Today’s a new day

railroad tracks leading into the distance with "start" painted on a tieIt’s Friday. For many, that means a few days off.

For me, it means I have a few days ahead of me to put in some more work. Some thought. Some intention.

It’s precious, precious time to step back, reconsider what I’ve been doing for the past week, re-set my direction, if necessary, and also rest, recuperate, re-adjust myself to a life that’s more like “me” and less like how the rest of the world expects me to be.

My TBI recovery has taken me in so many different directions, but at the core, it’s reminded me of who I really am, deep down inside, and what I want from my life. I was frankly on a wrong path, back when I fell down those stairs in 2004, and although it cost me dearly, I’m now on a much better path.

My path.

My life.

Today is my day.

Onward.

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Break it down, and get it right

I’ve noticed a very different way of doing things, now, than I used to follow before.

In the past, I wanted (needed) long stretches of time to think things through, figure them out, and then gradually move through them.

Now, though, I work better when I break things down into smaller steps, focus fully on them, and then let them go after a little while.

I never realized, before, that spending too much time on what I was doing, was holding me back.

But it was. I would get tired. Then I’d get scattered. And I would get distracted to the point where I would lose focus on what I was doing, wander off and do something else, then wonder why I could never get anything done.

I know now why that is/was. I get tired.

So instead of trying to do everything all at once, I break things down into smaller steps and do them one at a time. And I don’t try to do everything all at once. If I plan properly, I can come back and pick up where I left off, and all is well.

All really is well. This is a huge improvement for me. I get more done, and I don’t exhaust myself in the process.

Onward.

Not so angry, tired, or frustrated anymore – Who I was then, versus how I am now

train in rear-view mirror
Looking behind can help me move forward

I had a very productive weekend. A lot of folks tell me to slow down and do less, and it’s important to keep balanced. The thing is, I actually am able to keep balanced while doing more. Because I know how to do things in a pretty efficient way.

Plus, I have a ton of experience that I can use — and I do.

Only I do it much, much better than ever before.

Once upon a time, I was constantly driven to go-go-go, to do-do-do. It was a heady, exciting way to live. But it wore me out. I got tired. And then I lost sight of what I was doing and why I was doing it.

Of course, I had no idea that my history of TBIs was driving me, or how it was affecting me when I got tired.

Now I know. And now I can manage my energy levels — lie down and take a nap when I need one… get up and get to work, if I have the energy… and really pay attention to the things that mean the most to me, all along the way.

I think I’m still as driven as I was before. Maybe I’m even more driven…

  • To heal
  • To help
  • To make a difference in the world
  • To be a positive influence, no matter where I am
  • To make dreams come true, for myself and others
  • To really, really help

Because more is possible than anyone seems to believe anymore.

Yeah, I know… the world is in a mess. Political turmoil. Drama. Threats of war — or outright war. Territorial disputes. Money, power, influence, control. Everybody’s churned up, worked up, and telling tales of doom and gloom.

And I used to get so bent out of shape about things like this. As though there were anything I could do about it. And it wore me out. It tired me out, it made me anxious and agitated, and that was no good.

I had no idea how fatigue affected me.

So, I couldn’t manage it.

Angry, tired, frustrated. I was always that way. If I wasn’t all three of them (which was often), I was at least one of them.

And that was no good. It just stopped me at every turn — the fatigue, the agitation, the distractions.

Meanwhile, I had no idea why nothing ever worked out for me, long-term.

I thought about this a lot, this past weekend, as I was systematically working through my list of errands. Things I had to do for others. Things I needed to do for myself. I thought about all the years I spent working towards my dreams, only to have them fizzle out. And then never understanding why that was.

Now I know why it was. I got tired. Fatigued. And then I got distracted and scattered and angry and defeated.

I’m not blinded to that, anymore.

Now I know.

Now I can manage.

I don’t have to settle for less, anymore. I can actually finish things I’ve started.

And this is a very good thing.

Onward.

Keeping the foundation solid

windrader foundationI’ve been doing better about taking care of myself, lately.

I guess I just got to a point where I realized that pushing myself constantly wasn’t paying off. I’ve always been driven. I’ve always been motivated. I’ve always wanted more and I’ve wanted to see what all I was capable of doing and being and becoming.

I’ve lost sight of the basics more times than I can count, but that gets old after a while.

So, I’m focusing on the basics. I’m keeping my routine going, getting my exercise every single morning — sometimes pushing myself a little harder, sometimes taking it a little easier — eating right, taking care of business as I go through my day(s).

The more I focus on the basics, the more I tend to my foundation, the stronger I am, the more stable I am. And it puts things in perspective.

It’s Friday. I got up early – couldn’t sleep, partly because of work excitement, partly because of being excited about the weekend. I’ve had a few hours of productive working on my projects. I solved a big problem that had stumped me for the past few days. I’ve had my breakfast. I’ve had my big glass of water. And I’m moving forward.

With my foundation in place.

Solid.

Stable.

Good.

It wasn’t always this way, of course. 13 years ago, my life was starting to fall apart. I’d gotten a nasty concussion about a year before, and I had no idea how it was affecting me. Things were just dissolving, and I didn’t understand just how much they were. All I knew was, life had gotten about 1000 times harder than it had ever been. All I knew was, I was stressed out more than ever, I was having so much trouble concentrating, I was emotionally volatile, my temper was all over the place, and life was increasingly impossible.

I nearly lost everything.

Nearly.

What turned it around was simple — focusing on basics. Developing a routine and using checklists to keep myself on track. Getting to know myself again and figuring out how to get through my day in one piece, without losing it over every little thing.

It was simple. But it wasn’t easy. It took constant work. It took sustained focus. It took years.

But it was worth it. And I found that taking care of the basics, being consistent (even boring) was the key to getting back… getting back to myself… getting back to my dreams… restoring my abilities that I’d thought were gone for good.

It was worth it.

And it continues to be.

Focus on the basics. Master the fundamentals. Keep working, keep refining, keep “iterating” from one improvement to the next… and stay steady. Don’t give up. Just be stubbornly committed to my goals and objectives.

And rest. Plenty of rest, good food, clean water. Restoration of my energy stores.

Keep on. I just keep on.

And it works.

Onward.

Maintain… maintain

files and papers stacked in two columns
This is pretty much how the last week felt for me.

I’ve had a really busy week.

After a week off.

A real contrast. Very extreme.

Ouch.

Literally.

Ouch.

But for all the busy-ness, I didn’t move as much as I should have — and normally do. I spent most of the past week sitting. Just sitting. In workshops. Not moving around, not stretching my legs, but sitting and listening and talking.

Ouch.

Just getting up and walking to the cafeteria was painful. It’s the worst of all worlds — being sedentary and having to concentrate really hard. Just doesn’t work with me. I can do it for a day, but three days in a row?

No thank you.

Now, my extremes continue, as I launch into a day full of errand-running and travel and helping my spouse with a fundraiser event. I’m just driving. Not “working” the event. I’ll have time to myself while the event is going on to do some fun things and also catch up with a friend I haven’t talked to in a while.

So, even though it’s busy, it’s all good.

The past week has really brought home, just how important it is for me to move regularly. On vacation, the week before that, I was in motion on a regular basis. Even though I was “off work”, I still had plenty to keep me busy — though in a good way. Buying groceries so I could make us nice brunches and sandwiches for the beach… arranging for special permits, so we could access different parts of the area and have a really great experience… getting out and about to see what was going on in the town… and exploring the beaches and hiking paths.

It was a very active “time off”, and it felt great. I didn’t get much done that was sedentary, like reading or blogging, but that was perfectly fine with me. It was a fair trade.

But now this past week… ugh. I was too busy to get in my regular exercise, I didn’t get enough restful sleep, I had appointments in the evenings that cut into my regular schedule, and I had to start early each day, so I didn’t get as many morning workouts as I needed. And my daily eating was off — I ate too much food, and it was the wrong kind.

Fatigue. Brain fog. Pain. Confusion. Irritability. Far less functionality than I normally have. And the constant nagging feeling that I’m missing something, I’m forgetting something, I should be doing something I haven’t yet thought of.

I’m glad that’s over.

Now I can get back to my regular routine. Get a decent night’s rest, each night, exercise each morning, eat the foods that work for me, move around during the day, stretch regularly, drink plenty of water, and get back to life as I’ve developed it.

There’s a reason I do what I do. And there’s a reason I keep doing it.

I’ve tried the other ways. They seriously just don’t work for me.

But I’m good, now.

I’m good.

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Brain injury comes in a number of different “flavors”, but it affects us in very similar ways

Brain injury is a brain injury, and as much as we may say “each brain is different, each injury is different,” we still need to look at the ways that each kind of injury is similar to others. And the experiences we have can be quite similar.

Loneliness, isolation, confusion, not feeling like yourself, getting angry quickly, mood swings, and let’s not forget the bone-crushing fatigue and the embarrassment that comes from not being the person you used to be… They are all things brain injury survivors have in common, and it’s helpful to actually treat people accordingly.

I honestly don’t understand why more emphasis isn’t placed on the experience of brain injury. That’s what trips us up, quite frankly. That’s the thing that makes our recoveries so much harder — the experiences we have and the effects those experiences have on our selves, our Sense-of-Self.

Well, that’s why I’m here. To speak up for those of us who tend to get stuck in our post-BI experiences, and need to see there’s actually a way out… Because there is. There is always hope — even in the most dire cases. Nobody can tell me different. That’s just how we’re built — to amaze… to heal… to grow… to learn. And learn some more.

Here’s a quick summary of the different types of brain injury:

Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)

includes things like stroke and anoxic (being without oxygen) brain injury. Some consider traumatic brain injury to be an acquired brain injury, because it “is damage to the brain that was not present at birth and is non-progressive” (See The ABI Manual for more). Personally, I wouldn’t call it “non-progressive”, but everyone’s experience is different.

ABI Resources:

Stroke

happens either when a clot blocks blood flow in the brain (called “Ischemic” stroke) or a blood vessel pops and there’s a brain bleed (called “Hemorrhagic” stroke)

Stroke Resources

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

is related to trauma to the brain that comes from a fall, an attack, a sports injury, or an accident.

TBI Resources:

Concussion

is what people often call a “mild” TBI. Concussions are sometimes considered less serious than traumatic brain injuries, and a lot of people consider a TBI that clears up after a while, to be a Concussion.

Concussion Resources:

 

Concussion From A Player’s Perspective

It’s bad enough when you’ve gotten hurt, but when you’re told you have to keep going… that’s the worst. Especially at the level that pro rugby players are at. Me? I was my own worst enemy, pushing myself to go-go-go, despite being hurt. I didn’t know enough about my own condition to realize I *was* hurt. And so, the issues built up… and they didn’t resolve, till I’d nearly lost everything.

Knocking Out Concussion

As highlighted previously, concussion is a serious issue for rugby league players, with regulations only recently being introduced. Prior to these regulations, there was little protecting the players from serious injuries after being concussed. This meant that the players were more vulnerable to the long term impacts of concussion.

One such player is former Newcastle Knights winger, James McManus, who was forced to retire in 2015 due to concussion related injuries. Due to improperly treated concussions throughout his career, McManus now suffers through regular symptoms of concussion, including; cognitive impairment, impairment of memory, mood swings, headaches, anxiety, depression and sleep disturbance. All of this comes from, McManus believes, the medical staff not forcing him to take his head injuries more seriously.

McManus believes he should’ve been forced to retire in 2013 and as a result of playing on, he suffered up to ten more concussions, resulting in permanent brain…

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My last decent vacation in a good long time…

open book with a landscape scene in the pages
The way life goes, you never know how things will shape up. I’ve had so many hopes and dreams over the years, and so many times, I’ve been on the verge of really breaking through… then something happened. And that “something” was often a TBI.

I was just getting my act together in elementary school, finding my footing with my peers and getting involved in a special program for “gifted” kids and discovering what worked for me, when I got hit on the head and things changed. I became combative. Difficult. A behavior problem. So much for the gifted program. They showed me to the door on that one.

My family relocated, and I was finally figuring out how to interact with the people around me (who all talked with thick accents I could barely understand). Then I fell out of a tree and wrenched my neck. And I kept hitting my head while playing sports. Football. Soccer. Just playing outside. Hitting my head was routine. I can remember a number of really significant blows to my skull that disrupted my consciousness, but they happened against a backdrop of regular clunks on the head. It seemed like every time I got on my feet and started feeling like I had a grip on my life, I’d get hurt (again), and I’d be back at square one.

I eventually got out of my parents’ house and got on with my life. When I drank a lot, I fell down — a lot. I may have (probably) hit my head a bunch of times, but I don’t remember much from the 4-5 years after I left my parents’ home.  Those years that could have been some of my best (and in some ways, they were). They could have been years of exploration and learning and experience like no other, but instead they were mired in the muck of hangovers and all the confusion that comes from not knowing what happened the night before. A few scrapes with the law… being ostracized by my peers… some violent confrontations… making money by borderline means, just to get by… it was definitely an experience — that’s for sure. But it took me years to recover from the damage I did to myself.

After I was in the working world, driving to work each day, I got in a bunch of car accidents. They weren’t huge deals, mostly just fender-benders, but whiplash and getting clunked on the head didn’t help matters any. During years when most of my peers were getting on their feet, finding their way in the world, I was scrambling. Trying to catch up, after being set back. I got a job, then got hit by a speeding door-to-door salesman. I left that job without saying why. Just left one day and never went back. I relocated to a really great city, but just before moving, I got rear-ended and spent the next several months in a manic haze.

Years later, I had a pretty decent job with a lot of responsibility, then got tangled up in a 7-car pileup, and everything fell to pieces there, too. That worked out okay in the end, because I found a much better job and a completely different career track, but it did a number on my self-confidence, and it caused me to pass up a golden opportunity that my new manager laid at my feet (and begged me to take). I can only imagine how much more stable my life would be now, had I actually taken them up on it.

The last and most debilitating TBI was when I fell down a flight of stairs at the end of 2004. I was just 18 months away from having some investments mature, and if I’d been able to hang in there and keep up with my life, I could have repaired and paid off my house, gotten rid of my debt, and really solved a lot of logistical problems that are the kinds of things that only money will solve. None of that got solved. It all fell apart. And it’s taken me 12+ years go piece it all back together to just a semblance of how things once were.

So, what does this have to do with my current vacation (which is now drawing to a close)?

In the course of my life, I’ve never known just when everything would fall to sh*t. It’s partly me being oblivious, partly me not having a reliable crystal ball that lets me peer into the future. So, all those times when I just assumed I’d have time to do this, that, or the other thing… all those times when I thought I was set… all those times when I didn’t pay attention to what was Right In Front Of Me… in so many cases, they were the last hurrah for that part of my life. The last shred of self-confidence. The last vestiges of feeling competent. The last months of feeling like I could actually plan my future with certainty. The last weeks of being able to take certain things (like how my brain worked or how I’d react to experiences) for granted.

I didn’t savor those things when they happened, because I was too damn’ optimistic. Too oblivious to just how sh*tty life could get for me. Not experienced enough to realize that things could get That Much Harder for me in a moment’s time. I took them for granted. I didn’t wring every last bit of goodness out of them, while the goodness lasted. And now I just look back on a lot of wasted opportunities and chances I totally missed enjoying… all because I thought there would be another time that would be somehow better.

I don’t believe that anymore.

Especially not this morning.

From here on out, my vacations will probably be a lot more work than relaxation, a lot more frustrating than renewing, and a lot less worth it to me. But they’ll continue. Life goes on. Sh*t gets complicated. So it goes.

For today, I’m just going to enjoy myself. Because this might just be as good as it ever gets.

Today I am grateful for…

rocks piled in a balanced arrangement on a beach with the sea behind them
Constructing my gratitude, one piece at a time.

1. Vacation
2. Vacation
3. Not having to go to work
4. Spending a whole week with the love of my life
5. Having enough money to buy dinner, instead of cooking myself
6. Having the time to go exploring
7. Being in a place where I can explore something different, each day
8. Moving at my own pace
9. Not worrying about not exploring *everything*
10. The time and freedom to take afternoon naps – every single day.

Well, not *exactly* time off…

construction cranes wtih a cloudy skyMost people think of vacation / time off, as an opportunity to kick back and relax, put the cares of the world on hold, and just float through life without a care in the world.

Those people, however, have very different lives from mine.

My “vacation” is a lot of work, actually. I’m off my routine, so I have to spend a lot of energy figuring out what’s next. Regular mealtimes and menu items are different. I’m fixing three meals a day for my spouse and me, instead of just breakfast for me, then supper for us both. I have to help my spouse get around, as they have limited mobility and need extra time and help just standing up and moving from place to place. Everything moves at a slower pace, and I don’t get as many spontaneous opportunities to discharge a lot of the energy I have.

And when I do kick into high gear, it disorients my spouse and they get pissed off at me for moving too fast.

So, I work around it. I have to. I go out into the day and run around. I sprint across parking lots. I lift and carry twice as much stuff as I normally do. I intersperse my slow times with intervals of bursting energy – flash, flash, flash – and then “back it down” for my spouse’s benefit.

Last time we took a week’s vacation, I lost a couple pounds, by the end of the week. So, it’s really not so bad.

It’s good to change up the routine, in any case.

And find peace where I can. Excitement where I can. Enjoyment where I can. Life for me is less about having things handed to me — like opportunity — and more about finding what I’m looking for when I need it. Seeing opportunity where nobody else does. Finding peace in the center of the storm. Making my own excitement.

It’s all a big swirl of potential, to me. My job is to find the experiences and the chances I’m looking for, in the midst of it all, and see what I can do to bring them to life.

That takes work. It takes concentration. It also takes patience and willingness to stick with things that put most people off. Needless to say, I’m up for it — and in the end, it’s an investment of my resources that truly pays off. My TBI recovery is a case in point.

So, while the fantasy of having a whole week “off” work is appealing, the fact of the matter is, I’m just trading one kind of work for another. But in the end, that’s how I want it. And even if I weren’t loaded up with all sorts of extra domestic things to do, I’d find other work to occupy me. That’s how I roll.

Onward.