’t going to help?

I wish I could be more positive about it, but I am tired, I need food and rest, and more than anything, I need to be with my extended family, kicking back for the holidays.

For now, I shall supp, and then sleep.


Solutions-Oriented TBI Recovery

I’ve been having a pretty good month, so far. Actually, the goodness goes  back to late November, when I planned and completed a very successful Thanksgiving. It wasn’t successful in the “worldly” sense — it was successful interpersonally and individually. I managed to make it through the holiday without a meltdown, without a breakdown, without total loss of all control, and with a presence with those I was with that I cannot remember ever having had at that time of year.

Now the next spate of holiday activity is coming up. Two families in several states await the pilgrimage of my spouse and myself. It’s going to be even more rigorous than Thanksgiving. Twice as much driving, four times as many families, probably about 20 times as much activity. And this, over the Christmas “break” when everyone will probably be on the road.

I’m being smart about it, planning ahead, pacing myself… Not taking on too, too much at work, but managing (sometimes just barely) to keep up with my workload. Just thinking about it all makes me flush with excitement/dread. But that’s the nature of the game we play at the company where I work, so if I don’t like it, it’s my own danged fault for staying in it… or it’s up to me to change it.

I’ve  been having some pretty amazing revelations, too, with regard to my recovery. I’m reading again, which is a miracle in itself. I’m also able to sleep 8 hours at a stretch, now and then (last night was such a night). And I’m actually awake before 11 a.m., thanks to the daily wake-up exercise routine. I’ve also discovered that, even if I am planning on doing some exercise in the morning — like outside chores that promise to wipe me out — I still need to do my exercise routine to wake myself up, before I do anything else. No compromises, no shortcuts.

My neuropsych has been, well, psyched about my recent breakthroughs. The fact that I’ve been able to manage several extremely challenging travel/family situations in the past five months… the tremendous progress I’ve been making at work… the exercise and the better choices… the difference in my outlook and how I do things, each and every day… not to mention the revelations that I’ve had about what I’m truly capable of… it’s just floored them. Part of me wonders if they’re really amazed, or if they’re just trying to encourage me. But I trust them and their judgment, and I believe them when they say they’re just amazed at my progress.

It’s true. I have been making incredible progress. I have Give Back Orlando to thank for that, as well as my neuropsych and the materials I’ve been reading. One of the main ingredients that’s been critical in my rebound from teetering on the brink of financial ruin and homelessness (I’m not kidding), a few years back, has been the approach I’ve taken to my recovery. Ever since I realized I needed to recover — to rebound — from my fall in 2004… not to mention a lifetime of multiple periodic concussions… I’ve been focused not only on understanding the nature of my issues, but also devising solutions for the issues that are tripping me up.

Indeed, when I look back at my concussive life — starting when I was a young kid, on up through my late 30’s — I can see a pattern, an approach, that has served me well in rebounding from my falls and accidents and knock-out attacks. That pattern/approach was temporarily hidden from me, after my fall in 2004, so I literally forgot how to recover. But when I started getting back, I started to get back into this pattern, and it is helping me as much now — probably more, since I understand the underlying issues — as it did when I was trying to get through my childhood and adolescence and young adulthood after my different injuries.

I could post a laundry list of all my issues — and I probably will in a later post — but I haven’t got time for that right now. Suffice it to say, I’ve got a raft of them. Tens of them. And they cause my trouble on a daily basis. Now, looking at them all by themselves (which I tried doing, a few years back) just gets way too depressing. Seeing my issues for what they are — serious and threatening to my way of life and everything I hold dear — is necessary, true. But if I’m going to recover and rebound, I have to focus not on the problems they cause me, but the solutions I develop to deal with them.

If you’re interested in figuring out how to recover and rebound from your own issues — whether they’re TBI-related or some other sort of cognitive-behavioral bugaboo, like PTSD — I’m happy to share what I do — and have done for as long as I can remember — to get a handle on my issues and overcome them, day after day. (Note: Clearly, I’m human, and some days are better than others, but this is what works best for me — and I have a very successful and fulfilled life to show for it.)

Here’s the approach I take:

  1. I figure out what I want to do. I establish a goal or a desire I wish to fulfill— Like getting out of the house in time to make it to work by 9:30 a.m. I write down what I’m going to do.
  2. I plan my approach and try to prepare as best I can — I collect everything I’ll need for the day, the night before, set my clock early enough to get up, and talk myself through what I’m going to be doing to get out the door at a decent hour. I write down the steps I’m going to follow, in the order and time I plan to follow them.
  3. When the time comes to accomplish my goal, I make a point of focusing completely on it, and I do my utmost to achieve it. I also write down the things I did, and if I don’t make my own goal, I write that down, too, and make a brief note of why it didn’t happen. — As in, I get myself up, do my exercise, and prep for the day. I make a note of what I did all along the way — not lots of notes, but little notes so I’ll remember later. If I can’t manage to get out the door, I make a note of why that was (such as, I miscalculated the amount of time it would take me to eat breakfast, or I forgot that I needed to take out the trash and clean out the back of my car) so I can go back and think about it later.
  4. Over the course of the day, I continue to write down the things I am doing, if they are working or not, and I also look back at how my day started, to put it all in context. If my late morning arrival at work threw off the rest of my day, I can see how it all comes together, and I can also shift my schedule a little bit (like take some things off my plate) so I can catch up with myself again.
  5. At the end of the day, I take a look at how the day went, and I make a note (mental and written) about the things that stopped me from achieving what I wanted to do. I think about this as I plan my next day — if I’m not too tired, I can sometimes head future problems off at the pass. For example, if I was late getting out the door on that morning and it screwed up my day, I can look at what I’ve got going on the next morning, and make changes accordingly. Like double-check my list of things to do, and do them ahead of time. Or set my clock earlier, so I have more time to get things done.

I do this every day, just about. Yesterday, I was really late for work, and I didn’t get to do some things I was  supposed to, because I had forgotten to do some essential chores the night before. I realized, over the course of the day, that I was very tired from a full and active weekend, and I did not rest enough over the past two days. I also realized that when I get tired, I tend to push myself even harder, so I needed to not drive into work today, but work from home. Working from home lets me move at my own pace AND it lets me get an afternoon nap in, which is very important — especially with the holidays coming up.

And all along, I consult my notes. I don’t try to make them all neat, but I do try to make them legible and leave room for other notes in the margins ans I go through my day. Making notes of why things didn’t work out is actually more for consideration throughout the course of the day. I don’t spend a huge amount of time with neatness and completeness. The point of writing it down is more for developing mindfulness around the things I did not manage to get done when I planned to. And giving me a point of reference, when I’m starting to get overwhelmed, as I tend to do.

All in all, the system works for me. It’s solutions-oriented, and the only reason I pay attention to my problems, is so that I can overcome them. I refuse to be held back by these issues, which can be dealt with systematically and logically and logistically. If I have certain problems with fatigue and overwhelm, I can take steps to head those problems off at the pass, or address them in the moment they come up.

This orientation towards goal-oriented solutions is the only way to go for me. It puts my issues in a context that is empowering, rather than defeatist. It also cuts them down to size, by breaking them into smaller and smaller pieces, which I can take, one at a time, to overcome them. When I look at the mammoth iceberg of issues I have — all together at one time — it quickly becomes overwhelming. But if  I break them down into “bite-sized” pieces and tackle each one at a time, AND I attack them with the purpose of achieving the goals I set for myself each day, I can make some real progress.

And I have. And I continue to. Almost by accident — but with a lot of great help from a few key resources — I have come up with a blueprint for addressing my TBI issues, one at a time. And it works. The proof is in my life, which just keeps getting better.

I’ve decided not to fire my therapist… yet

Note: I unpublished this post from 2009, for some reason. But reading it again today, it still seems very important to mention. So, I’ve published it again.

I’ve been agonizing a bit over my therapist, lately. And it’s kept me up at night, which is not good. I had intended to come back from Thanksgiving and fire them, since I have not felt like they are totally supportive of my recovery, and in some ways, the innuendos that they toss my way.

They’ve said things like, “You may have to settle for making less money because of your issues,” when I was talking about my job challenges and how frustrated I am with the high tech industry and my future prospects. I was frustrated with my own difficulties, yes, but my frustration was also due to the changing industry and the flood of young guns who are showing up (not necessarily knowing what they’re doing) and snapping up jobs for lower rates, which is a problem for seasoned pros like myself.

I was telling them about trying to repair a relationship I have with someone who is 15 years older than me, and this therapist said “Well, they are getting older, so you can only expect so much of them.” As though this friend of mine were impaired, simply due to their age. And they weren’t going to get any better over time, which meant (in their mind), I had to just accept the flaws in the relationship and take what little I could get, not have high hopes, not have high expectations, not have high… anything.

Truly, that makes me crazy. I am 100% committed to my recovery, and restoring myself to the highest level of functioning that is humanly (even inhumanly) possible. I know the human species is built for amazing things. I’ve watched Cirque de Soleil, and once you see — really see — them, you realize that more is possible than you ever dreamed. I’ve hauled my ass out of some pretty tight spots in my life, some of which looked hopelessly dire.  I’ve had my ass spared from some pretty shocking fates, through total flukes, coincidence, apparent divine intervention, and the kindness of strangers. I’ve been homeless, and I’ve been in the top 10% of the world’s wealthy. I’ve  been bullied and feted. I’ve won blue ribbons, and I’ve defaulted and fouled out. I’ve experienced a fairly wide gamut of human experiences, and since I’m only in my 40s, I don’t expect to stop doing that anytime soon.

For this therapist to tell me what is and is not possible, what I should or should not expect from life, is not only out of line, but flat out wrong.

Yes, it drives me crazy. The problem is, it drives me crazy in retrospect. ‘Cause I’m having trouble keeping up. The conversations we have tend to take on a life of their own and really speed up, to where I’m flying by the seat of my pants, trying to at least appear like I know what I’m talking about. I have been quite nervous with this shrink from the start. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s that they have these multiple degrees, and they carry themself like God’s gift. Maybe it’s that they’re very well-connected and I’m intimidated by their influence and power. Whatever the reason, when I’m in session, I get nervous. And I think they do, too, because they know I work for a very big and powerful company that is an imposing monolith in the region where we live. Yes, I suspect they’re quite nervous with me, too, and we both set each other off, so the conversations we have tend to jump around and pick up speed, and things get said that I can’t react to in the moment, ’cause I’m back on the last thought, trying to sort out what they meant when they said “_____”

Keeping up has always been a challenge for me, but all those successive challenges have been building up to critical mass. They’ve said a lot of things to me, and I’ve just nodded and uh-huh‘ed my way through the conversation, and then later realized what they said and what I really thought about it. And then, time after time, I’ve gotten upset and tweaked, because I haven’t been able to stand up for myself and set the record straight.

It drives me crazy, not being able to speak up at the instant something is not quite right. And it’s something I need to deal with.

Which is why I’m not firing them… right away.

What I really need to do, is get some practice standing up for myself and working with conversations in a common-sense way. My processing speed is slower than one would expect. That’s been well-established with testing. I also have difficulties understanding what I’m hearing. That also showed up on my neuropsych evaluation. And I have a long history of holding back and not engaging in conversations with people, because I’m trying to figure out in my head what just happened… but my head is not cooperating.

What I really need to do, is develop my skill at having these kinds of conversations, and mastering them in the moment, when they are causing me problems. Not run away right away, but stick with it, and see if I can sort things out — be very, very honest about what I’m thinking, ask for clarification, stop the action periodically to see if I’m following correctly, and not let this therapist make me feel less-than, because I’ve sustained a bunch of concussions over the course of my life.

This is very important practice. Handling conversation is a skill I must learn – even at this “late” date. Because this sort of muck-up doesn’t just happen with them, and it doesn’t just mess me up in therapy. It has messed me up at home, in the past, but I’ve been doing a lot better with it, since my spouse and I have been approaching our discussions and exchanges with my post-concussive state in the backs of our minds. It sometimes messes me up at work, too — the saving grace with work is that I interact with people on a daily basis, and I can check in with people again after the fact, and get clarification. And use email to get it in writing. And check with others to make sure I’ve got things straight in my head.

But not every exchange I have with people manageable with email and foll0w-ups and a deep understanding of my neurological issues. I have the whole outside world I have to deal with, and I need to deal with it well and effectively.

So, I will not be firing my therapist right away. I need to learn to deal with them more directly, to have conversations with them that are not one-sided, but are full conversations — (putting the “con-” which means “with” in “conversation”). I need to get with the conversations we’re having and participate. Even if it means slowing things down and feeling dense in the process. If I can get away from feeling stupid about not following at lightning speed… if I can figure out a different way of thinking about my processing speed being slowed down… if I can find another way of framing my interactive needs… that would be helpful.

Because the way I’m framing it now:

“You’re stupid to be this slow, so you’d better keep up, even if it’s at the cost of not following exactly. And by all means, never let them see that you’re struggling. You have your pride, after all.”

Well, that’s just not working.

Truly, I really don’t have the time to waste on relationships that undermine me. But this pattern with this therapist is part of a larger pattern I need to address. I need to practice having conversations with people that involve me, as well as them. And I need to slow down the pace, so I can have a fully involved exchange, not some mad dash to the finish line. What I really crave is quality of life. To be involved in my own life. To not just put on a good appearance, but also have a full experience — good, bad, or otherwise.

It’s all very well and good, if I look like I’m fine. But if I’m not fully present in the moment, when I’m looking the part, then the life I’m leading is not fully mine. It’s everybody else’s but mine.

So, I’m not the only one whose memory got hosed…

Just found this article about Jamal Lewis’ decision to retire from football after a concussion.

This sounds eerily familiar:

After calling time on his playing days, it’s reported Lewis was unsure his retirement from the NFL was the right decision, but after talks with his wife, he knew it was time to retire.

“I felt confused and did’t know where I was, or what I was supposed to be doing. That’s football though, Coach Mangini makes the calls, I just try and decipher them”.

After the hit, Lewis started to complain more of concussion symtoms which lead to the former Pro-Bowler being placed on injured reserve. “I had terrible headaches, night terrors, my vision was blurred, and I had black spots in my memory.”

“It felt pretty good for the most part. It allowed me to relax. I took some time away with my kids, I just wanted to forget football for a while.”

However after the heavy hit, Lewis forgot about football almost entirely. While watching a repeat of popular-sitcom Friends, he turned to his wife “We’ve got enough money, the kids are set-up for life, I can retire. Look at those guys, they never work, and the live in Manhattan. That could be us, baby.”

Mrs Lewis didn’t take this well. A source close to the situation revealed she screamed in his face “YOU’RE 30 YEARS OLD JAMAL. YOU’RE THE GOD DAMN RUNNING BACK FOR THE CLEVELAND BROWNS!”

“I was in shock. I couldn’t believe what just happened. She’s never spoken to me like that before” remarked the former 1000-yard rusher. “And that’s when it all sunk in. I really did play for Cleveland.”

“The concussion wiped parts of my memory, and I guess I’d forgotten all about that time in my life”.

Yes, folks, that’s what a mild traumatic brain injury can do to you. And you don’t even realize it at the time. That’s one of the thins that makes this kind of injury so frustrating and confounding. You think you’re fine. You really do… but others know better.

The lucky ones have people around them who will tell them what the deal is and set them straight.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have to find out the hard way.