Putting Anxiety to Good Use

river winding through green landscape

I had a really good weekend. I made a lot of progress, and I got a lot of plans in place that I think are really going to help me get stuff done. I didn’t clean my gutters, which I really needed to do. And there were a few other things I need to do this morning, to catch up. But all in all, it was a good and satisfying weekend.

My top achievement was getting rid of some serious distractions that have been pulling my attention in all different ways. Those are old projects I was very fond of… and that I was very fond of thinking I’d ever finish. As it turns out, because I had too many things going at the same time, I never advanced down the path I was hoping to, which resulted in me getting nothing done.

So, that’s stopped.

And that’s a big deal for me. Because distraction and dissipate have been regular themes in my life, for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure what’s changed with me, but suddenly I don’t feel drawn to spread myself so thin.

Part of it might be getting a hold of my anxiety. Or just using it for something productive, instead of trying to get rid of it entirely. For quite some time, I’ve tried to manage my anxiety by calming myself down. But at the end of last week, I realized that anxiety is actually a really potent source of energy for me. And it’s constant. It never really goes away.

So, I can use up all my time and energy and attention trying to control / manage something that’s always there, anyway. Or I can redirect the energy into something productive. And really kick it.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the past several days. Kicking it, using my anxiety. Not trying to calm myself down, but directing my energy into something useful. Making plans. Creating a new pace for myself. Letting that old companion anxiety propel me forward…  Turning that often-unwelcome companion into a friend.

And it’s working out pretty well, I have to say. After years and years of being so dissipated and distracted by, well, just about everything, I feel like I have a much better understanding of how my system works — and how it can work for me.

Of course, none of this would have been possible, if I hadn’t worked at my TBI recovery intentionally and with a lot of trial-and-error. I can tell my brain is behaving more, these days, because I’m actually able to focus. I used to be able to do it, at will. Then I fell in 2004, and that went away. I couldn’t manage much of anything, concentration-wise. That’s something that’s come back over time, with lots and lots of practice and (again) trial-and-error. I’ve let myself make mistakes. That’s how I learn. And I gave up worrying about “failure” in the process, which always helps.

So, yes. This is good. I’ve got my mandate for the next year — maybe two. I’m only focusing on one major project, for 2019, funneling my anxious energy into taking steps to do something about each hurdle I come up against — which are many. I will keep this blog going, because it helps me keep my head on straight and also keep focused on what’s most important to me. But I’m not working on a bunch of other side projects that I had going, lo those many years.

And, ironically, that tames my anxiety. Using it for something good not only lets it just be without judgment or blockage, but it also gives it somewhere to go. Like a rushing river, when I let it just flow and direct it in a certain direction, it takes me on some really interesting turns. Instead of damming it up and trying to control it, I just let it flow… and I ride that wave.

Which is good.

And overdue.

Onward.

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Taking it easy… sort of

work sign showing person shoveling a pile of dirtI’m doing my version of “taking it easy” today.

Basically, I’m working on my projects that have been on the back burner for weeks and weeks. Five weeks, pretty much. Count them – five. Ouch. Especially considering how psyched I was about finally getting back into them, about a month ago.

Then I had to travel.

Then I got tired.

Then I had to travel some more.

Then I was exhausted.

I’ve spent the past week swamped at work – two very late-night working sessions, and both nights not getting much sleep at all.

It was really demoralizing and depleting.

But — ha! — now I’m back.

I’ve had the whole day to myself today, to do as I pleased. And it’s been good. I didn’t do the errands I typically have to do on Saturday mornings, because, well, they’ll keep. Those errands aren’t going anywhere, and I needed the down time… the time to just sink into my passion projects and not be governed by someone else’s timeframes, deadlines, limitations.

Even though I worked really hard, this morning, it was very much a vacation from all the intense work at the office, as well as the care-taking for my spouse. Oh, also, my spouse has been ill, so I’ve been doing even more care-taking this week, than I did when we were traveling. And that’s a lot. Nearly constant attention paid. Lots of interruptions. And a trip to the doctor, as well as wrangling with the pharmacist who didn’t understand why I was asking all those questions about the type of medication that was prescribed. My spouse is extremely sensitive to meds, and the pills given before made them violently ill.

So, yeah. I’m going to ask questions. Too bad. At least I kept my wits about me and didn’t yell at anyone. That’s helpful.

Anyway, I spent a great deal of time this morning (and early afternoon) mapping out specific steps I can follow to make the most of my time and not make myself crazy in the process. Now that I have it figured out (mostly), I can move forward.

I hate not knowing what direction to take. It stops me. It blocks me. I’m not a fan.

Anyway, duty calls. I’ve got some things I must take care of this evening, so I’ll sign off for now. I am very much looking forward to this next week, when I’ll have five days off work… to continue to make progress.

 

I’ve missed this

I have to say, I have missed this blog. I’ve been so busy, over the past year or so that I just haven’t done this justice. Or maybe it just felt like I was repeating myself and I was boring my own self.

That’s been known to happen 😏

But things have both leveled out and become chaotically familiar. And I’m not as scattered as I was before. So, it’s time to go a bit deeper with certain parts of my life and really find out what’s there. We don’t have enough depth, in my opinion, so rather than complaining, I’m going to do something about it.

One of the things I need to do is get $$$ support for this blog. I’ve been wanting to do it for years, but I’m feeling even more impetus to do it now. I’ve experienced a pretty amazing recovery from a long series of mild TBIs and I feel this intense drive to pass on what I’ve learned.

It’s worked for me. I need to help others, as well.

And I need to do it on a much larger scale than I have been. So, I’m going to put some thought into how to do that.

If you have any suggestions, let me know.

And that’s all for now.

Getting my balance back — and getting to a stopping place

picture of road on wall with crackled paintWell, that was exciting… The summer (thank heavens) is over, and now I can get my life back.

I don’t do well in the summertime. It’s a shame, because everybody else seems to have such a great time with it, running around, doing so much, getting suntans and extra exercise.

I, on the other hand, am not a fan. There are too many hours of sunlight in the day. And the days are hot… wet… uncomfortable in general. I’m sensitive to light and smells and noise, and summertime is full of all of the above. Not much fun.

I also have trouble sleeping in the heat. Keeping the A/C on in my bedroom (and all through the house, for that matter) is a constant source of stress with the noise. When I’m tired, I’m more sensitive to sound, so a moderately noisy air conditioner sounds like a massive fan in an airplane hangar. And that doesn’t help me sleep.

If I can’t sleep, I become more irritable. Volatile. Raging. It’s a problem. I’m not proud of how I’ve gone off the rails a few times, this summer. Between the work stress and summer stress… it’s not good.

I’ve been keeping really busy with work at my day job (sad face) and my own projects (happy face). It’s taken my mind off many of my troubles, but it’s also tired me out. Again, the fatigue business. And that leads to me drinking too much coffee… which leads to more headaches, difficulty sleeping… the same old vicious self-perpetuating cycle.

But now summer is over. Thank Heavens. And I can settle in for the next three months of enjoyment. I love fall. I love winter. I love spring. And now I get to take a break from summer.

I’m also giving myself a break from some of the Massive Undertakings I launched over the summertime. I came up with some pretty awesome plans that I’m convinced could be Very Big Indeed. The thing is, I really don’t have the capacity to follow through on all of them. I really bit off more than I can chew, so to speak, and that’s been dragging me down. I need to pick and choose what I’ll work on… and let the other stuff go.

But it’s all for the best, because as I narrow down my activities (e.g., writing and creating great content that I can license to others, versus running an entire company based on my ideas), I am operating from an understanding how a larger company would — and could — use my content to build their business.

I’m learning about the larger context for my writing, and that’s good. It’s very good indeed.

So, yes, sometimes I need to stop, in order to go. And learning to recognize my limitations and accommodate them is the first step towards being able to make some real progress.

It’s all a process.

Onward…!

The up-sides of the down-sides

construction worker with ratchet on a steel beamIt’s been a wild couple of days. I had to work overtime twice in two days, which meant I was up from 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning till 3 a.m. yesterday, and I was working intensely for most of that time. We had a big project we had to get done, and we were missing two people on the team, since they had previously scheduled vacation and the big project’s schedule got changed to the worst possible dates.

Oh, well. We just had to deal with it.

And deal with it, I did.

I got 90 minutes of sleep between the two marathon testing sessions, and that was it. Half the time, I felt like I was dead on my feet, and my brain was mush. I was doubled over in pain, part of the time, because of eating the wrong stuff to keep my energy up, which led to digestive problems.

I have to be honest – it was pretty rough. But I got through it. And I ended up lasting longer than just about everybody else, which is typical. One of the upsides of dealing with fatigue and confusion and pain all the time, is that when things get really rough, all across the board, I can  — and usually will — persevere. I can stick it out and still perform. Because I’ve had plenty of practice. I know how to do it, because I do it, every single day, pretty much.

I’m usually tired, usually brain-fogged, usually struggling a bit at something or another. That’s pretty much the cards in the hand I’ve been dealt, because even if I weren’t dealing with TBI issues, I’d still be pushing myself — always harder, always farther, always faster. That’s just how I am. I’m not all that competitive against others. I’m mainly competitive against myself, and I always want to see how much better I can be, how much I can improve.

That’s just how I’m built.

So, of course, I’m going to experience these kinds of stresses and strains, these challenges, these difficulties. And when I’m called upon to kick in and contribute, I’ll do that to the max. To the utmost. I’m not going to hold back. It can be a problem, of course, because I can push myself too hard and overextend myself, but I’m aware of that risk, so I do something about it.

Bottom line, all the difficulties I’ve been up against, over the course of my life have strengthened and sharpened and honed me to this point. And even if I’m not as sharp and strong and honed as I’d ideally like to be, I’m still able to persevere, to hang in there. To stick it out and really do my best, no matter what.

That’s a huge up-side, for me and everyone around me.

And it makes the down-sides manageable.

It’s all part of it.

Onward.

A good week – busy, and good

frog carrying books and papersLast week was a good one, I have to say. I took a break from social media for a while and read some books, for once. I also spent a fair amount of time taking care of business around the house. Cleaning up leftover mess from months gone by. Fixing up outside, taking care of my lawn, getting myself ready to tackle the garage and clean that out. I have a lot to do, and since it’s spring, it’s time to jump into action.

Or just get moving.

I also reconnected with some old childhood friends of mine, and it’s great to drift back into the sense I had when I was with them. When I was younger. When I didn’t fully understand my situation, what made me “tick”, etc. Relating to those people again with the perspectives I have about what I was dealing with, back then — a bunch of concussions that never got recognized or addressed, as well as the confusion and frustration and mixed-up state that came along with them — it’s much easier for me to relate to those people now, than it ever was, when I was a kid.

And that’s kind of cool. Because now I can cut myself a break, even forgive myself for being how I was. And I can cut those people a whole lot of slack for being “how they were”. Because in all honesty, I was so turned around, back then, I truly didn’t know how they were. I took a wild guess, and I guessed wrong.

But that’s all behind me. Because I understand. And I can forgive myself for a whole lot of things, now that I understand what was behind it. I can actually have compassion for myself and the person I was, back then, as well as others. And that’s the best thing of all.

Compassion makes a difference.

It’s important — and not only for the past, but for the present and future, as well. With my changed perceptions, my updated perspective, I can be free to move forward in life with a different way of thinking about things. I’m no longer “the loser who couldn’t figure anything out”. I’m “the resourceful, persistent person who never quit trying”. I’m not the former “waste of space”. I had as much right to exist as the next person, and I learned to contribute as best I could.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about contribution, lately. How important it is to really help make the world a better place by our choices, our words, our actions. I’m not talking about being some pie-in-the-sky lightweight who’s always spouting some sort of inspirational stuff. I’m talking about making the hard choices to keep positive, even in the face of adversity — to appreciate just how much everybody is dealing with, each and every day, and help them get through it all by staying positive and constructive.

We all have our struggles. That much is clear. And for me, staying stuck in my own difficulties is a sure recipe for misery. For myself, and for others. But when I get out of my own head and focus on others and look for ways to help, everything changes. For them, and for me.

That’s another thing that’s made this past week particularly good. I’ve been focusing on others, putting myself in others’ shoes, thinking about them and their situation, and doing my best to be supportive, even if I have no idea what’s causing someone to do the things they’re doing. That makes work so much easier — not because the job we’re doing is any less complicated, but because it gets the people stuff in order, and when you build from there, everything else finds a way to work itself out.

Oh, one other thing I found that’s helping — laughing, instead of cursing. Even if I don’t feel like laughing, I’ve been training myself to let out a little laugh, when I get frustrated or everything is completely messed up. Make no mistake… there’s a lot of stuff I’m dealing with that’s messed up. And it’s definitely curse-worthy. But if I make myself laugh just a little bit, that changes how things feel. And it lifts my mood considerably.

So, that’s good.

I plan to keep doing it — just embrace the absurdity of it all.

And now to get into this week. It’s spring vacation for a lot of my colleagues, this week, so it will be quiet. I’ve heard rumblings of political maneuverings that might swoop in and move me from one group to the next. Whatever happens, I’ll make the best of it. Whatever… I need a quiet week to just chill and get some work done. This should do the job.

Or it won’t.

Either way, I can always laugh about it.

There’s that.

Onward…

Time to head down the road again…

road with trees on either sideYesterday was a long day, for some reason. I went out to run some errands, then got caught up in traffic and spent more time than necessary at the grocery store. All the people shopping for dinner were a steady source of distraction, and by the end of my visit, I was worn out.

I also had to find a replacement remote, and I went to two different stores, but I had a hard time figuring out what was what… I couldn’t find the electronics aisle in one store, then I couldn’t find remote control that I liked in the other store.

So, it’s back to the drawing board. I’ll probably go out today, in a little bit, to an actual electronics store. There’s a “big box” one about 15 minutes from my place, and although I don’t like going in there, I’ll take one for the team.

I need to get something else at a nearby store, so the mall looks like it’s in my destiny, today. Or maybe not, because it’s Easter, and I’m really tired today.

I really need a walk. I’ve been cooped up inside for what feels like months. Actually, it has been months since I was free to just pick up and head down the road. Too much snow. Too much cold. Too many crazy drivers. But today, it’s quiet. Everybody’s either at church or their sleeping in before Easter dinner.

This would be my chance to pull on my walking gear and head out.

I think I’ll steer clear of the woods, though. My balance hasn’t been great, and I’m concerned about slipping and falling – especially since the snow melted so quickly and there are bound to be slick and slippery spots in the woods. I’ve already clunked my head, this morning — just a minor clunk, nothing to worry about. It was a wake-up call that my coordination isn’t great.

So, I have to make choices accordingly.

The main thing is that I keep going, keep progressing, and take care of everything that needs to be taken care of.

Onward.

Up again, down again, up again, down again

some days are heavier than others. some are not heavy at all

Lately, my life has been pretty … variable.

My mood has alternated between great(!) and meh and dismal… and then back again.

It’s all part of it, I suppose. Just life being life, work being work, family being family.

Steady on… Everything cycles around.

Everything.

Unless we understand #TBI / #Concussion, we can’t really treat it

I’ve been more absent from this blog, this month, than I’d intended. Life… you know? It’s been very busy at work, and things are shifting with my role. I’ve had some additional training and workshops, and I’m still trying to figure out where I fit in.

Fortunately, I have help. There are a lot of folks at work who are eager to step in and pull people up to the level they need to be at. I’m not the only one who’s having some challenges navigating the new organizational structure, but fortunately, the expectation is that each and every one of us is going to have challenges and struggle somewhat.

So, that’s helpful, overall.

Getting support at work frees me up to get back to my mission: To write about long-term recovery from concussion / mild traumatic brain injury, and show that it is possible to restore your life after you’ve sustained a brain injury. There is a real dearth of information about this out in the world, and I’m (still) on a mission to do something about that.

I realize that all my … “gyrations” at work have distracted me from this mission. It’s been siphoning off all my energy and distracting me, which is the opposite of what I want and need. So, I’m settling down in my job, chilling out, and looking to my long-term future… 10… 15… 20… 30 years in the future.

And that frees me up to concentrate on the here-and-now with greater focus. It lets me get back to my mission.

The other day, while researching a post, I came across this article:

New Advice to Move More After a Concussion

When young athletes sustain concussions, they are typically told to rest until all symptoms disappear. That means no physical activity, reading, screen time or friends, and little light exposure, for multiple days and, in severe cases, weeks.

Restricting all forms of activity after a concussion is known as “cocooning.” But now new guidelines, written by an international panel of concussion experts and published this month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, question that practice. Instead of cocooning, the new guidelines suggest that most young athletes should be encouraged to start being physically active within a day or two after the injury.

“The brain benefits from movement and exercise, including after a concussion,” says Dr. John Leddy, a professor of orthopedics at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, and one of the co-authors of the new guidelines.

And it makes sense to me. Because when you think about concussion / TBI in terms of what it is (an injury that disrupts connections and releases a bunch of “gunk” into the brain that shouldn’t be there), and you think about the brain in terms of what it does (processes information based on connections and makes new connections where none existed before), and you think about how the body works (moves all of that information through  – mentally and physically), then cocooning probably isn’t the thing to do for long periods of time.

TBI is a tricky thing. It’s different for everyone, of course, and something that works for one person might not work for another. But we’re all walking around in human bodies, and those human bodies function pretty much the same way.

So, if we use the principles of how the body and brain work, and we understand the nature of concussion, and we understand the dynamics of the whole scenario, new treatment approaches become clearer.

It surprises me a little bit that it took till May, 2017, to figure out how to better treat concussions. Then again, until the past 10-15 years or so, people didn’t really take “mild” traumatic brain injury that seriously. Everybody just laughed it off like it was no big deal.

Then we started to realize that onetime football players were ending up in a bad way — worse than the general public. And football players and their families started going public about their struggles. And people started talking — out loud — about stuff that used to be a source of terrible shame and embarrassment. The kinds of stuff that “you just didn’t talk about”, back in the day.

A lot has changed, thanks to research and increased awareness.

And we’re making progress in many areas.

But still, it surprises me, how much we don’t know… how much we still overlook… and how many people continue to struggle, months and years after a concussion or mTBI.

I have my own struggles, sure. A lot of the problems I had haven’t gone away completely. But after all these years of actively working on solutions, I’m doing a whole lot better at managing them, and that’s made all the difference. Maybe it’s true that brain injury can never be reversed, but then, life can never be reversed, and if we treat concussion issues as just another aspect of life that needs to be taken seriously and managed appropriately, it is very possible to have a “regular” life afterwards.

Sure, you’ll have to change some things. You’ll have to adjust. But life is full of those kinds of requirements. We don’t get a “pass” when we get injured, and the world jumps in to protect us. We just get a different set of challenges and difficulties and benefits to work with.

That being said, mental rigidity is probably one of the biggest hurdles to TBI recovery. The very black-and-white thinking that takes over when your brain gets injured can cause the injury to become even worse. Because you’re locked in a straitjacket of limited thinking. Getting your mindset out of the box and trying different things, living differently, getting on with your life, and being mindful about stuff… that can help hugely. I know it helped me more than I can say.

So, there are just a few more days left in Brain Injury Awareness Month. I’ve fallen far short of my stated plan to focus on brain injury recovery for the duration. I had such great plans… But of course… life. And my limits.

Turns out, what I’m taking away from Brain Injury Awareness Month is a reminder of how — yet again — I need to adjust my commitments and expectations and go a bit easier on myself. The thing to remember is that life goes on. And while I didn’t live up to my own expectations, the world keeps turning, the sun rises and sets, it snows and the snow melts, and the songbirds return to my bird feeder.

For today, that’s enough. It’s more than enough.

Back in my own space again

laptop with blank notebook and pen on a desk
Today I move at my own pace – blank slate

I’m back in my home office again.

It’s been months, since I was in here regularly. I had been working downstairs in the dining room, where I have better wireless connectivity and I can move around the downstairs without disturbing my spouse.

But nowadays, I really need to get back into my office. My study. My refuge. Everything in this room is here because I want it to be. I need it. I value it. That’s not to say I don’t want and value what’s downstairs. I do. It’s just not all mine, and it’s shared space with not only my spouse but anybody else who comes over to the house.

Granted, there are not that many people who come by, anymore. I can’t deal with having a lot of people in my home. Not anymore. We used to have company over a lot. But in the past several years, that’s faded away. I’m too tired, by the end of each week, to deal with people. And when I do have extra social activities on the weekend, it really takes a lot out of me. I hate that it does, and I do plenty to offset it — like working on my stamina and pacing myself better during the week — but it’s still an issue.

A tired brain is a cranky brain. And when my brain is cranky, it’s not much fun to be around.

Truly.

And too many other people have found out. I’ve gone ballistic on some folks whose only crime was being in my house when I was too tired to interact with them. They were friends, and they considered me a friend. But now they don’t talk to me. Oh, well. So it goes. At times, my life is easier without having a lot of regular friends in it, to tell the truth. Does that sound sad? It’s not. I need my peace and quiet. I need my rest. There’s only so much of other people I can take, even on my best days.

That being said, I’d been able to work downstairs in the dining room, because we rarely use the room for eating, except when we have company.  We use it to store things — boxes we haven’t decided what to do with, yet, as well as other packing materials. Papers and mail that isn’t time-sensitive and just needs a place to “sit” till I figure out what to do with them all. Books. Books. More books. Things we’ve moved from other rooms, to make space for our everyday lives. And there’s room for me to set up a workspace at the dining room, which is exactly what I’d done over the winter. The dining room is warmer than my study in the fall and winter, in any case, so that’s part of why I moved my “operations” there.

But not having my own space has gotten to me. I need to close a door behind me and settle into my own frame of mind — the mentality that sets in when I’m in my own space. I have my books around me, my music, my artwork, my papers. It’s all here. All my fascinations from over the years. And all my neurology info. Especially my neuro info.

So, now I’ve moved back into my study, and I’m looking out the window at the bird feeder and the falling snow. We got more snow last night, and now the wind is up, so it’s cascading off the trees, so it looks like we’re having a blizzard. We’re not. That’s just the overnight snow being tossed by the breeze. But it looks pretty intense at times.

It’s Sunday. That’s good. I have a whole day to pretty much do as I please, and that’s a welcome change. It’s not that I’m going to indulge myself… it’s that I have a lot that I want to do, and not having other responsibilities driven by others’ needs is making it possible for me to make some headway.

Write some blog posts. Read some papers. Get the word out about brain injury recovery being both possible and probable. I’m on a mission. And having my own workspace makes it easier for me to focus on that.

So, yes. Onward.