Gotta slow it down… before it stops you

I’m taking a break from social media, this weekend. I’ve been spending too much time on Facebook, lately, checking in with all my old friends, and it’s getting to me. The steady stream of excitement, the videos, the thought-provoking memes, the provoking comment threads… it’s all way too much.

Last weekend I was social. And it took a lot out of me. It took me all week to recover, which is too much time. I’ve been up for three hours, and I’m ready to go back to bed. I had my walk in the woods, which was good (though all the flies and mosquitoes didn’t help). The best thing about it, was that I didn’t run into any people. It was just me on the trails.

I know we need people. We need social interaction to stay connected.But this weekend, I’m taking it easy.

I’m focusing on the things I’ve been wanting to do for weeks, but have not been able to, because of the new job and all the energy it’s taken out of me. I’m focusing on chilling out my system, not keeping it riled up. I’ve got to slow myself down considerably. I’ve been running too “hot” for weeks, now, and my system needs a break.

If I continue to push myself, the adrenaline will kick in, and it will fry my system. I need to back it down and keep the fight-flight out of the picture. Yes, it’s a beautiful day. Yes, there’s a lot I want to do. But I need to rest. Catch up with myself.

This coming week, I do not have any appointments at all. No chiropractor, no neuropsychologist, no acupuncturist, no massage. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Sweet relief. “Self-care” is over-rated, when it takes such a deep bite into your downtime. There comes a point of diminishing returns.

So, speaking of downtime, it’s back to bed for me.

Till later…

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Getting back, one step at a time.

Adrenaline - I got more than my fair share, this past weekend
This is Adrenaline – I got more than my fair share, this past weekend

Full weekend.

Ugh.

It was good, though.

I got the critical things done ahead of time, and then I spent all day yesterday with a buddy, going to see an exhibition of Japanese art and culture. It was pretty amazing – especially seeing things that real people made with their hands, instead of something that they made on a computer. The handiwork of some of the furniture was amazing.

I wish I had more energy to take it all in, but yesterday was a pure adrenaline day. I had to help my spouse the night before with a business activity (their back is out, so they need assistance), and not only was I pushed really hard to do a lot of things, but I was up past midnight on Saturday – and I rarely sleep in – so I did not get enough sleep for Sunday.

Yesterday was good. We checked out the art, the craftsmanship, the joinery, the materials… and then we got some lunch – late. My routine was completely blown away. We were near a neighborhood where I used to eat, and sure enough, the old taqueria was there, where I used to always get massive burritos for a very low price. The store burned down, during the years after I moved away, but I thought for sure they would rebuild, because they were so popular – and sure enough. Line was out the door. And the food was still amazing.

We ended up hanging out the entire day, and we had dinner at my home with my spouse, who is actually much better friends with this individual than I am. We’re all on good terms, so it was a good time.

I just had no time for myself, which is a problem on the weekends. I really need my downtime – space when I am only doing things that are in my head and my intentions. Or I pay the price.

I’m feeling it today. I started to get a migraine yesterday, but I got an hour-long nap, and that helped. Work, work, and more work. Not so great for my system, which needs balance.

This week I will balance. I don’t have a lot of appointments. Just two, compared to the past. I think I’m going to back off on my acupuncture and chiropractor, because I am really tired of not getting home till 8:00 p.m. and then having to make dinner, and not eating until 8:30 or 9:00. It’s too late for me. And I’ve been pushing myself for too long, trying to fit everything in.

I just want my routine back. I just want my regular schedule. I have to have it, or I am toast. And if others cannot accommodate me, too bad.

It’s actually good that I am getting to this point. I have been pushing myself very, very hard, for a long time, and it’s about time that I really focused on just taking care of myself in ways that are less rigorous — and are closer to home.

It’s all a lesson.

Onward.

Walking on a different wild side

I’ve been daydreaming about chucking it all and hitting the road. I’ve managed to save up a nice little chunk of change, banking it for house repairs and emergency situations. I actually have enough for an honest-to-God emergency fund now, which hasn’t been the case for close to 10 years. It really takes the pressure off. At the same time, though, it also tempts me to do something rash — like taking my little commuter car (which just got a tune-up), filling up the gas tank, and driving, driving, driving…

But I know it would never work. Never, ever. And without a doubt, I’d end up worse off then, than I am now. No doubt.

Here’s the thing — I need a break from all the heavy-duty daily frustrations. It’s just getting to be too much, and I’m not making good choices about how to get that break. Some people smoke. Some people go on social media. I dance with danger and run the risk of getting injured all over again. It’s clear that I need to change things up and get my blood pumping on a regular basis. I need a positive and productive way to get that adrenaline pump that keeps me sane and channel the energy I have into something that helps me, not hurts me.

That all being said, I think the key for me is to step things up with my hopes and dreams. I have an “old” dream of having my own business doing consulting and training about an area of expertise I have. I know there’s a market for it, and I know others do well in that line of work, I’ve just never made good on it. I have wanted this so badly, on and off over the past years,and I’ve made some starts, here and there. But I’ve repeatedly given up on that dream over and over. I got overwhelmed or confused or just felt like I couldn’t do it. I knew in my mind that I could, but I lost courage and backed off and went back to doing what I had been doing before — holding down the fort with my 9-to-5 job and steady paycheck.

Now things are different, though. I don’t have a horrific commute anymore — if anything, it’s going to get shorter. And I’m becoming increasingly motivated to move forward, as I talk to people about my idea, and they get really excited about it. I have managed to find a job where every day I am in the midst of some very forward-thinking people who are also super supportive, and it’s really doing me a lot of good.

These two magic combinations — time to work on my ideas, and supportive people with vision — are helping me get past myself and re-start anew. I’ve started this idea so many times, I actually have a lot of knowledge about how to get off the ground. And I have enough professional connections, I can start putting myself out there — while still holding down the fort at work.

So, there is hope. And my goal is to earn enough on the side, to be able to afford some travel. That way I don’t have to drive off by myself — I can bring my spouse with me, and we can have a fabulous time. It’s a plan. It’s a bonafide plan.

And rather than wasting my time and energy and risking my neck on danger-seeking types of behavior, I’ll court danger in the form of chasing my dreams and having them come true. Putting my life in danger in questionable situations, and putting it all on the line for my dreams, are the same type of activity. The difference is, one of them will actually have something to show for my risk-taking. The first one… all I get is a system full of adrenaline, a brief burst of clarity, and the potential for things to go really, really wrong in an instant.

So, in a very real sense, my motto continues to be Onward!

After TBI you’re still human

And you still have the same types of interests and desires and needs that you had before your injury/-ies.

You want to be fully engaged. You want to be involved in your life. You want to have hopes and dreams and to follow those hopes and dreams.

Why should any of that change after TBI? Some days, it’s like the world just expects you to stop being interested in the things that mean the most to you — to anyone. Like it should be so easy to let go of the old ways that were so familiar and made you “you“. And you’re just expected to do it. To adjust. To deal with it and move on.

This is something I really struggle with on a regular basis. It’s bad enough that I have to deal with the confusion and disorientation and not feeling quite “here”, half the time. It’s bad enough that I have to think through every friggin’ thing that used to come so easily to me, lest I get hurt or screw something up. It’s bad enough that everything feels like such a CHORE, and even the fun things are hard for me to do, sometimes.

But through all this, I’m expected to do it without any recognition or support. That just sux.

Even my neuropsych isn’t much help to me in this respect, because comparatively speaking, I’m not nearly as “bad” as their other patients. I’m high-functioning. My IQ is still up there. I have a good job and a house and all the trappings of modern success. I’m in a stable marriage of 23 years. I have a bank account and a plan for how to live my life.

What could possibly be wrong?

Yeah, well, I’ll spare you the details. The bottom line is, half the time I feel like crap. I don’t feel like myself. I can’t recognize the person who’s walking around in my shoes, wearing my clothes, doing my job, driving my commuter car to and from work each day, running errands on the weekend. Who IS this person, and how did they get in my life?

Addressing this is so difficult for me. I rarely bring it up with my neuropsych, because they don’t really seem to think it’s that big of a deal, and they don’t seem to think it should impact me. After all, compared to their other patients, I’m doing grand.

Oh, except for flirting with danger on a regular basis, and being totally oblivious to what all could go wrong in an instant.

To be truthful, I have not discussed everything with my neuropsych that I could. Over the years, there have been a lot of things I haven’t brought up, because they are way too upsetting for me, and it’s more important to me that I have a regular conversation with a regular person and be able to relax, instead of plunging into that infinite, bottomless black abyss that takes me over when the emotions run too high. I have to stay functional. I have to hold my sh*t together. I can’t be sitting around spilling my guts, and then getting so freaked out and upset that I can’t even see or walk straight. My neuropsych has seen me overwrought a handful of times, and they don’t seem to understand what all is going on with me. They got exasperated, as though I were not trying.

So, I just don’t go there with them. I keep things positive and talk about the progress I’m making. I don’t have many words to explain the way it feels inside. Plus, when I get to their office, I’m ALL THERE, and nothing else outside the office exists. There are so many pieces of my life that feel like a shambles to me, even though on the surface they look good and they are holding, I don’t have much hope that a strong wind wouldn’t blow them all down. In all honesty, I’m not even sure how they’re holding together. They just are. I’m just lucky, in so many ways.

That, and people are so consumed with their own lives, they don’t notice the chinks in my armor.

It all just feels so precarious.

And it’s a strain. Because I want to have a life I can be proud of. I want a life I actually feel like I choose, and I’m involved in, not just one that other people tell me I should have, so I go ahead and go for it.

So much of my life has been about just getting by… because I was the only one who could see what kind of crap I had to deal with inside. And nobody seemed to take seriously the challenges I had to overcome on a regular basis.

Oh well. I’m still here, and I still have my hopes and dreams to follow. I’m still a human being with my fair share of challenges, and I can’t lose sight of that. It’s all a massive discovery process, and in the meantime I might just learn a useful thing or two.

So long as I don’t get myself killed, chasing danger and risk, to remind myself that I’m alive.

How I can get hurt – again and again

Yeah, I’m a bad-ass alright. Hopefully not a short-lived bad-ass.

I had an interesting conversation with my neuropsych yesterday. I have been wondering about some judgments I’ve made, in the past six months or so, which — at the time — seemed fine… but in retrospect were probably not that smart. At least, that’s what my neuropsych has told me.

About six months ago, I was offered a ride on the back of a motorcycle, and I took it. I had to get somewhere fast, and this rider offered me a lift through a shortcut they knew. This rider (I won’t call them a biker, because I think of Harley’s, and this individual was on a BMW) was a stranger to me, and I had no way of knowing how good a rider they were. I’ve ridden with really bad motorcycle drivers before, and I didn’t care to repeat the experience.

But this individual appeared to be competent, and I hopped on the bike behind them.

For the record, I don’t drive motorcycles — or usually ride them — because of balance issues and attention problems. I can get distracted and lose my presence of mind, which pretty much disqualifies me for driving a motorcycle. It’s a great way to get seriously injured… or killed.

Anyway, the shortcut worked, and I got where I was going in record time. But not before we’d pulled some really dangerous stunts — fitting the motorcycle through very tight spots that were borderline illegal, and weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds. The driver also ended up taking a wrong turn, and we ended up driving around a blind curve directly into oncoming traffic — and the bike stalled on a low barrier and couldn’t move forward or back.

So, I hopped off the back, and while the driver got the bike started, I heaved at the back of the bike and got it off the barrier.

Very exciting. And also very dangerous. And potentially fatal.

Once I got where I was going, I realized how close I’d come to something pretty terrible. And worse yet, I was far from home in a place I wasn’t familiar with, and I’m not sure how I would have gotten help if I needed it.

It all turned out okay, and it was a thrilling ride of my life. But it’s not the sort of thing I should have done at that time.

A few months later, I was traveling (again). Near the end of a really long and tiring drive, I ended up at a rest stop where I realized I was being watched by an individual who looked like trouble. I gave them a wide berth, but later they were joined by another individual who looked equally rough, and they tried to engage me in conversation. Rather than keeping my distance, I walked right up to them, shook their hands, and had an extended conversation with them. In the course of the conversation, one of them identified themself as a known criminal. I didn’t bat an eye, just finished the conversation, and they took off… as though they were up to no good and didn’t want to get caught.

In retrospect, I was setting myself up to get mugged. Big-time. I didn’t… and I actually had a really cool conversation with those two. But was it a good idea for me to interact with these two at a rest stop along an interstate? Doubtful.

Then, the other night, I was driving home from work, and I got caught in a torrential downpour, accompanied by close lightning strikes. I could not see the road. At all. I should have pulled over, but I kept going. I could have easily run into a tree — or run into someone else. I didn’t, but even as I was driving, thinking that I might want to pull over, the urge to keep going was even stronger… overpowering. I got home safe and sound, and after sitting in the car for 5 minutes, the downpour suddenly stopped. Everything was fine. But it might not have been.

On all three of these occasions, I was tired, and I was looking for a “hit” of adrenaline to perk me up. I needed a pump — a jolt — to get me going. It didn’t matter that I was putting myself in danger. The whole point was putting myself in danger. I needed to get my stress hormones going and get myself back online. I felt dull and foggy, and I needed a boost.

So, I put myself directly in harm’s way. It worked — I did get the pump and the jolt I needed. But had things gone differently, I might not have fared so well. For that matter, I might not even be here.

Riding motorcycles is something I should NEVER, EVER do. I know that. I have avoided them like the plague — like I avoid tall ladders. Talking to folks who obviously look like they’re up to no good, and going so far as to shake their hands and “hang out”, is not something I typically do, either. I know better. What’s more, driving my car through conditions when I can’t see more than a foot past the hood ornament… I know WAY better than that.

But reason failed me. In a very big way.

And that’s how I can get hurt – again and again. By actively seeking out danger that makes me feel alive… that makes me feel like myself again… that puts all the pain and confusion and frustration away, for even just a few minutes.

My life tends to feel like a jumbled-up mess of contradictions and conflicts, and it’s hard for me to get any peace. I live in a body whose biochemistry tells me things are WAY more extreme than they really are, and as a result, I usually end up on a roller-coaster of emotion. I know better… but my body doesn’t get it. And it wears me out. Mentally and cognitively, my brain loves to do its own thing and not stick with the program. I’ve been forgetting a lot of things, and I’ve been coming up short, now and then, with projects I’ve been working on… playing catch-up and all that. I keep cool and maintain calm on the outside, but inside it’s sometimes pretty chaotic and frustrating and a little bit terrifying now and then.

So on the inside, I’ve got all these experiences of chaos and confusion and frustration, while on the outside, everything is supposedly okay. I know I’m not the only one who has this — most people do, probably. That whole “living lives of quiet desperation” thing that a philosopher once talked about.

That tires me out. And the quickest and most reliable way I know to stay “with it” is to add a little danger to my life. Or a lot of danger.

Looking back, I can see how almost all of my injuries — even from fairly young — came from this danger-seeking streak of mine. I put myself in dangerous situations. I also pushed myself to unsafe levels of play in football and soccer games. I drove while I was tired, and I pushed myself to do things when I should have stopped and rested. I needed the pump, I needed the adrenaline. I needed the shot of instant clarity, in the midst of all the confusion and static in my head, that I just couldn’t sort through.

I didn’t have a death wish. I had a life wish. And the one way I could really truly live my life, was to push myself past a certain point, and get lifted up by the pump.

I know I need to change this sort of behavior. It’s caused problems for me before, in subtle ways, and it’s doing it again. I don’t want to stop being the person I am. I don’t want to cower in a corner, hiding from life. But I would like to live to see another day. I’ll have to figure out something better, for how to get what I need to be as alive as I can be.

If I don’t manage to figure that out, all bets are off.

Rocket Fuel Coffee — It’s not for everyone

So, I shared my “rocket fuel” coffee with my spouse yesterday, and it did not go over well with them. That’s putting it mildly. In fact, they had a panic attack from the rush of energy — which was clearly more about them interpreting the rush of energy as “DANGER! DANGER!” than anything untoward in the coffee. A teaspoon of butter and a teaspoon of coconut oil… how much damage can it actually do?

I suppose for people who are sensitive to fats, it could be an issue – and I do need to be careful about how much fat I have in my diet – and there could be allergies to the butter and oil that cause issues. But even so.

My spouse’s response to the sensation of all that energy was so over the top — nearly spiraling into a full-blown panic attack — that it was pretty clearly psychological as much as physiological.

Eventually they calmed down and managed to make it through the evening without further incident. But they spent an awful lot of time fretting about their fears and “weird” sensations.

For those with a history of unresolved traumas, my butter-fat coffee “rocket fuel” recipe could be a big trigger. Especially if you associate having a lot of energy with “DANGER!! DANGER!!” I believe this is the #1 reason why people with a history of deep trauma gain weight, develop diabetes, and have a host of other sedentary lifestyle issues. They don’t exercise because the increase in energy and blood flow are associated with DANGER! of the deepest kind, and they do everything in their power to avoid having that sensation, instead of facing it head-on and overcoming it.

This is not a judgment. It’s an observation. I wish it weren’t so, but I’ve spent the last 25 years observing many people in my life with histories of deep trauma and abuse, and I see the same patterns over and over.

That issue — the unresolved trauma, and the running from the sensation of being preyed upon — seems the biggest healthcare issue of our day.

How the hell are you going to get healthy, if every cell in your body screams in terror and shuts down, when you start to feel your pulse rise and adrenaline start to flow? How will you ever get any exercise? How will you manage to extend yourself to get beyond your comfort zone and stretch your abilities?

How indeed?

Anyway, that little drama eventually subsided last night, and I am really very disappointed that my spouse can’t handle the butter-fat coffee. It gives me so much energy — and it’s the right kind of energy. It’s really what they have been wanting and jonesing for. They said so themself. Maybe they can have a little sip — start out more slowly and move up… I just get so tired of them running from every temporary inconvenience, for the sake of feeling “safe”.

Sometimes you have to work through a little temporary discomfort to reap the big prizes. That’s what my life has taught me, anyway.

But enough about them. As much as I want to help them, if I can’t… well, I can’t. I need to focus on my own progress, my own orientation, my own perspectives. That’s what I can influence. That’s what I can improve.

And so I am.

I’ve been working hard on my tech skills, learning new techniques and approaches, and realizing just how much better I am thinking, than I was just a year and a half ago. Back in late 2012, I had a technical screening interview, and not only was I not nearly as capable as I thought I was… but I also didn’t realize how much I still had to learn, and how far I still had to go. It was crazy, really — I was interviewing for jobs, thinking that I had my act together, when I was so far from being there, it was embarrassing. But I didn’t even realize it, until I was under the microscope… and a very humiliating microscope it was, too.

Now, I’m focusing on the basics — starting at the bottom and working my way up, and it’s going much better. The things I was studying 18 months ago are much more common sense to me, and I can understand complex concepts a whole lot more easily. I think it’s a combination of being more familiar with the concepts, and also having my brain working better.

My rocket fuel coffee is certainly helping, I can tell you that. I am much clearer than I have been in a long, long time, and I have more stamina and focus overall.

Aside from the coffee, it’s pretty amazing, how much progress I’ve made — mentally and behaviorally — in just 18 months. I’ve been feeling like I’m sluggish and falling behind, feeling like I’m never going to get ahead, and my desired future is so far out of reach, it’s not even worth it to think about moving forward. But now that I’m digging into the skills thing and focusing on that (rather than concentrating on how unhappy I am with my situation), I’m realizing that my brain is working better.

Things that used to baffle me, now make a lot of sense. And looking back on the code I wrote, years ago, I can see that I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was. And I can see that I’m actually better now. I can order my thoughts more clearly, I can manage the “flow” of appropriate or distracting thoughts in my head much better, and I can tell when I’m at an impasse and need to step away and try something completely different.

And looking back, I am really glad I did not make a move to another job in the past, because no way was I ready. I just didn’t have my act together, even though I was convinced that I did. Things broke down in the interviewing and screening process for a reason — I just wasn’t ready, yet.

I’m not sure I’m ready now… but I’m getting there. I still have a fair amount to learn. And the beauty part is, I actually am learning.

It’s pretty amazing, actually. The feeling of being able to read words again and make sense of them… the feeling of being able to type things up and try them out… the feeling of seeing things that I’ve written come to life on the screen in front of me… I haven’t felt this great and hopeful for years. And I feel like I’m back on the good foot after so, so long. Almost 20 years ago, I was in this position — tooling up my skills to get the hell out of a job situation that just did not suit me. Where I was, job-wise, was totally insane, and I knew I needed to get out. Just like right now.

There are so many similarities between where I was back, in 1995, and where I am now, it’s wild. Only this time I have more perspective and more experience, so I can make my move to a whole different level. A whole new level. I know the industry I’m in much better, and I have decades of experience behind me. The best part is, employers who pay good money are getting pretty sick and tired of slackers, and they’re looking for folks with good work ethics and years of experience.

Like me.

The beauty part is, I’m actually in a good position to do this — I have tweaked my daily routine so that I have a couple of hours to learn and experiment, first thing in the morning. And I have cut out so many distractions from my daily life, that I have time to spend on my skills. I have also discovered this rocket fuel approach, which I can also do with tea (so I’m not wrecking my sleeping patterns with drinking coffee after 2 p.m.). I put some grass-fed butter in my tea, melt and stir it in, and when I drink it, I get another huge boost of energy that doesn’t get me all wired — it just keeps me going.

And then I can get to sleep at a decent hour. Last night I was in bed at 10:30, which is huge progress for me. I could have even gone to bed earlier, if I had just given up on the logic problem that was stuck in my head. I was tired. I wasn’t wired from too much coffee late in the day. And I woke up today at 6 a.m., which means I got 7-1/2 hours of sleep — more than I’ve been getting, lately. I could have easily gotten 8 hours, I believe.

“Rocket fuel” tea might be my ideal solution for late-in-the-day energy crises. I can do this and keep myself supported AND not get myself so caffeinated that I can’t get to sleep at a decent hour.

But anyway, the day is waiting. I’ve got a full docket today, and it’s going to be quite busy.

I’ve found a happy medium, however, where I frankly don’t really care about all the stress and strain. I do the best I can, and I trust what I’ve done. I don’t stress over not being able to complete everything, because I know full well that the workload they have on us is humanly impossible — and they do it on purpose, to just see how far they can push us.

I feel a rant coming on, so I’ll step away from it and just get back to “my happy place” of not really caring, one way or the other, whether things turn out well for the company or not. They clearly don’t care about my well-being, so why should I care about theirs?

Self-protective indifference works… for the time being. Soon — in the not so distant future — I’ll be in a position where I can afford to care again.

But right now is not one of those times.

Right now is the time for me to take care of myself, brush up on my skills, and do what I need to do for myself.

Onward.

Another Simple Day

Back to basics

Well, I simplified my day yesterday, and no animals were harmed in the process.

I went back to sleep in the morning and got another couple of hours rest, then after I woke up, I laid in bed and checked in with friends on my smartphone. If it weren’t for my job, I would not have a smartphone. I don’t have the money to have one of my own, I don’t generally see the need for them, and I’d just use my computer for Facebook and email and whatnot if I didn’t have one. But the smartphone makes it so much easier to keep in touch – especially via FB. So, I do. When I need to.

Even when I don’t need to, I am getting in the habit of reaching out, just to stay connected with people. Usually, I keep to myself and isolate. A lot. But having social media makes it easier for me to keep in touch. I also have made a point of taking out the “friends” on FB who drag me down, are negative and whiny, and I’ve liked a bunch of positive motivational pages, as well as amazing pictures pages, so I have a steady stream of optimism and encouragement and downright beauty in my life on a regular basis.

It really is addicting, the beauty and joy. In the best of ways. Whenever I’m feeling down and lost, I check in with FB, and the pictures of nature or the positive sayings lift my spirits. If nothing else, they get me out of my own head, which is a dangerous place to be.

I’m feeling better this morning than yesterday. It was a little rough at first, but I got myself up, had some breakfast, moved around a bit, had some vitamins, a warm drink, and some Advil. Now I’m working on my cup of coffee, slowly… thinking about how I want the rest of my weekend to be.

I was feeling incredibly low, on Friday night. Just burnt out and wiped out from drama at work and how hard it has been to actually connect with other job opportunities. This is a tough job market, if you don’t have easy-to-plug-in skills or a degree, and that’s me. I have been doing what I do for a long time, but I’m not some easy-to-pin-down, cookie-cutter worker bee anymore. And I don’t have a degree and all sorts of certifications, so that disqualifies me in the running, from the get-go.

I was reading an article last week, about how the automation of job searches is passing over some really great candidates. I think I’m falling into that category, and I suspect that I’m getting passed over because I don’t list any degrees on my resume. The thought has occurred to me to just make something up and lie about my qualifications, to get past the automated “gatekeepers”. People would probably believe me, too. But with my luck, I’d get caught. And anyway, I can’t live with that hanging over my head.

All that thinking and reading about how bad things are didn’t actually help me. And it really dragged me down. I get locked into one way of thinking a lot, which is not good, and then I get stuck. It’s worse when the one way is depressed and suspicious and anxious.

So, I broke it up yesterday and got out and did things. I wrote down a lot of my frustrations and got them out of my head and onto paper, and that made me feel much better. Then I took care of some chores and just tended to the day-to-day, and that felt better, too. I moved, I took action, and I did a few things for my Big Project last night, that I’ve been meaning to do. It felt good to finally check them off my list.

By the end of the day, yesterday, I was feeling much better. In spite of simplifying my day, I got a lot done, and I made steady progress. And I even had time to watch a little television before I went to bed.

An interesting thing happened last night as I was getting ready for bed. I looked outside, and it looked like it was still evening, with the sky still light and the world around me still lit up. I could hardly believe it — it was nearly midnight, and it looked like it was 4 p.m.

I went downstairs and walked out on the back deck, and the full moon was bathing the whole world in a bright silver light. It was much milder last night than it’s been in weeks, and the stars overhead were phenomenal. So, I pulled on a couple of layers, got my hat and gloves and a flashlight, and I went for a walk.

The evening was so quiet, the roads were empty, and the moonlight was just amazing, flooding the world with silver light. Everything was lit up, and shadows of great trees sprawled across the road in sharp, craggy relief. Outdoors it was totally silent, except for the sound of distant traffic and the rustling of little creatures under the autumn leaves in the woods along the road. It was as though the whole world were there for me alone, with all my neighbors either tucked in and lights-out for the night, or staying up late with all their house lights on.

What an amazing walk it was. I wanted to keep going, but I was really tired and I hadn’t had a nap yesterday. I needed to get back, and not so far off in the distance, I could hear coyotes calling. So, it was probably best that I head back. The coyotes in this area don’t usually bother people, but why take a chance of surprising them at midnight.

Back home, I could feel myself so much more relaxed after my walk. Just having the silence and the space and the room to move — all under the brilliant moon and stars — what a gift it was.

Which brings me around to the topic that has been on my mind a lot, lately — gratitude. I’ve realized that with all the changes at work and all the reorganizational challenges, I’ve lost sight of the good that’s come with the changes. There are a number of things that have gone away, that we’ve lost — a lot of autonomy and freedom to move and make our own decisions, as well as the amazing commute that was a real blessing when I had it. In the midst of seeing all the things that are wrong, I’ve lost sight of the things that are right.

A part of me has been stubborn about admitting that some things are right, because part of me thinks that will validate the stupidity that seems to reign supreme, and somehow make it alright. It’s not alright, and there are some serious issues at play in that place, but when I focus on the bad, it blinds me to what good I can find. And it drains me. It doesn’t only hurt the company (which many folks at work would actually like to hurt), it also hurts me. It saps my energy, it taints each and every day with bilious resentment, and it makes the already difficult things that much harder to handle.

And that will never do. So, I’m finding a new way of approaching thing — Seeing the bad (the awful, actually) and seeing how it can lead me to something new and different. There are so many different options available to me — new paths to explore, new ways of interacting, new ways of working, new projects — why get dragged down by the sh*t, when I can be looking to a new way, a new approach, a new chapter of my life?

Indeed, the fact that things are so bad right now, can actually make my life better. I can see them for what they are, not fight and resist and resent them, but simply see them for how they are — plain and simple. I don’t need to complicate matters with all sorts of mental gymnastics that keep me locked in place because I’m gyrating through all kinds of emotional drama. I can simply — very simply — see things as they are, accept that they suck, objectively move on to what is next in my life, and be grateful that they provided the impetus for me to do more with my life.

It is taking me a long time to move along to what’s next, but maybe that’s for the best. Maybe I have not been thinking about things as expansively as I should be. Maybe I have not been considering all the options in front of me. Maybe I really do need more time – and I need to stretch.

These are all things that have been rattling ’round in my head for some time, now. Plain and simple, I’m in a kind of a holding pattern, and I need to find ways to use this time wisely. I’m not sure that making myself more “plug and play” is the answer — I’m capable of more than that, and being slotted into a cookie-cutter position is not going to do it for me.

The thing I also need to remember is that I have a number of different projects in the works, and some of them are really taking off. So, if I start a new job, that’s going to suck a lot of time and energy away from my overall “supplies.” Yes, it will stress me and “wake me up” and make me feel alive again, but long-term, this is not sustainable, and it’s a recipe for eventual pain and suffering.

So, simplify, simplify. Keep things basic and focus on the fundamentals. Apply myself in intelligent ways, and don’t get caught up in distractions that feel like they’re “taking the pressure off” when they’re just distracting me and interfering with what I should really be doing.

When I think about it, I have plenty to keep myself occupied, plenty to add meaning and purpose to my life. I can let the job situation just BE, for a while, focus on other things, and think about where else I want to go with my life.

It’s all good. I just need to stop complicating things for the sake of the drama adrenaline rush, and let myself be grateful for what I have.

It’s not all about what I’ve lost. It’s also about what I’m gaining.

And another simple day is waiting.

So, onward.

Making lemonade

Everything looks a bit wobbly, these days
Everything looks a bit wobbly, these days

So, I’m back from vacation, and I am still pretty fried. The past months have really taken a lot out of me, and it’s not going to get restored overnight. One week of being off work is not going to right this boat. It’s going to take some time — and a lot of concerted effort to rest up and recover. It’s important. I can’t function fully in this current state.

I am incredibly dizzy and foggy and out of it. My whole system feels like it’s been stripped — demyelinated — rubbed raw. I am keeping going, but I feel like crap. Truly, I do. I’ve got to carve out some time today to just lie down and rest — find a remote parking spot and just shut my eyes for half an hour, before I get up and go back into the whole thing.

I also need to take care of things like getting a haircut and doing some banking. I’ve got some potential job interviews coming up, and I don’t want to look like a character on one of those Animal Planet reality shows when I get there 🙂

These are all good problems to have — new and different job prospects, banking to do, being so busy with work that I have to take a break and rest. I actually feel pretty relaxed, overall — a hell of a lot more relaxed than I did, six months ago. I’m just extremely tired, is all. That can be fixed.

I’m going to try to get to bed by 10 p.m. each night for the next month. I had planned to do that last night, but I had to talk to a friend who is having legal issues, and I need to go to court with them for support. We did find some interesting information about the used car salesman who is ripping them off, so that was entertaining and useful. But the call went too long, and I ended up in bed at 11:30, not 10:30. And then I thought I had to get up at 6:30 today, because of a conference call with someone overseas. So, I got up early, after getting about 6-1/2 hours of sleep, and I got on the call in time.

But then I realized that they had rescheduled earlier because of a conflict, and there I was, sitting in front of my computer feeling like crap, whacked out and shaking, for no good reason. Oh, well… it occurred to me that this could be a great opportunity to do other things for an hour. So, I’ve been checking my email, responding to another former colleague who is looking to hire a new team of developers (right up my alley), and get back to people who have been waiting to hear from me for the past week.

So, it’s not all bad. I just feel like crap, I’m shaking and sick to my stomach, and I’m so out of it, it’s not funny.

At least I don’t have to be fully functional for work, just yet.

So, now I get to take care of some things that I’ve been needing to do for some time. I can get an earlier start on my day, and I can move at a decent pace, instead of racing around like a stupid crazy person all the live-long day. I can’t even remember what it feels like to be rested. I’m sure I have been, in the past, but I have forgotten what that feels like. Part of me wants to just give up on the hope of ever being righted again, ever having a regular schedule, and ever being NOT sick to my stomach and NOT shaky and NOT foggy. I just want to forget about ever getting back to that place of balance and equanimity and just accept that I’m going to feel like crap for the rest of my life.

But that’s ridiculous. I know for a fact that the main reason I’m feeling as bad as I am, is because of the stupid international hours I’m on, the amount of work I have to do, the rickety technical systems I have to use at work which are constantly breaking and need to be fixed, and the constant stream of others’ slap-dash, lazy-ass sloppiness that I have to perpetually manage … try to head off at the pass… and then fix, when all goes wrong.

Oh. My. God. I am so looking forward to quitting this job.

And that’s the mindset that I need to be in — to not get bent out of shape that things are as screwed up as they are, but to be genuinely glad that all the little pains and difficulties are making it that much easier for me to leave this career-killer of a job. It’s like having a whole week’s beautiful weather turn ugly, the last day of vacation — as it did for me this past Sunday. It’s a blessing in disguise. It doesn’t making things simpler, logistically, but it makes things a whole lot easier, mentally speaking.

And that’s how I’m thinking about my fatigue. It has really caught up with me, after three years and three months. All that adrenaline and high-power enthusiasm that had me pumped for the first year, has turned into a massive backlog of stress hormones and high-power frustration. At the same time, though, it’s really ample proof that I need to move on.

And that’s critical, in my inertia-driven mind. Because as much as I want to go, part of me wants to stay put, because this job is a known quantity and it has great insurance coverage. (My spouse is extremely anxious about insurance issues, so I have to make sure that’s all taken care of.) But I can’t keep pushing myself this way, working stupidly long and irregular hours, week after week, dealing with people all over the world at all hours of the day, trying to make sure they do the right thing, when they have almost no incentive to do so.

I need a change. And I need to get back to a regular schedule with a company that is 100% American. I need to get myself back into a routine, with regular waking and sleeping hours, that aren’t interrupted by sh*t breaking that never should have broken in the first place.

That’s my lemonade — the determination to quit. It’s made of the bitter, bitter juice of years of over-work and under-appreciation and under-compensation, sweetened by the idea of never having to ever deal with this crap again. That’s a pretty sweet combination right there. It makes me incredibly happy, and I could sit for hours, just imagining what it will be like.

But rather than sitting around, mooning about it, I’m going to do something. I’m going to have my shower, go get my hair cut, and call the former colleague who wants to hire me. I’m going to take my sweet time going into the office, and I’m going to take things one at a time while I’m there, not worrying about it at all, because it’s all going to be over soon. This makes me so happy, it’s lighting a fire under me. A happy, cheerful fire.

Yes, I am wiped out and foggy and tired. But I’ve got enough in me to start the day and get off on the right foot.

Onward.

No, stress is NOT all about our interpretation of TBI…

There’s more going on here…

So, I have some time to catch up on some reading, and I just came across a stress management consultant with many years’ experience coaching and counseling, who says “the source of all stress is the subjective meaning we attach to events”. I won’t say who it is, to protect the not-so-innocent.

Okay, that’s fine. I get that to a certain extent. Stress can be a killer — and it is, for many, many people. And the subjective meanings we attach to events can indeed add to the stress of our lives.

Here’s the thing, though — when you look at stress from a broader point of view that includes the physical part of life as an integral part, things start to be a whole lot less clear-cut. Or maybe they become even more clear. Because over time, you can build up a lot of physiological stressors which contribute to your overall stress levels… to the point where it doesn’t really matter how bright and shiny and positive your psychological outlook is — you feel like crap, and that stresses your system… and it also impacts your frame of mind (which is now inclined to look on the dark side, for reasons it cannot cognitively identify).

Even if you can get your mental, spiritual, and emotional stresses down, if you don’t have a handle on your physical stresses, there’s only such much progress you can expect to make.

Take for example, this scenario, which shows the relative stress levels of the four different areas over a time span that has a lot of the usual stresses we experience on a daily basis: trouble with the boss, re-org at work, $$$ worries, health problems, marriage troubles, promotions, raises, recovery, family problems.

Cumulative stress effects over time

Even if you do manage to cut down on the mental and emotional and spiritual stresses of your eventful life, you can still have a buildup of stress in your body that, if not dissipated or reduced in some way, will still keep your overall stress levels high.

Even when everything is going great.

Now, with a situation like TBI, where all of a sudden, sh*t is all effed up for no reason that you can explain, something as simple as making breakfast or getting ready for work can be a huge physiological stressor, because things that used to be so simple for you — like buttoning your shirt or combing your hair or getting milk and cereal to end up in the bowl instead of on the counter — aren’t going so well, and it’s just one surprise after another… one little “micro-trauma” after another, getting those fight-flight juices flowing like never before.

On a daily basis — and this is what a lot of folks fail to understand about TBI — you can experience hundreds of these little surprises, which pump up your adrenaline and alternately make you high as a kite and downright depressed. It makes you seem/feel bipolar to those who are fond of that label, and it keeps you on high alert, just trying to make it through the day trying to do all the things that used to come so easily to you, but now require a different sort of attention.

And those stresses add up. The biochemicals keep collecting in your system, by default. Because you have to stay ON, to keep from falling off. And you end up on constant alert, a perpetual first responder to your own personal mini-disasters… which may not be that big, objectively, but seem bigger and bigger and bigger because, well, you’re really pretty tired from all the adjusting, and that adrenaline and ephinephrine and norepinephrine is actually making it harder for your brain to learn the new things it needs to learn.

Which is yet another source of stress… which has next to nothing to do with how you look at things.

Now, I’ve talked with neuro-rehab folks who were of that same philosophy — that the thing that gets us into trouble with our stress levels is the way we interpret what’s happening to us. And I agree, to some extent, that interpreting everything along catastrophic lines raises our stress levels and is a big culprit in frying our systems. At the same time, people seem to be overlooking or discounting the role that the body plays in all this — in the role that physiological stressors play in our lives. It’s NOT all about how we look at things and the meaning we ascribe to what happens. It can be just as much — sometimes even moreso — about the physiological burdens that we have to deal with.

Does our mindset affect our physiological stress levels? Absolutely? We can flood our systems in an instant with a reaction of our choosing. Can our mind reverse physiological stressors on its own? I’m not so sure. I think the body needs to be directly involved to do that to the fullest.

All this being said (and I wish I could say everything that’s in my head, but I’m still a bit foggy from the past week), I think that any stress management program needs to incorporate the body. Actively. On purpose. As a full partner in the whole process. We need to use our bodies to move all that biochemical sludge along. Can you say lymph?

And I also want to say that I don’t think that stress is necessarily a bad thing. It’s the long-term effects of stress that do the job on us. I personally believe that when we develop ways to discharge the effects of stress and use the energy for good instead of evil, we can build up a sort of immunity to the downsides, and stress can actually become a vital and productive part of our lives. Rather than being something to dread and try to control and “overcome”, stress can be our friend. One of our best friends, in fact.

I have friends who would cringe to hear me say how much I love stress. But I can’t help it – I do. I really thrive on it. The thing that gets me in trouble is when I don’t allow myself enough recovery time from tough stints. I also work in a stupid job that is constantly stressful and doesn’t let you stop moving for a minute, so that’s another effing culprit. I work at a very high, fast pace, and I can get pretty intense. I get a ton of stuff done on a regular basis, and I enjoy it. I’ve figured out how to be ultra-productive after years of experimentation and trial-and-error, and it works for me. I just know how to get sh*t done. And Stress (capital “S”) is a big part of that. So removing stress from my life — rising above it, overcoming it, keeping it within “liveable levels” — is the kiss of death for the parts of my life that I love the most. Hey, I’m a jock, okay. I want to run faster and lift more and be stronger… It’s in my nature, so if you take that away or diminish it or talk it down, then you’re hacking away at my innermost core and you’re pulling the rug right out from underneath me.

The thing is, I know what a toll all this can take on me. It gets me hurt. It ruins my life. I burn out  in a very big way. So, I need to find a middle ground that lets me keep going, without heading right off the cliff.

Nowadays, what I’m working with — especially with my 90-second clearing — is letting my energy spike, then bringing it back down, consciously, to restful levels. I push myself hard for a period of time, then I stop, slow it down, get myself out of that frantic mindset that drives me forward, and put myself in a calm, relaxed state that actually feels really good.  For me, it’s not the pushing hard that does the number on me — it’s not having a rest/recovery period to let it all sink in and integrate. I’ve been recovery-deprived for a long, long time. Only in the past few years have I actually learned how to relax and feel good. And only since I learned how to feel good while relaxing, has it truly become clear to me that my continued growth and improvement depends on recovery as much as it does on testing my limits.

It might even depend more on it.

For my money, one of the most important things anyone recovering from TBI can do, is figure out how to get to that sweet spot of emotional/spiritual/mental balance, where it’s possible to feel physically good. If you don’t know how to get there, and you don’t get there on a semi-regular basis, your recovery is going to be hampered. You’re going to stay amped up on fight-flight biochemicals, and you’re not going to learn as well as you can, when you’re able to relax and just enjoy yourself. Feeling good doesn’t have to even be a huge deal — if you can just manage it for a few minutes a day, and remember what it feels like to take the edge off, that can help. Absolutely positively. But if you never figure out how to get there, and you find yourself unable to relax and settle into a sense of being OKAY, I predict you’re going to have a tough row to hoe.

And we don’t want that.

Anyway, it seems I found the words I was looking for.

Bottom line is, as much as some folks would have us think that it’s our interpretation of events that does a number on us, rather than the events themselves, I have to respectfully disagree. The stresses and physical reality of dealing with one surprise after another, having to pump yourself up to keep going, and having to constantly be aware of ways you need to shift and change, can be physiologically stressing in ways no change of mindset will reverse.

We need to recognize the role the body plays in stress, and find ways to address our physiological stressors, so that our minds can relax and we can learn the lessons we need to learn.

It’s all a process, of course, and an imperfect one at that. But if we pay attention and keep an open mind and realize that 9 times out of 10 we are unconsciously deluding ourselves — and then take corrective action, we just might get somewhere.

Onward

Change it up

How easy it is, to fall into a rut.

Day in and day out, I have pretty much the same routine, and part of me likes it. I get up, I exercise, I have my breakfast, I go to work, I come home, make supper, watch some television or read or do some work, and then I go to bed. In between, I may stretch or take a walk or do some sort of additional exercise. I’ll also check my email periodically and have a cup of coffee and a snack in the afternoon to keep me going.

Each day, it’s pretty much the same. Even on the weekends, my routine doesn’t change much. It’s great for keeping myself on track with a consistent, reliable schedule. And it makes me quite reliable, as well. I often have so much going on in my life, I don’t have a lot of leeway to stray from my path. That makes me a valuable employee, a responsible spouse, and a solid community member.

It also represents a bit of a change from how I used to live my life, when each day was a new form of improvisation, and I really didn’t have much routine at all. When I was much younger, I drifted from job to job, relationship to relationship, state to state, country to country, residence to residence, a bohemian vagabond who was more interested in the experience of living, than actually accomplishing anything.

Then I got all respectable and what-not. I got a real job. I settled down with a partner. I had responsibilities. And I changed how I did things, becoming responsible to a fault — rigid and regimented and not very flexible at all.

I went from one extreme to another. It wasn’t all bad. It made a lot possible for me that had eluded me for years — a steady income, a (somewhat) predictable career path, respect from people around me, a higher standard of living.

But I’m starting to feel antsy again. Sometimes it’s nice to change things up a little bit, and I’m beginning to feel the pull of change. I guess working in technology for the past 20 years, I’ve sort of become dependent on constant change — I expect it, I’ve acclimated to it, as things are never static for long in the technology field.

The trick now is to introduce some change into my life that doesn’t derail everything I’ve accomplished. My job history is dotted with relatively brief (12-18 months) positions that focused on one thing, then I “traded up’ to something else. I’m not sure I want to do that. I need a change. I crave a change. But I need to find somewhere to have healthy change — not destructive change.

In the past, I’ve been all too quick to just cut and run, when things got too familiar, or too comfortable, or downright easy. I need things to be challenging, and it’s always been tough to find regular challenge that can last. Especially when I’m working in environments that are geared towards standardizing everything and making things as predictable and as “safe” as possible.

I suck at safe. It’s just not me. But being a danger-seeking adventurer doesn’t go over that well in the corporate world.

I need change, and I need it on a regular basis. But I’m also realistic. Looking at my life, I don’t really want to get rid of my routine — it makes my daily life possible in ways that a hectic, constantly changing and shifting series of distractions can never do. But I do want to change some things about my routine. Like the exercise I do, first thing. For about a year, I did the same exercises — lifting free weights in the same kinds of sets, in the same sequence — and I never deviated from that.

Which is fine. If that’s all I wanted to do. But I found that it had all become quite rote and, well, boring. And it wasn’t waking me up quite the way it used to. I guess I’d gotten too acclimated, and I didn’t actually need to work at it anymore — which is the whole point of my exercises, first thing — to work out and wake myself up in the process.

So, I switched up the weights I was using and went heavier. I also changed the number of repetitions in each set.

I also moved away from doing ONLY weights, and I started doing more full-range movement, to strengthen and stretch more of me, not just isolated muscle groups. I started doing a bit of yoga, following along with some videos I found.

The overall results have been good, I’m happy to report.I feel more awake and more “with it,” thanks to this shift in how I’m starting my day. I feel more energized, actually, with these small alterations in my routine. I still have the structure of the routine to get me into my day, but I have some leeway in the midst of it all to perk things up a bit. I can have the best of both worlds – a regular routine that gets me into the day, along with some variety to keep me interested and engaged.

The same thing holds true for my work at my day job. I’ve pretty much “got it down,” after nearly a year of some pretty arduous efforts. Now I need to keep with it and build on what I’ve got, rather than running off to find some other way to keep my attention trained on what it is I’m doing. I need to watch my energy, that’s for sure, and not wear myself out. But I also need to keep active and not let myself fall into the trap of getting bored… and then getting in trouble.

It sounds odd to hear myself saying this. At my age, one would think I have more sense and more stability than to be debating this, but it’s a lifelong habit of cutting and running that I have to overcome. It’s taken me three years of regular rehab — talking with someone who understands my cognitive issues within the context of my history of TBIs — but I’m finally at the point where I realize that I don’t have to completely trash my life, in order to stay engaged.

Actually, on a deeper level there’s something important going on — I’m finally at the point where I (at long last) realize that I’ve been trashing my life to stay engaged, all along. I never realized that, till I learned about how TBI and neurology affect attention and distraction and resistance to interference, that seeking out drama and “refreshed” situations (read, new jobs, new friends, new homes, new… everything) was my way of keeping myself alive and involved in my life.

It’s not that I deliberately want to sabotage myself, or that I don’t think I deserve to have success in the long term. People have told me that story about myself for as long as I can remember. They’ve told me the following:

  • You’re a quitter.
  • You don’t have what it takes to get the job done.
  • You’re not up to the task – it’s too hard for you.
  • You’re trying to sabotage yourself/the group/the job for some deep-seated psychological reason.
  • You don’t think you deserve success.
  • You just can’t.

In fact, the exact opposite was true in many cases.

  • I wasn’t a quitter – I had a really hard time holding my attention on tasks that were easy, and I didn’t know I had that problem, so I could never address it.
  • I did have what it takes to get the job done – in fact, I had more than enough, but the easier the task got, the harder it was for me to concentrate.
  • I was up to the task – it was actually too easy for me.
  • I wasn’t trying to sabotage yourself/the group/the job for some deep-seated psychological reason – it was a neurological and physiological combination of compromised attention, susceptibility to distraction, and anxiety that set in when things started to go wrong.
  • I didn’t start out thinking I didn’t deserve success – but after so many failures and aborted attempts, I started to believe it.
  • I could — I just couldn’t see what my issues were, so I couldn’t deal with them.

As a matter of fact, many of the “decisions” I have made to either “give up” or “start fresh” were not conscious decisions at all. They were impulses driven by a serious need for alertness and attention — which was physiologically compromised by my neurology, and which I could only get back through changing up things, when they got familiar and comfortable and I was approaching mastery.

The easier things got for me, the less I paid attention, and then things started to fall apart. When things started to fall apart, I would get anxious, wondering why the hell things were starting to go south — and that anxiety and worry would further encroach on my already limited attentional capacity. I would start making choices that stressed me out, and because I thrive on a moderate dose of stress hormones, I would keep that up, gradually exhausting myself and burning myself out and endangering my working relationships.

The downward cycle would commence. And keep going. Until I was out looking for another job.

I would go looking for something else that wasn’t familiar — I’d wander off in search of more excitement that didn’t involve the situation I was fleeing. I told myself I wanted another adventure. It wasn’t that I needed to trash my life — I just couldn’t think as well as I wanted to, anymore, in those old familiar surroundings. I couldn’t function as well as I desired, and that made me very anxious and complicated everything all the more.

In a way, the easier things got for me, the harder it was for me to stay.

So, I didn’t.

Now, here I am at a job I really like, with people I really like, in an industry that’s actually stable and growing. I’ve got it really good. They like me, too. There’s absolutely no reason I should leave. So, I need to find ways to keep myself alert and engaged and attentive. Focused. Intact.

My TBIs have trashed my life often enough in the past. Time to change things up. For the better.