Well, they’ve shuffled the deck chairs on the Titanic at work, and now my group, which is responsible for making things happen, is smaller than it was before.
Who knows what that means? Two people I depended on a fair amount — one of them more than the other — have moved to a different “level”, so now I don’t have the same access to them that I did before.
The whole thing just makes me tired — at least, it would, if I had the time and energy to be tired. But I have to keep going, get my work done, and just keep at it.
If there was a plot, I’d say I’d lost it. But there doesn’t seem to be a plot, no particular direction that people are choosing to go in. They just flail around for 6-12 months, then shuffle the deck chairs again… flail around… shuffle… flail… shuffle… you get the idea.
I’ve been looking around for another job, but to be honest, my current situation is pretty sweet, since I can work from home anytime I need to, and that’s freed up a whole lot of extra energy and time for things like… oh, having a life. I can’t ever go back to commuting 5 days a week, dealing with office politics, etc. But that’s what everybody else wants me to do.
Plus, then I’d have to start all over again with a new bunch of people and figure that out. Maybe they like me, maybe they don’t. Maybe we get along, maybe we don’t. In my experience, it takes 6-12 months for people to just get used to me and my quirks, and I don’t have the energy for a year’s worth of uncertainty.
Well, anyway… Eventually all this will shake out (as it always does), and I’ll be able to make some sense of things. Then they’ll change them up again.
Whatever. In another couple of years, I’ll be in the age range for early retirement. Till then, I just need to bank as much money as I can, doing what I can. I need to get my house in order — literally. Clean up. Do repairs. Rearrange my home office and different parts of my house. Get my financial books in order and get that accounting software I’ve been meaning to. Just tend to the day-to-day, and not worry about what the workday is going to bring.
The job will bring what the job brings. Whatever.
I just need to take care of my own house, my own life, my own path. Let them do what they like. As long as I’m covered, on my side, it’s fine. Eventually, it will become apparent, just what’s going on… most likely, after things have finished going on, and I have some perspective from looking in the rear-view mirror of my life.
Today is another “on” day for me. Yesterday I had to step away from my LIST of to-do items that I’d put together on Friday, and just move at a more restful pace. I’ve been pushing pretty hard all week, with a lot of good ideas which promise to bring good things to me.
But by Saturday morning, all the Activity caught up with me, and I had to just back off a bit. I juggled a bit in the morning, wrote a little bit, then got together with friends, took a long nap, and got up to do a little bit here and there in the evening.
All in all, it was a good day. There were some things I was really hoping to get done (some that I really needed to get done), but I didn’t. And that’s that. I don’t really care, right now. The main thing was, I got some rest, caught up with myself, and gave myself some breathing room.
That’s important. I tend to push myself so hard — overachiever that I am — that I don’t give myself enough down-time to recoup. And that is far more damaging than any lack of ambition or “failure to launch”. Overwork and overtrainng are all very well and good for the short term. I almost have to do it, sometimes, to get things to lodge in my brain permanently.
But every single day of every single week of every single month of every single year?
Thankfully, I’m learning to do things differently.
It’s interesting, what changed that mindset for me. Most of the time, I try to overpower my unhealthy tendencies with raw, brute force. Willpower. Resolve. Even a bit of guilt. But that doesn’t work. What does work, is introducing a new piece of information into the mix that provides a better Idea about what will be most effective.
Case in point: Rest. And its importance.
I have intellectually “known” for a long time that rest is important. It helps the brain consolidate memories. It helps the body remove toxins from the brain. It is important for rebuilding the capabilities that you’ve fried, in the course of everyday overwork. I know that rest helps me keep emotionally centered, as well. It keeps me from snapping out. It keeps me from getting depressed. It gives me a great sense of well-being and ability.
But have I made a point of getting to bed at a decent time and sleeping all the way through the night?
Until recently, not so much. I “knew” I was supposed to, I had the whole raft of ideas about how helpful it was. But not until I had an Experience of the incredible help that rest gives me, have I enthusiastically gone to bed at a decent hour — during the week before 11 p.m., on the weekends, before midnight.
What changed things? Having a bunch of good great experiences with Rest, that really brought home how much it helps me.
First, actually being able to rest in bed has been huge. I bought a new bed a couple of weeks ago, and ever since then, I have not had any trouble falling asleep. I used to lie in bed for hours, unable to sleep. I couldn’t afford a new bed. And I had to make do with what I had. But it was rough. I never actually put it together that the problem was the bed. I figured it was just how things were. For some reason I didn’t get that the lumpy mattress that wasn’t flat and forced me to balance my weight in different ways was keeping me up. Now that I have a new bed which is exactly flat and very firm, I have been falling asleep almost immediately. The only times I don’t, are when my body is seizing up from not stretching enough. But when I get out of bed and stretch, I’m able to relax, and I fall right to sleep. And I sleep pretty much through the night — except when I wake up in a sweat, which has been happening lately, with the change of seasons and the stresses at work. Now, when I think about going to bed, I don’t dread it because I expect to lie there for hours, unable to sleep.
Second, waking up rested is a whole new thing for me that puts a whole different spin on my day. I’m actually semi-functional, first thing in the morning. And with my rocket-fuel coffee that gets me going, my mornings are now something I look forward to, and get myself out of bed for. I wake up feeling so great, that I can’t wait to get to bed at night, so I can have that feeling again.
Third, getting a little bit of rest at work in the afternoons, has completely transformed my days. I used to really dread my days, because I would burn through all my energy by noontime — if not before. Then I’d spend the rest of the day scrambling to keep up, feeling like crap, eating junk food that would rev me up and make me crash, offsetting that effect with more coffee… and more coffee… and more coffee… and ending up so wired by the evening, that I could not fall sleep, even if I was on a decent bed. Taking a quick power nap for 20 minutes in the afternoon, when I just can’t go on anymore, has completely turned that around. Now I know the pressure is off, and if I need to step away and take a nap — or just close my eyes for a short while — I can do it. I generally keep a couple of hours open and free of scheduled meetings, most afternoons of my week, just so I know I can step away, if need be. And I do it. It makes all the difference in the world, to sleep — or simply relax. The boost I get, coming back after a nap, not only makes me more productive, but it makes me feel so much better about myself and my abilities, that I actually don’t mind being at work. I don’t dread and resent it the way I used to, which is a real blessing.
Fourth, learning to juggle much faster than I thought possible — after giving myself time to rest in between practice sessions — is truly inspirational. I love having this feeling of surprise and delight that I can actually keep more than one ball in the air. I never thought I could juggle. I tried many times in the past, and it never “worked”. But now I am learning pretty quickly, and the thing that seems to make the difference, is Rest.
The first day I was trying to keep a couple of balls in the air, I did it for a count of 42, max.
Then 37 times.
Things were clearly not improving, so I lay down and took a nap.
And when I got up, I kept the balls in the air for 135 tosses. That’s quite the improvement. What a confidence-booster! And I credit Rest for that.
Last but not least, I like myself a whole lot better when I’m rested. I am much easier to live with — both inside my head and outside. I have a higher tolerance for frustration. I can think more clearly about things to come up with good solutions. I don’t have the same temper flares, my fuse is a lot longer, and I don’t have the extreme outbursts that come when I’m really wiped out. Just the other evening, after helping a friend move, I started harassing my spouse about something they had done that was troublesome, but not exactly catastrophic. I had it in my head that if they kept doing this, Something Would Go Terribly Wrong, and I needed to “nip it in the bud”, so to speak.
The net result was that we were both pretty unhappy by the time the conversation was through, and I felt like sh*t as a result. There was no need for me to go off like that, but I did. Because I was tired. Getting more rest over the next few days did wonders for my mood and my stability. Too bad my spouse is the kind of person who holds grudges. They’ve recovered less well than I have. (But that’s on them – I’m not responsible for their state of mind, much as they’d like me to be.)
Now Rest is my friend. We’re on good terms. What a difference Good Rest makes.
I had a standoff with a friend last night about something that’s been really bugging me about their behavior, lately. Basically, it boils down to them not pulling their weight with a project we’re working on. I’m working my ass off, and all I hear from them is excuses, as they make even more demands on others to pull their weight for them.
This individual has been in and around my life for the last four years, and it hasn’t been easy dealing with them. I haven’t had to interact with them on a regular basis until lately, and now that I do, I see pretty clearly that they are just a friggin’ wreck. And for no good reason. Here’s someone who has has their share of difficulties in life, like so many of us. But where some folks rise to the occasion and take on what’s in front of them and actually do something about what they’re facing, this individual is intent on making everyone else responsible for their situation — it’s always someone else’s fault, and they refuse to take responsibility for anything.
Because their life has been so hard.
Cue the violins…
Anyway, we had a pretty heated discussion last night, when I was trying to figure out what the hell they were up to, and also let them know that their recent spate of bailing on important work was not acceptable. We went a few rounds of some pretty intense back-and-forth, and the whole thing left me feeling stupid for even opening up the conversation with them. Now I’m “hungover” from the exchange, and frankly I never want to see them again in my life. Unfortunately, they’re a business associate and close friend of my spouse, so I’m probably going to have to interact with them at some point. Jesus. We’re all supposed to get together on New Year’s Day.
This morning, I was up at 4:30 a.m., still revved over the experience, and just wanting to disappear. Just check out. Say adios amigo to everyone and everything, and invite the lot of my spouse’s friends and business associates to go pound sand. So, I went for a walk down the road under the waning moonlight, with the world all lit up around me. It was pretty amazing, actually, except for the hungover feeling that had my head spinning and left me feeling like shite.
I really friggin’ detest those people. They’re freeloaders and posers who are just this far from getting busted for what they do. Meanwhile, I’m keeping my nose clean, living as honestly as I can, and taking what life sends my way with a grain of salt — and a whole lot of hard work. Then along come these losers who offer nothing, but take plenty.
They say golf is a “good walk ruined”, but my walk this morning came in as a close second. But after an hour and a half of walking and talking it out, I got my head back on pretty straight, and now I can get some things done.
Time for me to get going on the things that I want to do. Keep my head down and just work. Just take care of the things I need to do, and steer well clear of them. Just occupy myself, keep myself busy, and not give them any more time or energy or thought.
Seriously. I’ve got plenty else on my plate already, without these losers dragging me down.
Things at work are pretty intense. They are having another re-org and I’m trying to negotiate my next steps for my job. There’s a lot we don’t know yet — and won’t for another couple of weeks, and rumors are flying left and right. Whatever. Again, I just need to keep occupied, keep my head down, and leave everyone else to their own devices.
I guess the thing is, the more I heal up from all my traumatic brain injuries, and get my life in order, the more I realize just how different I am from the people I’ve been around for so many years. I used to think I was one of them — slacking… aimless… now and then trying to pull a fast one to get over on someone or something, because I felt like life was stacked against me, and that was the only way I had to get ahead.
At the same time, though, I’ve always been a hard worker, conscientious, and dedicated. So, I haven’t reallybeen like those folks on the margins. Not really. I just thought I was, because my head was so turned around and I didn’t understand the true nature of my issues — or how to address them.
Now I do know. And now I’m doing something about it. I guess it’s a testament to how far I’ve come, that those people’s behavior and activity bothers me. It would probably be more of a problem, if it didn’t bother me.
Anyway, these situations keep coming up, where I cannot tolerate those kinds of people anymore. We have it out, and I cut them loose. They’re basically dead to me, and that’s that.
The only problem is, my spouse is still involved with them. And there we have it.
Signs of progress… Yesterday, I was pretty worn out after a long day of work. I was supposed to leave for my vacation in the afternoon, but I had too much to do, so I ended up working through the evening to at least make a dent in what was happening with work.
After that, I got into the beginnings of a very familiar argument with someone over a topic that’s very touchy for me. Things have been tense for over a week, since the Boston Marathon bombing, which injured some friends of friends and had everybody at work talking and stressing… talking and stressing…
No matter where you are, these kinds of events can really take a toll on your mental health, and I was a little worse for wear yesterday — between not getting to leave for vacation on time, having to rush to fix all kinds of stupid sh*t that got screwed up because somebody at work didn’t want to do their job, and feeling pressured by my family to spend time that I don’t have, visiting them… and (had I mentioned?) working like a crazy person all day.
So, when this argument started, I could feel the familiar rush of indignation, getting upset because I “know better” than the person I was getting into an argument with. They were making unwise choices about their health, not taking care of themself, and then getting all tweaked because they have health issues. Uh, d’uh — you eat crap, you don’t exercise, you have no apparent regimen in your daily life, and then you complain about not being able to do things you used to do, and you’re freaked out about illness and getting sick and coming down with diabetes or a heart attack… without ever doing anything about it. I get so frustrated with this individual, whose behavior seems to have no connection with what they actually want to have happen in their life. It’s maddening.
And of course, I know better.
I started to get really tweaked over it, getting angrier and angrier with them over what they were doing and saying and how they were acting. Then it occurred to me — I’ve had this exact same argument with this person for years and years, and it never gets resolved. We just get pissed off at each other, go our separate ways for a bit to cool off, then get back in touch as though the whole thing never happened. There’s never any resolution, because they think they’re doing things right, making choices that make them feel good in the moment but which have been shown by tons of medical evidence, to do them harm in the long run. All they know is “the now” and all they really strive for in their personal life is to be “present in the moment”.
Yes, it sounds insane to me — trading your future for the sake of the now — but that is their perspective, and in all the decades that I’ve known them (they’re one of my longest friends), they have never felt or acted or believed any other way. And the times when they did have little health scares, they were back to their old ways, as though they’d never had the scares.
But as I sat listening to them, I could feel myself getting more and more tense, feeling myself really stressing over it… while they just carried on talking about things as happy as a clam. And when I said something about being concerned for them, they snapped at me… and I could feel that old argument coming on again. I noticed that in my own body, my head was starting to feel tight and pressurized. And my heart was starting to pound. I was starting to sweat, and my thoughts were starting to repeat over and over the same arguments and concerns I’ve had for years — like they were a dog chasing its own tail. I was getting really uptight, really stressed, and I was on the verge of flipping out at them — as I have often done in the past.
But I stopped. I stopped the downward spiral, I stopped the dog chasing its tail. I knew I was tired from a long day of working. I knew I was upset about not being able to leave on time for my vacation. I knew my patience had been running thin since about 10:00 that morning. I knew that where I was going was NOT a good place to be.
I also remembered what I’ve heard and read in a number of places — the average emotion lasts about 90 seconds. Its biochemical “recipe” gets into our blood — and then can get flushed out in less than two minutes. If left to its own devices without any kind of intervention on my part, it will dissipate and disappear. I don’t have to do anything, if I don’t much care for the experience — just breathe and let it go its own way. On the other hand, I can choose to feel something different and let that get into my system for a longer period of time.
So, if I’ve got 90 seconds to work with, that gives me a choice — I can either dive into whatever I’m feeling and get all worked up and bent out of shape, like I have countless times. Or I can distract myself (I’m very good at that), breathe, let my system chill out, and NOT have the same shouting match that has been the buggaboo of this friendship since almost the beginning.
So, last night I chose the latter. I distracted myself. I just sat there quietly while they talked, and I didn’t get into it. I was upset at first, but after a little while that feeling dissipated and I started to feel sane again. The dog stopped chasing its tail. The tension and pressure in my head relaxed. And even though I was still irked by what they were saying and doing in their day-to-day, that feeling didn’t “own” me the same way it usually does. I was able to tell them what I felt and how I was feeling, in a sane person’s gone of voice… and then let it go. I didn’t get into the blame, the fear, the anxiety, the frustration. I “went there” for a little bit, last night. But then I let it go and did something else with my attention. I stopped the flash flood of emotions before it got started.
And you know what? When I didn’t fly off the handle and yell and criticize and attack, the person on the other side of the discussion could actually hear what I was saying. They could actually get that I was concerned about their health, that I was worried about how much money they were spending on junk food, and that my frustration and anger came out of concern for their health. It wasn’t about me trying to shame them. It was about me caring about their well-being and wanting to see them have a better life and do better with themself.
And it helped. Last night could have kicked off a really shitty vacation for me, starting me off on a foot that started with a blow-out, me not being able to sleep from being so friggin’ tired, having my chemistry out of whack, and having yet another instance of an impossible argument that never gets resolved.
I can’t say I’m that encouraged by my friend’s choices. And I can’t say I’m that optimistic about their long-term health and happiness. But for me, at least I didn’t drown in a flood of emotion that just swamps me and makes me feel really, really terrible. When I get that upset and blow up, the biochemical residue stays with me for days and drags me down, making me depressed and wiping out my self-confidence.
Today I don’t have that problem. And my friend doesn’t have to go through their day with the memory of yet another one of my blow-ups. Today I get to start fresh. Everybody does.
Yesterday was a very up-and-down day. I had to get some medical tests done last week, and I didn’t get the results back till yesterday, so it was a tense weekend. The tests came back with some non-standard results — but nothing to be concerned about on the extreme end of the spectrum. It’s just one of those wait-and-see types of things.
So, I’ll be waiting and watching and making notes about things that happen that seem unusual or unexpected.
Yesterday went pretty well all day — my spouse and I have been having a lot of trouble with arguments escalating into shouting matches, and we’ve been working pretty hard, trying to restore some civility to our relationship. We’ve been having a lot of troubles, as tends to happen with families that are in financial straits, and who have additional health issues. The pressure is pretty intense, and we both often feel as though we’re just there for the other to hound and hassle.
So, we made the extra effort yesterday, and things were going pretty well. Until later in the evening, when we started to argue about health choices my spouse has been making, which are really impacting their life. They have several conditions they have to be careful of, and they just haven’t been careful. At all. Things escalated, and the evening went south pretty quickly.
And today I’m feeling pretty hungover from the emotional drama. It was so friggin’ pointless — unbelievable, what some people will do, to avoid looking at their habits and admitting they are making bad choices. Not just poor choices, but BAD choices that can have lasting consequences.
I’m pretty sick about the whole thing, and given how many times they’ve agreed to change and seemed really intent on changing… then went right back to what they were doing before… I don’t have much hope. On the “bright” side, I was able to take out life insurance for them through my work. No reasonable insurance company would insure them, but my work offers free, no-exam-required life coverage up to a certain amount. I hate to sound cold, but given the path they’ve been on, it’s about the only thing left that I have to cover me, in case all their chickens come home to roost.
I’m not one to look on the dark side, but at the very least, I can be prepared for the worst. The person I’m married to has absolutely NO interest in getting life insurance — they think it’s “depressing” and don’t want to dwell on potential misfortune. So, I’ve got to protect myself. ‘Cause they’re sure as hell not going to do it. Hell, they won’t even protect themself.
It’s maddening. When you love and care for someone who is neglectful of their health and then attacks you when you ask them to change their ways, what the hell can you do? Makes no sense, to be stuck in some kind of emotional vortex, avoiding dealing with reality just ’cause it’s unpleasant.
Then again, they’ve pretty much always been this way. It’s only in the past several years, as I’ve gotten my own act together and really focused on dealing with my own issues, that I’ve become less tolerant of this kind of foolishness. In fairness to them, I never had a problem with it before, so why should I now?
Because I really, really want to live a healthy life. And I would like it very much if they would join me in that commitment. But they may not. So there we have it.
Oh, screw it. I’ve got to get back to work. I’ve just gotta keep steady with my own life. If they choose to screw themself over and wreck themself, there’s only so much I can do. I just have to take care of myself. ‘Cause they’re not going to do it for me.
I’m taking a break today from my usual routine. I had a mixed day, yesterday, which started out excellent after my good evening on Friday. Saturday morning, I went to the chiro, ran some errands, and then headed home for a nap. All good.
It got hot, though, and that puts my spouse on edge – big time. We both have a bunch of things we’ve got going on, and not nearly enough time to take care of it all. Or so it seems. After I woke up from my nap, we had a bit of fireworks, as we were both feeling pressured and inadequate and totally behind the 8-ball.
Basically, what went down was that my spouse had some things they needed to get done. They had not planned well with their time (even though they knew that they needed to take care of these things — and they’ve known they had a deadline for weeks, now, but they waited till the last minute to do anything), and they suddenly wanted me to go out and run all sorts of errands for them, to pick up the slack.
My spouse has a lot of anxiety issues, and it’s quite soothing for them, when they get to boss me around. It’s kind of funny, actually. I can tell when they’re feeling antsy and insecure, because they give me a long list of things to do, and they complain constantly. But when they come up with all these things I “have” to do and they send me out to do them, they feel so much better. They also like getting me out of the house so they have the place to themself.
Yesterday, they were really nervous, so they came up with this long list of items they wanted me to take care of. I, however, had my whole afternoon planned out, to take care of some work things I need to finish up. I didn’t have time to go on an extended shopping trip. Besides, I’d already bought a bunch of things, earlier that day when I was out and about. I said “No, I’m not going shopping.”
Well, when I refused, you’d think the earth had shifted off its axis and everything was sliding into the oily Gulf of Mexico. I got my head chewed off, big-time. But you know what? I wasn’t going to take it, yesterday. So, I chewed back. I didn’t just tuck my tail between my legs and slink away, when they got nasty and obnoxious and started in with “that tone” that sounded like they considered me a form of life lower than slime, and who was I to question their infinitely wise judgment?
Okay, so you wanna play that way? Let’s throw down, then.
And I did. I stood my ground and didn’t just quit and leave. I said my piece and didn’t let them just run roughshod all over me. Throughout our relationship, my spouse has often talked to me like I was an idiot — like countless people have over the course of my life, and my parents did before everyone else. Same old same old. And I’m sick of it.
So, I told them that I was sick of them treating me like I’m brain damaged and saying that because I behaved one way in the past, that’s how I’m always going to behave. I told them I’m tired of feeling like I don’t exist in this marriage, that I’m tired of just taking orders from them and being treated like crap if I don’t just hop-to and do their every bidding. All the while they were looking at me like they hated my guts and they were completely disgusted that I had anything to say at all.
But I said my piece. I felt like a miserable little piece of you-know-what while I was doing it, but I did it anyway. I didn’t let them dismiss me, and I didn’t let them run the entire conversation. The whole experience felt… well, wrong… but I knew in my heart that it was right for me to stand up for myself. It was just an unfamiliar situation, with me using new skills that aren’t second-nature to me (yet), and that unfamiliarity was what was making me feel terrible.
Of course, the fireworks weren’t the worst thing. The worst thing was the aftermath, when I proceeded to beat myself up for losing it. But in retrospect, some of the things that pushed me over the edge are “old stuff” from years gone by, when I would capitulate to every single demand, not ask any questions, just do as I was told. And it’s understandable that I would have a bad reaction to them.
Since I started out on my active mTBI recovery, the road has been a bit rocky. Understand, for years — decades, even — I was compliant and agreeable and went along with pretty much what anybody said. That was especially true of people who I thought cared about me. I trusted their judgment and their ideas more than my own — after all, if left to my own designs, I often got things completely screwed up. And I was game for just about anything that someone else suggested I should do — even things that I instinctively questioned.
I just gave in. Went along. Didn’t make a fuss when people called me names or talked to me like I was an idiot. My spouse has done that quite a bit over the course of our marriage. They would just flip out on me when I wasn’t following what they were saying, or if I messed things up, I was “pathetic” or “stupid”. I never spoke up in my own defense because I pretty much agreed with them. In fact, if anything, I had an even lower opinion of myself than they did.
But over the past few years, as I’ve learned about the true nature of my issues and how to deal with them, I’ve been less able to tolerate nasty behavior towards me. I’ve stopped just shutting down and blocking off unkind words as though they didn’t matter. Words do matter.
And over time, they take a toll. I never gave much thought to how people have treated me, until about three years ago. I just took it in stride as one of those things that makes life more challenging. I never wanted to let on that all the bad treatment was affecting me in any way, shape or form. But the truth is, it has — and not for the better. Indeed, the most hurtful thing for me yesterday wasn’t my spouse’s tone or the words or the general sense of being attacked. Yesterday, one of the things that made the fireworks so uncomfortable for me, was my thinking that I didn’t have a right to defend myself.
For anyone reading this who lives with or deals with a traumatic brain injury survivor, rest assured, although it might not look like we “get” the mean things you’re saying to/about us, we actually do. It might take a while to sink in, and we might not be able to defend ourselves in the moment, but there’s still no excuse for verbal abuse.
No matter who/what the target of your attack is, it’s still an attack. And it can be very hurtful.
The last part of yesterday was pretty rough for me. I felt terrible, really “hungover” from the emotional outburst, and I didn’t get anything done that I’d been planning to do. I felt terrible about missing the cues in my spouse’s tone and words that were setting me off. I felt awful about having stood my ground — crazy as it might seem. And I felt like I’d been the bad person. I also regretted some of the things I said, which were hurtful and just slipped out. Derailed. I hate that.
But when all was said and done, after I got another full night’s rest and spent some time meditating this morning, I got a lot more clear.
Basically, what I’ve realized is that the terrible feeling I get from these kinds of fireworks is more physiological than mental or emotional. I feel physically ill from the biochemical cascade of the stress hormones that flood my system when I’m on high alert like I was yesterday. I was really on high alert. Freaked out. Flipped out. Anxious. Angry. Assertive in unfamiliar ways. And yes, a little aggressive at times. My body bears the brunt of the experience, and the feeling I have after the fact is a biochemical one — it’s not actually a mental or emotional state. It’s a physical state. I realize this now.
It’s important that I realize this, because last night I didn’t. I let my body get the better of my brain, with me thinking that the bad feeling I had was an emotional one, or a mental one. I thought about that feeling in terms of coming from my broken brain – that I was having it because there was something wrong with me. But the fact of the matter is, I was having that bad feeling because my body was doing its job (protecting me from the “threat” to my schedule of yet more things to do and the attack from my spouse, when my time was already limited), but it was doing it a little too enthusiastically.
In fairness to my spouse, they’ve had some neurological issues, themself, and they were also not fully awake after their extended lie-in. They were on edge, under pressure, and feeling boxed in by life in general. It doesn’t excuse their behavior, but at the end of the day they realized their part in things and they promised they were going to look at that and do better in the future.
So, there’s progress. I do believe them. There’s a lot of love between us, and we’ve been together for almost 20 years. Neither of us is going anywhere. We just need to work through this and not give up. We’ve been through worse.
And I need to cut myself a break, when I stand up for myself. It’s unfamiliar to me, and unfamiliar things make me uncomfortable and start that fight-flight biochemical cascade. It’s not a defect of my personality or character. It’s my body doing its job — and sometimes overdoing it.
In the end, what is really needed is just open communication and openness to the situations of others. To understand where they are coming from, and take the time to step back and be gentle with one another. To not let my sympathetic nervous system take over when things get a little dicey. Life is full of pressures for both of us, these days. We have some pretty significant money issues, and I’m starting a new job shortly. We have logistical issues, as my spouse expands their business and takes on new clients. We just have a lot going on, and we have to (re)learn how to let each other BE. Especially when things are heating up.
The last thing either of us wants to do, is tear each other to shreds, just because we’re tired and have a bunch of things we need to get done. It’s important to be bigger than that.
If you’re a TBI survivor, you may be very familiar with the flares of temper that can sneak up on us unawares. It is very disconcerting, if you’re a pretty even-keel sort of person, or if you really don’t want to pitch a fit, but find yourself flying off the handle against your own will.
This has happened to me as long as I can remember — temper flares that come out of nowhere and decimate not only my relationships with people around me, but my self-esteem and self-confidence, as well.
I recently wrote a post called One Potato, Two Potato… that talks in greater detail about my experience of an intense temper flare that builds up over time.
I actually have identified a number of different kinds of flares I experience:
Flares that originate inside me – and come up suddenly without any warning
Flares that originate inside me, but percolate and develop over time, till I boil over. (That’s what One Potato, Two Potato… is about)
Flares whose source originates very suddenly outside me – they’re knee-jerk reactions to external conditions that actively provoke me.
Flares whose source comes from outside me that percolate slowly until I boil over.
There are other ones, as well, and I’m devoting a fair amount of my time, these days, to thinking about them. Of all the cognitive-behavioral issues I have, my temper flares are some of the most challenging. And since so many people reach this blog by searching for info on TBI and temper, I know I’m not the only one.
For the uninitiated, here’s a general description what happens in one of my TBI temper flares, how I deal with it, and how I pull out of it:
I have a goal in mind — it can be as simple as picking up a pencil, or as complicated as making a three-course dinner.
I turn my attention to the thing I want to do… think about doing it… think about not doing it… and then I decide to do it.
I shift into gear — I reach for the pencil… or I start peeling vegetables for cooking.
Suddenly, something stops me — I drop the pencil, or a potato slips out of my hand and skitters across the floor.
A sudden wave of violent emotion sweeps through me, like a wildfire through dry California underbrush. My eyesight dims briefly, as my heart pounds and adrenaline floods through my veins. I want to strike out, lash out, hurt whatever is getting in my way. I curse the pencil… or I feel a sharp stab of rage directed at the potato. If I were able to kinesthetically direct energy at will — and if my temper had its way — the pencil or the potato would be a smoking little pile of ashes.
In the back of my head, the calm, collected voice reminds me that it’s just a pencil or a potato, and that no one was harmed by this thing slipping out of my hand. I don’t need to strike out and harm anyone, just because I lost my grip.
The part of me that doesn’t care for these temper flares is mortified at my intense reaction. It’s deeply ashamed that I would get so worked up over such a little thing. So what, if the pencil or the potato got away from me? What’s the big deal? The wild animal part of me that flared intensely is cowed and tries to defend its reaction, but when the logical, sensible, even-keeled part of me prevails in its reason, that little animal part of me slinks away to a corner to lick its wounds and chastise itself for being bad… again.
In an attempt to de-escalate my just-add-water instantaneous rage, I pause and take a measured breath. I turn my focus back to the basics — the simple act of picking up the pencil… retrieving the potato from the other side of the kitchen. I focus on the most basic aspects of the moment, waiting till the rage subsides and I can get back to doing what I started out doing.
If all goes well, I can continue with my task and not suffer too much at the hands of my self-recrimination. If things aren’t going well, like if I’m stressed or fatigued or scattered, I may throw something or curse or hit something or lash out… with the consequence of not achieving what I intended to achieve, and descending into a downward spiral of shame and blame and guilt and embarrassment. If I’m lucky, no one is around to see this. If I’m out of luck, someone I love and care for is nearby and is strongly impacted — and quite negatively so — by my sudden rage.
Now, I’ve noticed that if I have built up a lot of momentum around Step 2, my rage response is much more intense, than if I proceed with measured pace, taking things one at a time. I also need to be careful not to indulge every reaction that comes to mind.
It’s helpful if I can sit back and just observe myself, not participate 100% in the whole unfolding drama. But observation doesn’t always work. Especially if I’m tired.
Over the coming weeks (early 2009), I’ll be writing more on this. It may be helpful to others who are dealing with the challenges of TBI temper flares… with greater or lesser success. In fact, some folks have said that what I’ve written so far, is very helpful to them, so it’s my hope that I can help more.
Of course, the holidays are really just beginning, but the holiday travel piece is over.
I will not be traveling over the December holidays… it’s just too much energy, too much exertion, and it completely overwhelms me far past the level that I’m comfortable with.
Once upon a time, it was fine and dandy for me to constantly push the envelope… travel throughout November and December… push myself to do-do-do for the holidays, doing all the shopping, all the driving, all the travel, all the social maneuvering… just putting my head down and soldiering through, regardless of the toll it took on me.
No more. This year, I am seriously taking care of myself. I did my family duty for Thanksgiving, and it really tested me in some scary ways. Ways that I don’t care to repeat in another month or so. I was able to get periodic naps in, and (for the most part) I was able to watch what I was eating and doing and saying and thinking, so that I didn’t get too far out ahead of myself. But the few times where I did lose track of what I was doing, how much I was sleeping, what I was eating… I melted down in some sad and sometimes scary ways.
One of the times, I was visiting an old friend who had company drop in to visit for a little while, and the shift to lots of social interaction really threw me off and triggered a major meltdown after they left. I had anticipated — and desperately needed — a quiet evening with this person, just catching up about what’s been going on in my life for last couple of years, but I was unexpectedly thrust into the midst of a lot of very happy, very gregarious people who had no idea how loud they were, and had no comprehension of what the effect of their noise was on my sleep-deprived head. I held it together for the hour or so they were there — I didn’t feel I had the right to chase them away, and I didn’t want to spoil their fun, just because I was having auditory processing issues. But when they left, I just fell apart — tried to hold it together and have a pleasant conversation, but ended up in tears.
Feeling damaged. Feeling deficient. Feeling unfit to be around people. Because I just couldn’t follow what they were saying, I was so tired, so overwhelmed, so unprepared. I hate it when I get like that — it ruins the simplest of times, the happiest of times, and I have a hell of a time dealing with the fact that I’m affected this way.
Fortunately, this friend of mine has seen a wide range of human behavior in the world, and they’re not easily intimidated — especially by me, who they know better than I know myself, in some ways. They have an uncanny ability to discern who is really inside the person they’re interacting with, and when I broke down in mortifying uncontrollable tears and couldn’t talk for half an hour, they let me be, rubbed my back, brought me a glass of water and a blanket to wrap around me, and just let me be, till I got my bearings and could be human again.
The other time I started to lose it, was when I was behind the wheel of my car, which was not good. It was raining and dark, and I was having a hell of a time seeing my way through the night. On top of it, I made some poor choices about how to avoid the parking-lot traffic on the freeway, and I ended up taking long back roads that didn’t have a whole lot of human presence nearby. A little scary… not terribly frightening, but what might have happened is haunting me a little today.
I was okay company in the car, until near the end of the trip, when my traveling companion started to talk to me, and I started to flip out — yelling and saying unkind things and generally being a really difficult person to deal with. It was a really shitty way to end up what was otherwise a mostly okay Thanksgiving, and I really regret having said the things I did. It’s like these words were coming out of my mouth, and I couldn’t stop them. I think the talking got to me — the auditory processing stuff, again.
Thankfully, as I drove through the night being a total asshole, I was able to dimly perceive that I was in no condition to be indulging the rage that was coming up in me… that I was operating on diminished resources, to begin with, and I needed to just shut the hell up, which I did.
The last half hour of the trip was no friggin’ fun, and my outburst(s) made a taxing time even more troubling. But at least I was able to shut up, eventually. And my traveling companion may yet forgive me for saying what I said before I dropped them at their place.
Just one more thing I need to make amends for. Thankfully — and I mean thankfully!!! — I am NOT traveling any more for the next six months, at least, I will not be dealing with family up close and personal for at least another 6-9 months, and I will have plenty of opportunities to clean up my act with regard to the person I roasted the other night.
Plus, I’ll be getting my neuropsych results back in the next month, so I’ll be able to explain myself better… and take steps to:
A) Fix what can be fixed
B) Compensate for what can’t be turned around
C) Avoid like the plague those things that cannot at all be helped
If nothing else, there’s always tomorrow, always another lesson to learn, always another chance to make good on the promise I have, as well as more chances to make up for the parts of me that are not cooperating the way I and/or others want/need them to behave.
I’m realizing, more and more, how many things I just plain forget. I was talking to someone yesterday who was angry over me being concerned about them getting words turned around and facts confused — they said that they have been doing much better with regard to that, and they don’t do it nearly as much now, as they used to.
I said I was just concerned, and they said I didn’t need to be, because they’ve been improving… but I wouldn’t know that, because there are lots of things I forget. They said I was in no position to comment, when I couldn’t remember the past well enough to compare it to the present.
I think my memory has been slipping… and in fact, it’s aways been a bit spotty. There are vast chunks of time in my childhood that I cannot recall. My parents have talked many, many times about people and events that I cannot for the life of me recall. In fact, when she starts telling me about people or places or things she thinks I should remember, my mother usually asks me straight off, if I recall such-and-such or so-and-so.
I often have to say “No, I don’t remember.”
Does it dramatically impact my quality of life? I’m not sure. Certainly, when I forget where I put library books and I rack up fines, that doesn’t help. But my fines help support the library, in however small a way. When I misplace my USB memory stick that has important files on it — I literally lose my memory twice 😉 — it’s not much fun. And when I forget to mail things that need to go out in the mail that day, it can cause problems. But none of these things are earth-shattering, and I can usually work around them.
And use tools. Like keeping a notebook with me to write things down that I need to do, in the order I need to do them. Like using my calendar at work and color-coding my activities, so I have a context and an understanding of what I’m supposed to do. Like asking for help when I need it, without feeling self-conscious and stupid. Like developing the habit of putting things back in the same place, every single time.
In a way, my habits and lists make me even more functional than some people I know, who just assume that their memories will work. I don’t lose my glasses or my gloves or my wallet or my car keys, because I’m so strict with myself about always (and I mean always) putting them in exactly the same place, every single time. I don’t deviate from certain aspects of my routines — like always hanging up my car keys in their allotted place, as soon as I enter the house, like always putting my gloves back in my coat pockets, like always checking for my wallet before I go anywhere, and always keeping my sunglasses in the car in their case in the glove compartment of my car.
People have called me a variety of names, because I’m so strict with myself: nazi, anal-retentive, rigid, inflexible, too-strict… you name it. But these people don’t realize that if I deviate just a tiny bit from my routine and my ways of doing things, I can really get lost. If things aren’t where I expect them to be, my brain forgets that they exist. And that’s about the last thing I need to happen with my keys, my wallet, my sunglasses, or my gloves.