Pacing myself for a good Thanksgiving Day

holiday dinnerThe bread crumbs are drying out, and the turkey is thawing in its cold water bath.

I have all my vegetables — yams, red potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, celery, green beans — and a can of jellied cranberry sauce picked out and stashed in the refrigerator

I have a tube of ready-made croissants also chilling near the butter that’s a main ingredient for the stuffing.

It’s  Thanksgiving morning, and I have my work cut out for me. I’ll start prepping in about an hour… melting the butter and sauteeing the celery with herbs for the stuffing… rinsing out the turkey and making sure it’s fully thawed… getting the giblets out and tossing them in a pot of salty water to simmer… cutting up the vegetables to roast with the turkey and in a separate dish on the side… stirring in the bread cubes… and then putting it all together to sit in the oven for 4 hours.

The fact that I can think all this through and have a good sense of the “flow” of things is testament to my TBI recovery. Years ago, I couldn’t even figure out how to reliably cook a full meal, let alone an entire Thanksgiving Day feast. It’s taken years of practice to not only get my pacing together, but also not lose my cool over things going wrong.

This year, I planned ahead. I prepped and did shopping several days in advance. I thought it all through, over and over, made my lists, and got myself set up to just relax yesterday before doing all of this today. I also have a roasting pan for the turkey, which I didn’t have last year. Last year, I completely spaced out on getting a foil roasting pan, and I spent Thanksgiving morning in search of a grocery store that had them. I was unsuccessful, but I did figure out that I could use one of my really big casserole dishes as a backup.

Then, after that potential disaster was averted, I just bought myself a roasting pan. Problem solved for posterity.

And it’s good. This year is good. I’m still really fatigued from the last few weeks of work, and I’m having trouble sleeping (and napping), but I’m in a good space. And that’s what matters. Because I can’t always control how I’m feeling (or how I’m sleeping), so the next best thing is to keep my cool and just deal with whatever comes along. Without drama. Without undue pain and suffering.

It’s all any of us can ask for, I think.

So, on this day of giving thanks, I am grateful. If you’re celebrating today, have a very Happy Thanksgiving. And if you’re not, I still wish you a most excellent day.

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And it just gets better…

Kim-Sutton-Positive-Productivity-Coffee-and-ComputerI’m having another great day, today.

I’m surprisingly productive on my days “off”, and I’m getting more done than I realize. Before I lay down for my nap, a couple of hours ago, I made a list of all the stuff I got done, and it was … a lot.

I’m not taxed, though, which is good. It just feels regular. Like I’m just living my life like I want to.

And I am.

One thing that happened earlier, was a phone interview for a job I’d applied for a couple of weeks back. I know I’d posted about how I really need to be realistic and not push myself intensely — especially with a long commute.  And it’s true. The thing is, the people I talked to and the job we discussed all sounded great. Of course they did. It was an interview, and everybody’s on their best behavior. But what came out of the conversation was actually a wider and more interesting kind of opportunity than they originally offered.

The scope of the job now encompasses things I’ve been doing for years, but they don’t apparently have anyone to do. Things like make their website go really, really fast. Things like put a new web metrics package in place. Things like train developers on best practices.

So, that was actually exciting. When I think about where I am now — boxed into a small corner of the world, without the opportunity to strengthen certain skills (which, by the way, are the ones that really pay well) — and I think about the future — more of the same that’s going to make me more and more specialized, more and more boxed-in — I have to seriously consider any and all alternatives.

Anyway, if my current employer really wanted to keep me, they’d pay me like they mean it. They haven’t done that. If anything, they’ve reneged on their promises and shorted me thousands of dollars.

That’s not cool. It’s not-cool enough to make me leave. They should know better. They do know better. But they won’t do better.

If I move, it will be an adjustment. A longer commute. A new bunch of people. Unpredictable politics. Having to start from scratch.

Then again, that’s what I’m dealing with right now. And that’s happening at an established job with a company that’s an “unknown quantity” at this point. Who knows what will happen with them? Nobody knows. All anybody has, anymore, is rumors.

Note how well I’m talking myself into changing jobs, when just a few days ago, I was in a much different frame of mind. I’m clever that way… But seriously, I have to weigh all the pros and cons of both situations. And I can’t say I’d mind being closer to home, especially during the winter months. I also won’t mind not being “threatened” with obligatory trips to India, which has never been something I wanted to do, but my boss has been hinting at. I can work effectively with people from India. I just can’t travel there comfortably. Just crossing the USA is disruptive enough for me, and exhausts me sufficiently to wreck my life for weeks at a time. But India?

No thank you.

Well, it’s all a trade-off. I’m fortunate that I’m in this situation, to begin with — in-demand in the midst of a very challenging job market. These are good problems to have. So, for that I’m grateful.

I think I’ll drink my afternoon coffee now.

And get back to enjoying my day. The obligations I thought I’d have this afternoon have magically dissipated into the ethers, so I have time to read and write and think — imagine that. And I’m OFF for the next four days, with just a few to-do items here and there.

Good heavens, it’s great to not have to do anything.

For once.

Regaining my Dignity at the end of “Most Excellent Day One”

zen stones in waterI just woke up from my nap. I lay down for 2 hours, and I could have slept for three or more.

It felt amazing. I need to make supper, now. Get back on track. But I feel so amazing, after just a little bit of sleep.

And I know there will be more where that came from.

Because I have the next week off. Actually, a week and a day. It’s amazing. Fantastic. Just what I needed.

And now I can regain my dignity.

See, it suffered for many months, while I was working on this Mammoth Project. I’ve been over-worked, (of course) under-paid, I have been doing the job of 5-6 people, and I haven’t gotten a lot of support from my boss throughout. Just criticism from afar. Or meddling from afar. Or what seemed like outright sabotage. I’m not sure what’s in it for them, to make me look like I don’t know what I’m doing, or to override me, but bottom line, they did more harm than good.

Anyway, the first phase of the project is over, and now I can look towards the next phase — about two months off — and leverage the foundation I’ve built with people, thus far.

And start living and acting like myself again.

Catch up on my sleep — and stop making mistakes because my brain is mis-firing.

Chill out my stress levels — and stop getting overwrought and yelling at people.

Find the good in what I’ve accomplished — and stop feeling so self-conscious and insufficient, because some things didn’t go 100% according to plan.

I can actually hold my head up again, after nearly a year of feeling trampled by other people’s successes. I can actually get my bearings again and stand firmly on both feet. And I can get past the dismay at my brain failing me, time and time again, under conditions that seem custom-made to trip it up.

I can get my dignity back to where I’d like it to be.

And that started today, on this Most Excellent Day One (of 9), as I got to not worry about The Project for a whole 24 hours.

I’m looking forward to the next 8 days.

That’s the understatement of the year.

Now, I can sleep

Christmas wrapping
The final push is on…

I’m giving myself an early Christmas present. I’m not going to make the Big Trip to see my extended family for Thanksgiving. I’ve been working long hours for weeks and weeks (months, really), and I feel like I’m on the verge of getting really sick.

My spouse isn’t all that keen on spending all that time in the car, either. And during the most heavily traveled time of the year.

It just doesn’t make sense for us.

Yes, it will be unfortunate that we can’t see our families.

But it’s a massive relief that we’re not making the trip. It’s exhausting in every sense of the word — to the point where it’s not really safe to be doing it. Traffic. Potential for accidents. Family frustrations. All of it is just too much to handle, right now.

What I really need is sleep. Like, an extra 100 hours, to make up for all the lost hours of the past weeks and months. I need to retrain my system to level out, to calm down… to get out of the sympathetic bias that’s just torn the living crap out of me. I’m shaky… nauseous… dizzy… unsteady on my feet… Yeah, I’m in no shape to do much of anything for a week.

And that’s what’s going to happen — not much of anything.

I have off work all next week and the following Monday. I don’t have to go back till Tuesday the 28th.

I won’t have to set an alarm. I won’t need to keep my phone by my bed. I can just lie down and sleep, without worrying about being late for things, or forgetting things, or saying stupid things, or messing things up. I can just be. And recover.

And that is a beautiful thing.

Onward… back to bed.

Being realistic about my next steps

I need to be realistic about how I piece things together. There’s a lot to consider, and I’m not doing myself any favors by deluding myself.

I had a good conversation with a recruiter the other day about a new job opportunity that sounds like it would be a pretty good fit for me. Well, partially, anyway.

I tend to get so focused on Making Things Work that I can lose sight of whether or not I really should make something work.

In this case, the positive parts of the job opportunity quickly took precedence. The job involves leading a team of web developers and redesigning a website that’s in need of an update, and having long-term prospects at a local company – instead of having to travel across the country on a regular basis just to remind people I exist. And those parts sound really appealing to me.

The thing is, when I checked out the website I’d be working on, and I checked out the company, I realized I’d be starting a really awful commute. It would take me into the thick of some of the worst traffic in the region, on a daily basis.

Also, I’ve never been a huge fan of the technology they use. I’m not sure I want to be using it, each and every day. Especially after a long commute from home, in terrible weather.

So, the shine has kind of worn off the opportunity. And I’ll probably respond to the recruiter that I’m not interested because of the commute. Right now, my commute is relatively easy, and I can work from home pretty much when I like. Plus, I get a week off between Christmas and New Years, so that’s huge. Paid time off that doesn’t count against my vacation time. I know it’s concession bribe from the Overlords to keep us happy, but it works. It does make me happy.

Anyway, I have to be really realistic about what will work for me. Diving into a whole new work situation that involves more driving and (probably) more frantic activity, politicking, and is pretty much of an unknown… That’s not the right move for me, right now. It makes no sense to get a better job that makes my life worse. It’s supposed to help me all across the board, not cut into my quality of life, for a few more dollars.

While I’ve never been a huge fan of “embracing my limitations”, this is one situation where it only makes sense to be realistic and not indulge in that against-all-odds thinking that I CAN DO THIS!!! Other people can fight the odds and prove They Can Do It!

I really just want my life back.

Onward.

What I do, is What I am… and is Who I am.

This past weekend was a busy one. It was busier than I expected, because a project I’ve been working on had a “pre-launch” on Saturday, and I had to join a conference call for a few hours, starting at 8:00… and then I was on-call for the rest of the day.

I also had errands to run, in advance of next week’s Thanksgiving vacation (which actually won’t be much of a vacation, because there will be so much travel, family stuff, and tiring activity). It’ll be good to be away from work, but the change in schedule brings its own stresses.

But all in all, things are good. I know that, even though it’s going to be challenging, I have the tools and the skills and the capacity to handle whatever comes my way. This is a huge change from before.  Monumental. And the fact that my last nasty concussion was at Thanksgiving in 2004 (13 years ago), always brings up the reminders of how my life was turned upside-down, starting around this time of year.

I’m managing all the different things I have to “juggle”. Getting errands done in advance. Doing up-front planning for when to travel and what to do along the way to keep from being destroyed by hours and hours in the car. Regular stops are called for. Stretching and exercises by both myself and my spouse. Taking our time, so we don’t suffer too intensely from the whole trip.

I’m actually pretty concerned about the physical effect this trip will have on us. We’re both in king of rough shape, physically. My spouse more than me. And it’s tough, because they’re not very active, to begin with, and that makes it harder for them to recover. Plus, the reactions of our families, when they see just how limited they are with their mobility. People can be both insensitive and cruel and alarmist. What’s needed, most of all, is for people to be strong and positive and supportive. Not despair and think all is lost from what really could be a temporary condition.

Time was, I was pretty crippled, myself. Intense chronic pain that seemed like it would never go away. A state of mind that was defeatist and full of despair. I’m not like that, anymore. And frankly, I think what I did has as much to do with it as anything that I thought or told myself

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I managed to put my life back together… how I managed to restore my Sense-of-Self. I had a lot of help from someone who talked sense into me each week. But I think even more than that, what brought me back was effort and action — consistent effort and action.

Taking action and then giving a lot of thought to the results… and then taking more action… that’s done wonders for restoring my sense of who I am, and getting me on solid ground again. The thing about TBI is that it takes away your sense of who you are — that unconscious, instinctive trust in yourself. And when that goes away, it makes life that much more stressful. Which means that you don’t learn as well as you could under less stressful conditions. And that means your recovery gets delayed. I know mine did. For years.

Because I didn’t recognize myself. I didn’t know who I was anymore. And I became unrecognizable to the people who used to be my friends.

But as I just got on with my life (kicking and screaming, the whole way), and I worked through one situation after another, I came to recognize myself again. Through repetition. Through keeping to a schedule. Through regulating myself with checklists and strategies that made repeat experiences possible and re-taught me to recognize myself.

I think rehab people vastly under-estimate the impact of that loss. And as a consequence, they (and we) lose valuable ground, without realizing it. Without ever understanding why.

After TBI, you have to re-discover who you are. People do that in different ways. For me, it came through action. Taking action. Again and again. And soldiering through the failures and frustrations to build up a better understanding of who I was, what I was about, and why things mattered to me.

Action, in addition to thought, brought me back.

But sometimes we get it backwards. I know I did, for years, up until the post-TBI symptoms were so bad, my life was about to implode. People still do it. All the time.

I was talking with a friend yesterday who’s been having a lot of trouble getting their life together. They said they wanted to understand the underlying nature of their confusion and lack of direction, in order to go in the right direction. I suggested that rather than trying to figure out the mental background of it, they simply move forward, take action, and do the things they want to do. If they wait around to understand what’s going on, they may never get started making the concrete, substantive changes they need to make, to get their life in order.

They’re in a state of “analysis paralysis”, in any case, so just about anything they do to move forward will be step in the right direction.

I’m not sure if that sank in with them, or even if it made any sense. But they seemed to get it.

And I hope they can take the steps they need to take.

Anyway, that’s on them. I have my own life to worry about. But I’m too busy doing things to worry much, these days.

Life awaits.

Onward.

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Settling in for the winter

snow covered buildings
I’m actually looking forward to this

It’s going to get cold this weekend. Low double-digits, so I hear.

Good. I prefer the cold weather. I sleep better when my bedroom is cold and I have a lot of blankets on top of me.

I also prefer being cold and warming up with exercise and movement, versus being hot and not being able to get cool. It’s a lot easier to get warm, than to cool down.

Plus, I love the snow.

Good thing. Because I hear we’re going to get a lot of it this winter.

So it goes.

The time change is doing me good. It’s never easy to change up my schedule and routine, but the “fall back” really helps me. It gives me an extra hour in the morning to go about my own business before I dive into work. And I like having it dark-ish, versus having a lot of intrusive sunlight that I can’t get away from.

I rest better when it’s dark.

I sleep better when it’s pitch black.

And when I sleep better, everything gets better.

I’ve been sleeping pretty well, the time change notwithstanding. I’m tired when I go to bed, and I sleep soundly. Even if I wake up in the middle of the night, I can get myself back to bed. And when I wake up, I’m up. I might not always feel 100% refreshed, but I do feel ready for the day.

Especially lately. For some reason, I’ve been feeling more ready for the day, than I have in a long time. And I’m feeling more engaged in what I’m doing, than I’ve felt for a while. This massive deadline that’s looming… it’s going to come and go. And life will go on.

The Main Project I’ve been working on has been rocky and problematic for nearly a year. And there’s a lot of stuff that has just dropped off — including things we really needed to not drop off. At this point, my life is all about just getting to the finish line, tallying up all the stuff that didn’t get done properly, and then doing due diligence afterward to make sure that it all gets reported, and we find a way – somehow – to tie up the loose ends.

I’m working with a lot of people who don’t care about loose ends. All they care about is getting to the finish line, regardless of how it all turns out. That’s unfortunate. But there’s only so much I can do. And I’m not going to ruin my peace of mind over other people’s laxness and refusal to do what needs to be done.

I’m not wrecking my health over this. That would be silly and counter-productive. I’m taking care of myself, protecting my health and state of mind. Doing what I need to do, to stay level and stable. And not getting irrationally caught up in pipe dreams that any of this is going to change dramatically for the better.

I’m putting my resume out there, but nothing is happening. Not a thing.

I definitely need to expand my skillset and refresh some of my abilities. That’s something I can focus on this winter, while I figure out my next steps. It’s probably for the best that I’m not finding another situation quickly. It gives me pause… forces me to reconsider my approach and be more realistic about what I can expect from the job market.

And what I want to do with myself.

I’ve got a lot of insecurity about whether or not I can do it — when I fell in 2004, I lost my ability to focus for extended periods of time, to remember things, even to read and retain what I read. That’s changed dramatically over the past several years, and I’m starting to feel like I can get back on my feet with learning and practicing and re-honing the skills I used to use all the time.

I can use the winter to do this. Now that summer is past, all that frantic running around has tapered off, and the nights are getting longer, I can concentrate. And so I shall. One day at a time. One exercise at a time. One experience at a time… settle in. Get to work. Stead on.

Onward.

Sleep makes everything better. No sleep makes everything worse.

Even when I’m having a good day, and I’m getting a lot done, and I’m interacting with a lot of great people, if I’m tired, it’s no good.

I’ve been tired a lot, lately. And it’s ridiculous.

I might be doing the best work of my life, for all I know, but the load on me to get things done, and be at my best when I’m literally unable to be that… well, it’s just ridiculous.

So, I’m giving myself a break today and working from home. I have a full day, packed with meetings that I will have to take on the phone, and it makes no sense for me to spend more than an hour today, driving to/from the office, when all I’m going to do is sit there on the phone, anyway.

I might even be able to get a nap, later this afternoon. All I need is 30 minutes to recharge. And it looks like I might be able to get that, later this afternoon.

That would make everything better.

Seriously, it makes all the difference in the world.

When I’m tired, nothing seems right. Everything seems wrong. And my reasoning is all “kaflooey”. I end up packing my schedule full of stuff that I really have no business doing — extra little side projects that seem like a fun idea. New skills I am somehow convinced I need to learn. Distractions and diversions that may be interesting at the time, but don’t help me move toward my end goals.

And then I wonder why I’m no closer to my destination, than I was six months ago.

It’s not rocket science. But when I’m tired, everything falls down.

Recently, there’s been some news about how sleep deprivation is as disruptive for brain function as alcohol use. It’s just not good for us, and especially for people like me, whose brains need even more rest than the average bear.

If anything has held me back in my life, it’s been fatigue. The demands of the world that constantly push me harder and harder, faster and faster, like I’m some kind of machine. The demands of family and co-workers to keep up, and do more and more with less and less. That’s how it is at work, these days. The more I do for people and the better I do it, the more they expect. And I’m really tired of it all — on every conceivable level. Mentally, physically, emotionally, and yes, spiritually as well.

But amazingly, getting extra sleep is like a magic elixir. I can function again.

I’ve been thinking that it would make more sense if I split my days into two sprints of 4 hours each. I get up early, work for 4 hours, then I take 4 hours of downtime, then I dive back into the last 4 hours, and then call it a day. Seriously, it would be so much better. And I suspect I’d be a lot less bitter and angry about everything. Even if I took 2 hours off in the middle of the day to eat, relax, and get a nap, it would really do wonders for me.

Just about every problem has a solution.

Time to try something new.

Time changes are always interesting

clock on the side of a building with skyscrapers in the background
Keeping on schedule makes my life manageable

We moved our clocks back yesterday. That means I got an extra hour to sleep, work, do whatever.

Usually, it throws me off. And this year is no exception.

But this year, I don’t really mind. It’s fine. I feel incredibly relaxed, for some reason. Like something somewhere behind the scenes is at work in my favor… like somehow, old problems are going to resolve. Some of them … finally.

I can’t account for the feeling. It’s just there.

But I have caught up on my sleep after my last business trip.

And now I’m back on my schedule. Per usual.

Which is good.

Because now I can get settled into my planning for the rest of this year and next year.

I’ve got holiday travels coming up in less than 2 weeks. I’m actually looking forward to it, because I’ll get to see people I haven’t seen in a while. And I have a plan for how to best approach it all.

Most of all, the great thing is the work-life balance I’ve got, these days. I’ve been working from home a lot, taking naps when I need to, and just taking care of myself. I’m feeling ambivalent about a lot of things, but I don’t care. I always feel ambivalent about just about everything, so that’s no surprise.

Main thing is, I’m feeling really good today, Monday notwithstanding.

And it’s pretty cool.

Onward…

After #TBI – Give myself some extra time. Be generous to myself.

capacitors
I tend to run out of energy

It’s pretty easy for me to push myself past common-sense limits. I get my heart set on being able to do something or being able to do something a certain way, and then when it doesn’t work out, I spend way too much time being hard on myself about it.

That helps no one. It really doesn’t help at all.

So, I need to be generous with myself and give myself the extra time I need to do things.

I’ve figured out what to do about my work situation. It occurred to me, last week, that I’m 2.5 years away from being old enough to qualify for early retirement. It sounds bizarre to say it, but I am. I’ll be 55 in a few more years, and that means — in the high-tech industry — I’ll be “old”. And old enough to take a retirement package.

Does this make me happy? You better believe it. “Happy” is an understatement.

I mean, there are things I like about the job, but it’s just too demanding, and I’m not being properly compensated for what I give up, each and every day. I provide a sh*t-ton of value to my employer, and yet…

But in another couple of years, I can not only leave, but also potentially leave w/ a retirement package that’s a nice little golden parachute (emphasis on “little”) that can buy me some time and give me a buffer against any drop in income I might experience.

In the meantime, I’m working on a particular skillset that will allow me to either transition to a different kind of role, or allow me to consult. I’m downloading all my LinkedIn contacts, and I’m building a prospects list for people to reach out to in the future. There’s some danger that some of my contacts will “age out” of the industry (as some are older than I), and that I won’t have as many people familiar with my past work, who I can reach out to. But I have close to 1,000 contacts, most of whom are well familiar with my work. So, I’m pretty hopeful.

I just need to get everything set up ahead of time.

That means I need to:

  • Brush up on specific technical skills
  • Stay current with the part of the industry I’ll be working in
  • Figure out how much to charge for my services
  • Build up my portfolio of solutions I’ll be offering
  • Keep my image squeaky-clean and not do anything in public that will put me in a bad light
  • Update my wardrobe to be more professional and consultant-like
  • Build out my website in ways that put me in a really great light
  • And more…

I’m sure I’ll discover a lot more I need to do, as time goes on. But for now, this is a good starting list. I need to stay steady and systematic, and really pace myself.

I’ve tried to get my own thing going, many times in the past, but it never really worked. I think I just pushed too hard, too fast, and I wore myself out. I never factored in the effects of all those concussions. I had no idea they would even bother me. After all, in movies and cartoons, people were shown getting hit on the head all the time, and it never bothered them. So why should it bother me?

I just always pushed through — also, because I was using stress to numb my pain and confusion. The more confused I was, the more in pain I was, the harder I pushed. And it backfired on me, time and time again.

Well, this is my do-over. I get to do things differently this time, and I will. I have a healthy timeline ahead of me… enough time to get all my ducks in a row, set myself up to succeed, and get all the pieces in place for the future I want to have.

I’ve been helping to make a lot of other people rich for a long time, so why not at least give myself a fighting chance at independence?

It’s the least I can do for myself, after all these years.

Onward… at a common-sense, considerate pace.