Well, that was interesting… good times, bad times, good lessons

winter frost tree downThis is the story of my last three days. Snowstorm. Trees down. Wires down. Not much going on, other than winter. Storms. Electricity out. No heat, no running water, no television, not much connection with the rest of the world.

Living on battery power, using the mobile phone to contact the rest of the world. Staying close to the fireplace, keeping the fire going all night long, finding different ways to get meals and keep occupied. Waiting for the power to be restored. Hearing one thing, then another, then another.

Waiting, just waiting. Watching the snow fall. Moving it off the driveway. Off the roof. Off the back deck and stairs. Lots of snow. Half a meter’s worth. 18″ worth. Heavy, thick, packed snow.

And now I feel it. In my back, my legs, my arms, my shoulders. Bruises all over my legs, where I slammed against the snowblower. Cold. It was cold. And the all-over ache that comes after hours and hours of being tensed against the cold. Countless trips up and down the stairs to get more wood for the fire.

All in all, it wasn’t terrible, being out of power for two days. Longer than that, and it would have been a problem. We would have gone to a hotel, because my spouse can’t afford to get sick, and they’re more susceptible to cold than I am. We came this close to going to a hotel, then decided against it — the place we called said there were a lot of families checking in, because they lost power, too. And having a lot of kids running and screaming (’cause that’s what kids do, when they’re cooped up, let’s face it)… well, that wasn’t the most restful option.

Better to stay in our own space and try our best to stay warm and dry. Wait it out. Gather around the fire. Rest. Wrap ourselves in blankets and relax. Wait it out. Just wait.

And we did. Power was restored 3 hours sooner than they said it would be, and that was fine. In the bargain, I scored some major points at work for continuing on through with my work, despite having no electricity or heat or running water. I managed to logon to my work by connecting through my phone and then sitting in my running car to keep the power going to it, so I could complete some must-do tasks.

And now I have a reputation for being that much more of a can-do person, with total commitment to getting the job done. So, something useful came of it. Which is fine.

So it goes. I handled this storm considerably better than I handled others in the past. I kept my cool. I kept focused. I wasn’t a total jerk to my spouse. And I came out of it ahead of the game. I’m wiped out and would love to sleep for 12 hours, but I’m also keenly aware of how much good it did me to really move. And not spend all my time in front of a computer, like I’ve been doing for the last however many years.

It was good to have the enforced break. Away from the constant hum of machines, away from the low-level buzz of non-stop electricity. Listening to the wind. Getting out in the snow. Just living a very basic life, and being profoundly grateful for everything I have.

Now it’s time to go get some supper. The refrigerator isn’t smelling all that great. It stayed cold, but not cold enough. So, off I go to replenish it. And get something really good for dinner tonight. Something filling, substantial… and hot.

Just as it should be.

Onward.

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Changing plans and shifting priorities

tree growing above a rainbowI love my routines. They’ve saved my s$$ over the past 12 years. They helped me retrain my body and brain to be a heck of a lot more functional than they were in 2006. And when it comes to TBI recover, routine and repetition are my friends.

Seriously, they’re like the secret weapon against the disruptions of TBI. Just figuring out how to do things exactly the same way, over and over, till that way become ingrained and you don’t have to think about it anymore… it’s magic. And it does so much to rebuild and solidify the new connections that replace the ones that got frayed and pulled to pieces in the brain injury itself.

Every now and then, it’s good to change things up, though.

That’s where I am, now. I’ve done a lot of hard thinking, over the past weeks and months, and I realize I need to have a different focus in my daily life. I need to spend a lot less time focusing on my career and professional prospects, and spend a lot more time focusing on my health and quality of life.

I’m not gonna lie — I really had to double down on my work situations, over the past years. I was in a downward spiral of sorts, in one overly challenging job after another, working in very hostile conditions that eroded my physical and mental health. And the past 3-1/2 years have also been a real challenge, in some ways. The thing that’s made it the most challenging is that I got caught up in ideas about advancing, getting promoted, moving up in the world. And that sucked me into a vortex of caring about what other people thought of me, what other people said about me, what other people did to me at work.

And that wasn’t a good use of time. Because here I am, years later, no further along on my professional path (even set back, compared to where I was before), and just looking back at a whole lot of frustration and dead-ends.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m highly ambitious. I’m driven. That’s for sure. But at some point, being ambitious according to someone else’s rules is just a bad idea for me. I need to be ambitious according to my own rules. I need to drive towards things that matter to me — having decent relationships with people, doing my best work, learning and growing as I go — rather than getting caught up in other people’s power games.

Somehow, those games never work out in my favor. I just get played.

So, I’m pretty much over that. Time to focus on other priorities. Time to funnel my energy into things that are going to build me up, not tear me down, and pay off in the short- and long-term, when it comes to just doing a decent job.

Heck, I’m not even sure I want to get promoted, anyway, considering the kinds of people who are climbing to the top, these days. It seems like a much better use of my time to focus on my mental and physical health… learning interesting things and applying them to my life… sharing what I know…. and just having the best life possible. So long as I make enough money to support myself and I have the time and opportunity to do something truly useful with my life, that’s what matters.

And that’s where my head is at today.

Ha… we’ll see how I’m feeling tomorrow… or next week… 😉

Movement is not optional – it’s gotta happen

pineapple splashing into waterMy left shoulder is still killing me. But I know how to fix it — for the near future and in the coming weeks and months:

Movement. Keeping mobile. Not letting myself sit still for hours and hours, like I have been for the past several weeks.

Or maybe it’s been months. I’ve had a lot going on, lately, and 90% of it has been in front of a computer. Yes, I’ve gotten a lot done, but it’s come at a price.

So, it’s time to change that up. Move my entire body (not just my hands). Get up and walk around the room, while I’m on the phone. Get my morning exercise AND build in additional movement (especially weight-bearing movement) throughout the day. Don’t just sit still for hours on end. That’s kicking my butt.

I’ve got a plan. Now, I’m going to get up and walk around a bit.

Because that’s gonna keep me knit together in one piece.

Onward.

 

Doing what has to be done — and loving it

traffic cone standing on a muddy patch of groundWell, I’m off to an interesting start, this morning. I got a good night’s sleep, then I got myself out of bed at a decent time and got my exercise. Did some stretching. Did some lifting. Rode the exercise bike for a little longer than usual. I gained a few pounds over the past couple of weeks of intense work-eat-sleep-work cycles, and I’m not feeling that great, as a result.

Sluggish, stiff, the opposite of limber. And weak. That’s how I’m feeling, these days.

So, I’m doing something about it. And it’s not very pleasant, I have to say. It’s downright painful, in fact. Getting myself back on a regular routine, after going down the rabbit hole of overwork isn’t something my body is very happy about. It wants to languish. It wants to just keep eating and sleeping and working. But I can’t give in to that. Because that leads to more of what I’ve got now — weakness, chronic pain, and trouble doing basic things like brushing my teeth with coordination and putting my socks and shoes on easily. When my body isn’t working well, those things — and more — fall apart.

And I can’t let that happen.

Some days, it feels like a constant struggle to just maintain a normal pace. Some days, it is a struggle to do that. But struggle just comes with the territory in my life. Nothing important happens on its own, in my experience, and I tend to have different ideas about what should happen, compared to the rest of the world. So, to do things like have some peace, I have to structure my  life very differently from most people.

I’m not particularly interested in living in a steady stream of busy-work and mindless distractions to take my mind off the poor choices I’ve made. I’d rather just not make those poor choices, to begin with. So, that means I opt out of so many of the activities that others take for granted. I keep my social media interactions to a fraction of what most people have — including Facebook. I try not to get sucked into the current news cycles, including all the in-depth “analysis” (which just boils down to propaganda, from what I can see). I don’t go out to movies or concerts. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke, and I avoid bars and clubs when I can. I take time to cook decent meals and I keep my television viewing to a minimum, watching just a few shows — many of them on-demand, rather than clicking around the channels looking for something interesting.

And weekends I keep as low-key as possible. Every now and then, I’ll go out and do something, or I’ll launch into a flurry of errands and projects, but I try to avoid the rest of the world as much as possible on my weekends. I have to deal with everyone the rest of the week, so I give myself a break on Saturdays and Sundays.

Most people I know would hate living like I live. They’d find it boring. Or they’d get nervous in their own company. They wouldn’t like to hang around the house with only their own thoughts (and some interesting reading) to keep them occupied. They’d probably go out looking for something to take their mind off all that.

But for me, this is what I have to do to keep myself stabilized — and sane. Having these two days to decompress is not optional. Sure, sometimes I’ll venture out to spend time with friends, but the more active I am on a Saturday or Sunday, the more low-key my other day is. And the downtime is bliss. Sheer bliss. And I’m not sure I could live without it.

I was talking about this with a friend last night — somebody I haven’t seen in quite some time. They were asking why I don’t do as much as I used to, and I explained that keeping up the 9-to-5 work schedule, and then doing all the extra activities I used to do with my spouse, just got to be too much. It wore me out, and I needed some downtime. And they got it. Because over the past couple of years, they’ve been divesting themself of a lot of the “trappings” of a settled life. Rather than keeping up a house and paying a mortgage, they’re traveling around the country, house-sitting for friends for a month at a time, and then moving on to the next thing. Some people cringe at the idea, but it was working well for them.

It’s what they have to do, at this point in time. And it’s working. And they love it. Just like I’m keeping my life low-key on the weekends, cutting back on online social media stuff, and following the news a LOT less than I used to, while the rest of the world goes crazy around me.

To some, these would seem like sacrifices. And in fact, 15 years ago, before my 2004 mTBI, I would have really fought against a lot of these choices. But over time, I’ve realized that this is really the best way I can possibly live my life, and enjoy myself while I’m at it.

I’ve had a really busy couple of weeks, so I’m going to rest as much as possible, today. Do some reading. Think about stuff. Or just stay in bed. We’ll see what happens. In any case, it’s all good.

The rest of the world will be there when I resurface in another 24 hours.

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…

Onward.

What we lose after TBI… and what we can get back

woman standing with a leaf in front of her faceI’m feeling really grateful, this morning. I’m tired, but I’m content. I’ll have my nap later, and everything will get even better.

I spent yesterday doing some of the things I love the most: cooking, eating, writing, reading, napping, and watching football while eating non-dairy ice cream… all with my partner, who has been really struggling with mobility issues, lately.

I bought us a collapsible massage table a couple of weeks ago, so we can both take turns stretching out and do horizontal exercises without having to get down on the floor. I set it up last night for my spouse to lie out flat (major plus) and do the exercises their physical therapist prescribed. The floor has gotten too cold to lie on, plus, it’s hard for them to get up and down without pulling something or hurting. So having the table is a huge benefit. Plus – bonus – I went to bed at a decent hour after a long day of lots of work

And by the end of the day, I realized just how good I have it. I realized that, after all the years of struggle, all the years of incredibly hard work, all the pain and frustrations and perseverance, all the dead-ends, all the plans to just give up, and battling all the despair… I have come through to another side, and I am in a place where I am good.

It’s taken years for me to get to this point. And it feels like this is the first time I’m really settled into this good-ness in a way that I actually believe. I’ve spent so much of my life confused and confounded, thwarted and hurting… without much of any clue about why that was, or what I could do about it… I had started to think that’s just how things were going to end up for me.

Permanent disablement. Permanent screwed-over-ness. And I just needed to get used to the experience and accept if for what it was.

But that feeling has completely changed, just in the last 24 hours. Things are not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. There’s a lot of stuff that’s going really, really wrong in my life — and the world in general. And there are lot of unanswered questions in my mind. Still, I feel like I’m in a state of mind (and body — fitness is so important) that I can handle whatever comes my way.

No, my thought process is not perfect. I still get turned around and confused, and lately I’ve really been struggling with memory issues and misplacing things that I can’t afford to lose. I still have my intense lows, when I completely despair and lash out at the ones closest to me. I still have my moments of feeling useless and unlovable. I still struggle with crushing fatigue and not being able to do things that plenty of other people can.

And of course, I struggle with the fact that I can’t tell people about my issues, because it will work against me in the larger world. It’s not going to help me get a better job, if I tell the hiring manager that I function best if I have a 20-minute nap at the middle of each day. That’s not part of the deal in the 9-to-5 world I operate in.

But these are all things I’m convinced I can manage effectively on my own. I can handle it. Because I have a much better sense of who I am, and what I can expect from myself.

People have said that “you can’t recover from brain injury“, but that was decades ago, and we know a lot more about brain injury than we used to. Also, we know more about how concussion really is a brain injury… and so many people have them, yet continue to live their lives.

I myself notice that there are some things I just can’t do like I used to. It’s not as easy for me to push through marathon tasks. I need to stop and take a breath… do something completely different. And it’s harder for me to remember what I was doing before I took that break. I lose things. I get lost, too. I sometimes look around and have no idea where I am — but that’s more because I tend to be so focused on what’s in front of me, that I don’t notice my surroundings, so I don’t think it’s one of those “On Golden Pond” moments where I’m literally lost and have no idea where I am, period.

I’m more forgetful about things that really matter to me. My home office is pretty much of a wreck, but in a Thomas Edison “genius-y” kind of way, and my work area has spilled into the dining room that we rarely use. I have been misplacing important documents I just can’t afford to misplace… and then scrambling to replace them. I have a harder time initiating stuff I know I need to do (like go for a swim at the pool), because it feels way too complicated and involved. And try as I might, I really mess up things I’m positive I’m going to “nail”. I’ve been feeling really ambitious about making new meals while I’m on vacation this week, but my cooking skills have really degraded, thanks to the bone-crushing fatigue and difficulty sleeping. And coordination? Yah, forget it. Don’t leave anything near the edge of a surface. I’ll knock it onto the floor, for sure.

I know I’m not as sharp as I used to be. I know I’m not as sharp as I’d like — or intend — to be. I can be downright dull, and the bummer is, I’m aware. Oh, lord, how I’m aware. It’s not the most fun thing in the world.

And yet… I’m happier now, than I’ve probably ever been. And even with all my limitations and drawbacks, I’m definitely more functional, all across the board, than I’ve ever been. I’ve got “the whole package” together, at last. Even with the TBI after-effects, the slowness and slipping, the exhaustion and intermittent sense of defeat.

See, this regaining of competence and practical functionality is the real TBI recovery I wish people would talk about. Not getting your coordination and cognitive quickness back, watching your memory and endurance dwindle, having all kinds of intense emotional ups and downs… some experts might consider those blockers to TBI recovery. They might say it means that a person has lost too much and can never fully recover from a brain injury.

But everybody on the planet has something they struggle with, TBI or no.

And in any case, the real loss for me from TBI had far more to do with my Sense-Of-Self and my sense of “agency” in the world, than any objective physical or cognitive limitation.

TBI/concussion isn’t debilitating just because it knocks out your practical abilities. It’s most impactful because it takes a chunk out of your understanding of Who You Are and How You Handle Life.

It strips our self-confidence, and in doing so, it hits us hard with a self-doubt that’s a huge source of stress and ongoing trauma. What does stress and trauma do to the human system? It makes it harder to learn. And since TBI/concussion recovery is literally an exercise in re-learning to live, so your brain can rewire with reliable connections, that loss of self-confidence is in itself a source of ongoing injury.

TBI / concussion is an injury to the Self. And until people start accepting that and dealing with that piece of things — as well as finding practical, common-sense, science-based ways to address those issues — TBI and concussion survivors will continue to suffer from their injuries as well as the limitations of the people who intend to help them.

My road back from multiple mild TBIs has been a long one. It’s taken me 13 years to get to this point (and today is the 13th anniversary of my last concussion). It’s been a grueling and winding path. Fraught with perils. It nearly cost me everything I worked so hard to earn. But I can honestly say, I’m finally on the other side.

I understand my situation. I also understand the nature of my injuries, and how they affected me. But most important of all, I understand what I can do about it. And while I do tend to whine a bit here at times, the most important thing is for me to focus on the positives and share the lessons I’ve learned, so others don’t have to suffer as terribly as I did.

TBI and concussion are “recoverable”. We might not get back every single ability, and we may be left with lasting challenges, but we can restore our Sense-Of-Self, so we can get on with living our lives to the best of our developing abilities.

We’re made to heal. We’re made to grow. Regardless.

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.

Seeing my skills for what they are – and aren’t

moon shining on tree in fieldI’ve been “back and forth” about my job, for the past few months. One week, I love it. The next, I hate it and can’t wait to get away. I supposedly got a sort of “promotion” a few weeks ago — more responsibility and more influence, but no more money. Doesn’t seem to be much of a promotion, right? My boss is making bad decisions and is pushing me to put their ideas into action. It’s pretty much of a train wreck, with all the people at the top fighting over their territory, making their minions represent them.

Ridiculous. I don’t agree with any of it. But somehow I’m supposed to make it happen?

The only benefit: it makes the situation crystal clear — I really need to get the heck out of that situation, brush up my technical skills, put my resume out there, and get ready to move after the new year. I actually have some old projects I’ve been wanting to revive, and now seems like a great time to do it.

I tend to have a pretty low opinion of myself, mainly because I know what else is possible, and I’m very clear about how far I fall short. Plus, always being tired, my self-esteem really suffers. Like today. I’m just not feeling that capable or worthwhile…

Except for something that happened last night.

I was on my way home from a meetup in a nearby city, and as I was rolling through the dark countryside, I saw a bunch of cars stopped ahead of me. I was coming up to a tricky intersection, where a hidden road crosses at the bottom of a long, gradual hill. The tail lights of the cars ahead of me weren’t moving, there seemed to be smoke in the air, and I could see people standing in the road farther up the hill, so I slowed down and pulled over, just to figure out what was going on.

When I took a closer look (I was pretty tired), I saw there was a car sitting in the middle of the road with its wheels splayed and its front-end crushed in. The interior was full of smoke, and the whole thing was shrouded in a gray cloud. I was worried at first about there being a fire and the vehicle blowing up — I’ve seen too many movies, I guess. But I couldn’t just sit there. It didn’t look like anyone was helping, yet.

I walked closer to the wreck – carefully. There was glass everywhere. Pieces of car. Rear view mirrors. Chrome and plastic. Halfway up the hill, I could see another car lying on its roof in the darkness. It wasn’t smoking. It was just sitting there, eerily motionless, as people gathered quietly around it.

The vehicle nearest me at the bottom of the hill was a tangled wreck. Once upon a time, it looked like it had been a pretty sweet Mustang. No more. The airbags were shredded. Drawing closer, I could hear voices. I could hear a woman’s voice and a man’s, so I knew someone was alive. I lifted up the “curtain” of limp airbag that was hanging over the driver side window, and behind it there was a driver with is face smashed in and blood all over him, talking to a woman on the remote assistance intercom — like those Northstar systems that come with cars to help you unlock your doors or call for help. The woman was talking to him like he was coherent, but he was really messed up. He clearly had a head injury, his movements were jerky and automatic — like I’ve been a number of times after getting clocked on the head. She kept asking him questions, and he was responding like he knew what he was talking about. He didn’t. He was in bad shape.

Beside him, there was a passenger whose left leg was bent weirdly. No wonder. The car’s engine had been pushed back practically into his lap. I didn’t get a close look at the other guy — who was talking a bit, too — because I was focused on just talking to the lady. And others had come over to help and were checking him out. I talked to the lady on the intercom, told her what I was seeing, and reported what others were seeing about the other guy.

I also “talked down” the guys in the car, who were trying to get out. The driver kept reaching down beside his seat for something, but I told him to stay putDon’t move. Help was on the way. The interior of the car reeked of alcohol, and one of the other bystanders who was helping said she’d seen drugs beside the seat.

The local first responders were there within minutes. The accident was just a few miles from the local fire station, and when the fire truck pulled up, I told the firemen what I knew. They were on it, and I got out of their way. Then I got back in my car and moved on.

When everyone else stood at a distance, I stepped up.

When everyone else couldn’t communicate and keep things in order, I could.

When a couple of seriously injured people were on the verge of potentially hurting themselves more, I kept them safe and kept things steady.

I’ve been in these kinds of situations a number of times. A co-worked who collapsed and was unresponsive… someone who’d fallen and hit their head… an elderly person who had a bad reaction to a medical trial they were participating in… a person pinned between their car and a fence, when they didn’t put it properly in park… I’ve come across those people who were badly injured or hurt enough that they couldn’t help themselves, and I’ve been there for them, till help came. Several times I’ve run for help, myself.

It’s what I do. It’s one of the things I do best.

And for all the foolishness that’s taking place at work, at least I know this is something I do. Handling reality. Dealing with a true emergencies.

And I need to remember that, as I navigate this scene at work… finding a path out… figuring out what’s next. There are some things I do better than just about anybody else. They’re just not part of my job description, right now.

After #TBI – Don’t depend on your brain’s weak systems

hand holding pen, checking off lists on a checklist
Getting stuff done… one thing at a time.

From the Give Back summary of how to fix your brain… This is something I have to constantly remind myself. It’s a hard one, because I hate to think of my system as being weak — or weakened. But that’s exactly what’s happened. And the thinking systems that have been weakened have been permanently altered. So, I need to always keep this in mind. When I forget it, I suffer. And so does my work and my relationships. My whole life starts to go downhill.

3. Don’t depend on your brain’s weak systems for organizing and memory to manage your time and your activities.

  • Get your brain to use your full intelligence to plan your day thoughtfully, a day ahead of time, when you can think everything through well.

It’s practically impossible for me to do this a day ahead of time, because things can change so rapidly with me. From day to day, I don’t always know what’s “coming down the pike”. Stuff changes rapidly — plans change, weather changes, people change their minds about what they’re going to do.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t plan in other ways. The best way for me to do this is break it up — look at my next day plan on the afternoon / evening before… and then check in with myself first thing in the morning. And keep track of things throughout the course of each day. Track it.

  • Write that plan down on a schedule form so that you take no chances of forgetting what you need to do.

Scheduling things has become a lost cause, in general, because things are so unpredictable at work and at home. So, I have a standard list format that I use.

[ ] Thing I need to do

[ ] Really important thing I need to do (I use a yellow highligher)

[/] Thing I am in the process of doing or have started

[x] Thing I have done (I have a green marker to track the things I’ve completed)

–> [ ] Thing I needed to do today, but didn’t get to, so I need to do it tomorrow. (I use an orange marker to make it stand out)

I try to keep a running list of things that I “carry over” from one day to the next. I’ll copy my –>[ ] items onto lists for later days. That way, I can keep track of everything I need to complete.

  • Develop the habit of writing plans and following them, and soon you will be in total control of your time and your productivity.

I agree. The habit of writing out plans and following them (as best I can) has done wonders for my ability to get things done, as well as my self-confidence. I have a support system that works for me. And when I use it (which I admit is not consistent enough), it really helps offload a lot of the mental grunt work, to save my brain for more interesting and important (and challenging) things.

If there had to be one thing I’ve done that’s helped me get back to the level of functioning I’m at now, it’s developing lists and systems around lists, that let me do what needs to be done without having to think too much about how to do it all. Coming up with a ‘standard operating procedure’ for just about everything — from getting up in the morning and going to work, to taking down the Christmas decorations — has made me a whole lot more functional than I ever was, when I was just going with the flow or winging it.

Lists are my friend. They can be yours, too.

Onward.

1. Know that you have a new brain, one that can work well once it is reprogrammed.

hand holding magnifying glass over brain, which is made up of gearsOne of the things I really appreciate about the  Give Back Orlando materials is that they don’t sugar-coat TBI recovery, but they also don’t make it into a “accept your new normal” approach, where you have to resign yourself to everything being so much worse than before. The core message is that you can improve… provided you make some specific changes in how you live your life.

The first change is:

  1. Know that you have a new brain, one that can work well once it is reprogrammed.
    • It needs to be reprogrammed because your old programs don’t run quite right on your new brain.
    • Help yourself to keep this fact in mind as you go through your day.

When we’re very young, we come into the world with the capacity to create a whole lot of synapses — connections in the brain that carry information. Over time, our synapses are “pruned”, as our brain refines its ways of doing and understanding things. By the time we get past adolescence, a lot more connections have been pruned than we had, just 10 years earlier.

It’s been said that one of the things that “gets you” after TBI, is that you may have lost a bunch of the connections you really depended on… and that’s a loss.

But here’s the thing, see? If we have “neuroplasticity”, we can create new connections to take the place of the ones we’ve lost. That, to me, is the essence of TBI recovery.

Granted, there may be parts of the brain that are so damaged that there’s no repairing them by present means. Maybe sometime on down the line, but not right now. But the brain is an amazing thing, and we can create a lot more connections than people used to think we could. In fact, the old ways of understanding the brain — that you can’t repair it, if it’s injured… that only certain parts are used for specific activities… that damage is permanent — those old ways have been disproved.

It’s not true.

What IS true, is that with regular practice and the right approach, the brain can be “reconditioned” to perform at, near, or even better than levels you had before.

But you have to realize that change has to happen. You have to deliberately create those new synapses, those new connections, those new ways of your brain functioning. You can’t keep doing things the same way as before, over and over.

You have to realize you have a new brain.

And you have to keep reminding yourself of that, through the course of each day.

It’s like trying to run a Windows 10 program on Windows 3.1 (remember that? I do). It’s just not going to work. Not because Windows 3.1 was so much worse. It was good for what it did. It’s just that the “gears” work differently now.

And you have to accept that fact.

I’m not talking about accepting it because it’s a sad fact that life is going to be so much worse.

I AM talking about accepting it, so that your life can get so much better.

Big difference.

So, that first step is the best kind of acceptance of all.

Again:

  1. Know that you have a new brain, one that can work well once it is reprogrammed.
    • It needs to be reprogrammed because your old programs don’t run quite right on your new brain.
    • Help yourself to keep this fact in mind as you go through your day.