Post 1981 – Riding the downward slide

You may remember this

This is my 1981st post, and 1981 was the year my downhill slide started to pic up speed.

During my sophomore year in high school, I had started to drink and smoke pot. I had a rough year, my freshman year, and the next year, I realized that I could dull the pain and also fit in with people if I used “chemical enhancement”. Nobody cared if I had trouble understanding what people said to me.Nobody cared if I said strange things and lost my sh*t over stupid things. They didn’t care if I was distracted a lot, if I couldn’t finish things I started,and if I had an on-again-off-again brain.

All they cared about was whether or not I’d share a drink or a drug with them. If I did that,I was “in” — and in ways I was never “in” with any other crowd.

So, I did.

I went out partying with a bunch of friends… and those friends had other friends who did harder drugs. I’m happy to say I never got into really heavy stuff like cocaine or heroin — mostly because those drugs weren’t available when I was still partying. They were too expensive and too rare. And everyone was terrified of them — even the hardest luck cases.

So, I’m sure that didn’t help my brain at all.

I also played a lot of sports and had a pretty rough and tumble life, and I got clunked in the head a lot while playing soccer, football, etc. I ran cross country and did track and field, because they let me get away from everyone and be by myself, while also being part of a team. Coaches from other sports tried to recruit me, but I wasn’t feeling up to it. It just felt too hard, to have to keep track of all the action on the field. I loved baseball, but I had a hard time judging distances, so I wasn’t much good in the outfield. I also had a hard time staying really focused on what was happening in the infield. I got distracted a lot. So, I played third base a lot. Part of the action, but still on the margins.

My junior year was the peak of my athletic performance. I was captain of both the cross country and track teams. And it was probably the highlight of my high school career. The following year… well, I’ll talk about that later.

When I look back, my recollections are darker than the whole experience actually felt at the time. When you’re in the thick of things, just trying to get through, you can lose yourself in the experience of life, but when you look back, you see all sorts of things that you didn’t realize at the time. And a lot of those things aren’t always that great. Because you realize that you were caught up in something that was a lot more difficult than you wish it had been, and you can’t help thinking, “What if things had been different?”

I’ve been getting caught up in that a lot, lately… looking at things as they are and wishing they were different. Work is difficult, right now — mostly because there are all sorts of rumors and gossip and uncertainty, and once again I feel as though I need to make a shift away from how things are… start fresh. Leave all this behind. I hate the whole thing of getting up and going to work each day, and I’m feeling pretty stuck… even though I know I’m not.

When I was a junior in high school, I did feel stuck. I lived in a rural area that didn’t have a lot of contact with the rest of the world. There was no internet, there were only three local  television stations we could pick up on our black and white set, and the public library was the only connection I had to the wider world. I felt so cut off from where I wanted to be and who I wanted to be, and I didn’t know how I was going to get where I was going.

I knew I had dreams. I just couldn’t do anything about them at the time. All I could do, was bide my time till I was 18 and able to be self-sufficient. And go out into the world and be a writer.

‘Cause that’s all I really wanted in life. To be a writer. Well, actually I wanted  to be a forest ranger (mostly to spend a lot of time alone in the woods) or a conservationist of some kind.  I wanted to travel the world and experience things and write about them. I was going to be an adventurer who wrote pieces for National Geographic about boating on the Amazon or climbing the Andes. I was going to do all of that. Be wild and free and write all about it.

But I kept getting hurt. I kept getting in trouble. I kept getting caught up in the wrong sorts of company, and that really took a chunk out of my capacity to invent my own life. I also got married fairly early… saw that marriage dissolve… and married again not long after. I don’t regret the second marriage. It’s still going strong. But my spouse was sick a lot, and they were very poor when I met them and unable to provide for themself. So, I’ve spend the past 24 years providing for both of us, for the most part (except for a brief and very rare stint in the early 1990s when they were making more money than I was, holding down a bigger and better job than I had).

So much for roaming the world.

But looking back, I have to say it’s been well worth it. I wouldn’t have stayed, if it weren’t so. And I have had some pretty amazing experiences along the way, even if my surroundings have been pretty tame. I’ve done good work, and I’ve been part of some pretty amazing teams, doing some pretty amazing things. All this, while dealing with a sh*t-ton of blocking issues that I just moved through and worked around.

In a way, it has been an adventure, all along the way. I have to remember that. I haven’t been unhappy through the years. I’ve been challenged and engaged and pulled this-way-and-that, and I have built a good life in the process. And looking at my life now, I can see that I actually am the person I was hoping to become. Despite all the setbacks and difficulties, if I had met the person I am now, when I was 16, I would have been pretty impressed. I’m not perfect, but that’s not what would have interested me.

Being interesting was… and that’s what I am.

That’s what I have to remember — a lot of things may be wrong in my life, and I might need to sort a lot of stuff out, but I really am happy with the person I’ve become. All those experiences made me into who I am — here and now. And it’s good.

Well, the day is waiting. Onward.

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Good morning, Monday

Hello to the new week

I had a pretty very good weekend. Had a headache yesterday, but it seems to have gone away and is not bothering me right now.

That’s fine. If it were still here, it would be fine, too. Just a distraction, but one I can keep out of my main focus, by using my noggin properly. Zeroing in on what I want to think about, not the constant intrusions from all around me.

The best thing about this past weekend, is that I made a lot of progress, but now I’m not terribly pained about it being over. I’m still making progress with my projects and interests and studies. My days are all pretty much blending together, as I develop a good routine each day to make progress on the things that matter most to me.

I spent a lot of time, actually, getting clear about what I do NOT want to spend a lot of time on. I’ve made lists of my projects over the past several weekends, and I have sorted and prioritized what I want to work on. And I see that I have been distracting myself by getting sidetracked on things that don’t actually help me finish what I’ve started.

So, I have taken a bunch of things off my list of “must do” pastimes, and I’ve turned them into rewards for finishing the things I’ve started. There are a couple of projects I am very eager to start, but they are keeping me from completing what I have already started. So I am treating them like rewards for finishing what I’m doing now. It’s doing wonders for my motivation. Really wanting to move on to the other things is getting my butt in gear to finish what I’ve already started.

I’ve also found some really good books to read. And listen to. I signed up for Scribd, which now has audiobooks included in the subscription. It costs $49/year, which is about $4/month. I can afford that. And what I get out of it is worth far more than $4/month. I’m listening to Sir Richard Branson’s memoirs — he talks about the mistakes he made as a kid, and also not doing well in school, thanks to dyslexia and what would probably be considered ADD. It really is inspiring, and he offers some great tips on what makes a person great — and effective.

Things like being generous. And taking copious notes (by hand). Asking a lot of questions. Being engaged.

Sounds good to me.

Anyway, it’s Monday, and I have an early meeting at the office. Hello and good morning to all.

Onward!

10 Reasons I Keep Juggling

I feel like a clown now… but I’m improving!

It’s pretty amazing… the effect that juggling is having on me. It benefits me in these ways:

  1. It’s improving my eye-hand coordination. I am finding it easier to “juggle” other things, like multiple grocery items and bags I have to carry inside after work, along with my knapsack and travel mug.
  2. It’s improving my response time.  I am finding myself catching things that are falling or slipping out of my hand, much more quickly than before.
  3. It’s improving my quality of responses. I have problems with flying off the handle over things that irritate me, and lately I’ve been getting more short-tempered and reactive. Teaching myself to just pick up the ball(s) I dropped and move on without missing a beat, is so very important to know and do — all throughout my life.
  4. It’s improving my balance. Following the balls and keeping my center of gravity steady, is making a small but noticeable improvement to my balance. And that translates to better posture and more confidence as I go about my daily business.
  5. It’s improving my left-side coordination and abilities. I can now toss and catch a ball in my left hand much better than I could, just a few days ago. I think this has more to do with training my brain than my body. But whatever.  All I know is, my left side is getting a lot more coordinated and capable. And that cuts down on the distractions that come with fumbling around with crap — and also the frustration that accompanies the fumbling.
  6. It’s raising my frustration level. Dropping the ball over and over, and learning to pick it up and just move on without getting mired in frustration is good. Also, working through my frustration with not being well coordinated or very able to juggle, is good practice too. I can see myself improving a little bit each day, which is good. And I know that tolerating a little frustration now will pay off on down the line.
  7. It’s keeping me engaged and interested in something other than my boring-ass life. Some days, my life seems so incredibly boring, because I’m following my formulas and schedules and agendas — getting a lot of things done, but really bogged down in the drudgery of the everyday. Juggling gives me a way to pique my attention and get me interested in other things. I have a long way to go before I can say I truly know how to juggle, and can do it well. And even when I do manage to juggle more than two objects, and they are things other than foam balls (no chainsaws, thank you very much), I will still have room for improvement — and I will keep learning.
  8. It’s a cheap hobby that I can do just about anywhere, anytime. I have a bunch of small balls in a ziploc bag I carry around in my knapsack, and I also have balls lying around the house that I juggle when I get a chance. I can juggle pens and pencils and my toothbrush and just about anything I find lying around. I don’t have to shell out a bunch of dough, and I don’t have to reserve space to do it. I can do it indoors and outdoors. I can do it morning, noon, or night, for a long or short time.
  9. It gets me moving. Granted, it’s not the most demanding exercise, but it does get me out of a stationary state. And it does it for short periods at a time, so I don’t wear myself out. It’s really the perfect break in the middle of a long slog. And rather than pulling my attention away from what I’m doing, it helps me refocus and go back to what I was doing, sharper than before.
  10. Most of all, it’s giving me a chance to learn and develop a skill without any downsides. Nobody cares if I cannot juggle like a pro. It doesn’t matter if I’m a barebones beginner. All I can do is improve and learn and grow… and enjoy my learning and growth as I go.

So juggling is really helping me in a number of ways.

Try it – you might like it! Especially if you’re dealing with TBI after-effects, or some attentional issues.

Each year better than the last – I hope

Looking back… looking ahead

Now that Christmas and Hanukkah and Winter Solstice have all passed, it’s time to start looking ahead to the New Year. Kwanzaa is still underway till January 1, and the Seven Principles that mark this time give me good food for thought, even though I don’t actually celebrate it formally. Yuletide is also underway till January 1 (or the 13th, depending what part of the world you live in), allowing everything to just slow down for time to reflect and look ahead to the new year.

I’m celebrating the spirit of Yuletide more than any other holiday this season. It’s been a quiet time, without a lot of travel, and minimal racing around to take care of presents and what-not. If anything, I’ve been pretty neglectful of others, this holiday season. But you know what? They’ve been totally neglectful of me, too, so we’re even. If anything, the past years have been about me and my spouse doing a hell of a lot more for them than they did for us — doing more travel, making more of an effort, going out of our way to keep everyone aligned and on track with coordinating our holiday activities. This year, we haven’t done all that — and guess what… nobody picked up the slack. So there you go — they must not care that much, so… what-ever.

It’s time to us to take care of ourselves for once.

And we’ve done just that. I’ve been in a pretty low-key frame of mind since before Christmas — all the excitement of work notwithstanding — so, it’s been a very “Yule-like” time. Things have slowed down. I’ve allowed them to slow down. I’ve taken time OFF from all the sense of obligation and duty and required activities, to just rest and relax and not race around like a chicken with my head cut off, as I did in prior years. I’ve done energizing things that are good for me, and I’ve been eating lots of new foods that support me and my brain, as well. I’ve cooked up some pretty excellent dishes lately, if I say so myself, and my spouse says I’m becoming quite the chef 🙂

Looking back on the past year, it’s odd — I can remember bits and pieces of it, but I don’t get an overall sense of how the year was. I know it’s been challenging, and I’ve been actively looking for a new job for much of that time — especially in the past three months. At home, things have stabilized somewhat — with less undercurrents of stress and strain, but some extreme meltdowns that have taken a toll on my marriage. I’ve been through a lot of intense challenges with my spouse, including issues with money and infidelity and physically unhealthy choices. All in all, though, I think we’re on the up-swing, and taking time out from all the travel to see family, as well as me getting my own “house” in order, has benefited us a great deal.

I feel stronger and more stable than I have in a long time. Perhaps ever. And yet, there’s a constant sense of confusion and disorientation that is always in the background. I am more functional than I can remember being in a good long while, and the circumstances of my life are leveling out and becoming more “structurally sound”, but at the same time, I’m in a fair amount of general pain much of the time, I have tremors and shakes, and my brain is definitely not firing on all pistons. I feel like I’m maybe at 65% on a regular basis. 85% if I’m lucky.

And that makes me sad.

But I think perhaps I am acclimating to the instability. I’ve decided I’m going to just get on with my life, even though I can’t seem to get rid of the memory problems, the sleep difficulties, the constant sense of fatigue, confusion, distractability, getting things turned around, and getting lost and not knowing where I am for a few minutes at a time… and more.

My solution is to just keep going and not get sidetracked and depressed by what’s going on inside my head. If I can just keep going, keep working at things, and do my best to learn from my lessons and try again, this all doesn’t need to hold me back permanently. It might slow me down, but it’s not going to stop me.

I’m also coming to terms with the idea of not being Alpha in every situation at work — and beyond. At work, I have been long accustomed to being Alpha and being in a leadership position of some kind. But now that things are shifting and changing at work, I’m not sure if this is going to last. There are so many people at work who are a hell of a lot more possessed by the demons of blind ambition and greed, and I just can’t see competing with them around the clock. There’s all sorts of politicking — and if it takes politicking to get ahead, then I’m going to step back and not engage with that, and allow myself to simply be happy in the position where I am.

Now, I don’t for a minute expect that I’ll stay in that subordinate position for long, if I get the attention of the right people who recognize what I’ve got to offer. I do want to get ahead. I need a raise. I need a promotion. I need to really put what I know and have learned into action. But I need to be smart about it and not just charge forward into the gap, without understanding what’s ahead of me. If a promotion means I’m going to have to travel all over the world and not be home more than two weeks out of every month, then I’ll pass. There is that possibility. But who can say? Who can say…

Anyway, I can’t invest too much time and effort in thinking about what may be… inventing all sorts of dramatic stories about what that will mean for me. Who knows what will happen? I need to conserve my energy, because I continue to have some limiting difficulties — the headaches and the joint pain which suck a lot of energy from me… the confusion and disorientation that keep me guessing and demand even more energy from me to keep up and do my part… the vertigo and tinnitus that are just so damned distracting… and the attentional and distraction issues that interrupt what I’m doing with a regular dose of screw-ups.

I need to keep going, and in order to do that, I need to take good care of myself and also practice things that will keep me sharp and make me sharper, while not using up a lot of time.

  • Ride the exercise bike or move and stretch, first thing in the morning to get my blood pumping and clear out some of the sludge that’s built up. (10 minutes a day)
  • Practicing juggling one thing at a time, tossing it into the air, and then catching it.  I do this with my toothbrush each morning, to improve my eye-hand coordination and also my focus and attention. (1-2 minutes a day)
  • Working on my balance and leg mobility with exercises on a daily basis. (5 minutes a day)
  • Doing my measured breathing that regulates my heart rate and keeps me calm. (5-10 minutes a day)
  • Allowing myself to really, truly relax on a regular basis — just letting myself collapse into bed or on the couch, and letting the fatigue just wash over me. (The first few minutes when I go to bed)
  • Increase my dopamine levels by eating more foods with L-Tyrosine and also taking the supplement… and also taking Oil of Oregano, to keep my body from breaking down the dopamine and seratonin in my system. (In the regular course of my day.)
  • Drinking plenty of water to flush out the sludge.
  • Studying anatomy and physiology, to help me better understand the inner workings of my physical life — and how to improve my health.

All these things are really good for me — and I can work them into my daily routine. The biggest challenge is figuring out how to do them as a regular part of my life, without up-ending my routine. That is totally do-able, because I can find time when my breakfast is cooking, and I’d just be sitting around anyway.  I just need to do it. And I need to not just take things for granted, because I’ve been doing them a while and it feels like I don’t need to do them anymore.

That’s probably the biggest threat to my well-being in the new year — getting complacent and just assuming that “I’m good” and I don’t need to keep up my routines and activities. That state of “good” can rapidly decline, as I’ve learned time and time again.

So, as I look forward to the new year, I’m thinking about the basics. Focusing on that, and not making myself crazy with a whole lot of dramatic schemes and Big Plans, like I have in the past. I’m settling in, in a way, and it feels pretty good. I just can’t get complacent. Gotta keep working at it. Each day.

Well, speaking of working at things, I need to get a move on and get my ass in gear. I have some errands I need to run before everything closes for the day.

Onward.

One day down, next day up

Yeah – that

Okay, I had my “down day” yesterday. I got up after 7 (late for me), I took it easy in the morning, then did a bunch of stretching and “physical therapy” for a few hours, studied my anatomy books, and took a nap. Then I called my parents to talk about their Christmas, talked to a sick friend, had an early dinner, watched a movie and some t.v. with my spouse, and then went to bed.

All in all, a very relaxing, restoring day. I took good care of myself and really focused on just being as well as I could possibly be. I also headed off a couple of arguments at the pass, which was good. I just stopped arguing with my spouse, before we got going. That’s progress. I think the food fix is working for me. At least, it seems that way.

It’s also good to just take the pressure off and decompress — just forget about accomplishing anything for anyone else, and take care of my own body, mind and soul, for once. I didn’t stress out about a lot of things. I just worked out the kinks in my body and rested as much as I could.

The thing is, after my physical therapy yesterday, I am really sore today. I worked a lot of knots out of the muscles in my back and neck and legs — all over, really — and now I’ve got a lot of “sludge” floating around that needs to get moved out of my system.

So, I got up this morning and got moving, first thing. I jumped on the exercise bike and rode for about 8 minutes, with some good intervals included. I know it’s not much, but I have not been on the bike regularly for quite some time — a couple of years, probably — and I need to work my way back to where I was before. I feel pretty good about the ride this morning — it was just enough to get my blood pumping and get me out of breath and make my legs a little wobbly when I got off the bike, but it wasn’t so much that I felt awful. I did get that headache towards the end, and my head is still hurting a bit right now, but I really don’t care. I’m active, things are moving, I feel better, and that’s what matters.

After my ride, I did some easy push-ups and stretching while I made my coffee, then I lifted weights while my fried egg was cooking. It takes about 5-7 minutes for my fried egg to cook up the way I want it, and that’s about enough time to do one “circuit” of my weights. I used to do that circuit each morning, years ago, then I stopped because I was overtraining, pushing it every single day without any rest, and I was starting to get too stressed and strained.

So, I just stopped.

It actually felt good to have that rest and extra time each morning — I was dedicating 20-30 minutes each morning to getting going, and it started to feel like it took forever. There also was no joy in it. But after stopping for a couple of years, and not replacing it with anything, now I’m feeling the results — lower energy, smaller range of motion, less good feelings in the morning. I can tell the difference between now and a couple of years ago.

So, I’ve started exercising again. I’ve done something about every other day, for a little over a week, now.

And it feels good.

After my rest day yesterday, I’m feeling really motivated to get going. I did my exercises this morning, as I said, and I’m feeling really energized by studying anatomy. It fascinates me, how our bodies are put together, and it’s also knowledge I can use — on a daily, moment-by-moment basis. I also discovered a website called Inner Body, which lets me study the body in its entirety, including all the skeletal, muscular, and organ systems. Fascinating. I’m looking at the bones of the head right now, because I need to understand the underlying structure that the muscles all attach to. I am most interested in the muscular system, because that’s what’s giving me trouble. But after spending a fair amount of time, yesterday, studying the muscular systems of the neck and back and legs, I realized that they kept talking about what bones the muscles were attached to, and if I didn’t know what bones they were talking about and the different parts of them, then I couldn’t really understand how the muscles were connected.

So, I need to learn the skeletal system, if I’m going to learn the muscular system. The skeletal system is a lot less complicated, because there are fewer parts, but it’s still a challenge for me to learn all the bones in the body.

I guess this is one of my goals for 2014 — to learn all the bones in the body (at least) — and if possible learn the muscular system as well. I think I can learn the skeletal system in a few months at the most. I just need to keep at it on a regular basis and keep refreshing my memory. And then I can learn the muscular system. Or I might study them simultaneously, so I understand the workings of them all, as they interact with each other, and better remember them that way.

For me, it’s all about how things are put together and how they interrelate to each other. If I can think about things in terms of a complete system that interacts with all the different parts, it makes more sense. I also need to find some videos of anatomy to understand the motions and movements, so it makes sense to me when people talk about adduction and abduction, flexion and extension.

Maybe if I can see it in action, it will make sense to me.

Let me Google that… videos of muscular system… Oh, I see there are plenty on YouTube. I’ll find time for that later.

Right now, I’m rarin’ to get into the day. I am a little tired, because I only got about six hours of sleep, last night, but I will take a nap later to make up for it. I’m off work for the next four days, so I have time. I just need to rest up, because next year is going to be a trip. I can feel it in my bones. And by the time I’ve learned all the bones in the body, I’ll be able to say which ones I can feel it in, and what parts of them are the most sensitive 😉

So, I’m making my list for things to do. I have some chores to do, which I can take care of at my own pace, now that the rest of the world is either at work or at the mall. I can take my sweet time, roaming around, and spend some time at the health food store, discussing Tyrosine with the folks who work there who always try to engage me in in-depth discussions. I have to be careful with those folks, because they love to up-sell me, but overall, it’s cool. As long as I don’t get sucked into their hypnotic displays of expertise, I’m fine.

I just have to keep moving today, and give myself time to rest and digest as well. I made some pretty phenomenal food on Christmas Day, and I’m going to take another crack at it. I’m gonna get my shopping list of Tyrosine-generating foods, stock up, and refill the cupboards. I’m also going to pay some bills that are due by month-end… because I can, now that I got paid again this week. And I’m going to do some work on some of my projects that keep me interested and engaged. I’m going to study the skeletal system today, learn some basics, and also take the information with me to practice as I’m going about my chores. I have a little holder for 3×5″ cards, and I’m going to write down things to take with me, so I can use the time I spend standing in line or waiting for something or another.

I started doing this several years ago, then I stopped, because I had a lot of learning difficulties after my TBI. I had trouble reading, I had trouble remembering, I had trouble sorting things out and also staying motivated. I’m hoping that my Tyrosine and dopamine increasing strategies will help me with this. It’s a plan, anyway.

It’s all good. Having a rest day is helpful. Getting going… even better.

Onward

Reblog: Onions, Diagnosis, Attention and Grief

A great piece on grieving, and how it affects us differently.

ADD . . . and-so-much-more

Remember – links on this site are dark grey to reduce distraction potential
while you’re reading. They turnredon mouseover
Hover before clicking for more info
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Dealing with Grief is like Peeling an Onion

(c) Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part 1 of a two-part article in the
Grief & Diagnosis Series
– all rights reserved

————————————————————————-
You will get more value out of the articles in this series
if you’ve read Part 1:

The Interplay between Diagnosis and Grief.
————————————————————-

An article entitled Helpful Tips for Coping with Grief, available on the HealthCommunities Website, asserts that “Grief is a normal response to loss.”

By “normal,” no doubt, they are referring to a state that is to be expected in an emotionally healthy human being.

The ten paragraph, ten part, ten web-pagelet article goes on to say quite a few helpful things about grief, many of which I am…

View original post 2,829 more words

Tired, but doing well

Like the sea and the tides… ebb and flow

Man, am I tired. I’ve said it before, but today I’m shaky and sick to my stomach. I didn’t get enough sleep last night, because I got all riled over my boss rattling my cage. I should know better than to check my email at 11:30 at night, but I did. And the resulting rage really threw me into a mind-bender that kept me up probably till about 12:30 or so – maybe later. I think I got about 5 hours of sleep, which is not helping.

Of course, not all the reasons for my lack of sleep were bad. The good stuff kept me up, too. I was going to take a long nap yesterday, but I was so jazzed about things that I could only sleep for half an hour. Oh, well. I’ll try again tonight. I don’t have any meetings or commitments or phone calls, so I can just chill with my spouse and then get to bed at a decent hour.

This weekend was very exciting for me. Especially yesterday, when I spent a whole lot of time working on my technical skills. I studied and experimented and worked at things. And I actually got a lot done. I didn’t exercise much — sat for nearly the whole day, and paid for it later, when I was not only in pain but also couldn’t sleep because I was physically out of balance — but mentally I felt great. The fantastic thing is, I’m back doing what I started out doing, nearly 20 years ago, and it feels amazing. Just to be able to sit down at a computer and code, rather than trying to get things done through a bunch of other people.

As much as people who want me to succeed would love to see me leading a team or doing some sort of consultative work, there’s nothing — absolutely nothing — like being able to sit down and hammer out some great web pages with some amazing functionality. Too cool. And I realize how much I’ve missed it. So very, very much.

Why did I get away from it? Well, because things were moving that way, about 10 years ago. All the work like what I do was going offshore to people who didn’t know how to do it in the first place, and the rates were dropping like rocks. I couldn’t make a living. It just wasn’t happening. Now, though, it’s coming around. I had a feeling that would happen in the space of 10 years, and sure enough – I was right.

Now the rates are going up, and the work is a whole lot more interesting than it was a decade ago. Now we can actually do things we always wanted to do — and the technology is mature enough that you can learn something and expect to be able to use it.

I’ve noticed something else that’s different now, from how it was about five years ago. Once upon a time, whenever I came across something that didn’t make any sense to me, I would “pop the hood” and take it apart and figure out how it worked. After I fell in 2004, I stopped being able to do that — I couldn’t figure out how to get the proverbial hood unlatched to begin with, and then I couldn’t figure out how to break things down and master them. Everything looked like a jumbled mess, and I couldn’t even begin to decipher it. That was when I learned the helplessness thing — and, from my workaday world to taking care of my house to keeping relationships going, I just couldn’t figure out HOW — and I slipped down into a pit of learned helplessness.

That agitation really messed with my attention and distractability, and I could not figure out how to even approach new challenges that weren’t immediately apparent to me. If I could do something right from the get-go, I was fine with it. But things I had to figure out, step by step? That was a no-go.

This has changed. It has changed dramatically. I noticed this yesterday, when I was looking at a piece of code that made no sense to me at all. I tried fiddling with it a little bit, but it wasn’t working. Then I tried something else. It still wasn’t working. In the past, I would have just bagged it and told myself it was too hard for me to handle. But it’s still in my mind, and I’m determined to figure it out. Surely, there must be a way. People who are a lot dumber than I am are able to figure this stuff out. It’s just a matter of technique. And persistence.

I still don’t understand how that thing works. But I am going to find out. There’s a lot of stuff to this piece of code that stumped me terribly before, and that stuff is exactly what I need to learn to handle. I can feel it – comprehension is so close. I’m so close to understanding it. There’s a fundamental concept that I’m missing, that once I have that in place, it’s going to springboard me forward, and then there’s no stopping me.

The only thing that can really stop me, is me. In the past, I have looked at these puzzles and chafed and gotten freaked out, and then just ran away to do something else. Something easier. Something that was less of a challenge. Something I had done before. Something I already knew how to do. And while it did comfort me to be back in a zone I recognized, and it took off the edge of the anxiety and agitation, it’s not where I need to be for the long term… especially if I’m going to earn a decent living.Especially if I want to be happy in my work.

What I’m doing now is just not fitting me well. I am able to do it, and I’m able to do it reasonably well. But it’s not where I am most comfortable. The place where I am most comfortable was taken from me, in 2004-2005. I thought it was gone for good. But it turns out, it’s not. I just had to relearn how to get back there… and trust that I’ll be able to rebuild the abilities that used to come so easily and fluidly to me.

I am a firm believer that if you truly love something, and if you are intently determined, and you don’t let the nay-sayers of the world stop you (including the one in your head), you can often find ways to restore the things you’ve “lost” to TBI. I know the brain changes, and there are sometimes fundamental differences that keep you from actually replicating the exact kinds of synaptic connections that once made your life so smooth and functional. At the same time, the brain is a pretty big place, and as long as we keep pushing, keep working, keep practicing, and keep resting and reviewing our progress, it is possible to build back functionality — sometimes in whole new ways that augment areas that needed augmenting to begin with.

This is not to say that everyone can magically {poof!} return to their formerly glorious state. Some can and some just can’t. And like a piece of metal that gets bent, no matter how you hammer and bend and coax it, you’ll never ever get it back to its original shape. You can get pretty damned close, but the change is made. There’s no going back 100%.  At the same time, the brain is built to rewire itself, and as such, there’s no reason on earth why new functionality cannot be discovered and explored and developed. There’s no reason at all. We have millions upon millions of synaptic connections, and a practically infinite number of different possible reconfigurations for those connections. If we get stuck trying to make ourselves into exactly what we were before, we lose the chance to make more of ourselves — and find out what else is possible.

So, that being said, I’m going to take another little crack at that puzzle. I find that if I spend maybe 15 minutes on it, then I step away and do something else, it’s easier for me, than if I muddle over it for hours on end. It’s easier on my brain, and it keeps me from getting discouraged.  And that’s important. Discouragement… that’s no good.

Making progress – for all the right reasons

We generally reap what we sow

Yesterday was somewhat of a success for me. I got 8 hours of sleep the night before, and I had a pretty good day.

I got up feeling a little sick — a bit woozy and out of it — because despite getting 8 hours of sleep (well, not continuously, but still 2 hours and then 6 hours) I am still overly fatigued and I have a long way to go till I get back to balance (if I ever do).

The morning was pretty good. I had company for the weekend — a friend who was helping me with some yard work and landscaping cleanup, as well as helping my spouse with an event they were putting on last night. So, I hung out and talked… and I noticed that the way I do things and the way this friend does things are completely different. I tend to be pretty focused on what I’m doing, and I try to laser in and do it. That is my general orientation and yesterday it was especially true.

My friend, on the other hand, was much more laid back, not in the least bit focused, and instead of just getting up and getting to work and getting things done, they sat around chatting, smoking cigarettes, and talking on the phone for most of the day till it was getting late and they had to get crackin’ or the work wasn’t going to get done. It got done — most of it, anyway. The most important things were taken care of, and they did a good job. But there were other things they said they were going to do that didn’t get done.

That was a little annoying, but at least the most important things got taken care of. That’s what I tried to keep in mind, because — being tired — I was a little touchy and irritable.

I had intended to get a nap in the afternoon to catch up on my sleep, but I had to help my spouse and friend get ready for their event, so I helped them load supplies into the van, and got them on the road. They were running late, which meant that I ran late, and then I wasn’t set for my nap till about 5 p.m. — when I discovered I was out of toilet paper. That’s not the sort of thing you can let go, so I ran out to the store, picked up a few items I needed, and then headed home.

By the time I got back it was about 6:30, and I needed to eat supper before it got late. So, I made some supper and watched a little t.v.  It was nice to kick back and relax by myself, after all the conversation and activity of the day. I managed to eat before 8:00 p.m. which is huge for me — I’ve been struggling with that for many months, now. I did have a little peach pie, when I probably should have passed, but oh well. Summer will be over soon, and what’s summer without peach pie?

After watching people fall, fail, and get seriously messed up on America’s Funniest Home Videos, I turned off the t.v. and tried get some work-work done. I have a bunch of things hanging over my head, and the more I thought about it, the more overwhelmed I got. The things I have to do are part of a multi-step process that’s pretty massive, when I think about it. I have to do everything precisely — just so — and if I screw up along the way, then I’ll have to wade back into the proverbial jungle underbrush and hack my way out again. Not fun. So I have to do it right the first time — and last night when I was tired, it was about the last thing I wanted to do.

It was pretty disheartening, actually.

So, I decided to table that idea and focus on it tomorrow (which is today) when I’d be more rested. I decided to do some writing instead. But I was tired, and I ended up reading blogs for a while, which actually did me a lot of good. I tend to get so focused on work-work, and so focused on what I need to DO, that I don’t feed my creativity. And everything becomes a massive slog.

I spent a fair amount of time last night at So Far From Heaven, Old Jules’s blog that comes to us from the hillcountry of Texas. It was a real breath of fresh air, after wading through the glut of “professionals” who all have their blogs out there to promote their own personal brand and convince the world that they know what they’re talking about.

<rant>
Now,  don’t have any problem with people who know things and who use the web to promote the things they know. What I do have a problem with is the people who fill the web with all sorts of lingo and insider-speak pablum that’s written for the sake of impressing the living shit out of everyone and proving to everyone what an ever-loving expert they are. It’s typically all talk and no action, and a whole lot of it doesn’t get backed up with any kind of tangible proof that they do in fact know what they’re talking about. They just seem to be repeating the same crap they heard some other expert spout, once up on a time. What a friggin’ waste of my time.
</rant>

Okay, enough of that. I’m just cranky because I’m feeling pressured by some internal drive to DO what needs to be done before I have to go back to the office and face that crazy boss who is lashing us all to pull harder on our oars, so the galley we’re propelling can go in circles even faster. Faster! Faster! As long as it’s going fast, it feels like we’re going somewhere…

But we’re not. See, here’s the thing — and this just occurred to me over the past couple of weeks — the management (they call themselves “leadership”, but that’s in name only) where I work is so focused on what’s happened this quarter, that they completely lose sight of the long-term. They are so intently focused on how they’re doing in three-month increments, that they make all sorts of decisions — and push us to take action — that won’t actually help us in the long run. They want everything NOW, but what they don’t realize, is that the crap they once insisted that we do NOW, never got completely done, so while we’re trying to make something new, we need to back up and fix the crap that didn’t get finished before, essentially bailing out a leaky vessel at the same time we’re trying to row and steer, etc.

The proverbial galley we’re in hasn’t been put in dry dock for years, and now we’ve got a ton of barnacles weighing down the hull, there are all sorts of leaks, there’s crap that’s broken — and breaking — and all the while we’re being told we need to work harder, work smarter, etc.

*&#%$^@&^%*()*&%$

This sh*t gets old really quick. And here I was wondering why people generally don’t stay longer than 2 years in the place — I guess two years is about as long as it takes for all the crap you finished 85% at the start (because everyone was pushing for it to be done NOW!!!!), to come around and start breaking and making you not only feel crazy, but look inept. And all the while, they’re asking you — “What are your top accomplishments for the past quarter/6 months, and what are the upcoming opportunities/challenges for the next 6 months?”

Oh, please. It is really, truly maddening. And to make matters even worse, I’ve been reading up on emotion and motivation, and reading about all sorts of scientific research that demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that just about everything they’re doing to make us work better, is actually harming us and our motivation and our ability to make real progress. I probably never should have started reading these books by Dan Pink, Alfie Kohn, John Marshall Reeve, Susan Cain, and others. It’s enlightening and hugely validating and reassuring  (that I’m actually not crazy, after all). But it’s also maddening, to think that the people running things are so devoid of common sense AND 21st century knowledge about how people like me work — and how we work best.

It’s ruining me for my current situation even more than before. But at the same time, it’s also arming me with some real questions for the next people I interview with. I can now see what I don’t want. So, I can start seeking out what I do want.

Here’s what does NOT work:

  • Herding us all into an open work area where no one has any privacy or quiet.
  • Taking away our side chairs so people can sit and work with us.
  • Offering us quarterly recognitions and incentivizing us with electronic doo-dads and awards, rather than inspiring us to want to do and be our best because, well, we want to do and be our best.
  • “Measuring our success” with specific goals that we’re supposed to adhere to despite the highly dynamic, rapidly changing and maddeningly mutable nature of our work.
  • Rewarding us with compensation for adhering specifically to those goals and punishing us when we think outside the box and come up with long-term solutions that will definitely make life easier for everyone later on — just not in the immediate quarter.
  • Piling on so much work, that it’s impossible to catch your breath and rethink what you’re doing.
  • Having no clue what anyone else is doing — paying attention only to your little corner of the world for the present three months, and continuing to make the same idiot mistakes over and over again, each quarter.
  • Creating bone-headed working conditions, then telling your staff that “the experience is what you make it” — essentially offloading any sort of responsibility for the conditions to the people who have no control over the creation of the conditions in the first place.

There are more things that don’t work that I can think of, but the bottom line is, it’s giving me a lot of ideas about how I want to work in the future — what do I want to do, and with what sorts of people? This is really important, because in the past, I have been so intent on just getting a job, that I didn’t think much about the type of environment I was in. Then again, I had the good fortune of working in some pretty good environments (well, better than the one I’m in right now), so I guess maybe I got spoiled. And there were a lot of things I took for granted. I need to keep my focus on what I DO want, not what I want to get away from.

It’s not only much more positive for my own attitude and outlook, but it will also play much better when I go out and start interviewing. There’s no sense in coming across like a whiner and a fault-finder. What people want are colleagues who are focused on solutions, not problems. So, when I frame my job search as a pursuit of solutions and positive creations, that will put me in a much better light.

I need to do this for the right reasons — because of what I want to create for myself and my life, not because of what I’m fleeing with every last ounce of strength.

And I need to find my next work situation based on my new criteria — deeper criteria, than just getting a job. It’s interesting — before I started my neuropsych rehab in 2008, I was fine with having a job that didn’t fit all the criteria for my life. I just needed a paycheck, and I didn’t think much about. I just showed up to do my work, and that was that. I was happy to have a paycheck, and I didn’t sweat it. I was content to be operating at a certain level, and my motivation was just to get through the day and not invest a lot of time in a career or anything like that.

In retrospect, I think it had a lot to do with my long history of failures and false starts — and having this perception of myself as essentially a loser who managed to get lucky, now and then. The skill of being able to think things through from beginning to end, and follow through, step by step, was not a part of my everyday life, and I didn’t have much hope for a bright future. (I also have deep reservations about how things operate in the world, so that’s another element of this, but I won’t get into that right now.)

Basically, I was holding back — a lot — because I didn’t know how to get my life in order and go about things in a steady fashion. For certain things, I could do it, but it wasn’t a thoroughgoing experience in my life. I lived my life surrounded by victims and people who told themselves all sorts of things about themselves — how limited they were, how damaged, how messed up — and I ingested those ideas and made them my own, as well. I was surrounded by people who had no ambition to do anything more than break even – including my spouse, who has one of the biggest complexes about being victimized and marginalized of just about anyone I know. A lot of the people around me, ironically enough, have had major ADD issues that they never dealt directly with. They just took on that diagnosis as the definition of who they were and what they could/could not do in life. Instead of taking that diagnosis and using it as a way to learn to function despite their issues, they took the other way and decided, “Well, that’s it — I can’t read, I can’t concentrate, I can’t function, I’m not good for much of anything – the best I can hope for is to enjoy myself.”

And my outlook got a bit tainted by it. No, it got REALLY tainted by it. Because I didn’t understand what was going on with me, I fell into that line of reasoning, because, well, it made sense. And I couldn’t see any other way. But when I started my rehab, everything just opened up. Because I could see a way to sort through things, I learned how to be more steady and deliberate, and I found a reason to do it — because I could.

See, that’s the thing — and I’m realizing this now, that this is really what drives me. It’s not punishment, it’s not reward, it’s not threats or pep talks or anything like that that keeps me going. It’s the intrinsic reward that comes from doing things because I can. When I do things that work, when I figure out how to do what I set out to do, it’s a reward it itself, and when I am able to do better and be better, that is the greatest reward of all.

I’m not sure that’s something that the people in charge at my employer understand. For them, it seems to be all about the extrinsic reward — how they look in front of others, how many items they can tick off on their to-do list, how much they can impress the people around them (who also seem very intent on outside rewards). When I say, “I love my work!” they look at me like there’s something wrong with me, as though I really shouldn’t love what I do — it might cloud my judgment or something.

But that can’t stop me. Like they say, the experience is what you make it, so I’m making it about having a good experience in as many ways as possible. Of course, reason should prevail, and if I’m in a situation that is overtly hostile (like I am now), it’s best that I move on. At the same time, however, I can make the most of things and focus on what I’m getting out of the situation — concentrate on that, at the same time that I’m readying myself for what’s next.

I am making progress – and it’s for all the right reasons.

What REALLY happened

Storms happen

Just a quick note before I head out the door to work — I had a somewhat rough weekend, feeling sick and out of it, after my meltdown on Friday. I really felt like I’d screwed up, and I didn’t know how to make it better or what to do to fix it. I knew that I’d been over-tired, that I’d been stressed, that I’d really had a hard time handling everything, and that the next time I needed to do a better job of managing my time and my energy — and come up with an alternate plan, in case the first one doesn’t work out (d’oh).

Yesterday, though, while I was doing some work around the yard, I was giving this all a lot of thought, wondering what the hell would have possessed me to say and do the things I did. It made no sense. I know better. I have better sense. I am capable of better things than that, and I know it. I tried to do better. I really did. I almost pulled it together a bunch of times, but I could not let it go. And it tore the sh*t out of both my spouse and me.

So, why didn’t I do better? Why did I end up getting hijacked by those emotions and carried away to the abyss? Seriously, the things I was “up against” were minor, compared to other more serious things I’ve faced with more agility and control. So, why was I in such terrible form on Friday?

It occurred to me that the thing that got hold of me was not psychological. It was not mental. It was not a problem with my thinking. After all, on Friday while I was having that meltdown, there were periods when I was completely calm and lucid and at peace — then BAM! — everything changed in an instant, and I was off to the races again. The only explanation that fits, is that it was an actual neurophysiological reaction — a physical thing that got sparked by something that actually precedes rational thought in my mind. Of course, I could not defend against it, because it got hold of me before my mind could get a hold on it. And that has the hallmarks of an over-activated fight-flight response written all over it.

That is, it was not a problem with my thinking, per se, it was a problem with my body. The whole drama was based on a purely physical response. It was not a psychological drama that I created, it was a physical phenomenon — a physiologically rooted set of behaviors that kick into action way before any kind of logically calm and mindful activity could take place. In fact, it was based on a system of response that is hard-wired into me (into all of us, actually) to save me from being burned up in a fire or carried away in a tsunami. When things seem dangerous (and my body is primed to be hyper-alert to danger), like they did on Friday when things weren’t working out the way I wanted them to and I was really uptight over not having enough time to rest, my fight-flight kicks in big-time. And then look out.

Like on Friday.

Oh – I’m running out of time. Gotta go.

More on this later.

One last thought for the day: 50 bucks says that before the end of the decade, people are going to have a friggin’ clue about the role the autonomic nervous system plays in not only trauma and PTSD, but problems with TBI healing and recovery, panic-anxiety, anger management, various behavioral syndromes, ADD/ADHD, self-injuring behaviors, mental illnesses of many kinds, as well as autistic spectrum disorders… and they are going to actively incorporate physiological therapies (including regular well-designed exercise) into the mix that target specific physical elements that need to be strong and balanced, in order to get your act together. Less drugs, more exercise and attention to the body. Better health overall.

And fewer meltdowns. At least for me. (And not before the end of this decade for me 😉

‘Cause seriously folks, it’s all connected.

More on the Polyvagal Theory (pdf) later. It helps explain what really happened on Friday.

Overcoming TBI with the breath of life

Breathe in, breathe out

Just a note, I haven’t forgotten about the series I started writing about The wars we wage – of sport, concussion, and our warrior style. I’ll be getting back to that, this weekend.

What I want to write about right now, is how what I call “the breath of life” can help overcome TBI.

Now, I understand that a lot of people think of “the breath of life” in religious terms, and maybe I do, too. But I don’t align it with any particular religion, rather the really meaningful aspects of the everyday — and they in themselves could be considered “holy”… but that’s another discussion for another day, I suppose.

What I mean when I say “the breath of life” is breathing intentionally, as though your life depends on it (which it does). It’s about breathing consciously and steadily, with a focus on the full breath — in and out — in a way that calms you down and stabilizes your whole system.

Everybody who’s alive breathes. Yet many of us don’t realize what an important part steady, regular breathing plays in our lives. It’s common, I understand, for people to hyperventilate — to breathe faster than their body actually needs them to. Or to breath more shallowly (is that a word?) than they could. On the other hand, a lot of people take deep, deep breaths, thinking that will calm them down… when in fact inhalation actually revs you up and stimulates your fight-flight sympathetic nervous system.

What does this have to do with overcoming TBI? A whole lot. Because TBI is traumatic, from the beginning, and on through the years. The initial injury is just the start of ongoing trauma you’ll experience on a daily basis. After TBI you’re often unable to do the things you used to do, and you go through a serious personal crisis… and that’s traumatic.

And you often have to really push yourself to get things done the way you like… and that gets your sympathetic nervous system all fired up, and that can ultimately lead to diminished cognitive capacity, in and of itself, which then compounds the trauma of TBI difficulties.

And after TBI, you can often find yourself totally screwing up things that “should” be easy for you, that used to come easy to you, and that everybody else thinks should be easy for you. Screwing up, time and time again, is traumatic — especially if the mistakes take you by surprise, and you have to work double-time to make right what went wrong.

So, the trauma that takes place isn’t just with the injury. It’s with your whole life, after the injury. Maybe things clear up and get better, maybe they don’t. But they’re different from how they were before. YOU’RE different from how you were before.

So, what that means is your autonomic nervous system — the wiring and chemistry that regulates your digestion, your sex drive, sleep, your immune system… all those systems that you don’t consciously control in your body — gets stuck on permanent ON status. And if you can’t manage to disengage the sympathetic fight-flight in favor of the parasympathetic rest-digest, you can eventually find your body breaking down in hidden ways. You can get colds and flu more often. Your digestion can get screwed up. You can lose your sex drive. You have trouble sleeping, or you sleep too much. And more. It’s like you’re running your car’s engine on 15,000 rpm, day in and day out, and you never change your oil.

We know what happens to cars when that happens. Imagine what’s happening to your own nervous system.

So, this is where the breathing comes in — the breath of life.

It’s basically sitting quietly, either cross-legged on a cushion or sitting up in a chair, or even lying down, if you can’t sit comfortably, and breathing slow and steady from the belly. Just focus on the breathing, as though your life depends on it, without thinking about a lot of other things. I find that when I sit still for a while, my mind automatically starts taking advantage of the downtime to think about a lot of stuff. It can’t be helped, but I can get my attention back to my breathing just by reminding myself that I’m not fixing things right now, I’m just sitting and breathing.This can — and will — balance out the autonomic nervous system, strengthening the parasympathetic, which is so critical for making up for the wild activity of the sympathetic. You can’t have one work optimally without the other, so strengthening the parasympathetic strengthens the sympathetic, so when I DO have to go into fight-flight mode, I am stronger and have more stamina, which is helpful.

The other thing this helps with is attention. I’ve got serious attention issues, and I get really distractable when I’m tired. The breath of life helps in several ways — it helps me balance out the ANS so I rest and sleep better, and consequently the fatigue doesn’t eat into my attention as much. And focusing on my breathing and the sense of just sitting also trains my attention to stay on one thing longer. So it prepares me for when I’m not sitting anymore. This is two kinds of practice in one — for body and for mind.

This really works for me (and it’s a variation on what has worked for lots of people in meditation and zen for many generations). It’s literally helping me get my life back – so it is the breath of life for me. Yesterday my neuropsych was remarking at the huge difference this breathing practice has made in my quality of life and outlook and attitudes, since the New Year, and it’s totally true. It may work for others (and I suspect it will), but everybody’s different, so you may find it doesn’t work for you. But it would be good if you tried it.

Give it a whirl — you may find it can help you overcome TBI (or other problems, too).