I got myself up at a decent hour this morning and did my morning routine — sitting and doing focused breathing for a count of 100, then riding the exercise bike for 15 minutes and doing some light dumbbell lifts. I forgot to do my leg lifts, which I do without holding onto anything so that I improve my balance (it’s working — my balance is 1000% better than it was about a year ago). But then when I was making notes on my morning routines over the past several days, I remembered it, so I got up and did my leg lifts.
About a year ago, I had to hold on tightly to the counter or the handle of the stove in the kitchen, in order to do my leg lifts. But after a couple of months, I thought I’d try it without. It was a little tricky, at first, and I had to build up to it, but now I’m able to do leg lifts in all directions — on both sides — without holding onto anything, and it feels pretty good. It’s gotta be good for me, if only for my self-esteem, which improves each time I’m able to handle it.
Some days, like when I’m sick, I’m not so coordinated, but today I managed. And it feels pretty good.
So, I’m back into a morning routine. It’s not necessarily a new year’s resolution, per se, but it is happening with the new year, so I guess that counts. The thing that counts even more, is that I started several days before 1/1/12, so I know it’s more than just a passing fad. It’s actually a really vital part of my upkeep. I lost sight of that — kind of took it for granted, got sick of it, whatever. But now I see again that it’s key and critical for me to keep at it. I’ve got to keep fit, or I pay a price.
Maybe not right away, but eventually. And I don’t relish the thought.
See, here’s the thing — over the past year or so, I have become increasingly aware of my own mortality. I had some health issues, about six months ago, that had me thinking I had less time on earth than I’d expected. And it put some kind of fear in me. But then the tests came back, and it looked like I was a-okay. Which is great. But behind it all, I still have this increasing awareness that I’m not going to live forever… that I literally don’t know how much time I have left to do what I need to do… that my days are numbered, like every other living thing on this planet.
And I’ve got to make the most of what I have, while I have it. I’ve got to be as fully functional as I can be, under any and all circumstances. It’s not enough to say, “Oh, it’s cold today, so I’m not going to go outside and do my chores.” It’s not enough to say, “Oh, it’s too hot today, so I’m going to stay inside and keep cool instead of taking care of business.” It’s not okay to make excuses for behavior and inaction, based on external conditions, because when I do, I essentially make myself a slave to those conditions, and I don’t live in total freedom.
I make myself a captive — and then I bitch and complain about how I’m in prison.
Please. What bullsh*t, if you’ll excuse the language.
Now, here’s the thing, though — there are conditions which make this kind of thinking possible — even probable. And those conditions actually precede conscious thought. I’m talking about the condition your body’s in — the condition my body’s in. When the body is not fit, when it’s not well cared-for, and it’s in a weakened state, then it drags down the brain, which then drags down the mind before the mind can realize it. Brain and body are intricately intertwined, and when they “conspire” together against the mind, then you’ve got a great recipe for trouble.
Example: A few years back, around the time when I was first realizing the issues with my TBIs, I was paying close attention to what was going on with me. And I mean really close attention — I was writing everything down, and making notes on countless little details. And in the process of recording my daily experiences, I realized that I had some pretty significant balance issues. And those issues were totally screwing with my head — and my entire life. I was so busy trying to keep upright, so busy trying to keep from falling over or falling down stairs, and I was in such a constant fight-flight-hyper-adrenaline state, that I didn’t have any energy left to pay attention to the other things in my life — like how I talked to my spouse, like how I went about my daily business, like how I interacted with the world beyond my unbalanced state.
And it was totally screwing with my life. Seriously. And I never even realized it, until I stepped back and took a look at the whole of it, as well as the minute details, and realized, “Holy crap, I’ve got major problems with balance, and it’s totally screwing up my life.”
So, I took some action. I cut out dairy, for one thing, which I’d been meaning to do for a long time, since milk always made me feel like crap after I drank it (but for some reason, I kept drinking it?) And believe it or not, after a few weeks of clearing the stuff out of my system, a ton of problems got resolved — simply because my balance wasn’t thrown off, and I wasn’t constantly putting my attention in to keeping upright and keeping focused on what was in front of me.
I’m sure it sounds way too simple and easy to explain away, this example, but think about it — with my history of concussion, I’ve got some limitations on my cognitive resources — I’ve also got a slower processing speed than I might otherwise have. I’ve got constraints on what I’ve got to work with, and at the same time, with that crazy reaction to milk and the resulting balance issues, I had even LESS to work with, because so much of my already limited resources were being tied up in handling keeping upright. Freaky and seemingly unlikely, but that’s what my experience was.
And when I handled the physical side of things — when I cut out the milk, and then later when I started exercising regularly to wake myself up and get my system moving — it helped my brain, which helped it get out of the way of my mind. So my mind could focus on getting my act together. And there you go. Much better now. Far from perfect, but that seems to be the deal here on planet earth, so I’ll take what I can get — and keep working with the rest of it.
Anyway, where was I…? Oh, yes — Freedom. Getting free of the chains and bars and shackles that I come up with for myself. Getting out from under my own self-imposed burdens. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, over the past few days. I’ve been laid up, being 75% sick, and I’ve been contemplating the ways in which I’ve made myself really miserable over the past months and years. It’s an art, you know, and I’m quite adept at it 😉 But now it’s time to move on and come up with something better, something that suits me and makes it possible for me to just get on with my life.
I was talking to a friend of mine a few weeks ago about how we invent all these ways to get ourselves “off the hook” and avoid hard situations. They were pretty rough-minded about it, maintaining that people do this because they are weak or lazy or they just don’t want to apply themselves. They had been through a self-development program, some years back, where they were trained to think of themselves and prone to slack — it was a pretty rough-minded program, which I have reservations about. And there doesn’t seem to be a lot of compassion or objectivity around their assessments – or their approaches. It’s all very well and good to make these negative, judgmental statements about human nature. For some people it can be very motivating to judge yourself and be pretty rough on yourself. But it also triggers the sympathetic nervous system, which then shuts down half of your system, so you have fewer resources to make new choices.
It seems to me that rather than accusing yourself of being lazy or weak, you could think about your need to back off from life in more objective terms, as well as more holistic terms — and put the focus on staying fit, so that you can do what you need to do, in the best way possible. And keep the focus off you being somehow deficient or having a flawed character. There’s a fundamental disrespect for the human being in that rough-minded approach, which doesn’t seem consistent with my own observations.
If we consider that physical circumstances can give rise to states of mind, then “getting on yourself” with judgment — while it may charge you up with adrenaline and motivate you to do better — actually depletes your system, and you can be unconsciously undermining yourself in the process. But focusing on keeping fit, and putting the emphasis on tweaking the physical mechanisms for your life seems like a more productive approach, overall. At least, for those of us with concussion/TBI issues to deal with.
Ultimately, thinking about it more and more, it strikes me that TBI cognitive and behavioral issues quite often have a very physical foundation to them — we can experience metabolic changes, sleep disturbances, balance problems… a whole host of physical issues, which cut into our physical — and thus cognitive — reserves in a big way. I know that I was often very tired as a kid, and that brought out the worst in me, time and again. And I know that to this day, if I’m tired and I’m not feeling very physically capable, it does a number on my head.
So, Goal #1 for 2012 for me is to keep fit. To build my stamina up to where it used to be, and to keep it there. Build some muscle to support my frame. Lose the extra weight that is holding me down. And get myself to a place where I am feeling balanced and capable. I don’t have to get ripped and buff and all that — I just need to build up my body to where it can support itself and also support my brain and mind in doing what I need to do, each day.
It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but it does need to be a regular part of my life. My life and my work deserve no less.