In it for the long haul

truck on road leading into the distanceAfter a brain injury, it’s awfully easy to get stuck in every single moment.

Everything seems different. Everything is different. Your brain has changed, and you have to devote a whole lot of time to each and every moment, as though it were the only one in your life.

Focusing on the present with laser-like attention became my main form of brain injury rehab. After all, I had to retrain my brain to make sense of what was going on around it, and I had to acclimate (all over again) to certain things I had once taken for granted.

Like brushing my teeth and taking my shower and getting dressed in the proper order each morning.

Like washing dishes and cooking and fixing simple snacks without losing my temper.

Like going to bed at a decent hour and getting up to exercise each morning.

The things that I had once taken for granted… well, that familiarity was taken from me, when I fell in 2004. And everything fell apart.

We don’t realize till it’s gone, how much we really do take for granted, and how much we depended on the predictability to structure our lives. When it disappears, all hell breaks loose. Literally.

But now, after 10+ years of really drilling down on the details of every day, moment to moment, I seem to have turned a corner. And now I’m looking at the “long haul” — what’s ahead of me, not next week or next month, but 10 years down the line… 20… 30… and beyond. I wasn’t born yesterday, but I also come from a long-lived family, and I can realistically expect to live at least 20 years longer than my peers. Maybe even longer than that.

So, I’m shifting my attention away from immediate stuff and concentrating on the big picture. What else is out there? What else can I learn? How else can I grow? Where can I find interesting things to expand my mind and life?

It’s all out there, waiting for me.  And it is for you, too.

Onward.

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Post 1981 – Riding the downward slide

You may remember this

This is my 1981st post, and 1981 was the year my downhill slide started to pic up speed.

During my sophomore year in high school, I had started to drink and smoke pot. I had a rough year, my freshman year, and the next year, I realized that I could dull the pain and also fit in with people if I used “chemical enhancement”. Nobody cared if I had trouble understanding what people said to me.Nobody cared if I said strange things and lost my sh*t over stupid things. They didn’t care if I was distracted a lot, if I couldn’t finish things I started,and if I had an on-again-off-again brain.

All they cared about was whether or not I’d share a drink or a drug with them. If I did that,I was “in” — and in ways I was never “in” with any other crowd.

So, I did.

I went out partying with a bunch of friends… and those friends had other friends who did harder drugs. I’m happy to say I never got into really heavy stuff like cocaine or heroin — mostly because those drugs weren’t available when I was still partying. They were too expensive and too rare. And everyone was terrified of them — even the hardest luck cases.

So, I’m sure that didn’t help my brain at all.

I also played a lot of sports and had a pretty rough and tumble life, and I got clunked in the head a lot while playing soccer, football, etc. I ran cross country and did track and field, because they let me get away from everyone and be by myself, while also being part of a team. Coaches from other sports tried to recruit me, but I wasn’t feeling up to it. It just felt too hard, to have to keep track of all the action on the field. I loved baseball, but I had a hard time judging distances, so I wasn’t much good in the outfield. I also had a hard time staying really focused on what was happening in the infield. I got distracted a lot. So, I played third base a lot. Part of the action, but still on the margins.

My junior year was the peak of my athletic performance. I was captain of both the cross country and track teams. And it was probably the highlight of my high school career. The following year… well, I’ll talk about that later.

When I look back, my recollections are darker than the whole experience actually felt at the time. When you’re in the thick of things, just trying to get through, you can lose yourself in the experience of life, but when you look back, you see all sorts of things that you didn’t realize at the time. And a lot of those things aren’t always that great. Because you realize that you were caught up in something that was a lot more difficult than you wish it had been, and you can’t help thinking, “What if things had been different?”

I’ve been getting caught up in that a lot, lately… looking at things as they are and wishing they were different. Work is difficult, right now — mostly because there are all sorts of rumors and gossip and uncertainty, and once again I feel as though I need to make a shift away from how things are… start fresh. Leave all this behind. I hate the whole thing of getting up and going to work each day, and I’m feeling pretty stuck… even though I know I’m not.

When I was a junior in high school, I did feel stuck. I lived in a rural area that didn’t have a lot of contact with the rest of the world. There was no internet, there were only three local  television stations we could pick up on our black and white set, and the public library was the only connection I had to the wider world. I felt so cut off from where I wanted to be and who I wanted to be, and I didn’t know how I was going to get where I was going.

I knew I had dreams. I just couldn’t do anything about them at the time. All I could do, was bide my time till I was 18 and able to be self-sufficient. And go out into the world and be a writer.

‘Cause that’s all I really wanted in life. To be a writer. Well, actually I wanted  to be a forest ranger (mostly to spend a lot of time alone in the woods) or a conservationist of some kind.  I wanted to travel the world and experience things and write about them. I was going to be an adventurer who wrote pieces for National Geographic about boating on the Amazon or climbing the Andes. I was going to do all of that. Be wild and free and write all about it.

But I kept getting hurt. I kept getting in trouble. I kept getting caught up in the wrong sorts of company, and that really took a chunk out of my capacity to invent my own life. I also got married fairly early… saw that marriage dissolve… and married again not long after. I don’t regret the second marriage. It’s still going strong. But my spouse was sick a lot, and they were very poor when I met them and unable to provide for themself. So, I’ve spend the past 24 years providing for both of us, for the most part (except for a brief and very rare stint in the early 1990s when they were making more money than I was, holding down a bigger and better job than I had).

So much for roaming the world.

But looking back, I have to say it’s been well worth it. I wouldn’t have stayed, if it weren’t so. And I have had some pretty amazing experiences along the way, even if my surroundings have been pretty tame. I’ve done good work, and I’ve been part of some pretty amazing teams, doing some pretty amazing things. All this, while dealing with a sh*t-ton of blocking issues that I just moved through and worked around.

In a way, it has been an adventure, all along the way. I have to remember that. I haven’t been unhappy through the years. I’ve been challenged and engaged and pulled this-way-and-that, and I have built a good life in the process. And looking at my life now, I can see that I actually am the person I was hoping to become. Despite all the setbacks and difficulties, if I had met the person I am now, when I was 16, I would have been pretty impressed. I’m not perfect, but that’s not what would have interested me.

Being interesting was… and that’s what I am.

That’s what I have to remember — a lot of things may be wrong in my life, and I might need to sort a lot of stuff out, but I really am happy with the person I’ve become. All those experiences made me into who I am — here and now. And it’s good.

Well, the day is waiting. Onward.

A plan awaits

A year from now, you will wish you had started TODAY.

– Karen Lamb

The pieces are coming together. My earlier ambivalence about this job is dissipating. Now I know I am going to be leaving – after the big deadline I have in September. This gives me about 20 weeks to hone the skills I need to get up to speed. I just really need to do it.

I have resolved to do this in the past, but things broke down with me, and I did not follow through, much to my current disadvantage. Now I am in a situation where I need to move, I want to move, I have to move… but I can’t. Because I don’t have all my ducks in a row.

To be fair, though, I can’t exactly leave before this big deadline. I can’t just ship out before it’s done. I am a key player in this project, and leaving right now would seriously screw over my co-workers, and I don’t want to do that.

I want to leave the company, not stick it to people who I work with. It’s a classic conundrum, which I’m sure I can overcome – it just takes time.

You know, it’s funny, having memory issues when it comes to future planning. Sometimes I just plain forget what I’m supposed to be doing, down the line. I lose sight of things and I get distracted and pulled off in a million other directions. Then I forget what I’m supposed to be doing… and I lose ground on what progress I’ve made before.

And then I get depressed and feel like I will never make progress. Ever.

Which isn’t true, but it sure feels that way.

So, here is my plan :

  • I have a set of skills that I need to hone and strengthen and prove.
  • I have 20 weeks in which to do just that.
  • I have chosen three different distinct but related skillsets to work on during this time.
  • Each of these skillsets has books and documentation and training materials that I can use to gain expertise.
  • Those books and documents have chapters, which I can use to break down my work into manageable pieces.
  • I have sever space of my own, so that my work can be seen and experienced “in the wild”, not just on my hard drive, which is very, very important for a job search.

So, if I am systematic and focused on the taks(s) at hand, I will be able to position myself very well for a job change in the fall. I will have time to work on my portfolio, and I will have time to build things that are real — and are really the types of things I want to be doing — so that people can see that I’m not just a dabbler, and I know what I’m doing. I will also have time to focus in on emerging industry trends and participate in online discussions that show that I know what I’m talking about and I’m current on emerging trends and technologies.

I just need to stay the course. Not get pulled off in a million different directions. Stay focused. Quit looking at the news to see if they’ve figure out who bombed the Boston Marathon, stop obsessing over my marital issues and personal issues. Yes, they matter. Yes, they (some of them) affect me directly. Yes, they have the potential to make me really miserable. But at the very base of it all, at the very core, if I am not gainfully employed in a job that is meaningful and rewarding for me, everything else just falls apart.

So, I need to keep myself on track. Not get pulled in a million different directions by things that may or may not affect me personally, and may not be under my control at all. There is no point to me getting that distracted over so much. When I start to get overwhelmed, I become more easily distracted, and that doesn’t bode well.

So, I need to make sure I’m not getting overwhelmed. I need to pace myself. Not go faster than originally planned, but also not bag it when I feel like I’m going slower than originally planned. Just keep steady, which is so very difficult for me… because I get foggy and turned around and then my head goes in a hundred different directions, thinking that each of them is a good idea, which it is not.

It’s a problem, this distractability. And the morale-killing fatigue. And the overwhelm that narrows my cognitive resources and wears me out… AND makes me crave stress, so that I feel sharper and I feel like I’m able to handle my life.

A plan awaits. Yes, I am motivated. Yes, it is now time to start in earnest. And yes, I’m going to do this – because I can’t imagine doing anything different. And if I don’t, things will never change the way I want them to.

Enough talk – onward.

Keeping the compass true

So, I had a really good session with my NP yesterday. We talked about all the things that are going well for me, and my future job prospects. Of all the people I know, they really get the importance of staying positive and moving forward. And they also help keep me headed in that direction.

The one way they really aren’t much help to me, is in dealing with my setbacks and difficulties. When I start to discuss things that are challenges to me that I really need to work on, they have a standard line about how it’s more about my perception of things than anything else. They’re convinced that I don’t have substantial cognitive issues, and that any other issues I do have, I am perfectly capable of overcoming with the right attitude.

Okay, fine. That working relationship has been extremely productive in terms of helping me get my self-confidence back and figuring out what excites and moves and motivates me. But when it comes to the things I need to overcome and things that are going wrong, it’s a bit “fair weather” and the discussions start to fall apart, because we have completely different perceptions of how people and the world work. I believe that human beings are driven by biochemistry and internal wiring and instincts which kick in long before conscious thought gets a chance to step in, and they believe that the whole of the material world (including the human body) must necessarily bend to the will of an enlightened and highly trained mind. I believe in recognizing issues, understanding them, and either fixing them or learning to live with them and manage them, while my NP seems to believe that you can drive out all perceptions of problems through the power of the mind. They’re a bit “command and control” in that respect, while I have are more inclusive and — I think — accepting outlook on what goes wrong, and why.

When things are going great, and I have good things to report, then our discussions go well. At the same time, I don’t really have anyone to use as a sounding board when things are going poorly or my issues are catching up with me.

Oh, well. It’s pretty much standard fare for me. Most of my relationships and friendships offer me something significant and unique, but they’re limited in that way. Like any of the situations or relationships in my life, I have to accept that it can’t provide everything to me, and I have to figure out if what it does provide makes it worth it to continue. In this case, yes — with the understanding that I’ve got to fill in an awful lot of blanks, and I have to seek help in other arenas, when the going gets tough.

This is where the books come in, I guess. And Give Back LA. I really need to break out those reading materials again and get back into studying them. I also need to do a check-in about where I am, today, compared to where I was back in 2005, 2007, and 2009. I figure two-year checkpoints could be good. Lord knows, I’ve got notes. Have I ever got notes. I’ve got big three-ring binders in my storage closet filled with notes from 2007-2008, when I first realized that my fall in 2004 had screwed me up.

Should be interesting. I’ve actually avoided looking at those notes, for the past several years. I just wanted to get on with my life. And I have. I think looking at the notes can give me an appreciation of how far I’ve come, how much I’ve progressed. I don’t want to get lost in it, just check it out. I’ve got vacation coming up in September (after 3 years), so I’ll have some time to review and pay attention to this stuff.

All in all, I really have a lot to be thankful and grateful for. And I have made a huge amount of progress. In many ways, I’m even more functional now, than I was before, because even with the limitations on my energy levels and my working memory and my processing speed, I’m still functioning at a pretty good level. I’m talking quality level, not quantity — I’m talking quality of life, presence of mind, awareness, and a real sense of purpose. I’m talking about finding what moves me, what matters to me, and staying true to that direction, keeping my compass directed towards that and not getting pulled off in all different directions.

It’s like improving distractability at a meta level — the concept of fractality is about patterns that repeat themselves time and time again, on different levels and in different sizes, throughout a situation or picture. In a way, my distractability, my attention deficit, ballooned up to a whole-life scale, and it kept me constantly on the go, flitting from one shiny object to another,  distracting and diverting me from what meant most to me, my core values, my deepest priorities, and the actual foundation of my life. People talk about having a moral compass, and I think that’s important. Perhaps even more important is having a compass that is true to your innermost values that aren’t dictated by an outside individual or belief system. I guess it’s an “ethical compass” I’m talking about — our own personal ethics, versus the morality of the culture you live in. It’s great to have a moral compass, but if your own inner compass is not true to what you yourself believe, then you can get really lost and do things for reasons that may not be the best or most true.

After I fell in 2004, my own inner compass went haywire. And I got lost. I got pulled off in a thousand different directions, and I’m really feeling that burn as I look for another job, and people ask me why I moved from one job to the next from 2006-2010. A year here, a year there… three months here, six months there… it adds up, and when you’ve had 6 jobs in 4 years, potential employers are going to take notice. Of course, I can’t tell them that my irritability, distractability, and rage were out of control. That’s no way to present yourself well 😉 But I’m figuring out how to frame those moves in positive ways, and have them work in my favor, which is the best that anyone can do, really.

And I’m not getting hung up on it, because ultimately, if one thing doesn’t work out, something else will. It’s fine. Because my job is presently not in extreme danger (that I know of – could be wrong, who knows?) and I have a regular paycheck coming in. I also work with people who love me — and I love them, too. I just can’t stand the work environment and what our employer is foisting on us, and that’s a shame. But again — no hang-ups about this. As my neuropsych reminded me yesterday, working memory is a limited capacity resource, and if I spend a lot of time getting hung up on things, then I don’t have room for the good and productive stuff.

So, today I’m making room for the good and productive stuff. I’ve got another interview this afternoon with a recruiter, and I’m looking forward to it. Things are lining up. The big project that I’ve got going on is going to roll out in less than two weeks, and I have a handful of things I’m going to be able to get accomplished before I go. Every time I talk with people I work with, who are in other parts of the world, I’m reminded that this could be one of the last times I talk with them, so I make the most of it. It’s a good way to go out, and I’m sure that I will keep in touch with a lot of these folks — maybe even see them again in my future travels.

There’s a lot to look forward to. My compass is true, I know where I’m going, and I’m holding my own. That’s the best that I could ever ask for, right here, right now.

Extending my attentional endurance

Who has a longer attention span - him or me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hm.

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s no good.

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

No. More. Distraction. Period.

I've been all over the map

Okay, I know it’s ironic that I’m announcing I’m not going to be distracted from my work, just as I’m starting another post which will keep me from doing that work, but I just have to put this out there, so I can get on with my day.

I have been trying to figure out this technical problem for almost a week, to no avail. The bothering thing is that it used to take me all of an hour to figure this out, and now it’s taking me days and days. It should be so easy… but it’s not. I’m sure it’s a combination of not having done this kind of work in several years. But it’s also to do with how my brain now works.

After my last concussion, I went from being a programmer who could pick up new languages and new techniques very easily and quickly, to somebody who apparently now can’t. Once upon a time, I could read documentation and “get it” very quickly. And then I could use what I learned. But after my fall, I became this zombie who would just sit around, staring at the computer screen, not learning — or doing — anything.

I’ve gotten better about not just sitting there staring at nothing for hours. But when I came out of my post-concussion fog, I found that I could not read things and understand what they were about. I still have trouble reading, in fact. And I sometimes have trouble understanding, unless I really work at it.

I’m having that kind of trouble now, reading things and getting them. I’m also having trouble following instructions, which is really annoying, because it used to come so easily to me.

It’s agitating me. And that makes me more distractable. It also makes me less likely to really rest well or get good sleep, which in turn cuts into my available reserves. Not good.

So, what to do? I guess the thing that bothers me the most is the fact that things have changed. It gets in my head, and I end up spending wasting a lot of time thinking, “I should be able to get this. Why can’t I get this?” So, I end up distracting myself with a lot of internal chatter — chatter that doesn’t help me get where I’m going. I’m literally tearing myself down, when I do this, which I’m realizing just now as I’m typing this. The cross-talk in my head is drowning out the productive thinking, which doesn’t help me get where I’m going.

I think part of the problem is that I’m trying to approach this puzzle the way I think I used to do it. But my brain just doesn’t work the way it used to. I’m not saying it’s broken beyond repair; it’s just really clear to me – more each day – that I need to adjust and do things a little differently than before, if I’m going to restore my functioning in this area. Now, part of me had given up on being able to do any programming at all. I tried, and I did manage to code up some things that were pretty cool — a timekeeping application and a TBI issues tracking application, which I used a fair amount for a while. And I thought about building versions that would work on iPads and iPhones and mobile devices. But then I got turned around and I couldn’t move forward with it, so I just dropped it and didn’t bother with it anymore.

I just decided that I couldn’t do it. I decided that part of my life was over. And I turned my professional attention in other directions.

But the other day when I was doing a little coding, I felt that old spark once more — that sense of satisfaction, completion, accomplishment… just from doing a few little things on my computer. And it brought back that old feeling that was once so strong.

So, I’m back at it now, again. Because it feeds me. It gives me great satisfaction. And it’s something that no one can  take away from me, really. Not unless I let them.

See, this is the thing — this programming stuff is actually really fun for me. It’s not the sort of thing that I necessarily want to do only for others, depending on it for my livelihood. But it is the sort of thing I need back in my life, so I can have this again. And I can enjoy it again. If I can just “take it off the table” so to speak, and not make it all about earning a living — make it about having fun and creating things that I enjoy and that I want to use — make it about me and my life and my brain and my sense of satisfaction, rather than meeting the needs of some employer… then I can actually get it back.

And I can focus in on what’s important to me — not what’s going to make my current boss happy.

{Disclosure: I just got distracted and went off to surf around online — it must be time to move on and get some actual productive work done.}

Anyway… Ultimately, the things I do because I love them, will strengthen my overall sense of self, as well as strengthen my overall skillset, which is what I need. In this job market, it’s critical.

So, enough of the distraction. It’s time to make some progress. Onward.

Exercising the muscle of attention

Exercise is good

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, personally, I have to wonder about

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

B) what their measure of success is?

C) what attention training procedures they were using?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a waste.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life awaits.

What if we all just… WERE?

Source: http://www.myspace.com/psychiatrypsucks

I had an interesting conversation with some acquaintances a few days back. For some reason, I ended up sitting at a table with a couple of folks who were lugging around diagnoses of ADD, like so much luggage they had to schlepp around an airport, in perpetual search of a flight that kept changing gates.

One of them embraced their ADD diagnosis with forced gusto, essentially turning the baggage into heavy Luis Vuitton satchels with special locks on all the latches. They proudly proclaimed that they were a “ready-shoot-aim” kind of person, who took things as they came… and proceeded to also comment that for all the balls they have in the air at any given time, they didn’t actually get much done.

Another of them sat silently as we discussed distractability and attention issues and what it’s like to live in today’s world. Not to be dragged down by any ADD/ADHD diagnostic belaborment, I proposed the idea that in today’s world, with all the things that are constantly thrown at us… if we have any interest at all in life, and if we are really invested in what happens to us and the world around us, we darned well sure are going to get “distracted” on a pretty regular basis.

I mean, if you give a damn about what’s going on around you, and if you have a deep and abiding interest in your surroundings, and your surroundings change and evolve, how can you not pay attention to shifting things?

“If you’re really, really alive,” I proposed, “you’re going to be prone to be distracted.”

The one with the “expensive luggage” just looked at me.

The quiet one got up and gave me the biggest hug I’ve gotten in a long time.

I think the quiet one would agree with me, when I loudly agree with Peter Breggin, who says “psychiatric diagnosing is a kind of spiritual profiling that can destroy lives and frequently does.

Check out his piece — it’s a wonderful read.

Bad decisions make good stories

Great post from a reader who’s often contributed great stuff — Just in time, too, as I am obviously “Ancora Imparo” — still learning.

And I’m coming up with more good stories.

The short version is, I’ve been talking to a company for about a month, now, about a job, but my hard work with the interviews and connecting with them feels like it’s been derailed by an oversight on my part, with regard to my references. Basically, I listed a current colleague on my references, and I believe they contacted them — at my present job, where people do not know I’ve been looking for another position.

The cat may be out of the proverbial bag, which can really complicate things at the job where I am now. People there are not happy, but they desperately want me to stay in their midst. I know misery loves company, but do I have to keep them company?

If this gets screwed up, it’ll be a bummer. This job is a great opportunity, and they reached out to me, after I had reached out to them about a different job that was more junior and wasn’t a good fit.

The interviews went really well, we hit it off great, and it looked like things were settling in. I had been wondering why they didn’t ask for references, then last Tuesday they did. I was getting home late from a long day, and they were in a hurry to get the info together. Plus, my main computer was down — in the shop from a busted power supply — so I was working double-time on a backup computer after a long and arduous day. I pulled up my list of contacts and ran through it, thought it was all good, and sent it off. I was so sure I had it nailed — I had some really good LinkedIn recommendations on there, too. I thought I had the whole package deal together, and I shipped everything off to a couple of folks at the company, very pleased with myself for getting it all done.

Then, the following morning, it occurred to me that I had listed a current colleague on my list. This is someone who has been both very kind to me and back-stabbing treacherous. This is not the person you want to alert that you’re looking for a different job.

So, I revamped the list and emailed it to the folks I’d contacted the night before. And I asked them to not contact this person, because my job search is confidential.

Well… a day later, I get an email from this person just out of the blue, asking me some question about work that seemed really basic — not the sort of thing they’d even need to contact me about. That got me thinking that the new folks probably contacted them prior to me asking them to not do so. Or they went ahead and contacted them anyway. I’m guessing it’s the former — these folks have been pretty scattered at times and not the most communicative, so my best guess is that they either never saw the second email or they went full-speed ahead with checking everything, and I came in too late to stop them.

It honestly never occurred to me to call the people at this new company and tell them what was going on, so I could head this all off at the pass. For some reason, I thought an email was sufficient. I really dropped the ball on this thing, rushing my work, not thinking it all through, and then not following up after the fact, when things started to look a little dicey.

I’ve been getting a little paranoid about work, anyway. People there are not communicative, and they don’t say to your face what they are thinking. They just hint at things, and you have to go into secret meetings behind closed doors to figure anything out. You have to tend to their fragile egos and soothe their frazzled nerves to get anything done, which is a huge pain. And they’re very jumpy and reactionary, so every little thing turns into a HUGE DEAL.

Sigh…

Anyway, of course, now I’m questioning my basic competence and ability to do anything. If I can’t figure out how to send people the right references, how the hell will I be able to do this job, which has a big communication/project management component to it? What does this say about my fundamental abilities? What does it say about my professionalism? Who am I kidding? What makes me think I can do this job, anyway? The hits just keep on coming, and I have to work pretty hard to remind myself that it was basically fatigue and a combination of frantic factors and being rushed and letting others set the pace of my life, that gave rise to this. I simply didn’t take enough time to sort things through, and I didn’t double-check my work (which is a long-standing problem with me, that I have to really concentrate on fixing, each time it comes up).

And I was doing so well…

Well, if this job doesn’t work out, there are others. I’ve gotten a number of different emails, lately, from recruiters who have some tasty-looking positions available. I get tired thinking about starting the whole job interview process all over again, but if that’s what I have to do, that’s what I have to do. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be, if this thing doesn’t work out.

That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway, to make myself feel better. Deep down, I’m horribly upset with myself for this oversight. I’m trying to stay focused on the idea that life is full of these kinds of situations, and the true measure of my character and ability is not just how I manage to avoid these things, but how I handle them when they come up. It could be that this kind of thing will happen over and over and over, if I take this job. And it will be my job to make sure that the train’s brakes and other apparatus are all working well, so the train doesn’t fly off the tracks.

That’s how I’m looking at it, anyway. Life is full of these kinds of situations, for whatever reason. Whether it’s a momentary lapse of attention or a prolonged failure to attend to vital details, or it’s someone jumping the gun or enthusiasm run wild, there’s always going to be something making situations that much more complex and convoluted.

My job is to manage that and the associated fall-out. This isn’t an isolated incident in my life, by any means, and it’s probably not going to be the last time something like this threatens to derail a process. The main thing is to just keep engaged and not let it get the better of me… to deal with it with calm, collected confidence and carefully navigate through the minefield of modern life. And be mindful. Really think about what I’m doing, and why. And not let others push me to mindlessly rush everything.

Mistakes happen that way. And sometimes what you gain in time, you lose in results.

Ultimately, I’m sure this will make a good story. But for now, I’ve got to see the story through from start to finish.

Onward.