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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I’m incredibly distracted. I must be tired.

optical illusion interlocking cubes
I get so caught up in all my different things… it’s easy to get lost

I think the changes at work are getting to me a little bit. Uncertainty abounds. Fortunately, I’m not well-connected enough to get the juicy gossip. That would probably drive me nuts. My boss is very connected – and they are very guarded, as well. It’s impossible to tell, from talking to them, what the deal is.

I’ve been increasingly busy at work and at home. And more social, too, which has its own set of challenges. It’s hard for me to be social, when I’m tired… which is pretty much all the time.

What’s making it worse, is that I’m getting sucked into social media, chatting with people and also emailing them till late in the evening. I’m a night-owl by preference, but if I don’t get my sleep, fatigue sets in, and then I become impossible.

I’m not getting stuff done that I need to. I have several important projects around the house that I haven’t been successful at handling. It all needs to get done before winter arrives. It’s not a huge amount of work, but it takes focus.

So, I’m putting myself on a strict schedule. I sketched out a grid for what days I’ll spend doing what, and I got a visual of all the different things I’ve got going on. It’s easier for me to manage that way. I need to learn to tell myself NO, when I get distracted by things I’ve agreed not to do until the next day. And I need to be firm and decisive.

That’s hard, when I’m tired.

So, I need to get more sleep.

On the bright side, I’ve been steadily losing weight. I’ve lost nearly 20 pounds since the beginning of the year, which is a healthy rate for me. I need to lose another 5-10, to be where I want to be. I could even do with losing 15. But I don’t want to lose muscle, too. So, I just need to get a good sense of where I’m at, be healthy overall, and use my new energy wisely.

I do have much more energy than before — and actually, it’s one of the things that’s driving my distractions.

More Energy –> More Activity –> Fatigue –> Distractions –> Not getting things done –> Feeling bad about myself –> Distractions –> More activity that’s not productive –> Fatigue…

Anyway, you get the point.

Losing the extra pounds has been great. Now I need to learn to properly manage my new energy. Because it’s really, really good. And I don’t want to mess it up.

Onward…

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On the bright side – I’m not walking that razor’s edge anymore

I have really done a fantastic job of learning how to keep myself out of danger and NOT do things that put me in harm’s way, just to keep my attention alert.

I’ve been dull and dense, but that’s actually a positive thing in a way. It means that I haven’t been pushing the envelope with my adrenaline-chasing, like I always used to.

And that’s a huge thing. It truly is. I’ve been using extreme duress to make myself feel better for many, many years — as long as I can remember. And breaking that habit has been excruciatingly difficult. It’s taken me years. But I’ve gotten here.

Come to think of it, being dull and foggy is actually a sign of progress, in its own way.

It truly is.

And suddenly, it is fall

Autumn coming... time to bring back the reservoir
Autumn coming… time to bring back the reservoir

I have been so preoccupied this week with the work changes and catching up with old friends whom I haven’t seen in over a year, that I have not directed much energy towards noticing this season.

I’ve been tired — with that kind of cognitive and physical fatigue that is particular to brain injuries. My head has been looking for ways to make sense of it all… past, present, future… and that’s been taking up a lot of my time and attention.

It’s a double-whammy. On the one hand, opportunities like I’ve had in the past weeks are rare — having three days of solitude to clean out my garage and basement… having friends from overseas come to visit… being part of the beginnings of a corporate merger… These are over and above the usual speed bumps and wrinkles that populate my days and weeks. These are different, and they demand a special kind of attention — the sort of attention I actually try to avoid: drama, excitement, speculation, intense work for 12-14 hours straight, without much of a break.

Rapid-floating-in-FinlandBut because of their nature, I have to  just go with it. Get into it. Be a part of it. Allow myself to be swept along in the current – like a proverbial kayaker who gets dumped from their craft in the rapids — as you get washed along in the current, keep your head above water, keep looking forward, and keep your ass up and out of the way of rocks.

The main thing is to keep your head up. Don’t drown. Keep looking forward.

One thing you learn from TBI, is that when it comes to activities, you have to pick and choose. I suppose it’s true of anyone who expends a lot of energy in their activities… or who is very effective in what they do. You mustn’t squander your energy on things that don’t matter. But especially with TBI, you have to be extra careful.There is literally only so much you can do, and if you try to do it all, you end up wiping out your reserve of extra energy — and then you have to spend even more time building back those reserves.

Because lack of energy and fatigue just make everything worse. It siphons off your cognitive abilities, it depletes your stores of happiness and joy, and everything can feel like a slog.

Even the good stuff, the fun stuff, the stuff you know you should be grateful for and happy about.

For me, that’s probably the most depleting thing — knowing that I should be happy about things, knowing I should be pleased and excited and uplifted… but just not having the energy for it. Even energy spent on good things, is energy spent. And building it back is not a simple matter of sleeping in on the weekends. For every two days of extra energy I burn through, it takes two weeks to build it back. And if I don’t have two uninterrupted weeks (like this past month) and exciting things keep happening to me, well, then everything gets that much harder.

In what ways?

  1. distractionI get more distractable. I lose my focus and find it next to impossible to concentrate on the tasks in front of me. I get caught up in all sorts of side activities — which seem so important at the time, but are not actually relevant to what I’m supposed to be working on.
  2. I get more irritable. I can’t deal. I get cranky and snappy like an arthritic terrier. I get anxious and difficult to live with — with others, and with myself.
  3. I get less attentive. My attention gets fuzzy, and I stop noticing details – like the leaves turning outside, or just how beautiful everything has suddenly become. Everything around me seems wrapped in hazy gauze, and my senses are not sharp. My sense are so busy just trying to attend to the basics, that the extra special things in life slip by me very easily.
  4. Joy sorta kinda evaporates from my life. I know (intellectually) that I have a lot to be grateful for, and I know there is so much that I have to be glad about, but I just can’t find the joy. It’s nowhere to be found. And any attempt at reasoning with me to get me to find that joy… well, that just makes me feel stupid and ungrateful. My neuropsych tries to do this all the time, and the net result is that I feel stupid and short-sighted… rather than realizing that I’m simply tired, and letting it go at that.
  5. It gets hard to sleep. The more tired I am, the harder it is to relax and sleep. When I should be getting to bed early, I end up getting on Facebook for 90 minutes — and completely blowing past my normal bedtime. And you guessed right — fatigue becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where I get more and more tired and wired, as the days wear on. All of the above continue to escalate. It’s awful, and it’s very difficult to stop it.
  6. I end up in a downward spiral. Unless I can get a bunch of good nights of sleep, I’m toast. Things get worse and worse, until I finally just  Give Up. And it turns out, giving up is the best thing for me. Some nights, I go to sleep hoping I never wake up again — I am feeling that depleted and used-up. But the very act of completely abandoning hope actually makes it possible for me to rest. And in the morning, everything looks quite different than the night before. Usually, anyway. Some mornings, I’m still not convinced I want to keep going.

So, fatigue is a thing. It’s a very real thing. And if I don’t stay alert to it, and recognize when it’s getting to me, it can get the better of me, which is never good.

For today, I know I’m tired. I have a full day of things to do, but I can pace myself and take my time… really soak up this fine fall day, and enjoy what I come across, as best I can. Seasons change. It would be a shame to completely miss this one, because I’m distracted.

TBI Alert: Rehab Program Improves Memory and Mood, Even Years After Injury

Work it!

From Neurology Now

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

TBI Alert: Rehab Program Improves Memory and Mood, Even Years after Injury

BY REBECCA HISCOTT

Depression and difficulty concentrating are some of the potential long-term symptoms of a traumatic brain injury (TBI), but a specially designed cognitive training program may help improve these and other symptoms—even 10 years after the injury. That’s the finding from a new study from the University of Texas at Dallas’s Center for BrainHealth, published in the journal Neuropsychological Rehabilitation.

The researchers developed and tested an eight-week, 18-hour cognitive training program called SMART (for “Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training”) in a group of TBI patients, many of whom had sustained the initial injury more than 10 years earlier.

The SMART Approach to Rehab

For the study, 31 TBI patients between the ages of 19 and 65 participated in the SMART program; 13 were veterans. All had experienced TBI more than six months earlier, with two-thirds experiencing the injury more than 10 years earlier. They all had chronic cognitive or psychological symptoms, including difficulty carrying out daily tasks, grasping complex concepts, or problem-solving, which affected their ability to work full-time or find employment.

During the program, the patients learned strategies for improving their attention, reasoning, and innovative thinking skills. For example, the researchers explained, patients with TBI have trouble multitasking, which can tax the injured brain. In order to improve concentration, investigators taught the patients to identify and block out distractions in order to better focus on a single task. In turn, honing these attention skills helped the patients read complex articles and tease out the core ideas and messages. The participants were also asked to apply these strategies in their daily lives, for instance by reading the newspaper and identifying the most important parts of a news story.

The researchers compared the effects of the SMART program to those of a brain health workshop, in which 29 people with TBI learned basic facts about brain health and brain injury, but did not learn any specific strategies for dealing with the symptoms of TBI.

SMART Improves Memory, Thinking, and Mood

After eight weeks, people in the SMART program had improved their ability to grasp abstract concepts, as measured by a reading test, by 20 percent and improved their scores on memory tests by more than 30 percent, the researchers reported. The patients also reported a 60 percent decline in symptoms of depression and stress, and a 40 percent reduction in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These cognitive and psychological improvements could also “have a positive impact on one’s confidence, cognitive control, sense of well-being, and self-worth,” the researchers wrote.

Brain Imaging Shows Signs of Improvement

As part of the study, the researchers also administered magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to all of the participants, looking at blood flow in areas of the brain linked with stress and depressive symptoms, such as the frontal lobe, the anterior cingulate, and the precuneus. In people with TBI, blood flow to these regions is decreased, which is considered a marker of injury severity and is linked to worse performance on cognitive tests and symptoms of PTSD, the researchers explained.

Patients who participated in the SMART program had a more than 25 percent increase in blood flow to these brain regions, suggesting a healthier and less-stressed brain, which could also explain the improvements on psychological health, the researchers said.

Effects Last for Several Months

The benefits of the SMART training program persisted when the researchers administered another set of cognitive tests and MRI scans three to four months after the program ended, noted lead investigator Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth, in a news release.

Need for Further Study

The results are promising but preliminary, and will need to be verified in rigorous future studies, said Dr. Chapman and her colleagues. If future research confirms the results, SMART could be added to the growing arsenal of cognitive training programs that have shown promise for treating the long-term effects of TBI, the researchers said, with the ultimate goal of helping people with TBI lessen their symptoms, rejoin the workforce, and lead happier, healthier, and more productive lives.

To learn more about traumatic brain injury and how it’s treated, see and browse our archives here.

 

Ruckpack seems to work

So, I drank a shot of Ruckpack the other day, and unlike many other Thursdays, when I am dull and need extra caffeine, just to make it through, I felt pretty good, all afternoon.

I just took some more, because after my nap, I need to get up and do things, but I’m still foggy. I need to focus. Right away.

There’s no substitute for adequate rest, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

So, for now, Ruckpack energy drink without caffeine seems to help, not hurt.

Broken key – common theme

This may be me, later today.

So, the space bar on my keyboard is acting up. I will be typing along, and it will decide that it doesn’t want to work. And I’ll have to hammer on it a few times, to get it to work. How frustrating. I have to keep stopping to get it to work.

I will be typing along, and see that a space didn’t go between a number of words, so I stop and back up and put in the spaces. And then I’ve lost my train of thought, and I can’t remember exactly what I was going to write. 😐 How frustrating.It’s not like my brain does well keeping things in “RAM” memory in my head, anyway. But all these constant interruptions keep slowing me down even more, so by the time I’m done writing even a paragraph, I’m a bit frazzled and fried.

I was thinking that maybe it was because of my bum left right thumb (see? the interruptions have me so turned around, I’m getting my left and right confused, and that normally never happens). I have been having a lot of tremors and twitching in my left hand,especially my thumb. Maybe I have less strength and/or coordination in it, so it’s not hitting the space bar as hard as it should. It seems like it happens more when I am hitting the space bar with my right thumb. But it also happens with my left,so I think it may just be the space bar, period.

So, I have a number of choice:

  1. I can put on my static-grounding wrist strap and try to take my laptop apart and clean under the keyboard and see if the key is getting jammed on something.
  2. I can change how I type, slowing down and taking time to really hammer on the space bar each time I use it.
  3. I can just keep typing along and ignore the missing spaces between words, then come around a second time after I’mdone and put in the spaces after the fact.
  4. OR I can buy a new laptop.

Choice #1 is a little tricky. There are a lot of screws in the bottom of this thing, and I’m not sure I’m up for the ‘adventure’ of taking this thing apart and putting it back together.

Choice #2 is a no-go. I’ve tried it over the past few days, and it is terribly frustrating

Choice #3 is what I’m doing now, and it’s irritating. But it also gives me a chance to go back and revisit what I’ve written up, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Choice #4 will probably be what I do — after I put in some extra hours next week to stash some cash. I need a new laptop, actually. And a new desktop. All the machines I have are is Windows XP, which is about 3 versions of Windows behind, and a lot of the programs that are available today just don’t work very well on XP. They crash or they take forever. I need a Windows 7 laptop and a Windows7 desktop. I’m not doing Windows 8, because I’ve seen it and I don’t like it. Windows 7 still works just fine, thank you.

This all seems like a common theme for me. Things go wrong — not huge things, but disruptive things that block me and keep my head in the wrong place. And I have to stop, slow down, re-do my work, etc. I forget things at work. I screw up and have to scramble. I am chugging along just fine… then I run into a roadblock and have to double back and rethink/redo my work. Argh! It’s so frustrating. It’s like nothing really flows. I have to keep pausing to adjust. And I can’t build up momentum.

I was reading a self-improvement book a few weeks ago, where the author was talking about how important momentum is — you need to get into a regular pace with things and get in a groove.And then you get carried along by the flow.  Maybe they do. As for me, I *think* I’m going along in the flow, making good progress, and then WHAM! I hit a speed bump or a pothole, and I have to stop and check myself, and make sure I didn’t screw things up permanently, before I can continue.

Like typing along — chug-chug-chug — and the space bar is not putting in spaces, so I keep stopping to fix the broken places as I go, and that completely screws everything up.

Frustrating, to say the least.

But I don’t need to solve that problem just now. I have a bunch of things to do that don’t involve a computer that I need to finish up today, and I’m feeling really good about them. I’m helping out some friends, and I’m doing some of my own things. And I’m going to take a walk before the day gets too crazy. I have a good feeling about just about everything I’ve got going today.Plus, my spouse is away on a business trip later today, so I will have 8 hours of uninterrupted focus time.

I love my spouse with all my heart, but alone-time in the house is a luxury I seldom get to enjoy. And it is heaven, to not have to make myself understood to anyone, not have to navigate other people’s emotional “stuff”, and just go about my business at my own pace.

Except… there’s the Super Bowl tonight.

Anyway, I’ve got the whole day ahead of me, and it’s good. It’s really, really good.

Hardship benefit #1 – unparallelled focus

Being able to block it all out can be good.

Hardship isn’t always a bad thing. Obviously, it’s not pleasant — that’s why we call it “hardship”. Yet sometimes it can bring good things with it. It always brings something — and it’s up to us to determine what we’re going to make of it.

One of the things all my difficulties have taught me, is how to focus and keep my attention so intently on what is in front of me, that other things can’t intrude. I am often so inundated by stimuli around me — too much light, too much sound, too much confusion… all the details, details, details — that I cannot concentrate on what’s in front of me.

It can be a huge problem. The distraction, the stress of having to keep up with everything… The exhaustion that comes from blocking out and/or processing all the input… The sheer overwhelm… It’s not always fun. Sometimes it feels like a gauntlet.

And I’ve learned to deal with it — with a focus so intent, that very little around me can intrude.

I am reminded of that fact right now, with my current work environment. It’s more open than the old office was, and I’m also seated right next to the copier/printer. So, periodically throughout the day, I hear the printer kick off, and people come over to get their printouts. It’s not optimal, obviously, but it’s also not throwing me.

There are also other groups around who talk and laugh and have bursts of conversation that I find distracting. And then there’s the regular interruptions from emails and instant messages and people showing up in my cube.

It certainly helps to have at least some separation between myself and everyone else, in the form of a wall that rises above my eye-and-ear-level. But there’s still a fair amount of interruption in the course of each day.

But it’s been worse, in the past.

I used to have a job where I sat at a desk that was just a folding table right set up beside a printer. I was a contractor, so I didn’t warrant an actual cubicle. The people in that office did a lot more printing than the people I work with now. There was constant movement around me, constant distraction. But I loved my job so intently that it didn’t bother me. I was locked on. It was a 6-month contract that was going to be over soon, anyway. And even though they took pity on me and gave me a desk in a cubicle before long, it didn’t make any difference to me. I did damn’ good work at that folding table out in the open.

The interesting thing is, that was a couple of years after my last TBI, when everything was crazy and nuts and a huge-ass problem for me. I was incredibly stressed on many levels — mentally, physically, emotionally.

At the same time, though, when I was at that job, I was AT that job. I WAS the job, as they say. And when I think about it, it seems like I was really using the stress of that location at that job to block out a lot of crap going on around me.

Analgesic stress, you know…

Plus, it was mitigated by the fact that I was working just 20 minutes down the road from where I lived, and it was a contract, and I was sprung free from the overwhelming stress of my former life. The crush of my daily workaday life was balanced by the short commute, my ability to come and go pretty much as I pleased, and even though a lot of really challenging things happened at that time, I handled some of them extremely well and I improved in certain respects. (Although, when I went back to a hellish commute, that all changed and the downward slide picked up.)

Thinking back on my life of regular overwhelm and one problem after another, I realize that I’ve learned how to block out the crap around me and focus in on what is RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME RIGHT NOW.

Nothing else exists. No problems, no troubles, no complications. There is only the moment at hand, nothing else.

That doesn’t always work in my favor, as I tend to forget things that aren’t in front of me, if I don’t take steps to remind myself. I forget to mention important things to people I’m talking to. I forget to do important things that need doing (like paying certain bills or getting my car checked out). I tend to talk about things at that very moment, rather than things that have happened recently, because outside the current moment, nothing else seems to matter. So, I need to write notes and also send people messages to remind them to remind me to mention certain things.

But for the sake of getting things done, I’ve gotta say that getting kicked around a bit has helped me quite a bit. As long as I have ample time for recovering and recouperating, I can adapt and adjust. Take away the recovery time, and things become very different, very quickly. But if I have time to “integrate” and let it all sink in, it’s good. It’s all really good.

It might not seem like it at the time, but ultimately — again, with rest and proper integration of what I learn along the way — what doesn’t kill me, makes me a heck of a lot stronger.

Onward.

Setting a new pace

Picking up the pace – just the way I like

For the first time in months, I got up this morning and exercised. It’s been way too long. I’ve exercised on and off, over the past couple of years — more off than on.

And I’ve missed it.

A lot.

The thing is, I don’t realize how much I miss it, until I’m doing it again and I remember. It’s getting me doing it again – just starting – that is the monumental challenge. I feel like I’m delaying getting on with my day, and I’m not using my time productively — though for what reason, I cannot tell.

I think it has had to do with the fact of my commute. And the feeling that I’ve had for years, that I am behind on my work, I am not making any progress, and the life force is being sapped out of me, slowly but surely, but the frustrations of that job. I’ve felt like I’ve had so little bandwidth, so little time and space for myself to just think, that I’ve coveted every last moment of free time to spend on myself and my own activities.

I think another factor has been starting to read again. Now that I am reading again, I just want to spend all my time reading, thinking, writing… My short-term working memory feels like it’s improved dramatically — or at least I’ve come up with new and different ways to think about things, so that I can remember them that much better. In any case, I don’t feel confused and feel like I’ve permanently lost my way when I’m reading, anymore. When I feel like I’ve lost the train of thought, I just back up to where I remember having read something, and I just re-read.

And if I find I’m getting pulled off in all sorts of different directions by a lot of conflicting distracting thoughts — or my head is going nuts with thinking about a ton of different stuff that’s related to what I’m reading and builds on it further in new directions — I just take a break. Or I write things down for future reference.

Now that I’m reading again, and I’m retaining it — or at least have the sense that I’m comprehending what I’m reading — it’s all I want to do. Read and write. And share.

My presentation at that community gathering went extremely well, last week. I nailed it, I do believe. And I am looking forward to doing more public speaking in the future. It really gives me a lot of energy, to stand in front of a room of people and present on something I know about. I get so excited about it, and others pick up on my excitement, as well. It’s really gratifying to share what I know with others — and to realize that I can actually do this.

It’s massive progress, compared to where I was just a few years ago. A few years ago, I was so deep in muddling through the disconnects in my brain, that I could not begin to even think of doing public presentations. I had done presentations at work in the past before my fall in 2004, and they went well, but I never actually thought much of them. They were just one more blip in the sea of churning input and data that made no sense to me and had very little rhyme or reason. After I fell, my thoughts became so disorganized, the idea of getting up in front of anyone and speaking — even according to a script — turned into an impossible prospect.

It’s taken years, but I am finally past that. Even better, I am really presenting and interacting with my audience — not just talking to a script and getting the hell out of the room as quickly as possible. I spent much more time last week on taking follow-up questions and discussing my presentation with people after the meeting, than I did actually making the presentation. And that’s a HUGE sign of progress for me.

HUGE.

I was able to not only present, but also really flow with it — improvise when I came to a slide and I couldn’t remember the exact words I intended to say. I had intensely practiced my presentation a lot over the past days, and I had practiced recovering from flubbing up many times, too. So, I was able to keep going. After all, whatever I said that seemed “wrong” in my head, was perfectly fine with everyone else, because they didn’t know what I was “supposed” to say, and the things I did say were relevant to the discussion.

After the presentation, we had Q&A, and I took a bunch of questions. Probably about five or six. And I did them so well, that the questions kept coming and they had to cut me off, to make room for everyone else. I was able to then sit down and pay attention to what the other speakers were saying — there were two that followed me. I didn’t let anxiety about how I did distract me. I didn’t sit there and fret about whether I did well or not, what I remembered, what I forgot, and those places where I stumbled and messed up. I just let it go, and I moved on to the next experience, trusting that I had done my best and it was perfectly fine.

After the meeting, I chatted with a number of folks, who had interesting things to say and some useful information to share.

It was a good meeting, it was a fantastic experience. And I am really looking forward to more opportunities to speak in public.

What a hoot. When I think back to five, six years ago… there is no way I felt that being a public speaker was in reach for me. No way. I dreamed about it, I thought about it, but I didn’t actually have the sense that it would ever truly happen for me. I was too caught up in my issues, too muddled, too confused, too insecure and frazzled by everything life threw at me. There was no way I would have guessed at the time that I’d actually be standing up in front of a room of 70 strangers, talking about something that meant a lot to me.

I had actually tried to do that sort of thing, several years before. I think it was not long after I had fallen and got all jumbled up. I actually had a pretty successful presentation, but the whole experience was so overwhelming for me, I effectively went “underground” and never dared venture forth again. There were too many people, there were too many questions, there was too much energy. I just couldn’t deal. At all.

This time was nothing like that. It was the complete opposite.

And it feels like a stepping-stone to the next stage for me… a gateway to what else is possible in my life. I have a new direction, I have a new sense of what I’m truly capable of, and with my new job and new schedule, I can truly take the steps I need to take, to move in a different direction with my life, at a pace that suits me — not that’s dictated by the outside world.

It’s all good.

Onward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Focusing on better things

Lose some... and win some too
Lose some… and WIN some too

This is my last week at the hell job I’ve been stuck in for the past four years. In so many ways, it has tested me. That’s not a bad thing, and maybe I needed to be tested in a lot of those ways.

But I’m done with that particular gauntlet now, and I’m ready to move on.

Before I go, though, I need to do what I can to really remember the good that has happened to me as a result of working there. That job gave me stability and a sense of continuity with the people around me (if not with the company as a whole) that was a good foundation for me.

I did an awful lot of recovering there — getting on my feet logistically… and socially, too. The environment is highly social, so I was really forced to connect with people in ways I had never done before, and on a scale much wider and deeper than I ever needed to before.

There’s something about everyone battling the same obstacles that brings a team together… though I think that it’s more effective to have actual obstacles, rather than artificial ones. Focus on the real enemy — the competition — rather than manufacturing artificial obstacles, such as an inefficient workspace, a long commute, difficult working conditions, inadequate budget, and a “lean” workforce that is so over-taxed, they don’t have time to actually enjoy the goodness of life.

But I’m skewing to the negative again.

Of course I’m doing it because I’m regretting having to leave. Or am I?

I know I’m regretting that I’m leaving my colleagues in a really tough spot. They have to do even more with even less, and it’s bothering me that they’re not getting the help they need. Then again, they’re all free to go as well. Anytime they like. Nobody is keeping them there, and they can leave, as well. It’s their choice. We all make our choices.

And in looking back at the last four years, I need to remember that — it was my choice to stay there, it was my choice to keep making a “go” of it. I could have thrown my full attention into developing the skills and abilities I needed to leave. It would have been slow going, but I could have done that and really made that the focus of my attention and energy.

But I didn’t. I chose to stick around. I chose to stay and make the best of it. And the opportunities that came my way… I said “no” to a lot of them. That was my choice. I had my reasons. I might not remember exactly what those reasons were, on down the line, but I have to trust myself that there really was a reason for staying.

Indeed, there was. And up until a month ago, plan as I might, there was not a good exit path open to me. I was actually committed to sticking out the summer with these folks — and possibly beyond — to get those major projects off the ground and to help with the usual summer rush work. The summer is an intense time at that company, because there are huge projects in the works that have a September deadline, and people all over the world have to pull together to make it happen. I have been sacrificing my summers for the past three years, to help make that happen, and I can’t say it’s been all that gratifying. It’s been good experience, which has paved the way to this new job. But it wasn’t much fun when it was happening.

Still, it served its purpose, and that’s what I have to believe about everything I’ve done at this company for the past four years. It’s all served a purpose, teaching me hard lessons, and paving the way to what’s next. For all the difficulties, I’ve become more resilient and resourceful. And for all the challenges, I’ve come to appreciate the good things in life all the more.

Before I started at this company, I just took certain things for granted — like technical expertise, adequate resources for critical positions, executive recognition of What Matters Most. And autonomy. I really took that for granted, because I’d been working in self-directed circumstances for over 20 years.

Seeing the other side of things, and realizing that no, things aren’t always organized in effective, efficient ways, has given me a new appreciation for those things — teamwork amongst team members… everyone pulling together as one. And now I value it so much more. Going on to this next job, I’m incredibly excited to be back in my “natural habitat” again — back amongst my professional peers who aren’t all making the same mistakes I made 15 years ago, and wondering “why did THAT happen?”

Oh, god…

Anyway, that’s rapidly disappearing into my rearview mirror. I’m sure there are things about the company I’m leaving, that I’ll really miss, later on. Or perhaps not at all. Who knows? All I know is, I’m moving on, and I have the whole world ahead of me. I have a new lease on life, and my other projects are picking up steam in a very big way. In another week, I won’t be glancing at the clock, dreading an hour-long commute. I won’t have to juggle my morning to schedule my drive to the office at a time that will strike a balance between minimizing my time in traffic and maximizing my productive time at work.

And I won’t have to hassle with that horrific open space plan.

Holy crap, those two things alone will make it more than worth the change.

Now I’m even more excited… and I’ll start getting ready for work in a few, to make one of my last drives into that office. I’m only going into the office one day this week, so this is #4… 3… 2… 1…

Time to get the game-face on and get into a good mindset. The past four years have seen tremendous growth for me, and I’ve come so far — in no small part because of my coworkers and the pressure they’ve put on me to integrate and socialize and be a real part of their team. They really have been a huge part of my life — my only social life, in fact. And I will miss them.

Well, some of them, anyway…

Regardless, in the next week, my primary purpose is to look for the good, find the good, see the opportunity, buckle down and finalize things that need finalizing. And do my best to tie up whatever loose ends I can, so I can leave my soon-to-be-former teammates with at least a fighting chance.

The day is waiting. Onward.