Looking back, looking ahead… and trying to get some sleep in the meantime

rowboat at docks

I have been meaning to get more sleep, during this vacation. I’m able to take naps in the afternoon, which is great. I just can’t seem to get to sleep at a decent hour (before 11:00 p.m.) Part of the problem is that I just don’t want to go to sleep earlier than 11:00. I’ve got an internal clock that tells me when it’s time to sleep, and it generally doesn’t kick in till 10:45 or so.

It’s a little nerve-wracking. But I do it to myself, putting all kinds of pressure on myself to go to sleep, when I’m not really feeling that tired. And then getting up at my regular time, which lately has been anywhere between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. So, I’m not always getting a full 7.5 – 8 hours, like I need to. And then I wake up irritated, because I can’t sleep through.

It’s an ongoing problem, especially during this vacation.

Well, my life is structured very differently now than it is when I’m working. I’m still doing my morning exercise, which is crucial. I’m actually doing  better with it than usual — getting both my bike ride and the weight lifting done. I just don’t move enough during the day. I move more, when I’m at the office, because, well, I’m at the office. I have to go to meetings. I have to get my lunch on the ground floor. I have to make trips to the water cooler as well as the restroom. It gets me up and around, while being at home — where everything is within easy access and just a few steps away — keeps me sedentary. Heck, I can even work while sitting/lying on the sofa, which sounds great, but is a bit of an occupational hazard.

Anyway, it’s the end of the year, and I’m kind of out of sorts. Feeling like I’m drifting, cut loose from my moorings a bit… feeling like I fell asleep in a rowboat that was tied to a dock, and then I woke up finding myself drifting out in the ocean, with the dock in the distance. The thing is, although the distant docks look familiar, and that’s where I expected to wake up, I can also see other sights in the distance.

Cities I didn’t know existed before.

Distant piers and jetties that look every bit as interesting as what I’ve known before.

Busy industrial ports that hold mysteries within their iron fortresses

And secluded beaches to explore.

Different sorts of places where people live, work, and go about their business, which are both foreign and fascinating to me.

And lighthouses to guide me along the way.

Lights… sights… sounds… And a whole world of choices out there.

When I actually have some time to catch up with myself, I can see so many more possibilities. And it’s invigorating.

But it’s also a little depressing. Because I spend so much of my time in recovery mode, just trying to right myself in the very wrong world, that I don’t have as much time as I’d like to just kick back and relax into finding out What’s Next.

I look around me at my life… And I see so much more beyond my present situation. And I also see that the resources I have at my disposal are, well, limited. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying. I don’t have all the energy in the world, and I don’t have all the patience to match it. I want to cut to the chase and get on with my life, to the best of my ability. And after all these years of really working on my TBI recovery and firming up my Sense-Of-Self, I’m finally at a point where I have a reliable idea of how “I” am going to react and behave under certain circumstances.

That’s the biggest, hairiest, most dangerous part of life after TBI — losing your Sense-Of-Self. It erodes your self-confidence. It crushes your self-respect. It makes every situation into a danger-fraught series of surprises that threaten everything you care about. And then the real trauma of TBI sets in.

I really believe that the biggest trauma in mild traumatic brain injury comes after the injury itself. There’s a steady stream of “micro-traumas” which stress out our systems and add to the fight-flight biochemical load. And unless we learn how to manage our fight-flight overload and learn how to clear out the neurochemical gunk of all that ongoing stress, mild TBI continues to take its toll. It continues to haunt us, to tax us, to load us up with invisible burdens that nobody else understands, but which are very, very real.

If you really understand the physiology of trauma (and not a lot of people know about it, let alone understand and fully appreciate it), and you understand the profound change that even a “mild” TBI brings to your entire system, all of this makes sense. You know that the subtle changes to how your system works are disorienting and anxiety-producing. You know that the body’s mechanisms for protecting itself are working overtime post-TBI, and they’re kicking in, in the most unlikely of situations. You know that the overall effect builds up, and you know that it’s cumulative.

You also know that while the effects may show up as a psychological disorder, the underlying basis is a combination of mind and body — and the body bears the burden of it all.

The thing about this whole deal is, because the body is involved, it’s possible to work with the body to turn that sh*t around. Even if your mind feels like mush (I’ve been there), even if you can’t remember what you did, just a few hours before (I know the feeling well), even if you can’t get through your morning without a detailed checklist (the story of my life for years), the body can act as a gateway to recovery.

Regular exercise helps stabilize your system. Eating the right foods (and steering clear of the wrong ones) helps your metabolism stay stable and keeps you off the blood sugar roller-coaster. Getting enough sleep lets the brain “knit itself back together”, as well as clear out the gunk that builds up, just as a result of everyday living. Plus, learning to regulate your heart rate and your blood pressure can train your overall system to get back to a stable state, even if everything feels like it’s falling apart around you.

I’m sipping the last little bit of my half-cup of coffee, as I write this. The snow from last night is giving way to freezing rain, which will fall until midday, when the temperatures start to rise, and regular rain falls. There’s always a chance that the ice buildup will take out our power, and that’s no fun. But I have wood for a fire in the fireplace, and we’ve been keeping the house pretty warm, so we’ll have some residual heat to see us through. In the past, we’ve had some pretty hair-raising experiences with losing power, and I don’t look forward to repeating them.

But I know a lot more now about keeping my physical system stable, and I’m in a much better place, mentally, than I’ve been in past years. So, I’m at much less risk than before. And knowing that relieves the pressure and also reduces the risk of my “losing it” even moreso. And that’s good. It’s awesome.

So, where was I… I’m kind of meandering, this morning, as I try to get my bearings. I’m looking back at the last year, wondering if all the effort really paid off the way I wanted it to. I’m not sure it has. Some things I started have kind of stalled. And other things I wanted to continue with have floundered, as well. In some ways, I’ve been as diligent as ever. In my day job, for example, I’ve been invested and involved in ways that have actually paid off. When I think of all the other jobs I screwed up since 2004 (and even before that), it’s kind of depressing.

So, I won’t think about them. I’ll focus on the good.

And as I look forward to my future, I see a much simpler — but much more do-able — path ahead. I’ve let go of a lot of old activities that were busy-work I picked up for the sake of pumping up my tonic arousal (the state of wakefulness in your brain) and getting my system turned “ON”. I had a handful of websites I wanted to start, a number of business ventures that seemed promising, apps I wanted to build, and novels I wanted to write. That extended experiment in busy-ness went on for 10 years or so, and it just didn’t work out, so I’ve now narrowed my focus to a few particular activities, which will actually lead somewhere.

Heck, they’ve already started to pay off. And taking the pressure off myself to go find another job… yeah, I’ve let that one go. Yes, traveling for work every few months really takes it out of me, but there’s no guarantee the next job won’t be just as much of a pain in the ass. Plus, it’s too stressful to go changing jobs every few years. I used to thrive on that experience, but now it’s just a pain in the ass. I need to look for the good in things and tweak the things that I’ve got going on… not ditch them and go looking for something better, somewhere else.

So, I guess I’ll wrap up my ramble. My morning is in free-flow, so I’m just letting my mind wander as it will, for the time being. I got my grocery shopping done yesterday. I got my meals for today prepared yesterday, too. I can’t go out and do anything, because the roads are bad. There’s no need to go anywhere, anyway. I’ll just hang out for the day… drift… make a fire, perhaps, and catch up on my reading.

And write a bit more. Because I can. I’ve got the time and the opportunity. So, yeah…


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.

7 thoughts on “Looking back, looking ahead… and trying to get some sleep in the meantime”

  1. My normal bedtime would be 2am, if I had any choice in the matter. I’ve been forced to become a “morning person” by necessity. Not my first choice – and if there were any way I could alter it without wrecking my life, I’d do it. In a heartbeat.


  2. You’re really inspiring. I was injured as a teenager several years ago. Unintentionally I did way too much for the first couple years and completely crashed. I then was no longer in school or working. I’ve been trying to volunteer and keep myself busy with other activities, but I feel like the stress of my current life and the isolation, and the lack of activity, is hindering my recovery. I am making slow progress, I always make slow progress. But occasionally I want to speed it up and work or go to school part time and the auditory, visual, and cognitive stimulus is too much and sets me back. I need a middle ground. One where I can be active outside the house everyday, be connected to something, and not worsen my symptoms. I think this would speed up my progress. But I’ve never been able to figure out what that could look like.

    I don’t appear to have many cognitive impairments if my symptoms stay under control (just issues with processing with light + noise and some concentration… My planning/logic, etc. Seem to be normal) and I don’t have a psychological diagnosis. So I think people have trouble understanding why I have so many problems when I don’t appear to have the ones they expect.

    I was wondering if you had any advice for non stimulating activities that can get my out of the house and connected with other people. I always make sure I leave the house and do something, but I don’t think this is nearly as helpful as if I had somewhere specific I needed to be.

    Also, do you have any advice/resources for helping family understand mTBI?

    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for writing. I’m sorry to hear about your injury and your difficulties.

    First, with family — I’m not sure how to get them to understand. I haven’t been very successful with my own family. But when I think about it, what I have wanted with my family was not necessarily that they would “get it”, but that they would relate to me in certain ways or do certain things that would help me. So, instead of telling them, “I’m really struggling right now,” (which makes them anxious and judgmental), I tell them what I need them to do that will help me. I don’t describe my experience (because it makes no sense to them). I tell then what to do — sometimes with an explanation, sometimes without one. The main thing, I’ve found, is that I project confidence while I’m saying it. It sounds counter-intuitive, because there’s often no confidence to be found, but I simulate it, and that works.

    For example, when I’m exhausted and need to get to bed early, I tell them, “I’ve got a big day tomorrow, and I want to be at my best, so I’m going to bed to get a jump-start on the day.”

    Or, if my eyesight is very sensitive instead of telling them, “The light is hurting my eyes,” I tell them to turn the light in a different direction (or turn it off) so I can see better.

    Or, if I can’t hear what they’re saying to me, because my tinnitus is really bad, I don’t say, “I can’t understand a word you’re saying.” Instead, I say, “Can you say that again, because it sounds important and I want to make sure I understand exactly what you’re saying.”

    See the difference?

    I re-phrase my weaknesses as strengths, and it relieves their tension — and it also makes them more eager to help me. Everybody loves a winner, so if I position myself as a winner who’s offering them the chance to share my positive winning experience, that works.

    It felt fake, at first, but it does the trick. Try describing your experiences as exercises in strength, and see where that takes you.

    Now, as for activities… You’ll need to balance activity with rest. It’s great that you’re doing volunteer work and keeping yourself busy. What do those things mean to you? And what do they mean to others? I really struggled for years, feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere, being really stuck in my troubles. The one thing that helped me, was putting my focus on others and using my own difficulties as a way to understand others. When I am feeling terrible and useless, I just think about how many other people feel that way every single day and are so much worse off than me.

    An attitude of service, more than anything, has gotten me through. When I put the emphasis on others (through this blog or at my job or in my personal life), my own troubles fade away. And that actually helps my recovery, because I’m getting out of my own way and my brain is rewiring itself through that service. And then I look up from my work, and I realize that I’ve actually gotten much, much better. That’s mainly because I got my mind off my own troubles and got down to the work of living my life the best way I possibly could.

    Above all, you’ll need to sleep. You need to take time out from the hustle and bustle and let your system heal and catch up with itself. That was something I missed for many years. I didn’t think it mattered, but it absolutely did. That, and exercise. I do about 30 minutes of exercise every single morning, as soon as I get up. It has saved me and helped restore me. I was stalled, until I started doing it regularly without fail.

    The main thing to keep in mind is that TBI recovery is a process that can take years. Everyone is different, because our brains and our situations are different. But there are things you can do to help yourself. You just have to stay steady and continue consistently, no matter how you’re feeling.

    Get some REST —

    Time out

    I just thought of that. It makes it easier to remember. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to think of this.

    Best of luck with your recovery — stay strong and keep the faith. Things do get better.


  4. Thank you for your response. I’ll definitely work on your suggestions. The thing about spinning things as positive is interesting and something I’ve been trying to do, but never could quite figure out why/how. The way you articulated it makes a lot of sense and I think will make implementing it easier for me to stick with.

    I don’t like being patient, but thank you for the reminder that, as long as I am putting in all the work I need to, I do need to be patient with my brain.

    So I’m going to go REST.

    And thanks for the other resources as well! I’ll be going through them all.

    Liked by 1 person

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