Last night, everything kind of caught up with me. For some reason, I was so desperately sad and felt like I was giving up. I don’t know where that “came from” — I had a pretty good weekend, and I took it easy, did things I wanted to do, and I got a couple of much-needed naps in.
But by Sunday night, I was just so sad… feeling washed up, small and vulnerable. And I wept inexplicable, bitter, mournful tears for some time, before I finally went to sleep.
One of the things that pulled me down was actually a good new development in my life – cutting out all the busy-ness to keep my mind and attention occupied. I have used the stress of loading up on tons of projects to not think about the pain I’m in… get my mind off the confusion I feel… give myself some direction and hope for the future. Over the past week, I have realized just how fruitless this approach ultimately is. It actually keeps me from completing anything, and the purpose of it is not to accomplish, but rather to keep busy.
Some people use video games and Facebook to take the edge off their existential angst. I use projects.
And ultimately, we all come back to the same conclusion — everything ends, in the end, and we have nothing personally to show for it. Yes, we may make some amazing contribution to the world, but honestly, you never know how your work is going to impact anyone, and you never even know if people are going to really “get” what you’re doing.
So, for me, the only thing to do is focus on the present, what’s right here in front of me, and really soak it all up as best I can, so that my life experience is full and rich.
Reading that sentence I just wrote, it sounds like I’m giving up… that this “only thing” is a capitulation of sorts… a surrender to the anonymity and pointlessness of life. But it’s not that, actually. I may feel like I’m giving up inside, but this approach is actually the thing that can save me — it’s the thing that has saved me on this road to recovery. For all the different rehabilitation techniques used by professionals, it seems to me that the most useful and most important approach — which we can all use ourselves — is to pay intent, rapt attention to the world around us, really get involved with that world, and bring ourselves along with that attention.
There are a number of reasons I believe this works.
First, it trains you to pay attention.TBI makes you extremely distractable and vulnerable to overwhelm, so you have to build back the neural networks that make that possible. It doesn’t happen overnight, so you have to keep at it, keep trying it.
Some people meditate, which has been shown to really strengthen the brain in important ways. For me, sitting for long periods of time is both uncomfortable and cuts into the free time I have to do things I love to do (instead of what I have to do for my job), so I choose to focus on the amazing world around me, instead.
Second, it slows you down, which we all need to do,TBI or no.
Too much busy-ness makes us more prone to fight-flight tendencies, and that blocks our brain’s ability to learn. TBI recovery is all about re-teaching your brain to do things that used to come naturally, so if you can’t learn because you’re constantly marinating in adrenaline and cortisol and a bunch of other stress hormones, it will make your recovery more difficult.
Third, concentrating intently for periods of time on things that you enjoy watching (or love to do) develops new pathways in our brains.
You have to take frequent breaks, so you don’t wear yourself out and make things worse in the long run, but finding something that really grabs your attention and exploring that, experiencing it, and really getting into it, does wonders for an addled mind.
And last but never least, repeating those same activities at regular intervals makes those pathways permanent in ways that restore our Sense Of Self and make us feel like ourselves again.
The things we do over and over again — the thoughts we think, the feelings we feel, the activities we pursue — all make us what we are. They let us recognize ourselves over time. Repetition promotes familiarity and mastery. Mastery feels great. Feeling a sense of mastery and familiarity does wonders for your Sense Of Self, your self-confidence, your self-esteem.
Even something as simple as sitting still and watching the colors of the sky change during a sunrise or sunset, can bring you back to yourself. You just have to do it with all your heart and soul. And get plenty of rest in the process. It is a long and winding road, and you have to be careful that you don’t fall into the cracks and chasms along the way. You’re gonna fall in, now and then, but you can pull yourself out once more. That’s just how it goes with TBI recovery.
Or maybe any recovery, for that matter.
In the end, for all the advancements in rehabilitation and all the different approaches you can take to get yourself back, there’s nothing like just living your life and letting all the lessons sink in, to get you on down that road. There’s no guarantee that the road is ultimately going to be perfect. Life does what it will do. But we can definitely develop the skills to roll with it and handle it in ways that make us proud and happy and feeling — at least somewhat — like ourselves again.