Figuring out how to relax… and get on with things

The flood doesn’t have to last forever

I’m running a little late this morning. I was supposed to have an early phone call with a colleague on the other side of the world, this morning, but that was cancelled — partly because they told me they would be traveling at the end of this week, but I didn’t put it together that I should reschedule our meeting till when they got back.

No worries, though. They reminded me of it, and I’m rescheduling, so that’s fine.

In the past, I would have really given myself a hard time for not putting that together. I would have been unsparing and relentless in my self-criticism, and by the end of my internal tirade against myself, I would have reached the conclusion that I am good for nothing and I can’t do much of anything at all. It’s happened before, lots of times – especially at times when I’ve forgotten to reschedule meetings.

Today that didn’t happen.

If anything, I was relieved that I didn’t have to get on the call right after I woke up. I have had a couple of late-evening calls with colleagues, for the past couple of days, and I haven’t been able to get in bed before 11:00, or sleep past 7, which means I’m getting 6-7 hours of sleep, when I should be getting 8+. Oh, well. At least I’m not getting 4-5 hours, like I was last week.

I felt a bit foolish for a little bit, having spaced out on the schedule thing, then I just got on with my morning. I’ve had some time to check my personal email and make a list of things I need to get done today — and wonder of wonders, I don’t have anything scheduled for this evening, so I can take care of some things for one of the projects I’m working on.

There’s been an interesting change with me, lately. It happened around the time when I went to see my family and got out of my daily routine rut. There was a LOT of driving involved, I did NOT sleep very well, and the whole time was pretty uncomfortable for me in a lot of ways. But I handled myself extremely well, and as a result, no relationships were trashed or threatened, and there was no left-over biochemical sludge that I needed to clear out of my system.

Also, all during the trip, I was practicing the “90-second clearing” that helped me to regain my balance after upsetting or unsettling or anxiety-producing discussions or situations.

Basically this “90-second clearing” works this way:

  1. I pay attention to my stress level, my physical situation — am I stressed? Am I relaxed? Am I getting tense and uptight? When I think about a picture of how I’m feeling, do I see a crazy line chart that looks like a craggy mountain range, with the line going wildly up and down to extremes?
  2. If I am getting tense and uptight, I stop what I am doing and thinking, and I take a break for a minute and a half.  I stop the reaction to what’s happening. I stop the racing thoughts. I stop the escalation. I stop the fast breathing.
  3. Then I breathe slowly for about a minute and a half — sometimes I need less time — until I feel “level” again.  I think about what my state of mind and body looks like, and if I see a line that looks like a nice little wave, or gently rolling hills, I know I’m good.
  4. Then I can get back to doing what I was thinking and saying and doing before.
  5. Then I can relax.

By stopping the crazy escalation and bringing myself back to a point of biochemical equilibrium (many times during my vacation), I was able to keep my head from going nuts over passing things. It wasn’t about tamping down my experience and suppressing my feelings and reactions — it was about just letting it all come… and then letting it all go… and moving on.

I’ve continued to do it, too — with good results. In fact, I just did it this morning, when my spouse and I were having a heated discussion about something that wasn’t going right, and we were both getting pretty uptight and tweaked over the situation. It wasn’t something that either of us had done “wrong”, just something that was wrong that I needed to fix — and we were starting to get pretty bent out of shape about it.

I managed to stop and just breathe for a minute or so, and the calming effect on me also had a calming effect on my spouse. I could relax. So could both of us. Good stuff. And now I can get on with my day.

This is a big change with me. I mean, just the fact that I even know what it feels like to relax, is a change. Up until about 5-6 years ago, that never happened. I had no idea what relaxation really felt like, and I wasn’t interested in finding out. I just needed to be ON. I just needed to be UP. I just needed to be GO-GO-GO, all the live-long day. And frankly it was tearing the sh*t out of me and my life and my relationships. Especially after my TBI in 2004, when suddenly I was unable to keep it together and manage the GO-GO-GO in a sensible way.

Then I started doing “stress hardiness optimization” which is guided meditation for first responders and other people in high-stress conditions. I figured that applied to me pretty well — especially since I felt like I was always responding to emergencies in my life on a personal level. That trained me to physically relax, with progressive relaxation.

Mentally relaxing and being able to just let things go, however, still eluded me.

But over time, the more I’ve relaxed physically and the more capable I’ve become at understanding and managing my own “internal state”, the better I’ve become at being able to relax my mind as well as my body.

Ironically, one of the things that’s helped me to relax my mind, is coming to realize that no matter what the circumstances, I’ll be able to figure something out. It may not be perfect, it may not be what I want, but I’ll be able to deal. I’ll be able to manage myself and my situation. I’ll be able to handle things. The 90-second clearing is a huge piece of the puzzle that helps me incredibly.

First, it defines my internal state of anxiety and upset as a biochemical thing. It’s not that something is wrong with me, and I cannot handle things. It’s my body reacting to what’s going on, trying to help me rise to the occasion with a flood of biochemical stress hormones that are specifically designed to kick me into action. It’s a purely physical reaction.

Second, it’s all about recognizing that my body can be a little “behind the times” — and my mind / awareness can jump in to help it calm down. My fight-flight system (like everyone’s) is quick to react, but slow to back off — once engaged, my fight-flight system doesn’t want to let go. It wants to keep me safe. It keeps escalating, until the “danger” has passed, but it doesn’t always realize that a “danger” is not actually dangerous. So I have to help it do that. It’s not doing it by itself. It needs my awareness to help. Which I can do.

Third, it’s about exercising my mind in very basic ways — just paying attention to how I’m feeling, and doing very simple things to adjust. It’s not about some elaborate plan that will require tons of practice and has to be done just right. It’s about just noticing what’s going on with me, and doing something with it. Taking action. Working with my situation to turn it in a different direction — adding important ingredients — elements of balance and just plain feeling good, which is a new experience for me. Just plain feeling good… what a concept.

Last of all, it just works. Slow breathing for a minute and a half puts a halt to my downward slide and stops the escalation in its tracks. I’ve used it a number of times in a number of different situations, with excellent results. I can’t even begin to explain how great it feels to have the waves of anxiety and dread and fight-flight sludge back off — to feel them subside, leaving calm in their place. It’s like the flood waters of the Nile are receding, leaving fertile fields awaiting a new season of crops. And it leaves me feeling awake and confident and better than I did before.

Feeling tight and cramped and anxious and nervous and antagonistic feels like crap, I have to say.

Feeling loosened up and relaxed and strong and flexible and friendly feels pretty awesome.

90 seconds is all it takes, too (well, sometimes it takes longer, but not more than a few minutes). It “resets” me, “reboots” my brain. And it lets me get on with my life. Relaxed, confident, and with a lot more better ideas than I had just a few minutes before.



Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

17 thoughts on “Figuring out how to relax… and get on with things”

  1. I have spent over an hour, maybe close to two hours, wandering through your blog after I did a WP Reader search for “brain fog.” Thank you for this enormous effort.

    Long story, like so many: 15 months ago, simultaneous traumatic illnesses (=near dead) with resulting brain injury that I figured out while blogging during recovery. Have avoided docs–very poor past experiences–couldn’t risk the runaround, plus no $$$, no insurance, etc., and really couldn’t figure out who I’d want to see anyway. One exception: massage therapist from before-time does energy work in a mind/body focus, which I like immensely.

    Thank you boatloads for *this* article.

    I wonder if you could add a Follow By Email button for those of us who have trouble remembering… !! <:-D (And, if the button is right in front of my nose… ooops!)


  2. Thanks for writing – I’m glad you found your way here. And yeah, you’re not the only one who avoids docs because of bad experiences. And lack of $$$. I have a “follow” button on my homepage on the left-hand side near the top – the text was a little too clever to be clear, so I changed it per your suggestion, so people will know what it is.

    Thanks for writing and best of luck.


  3. Thank you, BB. Rats, I’m sorry I missed the clever text– it is hard for me to “see” these days.

    Your efforts here made a huge difference to this one person–isn’t that lovely how the Universe works that way?! Never know who we’re going to touch….

    Because of how you described your working broken-self, I made the decision to aim for a real job someday soon-ish, maybe not technical editing like the before-days, but something that uses the (rather significant) brain-power I have remaining, using coping skills like this 90-second relax. Enough income to relax for a while and be able to continue making my art and getting back on the road to selling same! Holy Guacamole, Batman! What a moment for me! <:-D


  4. Most excellent – you never know… technical writing may be in the cards for you yet. If that’s what you really want. But there’s certainly no harm in exploring what else is possible that you could (and would want to) do.

    Go for the real! Cheers!


  5. “If that’s what you really want.”–no, I don’t want to go back to tech editing; I want to make art. About 6 months ago, I went from being a mosaic artist to discovering acrylic painting! Sometimes, I actually feel grateful for the injury because I can create art in another medium … An artist friend keeps telling me my work would sell. Isn’t that something to come out of such a mess?!

    Reading other posts here and the raw discussions in the comments lounge has given me the support group I’ve been looking for: a place to loiter, to belong, but not have to be ON and exhausted. I’ve never been a joiner, but gee whillikers, I still can have a spot where I belong!

    Because of my artistic bent, I have been thinking about bringing art to other similarly wounded folk–my healing recipe has been art, blogging (=writing), and bringing/dragging my cherished reading through the brain scramble. Plus copious amounts of being still.

    Thank you. I wish you the power of continuing and thriving….


  6. Ah yes, well, if that’s the deal, then you have to go with it. Do what your heart tells you to, because if you just do what your head tells you is a good idea, if/when you run out of steam and need to find a reason to keep going, your heart may not be in it.

    And then where will you be?

    Glad to hear you’ve found a place you can come. A lot of us feel disconnected and lost, especially with regard to “brain stuff”, which is surprisingly difficult for many “neurotypical” people to handle.


    Well, anyway, thanks for the well wishes – and the same to you.


  7. Yes, that’s it. No matter what, must follow my heart. I may be lucky that I’ve been that way for years anyway, so the concept isn’t foreign, at least.

    The lost feeling is a hard one to combat… I feel a lot less lost now, I must say: Reading the various posts and links and comments has validated my last 15 months of operating on instinct, what I’ve taken to calling my “unintentional” life. Again, I was lucky that the odd behavior was largely kept at home because I was too weak to go anywhere.


  8. I KNOW I’ve been carried along by the Universe–I started driving whilst in the horrible brain fog (but didn’t know i was in the fog) and was carried through with no irretrievable errors. I did figure out to stop driving until I figured out the tests to do on myself for fog and inattention…. the thought of hurting someone else….

    PS. I’d like to include a link to your blog in a post I’m writing–I hope that’s OK.


  9. Yes, there’s that — the universe often seems to step in when we don’t realize we need the help. By all means, feel free to add a link to my blog. Thanks!


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