Finding work that soothes

Source: http://www.carlosag.net/Tools/WebChart/images/sampleDataSet.png

The other day I was pretty riled up. Something just pushed me out of my Zone of  Chill, and I felt like I do when I’m on prednisone – punchy and rarin’ to grouse.

More people are leaving my employer, which is not a surprise. At the same time, it’s making everything more “dynamic” and uncertain, so there’s a fair amount of tension and cliquish “circling the wagons” and whatnot.

I’ve pretty much removed myself from those inner circle types of cliques – I don’t go outside with the smokers to “debrief” about the latest developments, and I have stopped eating lunch with folks who are gossips. I have been eating lunch with folks whose company I enjoy, plus I’m taking time to myself, to think about making lasting changes to how I do things in my life.

Like the kind of work I do.

I’ve been working with people pretty intensely for about five years now, being a lot more social and involved with people than I’d been in years.The thing about working with people all day — especially the ones who turn to me for answers and rely on me for support and guidance — is that it’s exhausting. I seriously need a break.

Plus, people can be so incredibly nonsensical and self-destructive at times, it makes my head spin.

Part of it is age. People 15 years younger than me may just not know any better. Come to think of it, most of the stress is about  people not knowing any better, regardless of age.

Anyway, instead of getting sidetracked in a rant, let me say that I have rediscovered an old passion of mine — data mining from public sources. It’s amazing, how much raw data is available on public websites, including government ones. There is so much info freely out there for anyone to download and analyze. Plus, there are new data visualization tools that do a fantastic job of helping you make sense of it all.

In my last job, one of my favorite things to do was compile data and analytics, make dashboards for marketing managers, and help them make sense of things. It was the perfect combination of skills and activities for me, and it was all good. I didn’t get to do it as much as I would have liked, because it wasn’t my main job (and the person whose main job it was kept pushing me out of the way), but I did really enjoy it, when I could do it.

Working all day with people, trying to motivate them, keep them on track, managing projects… good grief, how exhausting.

Working all day with data, trying to compile and parse it, make sense of it, and then construct stories out of it… now that’s exciting.

It’s also very soothing for me. I don’t have to figure out anything special to get a machine to cooperate with me. I just need to figure out how it works, and it’s going to work the same way each time (provided I am consistent, myself). It’s not going to have moods, it’s not going to hold a grudge, it’s not going to be emotionally distant. It’s just going to be a machine and act like a machine. And I can deal with that.

So, I’m collecting data and organizing it.  Cleaning it up and finding patterns and creating different visualizations. Doing my modeling and design, and seeing what’s there. It’s such a relief. Plus, I’m using skills I haven’t been able to use in quite some time. And I’m learning some new technologies which are incredibly cool — and may help me find better work, on down the line.

The best thing, though, is that this work really soothes me. It gets me settled down and calms my excitable system. It keeps me focused on tasks for extended periods of time — it holds my interest, and it keeps my brain learning, which is a good thing.

I’ve been pretty low, over the past month or so. I think the winter was just so long and dreary, plus everything has been so up-in-the-air with work. I haven’t been exercising like I should, and that’s depressing me, too.

Now it seems things have turned a corner, and I’m feeling good. I found something to do which lifts my spirits and recharges my batteries. It’s all good.

Onward.

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Everything that makes up the day

It’s not always clear

Today’s Fog Factor: 70% “with it”

Well, I’m glad I had a nap yesterday. I got a little less than 7 hours of sleep last night, but I got right up, a little after 6 a.m. I really wanted to get into the day — get my exercise, eat my breakfast, and get some writing done before I get into my full-time packing.

I started to get a headache when I was riding the exercise bike, and now my head hurts. I am supposed to get headache specialist info from my neuropsych, but they never got back to me, even though they promised. This isn’t the first time they’ve forgotten about me. Ah well, I may be better off taking care of things myself. I would like to see a neurologist or someone who can tell me if it’s a structural issue with my brain, or if it’s more about my neck and my stress level. I start to get a headache when my spouse is going on and on about some drama at work, so I’m guessing that it’s a stress thing — at least in part.

I guess I need to get back to my meditation exercises again — just training myself to keep calm in the face of whatever comes my way. Things at work have been intense, and that’s not helping. I need to improve my skills at handling what comes down the pike – no matter what that may be.

I did a little bit of writing and reading, this morning, and I’m about ready to start packing my bags for the trip. I need to collect my clothing, do some laundry, and get my pieces all squared away. I have a list of things to do and take care of.

I’ve got about 7 hours before I need to leave for the airport. I have to check in when I get there – I can’t check in online, unfortunately, which puts a real crimp in my plans today. I need to give myself an extra 30-45 minutes, so I’ll need to leave the house earlier than planned. I need to review my list of everything that needs to be done, so I don’t miss anything.

With any luck, this will be my last trip in a while. They are cutting down on travel at work, so that could relieve me of the constant pressure to get ready to go away, and then recover from coming back. What a waste of my precious — and very limited — energy.

I really just want to devote as much time as I can to my own projects and not have my job take over my life, as it has in the past. It’s bad enough that it already consumes so much of my time and renders many other hours pretty much useless to me — because I’m so tired.

I’m making the best of things, of course. I’ve given up fighting it, and now I’m just going to get into my day and live it as fully as possible, whatever comes down the pike. Whatever the day brings, I need to be fully involved in it – not just up in my head, and not standing at a distance. But in it.

This is really the thing that saves me in my TBI recovery — being involved in my life – up close and personal – and not letting setbacks keep me from making progress. There is so much that is a lot more difficult for me, than I’d like, and I really hate my life, some days. I think back on how things used to be, and everything now just feels so strange and foreign. Things used to feel like they flowed. I had what I thought was a very fulfilling life, with hobbies and pastimes that really gave me a sense of belonging. Then I got hurt, and everything changed, and getting back to some semblance of normalcy — at least feeling like there’s some semblance of normalcy — has been a daily challenge.

Now, though, it’s feeling more “normal” to me, and I’m finding my way back to things that used to be part of my everyday life. Reading. Writing. Being active in my community and having friendships to fall back on. TBI can be so very alienating, because of the personality changes — people who used to like you for who you were, no longer have that same person to like. So naturally a lot of them move on, because you’ve almost broken a promise to them about being the kind of person you are “supposed” to be.

Also, your tolerance for the way certain people are can change a great deal. I noticed that in my own life, a lot of the “endearing” characteristics of other people, which I could accept and gloss over, became glaring points of conflict with me. And I became a lot less tolerant of other people’s flaws and foibles, so I couldn’t bear to spend waste more time with them.

As an example, I used to hang out with a lot of people who had a real victim mentality — like all the world was against them, and they had to constantly struggle against the dominant paradigm to just break even in their lives. I used to hang out with a LOT of escape artists — devotees of role-playing games, computer games, renaissance faires, comic books, and other alternative culture types. That was my world — all full of arts and music and imagination. But it became pretty apparent to me, after I got deeper into my TBI recovery, that so much of that was a convenient way to avoid dealing with harsh truths about oneself, instead of taking action to make right the things that were all wrong.

And I realized, too, that so much of the world that my friends thought was out to get them or designed to make their lives miserable, was a result of how they were thinking about those circumstances. They kept telling themselves that “the mainstream world” was designed to destroy them, and they were in a constant state of conflict and antagonism. So, small wonder that they couldn’t get ahead in life. They came across as angry and aggressive with everyone who wasn’t just like them, and they boxed themselves into a version of life that only existed in their minds.

And because I realized more and more, just how much of what they believed was originating within them… and I saw how much that was costing them, in terms of time and energy and positive living… I just couldn’t spend a whole lot of time hanging out with them anymore. That, and the fact that I was so wiped out after working all week, and I just needed to have time to myself to regroup and recuperate. I just couldn’t stand their bitching and moaning and blatant assumptions about life, which only served to get in their way.

The world wasn’t the problem. THEY were the problem.

And so I dropped a lot of them and I’ve gone my own way.

It’s been kind of lonely, to tell the truth. It’s tough to connect with other people like you, when you all have so little energy to spare, beyond basic survival. And the people I’ve tried to stay friends with and tell about my TBI issues… well, they just weren’t having it. They were so convinced that “there’s nothing wrong” with me — and a lot of them still are. They can’t see the internal issues I have to deal with, each and every day. They can’t see the struggles, the pain, the frustration. There’s not much point in trotting them out for others to see, because they just get nervous if they don’t know what it’s like. And they don’t know what to say.

So, it’s complicated. And it’s challenging. But in reality, is sustaining a TBI and not being able to shake the symptoms really that different from any other kind of loss? Losing your home, or your marriage, or a child, or a loved one, or a job? Or any other things that make up part of your identity in the eyes of others? People fall out of your life, they move on, they don’t know what to say to you… and sometimes they are never replaced. I think it comes with life. And getting older. And realizing who you are and what you will — and will not — tolerate in your life.

So, while I have a lot fewer friends in my life, and my activities have really pared down to the most essential of activities, and I’m not nearly as social as I used to be, that’s all fine. Because I’m fine.

I’m fine with how my life is now. I’m fine with things being so much quieter, and having a lot more time for the things that matter most to me. I’m fine with not being surrounded by people who are convinced the world is out to get them. And I’m fine with what the day has to bring.

Because being in the midst of my daily life — all the little details, as confounding as they can be — and experiencing it all, fully alive and engaged in my own life, is what brings me back to myself.

For many years after my various TBIs, I held back and was off by myself in a world of my own inventing, like so many of my ex-friends. And I didn’t really let life in. It was safer, but it was no way to get myself in shape to live my life. I avoided a ton of experiences, because they were too overwhelming or too confusing for me. And I thought I could avoid all that and prevent the anxiety that came with it.

Now, I generally accept that I’m going to get confused and overwhelmed, and I can plan for it. I expect it. So, it’s not such a terrible thing. It’s just one more aspect of life I have to manage. And so I do.

All that the day brings — all it has to offer — it’s there for me.

Now, what shall I do with my life today?

Let’s find out.

Onward…

 

 

 

The only good reason to look back

The only time you should ever look back,
is to see how far you’ve come

An old college friend messaged me this morning to catch up. It was good to hear from them, and we had a good — but brief — chat. They were one of my closest friends in college, and they saw me go through an awful lot, thanks to my heavy drinking. They tried to reach out to me to help, a number of times, but I was pretty much of a goner, in those days.

It would be easy to say it was just the drinking, but it was so much more. I really believe that the multiple concussions I had in high school had a lot to do with my attitude problems and inability to keep focused and clear about my priorities. I was not accustomed to making good decisions about the people I hung around with — in high school, I faded to the background, when the after-effects of several concussions and a whole lot of rough-housing and heavy partying took over my life.

So, by the time I got to college and I was away from the structures and restrictions of my youth, I was ready to just “let go” — and that’s exactly what I did. It only took me a year to get into real trouble, and this college friend of mine has been saying repeatedly over the past year or so that we’ve been back in touch, that they wish they had been a better friend to me. I am assuming that means they thought they could somehow save me from myself and my inner demons. Or maybe at least advocate for me better, when the police got involved, and a nasty-ass judge who favored local townspeople over ne’er-do-well college kids started making life difficult for me.

Looking back, I don’t think that there’s much of anything they could have done for me. I had too much I needed to work through, and I transferred out of that school after two years there. The next stop I made was a better solution, academically, but again I got into trouble — drinking too much, falling down drunk a lot, doing more of the same as I was before, but this time, much worse. And I isolated like crazy, which didn’t help me any.

I wonder sometimes… if I had been able to reach out for help earlier, if I had allowed others to help me (instead of pushing them away like I did), would things have turned out differently for me? It is really hard to say. Even if they had been able to be a friend to me, I doubt I could have let it all in. I was too much at odds with myself and everyone/everything around me, to really allow much to penetrate this hard head of mine. Combining a succession of mild traumatic brain injuries with drinking, was a really bad idea, but — like so many others — I did it. And it did me no good. At. All.

In any case, it’s all water under the bridge, and the experiences I have had, have made me who I am. The best reason to look back on all of it, is to see how far I have truly come, to look back on the flood waters and rapids I have navigated in my past and to be genuinely grateful that I am alive today. It didn’t have to turn out that way. I have found myself in the midst of human traffickers, drug dealers, violent criminals, and all manner of thieves, cheats, and liars, over the course of my life. The fact that I am living a good life today, with a marriage of 20+ years and a home and a favorable employment situation, is really something to celebrate, rather than regret because it’s not something else.

I’ve been grappling with that a lot, lately — regret over my past, and things not turning out better than they did. So many of my professional peers, including folks 10-15 years younger than me — are farther along and doing more with their lives. They have much better prospects than I, or so it seems. Job-wise, I do feel like I’ve been held back by my situation… until I really think about it and realize how other people with the same type of history as I are living.

I have friends who have been through similar circumstances to my own, and none of them are even close to the quality of life I have. They came from similar circumstances, but they made different choices, and now — as far as I can tell — they are in decline, while I am on the ascent. I don’t want to get caught up in making anyone better or worse than anyone else, because who can tell what is in the mind and heart of another. And yet I can’t help comparing my situation to others’.

I guess that means I’m human.

Anyway, it’s fall, and that means it’s a time of reflection and recapping the past year. I always feel like this is the end of the year, with Halloween being a sort of turning point leading into the new year. It’s a cellular thing, I guess. Growing up in farm country, Halloween was the time when everything was ready to be cut down and turned over, and the nights were obviously longer than ever, so it really felt like The End. Thanksgiving, to me, feels like the start of the year, with a kickoff celebration of what’s to come.  This time of year, with the falling leaves and shortening days, prompts me to look back on the past months to do a kind of inventory of where I’ve been and how far I’ve progressed.

I have to say, for all the challenges of the past 12 months, I have made significant progress. I’ve managed to extricate my mind from the hold of my current employer, and I have managed to stick it out long enough to not look like a flake, by leaving my employer in two years’ time. I have made some real progress in my work, achieving some pretty impressive feats – even if the cost was high. I’ve also had some real revelations about myself and where I want to fit in the world, and I’ve made some real strides with regard to my eating and exercising. I’ve become more active — all across the board — and that’s a really good thing.

With regard to the part I want to play in the world, after re-connecting with some old friends and co-workers, I’ve realized that I really did get sidetracked by the whole career thing. For the past three years, I’ve been living under the belief that by applying myself and working hard and showing real results and good progress and transforming the way my job is done, I can be a valued team player who has real career prospects. The first year in my job, that was pretty much true. The thing that held me back, was me. I didn’t put myself forward enough and I didn’t leverage the connections I had, to move forward. For the past two years, my prospects have shrunk and shriveled, and now it’s pretty clear that no matter how well I do my job, if I don’t say the right things to the right people at the right time, I’ll be perpetually marginalized and relegated to the “average 80%” pool of employees at this mega-corporation. Just a number.

Looking back, there’s part of me that regrets not pushing harder for the career advancement thing. But with a week’s vacation behind me, I realize now that it would not have worked, because that’s just not how I want to organize my life. I don’t want to be a high-flying hot-shot at work, to the point where it takes over my life and is my identity. I don’t want to give myself 100% to that path, because there is so much else I want to do with myself, and there is so much else I need to experience, beyond the realm of that whole career business.

If I had wanted to push for promotions and move up in the corporate world, I would have done it. If I had wanted to advance professionally and take it all to the next level, I would have gotten it done. But the fact of the matter is, I am deeply distrustful of that whole world, and more than anything, I want freedom and balance and the ability to move at will about the world. I’m more interested in questions, than answers, and I want to be free from any licensing agency or professional association that could impose its standards on me and shut down my voice. I would much rather hold down a day job for the structure and society, and then be free to do my own thing in my own hours.

And given that for the past three years, I’ve been in a job that has required me to be available pretty much anytime, any day, moving back to a 9-to-5 job will probably feel like a breeze. It will give me time to research TBI and to write. It will give me time to build out the library of resources I’m compiling for mild TBI understanding and recovery. It will give me time to do what I really want to do —  freely read and write and think and talk the way I see fit and am drawn to do, without the intrusion of those who crave power and influence in the world.

And that, to me, is progress. Realizing and remembering – yet again – where I am going, and why… that’s the best sign of growth and strength that I could ever get.

Looking back, there are many things that could have gone differently and could have been “better”. There’s also a lot of stuff that could have turned out a whole lot worse. All in all, it’s been a wild ride — and here I am, on down the road, with a whole lot of experience under my belt, that makes it all worth it.

Way.

So, onward we go. Looking back to see how very far I’ve come. And yes, it is very, very far.

 

Experiment life

Mix it up

My email is driving me crazy. It keeps filling up with spam, and if I don’t keep on top of it every day, it gets out of control. I know I should be unsubscribing to a lot of emails, and I do intend to do that, but it takes time and energy and attention, and those three things have been in short supply, lately.

My company has gone home. I really enjoy these folks – they are a lot of fun and they like to explore and try new things. But they are also exhausting to be around. They’re pretty much insatiable, when it comes to life, which is fun to watch and participate in for 48 hours. But after that, our difference become troublesome and we start to get on each others’ nerves. So we part ways, happy to have been together, but even happier to be getting on with our own respective lives.

I actually did have a great time while they were here. We drove around and checked out places I either had heard about and had never visited, or had not even realized existed. They’re definitely slowing down in their later years, so we didn’t do as much as we used to do, but we still had some good times. News of their kids and their friends and other relatives I haven’t seen in years… Stories from years gone by. Lots of food and talking — constant talking, constant activity, really. If one of them wasn’t talking, the other was. Like sharks, they cannot keep still for long.

Maybe they feel like they’re drowning?

One interesting thing came up — a friend of theirs sustained a TBI in the past year, and they’ve been helping them get around and get back to normal. I meant to discuss that more with them, but I didn’t get a chance, and then I forgot to follow up. I’ll need to follow up with them later. One of the things that’s kind of bugged me about their concept of TBI and this friend (who I’d heard about before) is their sadness, their sense of resignation about this, as though their friend had lost their sense of balance and ability to judge distances forever.

Maybe they did. Or maybe they didn’t. I’ll have to follow up — maybe write them a letter or an email or something. I’m not sure it will help, because they are pretty set in their perceptions. But it’s worth a try. Stranger things have happened, than people changing their minds.

So, I’ve got most of the day to myself, now.  I can come and go as I please… kind of. I need to run some errands and take care of some little chores, but all of this can happen at a decent pace, instead of the headlong rush that my weeks usually turn into. There will be time enough for that tomorrow, and tomorrow will come soon enough.

For today, just for right now, the sun is shining, I’m sitting out on my back porch watching birds and bugs fly around, with the distant sound of a train whistle in the background.

These are the moments that heal — the rest after the headlong rush. Having my relatives here was a good break in my routine. They always teach me a lot when they visit, because they are such active learners and always investigating new things. But while I was sitting and breathing this morning, I found myself starting to cry, with a sense of total overwhelm. That’s how it feels with these relatives — total overwhelm — and my sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive. Relentless. Fun, fun, fun… but relentless. They really do put the “fun” in fight-flight-freeze-fun.

But now they are gone, and my spouse is still out of town, so I have the day to digest everything I’ve taken in. I don’t have to answer to anyone, don’t have to take care of anyone, don’t have to accommodate anyone on a moment-by-moment basis. I can drive around with my music pumping, run my errands the easy way, the way I feel like running them, at my own pace, without having to constantly explain or excuse myself. I can just live my life. I can experiment.

Which is the way I’m increasingly inclined to live my life — as an experiment. I used to be locked into the constant crush of having to do things A Certain Way, with the successful achievement of my goals the only acceptable outcome. Now I am seeing more clearly every day that being locked onto specific goals in specific timeframes is a trap that keeps me from finding what else is possible in my life. And I am just plain tired of that unimaginative way of living.

It’s funny – I used to be a lot more open-minded like that, with a lot less riding on specific results for specific activities. But the working world really retrained me, especially the technology world — and it’s made me a lot less tolerant of variations on “success”. I’m not sure that’s such a good thing.

But at least I can see this. And at least I am finding a way out of that particular rat-hole. Life is opening up… and so long as I get plenty of rest and take care of myself, it doesn’t have to wreck me when things don’t turn out as expected/planned.

Well, it’s getting late. Time for a little lunch, then pay a visit to some friends who need me to move some of my stuff out of their house, so they can redecorate. Long story, why my stuff is still there… mostly about plain old lazy-ass procrastination. But they’re friends. And it will be interesting to catch up with them.

Onward.

Today I rest… and read… and write

Time to read... and digest

Well, I’m back from my working vacation. I had five days of work-work-work, from 7 a.m. till 8 p.m., then I had a few days to play. I got home in the wee hours, this past weekend, to find that my hot water supply had died sometime earlier that week, so I wasn’t able to wash off the contagion from the couple of plane rides I’d been on.

That was unfortunate.

But on the up-side, I was so wiped out that I slept about nine hours straight — a record for my recent patterns. And by Sunday afternoon, the repairman had come out and set things right, so I was able to finally get my shower and get a nap. I slept for about three hours … and felt like I’d been trampled by horses when I woke up.

All that work and relaxing really took it out of me, I guess.

It’s really good to be home. I’ve missed my routine — waking and sitting/breathing and exercising, then working and writing. It’s good to get away sometimes and break up the set patterns — the effect it seems to have for me is making the set patterns even more valuable to me. Absence making the heart grow fonder, and all that.

And coming out of the experience, I can see some real signs of progress on my side. Last year, when I went to this same convention for work, I was an anxious, nervous wreck. I was convinced I was going to do poorly, that I would melt down, that I would be unable to function. I considered myself a ticking time bomb who couldn’t manage anything. But I was wrong.

This year went pretty well. I took care of business. I got things done. And it was pretty seamless overall, with only a few little bumps in the road that I handled as a matter of course. No sweat.

On the whole, the conference went well. And now I’m ready for something more to handle. I think, anyway. Or that could be my often-over-enthusiastic side of me not wanting to take the time to just relish the experience of doing better, and take on something bigger that’s more stressful, that’s more challenging. I’ve got to watch out for that stuff – I do tend to over-extend myself when things are going really well for me.

Like yesterday. While I was waiting for the repairman, I decided to do a little yardwork. It was a beautiful day, and I had the time. By the time three hours had passed, I’d completely re-raked my front yard, getting up a lot of dead grass to make room for new growth, and spreading some lawn lime to lower the pH of the soil. I wore myself out, which felt good. It also let me get some of my extra nervous energy out.

And now today I’m feeling the effects. I’m pretty sore and stiff, which is fine, actually. I need to be more active, and this is the temporary state of pain that signals that my body has a chance to get stronger. The important thing to keep in mind, with strenuous exercise, is that rest and recovery are as important — maybe moreso — than exertion. Overtraining is always a danger with me.

So today I’m going to rest. And write.

Some things that I was able to do, while I was away, were read and think. I picked up a copy of The New Science of Breath and it’s given me a lot of food for thought. I’m familiar with a lot of the concepts that author Stephen Elliott talks about — in part because I’ve been reading his newsletters, on and off, for a couple of years. I am also familiar with the principles he talks about, from my own personal experience. In practicing slow, steady breathing, I’ve found that my reactions to unforeseen circumstances are much less intense and much less extreme, and I’ve found that I have more energy, I sleep better, and I generally feel better overall, when I practice this slow, steady breathing.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the keys to my ongoing recovery from the after-effects of TBI/concussion. And I wish to high heaven that everyone could benefit from it as much as I have.

To say that it’s made a huge difference would be an understatement. It’s been a serious foundation for so much that I’ve been able to accomplish over the past years — and even before I knew about it and put all the science together, when I had concussions in the past and I was suffering with intense mood swings, insomnia, and cognitive issues, I instinctively  turned to breathing and sitting, as a solution.

After my last TBI in 2004, I stopped doing those things that used to help me so much, and I have no doubt that this exacerbated my issues. Only in the past three years or so, have I been able to get back to some sort of stability. I’ve still got plenty of issues, but with my steady breathing and balancing out my autonomic nervous system (stopping the dominance of fight-flight knee-jerk reactions), I have a chance to get myself back on track more quickly and with less wear-and-tear than before.

And it lets me rest, which is critical for my recovery — long-term and short-term.

So, today I’m taking advantage of the holiday and the extra time I have to rest. I’m taking a break, catching up on my sleep and reading, and I’m writing down the ideas that came to me when I wasn’t blogging regularly. Most of all, I’m just spending the day letting myself feel good, which doesn’t always come naturally to me. I’m taking the pressure off and just chillin’. There will be plenty of time later to “tear it up” again.

Extreme Sports… Extreme Living… Extreme Dying

I’ve been thinking a lot about extreme sports and TBI, of late. Just this past week, Nodar Kumaritashvili, a Georgian luger, died on the Whistler track in Vancouver during an Olympic training run. I watched a graphic video of it on CBSnews.com, and it’s pretty wrenching. He lost his sled in a turn, flew off, and went into a pole.

I have heard it said that he was relativley inexperienced. I have also read that he told his father he was terrified of the track. And I’ve read discussion and debates about how lugers and other winter athletes know the risks, but they choose to focus on the goals, the rewards, the prizes that come from winning. If they give into fear or they hesitate, all may be lost.

At the same time, I’ve been reading a bit about Kevin Pearce, the snowboarder who sustained a traumatic brain injury on a halfpipe during a training run. ESPN’s headline seemed to downplay the injury — Pearce hurts head training on halfpipe. Other news told a more sobering story — critical condition… moved to a brain injury hospital in Denver, where he’s making better progress than expected, actually walking and responding.

Only folks who understand the impact of TBI — more than what many folks think of as “just a concussion”… more than “just” a bump on the head — will fully appreciate how much progress Pearce actually is making. Most folks may very well wonder what the big deal is. If Pearce is doing that well, yes, he is making amazing progress. It probably helps that he’s an athlete.

Over the past holidays, one of my nephews had a fall from about 6 feet up. He landed hard and was addled afterwards. I wasn’t there to see it happen. And everyone else who was there just let it slide. According to my nephew, he’s had about 12 concussions. He’s into extreme sports. He skateboards and is an all-out outdoor enthusiast. He’s a great kid — kind and soft-spoken and quite polite. His mom has done a great job with him, I have to say.

But I worry about him. I wonder about him. He’s fine now, but what about in the future?

I look back on myself at his age — 13 and rarin’ to go. Immortal, as far as I was concerned. Untroubled by hard falls and spills and being knocked silly, every now and then. I played hard and fast, and I didn’t follow instructions about being careful. That was for sissies. Wusses. I had a game to play, a goal to reach, and nothing — no timidity, no fear, no trepidation, no namby-pamby wuss — was going to hold me back.

And I think about the concussion prevention/management legislation that’s been proposed in multiple states — some of it requiring medical clearance before kids who have head injuries are allowed to play agan. I wonder what kind of an impact that’s going to have at all — if it may in fact cause more dangerous cases to go unnoticed. I can tell you from personal experience that when I was a kid,  if I thought I was going to be told to sit out a game I wanted with all my might to play, I either lied through my teeth to convice my coach that I was okay. If, that is, I even realized that I was having problems. A lot of times, I didn’t. Or, if I did, I ignored it and played through.

It’s really, really hard to explain what it’s like to get your bell rung in a game, and not be able to think well enough to protect yourself from further injury. It’s like, you know there’s something up, but you keep going, keep playing, keep pressing on. You don’t want anything to stop you, and sometimes the more your bell is run, the harder you push through.

You should sit down. You should rest. Part of you knows that. But there’s this other part that’s very go-go-go that gets jammed in gear and you can’t disengage. Even when there’s this little voice in the back of your head telling you that you need to take a break… that something’s not right… your coordination is off… you don’t have the same control you did, just a few minutes ago… still, you’re jammed in gear, and like the jammed accelerators in pre-recall cars, accidents can happen as a result. More accidents. Just when you least need them.

It’s a tricky, tricky thing, trying to stay safe when you’re just trying to play and have a good time. The Olympic athletes who sustain injuries (or are killed) during training runs… some folks would consider them foolhardy and blind to do the things they do. But when you’ve been pushing the limits, going faster, farther, higher, for years on end, you sharpen your taste for breaking records, pushing past limits…. and with each successive broken record, the bar is set higher. And higher. And higher.

It’s a wonder anyone survives at all, quite frankly.

But here’s the thing — all those stress hormones pumping through the body, all that adrenaline running in your veins, all the hype and pump and competition… they literally change you. They change your brain, they change your body. Just ask people with PTSD — a super-extreme version of what happens to you over years and years of intense extreme sports experiences. Your brain gets used to the pump. It craves it, actually. And if you’ve been marinating in that hormonal soup long enough — and have gotten plenty of rewards from pushing past your limits — pushing through till you’re breaking through becomes very much a part of your person.

And without it, you’re lost.

Literally. It’s not just some psychological “addiction” to the thrill that’s at work. It’s a fundamental, integral part of who and what you are — a piece of your puzzle that has to be fitted into place, in order for you to feel even remotely human. Someone who is at their best when they are pushing the envelope is going to continue to seek out those situations where they can push through, because they want to be at their best. Especially when they are an athlete — and a world class one at that. We athletes want to be the best we can be. We want to perform well. We need it. We crave it. We must have it. If we can’t get it, then who are we? Just another schmoe sitting in a cubicle, answering phones, or wearing an apron and telling people where they can find the plumbing supplies.

It’s not that the athletes (and other high-performers) of the world can’t deal with regular life. We just operate at a different level. And to get to that level, you need an element of risk to sharpen the senses. You need a bit of an edge. And if you don’t have it… can’t get it… then it’s not just your performance that suffers. It’s your very self, your very core, your very interior person, that suffers, as well.

It’s not just thrills we seek. It’s not just mindless risk that we’re addicted to. Those of us who are peak performers — whether athletes or stock brokers or CEOs or award-winning writers, scientists… whatevers — need a little extra something to stay on top. We needed it to get there, and we continue to need it to stay there. To do anything less than push past our personal best, is to fail to be the persons we are. Some of us turn to drugs. Some of us turn to foolhardy decisions. Some of us turn to adultery with easily recognized flings. Some of us bungee jump. But the need and the drive is the same — seeking the edge, so we can find ourselves. So we can be ourselves. So we can be more of who we have become over time, over years of progressively more advanced tests, and progressively higher risks.

Deathwish? No.

Lifewish – yes.

Now, I know my psychotherapist friends would argue this point with me. BUt you know what, none of them are — or ever have been — athletes. They are not particularly active, to begin with. Understanding what would cause someone to lie down on a small sled and hurtle downhill at 95 mph with just a helmet to protect them… or what would induce someone to snowboard high in the air and do flips and twists… well, that takes a certain kind of experience. Physical experience. Physically extreme experience. Now, I’ve never been attracted to extreme sports that involved fast speeds and heights (my balance has never been good enough for me to go there), but I do know what it’s like to push myself as hard as I could go for 3.2 miles… or around a track 8 times… or down the final stretch of an 800 meter race… or down a runway with a javelin in my hand. I do know what it’s like to practice in all kinds of weather and push through, no matter what. I also know what it’s like to lay it all on the line, time and time again… to reap the rewards of success… and to suck up the dregs of failure and start all over again — next time working all the harder.

It’s not about some psychological death wish. It’s not about having no sense of imminent danger. It’s not about any conscious thought process, other than focus on the end-goal, the prize, the medal, the reward. On some level, it’s not even a mental process at all. It’s a physical, spiritual, metaphysical process to which the mind must be subservient. And as such, there will always — for some of us — be an element of terrible risk… risk of immediate death or eventual debilitation.

And until people figure out how to get that “high” (that insulting slight of a term for what is a complex process) from a safe and secure place, there will always be mortal danger for the best of the best. We don’t just like that pump; we need it. We must have that rush that gets you thinking better, cogitating more clearly, and feeling like you’re alive again. Until people acknowledge this as a valid human need and figure out how to help us get it without putting our necks on the line, the only way to get that will be through more risk, chancier actions, and increasingly dire danger.

After all, if you can’t live fully without that biochemical pump, and you can’t stand how you feel without it, the prospect of being hurt — or dying — while marinating in that soup of fully alert humanity, probably seems worth the risk.

Which mistakes do I keep?

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. – Scott Adams

I just came across this quote, while poking around various blogs. I had intended to write something else… but I forgot what it was, so I’m going to go with this idea.

On the loooooooong road to mtbi recovery (which seems like it is never over), I have made plenty of mistakes along the way. It sorta kinda goes with the territory. I mean to say one thing, but then I say another. I mean to do one thing, but then I do another. I mean to accomplish one thing, but then I mess it up and it doesn’t get done. Along the way, it’s easy to get turned around and confused and lose my place. I do it all the time.

So, why am I not worse off in my life? Okay, I admit, my life is not a template of the American Ideal. I don’t have the perfect spouse and perfect 2.4 kids in a perfect house with perfect cars with a perfect job and a perfectly fat wallet. I don’t drive a Prius or a Hummer or a pickup truck or a motorcycle or any other vehicle that would indicate I am a Person Worth Knowing. I don’t have a closet full of tailored clothes with different well-polished shoes for every occasion. I don’t have many of the signs of success that one would expect from someone who is Doing Extremely Well For Themself, and frankly, some days it’s just a constant struggle to get by.

But in spite of all my struggles and screw-ups and messes I’ve made, I’m doing okay. I’m happy, I have love in my life, and I like what I do for a living. In spite of all the jobs I’ve totally messed up, the situations I’ve blown to hell, the relationships I’ve trashed, the money I’ve lost, I’m still standing. And my life — oddly enough — keeps getting better.

Why?

I think it’s because I don’t let the screw-ups keep me from pursuing my version of success. I learn from my mistakes — actively, intentionally, regularly — and since I make lots of mistakes, I tend to learn a lot. And since I’m so friggin’ tenacious and indomitable (bad days notwithstanding), I never stop, till I get where I’m going. Sometimes it takes an awfully long time for me to get where I want to go, but eventually, I get there… even if my definition of “there” changes along the way.

For years, I’ve focused on what I call “the art of living” — making my life into an intentional expression of my individuality, rather than abiding by some standard-issue cookie-cutter stereotype. Long before I knew why I couldn’t fit into the “norm”, I realized it wasn’t a good fit for me, and I resolved to find other, better ways to live my life, in spite of my oddness. I’ve made a point of not forcing myself into a narrow definition of success, and I’ve really worked at taking what good I could find from all the wreckage of my life around me.

There have been intense internal conflicts, to be sure, and I’ve been lower than low many, many times. But when the dust has settled, time after time, I’ve always managed to figure out a way to use what I learned for my benefit.

When I was younger, I was bound and determined to be a writer — to be the best writer of my generation — and I channeled all my energies into being open to the full range of what life had to offer me. I didn’t care so much about achieving and accomplishing and being The Best in others’ eyes. It was more about being the best in my own eyes. I kept open to the full range of life experience. I didn’t worry so much about whether or not things turned out the way I’d planned. For me, it was all about the experience. Learning what it meant to be human, so I could write believable stories about believable characters.

Of course, a whole bunch of mild TBIs kind of put a damper on my literary aspirations – it’s difficult to get published, when you can’t figure out how to communicate with publishers and editors and you alienate just about everybody who reaches out to help you without understanding how or why you’re doing it. And I’ve had to seek out alternative ways of getting published, essentially letting go of that childhood dream. I realize now, it’s probably not as plausible as I once thought it was.

But my orientation towards life remains the same — it’s an experience to be had, not a task to be completed. The full range of what life throws at us is a smorgasbord of sensations, a veritable feast for all five senses — six, if you count the one you can’t put your finger on. All of life is this amazing cornucopia of events to be lived, experiences to be had, lessons to be learned. For me, it’s less about specific outcomes, and more about the quality of the experiences I’m having. Quality of life… that builds quality of soul… and character.

I came across an interesting blog post over at Daily Strength today:
How Important is Resiliency in Trauma Recovery?

It talks about how folks in the mental health field used to think that once traumatic damage is done to a person, they’re damaged for good. But that ain’t necessarily so. A person who is abused as a child isn’t necessarily going to be either an abuser or a perpetual victim as an adult. Human resiliency also plays a role, and people can — and do — overcome nasty crap all the time.

Given the course of human history, I have to say I agree. If everyone who got beaten up and mistreated as a child turned out to be either a perpetual victim or a perpetrator for the rest of their lives, I think we’d all be dead by now. There would be no one left, for all the killers would have killed the victims… and then wiped each other out.

No… that hasn’t happened (yet).

Yes… there’s more to the story than our past.

And there’s more to screwing up than making a mess of things.

Sometimes, the mess can be quite instructive.

Sometimes, a royally mucked up situation can be even more valuable than total success all the time.

Which, for someone like me, means that my chances of ultimate success are actually better than for someone who gets things right all the time.

Think about it —

If

as Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm,”

and

I have been uniquely shaped to not only go from one failure to another, but also keep going, keep diving in, keep forging ahead, no matter what (due at least in part to my head-injury-diminished aversion to risk and danger, as well as my intensely stubborn streak)

then

it stands to reason that I am uniquely positioned to have a very successful life, despite my injuries, despite my deficits, despite my history, despite my muck-ups.

In fact, one might say that my injuries and deficits even contribute to my success.

Not that I’m saying that mild traumatic brain injury is a ticket to the Good Life. Far from it. But if I can figure out a way to make it work for me sometimes, instead of constantly against me, then things don’t necessarily have to turn out badly.

Ultimately, getting back to Scott Adams’ quote above, creativity is not about never making mistakes, it’s about allowing myself to make lots of them — and art is about being able to tell which “mistakes” are worth keeping.

Personally, I’d rather have an artful life than a carefully checked-off list of t0-do items.

But that’s just me.