For June: Do one positive thing a day for myself and my dreams

road leading into the distance with a flat horizon
Just keep steady, in a good way

Let’s just face it.

I’m stalled.

I’ve been stalled for months, even years. Even longer than that, actually. No matter how I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to break free of the rut I feel like I’m in. It’s just felt like one problem after another that I’ve handled… that is to say, other people’s problems. And in the process, I solve my own.

I get paid to solve other people’s problems. I get paid pretty well, too, so that solves a lot of problems in my life. I need money to survive. I need a certain amount of status and security to stay healthy and not die. I know people who treat money like an optional thing. They don’t want to get entangled in it. They have more important things to worry about.

And I’m happy for them. I really am. If they can make it — or survive the stresses of not having enough — that’s a quality I admire. But I can’t do it. The stress throws me off too much. It disrupts my sleep, and when that happens, I can’t function. Even worse, my behavior takes a nose-dive and I lash out. Yelling. Slamming things around. It’s not good, for me or the other people around me. I’m stronger than people realize, and I can do some damage, if I let it all loose.

So, I need to keep things well managed, in a steady state of balance. That means getting enough sleep. And that means not getting so stressed out that it starts to wreck my life.

I keep myself in a pretty regular routine. And it works for me. I manage to get enough sleep, most of the time. I eat regularly, exercise regularly, take care of my responsibilities, hold down a job.

But I’m in a rut.

So, I need to get myself out of it. I need to take action on my own behalf, to at least create the impression that I’m taking care of myself. I’m so busy taking care of everyone else, I get lost in the shuffle of my own life. And that needs to change.

So, I’ll do one positive thing a day for myself. Something that brings me happiness, not just maintains my steady state. And I need to prioritize it over everything else. Yes, I may need to do other things, first thing in the morning, to get myself going — exercise, eat breakfast, take care of my spouse — but then I need to just take a little time on something that contributes to me. And my future.

There’s a lot of stuff I can do for myself. I have a bunch of books I’d love to read. I’ve been wanting to read them for a while, and I will surely get around to them. And there are other undertakings — writing, designing, artwork — that I want to get back into. My legendary (in my own mind, anyway) projects take on a life of their own, and they bring me a lot of happiness. But I’m stalled between a number of choices. Each of them has benefits. Each of them has downsides. I might be able to do any of them and be happy about it. But I have to pick one. And move on. Get going with just one, so I can get out of my rut… make some progress.

So, that being said, I’m picking one project and doing something positive about it, each day in June. I may not blog about it, every single day, but I will have that focus. I’ve made the commitment to myself, and now I’ll carry through.

The main thing is to have a deliberate focus in my life. My job is… fine. But it’s not how I want to spend all my free time. My marriage is on good footing, although it seems to be getting more challenging each week. My health is pretty good (though I could stand to lose 15 pounds). Overall, my life is… fine. But I need a specific focus on something that is mine and mine only, so I don’t feel like I’m just evaporating into the mist of everyone else’s dreams and ambitions.

I can do that. I will do that. I am doing it.

Onward.

So what if it’s awful? That will change. No doubt.

The past couple of weeks have been pretty rough for me. Oh, hell, the past few months have been intense. Family issues, relationship issues, work issues. The whole gamut. And I’ve been feeling like crap, for the most part.

Pretty awful.

So what? It will change. I will change it. And that change starts with me actively amping up my responses to the events of my life in ways that I choose, and that suit me best.

One of the life-changing developments of my life, in the past while, has been using my 90-second clearing to take the edge off my anxiety, anger, fear, adrenaline rush. I learned about how stopping and breathing slowly will stop the downward slide and it gives me a chance to let the stress biochemicals in my system clear out – replaced by ones that are better suited to thinking things through in a rational and adult manner, instead of like the crazy person I can quickly become when I’m pushed too far.

I’ve been doing this 90-second activity for a couple of weeks, now, and it’s pretty amazing. And it shows me — up close and personal — how even in my most frantic state, I can get myself back to some balance. I don’t have to teeter on the brink of madness. I can take a bunch of slow breaths, step back, and turn around and head in a completely different direction.

Which is good.

It puts things in a whole new light. Because now, not only do I know that I can get myself back to feeling human again, but that generalizes to other parts of my life, and I can see how things can change so quickly. For the better. Or, even if they don’t get better, at least I can feel better, and when I feel better, I think better, and things can be improved.

Maybe not overnight, but I can at least make a start…. or, to be more accurate, make another start.

Some days it feels like I’m starting from scratch every single day. It’s weird — and a little wonderful at the same time. I believe it has to do with my working memory issues. I just don’t retain things really close to the surface of my memory — I have to revisit over an extended period of time, preferably with someone in the room. That’s where my neuropsych has come in, for the past four years or so — they’re someone I have checked in with regularly, once a week, to review my progress and keep me on track.

Well, money is short these days, and my copay went up, so I can no longer afford to see them every single week. I’ve switched to every other week. This is — again — weird and wonderful. On the one hand, I feel like an important support for my life has been removed; on the other, I feel like this is an important step for me, to be able to be more independent and draw on my own resources. I cleared out a bunch of old papers from my bookshelves this morning, and I found a lot of notes from my past sessions, and it’s remarkable how much progress I have made. Seriously, I have come a very long way, and I need to give myself credit for that.

Reading those notes is a little disconcerting — I can see how diminished I was, how limited I was letting myself be. But it’s also encouraging, because I’m not that person anymore. Not by a long shot. I think about how hard things were for me, once upon a time, and how awful they were, and I can see how much things have changed. So that is good. And it is encouraging.

The tough times I’m having right now are partly “withdrawal” from my weekly sessions, which have been safety valve for me. I’m adjusting and adapting and coming up with my own ways of releasing pressure and getting my bearings. It’s not easy. It’s very painful and confusing and fear-inducing. But so what? This will change. With practice and concerted effort, it will change. The tough times are also due to some real difficulties I’m having with my environment — and I know it’s not just me. I know it’s not just my attitude. The situations I’m in really do suck — by design by forces driving towards short-term maximum profitability, with long-term detriment to everyone involved. I have been stuck in this short-term frantic hell-hole of a workplace for almost three years, now, and it’s time to go. It just sucks so awfully, and I am simply accepting that as how things are — with a view towards changing it in just a few months.

These are all adjustments. Difficult adjustments. Problems with integration and assimilation — which should be problems, because when sh*t is f*cked up, well… sh*t truly is f*cked up. And there is no logical reason a person should stay in that situation, try to adapt to it, make it feel better, etc. I’m invoking Kasimierz Dabrowski now, who was a Polish psychiatrist who survived the Nazi and Stalinist eras and developed his Theory of Positive Dis-Integration (the “-” is mine in “Dis-Integration” because without it, the word to me means “dissolution” or “falling apart” in an internal sense, which doesn’t mean anything good to me). This theory states that people with high personal development potential, who are able to develop their own identities independent of the crowd, will necessarily go through some dark nights of the soul, as they develop and realize that they really don’t fit in with the crowd, and indeed they should not.

This dark night that people experience is often diagnoses as a form of depression which should be treated – or it’s seen as a disease that has to be cured. Our standard-issue popular response to people who don’t fit in and don’t cotton to the pressures of the “normal” world, is to pathologize and/or medicate and/or institutionalize this state of mind, rather than working through it and seeing it as a sign that there is something more this person can — and should — be experiencing in their life.

That’s kind of where I’ve been for the past while — being keenly aware of how effed up things are around me, seeing the part that I’ve played in making all that possible — how I’ve enabled people to screw me over… how I’ve undercut myself with poor habits and lack of discipline… and most of all how I’ve numbed myself to the raw facts of things not being as they could be, simply by “changing my perspective” and looking at things from an angle that allowed me to make them all right, while ignoring the angles that showed that things were anything but right… and of course seeing how not managing my TBI symptoms and after-effects has made me a lot less effective and with-it than I could have been all along.

Probably the hardest thing to stomach has been realizing how I’ve made things harder for myself, by zoning out in a state of bliss that blocks out any pain or discomfort. I’ve been able to put myself in a state of bliss — total physical, mental, spiritual ecstasy — for many years, now, and I’ve been using that to dull the pain that comes from my everyday life. I also know how to direct my focus to one thing — and one thing only — effectively blinding myself to the troubles at hand. Because I’ve been able to do this — total focus and ecstasy without drugs — I’ve been able to keep myself from falling apart. But I’ve also been keeping myself from coming in full contact with my life and seeing clearly what needs to change.

I’ve been in a lot of pain for a long time, and I’ve managed to find a way to get my own relief. At the same time, that ability to cut the pain and block it all out has held me back from making the kind of progress I really need to make.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do think that things have been so intense and potentially overwhelming that I have HAD to block them out and dull them. I fall apart over little things way to easily, and I have to stay functional. It’s been useful. And I do think that after the years of teetering on the brink of collapse, post-TBI, I needed to normalize and get to stable footing, which is where I am now.

So, in a way, this pain and discomfort is a good thing. It’s a sign that I’m ready to head to the next level and do some more great work, refashion my life, and do away with the things that keep me from living the life of my design. When I can sense the pain, I can take action and move away from it, thus living up to my potential. But when I cannot sense pain, well, I’m destined to be stuck with it for as long as I can tolerate it. Intolerance is a good thing, no matter how awful it feels.

Yeah, I’m intensely discontent and I’m in pain. Good on me. It’s a positive sign that I’m alive and ready to do something different with my life. Do doubt.

Onward.

Still managing TBI issues, still paying attention…

Brain injury is a funny thing — not funny as in “Ha-ha-ha”, but funny as in “How weird – I didn’t expect that to happen at all”.

One day, I’m fine, feeling good, and not sure how or why I ever had issues before at all.

And a few days later, I’m teetering on the edge of complete nervous breakdown, trying to talk myself back from that edge with what I hope is a calm and soothing demeanor.

It’s really weird, how things just suddenly become HUGE ENORMOUS PROBLEMS, for no apparent reason. Well, actually there are very good reasons, and when I track them over time, I can usually see how they happened. The thing is, leading up to those HUGE ENORMOUS PROBLEMS, I’m feeling good, I’m feeling fine, and things seem like they’re going along at a pretty good clip.

And all seems like it’s well. For all time. And I forget that it’s ever been any other way.

Or that it could possibly become any other way, without an instant’s notice.

But it can get ugly fairly quickly, and when I’m least expecting it. I’m not expecting it, because my attention is focused on other things besides my frame of mind and my stress levels. I’m caught up in something “important” — and it often is, despite my diminutive quotation marks — and I have a lot on the line, and I feel like so much is riding on me doing such-and-such in a certain specific way… I’m caught up.

And that’s when I get caught out. Pants down. Short and curlies waving in the breeze. And I have to stop the madness, back up, and start to put things back together again.

It doesn’t much matter whether all the excitement I’m dealing with is good or bad — I get tired and my system gets stressed in either circumstance. In fact, if anything, good things bode worse for me, because I get so caught up and so consumed by what I’m doing, and the energy is high, and I’m getting more and more tired but I don’t even notice it, because there’s so much good happening around me. And I don’t want it to stop. So, I keep going, keep pushing myself, keep stressing my body with a lot of adrenaline, but not always a lot of good food and water and rest.

When unfortunate things are happening with me, it can actually be less stressful overall, because I’m aware that I need to actively manage my stress levels, eat right, get enough rest, etc. Because there are “bad things” happening, and I need to be up to the task at hand. So, when things are rough, I’m actually less stressed overall. Here, let me show you:

The good, the bad, and the results
The good, the bad, and the results – the higher a rating is, the better it is. The lower it is on the chart, the worse the situation is.

Click the image above, and you can see the relative difference between sleep deprivation, anger, anxiety, and excitement – and you can see that my “AMF” (or “Active Management Factor”, which is the rating I give myself for how much attention I am paying to my situation) is actually a bit higher when things are bad – which translates into less anger, less anxiety, and less sleep deprivation. And more excitement. The less well I manage myself when things are going crazy around me — even if it’s a good crazy — the less enthusiasm I have over time, as well, so it’s an all-round whammy, when I don’t pay enough attention to myself and my state.

When things are rough, then I tend to pay closer attention, because I know bad things can happen. But when things are going well for me, I tend to not actively manage my situation, and then I lose out on things like sleep and good food and also excitement. Keeping up the excitement when I’m dog-tired is even more work, even if the excitement initially drives my behavior that deprives me of sleep.

I can easily get complacent, when things are going well, but the net effect on my overall system is the same — I wear out.

That’s kind of where I am right now – I spent about 15 hours yesterday working on a project that I am very fond of, and which I believe has a lot of potential. But today I am wiped, and I’m feeling pretty antsy. I did a LOT of work yesterday that was good, and now today I am feeling the effects of it. So, I need to take away the arbitrary deadline(s) I set for myself, and stop stressing myself over this. There is a lot of stress going on at work, these days, and I can’t afford to let everything get the better of me… which is the line I’m treading right now.

I need to be smart about this… and also manage this situation actively. It doesn’t help me at all, if I push and push and push… and then end up with a crappy result. I need to give myself more time, not let the adrenaline and arbitrary deadlines drive me. I need to do a reality check and just get myself collected and sane again.

Because I have more to do today, than just work on my project. And my project is the one part of my life that I’m NOT driven by someone else’s insanely stupid deadline. So, I can cut myself a break. Give things some thought, and let reason drive my motivation, not some crazy lottery-style pipe dream that’s going to solve all my problems in one fell swoop. That’s no good. Let reason prevail.

And so I shall. Because it’s a beautiful day. And I want to keep it that way.

What TBI recovery really means

Did these people stop driving because their car got flattened by a tree? I doubt it. They probably went out and got another car… and put this one up for sale.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of TBI recovery. Some folks claim that there is no recovery from TBI, mild or otherwise, because the brain is unalterably changed and you can’t just go back to the way things were before.

The brain is not unlike a piece of metal, in that respect. Once you bend a piece of metal, you can never get it back to exactly the way it was before it was bent — you can get it back to the same shape, but there will always be a little wrinkle or dent or crook in it that shows you where it was damaged before. The object may be totally serviceable (like the door of my car that got side-swiped by someone who was texting while driving), but no matter how you try to pull out the dent, you’re always going to have some sort of tell-tale sign that something happened before. In my case, the car door is fine, it opens and shuts, but I’ll always have that reminder of the night that someone wasn’t paying attention as they were driving towards me.

Same thing holds true with the brain – once you’re “dinged” you’re dinged. The connections that were once in place aren’t ever going to go back to exactly like they were before. Tough nuts. What’s done is done. Your faculties may be 99% intact, but there will always be that little 1% (at least) that’s a regular reminder that things aren’t working as they once were, and you have to do things a little differently than before.

However — and this is where I differ from the experts who are riding the “no recovery after TBI” hayride to hell — just because certain connections no longer work, doesn’t mean you can’t create whole new connections that do the same thing, only a little differently. Sometimes whole areas of old abilities and ways of being are blown out, and they aren’t coming back to the state they once were. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create new connections in different ways that serve the same purpose, albeit not identical to the way things once were.

Think of TBI as a tornado that smashes the roof of your car and wrecks the roads going out of town. Combine that with a flash flood that washes out parts of the roads, too. Your car is toast. Totaled. An irretrievable loss. Everybody knows that sometimes you can’t repair a road to be exactly like it once was. So what? You take the check the insurance company sends you and you buy another car. You build a new road, you create something different. And sometimes the new road is even better than the old one. Sometimes it’s not, but it still does the trick. The new car might handle differently from your old one. The new road might take you down a longer route and it might be a little bumpier in places, but it will still get you where you’re going.

And you might get to see some different scenery, as well.

I have a theory that many (if not most) people go through some kind of major shift in the course of their lives, which causes them to rethink the routes they’ve been taking from the Point A’s and Point B’s in their lives. Whether it’s a mid-life crisis or a health crisis or an injury or a job loss or a failed marriage or a natural disaster, we all go through something like this at some point in our lives. Some of us have it happen more than once — which is not a sign that we’re total screw-ups, rather that we have even more opportunities to learn and grow and change. Even when the transitions are totally unexpected or seem to come at the “wrong” time of life — a concussion during a high school soccer game, or a car accident on the way to your vacation — they still present us with the chance to change and grow and find out what else we’re capable of doing/achieving.

Recovery from TBI, in my opinion, is no different in nature than recovering from the above “disasters”. And telling ourselves that just because we can’t get back to exactly how we were before, it means we cannot/will not recover…. that’s pretty counterproductive. And when an expert tells you that, well, it’s just ignorant and cruel and seems more like them covering their expert ass, than giving you something to work with.

Ultimately, expert advice aside, we all need to figure out how to live our own lives to the best of our abilities. If we put our whole trust in experts, who are human, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. What matters most is what we believe about ourselves and what we believe is possible for our lives. Whether we move ourselves on through science or religion or psychology or exercise or will-power or tons of hard, hard work… or all of the above, the bottom line is, there are many ways to progress, to create positive change, and to become more and better than we were before.

It’s a process. It’s all a process. Never let anyone take hope from you, and never let anyone else define you with their own limitations. It’s bad enough that they want to do it, but you don’t have to let them.  So get up and get moving and see what you can do today. (Just make sure you eat right and get plenty of rest in the process.)