After TBI – Stress is not the enemy

Fatigue Range
Fatigue Range – what works, what doesn’t. The red areas are where I’m most fatigued. The green is where I’m not. So, lots of fatigue with no energy can mean I don’t sleep. But lots of energy with lots of fatigue also means I don’t sleep. Conundrum.

It’s the day before the long weekend. I have three full days ahead of me to do whatever I so choose, and I plan to choose well. Have plenty of down-time. Take plenty of naps. Not stress out about everything, the way I have been for the past several months.

Most people I work with are working from home today, because they’re closing the office early – a little after noon – and nobody wants to spend the time driving back and forth. I’m going to go in, because it’s going to be quiet, very few people will be there, and the traffic promises to be light. Plus, the internet connection is so much better there — I can get more done in less time, which is the plan.

And then I’ll have my weekend free and clear to use as I please. Last weekend, I spent half my time on work-work stuff, which really wore me out. Even if I am working on my projects on the weekend, it’s nowhere near as taxing as doing other people’s work. There’s something about being able to set the agenda myself, being able to pick and choose what needs to be done, and knowing that I’m going to directly benefit from my work, that really picks me up and puts a spring in my step.

Speaking of having a spring in my step, I just got done with my morning warm-up. It feels good to move. I worked on my knees today — leg lifts are in order, because my knees have been giving me some problems. When I do my leg lefts — front, back, sideways, up, down — for a few days running, it actually helps my knees. Something about getting all the muscles around them engaged and working again… I’ve been working long hours, sitting and sitting and sitting… and it’s definitely taking its toll.

So, it’s up-and-at-em for me, first thing in the morning. I wash my face and hands in cold-cold water, brush my teeth, and head downstairs for some exercise. It takes me a little while to warm up, but once I get going, I’m good. I pretty much do whatever I feel will be good for me. Some mornings I do a lot of squats. Other mornings I do a bit of yoga-style stuff, with stretching and holding poses. Other mornings I just move in exaggerated ways, stretching and pushing myself a little bit — especially for my balance. After about 15 minutes of that, I’m done. I’m warmed up, I’m ready to go. I stress myself just a little bit, physically, then I drink my big glass of water and make my breakfast.

And it feels good. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Good.

The thing that feels the best, probably, is pushing myself… just a little… and then taking a break to catch up with myself. Stressing myself just enough to feel it, testing my limits, pushing my limits back — and out — and up/down/wherever — so that I know what it feels like to push the envelope. And after I recuperate and rest and rebuild, I usually find I’m stronger than I was before. Maybe just a little, but still, it’s something.

And days and weeks and months of “just a little better” all add up to being a whole lot better, years on down the line.

All of this would not be possible, if I didn’t push myself. If I didn’t test and stress my system just a little bit, and then recover, I would never get farther down the road I’m on. People tell me I have too much stress on myself, but I disagree. The problem is not the stress. Problems start when I don’t manage my stress properly.

I’ve believed this for years — that stress is actually good for you, it’s formative, it’s educational, it’s a key part of growth and positive change. And I’ve been finding some good reading, lately, that really concurs with what I believe. The first blog I’ve found is Getting Stronger, which talks a lot about “hormesis” — or dosing yourself with little bits of stress, so you can become more resilient and capable. I’ve picked up some great tips from that blog, as well as others the author links to. If nothing else, it’s incredibly satisfying to hear the author (and many of the other writers and thinkers he references) repeat out loud what’s in my head — and have the science to back it up.

The science is where I come up short. I just know what works for me, what keeps me on track. Having those references collected in such a comprehensive manner is hugely helpful.

I’ve also come across James E. Loehr’s book Stress for Success, which I’m working my way through right now. He shares the same belief as me, that it’s not the stress that gets you, it’s the way you handle it. And if you’re not up to the task — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually — of handling stress, and if you don’t allow yourself ample time to recover, you’re going to get whacked around a lot, and ultimately lose out on what you’re trying to win.

Again, he’s got the science and the experience as a world-class sports psychologist/trainer, to back him up. Me? I’ve just got my own life experience. But that’s nothing to sneeze at. Looking at how I was just five years ago, versus today — night and day. Total transformation. Not bad, if I say so myself — and thanks to everyone (including a lot of readers here) for helping me make that happen.

The one place where I come up short, time and again, is with recovery. I get so tired, I can’t sleep. I can’t relax. I’m on edge — and part of me loves it. If I’m not in the right “fatigue range”, I am not getting to sleep, no way. The image at the top of the page shows a bit what I’m trying to communicate. Lots of energy with lots of fatigue, means I keep going, no matter what. So, I have to change it up and alter one factor — in my case, the energy/activity piece.

This is all part of appropriately managing TBI — knowing what sets you off, knowing what unhinges you, and then doing something about that. Finding out what works best for you, so you can have the kind of life you want, and then sticking with it. There is so much conflicting information out there — all of it supported by some sort of science or belief or faith, much of it advocated and defended by people who either have an agenda or who mean well but can’t see past their own experience. You have to decide what is best for YOU, what works for YOU, and most importantly what DOESN’T work for YOU.

A great example of this is Tim Ferriss, who I have known about for a number of years now, and whose book “The Four Hour Body” I looked into about a month ago. He’s got a lot of great information, mixed in with a lot of not-so-great information. He’s pretty controversial in certain circles, and I consider much of what he does to be suspect. He calls what he does “hacking” the system, but in a lot of cases, it seems like he’s just cheating and redefining the rules to suit his needs. That being said, I have gotten some incredible tips from him that have literally changed my life for the better, so that alone is good. Reading Tim Ferriss is a lot like having a meal at Golden Corral, the monster smorgasbord buffet type places that is laden with all sorts of foods — some that will enhance your life, some that can kill you at the right amounts. You have to be careful about what you choose to put into your system, and you definitely have to pace yourself. You can get overwhelmed quickly — and develop a nasty case of indigestion — if you don’t use your own judgment and take your time picking and choosing what you’ll put into your system. And you have to take time to digest afterwards.

It’s like that with pretty much my entire life, actually. I have to really take care to not overwhelm myself, because I am prone to fixate on things, get stuck in a groove, and keep going — at top speed — even past the point of there being a point. I feel like I’m making great progress, and I’m really making things happen, but I’m not. Even if I am, if I wear myself out in the process, like I did last week, I pay for it. Big-time. The price tag is high with me. I could NOT afford to lose last weekend, but I did. And now I have to find a better way to get things done.

So, stress itself is not the enemy. It’s the lack of recovery that gets me. I’ve been “overtraining” for years — decades, really. And I haven’t allowed myself ample time to catch up with myself. I’m usually working on something. Always working. Always thinking. Always doing something. And it takes a toll on me, to the point where I don’t even know what I’m doing — or why. It’s clear to me that I need ample recovery time to integrate everything that I take in and learn over the course of my days and weeks and months. My life is pretty much about pushing the envelope, and now that I’ve gotten to a certain point in my life where I’ve pushed about as much as I feel like pushing, it’s time to change gears and invest in serious recovery time, so I can continue to make good progress and not strip my gears.

With that in mind, in another couple of weeks, I’m going to be on vacation — leaving town for a whole week to decompress and unwind. For real. The deadline(s) will be past, the insanity of several projects will be behind me, and I get my life back. To do as I please, to work on what I choose.

Not just yet, though. For the next two weeks, it’s work like a crazy person, and then let it all go.

Now, speaking of getting things done, it’s time for me to get going to work.

Onward.

 

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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.

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