Okay, so things have been up and down at work — some days are better than others, and I’ve gone through some pretty challenging times, lately. Now I’m tired, and I just want to lie down. But I’ve got so much to do. My day is not even over — I have more work to do through the evening.
Guess I just gotta do what I gotta do. That’s just how it is.
I suppose I should really be quite happy, because a lot of the bogus drama has evaporated from my life. By “bogus drama” I mean drama that happens when I’m not being honest with myself about things and I end up creating a lot of confusion and discomfort because I invent explanations in my head for why things turn out the way they do. Like when I get paranoid and start to think that there is a conspiracy against me, rather than admitting that I have come up short in my responsibilities and people are justifiably upset about my slacking.
It’s things like that — as well as me getting all up on my head about my moods, thinking that I’m depressed or somehow deficient, when I’m actually just tired and need a good night’s sleep.
Those ups and downs have become a lot less frequent over the past year or so – thanks to my regular exercise routine and my new practice of just sitting and breathing first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I’ve mellowed considerably, and I’m not as easily freaked out.
Which means the bogus drama factor has dropped significantly.
And now I’m in a blah space. Because there’s not all this brouhaha about the drama to keep my system ON. I’m so accustomed to things being screwed up and having to work overtime to get them back in line, that when things are going right — and have been for a while — I don’t quite know what to do with myself. I know I don’t want to re-create the drama I had in the past, but I also sometimes don’t quite know what to do with myself when things are chilled out.
I guess I’ll have to learn.
Because I don’t want to be like a friend of mine, who has to always have some sort of drama going on, just to feel alive. I swear, they seem like a magnet for all sorts of crap. If they’re not fighting someone else off, they’re going after someone. If they’re not struggling against their own problems, they’re “reaching out” to get sucked into someone else’s troubles. They just can’t leave well enough alone, and it’s maddening, seeing them sabotaging their happiness, when they say all they want is to be happy.
But I get where they’re coming from. Because being in this blah space can be pretty boring. A little depressing, too. I was reading today about how people can be clinically depressed and not even know it, and I wondered if that was the case with me. I don’t think it is. I just have this neurological state that causes my processing speed to be slower, and that makes me feel a little down, now and then. But it’s not like I’m full-on depressed. Not right now, anyway. I do feel that way, every now and then, but it doesn’t last. And I move on.
So, it’s really just texture in my life. More texture. Like this blah space, where I’m just feeling okay, not great, not awful, just okay. The blah-ness has as much to do with me not getting enough sleep over the past week, as anything else. And it also has to do with me having a ton of stuff to do all the time… and it never seems to let up.
But really, that’s a good thing. More texture.
I just need to get more sleep.
And be intensely grateful that the worst thing I have to complain about is that there’s no drama going on right now.
Doing everyday things in unconventional ways can stimulate creative thinking. This study had people mix up their usual breakfast making routines. That alone resulted in higher scores on creativity tests.
I’ve been thinking a lot about pts (post-traumatic stress) lately. Especially in conjunction with traumatic brain injury, which I’ve said a number of times is an ongoing traumatic experience, and not only at the time of the initial injury.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the effect my TBIs have had on the people around me, and I can definitely see how my own trauma led to their trauma, too. The jumpiness that people who love and/or care for someone who has experienced TBI, is a common thing — and I think it’s directly related to their own traumatic stress.
‘Cause traumatic stress is, in fact, contagious. (And so I’ve answered my question.)
(PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one’s own or someone else’s physical, sexual, or psychological integrity, overwhelming the individual’s ability to cope.
Think about it… Someone sees someone they love and care for experiencing this traumatic experience, and they themselves are traumatized. And when the person who experiences TBI is a close part of that person’s life, then their injury can in fact represent a threat to their “physical, sexual, or psychological integrity, overwhelming the individual’s ability to cope.”
When you’re in the midst of your post-injury haze, and things are starting to fall apart — whether or not you know why it is or what to possibly do about it — you can say and do things that seriously threaten the people around you. It can threaten them on physical levels — like when your temper becomes violent and unpredictable. It can threaten them sexually — like if you lose all desire to have sex, or you become more sexually assertive. It can threaten them psychologically — like when you’re not acting like the person they know, and your behavior is so bizarre and unpredictable that they start to feel like they’re losing their mind and they doubt their own sanity.
Yes, post-traumatic stress — especially with TBI — is definitely contagious.
And that seems to me to be one of the missed pieces in TBI recovery — addressing the PTS of caretakers and partners of TBI survivors. It doesn’t even need to be moderate or severe TBI. I think mild TBI makes for an even likelier candidate for PTS, because it’s so insidious and can sneak up on you in subtle ways that make you — more than anything — feel like your psychological state is threatened.
Everybody feels like they’re going crazy, and when you don’t understand the underlying causes of it, well then, you’re totally screwed.
Until you get help.
This is where I can see some trauma therapy really helping — for the caregivers and partners and family members of TBI survivors. You get a really good trauma therapist who can work with those “TBI satellite participants”, and you help them sort things out, help them come to terms with their own individual trauma, and you get them on their feet, realizing that they are safe, that they are okay, and that they can deal with everything that comes up.
The more I think about it, the more surprised/dismayed I am that more sensible approaches to TBI and PTS haven’t been developed. There seems to be a sort of territorial overlap between the two, that doesn’t need to exist. Traumatic Brain Injury comes with a full compliment of neurological issues that can be as physiological as psychological. And those issues can — and often do — lead to traumatic stress. That traumatic stress then compromises the cognitive processes of TBI survivors, thus short-circuiting their recovery in the period after the initial injury… which then compromises their long-term prospects for restoration of their quality of life. I really believe the trauma piece is why TBI survivors — especially “mild” traumatic brain injury survivors — have poor long-term outcome prognoses.
There’s the trauma overlap that biochemically shorts out the adaptive nature of the brain, so the brain doesn’t get a chance to adapt in the ways it needs to, in order to effect actual recovery.
And countless people are suffering needlessly, because psychotherapists and neuropsychologists and neurologists are all battling over their respective territories, causing needless pain and suffering as a result.
But if people could put their own individual needs and wants aside and collaborate in a meaningful and respectful and productive way, who knows how many people could be helped?
Who knows? It’s maddening to think about all the suffering that’s taking place, because therapists are saying “You don’t have TBI/brain damage, you’re experiencing trauma,” and neurology folks are saying, “You don’t have trauma, you’ve had a TBI.” The two are inextricably interconnected, but nobody seems to have either the courage or the insight or the will to team up and come up with a common-sense approach that can mitigate both.
TBI leads to disrupted neurological function
Disrupted neurological function leads unanticipated changes in thought and behavior
Unanticipated changes in thought and behavior leads to trauma
Each “arm” of the therapeutic/rehab community could easily find a complimentary place where they could constructively collaborate with each other.
But they’re so accustomed to marking off and defending their territory, that they fail to live up to their full potential. And countless people suffer as a result. AND they decide that it’s “impossible to recover” from TBI. What a terrible, inhumane thing to tell people. That they are irreparably damaged and have no hope of true recovery. Please.
The solution? Well, our “experts” could start talking to each other and start collaborating on a win-win situation for everyone.
Or those of us who have been neglected and abandoned and misguided by the therapy/rehab establishment can take matters into our own hands and address the most fundamental underlying basis for our ongoing issues — constant fight-flight sympathetic activity in our autonomic nervous system, which feeds the traumatic stress dysfunction and short-circuits our ability to recover and rehabilitate.
In a way it might just be possible for TBI survivors to take their recovery into their own hands — especially mild TBI sufferers. And the therapists and neuro people might be put out of a job. Because I suspect that countless people who have been sitting in therapy for years and years actually have underlying neurological issues that no amount of talking will fix — it only makes it worse and perpetuates the therapeutic relationship — and ongoing billing for the therapist and the insurance companies.
If we just got some exercise and learned to balance our nervous systems with slow, steady breathing, and we ate decent food at regular intervals, how much less “therapy” would we need? (There are always those who need to have someone to talk to just to check in regularly, but I’m talking critically about psychotherapists who insist on digging around and raking up all the muck inside you to “release it for healing”. All that stirring up will do a neurologically compromised individual more harm than good, trust me.)
Anyway, it’s a beautiful day and I’ve got a lot on my plate before the weekend is up. If only the weekends were three days instead of two. I feel like I’m just getting started, but I’ve got less than 12 hours till I start working again.
Oh, well. I guess the main thing is that we see where there are opportunities for positive change — stemming from seeing where things are not working as well as they could. If we can piece things together and understand the origins of post-traumatic stress and how it affects the people around us, we might be able to do something about it.
But as long as we keep separate and alienated and territorial, the suffering will continue.
What I want to write about right now, is how what I call “the breath of life” can help overcome TBI.
Now, I understand that a lot of people think of “the breath of life” in religious terms, and maybe I do, too. But I don’t align it with any particular religion, rather the really meaningful aspects of the everyday — and they in themselves could be considered “holy”… but that’s another discussion for another day, I suppose.
What I mean when I say “the breath of life” is breathing intentionally, as though your life depends on it (which it does). It’s about breathing consciously and steadily, with a focus on the full breath — in and out — in a way that calms you down and stabilizes your whole system.
Everybody who’s alive breathes. Yet many of us don’t realize what an important part steady, regular breathing plays in our lives. It’s common, I understand, for people to hyperventilate — to breathe faster than their body actually needs them to. Or to breath more shallowly (is that a word?) than they could. On the other hand, a lot of people take deep, deep breaths, thinking that will calm them down… when in fact inhalation actually revs you up and stimulates your fight-flight sympathetic nervous system.
What does this have to do with overcoming TBI? A whole lot. Because TBI is traumatic, from the beginning, and on through the years. The initial injury is just the start of ongoing trauma you’ll experience on a daily basis. After TBI you’re often unable to do the things you used to do, and you go through a serious personal crisis… and that’s traumatic.
And you often have to really push yourself to get things done the way you like… and that gets your sympathetic nervous system all fired up, and that can ultimately lead to diminished cognitive capacity, in and of itself, which then compounds the trauma of TBI difficulties.
And after TBI, you can often find yourself totally screwing up things that “should” be easy for you, that used to come easy to you, and that everybody else thinks should be easy for you. Screwing up, time and time again, is traumatic — especially if the mistakes take you by surprise, and you have to work double-time to make right what went wrong.
So, the trauma that takes place isn’t just with the injury. It’s with your whole life, after the injury. Maybe things clear up and get better, maybe they don’t. But they’re different from how they were before. YOU’RE different from how you were before.
So, what that means is your autonomic nervous system — the wiring and chemistry that regulates your digestion, your sex drive, sleep, your immune system… all those systems that you don’t consciously control in your body — gets stuck on permanent ON status. And if you can’t manage to disengage the sympathetic fight-flight in favor of the parasympathetic rest-digest, you can eventually find your body breaking down in hidden ways. You can get colds and flu more often. Your digestion can get screwed up. You can lose your sex drive. You have trouble sleeping, or you sleep too much. And more. It’s like you’re running your car’s engine on 15,000 rpm, day in and day out, and you never change your oil.
We know what happens to cars when that happens. Imagine what’s happening to your own nervous system.
So, this is where the breathing comes in — the breath of life.
It’s basically sitting quietly, either cross-legged on a cushion or sitting up in a chair, or even lying down, if you can’t sit comfortably, and breathing slow and steady from the belly. Just focus on the breathing, as though your life depends on it, without thinking about a lot of other things. I find that when I sit still for a while, my mind automatically starts taking advantage of the downtime to think about a lot of stuff. It can’t be helped, but I can get my attention back to my breathing just by reminding myself that I’m not fixing things right now, I’m just sitting and breathing.This can — and will — balance out the autonomic nervous system, strengthening the parasympathetic, which is so critical for making up for the wild activity of the sympathetic. You can’t have one work optimally without the other, so strengthening the parasympathetic strengthens the sympathetic, so when I DO have to go into fight-flight mode, I am stronger and have more stamina, which is helpful.
The other thing this helps with is attention. I’ve got serious attention issues, and I get really distractable when I’m tired. The breath of life helps in several ways — it helps me balance out the ANS so I rest and sleep better, and consequently the fatigue doesn’t eat into my attention as much. And focusing on my breathing and the sense of just sitting also trains my attention to stay on one thing longer. So it prepares me for when I’m not sitting anymore. This is two kinds of practice in one — for body and for mind.
This really works for me (and it’s a variation on what has worked for lots of people in meditation and zen for many generations). It’s literally helping me get my life back – so it is the breath of life for me. Yesterday my neuropsych was remarking at the huge difference this breathing practice has made in my quality of life and outlook and attitudes, since the New Year, and it’s totally true. It may work for others (and I suspect it will), but everybody’s different, so you may find it doesn’t work for you. But it would be good if you tried it.
Give it a whirl — you may find it can help you overcome TBI (or other problems, too).
So, given that I’m over-tired, and given that I have a ton of stuff I have to do for work, I’m going to work from home today, buckle down and get things done, and finally make some progress. I have choices. That’s what I have to remember.
No sense in getting hung up on stuff when I do have alternatives and choices.
Note to self: remember, there is (almost) always an alternative.
So, last night after I realized I had the evening off, things went quickly downhill. There were some communication mix-ups that ended up spiraling into a wild conflagration of stress and acrimony… all of which ended up with me going to bed feeling like sh*t and waking up feeling like sh*t.
So, I got up and sat and breathed for a while, and when my nervous system had calmed down considerably, I realized that the real problem was not the mix-up and the argument I was having with/about certain people. It was not their fault, and the conflagration was not their — or my — doing, per se. Rather, it was fatigue that was the problem. Major fatigue. And the frustration over dealing with my daily job, the commute, the lack of sleep, the constant go-go-go atmosphere, and the working conditions that I have to deal with each day.
Yes, I am coming to terms with my job situation. But at the same time, I’m becoming increasingly aware of the things that just don’t work — and I have a lot less tolerance for putting up with them. And that puts me on edge, which also adds to my fatigue.
So, I need to be smart about this and not let things get the better of me. I need to recognize when I’m starting to slide down into that all-too-familiar pit, and just get some rest.
Eventually I did get some sleep. But I didn’t get much rest.
Oh, thank heavens. I have had an incredibly long day, filled with all the “best” that life has to offer. I was scheduled for a late call tonight, but the person I am supposed to be talking to is traveling until Friday, so I have the evening OFF.
Except that I need to go pick up my car from the garage later. And then I need to make an early night of it, because I have an early meeting in the morning. All these meetings at all these hours. It gets to be a little much.
But at least I have a job, and at least my situation is reasonably secure (as far as I can tell). At least I’m not out looking for work. I may be, in a few more months, but then again, I might not be. I’ve made peace with my situation, somewhat. Although I think it’s ridiculous and foolish and debilitating on a number of levels, I have been offsetting the stupidity with my sitting and breathing. It’s something. Something that helps, no matter what.
It does feel good to be home. Back to my routine. Back to the familiar. It was good to step away and break up the monotony, but it’s also good to have structure and regular events to mark the time with.
A part of me is still profoundly discontent with how things are, but I can trace that directly to my fatigue and anxiety levels, and the lower my fatigue and anxiety, the lower my discontent. So, there’s an explanation that also shows me that A) I can do something about my state of mind/heart, and B) the quality of the conditions around me is not permanently screwed up. It’s very much dependent on my own state of mind/body/heart, so that both simplifies and complicates things.
I feel like I’m rambling. I guess maybe I am.
Anyway, I’ve been really bothered by memories from my past, these past few days. Not so much thought-memories as sense-memories… remembering how I’ve felt in the past. When I was a kid. When I was a teenager. When I was a young adult… all the way up to recent past. And it doesn’t feel good. All that confusion, all that anger, all that frustration and pain… it’s like it’s stuck in my “wiring” and it won’t let go. I try to let it be and just get on with my day, but it follows me, dogs me, hangs onto me like a needy stray looking for some attention, some scraps of food, some fleeting shelter. And when I stop long enough to pay attention to it, it’s so sad, so pathetic, so weak and strung-out, I just don’t know what to think or how to feel about it.
I don’t usually think of myself as someone who’s had a hellish life, but all these old memories of when I was a little kid, banging my head on walls and crawling into dark corners just to escape the bright lights and loud sounds and confusion of all the activity around me… pulling and picking at myself, worrying scabs that wouldn’t heal, throwing myself around like a broken toy, and feeling so much better when I’d hit my head and the noise and franticness and the confusion would stop, for however long.
And I remember how my mother was afraid of me, my father talked to me like I was a piece of crap, and my siblings all learned to steer clear of me when I “got like that”.
Strange, that after I got this sudden reprieve from work this evening, all I can think about is how awful I’ve felt in the past.
It wasn’t always bad. There were times of incredible bliss and joy and absorption in things and ideas that fascinated me. There were people, here and there, who treated me well and could handle me for a little while. There were situations when I did very well for myself and I had a lot to be proud of.
It’s crazy — it feels like it’s all bubbling to the surface, these days. Crazy. I’m okay, but I’m going from one silent extreme to the other, almost breaking down in tears when I’m driving home and listening to someone talk on the radio. Or I’m feeling incredibly calm and peaceful and nothing can move me. Actually, the calm and peace is what’s closest to me, with this undercurrent of upheaval flowing underneath it all. Now and then it bubbles up, or it splashes up, as though it’s rapids on the river.
And then it fades. And I’m fine again.
Oh hell, it’s all a damn’ mystery. Time to get some supper. And take the evening OFF.