One day at a time, one experience at a time… TBI recovery over the long term

brain with lots of question marks
How DO you work your way back?

I haven’t been doing nearly as much blogging, lately, as I used to.

Time was, I’d get up, do my exercise, eat my breakfast, and then spend 30 minutes or so blogging before I got my shower and went to work. I did this (almost) without fail, each and every day. And on weekends, when I had more time, I’d blog even more.

I researched. I wrote. I commented. I actively committed to sharing information about my life to everyone who might find it useful in their own recovery from traumatic brain injury, or in helping someone else who was recovering.

And it was good. It kept me going. It gave me a sense of purpose — a mission, if you will. This went on for a number of years. And yes, it was good.

Lately, I find myself wishing I were blogging, more than I really am. There are a lot of thoughts in my head, but it’s hard for me to sort them out, these days. I don’t think I’m declining cognitively… if anything, I think I’m doing much better than I have in a long, long time — maybe ever. The difference seems to be that I’m handling more on a daily basis. I have more challenges in my work life and home life. I have more responsibilities and more accountability. And that takes more energy from me, to handle everything well.

So, as I volunteer more, as I take on more responsibilities at work, as I gear up for my next career move, as I read more and am more active, I get tired more… so, I need to rest more. And I also have less opportunity for blogging.

And from where I’m sitting, that’s a good thing.

Here’s the thing though — in the midst of doing all that I’m doing, I really need to check in and show the rest of the world that recovery after mild TBI is possible. Recovery of a really high-quality life is possible after multiple concussions. And even when you sink as low as you think you can go, there’s still the chance (however remote) that you can get back.

I used to be pretty active on Twitter, but not so much, anymore. Frankly, it depresses me. It seems like all the concussion and TBI talk is around sports, especially pro football, hockey, Aussie football, etc. Despite the fact that countless non-athletic folks sustain mild TBIs from falls, assaults, and motor vehicle accidents, the talk is still focused on pro sports. Lawsuits. Who’s to blame for CTE in football players… and all that.

And it does the conversation a disservice. Because not only does it accentuate the dire nature of concussion — which just puts fear in the hearts of people everywhere (and possibly makes people less inclined to report or seek treatment) — but it also diverts the attention away from actual recovery.

How DO you recover from TBI? Even Mild TBI can do a number on you (as I found out, 11 years ago). So, how do you deal with it? Work with it? Overcome it? Everyone’s recovery is different, clearly, and what I’ve done may not work for everyone, but for heaven’s sake, certainly we can do better than we are now!

When I say “we”, I should really be saying “I”. Because I’ve been to the “valley of TBI despair” — not once, but a number of times. And I’ve wished I could simply die and disappear into the cold, dark earth. At different points, I’ve lost my ability to read, to write, to understand what people were saying to me, as well as how to regulate my moods and control my temper. I’ve had miserable, terrible headaches that wouldn’t go away 100% for years. I’ve had balance issues, sensory issues, work issues, relationship issues… directly related to and resulting from repeat blows to the head. So, yeah, I know what it’s like — at least in part.

All these things have resolved with me, for the most part… although I do have intermittent issues with them, now and then. And if I don’t talk about that, well, then it’s my bad.

It’s my bad, indeed.

I’m not one for sitting around feeling terrible about myself, though. I’m in a position to make a positive difference, so I will. It’s probably not going to be at the frequency and intensity that I’ve been working at for years, but it’ll be a heck of a lot more than I’ve done for the past couple of months. (Hmmmmm… I seem to remember vowing to do that, a little while ago, but nothing much has happened since then… but I can’t be too hard on myself – something is better than nothing.)

Let me close by saying this: My job situation, as tenuous as it is, is kicking me into gear to really re-examine my job choices. There are things I do really, really well, and there are things I struggle to do. I’ve been urged to master the things I struggle with, for my entire life. Now I’m at the point where I feel like I should put more emphasis on what I naturally do well, and not sink so much time and energy into mastering the stuff that I have trouble with. That’s not to say I don’t want to constantly improve, but I think there’s a missed opportunity to make the most of my innate talents and strongest interests… I just have to figure out what those are, after so many years of swimming against the stream of things I have trouble with.

I’m using this job uncertainty as an opportunity to get to know myself better — not only remembering what I’ve done well in the past, but what I’ve really enjoyed doing in the past (whether I did it well, or not). I have a deadline to update my job goals by next week, probably because of the impending merger, and also rumors that a lot of staff will get cut (mid-level management, I hear — although they always say that, and then it’s the little guys who get axed). I need to state clearly what I’m up to, what I plan to be up to, and why that matters to the company.

So, today (with no meetings — woo hoo!) I can spend some quality time really thinking about them, examining what I’ve done, thus far, and taking stock of what I’d like to continue to do. I can then transfer that into my resume and update it with what I want to do, not just what other people have told me I do well (but I don’t really like to do). Seriously, I am so hard-headed and tenacious and perseverative, when someone challenges me to do something — even if it’s not a good idea — I do it. I pull out all the stops, and I GO FOR IT. But what I’m going for, is sometimes someone else’s idea of a good thing. It’s not always mine.

For the past several jobs, I’ve stepped up challenges and roles that I’ve been asked to take on. Not because I wanted to, but because I was asked to. And I did a fabulous job — better than I thought, actually. That looks good on my resume, and it’s gratifying to realize I did great, but it’s not how I want to keep spending my life. God help me, no. I want to do things that appeal to ME, and that don’t exhaust me like the stuff that other people tell me to do.

That’s my goal. That’s my plan. Now, it’s time to go examine my life, see it for what it has been, what it is, and what I want it to be.

It’s time to dream a little — and put the pieces in place that will let me reach my dreams.

Onward!

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Taking it all in

When the fruit is ripe - pick it... and enjoy
When the fruit is ripe – pick it… and enjoy

Constantly striving and struggling takes a toll. It takes an enormous toll, in terms of energy and insight and being able to enjoy your life. When you’re constantly GO-ing, when you’re focused on being active and reactive and pro-active, you lose sight of the good that you can let in.

Sometimes you lose the ability to let it all in. There’s a lot of good in the world, but we can be so busy fighting and pushing, that we’ve got nothing left for just sitting back and letting the good things be good — and enjoying the fruits of our labors. It’s no fun, being literally unable to reap what you’ve sown.

It’s like being a farmer in a country that never has a summer or fall. It’s work-work-work, year-round, without any hope of harvest. I used to know a farmer who lived in a northern area that had something like three months of growing season.  There was snow on the ground from September till May, and then the ground had to thaw. He was not a happy farmer. He was exhausted. Eventually, his barn burned, and he had to move.

I’m a bit like that farmer — but sort of by my own making. I have been pushing and striving and struggling for such a long time. Damage control. Chasing my dreams. Making the products of my imagination become real. And all that pushing has seriously worn me down… to the point where some days I can’t see the point of anything, anymore.

Then something occurred to me yesterday, when I was feeling down and blah:

I am actually living my dream.

See, when I was a kid, all I wanted to do, was be a writer. I wanted to write things that were helpful to others and provided insight into everyday life. I also wanted to be free of editorial control, so others would not tell me what to write, what to say (or not say), and I could do so on my own terms.

My goal for many, many years, was to become a freelance writer. And for a while I was doing that. But I ran up against problems with editors and schedules, and I could never seem to finish a job properly. Whether it was a freelance editing job, or it was technical writing, I was just not good at being independent and keeping it together.

I wanted to be independent. How I wanted that! And for a while, I was. On and off, I have “done my independent thing” and taken contract jobs, while managing freelance projects on the side. That’s what people did in my world of technology. And that’s what I did, too.

But it was always a struggle. And my writing wasn’t helped by the pressure to make ends meet.

For so many years, I felt like a permanent job was a millstone around my neck, that I was going to be pulled down by companies that didn’t know how to run themselves. That was actually the case for years, because I worked at companies that just couldn’t seem to figure it out. Now those companies no longer exist.

And for some reason, I thought that ALL companies were like that. Because that’s all I’d ever known.

So, for a long, long time, it was a double-whammy of pressure to make ends meet with companies that couldn’t keep their act together, the pressure to make it on my own — on m own terms — and the struggle to find the time and opportunity to write. I have written almost daily for decades, now, and it’s the one constant in my life. So, dealing with the pressures at work and all the existential difficulties that go with trying to make ends meet, keeping the dream of writing alive was pretty much a challenge.

It’s not that I couldn’t write. It just didn’t feel like I was a writer. It felt more like a task, than an art, and I lost touch with so much insight, over the years, because I was so stressed. If it wasn’t problems at work, it was  problems after another concussion — and the two fed each other, actually. I didn’t have the same sense of writing that I’d had in my 20s, before I had the mortgage and disabled spouse to provide for. It was nowhere to be found, and I thought the only way to get out of that was to get going on my own terms and live the dream of total, complete independence.

Well, now things are very different. And although the company I’m working for now is going through its own reorganization (who isn’t?), and my job and position may be very different in another 6 months, I feel more independent than ever before. It’s not so much the company, as it is my position. The job I have now is truly on par with the work I’ve done in the past, which is nothing short of amazing. I thought that sort of position would never come ’round again. I thought I was toast. But now I know I’m not, and I have the opportunity to focus on a whole new type of work that demands expertise and skill in much the same way that my programming did in the past.

And the best part is, while I am bone tired by the end of the day, it’s a good tired, and while it does wear me out, it also energizes me and gives me real hope for my future.

Plus, I can write again. I mean, I have been writing — a lot — for a number of years on this blog. And there’s no lack of projects I have in various stages of completion. But now it actually feels like I’m writing. It’s actually sinking in.

It’s important to let it all in, if only every now and then. It’s the thing that lets us see that all we’ve been working for, is actually paying off. That there is something to show for our efforts.

It’s important to let that happen.

So our world can open up again, and we can know that all is not in vain.

Dealing with TBI Burnout – Part I

It can be a real pain in the ass, to constantly adjust to a mis-behaving brain. All that adjustment can burn you out. And that’s pretty much what’s happening to me. I’m doing a lot, and I’m making great progress. But I’m also wearing myself down, and the more tired I get, the harder everything becomes, and the worse my brain mis-behaves.

And the more I have to adjust and adapt.

Which takes more time and energy.

Man, oh, man… there is so much I want to do. And it’s all good.It’s not only for me- it’s for others, as well. But I’m pushing myself too hard and too long, and it’s burning me out. To the point where I just want to walk away from it all. Take the $700 I have in the bank and just split. Forget about everything I am planning, all the things I want to do and experience, and just say “screw it all”. Just leave. And never look back.

Part of me feels like it should be enough for me to just be functional. To just get through the day and  find some enjoyment in my life. Who cares about making a difference in the world?  It’s never going to work, anyway.

That’s what the tired-out voice in my head is saying, these days.

You know, it’s funny… Now that I look at things, I realize that I may be getting sucked into someone else’s idea of what “awesome” is. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time thinking about and planning launching a formal business for all my various undertakings… really becoming independent in whole new ways. The thing of it is, that’s probably not the way I should go. I should probably not aim for total independence, because I know as well as anyone that if I go solo and have the chance to withdraw from the world, I will. I’ll isolate. I’ll stop interacting with anyone outside my immediate circle. I will stop being social, and I will hide myself away like a hermit.

Is that really the best thing for me? Or my business?

No.

I need to be out and about. I need to be social. It forces me to improve, to be better, to interact. And it’s good for me and my brain.

My tired-out brain…. That gets fixated on a Single Idea — in this case, becoming independent in every sense — and telling the rest of the world to go screw. That gets worn out and desperate and frustrated and starts fantasizing about some pretty much impossible/implausible goal off in the future, which takes me away from my present.

Good grief. All along, I’ve been convinced that I was working towards a cohesive goal… when I’ve actually been burned out and pushing myself harder and harder to Get There, just to keep the pain and frustration and anxiety at bay.

I don’t want to be 100% independent and blocked off from the rest of the world. I want the freedom to experiment and try things and relax… and not have to work 18 hours a day, every single day.  I want to be able to kick back and enjoy the progress I’ve made… enjoy the process of doing all the things I love to do. I can’t keep putting all that pressure on myself to “execute my plans”, day after day.

I need to stop doing this to myself. I need a break.

From myself.

So I can quit burning myself out.

That’s a bad habit.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have fun, every now and then?

Who am I today?

Summary / Bottom Line

I don’t feel like myself, these days. I haven’t felt “like myself” in a long time. And all the hopes and dreams I once had as a kid, seem so far from me. But maybe, just maybe, I am truly living my hopes and dreams… I just don’t feel like I am. And that changed sense of myself is keeping me from realizing how much my life really does resemble my onetime hopes and dreams. Restoring a sense of self can be a huge challenge with traumatic brain injury, and adjusting to how things truly are, versus how they appear to be, or feel, is one of my biggest challenges.


I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about my identity… who I was when I was a kid, who I am now, and who I’ve been along the way. I recently had a birthday, and while I don’t feel like I’m having a mid-life crisis, I still have been thinking a whole lot about whether I am where I expected / hoped / planned to be, when I was younger.

I know that “life happens” and we can end up very far from where we wanted to be when we were younger. And to be honest, I’m not even sure if I had specific plans about the trajectory of my life, when I was younger.

I do know that what I wanted more than anything, was to become a scientific researcher. I wanted to go to school to get a bunch of degrees, and then focus on research. I’m not sure what kind of researcher I wanted to become — I just wanted to study, collect information, synthesize it, and publish it.

I also wanted to be a writer. Maybe more than being a researcher. Being a writer is what I always wanted to BE. Research is what I wanted to DO. In a way, being a writer is like being a researcher – it’s not the same type of science, but there’s a sort of science to it — observing, drawing conclusions, testing your hypotheses, etc.

Over the course of my life… well, life happened. I got hurt. A bunch of times. I fell and hit my head a bunch of times. I got in car accidents a bunch of times. I was attacked. I did stupid things. And I got hurt. I also had a lot of chronic pain that knocked me out of the running when I was in my early 20s. And I got in trouble with the law and some rough characters, and I had to go on the lam when I was in my late teens, which limited my future prospects.

Now, looking back, I see how so-so-so many opportunities have been out of reach for me, because of everything that happened back then. I have done my best to patch things up over the course of my life, and relatively speaking, I’ve done extremely well for myself.

But am I really where I want to be today?

I’m not sure. This life I’m leading doesn’t look and feel like I hoped it would. It feels strange and foreign to me. Hell, I feel strange and foreign to me. I feel like a stranger to myself, half the time. I don’t have that feeling of being “comfortable in my skin” that people talk about.

Now, I used to have that feeling. I used to have a clear sense of who I was and what I stood for. And I didn’t let anyone hold me back. Even when I was getting in trouble with the law and then went underground, living overseas till things quieted down here, I had a clear sense of who I was, and what I stood for. I had to change my life for a while, and I couldn’t do a lot of the things I had once enjoyed doing — like going anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted. But it didn’t feel like I’d lost a part of myself. I’d screwed up for sure, but I was determined to fix things.

When I was in all that crippling pain, 25 years ago, I had to let go of a lot of activities that had once meant a lot to me. I had to stop exercising and spending time outside in the sun. The diagnosis that the doctors came up with was probably wrong (I never had tests that confirmed or denied it 100% — they didn’t have good tests, back then). But I had to take steps in any case. As it turned out, the things that I was told not to do — exercise a lot, move a lot, test myself physically — were exactly the kinds of things that I needed to do to alleviate my pain. Movement and staying active was NOT going to hurt me. Being sedentary was.

In those years when I was dealing with the pain, I lost of lot of things that meant a lot to me. I couldn’t eat and drink the same things anymore, and I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. But I didn’t have a sense of having lost myself. I was still who I was, and I was clear about that.

Now things feel so strange and foreign to me. It’s hard for me to describe. Even though I know I’m doing better, and I have numbers and feedback from friends and family that indicate I’m improving, I still don’t feel like myself. It’s hard to describe — just that someone else seems to have taken up residence in my life.

I know my personality has changed a good deal, since my fall in 2004. And it kind of freaks me out, because that wasn’t the first mild TBI I’d ever had. I’ve had a bunch — probably about 9. I’ve been assaulted once, had at least 4-5 falls, got hurt a couple of times playing soccer, got majorly dinged while playing football, I’ve had a couple of car accidents, and so forth. But not until I fell in 2004, did it totally screw up my life.

Not until the past years, have I felt like a stranger to myself.

It’s kind of getting me down, too. At least, it has been. I try not to think about it, but it’s still always there… Who am I today? What am I going to do today that doesn’t seem “like me”? What am I going to feel and think and say and do that doesn’t seem consistent with the person I know myself to be?

That feeling of observing yourself going through life… it’s weird. Disorienting. I resolve over and over again, to hang in there and just keep plugging, until I see some glimmer of who I am. And sometimes it works. I’ve been feeling more like “myself” lately, which is nice. But at the same time, I don’t quite trust it. Like in Flowers For Algernon, when the main character stops taking the medicine that made him think and act like a normal person… and he drifts back into his old state. Whenever things are going well for me, I feel like I’m looking over my shoulder for signs that I’m slipping back into not recognizing myself.

I would like to stop this. It’s not fun, and it’s not productive. It serves no one, and being on high alert over it just kills my quality of life.

So, over the weekend, when I had time to think about it, I realized that maybe it would be better if I just acclimated to this feeling and let it be. It could be that I actually am getting back to my old self — I just don’t have the sense that I am. It could be that I’m even better than my old self. There’s a good chance of that, because my old self was majorly concussed and had all sorts of issues that I didn’t even realize. It could be that I’m in better shape than ever before… but I don’t have the sense of it being so, and therefore I don’t trust it.

I don’t feel like I’m myself, most of the time. Maybe all of the time. But maybe I actually am. Maybe the missing piece is NOT my personality and my identity, but the sense of my personality and identity. Just because the sense of being who I am isn’t there, doesn’t mean I can’t BE there myself.

Rather than getting all caught up in recreating that sense of myself, maybe I need to just get on with living, regardless of the sense of myself. Maybe I just need to trust it… not place such high demands on what qualifies me as me, or not-me.

And maybe — just maybe — the life I have now is exactly what I was hoping /expecting / planning / dreaming I’d have, back when I was a kid. Looking around at my study and thinking about how I live my life, I realize that I am doing exactly what I always wanted to do, when I was younger — reading and researching and writing and publishing. I write and publish this blog. I read and research TBI-related materials (especially concussion and mild TBI) and I spend a lot of time thinking about them.

I also read and research other subjects and write about them, though I haven’t published much of that … yet. I am getting to a place where I soon will, and then I will have that to my credit, as well. This is all done independently, according to my own standards. I’m not doing it professionally, but I have managed to help some people, here and there along the way. That much is clear from the comments on my blog.

So, even though it may feel like I’m one person, the objective facts reveal something quite different. And for me, it seems the challenge is to not let feelings of weirdness and alienation and failure stop me from just getting on with my life.

At some point, I just need to trust. I’m working on it.

Onward.
 

Just keep your spirits up

Create something to believe in!

I woke up this morning having the keen sense that over the course of my life, I’ve come through a huge number of obstacles. Emotional swamps, mental jungles, physical minefields, and logistical nightmares.

I’ve been on the wrong side of the law, and I’ve been on the receiving end of foolishness at that hands of those who have been far outside their rights.

I’ve been up, I’ve been down, I’ve traveled my own path, and now I find myself actually doing better for myself… happier, healthier, more content, more optimistic… than most of my peers. I also have a much more engaged and involved relationship with my life and everything in it, than 90% of the people I know.

Despite the pain and suffering — some of which may never actually go away at all — I am here, and I’m in a very good space.

What’s the secret?

Keep your spirits up. Do whatever you need to do, to keep your mind and spirit alive and involved. Keep your body in good condition and don’t abuse it with bad food, drugs, too much drink… too much anything. But most of all, keep your spirits up.

Someone once told me that my journal writing over the years was a “Proustian” waste of time — a lot of navel-gazing that provided no apparent benefit. Likewise, I have launched many, many projects which ultimately came to naught. For years, I felt like I was a failure because I could not “make it happen” for myself, and I struggled constantly with so much. I thought for sure that if I did things the right way, I would eventually be rid of the pain, the suffering, the hardship, the challenges.

And my life would get better.

Now I realize that even though all the pain, suffering, hardships, and challenges are still around, the thing that has really changed is me. I have acquired the skills I need to meet the hardships that come from TBI … and to figure things out as I go. I am still learning — and each day offers me one more way to make right the things that are wrong in my life. I didn’t get here by accident. I got here by keeping my spirits up, by staying interested in life, by always having some activity going on that keeps me intrigued and engaged.

Even if I don’t “make it” with my projects and end up rich and famous, the simple fact of the matter is that it keeps my mind fully occupied, and it keeps me from sitting around feeling sorry for myself. I come up with some crazy concepts, too — many of them far beyond the scope of my actual interests and abilities. But I dream big, and I chase after those dreams as if they truly will come true.

When they don’t… and they often don’t… well, that’s not the point. The point is that I have been engaged on a very high level, and my energy has been good, and it has kept me from being my own worst enemy. Maybe someday some of my grand plans will pan out. But the main thing is the working towards them, and keeping my spirits high in the meantime.

Most of the things I dream of, I don’t tell anyone about, because they’re really just for me, to keep me going — and when others get involved, they tend to dilute the process and hold my mind and heart back.

To each and every one of you reading this right now, I encourage you to pick something big and crazy to dream, and keep that dream alive in your mind. Pick something that would give you so much pride to accomplish, and then secretly set about making that dream come true. Don’t tell anyone else about it — just figure it out for yourself, dream it big in your heart, and let that carry you through your days.

Any kind of recovery — whether it’s TBI or not — requires a huge amount of energy and stamina. I can take a monumental effort each day, just to keep going. So, find something to spark your spirit, then dwell on that, feed on it, let it bring you joy and happiness and encouragement, and stick with it like your life depends on it.

Because maybe it does.

Onward.

Making the most of my time

I had a very interesting experience yesterday. And today. I started practicing juggling a couple of balls, to rewire my brain and explore some neuroplasticity. I thought it went pretty well. I was able to juggle two balls for about 40 tosses. Then I would find myself getting distracted, and I would drop one of the balls. I noticed my scores were getting worse — from 42 to 35 to 34…

So I stopped for the afternoon and took a nap.

When I got up, I tried it again, and although I wasn’t counting, I was able to juggle the balls much more fluidly, much more easily, and I’m sure considerably longer than 34 tosses.

I practiced a little bit yesterday, then I tried again today.

And this morning I was able to juggle two balls for 136 tosses.

That’s amazing progress.

And the best part is, I didn’t have to force it, I didn’t have to push it. I just relaxed and let the muscle memory that had built up yesterday take over.

Sweet.

I have half of Sunday left, to rest and relax. I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted, last night, so I do need a nap. I’ve been reading some motivational info this morning, and it’s been really good. I’ve also been taking a long, hard look at the ideas I have about myself that hold me back and seem to be killing my dreams on a regular basis.

A lot of what I believe seems rooted in past impressions — not memories, exactly, because my memory is kind of crappy. But impressions and emotions I have about who I am and what I am capable of doing with my life.

At this point, I the best use of my time is to take another nap. Let the information sink in. Let my brain catch up. Don’t push myself so hard, as I usually do. Just let myself be…

And rest.

 

Getting used to good

Coming out the other side

I’ve been under tremendous stress, for the past … oh, decade… dealing with all the TBI fallout — money problems, marriage problems, job issues… It has been one long slog through one problem after another. Getting hauled into court. Being threatened by all sorts of folks. Bouncing from one job to another, without any sense for what direction I wanted to go… and losing it big-time with people all around me.

I swear, I have been pounded down, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year… for at least the past 10 years, and it has taken a toll. For sure, it has taken a toll.

But now I’m starting to come out of the woods. I can read again. I can joke again. My thinking is clearer and better organized than it’s been in as long as I can remember. It’s pretty friggin’ amazing.

Now with this newfound space to move in, I have an abundance of energy. And there’s a bit of a danger in that. Because I am so used to pushing through when I had nothing left, that I’m still pushing through, even when I have resources. And as it turns out, my resources are not infinite, my energy is not geysering up from a bottomless well, and I have a real knack at wiping myself out.

Lesson learned. Dude. Chill.

And I look around me, now, at everything my life has turned into, over the past ten years. I look at all the things I was doing with myself before the last ten years. And the closer I look, the more I realize how much it pulled me down. I can see it all from the vantage point of someone who has been shot out the other end of the cosmic blowhole like one of those surfers who gets pushed on through the pipe by the sheer force of wind and wave, and what I see is, well, telling.

And I can’t believe it’s taken me nearly 50 years go get it.

Well, in all fairness, let’s forget about the past 10, because I’ve been half out of my mind for most of that time, and I haven’t been myself — at least, not a self I would recognize as “me”.

Anyway, what I see is someone who has spent a ton of time and energy just scrambling to tread water. I haven’t even been swimming in any one direction, let alone surfing anywhere fast. I’ve been treading water double-time, because all around me nothing made any sense, and my brain was playing tricks on me, every time I turned around.  Hell, it was playing tricks even before I turned around. I didn’t have to do anything or even move a muscle, for my brain to play tricks on me.

And it effin’ sucked. I mean, it blew chunks like nobody’s business.

And now I’m tired. Worn. Out. And all the stuff that I thought meant so much to me over the years… a whole hell of a lot of it was just me trying to direct my anxiety, my angst, my nervous energy, my craziness, in some direction that wouldn’t kill me. I was so driven, so propelled, so utterly possessed by a horde of demons that nobody could see — sensory issues, noise and light sensitivity, tactile defensiveness, confusion, frustration, never being able to get my words to say exactly what was in my head, being constantly misinterpreted — both myself and my words — and scrambling… always scrambling… just to keep up.

Of course, how would anyone ever know that? After all, I not only could pass as normal (when I was anything but — I was way ahead of normal), but I could also hide what was going on with me, because showing it meant ridicule and ostracism and being treated like I just wasn’t trying hard enough.

That’s no way to live, so I’ve just covered it up for years. All my life, really. It wasn’t worth it, to let on to others what was going on inside of me.

And it took a hell of a lot of time and energy to keep going under those conditions.

The thing was, I was so busy scrambling, so frantically treading water, trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy, that the fear and anxiety fueled me — and it felt like I just had a lot of energy. For everything.

Now, though, things are different. I’m coming out of the “pipe” of my crashing wave of a life, and I can feel myself coming into the clear. And with that clearing, comes a ton of energy and the ability to do things I never thought would be possible.

So, I want to do them all. And I try to do them all. Because I’ve been blocked and stopped my entire life from doing the things I wanted to do, and now that I have the capacity and the capability… well, I’m overdoing it a bit.

Speaking of overdoing it, I am about wiped out from writing this. I’ve had a long day. I’ve had a long week. I am beat. And I need to sleep.

So, I shall.

Onward.

Doing it for myself

Just trying to enjoy the ride…

It’s been a roller-coaster at work, lately. I’m in that weird in-between place where I’m smack-dab in the midst of some very exciting times… and at the same time, I’m lining up all my ducks in a row to get the hell out.

Things have been very “eventful” at work. People are going to great lengths to be difficult, and scuttle each other’s projects. There’s all kinds of maneuvering, and part of the problem is that my interim boss is a people-pleaser and also is an operator and manipulative little shit person who creates drama so they can “solve” it later. What an ever-lovin’ waste of precious life force. I mean, it’s just ridiculous, and everything they do and say just throws more gasoline on the fire of an already difficult situation.

Divide and conquer. Well, at least I see what they’re about. And I see how ambitious and self-serving they are… how willing they are to just push others out of the way for their own gain. I used to consider this person a friend, but no more.

I am glad I found out now, instead of investing yet more time and energy in that relationship. Looking at the connection I thought I had with them, I see yet another one-sided “friendship” that serves them more than it serves me. This person has a habit of screwing other people and stepping on them to get where they’re going. They also think that “doing you need to do” to get ahead is the way to go. Fine, you can do that. But when you’re later in life — and completely alone — how much good is that going to do you? People can tell who has a good heart, and who doesn’t, and if you keep up that kind of behavior, you will eventually train your heart to not beat with a good sound.

And people will avoid you like the plague. Which is about the last thing you need when you are alone and old and vulnerable.

Do I want that kind of person in my life? Nope. Not now, not ever.

I think that everyone at work realizes I’m getting ready to go. They just don’t know when that’s going to be. I’ve really disengaged with a lot of the drama — although I’d do that anyway, even if I were staying — and I’m doing my best to keep a pretty even keel about things.

As much as I can, anyway.

The past week has been extremely demanding on my time and my energy. In fact, the past months have really put some miles on me. I took a good look at myself in the mirror last night, after I got home from work, and I looked like hell — haggard, pale, dark circles under my eyes… an ashen, drawn look that could have fit right in, superimposed on an Industrial Revolution background, or in a WWI foxhole.

And it kind of pissed me off. Because all of this was for what? What was the friggin’ point? I’m leaving this job, I’m getting the hell out, and I’ve only got four more months here, anyway. Why wreck myself over this?

The thing I have to remember, through all of this, is that I’m not wrecking myself for “this” — meaning a job for someone who owns the most productive hours of my day. I’m working for myself. For my future. For my peace of mind. For the experience of doing a good and thorough job with my energy, each and every day. I have to stay engaged in my current job, because that’s the only way I know how to live. I can’t just shine everything on and skate to the end. It’s pointless to do that. No matter how long I have in a position, I need to be involved in it. I need to be involved in my own life.

It’s for me, not for “them”, that I’m doing this. And if I let the alienation and disengagement get to me, then I am cheating myself of the kind of experience I want in my life. It doesn’t do them much good, but it does me even less.

I also need to remember that no matter how taxing things are right now, tomorrow may be a very different experience than today. I need to not get completely derailed by upsets that happen at one particular moment. I can’t let temporary setbacks balloon into permanent situations. I really have to work at that. My head gets locked on what’s happening NOW, and I can’t seem to get free of the idea that whatever sucks at this particular moment is going to suck forever. I need to work on that.

At least I’m aware — which is a good place to start.

So, yeah. It’s a new day. Saturday, to be exact. And I’m actually feeling pretty good about things, my work life notwithstanding. When I think about it, pretty much everything is temporary, anyway. I need to remember that. Things pass. Events come and go. Situations rise and fall. And it doesn’t make much sense to get all worked up over it, when everything is passing, anyway.

It’s kind of a relief.

The one continuous aspect of all of this, is me. It’s my experience. It’s my peace of mind (such that it is). No matter what happens with jobs and work and what-not, as long as I’m around, I still have myself. And that’s the thing that matters.

So, today, I’m off to a good start. I have a full day ahead of me, with running errands, picking up friends at the bus station, shuttling some people around, doing some grocery shopping, and taking care of some important stuff that has to get done. Some of the things I need to do are time-sensitive. Some of them are due in a week. Others are overdue. It’s been a hell of a week — exhausting and depleting and demoralizing. But it’s my own damn’ fault if I let it get the best of me. And it’s my own damn’ fault if I let things get out of hand.

So, I’ve got to get things back in order and clean up my act. I need to rest, most of all. That’s the one missing thing in all of this — good rest and serious sleep. I need to beef up on my energy reserves, so I can live better with myself. Doing that becomes that much easier, when I’m doing the right things for the right reasons — taking care of myself for myself, just for today.

Onward.

Putting it all to good use

So, things have been very tense at work. The people who are running my group are actually running it into the ground, with their scorched earth approach to achieving their goals. They really don’t care whom they hurt, in the process of getting where they’re going, and it shows.

They’ve hurt a bunch of people, thus far, and the ripples are being felt all across the company, which spans several continents on the other sides of several oceans.

It’s a little difficult to watch – first, because I genuinely care about people and how this all affects them. I feel for the people who are in charge, who feel that they “have to do what they have to do” and are putting profit margins ahead of everything else.

I feel for the middle management people who report to them who also seem to think that they are helpless in the face of institutional structures, and that they’re lucky to get anything done at all.

And of course, I feel for the folks at my level, who are being given a sh*t-ton of work to do, without a whole lot of support or resources, let alone direction and leadership.

It’s ironic – at every step, people seem to feel helpless in the face of overwhelming odds, and at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control. And yet, each and every one of us has the power of choice. We each have the option to do what we feel is the right thing, and to stick by it. The only problem is, there tend to be consequences for making unpopular decisions, and the decisions which challenge the dominant paradigm of helplessness and victimization… and take responsibility for outcomes (which may not always turn out the way we hope they will)… well, those kinds of decisions can make your boss(es) pretty nervous. And if they’re not on board and not on the same wavelength and they’re not willing to take the same risks as you, it can end up turning into a bit of a sh*tstorm.

Which is where I’m at right now.

Right now, I’m in charge of designing and rolling out a program which is not terribly popular in every corner of the company. It’s for the best, and it introduces changes that should have been made years ago, but a lot of people are very wedded to old, unworkable ideas about how things should be done.

Nobody likes change… and yet here I am, in the midst of it, instigating it and moving it forward.

Which means that people complain. About me. About my program. About the change. And my bosses, who are intensely concerned with how they are perceived and how popular they are, are getting fidgety. There’s a real lack of character that’s coming out — and ironically, the people who are the most concerned with how people see them are the ones who have the worst reputation and can’t seem to get anything done.

So, that’s all very well and good. And it’s very instructive. But I can’t let it throw me off, as it has been. I’ve gotten too caught up in worrying about my bosses’ worries, running interference for them and helping them justify their position, which is untenable, because they’re driven by other people’s perceptions and their own selfish gains, rather than substance and character.

Which is not how I want to live my life. I do want to do my part in the team, and I do want to do work that is meaningful and has impact. But I certainly do not want to do it the way I see it done. And the people who are giving me orders and telling me how to behave, should really check themselves. It’s just a little bit disgraceful.

So, it’s all very instructive, and I get a front-row seat to how I do NOT want my next job to be. Substance, not just form, is important. Form matters, but only if there is substance to back it up. And I’ve been on this earth long enough to realize that jobs and promotions and raises and popularity contests come and go, but I will still have to live with myself through it all, no matter what the circumstances of my present situation. I am still dealing with the personal fallout from poor choices I made in the past, and I am still dealing daily with the residual troubles that all those traumatic brain injuries brought into my life over the years.

So, I know just how important and precious it is, to have a moral compass, to know who you are, and to make decisions in the now that will support you in the future — rather than trading in my dignity and self-respect for an expedient favor from someone else that may quickly go forgotten… except in my mind, and the shadow of it on my soul.

It sounds heavy… and it is. This one life is all any of us has, and it is over all too soon. So many things can go wrong, just by chance, so the choices we consciously make are all the more important. I’m using this god-awful experience at work as a learning experience and a proving ground, for me to get in the habit of standing up for what I believe and holding to my own vision for what can and will happen in my world.

People may not like what I am doing and saying. They may not much care for the changes I’m bringing to their lives.

But if I stick to my guns and stay true to myself, in the end, I have a feeling they’re going to respect me.

And even more importantly, so will I.

The day is waiting. Onward.

Each year better than the last – I hope

Looking back… looking ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that makes me sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward.