Well, then, get some exercise. Move.

Bangkok traffic jam with cars and trucks and motorcycles all backed up below tram lines
Feeling a bit backed up, lately

I’ve been feeling a bit down, lately. Dragging. Drab. In pain. I’ve been having some tightness around my ribcage that really hurts when I laugh. I can’t remember doing anything to myself – – no recent injury. Just maybe sleeping on it wrong.

I’ve been feeling down, too. Just a low-level depression. The Catch-22 situation with my neuropsych — if I really go into great detail about how much help I need, then I get bumped down in the proverbial pecking order and end up stigmatized (and potentially looking at higher insurance rates, on down the line, if the current health coverage changes go through). But if I don’t enumerate all the different ways I need support, I can’t ask for it. Literally, it’s Catch-22.

I think I’ll read that book again. I think I read it years ago, and I need to read it again.

I really have to take matters into my own hand, in this regard. I’m not disabled enough to require outside help to function at a basic level. That can be arranged. I have the means to do that, and I have books and information at my disposal to expand my understanding about what’s going on. I need to just do that. Take matters into my own hands, and reach out to others for help with clarification.

I’ve signed up for some free online courses about the brain. I need to stagger then, so I’m only taking one at a time. I think I’m going to use those online courses — and access to the instructors — as a professional reference point. I’m not actually getting the kind of assistance I want from the NP I’m working with now, so I’ll branch out and cover myself in other ways.

As for my day-to-day, I need to get myself back on track. I haven’t been exercising as much as I should. I’ve been locked on target with some projects I’m working on — as frustrating as it is, my work situation is keeping me busy — and I’ve been sitting too much, moving too little. I have all-day workshops today and tomorrow, which I can easily do, just sitting down all day.

That’s no good. I need to get up and move on a regular basis. I have a lot of energy, and if I don’t move, that energy tends to “back up” like a lot of traffic trying to cram its way through a narrow space.

That can be fixed, though. I exercised more today than I have been, lately, and now I actually feel better. It’s amazing, how much a bit of movement will do — especially lifting weights. Even if they’re not very heavy, still, the motion and the resistance is good for me.

I’m also working from home today, so I can walk around the house while I’m on the phone. That’s the magic of a mobile phone — it’s mobile. Tomorrow, I can walk around, too. I just need to listen in, so I can walk around the building while I’m listening. It’s not hard. I just need to do it.

And so I will.

I’m feeling better better today about my future prospects than I have been, lately. I got plenty of sleep, last night (almost 9 hours), I did a full set of exercises, I had a good breakfast, and I’ve got a path forward charted for moving forward.

I believe I can trust myself, and that I have the ability to see where I’m falling short. I trust that I can research and reach out for ideas to address issues that arise. The main thing is really to keep on top of things. Take responsibility for myself. Do what I  know I need to do. And just keep moving on.

The world’s a big place with a lot of different options. I just need to make the most of the opportunities I have, keep focused on my end goals, look for opportunities, and keep moving forward.

Will the world step up and help me with my problems? Not if I don’t ask.

Do I need other people to help me at every turn? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. The main thing is that I help myself, using what assistance I’ve gotten from others and the resources I have on hand.

I’m in a very fortunate situation, where I have the ability and the available resources (time, energy, attention, interest — even if money’s missing) to take care of myself. So, I’ll do that.

A new chapter is on the way, and I’m actually looking forward to what’s to come.

More clarity – yes, more clarity

clarity-of-thoughtSo, I posted a TBI injury and recovery story from a reader, the other day, and it seems like a lot of people think her story is mine. Not at all.

Well, of course, there are some similarities, but it’s her story, not mine. I’ve just gone back and updated it with a notice at the very top and quotes around the story — it was easy to fix.

I wish all misunderstandings were that easy to fix.

I’ve also been fielding some comments in Twitter about things I’ve said, that apparently came off wrong. It is really, really easy to be misunderstood on Twitter. I’ve had people thinking I was attacking them, or their sport, or something else they held dear… and then they “fought back” with both barrels blazing, when all I was doing was raising some questions.

All around, it seems like the online world is just primed for misunderstanding — and consequently, a fight. All around us, we are trained to see opponents and aggressors. And that’s a huge problem, when you can’t even disagree with someone and/or challenge their thinking without being seen as an aggressor (or micro-aggressor). There’s a fantastic article in The Atlantic about this (click here to read it), which I came across a while back. It explains a lot — especially with regard to the younger generation who seem to have amazing potential, but also seem incredibly hung up over every little thing.

All the fighting… good heavens. There’s a reason I backed off Twitter for a while. But there’s so much good research coming out that gets posted there, I have to check it out. There’s seriously some great reading available, thanks to all the tweets flooding my feed. I think the key is to not follow a lot of people who get snarky and vicious and outraged. Especially about politics. ‘Nuff said about that.

Anyway, I’m taking more time to think things through before I say / post / tweet them — or trying to, anyway. It’s hard, when the moment to respond presents itself, and there’s something in your mind that seems 100% appropriate and on-point.

I should know by now that that feeling of 100% certainty is a tip-off to the exact opposite being true. The more convinced I am of something, the more likely I am to be very much mistaken. So, I do know that. But that doesn’t always rule how I react and interact. Impulse control issues and all that.

I guess that’s what keeps things exciting. I just have to keep revisiting things that need a little tweaking… making sure I don’t do more damage along the way. I also need to know when to let it go. Not everything needs to be fixed the way I want it to be. It’s also important that I hold my ground and not give into bullying. Just state my case, say my piece, and leave it at that. If people understand, then great. If not, there’s no guarantee I’ll convince them.

Sometimes it’s best to just move on and leave it at that. Or just stop following some people… which I have been doing regularly, when their tone gets too unremittingly intense.

Anyway, it’s a new day. It’s Saturday. I have some time to myself today, and my headache has abated somewhat. I’ve got some reading I want to do, as well as some thinking. “Tinkering and thinkering” as I’ve heard it described in something I read recently. I’ve always got to be careful when I have free time, because I can very easily get carried away in all sorts of distracting directions.

Last week, I was caught up in researching mind-control techniques of expensive large group “personal growth” programs… and a week before that, I was caught up in some fringe neuroscience that is so far beyond me, it became apparent after two days of compulsive reading that I couldn’t even scratch the surface enough to wrap my head around the name of the phenomenon. Admittedly, it is good for me to range a bit farther afield in my reading and studies, but I can get too caught up in too many fringe activities, and then I lose valuable time for the things that I really do want to work on.

Like the handful of books I’ve started to write and got 3/4 of the way through, but are all waiting for me to pay attention to them again, so I can finish them up.

Anyway, today is different. I’m not feeling great — and ironically, not feeling great is a key factor in how well I am able to focus. When I’m feeling rested and fully functional, I get pulled off base very easily — all that energy gets spread too thinly — and I get nothing done.

But when I’m not feeling great — I’m at maybe 65% today — I know I have to be more deliberate in my activities and pick and choose. So, more gets done. And oddly, I have more clarity when I’m under the weather, than when I’m feeling at the top of my game.

I wouldn’t mind feeling just a little better today. Who knows? Maybe I will by the time the game is on this afternoon. I’ll pace myself. Take naps when I need to. And pick and choose the things I want to do.

That should be good.

Onward.

Doing it differently this holiday season

I did something quite unusual last night — I went Christmas shopping by myself at a much slower pace than usual. I didn’t manage to buy everything I set out to, but I got everything I could, and I got through the experience in one coherent piece — and I was able to get my nap after I got back.

Normally, this time of year is marked by team-shopping with my spouse. They contact everyone in the family and find out what people want… or we talk about what we think people want, and then they make up the list. We take the list, hop in the car, and head out to stores that look like good candidates, then we slog through the process of elimination, muddling our way through… with me getting so fried I either completely shut down and become non-communicative, or I melt down and fly off the handle over every little thing.

We usually spend several evenings like this, ’round about this time of year, and we’ve both come to dread it a little. My meltdowns had become more extreme over the past few years, and this year we were both really dreading the whole Christmas shopping business — to the point where we are going to be late(!) with presents for family members in other states. That’s never happened before. We were always good about it. But my meltdowns screwed everything up.

We both recognize that doing a lot of social things, this time of year (when work is actually getting more crazy, what with year-end and all), takes a huge toll on me. Even if it’s with friends (especially with friends), all the activity, all the interaction, all the excitement, really cuts into my available energy reserves. And then I get turned around and anxious… and I either regress to a cranky 9-year-old state, whining and bitching and slamming things around… or I melt down, start yelling, freak out over every little thing, and start picking at my spouse over things they say and do, to the point where neither of us can move without me losing it.

What a pain in the ass it is. Of all things, the uncontrollable weeping bothers me the most. The yelling bothers my spouse. It’s embarrassing for me and frightening for them, and neither of us has a very Merry Christmas, when all is said and done.

So, this year we did things differently.

We split up for the day and took care of our respective activities.

My spouse went to a holiday party that was thrown by a colleague of theirs who’s married to an attorney who deals with financial matters. I was invited, too, but we both realized that it would be pretty dumb for me to try to wade into the midst of 50+ actuaries and tax attorneys and their spouses who were invited to the shindig… and try to hold my own. Certainly, I can keep up with the best of them, but marinating in such a heady soup, especially with everyone hopped up on holiday cheer (eggnog, red wine, punch, etc.) and all animated and such, would have been a recipe for disaster.

So, I didn’t go. Instead, I took our shopping list and headed to the mall to stock up on what our families had requested. We had written down in advance all the names and the specific gifts we were going to get, and we had also written down where we were going to get them. That list was my lifeline. Especially in the rush and press of the mall, which sprawls out in all directions, with satellite stores on either end.

I’m happy to report that I actually did really well. I made a few tactical errors — like not parking in the first lot I came to and walking in. But that turned out okay, because if I had parked in the first lot, it would have been all but impossible to get down to the other end of the mall. I studied the list carefully ahead of time and used a highlighter to mark the stores where I’d be going. I also kept my focus trained on the task at hand — even if it was just sitting in traffic. I also walked a lot more this year than other years. I found one parking space and used it for two different stores. And I didn’t hassle with finding a space that was as close as I could get to the building. I took the first decent spot I could find, and then I walked to the store.

Imagine that — in past years, I was possessed with finding parking as close as possible, and I would move the car between stores, even if they were only 500 yards apart.  This year, I just walked the distance. Even though it was cold, for some reason the cold didn’t bother me, and it actually felt good to be out and moving.

I think that my 5 months  of daily exercise has paid off, in this respect. I think part of the reason I was always consumed with driving everywhere was that I just wasn’t physically hardy. I was kind of a wimpy weakling, in fact — though more in thought than in body, but a wimply weakling, all the same. But having a good physical foundation — even just from doing an hour (total) of cycling, stretching, and light lifting each morning — has made a significant difference in my willingness and ability to walk between stores.

It might not seem like much, but the walking (instead of driving) between stores part of the trip actually made a huge difference in my overall experience. Walking between stores — stopping at the car on the way to stash my presents — helped me break up the activity and clear my head. It got me out of that in-store madness, the crush and the rush, and it got me moving, so I felt less backed-up and agitated. And that let me start fresh at the next store.

That was good, because the first store was a friggin’ nightmare. It was one of those big-box electronics places, that supposedly has “everything” but really didn’t. It was exhausting, combing through the stacks of movies and music, only to find everything except what I needed. The lighting was awful — extremely bright and fluorescent and glaring. People kept bumping into me, or walking so close I thought they would run me down. But the worst thing was the acoustics. Everything surface was hard and echo-y and the place was overwhelmingly loud, and every single sound was at least partially distinguishable, which drove me nuts. I’ve noticed that acoustics have a lot more impact on me than light, when I’m out shopping. The store was one big cauldron of loud, indiscriminate noise, and my brain kept trying to follow every sound to see if it mattered. I couldn’t function there. Not with the place full of people — and very agitated, anxious, aggressive people, at that.

I eventually went with a gift card and got the hell out of there. I doubt I’ll ever go back when it’s that full. When the place is low-key and all but empty, I can handle it much better. But at this time of year? Not so much.

Walking back to my car chilled me out. Sweet relief.

At the second store — a bookstore — I started to feel pretty overwhelmed. They had long lines, and the place was packed — which is good for the retailer, but not so great for me. I spent the longest amount of time there, in part because I could feel I was getting overloaded, and I stopped a number of times to catch up with myself and remind myself what I was there to buy. My list was getting a little ragged, at that point, what with me writing notes in the margins and taking it out/putting it back in my pocket. So, eventually I just pulled it out and held onto it for dear life. I must have looked a little simple-minded, but I don’t care. Everyone else was so caught up in their own stuff, anyway. My main challenge there, was not getting trampled by Women On A Mission — many of them carrying large bags and shopping baskets that doubled as ramrods to get through the crowds.

One cool thing happened, though, when I was taking a break — I had a little exchange I had with two teenage boys who were talking about some book they’d heard about. I was just standing there, pretending to look at a shelf of books, just trying to get my bearings, when I hear this one young guy tell his buddy, “I heard about this book I should get — I think it’s called the ‘Kama Sutra’ and it’s, like, about sex, and it’s got these pictures… and it’s really old… like, from India or something.”

Well, I perked up at that, and suddenly very alert, I looked over at them and said, “Oh, yeah — the Kama Sutra, man… You should definitely check it out.”

They kind of looked at me like deer in headlights, and they got flushed and flustered and stammered something about not knowing how to find it. It was about sex, and they didn’t know how to ask someone to help them. I so felt their pain…

I confidently (and confidentially) pointed them to the book-finder computer kiosk, where they could type in the title and it would tell them where to find it in the store.

“Dude, you should totally look into it. It’s got lots of information — and pictures — and it’s been highly recommended… for hundreds of years.”

They got really excited and headed for the book-finder kiosk. Here’s hoping they — and their girlfriends — have a very Merry Christmas.

That little exchange got me back in the game, so I took another look at my list and managed to find the handful of books and music and calendars I wanted to get. I headed for the line and just chilled/zoned out. I didn’t get all tweaked about how long it was taking; I listened in on a conversation for a while, till I realized it was mostly about death and health problems people were having.

Oh – and another thing that helped me keep my act together, was the 4:15 p.m. alarm that I have set on my mobile phone. 4:15 is usually when I need to start wrapping up my day at work. I need to do a checkpoint on the work I’m doing, start to wind down, and begin keeping an eye on the clock, so I don’t get stuck in town past 6:00, which is what happens to me when I don’t watch my time after 3:30 or so. I have this alarm set to go off each day, and it went off while I was in the store, which was a blessing. I had completely lost track of time and I was starting to drift, the way I do, when I’m fatigued and overloaded and disoriented.

It startled me out of my fog, and I knew I still had a bunch of things on my list to get, so I refocused and started thinking about what I would get at the next store, so I could just march in and do my shopping without too much confusion and disorientation. After I paid for my books and music and calendar, I debated whether to have my presents wrapped for free, which might have saved me time in the long run. But I couldn’t bear the thought of having to interact with the folks who were doing the wrapping. They looked really friendly and gregarious — Danger Will Robinson! Warning! Warning! Even a friendly conversation was beyond me at that point.

I realized I just wasn’t up to that, and I must have looked like an idiot, standing there in the middle of the foyer, staring at the gift-wrappers for about 10 minutes, but who cares? Everyone was so caught up in their own stuff, they probably didn’t notice me. And if the gift-wrappers were uncomfortable with my staring, they didn’t show it… too much 😉

Anyway, after I managed to extricate myself from that store, I headed for my last destination. Again, I didn’t sweat the traffic getting out of the lot, and when I got to the final store, I parked at a distance from the front doors and walked in through the icy cold, which was good — it cleared my head.

Inside, I consulted my list again and headed directly for the section that had what I needed. Halfway there, I remembered that I’d meant to buy a very important present at the first store, but I’d totally blanked on it. I started to freak out and got caught up in trying to figure out how to get back to that first store and not lose my mind in the process.  Then, I slowed down and stopped catastrophizing, and in my calming mind, it occurred to me that — Oh, yeah — they probably carried that item at this store, so I went and checked, and sure enough, there it was – score! I didn’t have to back to big-box hell. At least, not that day.

I found some more of the presents on my list, and although I didn’t get everything I needed, I made a decent dent. My partner can come with me and help me sort out the other items either today or tomorrow. Or possibly when we get to our family — they usually have some last-minute shopping to do, and they can cart us around with them. And I won’t have to drive.

By the time I got home, I was bushed. My spouse wasn’t home yet, so I called them — they were on their way home and were stopping to pickup some supper. I said I was lying down for a nap, and they didn’t have to wake me when they got home. Then I took a hot shower to get the public germs off me, laid down, and listened to Belleruth Naparstek’s Stress Hardiness Optimization CD. I had a bit of trouble relaxing and getting down, but I did manage to get half an hour’s sleep in, before I woke up in time for dinner.

My partner had a pretty good time at the party, but they said it probably would have been a disaster for me — so many people, so much energy, so many strangers, and unfamiliar surroundings. I concurred, and I showed them what I’d bought that afternoon.

We’d both done well. We both missed each other terribly, but we did get through the afternoon without one of those terrible holiday incidents that has dogged us for many, many years. Like Thanksgiving, which went so well, this Christmas shopping trip actually felt normal. It didn’t have that old edginess that I always associate with holiday shopping. It didn’t have the constant adrenaline rush. In some respects, it feels strange and unfamiliar, but you know what? If strange and unfamiliar means level-headed and low-key and plain old sane, and it means I can keep my energy up and pace myself with proper planning… well, I can get used to that.

Yes, I’ve done things differently this year. And it’s good.

I’m sorry… I think?

I’ve been thinking a lot about my reaction to the post about the BIA booting a blogger from their conference. And I’m wondering if I should regret my hot-headed reaction.

On the one hand, I have received tremendous help from the BIA in some respect. On the other, I have heard stories like this — and other accounts, where people were actively discouraged by the BIA from saying that you can recover from traumatic brain injury.

It’s a mixed bag. As most things with people are.

The thing is, though, the Brain Injury Association is more than a person. It’s a collection of persons which professes to assist other persons. And as such, if it’s going to truly assist, I would think they would welcome the presence not only of a member of the press but also someone who has been impacted by brain injury.

Or maybe they’re wary of brain-injured folks in general, knowing what they do about “us”…?

Who can say? One of the things I’m taking away from this is yet another reminder of how hot I can get on short notice. And it warns me to check myself periodically, to make sure I don’t go off the deep end. It reminds me I’ve had multiple concussions, multiple mild traumatic brain injures… and as such, I owe it to myself and to others to measure my responses carefully, and weigh the possible effects/consequences, before I let fly.

I had considered taking down the post from before, but it’s a valuable learning/teaching lesson. So, I’ll leave it up there, warts and all.

The joy of messing around

Every morning I get up and get on the exercise bike and ride for about 20 minutes. While I ride, I start to wake up… and as I wake up, I think about the day ahead of me.

As I think about my day ahead of me, I make notes on a clipboard I always have with me on the bike. I save all the one-sided scrap paper that results from work I do — old taxes that needed to be re-run through the tax software and reprinted for filing… old projects that I started, along the way, then abandoned, once I realized there was way too much work for just one person to do, and I wasn’t up to finding more people to help me get the work done… old drafts of essays and articles and stories I wrote that never went anywhere, because I realized that I was writing them for myself, not really for anyone else…

My clipboard, needless to say, has a never-ending supply of scrap paper to fill it.

As I pedal on the bike, I think about my day and write down the things that matter most to me. It’s so important for me to do this — it involves me in my day — in my life — as soon as I’m up. And it gets me involved during the exercise that brings me to full living, breathing life. As I am becoming physically involved in my day  (through the exercise), I am becoming mentally, emotionally, even spiritually involved in my day, as well. And it is good.

One of the nice things about using a clipboard filled with scrap paper for planning, is that I don’t have to worry about making a mistake or messing up. My handwriting has become progressively worse over the years (it seemed to take a nosedive, after each of my accidents), and trying to read my scrawl can be a real challenge. Especially when it’s written during pedaling as fast as I can 😉  Seeing my cryptic scrawl on a sheet of paper in front of me can be a bit daunting. And when I try to write on a sheet of good notebook paper — or worse, a nicely bound journal — it’s very discouraging to see how bad my handwriting is, compared to how it used to be.

And I don’t want to write anything down. It just reminds me of my impairments.

My clipboard, on the other hand, is my “sandbox” where I can scrawl and mess up and write scraggly notes about this and that, and not worry about messing up something that’s nice. Growing up, I was always messing up nice things. My family didn’t have a lot of money, so we had to take care of what we had. That didn’t leave a lot of room for just messing around with writing and drawing and experimenting. Experimenting takes a certain amount of money, it takes a certain amount of existential largesse, a kind of reckless abandon, a ton of tolerance for “waste” … and that’s something my family just never had. So, I got in the habit, early on, of being careful. Of taking baby steps. Of not asking too much and not demanding too much and not taking too many risks.

That childhood experience colored the rest of my life, and when I climb on my bike, first thing in the morning, clipboard in hand, it follows me. It compels me to use scrap paper to scribble my ideas on. It warns me not to make too much of  a mess of my paper. It hovers over me, intruding on my mind and spirit.

Pain in my ass.

Anyway, I’ve found a way around that by using all the scrap paper I can find to write down my notes. And then, later on when I am really planning out my day, I transfer my scribbled notes into my computer, in a daily planner that is much more structured and much more neat. Typing up my notes gets me thinking about them in a different way, and it lets me organize my thoughts, so I can get on with the day without needing to hassle over the fine details of when I’m going to do things. Just figuring out how I’m going to do them, is enough of a challenge, thank you very much.

It’s really, really important to me, to be able to “mess around” first thing in the morning. It frees me up to think creatively, out of the box, on my own terms and at my own pace. It frees me up to experiment with ideas and make “mistakes” as much as I like. It gives me a ton of leeway and takes the pressure off. While I’m exercising, pedaling away, I can let my mind roam — let the proverbial wild little dog in the back of my head off the leash and let it run around the park to get its exercise before it straps on the pack to work the rest of the day. Plus, it gives me really fertile ground to dream from. Structure is very freeing for me… but so is a little lack thereof.

It’s all good.

The year after the Berlin Wall came down

1990 was a big year for me. It let me see what was possible.

It was the year after the Berlin Wall came down. And the fall of the wall made all the difference in the world.

[picapp src=”2/b/9/7/Germany_To_Mark_6c63.jpg?adImageId=7420051&imageId=6401834″ width=”500″ height=”333″ /] It was so ironic… and so unexpected to me. I had lived in western Europe (before the wall fell) in the mid 1980’s, and if there was one virtually undisputable, unassailable “fact” of life, it was that the East and West were permanently divided. Germany would never reunite. Both sides distrusted and disliked each other far too much to ever get together again. After all, they had a wall right through the heart of their nation.

So, when I heard that the Wall was coming down, I was flabbergasted. I could hardly conceive of it. How was it possible?! It wasn’t! What was going on?! How could this be?!

I puzzled and puzzled over it for days and weeks and months… hardly able to get my head around it. But in the end, there it was — the Berlin Wall had fallen. Germany was reuniting. It was the end of an old order that had utterly failed to live up to its dread promise.

And I began to think. In the last weeks of 1989, when my life was in a shambles, and I was more keenly aware, with each passing day, how skewed my path had become… in those final weeks of that year, as I contemplated the fall of the wall, I began to seriously question the other “absolutes” of my life that I — and everyone around me treated like divinely ordained directives.

I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I could extricate myself from the bad domestic situation I was in. I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I could do more with my life than I had, up to that point. I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I did NOT have to live as a dependent on another person who controlled all the money and time and activities and told me what I should and should not do with my life.  I began to think… to believe that radical, life-transforming change was indeed possible, and I didn’t need to accept “inevitable truths” about my life.

I began to hope.

And I began to change. Over the course of 1990, I changed my activities, I changed my friends, I changed my job. I changed my living arrangement, stepping out onto cold, cold inner city streets with just a duffel bag of clothes, and heading to the home of an acquaintance who’d offered me their couch, in case I needed to step away from that life. I had seen that the Germans had done the “impossible”… the “unthinkable”… and lived to not only tell the tale, but celebrate it, as well.

I changed. First, I changed my choices, then I changed my actions. Then I changed my exoectations, and the results of these changes started to show up. It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but I’ve never been afraid of hard work, and I knew in my heart it was bound to pay off.

And it did.

I’m presently reading The Art of Possibility by Ben and Rosamund Zander.  I tried reading it, 3-4 years ago, but I found it hard to digest. I also found some of the content somewhat academic and mildly annoying. But I think I was too focused on the idea that I had to pick up every single point they were making, and that over-attention to too many details threw me off.

Now, I’m just sort of skimming my way through, letting my eye catch different pices. I may not “get” the whole message, but it’s a lot more enjoyable, this time around. And I’m actually reading, which is a huge thing.

Thinking back over my life, there are a whole lot of years I spent living with my own version of a Berlin Wall running through my heart. Not knowing why I was doing the things I was, why I couldn’t manage to complete things I started, not understanding why I was having so many difficulties, led me to section off pieces of my life from the view of others. I screwed up so many interpersonal interactions, I failed at so many different activities, and yes, I had such a hard time, on and off, finishing reading what I’d started — and understanding what I did manage to read — that I figured the only way to keep viable in the world was to hide those parts of me away. To wall them off and not let the rest of the world in. I was a mix of bravado and intermittently crescendo’ing anxiety, and there were large parts of me that others had no idea were there. How could they know? I had walled them off, because I didn’t understand that the difficulties I was having were because of my neurology, not because of my innate nature.

Now, 20 years after the Berlin Wall came down, I am again thinking about the aspects of my life that mimicked that wall. I am thinking about the parts of me that have made me (and others) nervous for a very, very long time. And I am thinking about how to (re)incorporate them into my life. Now that I understand the true nature of my issues, I can go about addressing them. Now that I know that my most persistent difficulties are NOT a result of a flawed character or “sin”, I can approach them as logistical challenges, as learning experiences, rather than sources of shame and disgrace.

When I do this — when I take down the wall and look at what’s behind it, with an eye that is both accepting and inquisitive… and critical in the most positive sense — I transform my difficulties from burdens to teachers. In the Give Back Orlando material, they talk about how your Head Injured Moments are like gold — full of value for study and examination and learning.

When I first read that, I thought they were crazy, but now I see that the difference between my difficulties being burdens or bonuses, is how I approach them. If I stand off at a distance and keep the wall up, they become threatening and ominous… dark shadows that threaten the very fiber of my existence. But if I engage with them, if I take down the wall and let in the light of day, and I eagerly accept them as teachers, instead of dread skeletons in my closet, they become the compost that feeds the garden of my life. They’re the stuff that makes up fertile ground for future growth — and many, many abundant harvests.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am deeply grateful for all that life has brought me. There has been plenty of pain and suffering, but there’s also been incredible joy and delight. And as I think back on the changes I went through, 20 years ago, I think about that Berlin Wall, how suddenly and unexpectedly it came down, and I think about how that sort of sudden, dramatic, positive, life-altering change can — and has — and will — take place in my own life.

Building my cognitive-behavioral exoskeleton

MTBI can do a lot of damage, in terms of shredding your existing skills and long-accustomed habits. It can really undermine your thinking and judgment, so that you never even realize you need to do things differently than you did before. And it requires that you force your brain (and sometimes body) to push harder and harder, even when every indication around (and inside) you is saying, “Let up… let up…”

This can be very confounding. I encounter — all the time — people who are keen on “taking it easy” and doing things “with ease and grace”. They think this is a sign of superior evolution. They think this is a sign of superior character, as though it means they are more “plugged in with the Universe”. They don’t want to have to expend the effort to get things done. They want Spirit/YHWH/God/Creator to do it for them. They don’t want to take a chance and extend themselves, because they are convinced that a Higher Power is more capable than they, and they believe they should just “get out of the way” and let that Higher Power take charge of their lives.

That may be fine for them, but that mindset drives me nuts. First of all, it absolves them of any responsibility for their actions. If things mess up, they can say it was “God’s will” or part of a “higher plan”. If things get really messed up, they can say they just need to be more “in tune with Spirit”.  I have a bunch of friends who are convinced that they are “channels” for Divine Inspiration, and that’s how they should live… just floating along on a tide of holy impulse. And their lives are a shambles. Objectively speaking, they are constantly marinating in a brine of their individual dramas and traumas. It’s just one thing after another, and all the while, they keep expecting Spirit/YHWH/God/Creator to fix all the messes they’ve helped create.

It’s very frustrating to watch this willful disregard of basic cause and effect, but I suppose everybody’s got their stuff.

Now, it’s one thing, if these people (some of whom are very dear to me) are content to live their lives that way, but when they expect me to do the same — and they judge me as being less “evolved” if I do things differently — it’s a little too much to take, sometimes. I don’t do well with living my life from a distance. I don’t do well with telling myself that I’m just floating along on the divine breeze, waiting for some wonderful opportunity to arise to save me from my own creations. I need to be involved in my own life. I need to be invested. I need to put some effort into my life. I need the exertion. It’s good for my spirit. It’s good for my morale. And it bolsters my self-esteem, as well.

Anyway, even if I wanted to just float along, I couldn’t. I’d sink like a rock. I’m not being hard on myself — this is my observation from years of experience. I can’t just ramble about, taking things as they come. I need structure and discipline to keep on track, to keep out of trouble, to keep my head on straight. I can’t just be open to inspiration and follow whatever impulse comes to mind. My mind is full of countless impulses, every hour of every day, and if I followed each and every one, I’d be so far out in left field, I’d never find my way back. I have had sufficient damage done to the fragile connections in my cerebral matter, that the routes that neural information takes have been permanently re-routed into the darkest woods and jungles of my brain. All those injuries over the years didn’t just wash out a few bridges — they blew them up. And they slashed and burned the jungle all around, and dug huge trenches across the neural byways I “should” be able to access.

As my diagnostic neuropsych says, “I am not neurologically intact.”

So that kind of disqualifies me for just winging it in my life. I tried for years to “go with the flow”, and I ended up flit-flitting about like a dried oak leaf on the wild October wind. I got nowhere. I can’t live like that, and I know it for sure, now that I’m intentionally trying to get myself in some kind of order. My brain is different. It has been formed differently than others. It has been formed differently than it was supposed to.

I can’t change that. But I can change how I do things. I can change how I think about things. I can change by facing up to basic facts. As in:

  • My thinking process is not a fluid one, anymore. In fact, I’m not sure it ever was — for real, that is. I’ve consistently found that when I’ve been the most certain about things, was the time when I needed most to double-check.
  • If I don’t extend myself to get where I’m going, I can end up sidelining myself with one minor failure after another. One by one, the screw-ups add up, and I end up just giving up, out of exhaustion and/or ex-/implosion… and I can end up even farther behind than when I started.
  • It’s like nothing internal is working the way it’s supposed to, and the standard-issue ways of thinking and doing just don’t seem to hold up.
  • My brain is different from other folks. It just is. It doesn’t have to be a BAD thing. It just is.

On bad days, it’s pretty easy for me to get down on myself. I feel broken and damaged and useless, some days — usually when I’m overtired and haven’t been taking care of myself. But on good days, I can see past all that wretchedness and just get on with it.

Part of my getting on with it is thinking about how we MTBI survivors can compensate for our difficulties… how we create and use tools to get ourselves back on track — and stay there. There are lots of people who have this kind of injury, and some of them/us figure out what tools work best for us, and we make a point of using them. These exterior tools act as supports (or substitutes) for our weakened internal systems. We use planners and notebooks and stickie notes. We use self-assessment forms and how-to books and motivational materials. We use prayer and reflection ane meditation and journaling. We use exercise and brain games. We use crossword puzzles and little daily challenges we come up with by ourselves.

Some of us — and I’m one such person — use our lives as our rehab. Not all of us can afford rehab (in terms of time or money), and not all of us can even get access to it (seeing as our injuries tend to be subtle and the folks who actually know what to do about them are few and far between). But we have one thing we can use to learn and live and learn some more — life. The school of hard knocks.

I use everything I encounter to further my recovery. I have to. I don’t want to be homeless. I don’t want to be stuck in underemployment. I don’t want to fade away to nothing. And that’s what could easily happen, if I let up. My friends who are into “ease and grace” don’t get this. But then, they’re embroiled in their own dramas, so they don’t really see what’s going on with me. Even my therapist encourages me to “take it easy” a lot more than I’m comfortable doing. (They’ve only known me for about seven months, so they don’t have a full appreciation of all the crap I have to deal with, so I’ll cut them a break.)

It stands to reason that others can’t tell what difficulties I have. After all, I’ve made it my personal mission to not let my injuries A) show to others, B) impact my ability to function in the present, and C) hold me back from my dreams. I may be unrealistic, and I may be just dreaming, but I’m going to hold to that, no matter what. I can’t let this stop me. None of it – the series of falls, the car accidents, the sports concussions, the attack… None of it is going to stop me, if I have anything to say about it. I just have to keep at it, till I find a way to work through/past/around my issues.

And to do that, I use tools. I keep notes. I write in my journal. I blog. I have even been able to read with comprehension for extended periods, lately, which was beyond my reach for a number of years. I keep lists of things I need to do. I come up with ways of jogging my memory. I play games that improve my thinking. I focus on doing good work, and doing well at the good work I’m involved in. I bring a tremendous amount of mindfulness to the things I care about, and I’m constantly looking for ways to improve. To someone with less restlessness and less nervous energy, it would be an exhausting prospect to life this way. But I have a seemingly endless stream of energy that emanates from a simmering sense of panic, and a constantly restless mind, so  I have to do something with it.

Some might recommend medication to take the edge off. But that, dear reader, would probably land me in hot water. Without my edge, I fade away to a blob of ineffectual whatever-ness.

I build myself tools. I use spreadsheets to track my progress. I downloaded the (free and incredibly helpful) Getting Things Done Wiki and installed it on my laptop to track my projects and make sure I don’t forget what I’m supposed to be working on. I have even built myself a little daily activity tracking tool that I use to see if any of my issues are getting in my way. It not only lets me track my issues, but it also helps me learn the database technologies I need to know for my professional work.

I am constantly thinking about where I’m at, what I’m doing, why I’m doing it. I am rarely at rest, and when I am, it is for the express purpose of regaining my strength so I can go back at my issues with all my might and deal directly with them. I am at times not the most organized with my self-rehab, but I’m making progress. And I track what I’m doing, to make sure I’m not getting too far afield. And I check in with my neuropsychs on a weekly basis.

I also use external props to keep me in line. I build exercise and nutrition into my daily routine, so I have no choice but do do them — if I break my routine, I’m lost. The anxiety level is just too high. I commit myself to meetings that require me to be in a certain place at a certain time, so I have to keep on schedule. I work a 9-5 job that forces me to be on-time and deliver what I promise. I surround myself with people who have very high standards, and I hold myself to them. As I go about my daily activities, I do it with the orientation of recovery. Rehabilitation. Life is full of rehab opportunities, if you take the time — and make the point — to notice.

In many ways, my external tool-making and structure-seeking is like being a hermit crab finding and using shells cast off by other creatures for their survival. I don’t have the kind of inner resources I’d like to keep myself on track, and I don’t have the innate ability/desire to adhere to the kinds of standards I know are essential for regular adult functioning. I’ve been trying, since I was a little kid, to be the kind of person I want to be, and it’s rarely turned out well when I was running on my own steam.

So, I put myself in external situations and engage in the kinds of activities that require me to stay on track and adhere to the kinds of standards I aspire to. I seek out the company of people who are where I want to be — or are on the same track that I want to be on. And I “make like them” — I do my utmost to match them, their behaviors, their activities. And it works. I do a damned good impression of the person I want to be — even when deep down inside, I’m having a hell of a time adhering to my own standards.

The gap between who I want to be/what I want to do with my life, and how I actually am and what I actually accomplish is, at times, a vast chasm. I have so many weak spots that feel utterly intractable — and I need to do something about them. So, I use the outside world to provide the impetus and stimulation I require to be the person I know I can be, and to accomplish the things I long to do. I use the supports I can get, and I use whatever tools I have on hand. I fashion the world around me in a way that supports my vision of who I can be and what I can accomplish in my life. and I just keep going, layering on more and more experiential “shellack” that supports my hopes and dreams and vision.

Dear reader, if you only knew how different my fondest hopes and most brightly burning dreams have been from my actual reality throughout the course of my 4 decades-plus on this earth, you would weep for days, maybe weeks. But this is not the time to cry. Not when I have within my reach the means by which to put myself on the track I long for. Not when I have the resolve to take my life to the next level. Not when I have — at long last — the information I need to understand my limitations and my cognitive-behavioral makeup. Not when I have the drive and desire to live life to the fullest, to love and grow and learn and … and …

But enough — the day is waiting, and I have things I must get done.

Peace, out

BB

Journaling for TBI Recovery

I’ve been really thinking a lot about the two articles I read lately — the first Offensive Play – Football, dogfighting, and brain damage, by Malcom Gladwell in the New Yorker, and the second The Magnificent Minnesota Nun Brains by Ken Korczak.

They are both really good reads, and I also plan to read Aging with Grace by David Snowdon, which talks in greater detail about the Nun Study and what they learned about how you keep your brain and cognition intact, even in the face of considerable damage.

A bunch of things can be done — living a structured life with like-minded people, keeping a positive attitude, not fretting over material things, tending to your spiritual well-being, and (perhaps most significant to me, these days) keeping a daily journal where you mindfully and deliberately keep track of your daily life and critique yourself to improve where you can.

This matters tremendously to me, because after reading the Malcom Gladwell piece, I got to thinking about my childhood, how rough-and-tumble it was, how many times I got hit on the head in the course of playing, and how many times I was dizzy or woozy or out of it, after falling or colliding with something/someone.

Excerpted from the Gladwell piece:

But what sidelined the U.N.C. player, the first time around, was an accidental and seemingly innocuous elbow, and none of the blows he suffered that day would have been flagged by a referee as illegal. Most important, though, is what Guskiewicz found when he reviewed all the data for the lineman on that first day in training camp. He didn’t just suffer those four big blows. He was hit in the head thirty-one times that day. What seems to have caused his concussion, in other words, was his cumulative exposure. And why was the second concussion—in the game at Utah—so much more serious than the first? It’s not because that hit to the side of the head was especially dramatic; it was that it came after the 76-g blow in warmup, which, in turn, followed the concussion in August, which was itself the consequence of the thirty prior hits that day, and the hits the day before that, and the day before that, and on and on, perhaps back to his high-school playing days.

This is a crucial point. Much of the attention in the football world, in the past few years, has been on concussions—on diagnosing, managing, and preventing them—and on figuring out how many concussions a player can have before he should call it quits. But a football player’s real issue isn’t simply with repetitive concussive trauma. It is, as the concussion specialist Robert Cantu argues, with repetitive subconcussive trauma. It’s not just the handful of big hits that matter. It’s lots of little hits, too.

That’s why, Cantu says, so many of the ex-players who have been given a diagnosis of C.T.E. were linemen: line play lends itself to lots of little hits. The HITS data suggest that, in an average football season, a lineman could get struck in the head a thousand times, which means that a ten-year N.F.L. veteran, when you bring in his college and high-school playing days, could well have been hit in the head eighteen thousand times: that’s thousands of jarring blows that shake the brain from front to back and side to side, stretching and weakening and tearing the connections among nerve cells, and making the brain increasingly vulnerable to long-term damage. People with C.T.E., Cantu says, “aren’t necessarily people with a high, recognized concussion history. But they are individuals who collided heads on every play—repetitively doing this, year after year, under levels that were tolerable for them to continue to play.”

The bold parts are the ones that apply to me especially. Because in the course of my life I have had a ton of little hits. Too many to count, really. All those ballgames, the football, the lacrosse, the baseball, the soccer… all those times when I got clocked or had my bell rung or just plain fell and smacked my head… even the times when I didn’t smack my head, but had my head snap back as a result of a fall or a hit or a collision… It’s crazy, thinking back, and I can see how all those impacts of my childhood could easily have added up to a weakened network of connections, which made me more susceptible to more serious effects, long after I quit playing rough sports.

Perhaps my history of impacts explains why I could be in relatively minor car accidents, but be so tremendously impacted by them — unable to understand what people were saying to me, unable to initiate conversations with the police (that would have cleared my record of inaccurate info that the cops entered on the report, in order to cut the guy in the other car a break) and thus  kept my insurance costs lower — unable to function adequately in my jobs after the accidents, so that I literally had to leave and find other pastures.

Maybe that’s why one of the accidents I was in affected me so profoundly, but it didn’t affect the other person who was in the car with me. If my neural connections had  been compromised over the course of 18 years of rough play and impacts, while the other person in the car led a relatively sheltered life that was not as sports-oriented (while I was out on the field, slamming into people and things in various games, they were sitting on the sidelines, playing the flute in the band), it would make sense that the effect of double impacts — front-end and rear-end collisions — would be greater with me.

Of course, there are a ton of different variables, but if repeated exposure to head impacts plays a role, then it makes sense that I’d be more susceptible than I ever guessed I was.

Anyway, everybody’s brain is different, and I understand that self-diagnosing and trying to explain my own situation from inside my addled head can introduce problems with logic and deduction, so I could be wrong about it. I don’t think I am, but I’ve been wrong plenty of times before. The main thing I’m concerned with, these days, is how to avoid the kinds of problems other people with repeated head trauma have encountered, namely, the dementia and cognitive degeneration that can develop over time. Like everyone (who is lucky enough to be alive), I am getting older, and like many folks, I’m concerned about cognitive decline.

So, my thoughts turn to the Mankato, MN nuns, the School Sisters of Notre Dame. I think about this bit of info, in particular:

Amazingly, some of the nuns maintained clear healthy minds even though their brains showed the scars and deterioration characteristic of severe brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and strokes.

In the case of the brain of one Sister Mary, who died well into her 100s, scientists were astounded to find large-scale deterioration of brain tissue, and even lesions associated with strokes and progressive Alzheimer’s Disease — yet she remained clear-headed and lucid to the end of her life.

Sister Mary’s brain apparently defeated the effects of these brain diseases by countering them with an unusually rich growth of interconnection between her brain cells, or neurons. Her extra dendrites and axons were able to bypass damaged areas of her brain to keep her lucid and healthy.

I need to do what Sister Mary did. Okay, I’m not a nun, and believe you me, there is no way I’d qualify to join them, even if I wanted to. Fundamental human differences (like anatomy and philosophy) preclude that. But if Sister Mary could manage to remain clear-headed and lucid despite large-scale deterioration of her brain tissue — including strokes and Alzheimer’s — then heck, why can’t I?

Seriously — the nuns are human, and I’m human. Perhaps Sister Mary didn’t grow up climbing and jumping and falling and fighting and tackling and being tackled, but if she was able to keep her act together despite some seriously damaging conditions, then why can’t I?

I may have led the kind of life that’s laid the groundwork for some serious cognitive degeneration as I continue to age, but by God, if there’s a way I can avoid going down the long dark tunnel to diaper-clad dementia and the total loss of everything I hold dear that makes me actually human, then I’m all in.

So, here’s my plan:

  • Stay positive (no matter what) – no matter how dismal things may seem, life has a funny way of turning around, sometime or another.
  • Introduce structure and order to my life – make sure I plan my days, and then stick with the plan (like they tell me in the Give Back Orlando material)
  • Cultivate more discipline to maintain that structure – because the stuff won’t get done by just listing it on a page
  • Do what I can to surround myself with like-minded people – friends are important, and I haven’t done enough over the years to cultivate those connections. I know this should change, and so I’ll do that.
  • Journal, journal, and journal some more – It worked for Jefferson, Edision, Faraday, Isaac Newton, and Einstein, and it can work for me.

The great thing about journaling, from where I’m sitting, is that it enables me to do all of the above items. It lets me work on my attitude, tweak my outlook, and get in touch with what is holding me back. It helps me introduce structure to my life, not only by committing to do it daily, but also by journaling in a way that is as much planning as it is reflection. I can use my journal to track my progress and develop my discipline — in ways that are appropriate to me. And it can help me work through the things that keep me from others. In my journal, I have a safe place where I can uncork at will, and no one is harmed. Too often, I have just said what I felt to people who either could not hear it, or who didn’t deserve to bear the brunt of my intensity. Using a journal lets me say what I need to say and vent, without the danger of harming others. That’s important. Especially for me. My past is littered not only with subconcussive head traumas, but also with tons of relationships that could not withstand the pressure of my outbursts and lack of control.

So, onward and upward. I have access to information about people who managed to overcome some pretty serious threats to their sanity and cognitive health. I have access to accounts of their lives and scientific investigations into what worked for them. I can avail myself of their teachings and lessons and use them to my benefit — so that I can live out my days in good health and soundness of mind. I have a plan, and I’m determined to stick with it.

All good.

Too much of (a) good thing(s)

Well, I’ve done it again…  I’ve let my exuberance get completely out of hand. I’ve got a handful of really great projects I started, over the past couple of years, and as I often tend to do, I didn’t follow through on a bunch of them till they were complete, but ran off to start something else (that we equally cool), leaving the started-but-not-finished projects to languish…

Until I remembered them again and circled back to take another look at them. Then, I realized that they were really cool, and they were good ideas, and I need to follow up on them… Only now, I have not one or two projects, but six or seven.

What’s a creative sort to do?

This is one of the classic ways my little brain gets me in trouble. On the one hand, I have lots of great ideas and some pretty significant strengths. On the other hand, I only have so much time in the day/week/month/year, and my brain tends to get tired… and agitated… and anxious… and when that happens, I tend to seek out other things to do, which will take my mind off my agitation and anxiety. I find it very soothing to start new projects, and since my agitation level goes up, when I’m fatigued, the more tired I get, the more confused I get, the more projects I start… and then I get myself roped into all sorts of wheel-spinning – chasing-my-tail – go-go-go’ing… which ultimately gets me nowhere, but frustrated, with a really messy office.

That’s where I am right now. In my really messy office, trying to put my life in some semblance of order. I “check out” of regular life for about 10 days, for some fun and sun and lazing around. But now I’m back from my week-long beach vacation, and it’s time to put my energy to good use. I promised myself, while I was sitting on the beach, marveling at the constant flow of waves, that I would get my disarrayed house in order, come hell or high water. And that’s what I’m setting about doing. (After I finish this post… and get another cup of coffee.)

It’s so wild… Looking around, I am surrounded by piles of things I thought were really important, once upon a time. And at the moment, they were. Slips of paper. Scraps and notes and scribbles. Ideas I jotted down without having a context or an outlet for them — concepts I wanted to flesh out or explore. The sum total result is a whole lot of disjointed thought without a focus or a sense of continuity. Lots of trees, not much forest. And some of the “trees” are crowding each other out.  Some of the fast-growing ideas which really aren’t good long-term prospects, are keeping the more solid ideas from getting enough “light” to grow.

Time to thin the woods and trim back the fast-growing “soft woods” that are stunting the slower-growing “hardwoods”. I want a forest filled with oaks and maples, not just white pines. I’ve got nothing against pines, but I need solid, sturdy materials to build the ship of my life, so I’ve got to cull out the fast, cheap, and easy activitities that are keeping me from really achieving something significant in this life. I have my limits. My brain has limits, as does my body. There is literally only so much I can do in a day. I’ve spent the last week decompressing and kicking back and taking stock of my life, and now that I’m back I have renewed energy and resolve.

I really do not want to live and work in the midst of perpetual disarray. I used to think it kept me creative and inventive, and in a way, it did. It’s always been very invigorating for me to be surrounded by stimulating images and ideas. But now – whether from age or from injury – I realize that I just can’t do that crazy-busy jumbled mess thing. Who  knows? Maybe I never could before, but I was so busy running from one thing to the next, that I never noticed that it was dragging me down.

Well, whether that’s true about my past, I know now that it serves virtually no productive purpose to run around, chasing after this-and-that just for the sake of chasing. I now realize that I am much better served by narrowing my focus and buckling down to finish the things I start… before I start something else. We’ll see how that goes. But at least I get get going with this office-cleaning business.

After my second cup of coffee, of course 😉

Oh, the uncertainty…

I came across this quote today:

“You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here …. I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.”

– Richard Feynman

Well said, Mr. Feynman. I, too, can live with doubt and  uncertainty. If nothing else, there’s only one thing I actually can be certain of — that along the way, there will be plenty of doubt and uncertainty. Then again, maybe there won’t be 😉 And the idea of “being lost a mysterious universe without any purpose”… well, that’s not unfamiliar to me.

I’ve been having a bit of existential angst, lately, and it seems to me that, rather than having the universe (or even our lives) “pre-loaded” with purpose, it’s our job to provide the purpose on our own. Free will and all that. Seems to me, that if someone or something else is supplying the purpose for us — and it’s just our job to live up to it — then it really cuts back on the amount of self-determination, even free will, that we have to exercise. Personally, I’d rather come up with the purpose on my own.

Anyway, I had an interesting discussion with someone close to me, a few months back. We were talking about faith and religion and what religious orientation we were. I said that I believe a lot of things, but I just believe them — I don’t pretend to know them for sure. And ultimately, I had to say, I really am an agnostic. It’s not that I don’t hold to any creeds or tenets — I do. I’m just all too aware that I could be wrong.

It really bothered the person I was talking to. They’re the kind of person who needs a lot of certainty in their life. They require it, in fact. I guess they grew up in a very uncertain environment, where their parents’ unpredictability was literally life-threatening for them, at times. I think that’s shaded their view of life a lot.

Well, I had a very uncertain childhood, too, but most of the life-threatening uncertainty took place outside my home. Inside, there was plenty of pain and struggle, but I can’t say that it was life-threatening… Maybe that’s saved me.

Anyway, yes, I am very comfortable with not knowing a lot of things. Knowing them, in fact, would probably depress the crap out of me, because the mystery would be gone, and for me, mystery is the nectar of life. It sweetens the experience and gives me something to look forward to discovering. Doubt, too, is an essential part of my life, for it keeps me honest and keeps me paying attention.

It’s the absence of certainty that makes things the most interesting for me. The utter, total lack of surety that I feel whenever I approach science or medicine or philosophy or religion, is what entices me to come closer… They seem (to me) to be disciplines pursued by individuals passionately dedicated to infusing life with certainty, yet at their very core, they do exactly the opposite, constantly evolving and turning over their own “proven” tenets, when they are at their most honest.

That contradiction, the overturning of “certainties” and the tearing-down of prior assumptions is where things get the most interesting for me. And the folks who dedicate their lives to the uncertain science of self-challenging discovery really comfort me with their openness. At the same time, the folks who ply their scientific and medical and religious trades with an air of absolute certainty strike me as being the least reassuring, especially when they sit across from me behind their big wooden desks and proclaim “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that such-and-such a diagnosis or prognosis IS SO.

It’s a problem, that discomfort with absolute “certainty”. For my doctors, and for me. They’re trying so hard to convince me that they know what they’re doing, and the harder they try, the less I believe them, because they seem so unwilling to leave room for error. Or maybe that’s required by their malpractice policies. Who can say?

The more I think about it, the more I realize that this doubt of mine, this comfortability with doubt and uncertainty, and my willingness to entertain different approaches and different positions and different “diagnoses” is one of my biggest points of friction with the folks in my life who present themselves as experts. For me, expertise isn’t so much about being in possession of the right answers, as it is having mastered the fine art of asking the right questions and being open to new possibilities, and being willing to do what needs to be done, to get to a workable solution/response/alternative to a sticky problem (aka, me).

It’s not about having one single answer (or more than one). It’s about having the capability of asking the right questions and being entirely open to the possibility that there is no single answer (or more)… and that life is a big-ass mystery, so there you have it. It’s about having a firm enough grasp on reality that you can see that you cannot possibly know much of anything for sure, because the world is an infinitely huge place with tons of plausible possibilities, and — tell me again — why is it so necessary to be ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME?

I’m rambling, I know. Taking advantage of your (perhaps) overtaxed patience… I apologize for that. But the bottom line I’m trying to get to is in keeping with the nature of this post — for me, there is no ultimate answer, there is no final proclamation, there is no silver bullet. And (since I might be wrong), if there is, I don’t want to know about it. I like having things open-ended. I like having things unresolved. Deep down inside, all my bitching and moaning notwithstanding, I like having a really unsettling level of uncertainty in life, and I like constantly seeking out answers.  It’s the journey I enjoy… not so much the final arrival at the destination. For me, the destination keeps changing, keeps shifting, keeps morphing into something quite different than it was last week.

So long as I can keep up with my rest and not completely fry my system with pointless excess and rank stupidity… so long as I can remember that I am, after all, very human, and nobody’s got this human thing all figured out… and I can remember that I’ve gotten clunked on the head often enough to shear and shred the neural connections that other people tend to take for granted… well, I can accommodate the confusion and the uncertainty and the mystery of it all. I can cut myself a break and pace myself and just keep on keeping on as best I can. I can let myself marinate in that divine uncertainty, that heavenly bliss of who-knows-wtf-is-going-on (and who cares?) And I can let the rest of the world do its thing, as well.

At the end of the day, I guess what matters most to me at this particular point in time, is not so much specific outcomes in undertakings in my life. What matters most to me is the process I go through to get where I’m going. I may never arrive at exactly the “right” place, or achieve precisely what I set out to. But if I’m true to myself, to my heart, to my convictions, and I don’t let the meanness of the world get to me… if I can manage to make room for love in my life as frequently as possible, and I can extend a helping hand to others along the way… then wherever I end up, and whatever shows up on down the line, will have its place.

Mystery.

Discovery.

And more.

All Good.