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.

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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.

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).

Extending my attentional endurance

Who has a longer attention span - him or me?

So, I was up at a decent hour this morning, and I took time to sit and breathe for about 20 minutes. Generally, I try to focus on my breath and counting how many times I breathe in and breathe out. It’s good for me. It gives my brain a rest. And it helps me start the day with good concentration.

Here’s the thing, though – when I am tired (which I am, today), my mind really wanders, and it takes a mammoth effort to bring me back to where I need to be — focused on counting my breaths. Suddenly, a ton of different things seem so critical that I can’t help but think about them. And I am convinced that I have to solve these problems right here and now.

So, there are a number of issues that I can address in this exercise:

  1. Distractability – being prone to have things catch my attention and pull it off where I need it to be.
  2. Impulse Control – just “going with” the stuff that comes up, instead of consciously deciding that I’m not going to pay attention to those things until after I’m done sitting.
  3. Weak Attention – if all these different thoughts are coming up, if my attention is strongly enough focused on what I’m doing, the two things above don’t need to bother me.

But they do. And that’s the thing. It’s a thing I need to address. And guess what – I can address it. Each morning, as well as at different times throughout the day.

Now, I know that meditation is supposedly good for your soul — it’s supposed to lead to enlightenment, and that’s why a lot of people pursue it. But enlightenment is not my main goal. I want something a whole lot less grand — I just want to be able to sustain my attention on a single fixed point for longer than a hummingbird focuses on drinking nectar from a flower.

Seriously. It’s just ridiculous, sometimes, what comes up in my mind for no apparent reason. Things like the current political debates, the task items I have to do for work by end of day Monday, my upcoming schedule this week, what I want to discuss with my neuropsych, repairs I need to make to the house, and of course the pain and discomfort I’ve been feeling in my left upper back, due to my body acclimating to the different movements I’ve been making when I work out in the morning.

It’s just this never-ending march of whatever-ness that just won’t quit. And there I sit, boldly attempting to hold my attention to the number of the breath I’m presently on.

Hm.

I’ve read up on this a little bit, and apparently there are a number of different ways to spend your time while sitting in meditation. You can look at the end of your nose or your hand or a selected point out in front of you. You can count your breaths. You can recite mantras. You can can think about unsolvable puzzles in hopes of receiving a sudden flash of insight when your brain finally gives up trying to do what it isn’t designed to do.

I’m sure there are tons of people who have made good use of these practices, and for all those who sit in meditation in service to humanity waking up, I’d like to say “Thank you.”

For my purposes, however, the point of sitting is much more basic and far less grand. It’s just to get a handle on my head and extend my “attentional endurance” — to train myself to be able to focus on one single thing for longer than 15 seconds. Not being able to keep focused on one single thing for extended periods of time has serious repercussions for my work and my life. Just the other day, I misplaced some gift cards I’d received over the holidays, and now I can’t find them. Because I wasn’t paying attention when I put them away. I have no idea where they are. I’ve looked high and low. I’m sure at the time I thought was being clever, putting them somewhere “safe” — so safe, I can’t find them now.

This is just one example. At work, not being able to focus on things for longer than a few minutes at a time (partly because of constant interruption, but also because of poor practice), cuts into my productivity and keeps me from achieving what I set out to achieve. It makes everything that much harder to do, that much longer to finish, that much more of a chore.

In my personal life, too, not being able to attend to the people around me, not being able to focus exclusively on them while they are talking to me, not only makes them feel unimportant, but it also makes it really hard to have a conversation. I already have issues with working memory, so when I don’t pay attention and I don’t actively follow along in the conversation, I can lose pieces of what we are talking about, and then I sound like I’m talking gibberish.

And that’s no good.

So, that’s why I sit and count my breaths each morning. If enlightenment comes, that’s fine. 🙂 But I’ll (hopefully) be so focused on keeping my attention fixed on a certain point, that I won’t exactly notice. And that’s how I think I’d like it to be. The day when I can keep my attention fixed so intently on something as “insignificant” as a shoe lying on the floor in front of me, that I’m not distracted by something as profound as an evolutionary bump to the next level, is the day my attention is good to go.

News that has absolutely nothing to do with me

Newspaper Boat
Watch me sail away with the news...

News of the coming election is heating up, and with it comes a seemingly unending flurry of news and reportage about all the candidates, their track records, what they will or will not do, what they did or did not accomplish, what they said, what they ate, what they wore. That’s really bad news.

Danger – danger! Warning Will Robinson!

It’s bad news, because this is exactly the kind of stuff that’s murder on me – the seemingly important news that changes and shifts and provides me with absolutely no redeeming value in my life, other than to get my mind off what I’m doing at the time. It’s intriguing, alluring, and totally consuming. It’s murder on whatever hold I have on my distraction at any given point in time.

Especially when I’m stressed and am having a hard time concentrating, or when I’m tired and I’m losing steam, a little distraction can turn into a lot of problems. Sure, it can help me relieve pressure. The only problem is, I tend to get wrapped up in the distraction, so that it becomes the main focus of my precious time and my limited energy.

And that’s not good.

I guess I need to get a lot more aggressive about ruling things out — cutting things out of my attention field that don’t add to my ultimate goal — that get in my way. That are entertaining for a short while, then stop adding anything to my life. Things like political discussions, which are so much gum-flapping at this stage of the game. It’s all narcissism and self-aggrandizement at this point, and precious little that’s substantive is actually being said. It’s mud-slinging from the get-go, to get opponents disqualified — or at the very least, to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of voters, which seeds can (and will) be watered and tended and nourished for months to come, as we lead up to the next Big Decision about who gets to run the world.

What does all this have to do with me, really? The “information” we are getting is so skewed and slanted, if it were a building, it wouldn’t pass code, even in Haiti. And that’s pretty bad. It’s so much fluff and dust and redirection, it makes my head spin. And I have no idea who is actually telling the truth.

It’s not going to be easy to keep out of the political discussion scene, this season. I have a lot of friends on Facebook who are vehement about their own political views — and I have friends on the extreme left and extreme right, which makes things interesting, when I feel like speaking MY mind 😉  So, there’s bound to be a lot of dust kicked up in the coming months. Flying in my eyes, my mouth, my nose, getting stuck under my fingernails and in places the sun don’t shine.

To the best of my ability, I’m going to do myself a favor and keep a fairly low profile with regard to the political scene. It’s really a distraction I can’t afford. I have work to do, I have a job to do, and I need to make way for the new things. I can’t move forward, until I have the existing projects squared away, so that’s really Job One for me, these days. Regardless of what’s going on in the rest of the world.

Now, part of me feels like I need to do this, to encourage more meaning in my life… More mindfulness. Less craziness. But there’s a more basic reason for this — I cannot move ahead in my life and get things in order, unless I get my act together, clear out some of the old stuff that’s familiar but bogging me down, and move on to the next thing.

I had a good training at the end of last week, which adds more information to my overall skill offerings. It rounds out my professional profile nicely. And I’m really stoked. Now I need to move these things out of the way that are keeping me from getting on with it. Pronto. Just do it.

So long as I keep allowing myself to be distracted by things that have Absolutely Nothing To Do With Me, I’m going to stay entertained. But I’m going to be stuck in the same place.

And that’s no good.

Exercising the muscle of attention

Exercise is good

Use it or lose it. We’ve all heard it said, and it’s often true. I’d like to add another thought to that, specifically with regard to mTBI and attention difficulties — which often go together.

I’d like to also say — Even if you lose it, use it… and you may get it back.

I’ve been reading this article: Mild traumatic brain injury in persons with multiple trauma: the problem of delayed diagnosis and the author cites some scientific findings, namely

“Memory, attention deficits, and speed of processing information have been identified as some of the longer lasting and more pervasive neuropsychological symptoms seen in head injured adults (Kay et al., 1994; Telzrow, 1990),” and ” Deficits in higher cognitive functions can occur in the face of relatively normal performance on other more basic tasks (Cullum et al., 1990), explaining the improvement in intelligence tests scores without a comparable improvement in function. Wood (1987) showed that attention, which is often impaired by MTBI, is more important than intelligence (measured by IQ) during the learning of a simple discrimination task, and suggests that attention permeates all aspects of behavior. This helps to clarify why functional deficits continue in the face of intellectual recovery. Deficits in attention are particularly serious because there is little evidence for success of attention training procedures (Bigler, 1990).”

That last sentence caught my eye: Deficits in attention are particularly serious because there is little evidence for success of attention training procedures. Really… That’s a downer.  Especially because my attentional issues became abundantly clear during my neuropsych testing… and thinking back over my life, attention (or lack thereof) has been a major contributing factor to the difficulties I’ve had.

If there is little evidence for success of attention training procedures, what does that mean?

Well, personally, I have to wonder about

A) the type of evidence they’re talking about and when/where did they look for it?

B) what their measure of success is?

C) what attention training procedures they were using?

It seems to me that the lack of evidence is more about the lack of attention they’re paying to… attention. The attention deficits seem to be on the clinical side, as well as the TBI side. And the possibility that people aren’t measuring this on a regular basis under special scientific conditions that give the results scientific credibility, means that this sentence is instantly suspect.

What’s more, who can say what attention training procedures were being used? Seems to me, there’s more than one way to train your attention, and the best ways may be 100% incompatible with a clinical setting or an environment set up to gather data.

So, I really can’t worry too much about this statement, which dates back to 1990, as well. A lot can change in 21 years. So, this may just be old information.

But anyway, back to the idea of exercising your attention and making it stronger — practicing attention exercises after mTBI, with the intention of improving your ability to sustain focus and attend to what’s in front of you. I truly believe — and we have found more and more evidence in the past years — that the brain can and does rewire itself, and neurons that fire together wire together. What it takes is intention and determination and consistency. Truly, consistency may be the biggest element in all of this. For no matter how good your intentions and no matter how determined you are, if you’re not consistent in what you do, you’re going to have a harder time making progress, than if you stay on track and on target throughout the weeks and months, even years.

It’s worth it, however. Well worth it. I have to say that in the past three years, my ability to attend to things has dramatically improved. That improvement started with first learning that I had deficits and I needed to take action. It really commenced in earnest when I decided that no matter where I was at the moment or how I felt, I was going to change this for the better. I wasn’t going to settle for “what is” and “what isn’t” — I was going to dwell in the land of “what isn’t — yet”…and  “what will be”. I can’t say that I achieved every one of my goals I had in mind. I’m still not quite where I’d like to be with my short-term memory, and I may not ever get exactly back where I used to be. But then again, I might be able to find ways to be even better at the short-term remembering thing, using other tools than I had before, when I was wholly dependent on my memory alone.

I’ve known a number of people over the years who have informed me that they had attentional problems, and that’s just how they were. They resigned themselves to being less than they could have been — and I am quite certain they could have improved their performance, had they simply applied themselves. But they decided, years ago, that they were how they were, and that was that. No room for growth. No room for expansion. No room for change. Sad. 😦

The thing is, they basically disabled themselves. They spent a whole lot of time feeling bad about themselves and telling themselves that they sucked at what they did, etc. etc. And they just didn’t try harder. They didn’t change how they did things. They didn’t extend themselves. They didn’t suspend judgment about themselves. They just decided that they were how they were, and that was the hand they’d been dealt in life.

And they lived these half lives filled with anger and frustration and defeat.

What a waste.

I tried encouraging them to try different things, to do things in different ways, but they just wouldn’t. They’d made up their minds. Perhaps because the people they turned to for guidance had not seen enough clinical data that demonstrated that attentional issues can be resolved through practice and deliberate action.

See, this is one of the things that gets me about all this scientific information — it’s subject to change.  And it’s open to interpretation. And so many times, there is no follow up over the years that shows that their original assumptions did not pan out over time. And people like me, who have a thirst for knowledge and a trust in experts, see them saying things like, “There’s no recovery for people with mTBI — they may improve, but they can never recover,” and they give up. Because some expert somewhere decided something, based on their own limited information and experience.

Let me say this — TBI cannot and should not define you. You may have been hurt, you may have gotten injured. You may have a rough time for a while, and it may be rocky going, finding your footing again. You may end up with “souvenirs” of your injury that follow you the rest of  your life. But that doesn’t mean the story is over for you. It doesn’t mean that’s all there is, and the proverbial fat lady has sang.

Oh, no. See, experiencing a brain injury is like moving to a different locale. There are some things you have to leave behind, because they no longer serve you. If you move from Sweden to Miami, chances are, you’re not going to need your heavy winter clothing, and you won’t have to concern yourself with limited sunlight during the winter. But that doesn’t make Miami any less good than Sweden. It also doesn’t make it any better. It just makes it different. For me, my series of injuries have chipped away at my working memory, until I sometimes can’t remember stuff that gets said to me, 15 minutes after someone says it. I can’t remember unfamiliar number sequences longer than 4 digits. But I can sure as hell write stuff down, and I have ways of making a note of the information I know I’ll need to use later. I may not have as much of certain abilities as I did before, but I have plenty of others to fill in those gaps – and in some cases, the new ways of doing things may be even better than the old ones were.

This is not to make light of TBI. It’s disruptive. It destroys lives. It seriously messes with your sense of who you are. But what if recovery from TBI were about recovering a quality of life – the sense of it, the experience of it – rather than the specifics? And what if we actually were able to restore what we’d once lost, through hard work, effort, determination, and consistency? What if that were the case?

Well, I’ve gotta run. I’m at the public library, and I’m parked four blocks away from my car, which has another 20 minutes on the parking meter, by my calculations. I’d like to have a leisurely walk back, then get on with my day.

Life awaits.