I’ve been feeling not so great for a little while now, and it’s kind of been dragging me down. Then, I realized yesterday that this is actually a very good sign. Feeling bad is part and parcel of life – at least every now and then. And when you’ve got persistent post-concussive issues, including sensory overload, light-and-noise sensitivity, chronic pain, headaches, and general fogginess and delays, it’s not much fun.
The thing is, the fact that I can actually tell I’m not feeling great is a sign of progress.
A) It means I’m not pushing myself beyond the beyond with all sorts of busy-ness custom-made to trigger shots of adrenaline and stress responses to dull the pain. When you’re under extreme duress (in a life-and-death situation, for example), your body unleashes torrents of hormones and other biochemicals that mask pain and give you a sense of well-being. This kind of stress-induced analgesia has been my drug of choice for a long, long time, and it’s really done a lot of damage to me over the years. It’s made me a crazy person at this time of year, and it’s driven a wedge between myself and others. It’s also completely exhausted me and made me less healthy — even while seeming to take the edge off my pain. It’s fine, to feel better – but not at the cost of my long-term health. And it seems to me that a number of my cognitive issues may have been exacerbated over the years when I was driving myself on-on-on. In fact, the last TBI I had was a direct result of that driving urge. I have done a lot of thinking about this, over the years, and I’ve really worked at NOT resorting to that. And it’s helping. A lot. The downside is that at times like these, I have a lot of discomfort and really struggle with things.
B) It means that I’m able to differentiate between my types of experiences, and rather than having one long continuous “I dunno” kind of life experience, I know when I’m having ups and downs. Back in the day, before I came to terms with my TBI / PCS issues, I wasn’t really that aware of my emotional and physical state. I mean, I was to some extent, but if someone asked me how I was doing, I figured I was fine. I didn’t have the “personal literacy” to understand the various issues I was having. Seriously, it was like walking around in a dumb fog, all the time. But I was keeping busy (See A above) and I was making money at a job that kept me so busy I couldn’t think straight, if I tried. So, I figured it was all fine. Far from it.
C) It means that I can take action and actually do something about it. You can’t fix something, if you don’t know it’s broken, and frankly, with my sensory issues – and just trying to keep my head on straight during the holiday season, blocking out all the lights and sounds and hubbub – I get tunnel vision and I cannot focus on anything other than what’s right in front of me. Now that I have a pretty clear idea about the areas where I’m struggling, I can do something about it. This ties in with my executive functioning, that lets me think things through and approach them in steps, rather than just staring blankly at a “sheet of glass” of a situation, with no clue how to start. Knowing that I am in pain, that my sensory issues are out of control, and that I’m foggy and dense, lets me strategize and take things in bite-size chunks. Like when I do my Christmas shopping tonight. I’ve been so sick and out of it, I haven’t had a chance (or been in the mood) to get out. Tonight is the Big Night for me, so I’m taking steps to prepare. Eating healthy food. Starting my days with exercise. Making lists. I just need to adapt.
D) It means I’m not putting myself in danger. That’s a big one. See A above – pushing myself like mad, really puts me in danger. As I would get more and more overwhelmed, I used to seek out increasingly stressful situations where the stress-induced analgesia would kick in and numb the pain. I don’t do that anymore. I just do what I can to alleviate the pain, accept what I can’t change, and I take steps to try to prevent it in the future.
So, feeling bad is not necessarily a terrible thing. It happens to us all, and it’s no fun. But it just comes with the program. At least I am otherwise healthy and productive and happy. I still have a job, the office is going to be quiet for the next couple of weeks, and Christmas promises to be mellow and low-key. My spouse and I may even get out on a road trip, one of those days next week. The weather has been so mild, it might just happen.
All that being said, I am very grateful for everything I have. And I’m gearing up to start volunteering at a local arboretum. I don’t have enough social contact outside work, and unstructured social interactions makes me nuts. I need to be doing something, not just sitting around and shooting the breeze. I need to be working. With others who are working, too. For me, that’s why we’re here. To work. To make the world a better place. And to connect. So, I’m hoping this volunteer spot will fill that bill in my life and give me a good outlet for my energy and also my social inclinations.
It’s all a process. And it’s always changing. Just gotta keep on… learning… living… learning some more.