Putting one foot in front of the other

footprint in sand with wave coming nearWell, this has been an interesting couple of weeks. I totally screwed something up at work, and I’ve been working overtime since the beginning of February to make it right.

It’s been so wrong, it’s been mind-boggling. How could I have screwed up that badly? Huh. It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything this egregious. In fact, I’m not sure I ever have.

But there’s a first time for everything.

Seriously, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. But it was bound to happen, eventually, under the current conditions:

  • Limited sleep
  • Additional travel
  • Intense pressure
  • No management support
  • Uncooperative coworkers who don’t keep me in the loop

The whole thing is really messed up, and I ended up at the forefront of it all. The good/bad news is that there are more pieces of this Monster Project coming not far behind that will have the same kinds of problems that my part of the project did.

So, I won’t be so alone, anymore.

Not that it’s any consolation.

I was pretty torn up about the whole situation, last week. Wrecked. But I’ve acclimated to this particular failure, and now… well, I just don’t care. What it means for my future… don’t care.

They’re going to re-org us, anyway.

Some people dislike my boss, and a lot of other people dislike my boss’es boss. And chances are, they’ll interpret this failure of mine as a failure of leadership (which would be nice, to not have to take the fall for a broken system). Everybody knows I’m smarter than the person who screwed up, last week. Something else must be wrong.

Well, anyway, it’s Saturday night, and I’m exhausted. Had a full day today, after a full week. Tomorrow might give me a break. We’ll see. I’m tempted to just stay in bed all day, but that will never work. I often think about doing that, and then 20 minutes after I wake up, I can’t take just lying there anymore. So, I get up. And get out. And put one foot in front of the other.

Some days, that’s all you can do.

 

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Yeah, well, nobody ever said it would be easy…

pier and lighthouse in distance across a lakeI’m regaining my balance, after a pretty intense week. I’ve been working long hours, sitting for long hours, and that’s brought me a whole bunch of pain. On top of that, I attended a memorial service for a friend who passed, yesterday. They were very close friends with my spouse, who is taking the loss very hard. Death is never easy, but when it happens at a relatively young age, and the person taken is a central part of the community and people’s lives, it takes on a whole other dimension.

I’ve been up to my neck in one problem after another. It’s been like trying to stay afloat in the ocean during storm surges. No sooner does one wave ease up, and I catch my breath, than another one comes along.

It’s been pretty brutal on me, and having to juggle the logistics of the memorial service arrangements added to the overall stress. I was one of the people who spoke about the deceased, and I had to come up with something meaningful to say, which I did – and it was very well received. It was an honor. But it happened at a really bad time. Which, of course, I can’t control. At all. These things happen.

And I bottomed out. It was like driving down a rutted road and hearing the undercarriage of my car scrape every couple of meters. Nerve-wracking. Grueling. And I know my “miss” at work, which really screwed up the project I’ve been managing, is being taken very badly by others. Even though I’m not the only one working on it, I still seem to be getting the blame. And lo and behold, before my follow-up meeting yesterday, I was informed that my boss’es boss and his boss’es boss and his boss’es boss had a meeting. I’m quite sure they were talking about my project. How could they not? It was such a glaring failure, it’s breathtaking.

But hey, at least I go all-out, when I do things. There’s no half-measures for me.

All in all, looking at the project in whole, it occurs to me that one of the things that made my “miss” so dramatic was that I rolled it back. I pulled it back from the live website and went back to the technology that we were replacing. That doesn’t happen in the company that acquired my former employer. They roll stuff out and move on — even if it’s broken. They leave broken sh*t hang around on the website for years, and they don’t think twice about it. That will never do. And if they fire me over this, good riddance. I don’t want to work at a company that does that.

No wonder they’ve been losing close to a billion dollars a quarter. Not a million (with an “m”), but a Billion (with a “b”).  Kinda makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about why it hit me so hard, and I think the big reason was that it just wasn’t consistent with what I expect of myself. It went directly against my Sense-Of-Self, and the person I believe I am. It also went against the kind of person I present myself to be around other people. It was a flaming disconnect between Who I Am, and what I did. And I lost all sense of who I was, where I was going, and what was to become of me, in the process.

I had the same level of intense personal anxiety and despair that I had for years, after my TBI in 2004. And it was even more extreme, because I believed with all my heart that I’d gotten beyond the “lost-ness” of my past. I believed I’d trained myself out of my ineptitude, that I was keeping up, that I was on top of things. And when it turned out I wasn’t, it hit me hard.

And that’s exactly what happens to you after TBI, in general. You lose yourself. You lose connection to the person you were. And the more advanced you are, the more disorienting it can be. It can be absolutely crushing, to lose access to the Whole You that was so well trained in life, who could do things just by reflex before… but suddenly can’t manage the simplest things like tying a shoe properly or remembering more than 2 things on a shopping list.

It’s crushing. And I got crushed last week. Absolutely hammered. From the   inside, and the outside. Because I’m not supposed to do that. I’m not supposed to fail that majestically. People are relying on me to NOT screw up to the degree I did (and I fully admit it and take responsibility for that). I let them down. I let myself down. I messed up. And now I have to dig myself out of the hole I fell down.

Of course, it’s not all about me. It’s not 100% my fault. What happened was the result of an extended process of everything being supremely screwed up, and people in a position to help not doing anything — in fact, doing the opposite: withholding help, keeping me out of the loop, not communicating, not collaborating, and forcing me to do their damn’ job. I was the last best defense against those people, and I wasn’t up to the task.

So, we live and learn. I’m working my way back to firm footing, even though everyone around me (except for people in my immediate group) are backing away from me like I’m anathema.

Well, good riddance. They’re part of what’s made the company lose so much money over the past years, and losing their allegiance is no loss to me at all.

Life goes on. Some days are better than others. Some years are better than others. This year is off to a crappy start. So it goes. Here’s hoping it gets better. If it doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of my trying.

Back again

Some days it feels like this

Well, that was interesting.

The pit of despair was cold and drafty, and it wasn’t much fun. It’s been a while since I was stuck there, and I’d forgotten how unproductive and self-defeating it is to get stuck there.

Even at the bottom of a well, if I keep looking up, I see light.

So, I got down to work, did something constructive with all my energy, and just took it one hour at a time.

And I remembered, for all my difficulties, there are many people in the world who would love to have my problems. Because they happen in the process of me living what’s overall a really good life. And all my worry and distress really makes me more aware of how others feel and how they, too, struggle with things — whether those things are “hard” or “easy” for others.

Compassion. That’s what came of it. For myself and for everybody else.

Now I’m back, and life goes on.

Better, though, this time.

Much better.

when things fall down

things are pretty much falling down for me, these days

i don’t want to complain, and i’ve done enough commenting about how things have been developing for me, over the past years

unfortunately, the things that i’ve poured myself into have not panned out

and it seems like pretty much of a waste

i’m not sure what the point is, in doing all of this

no matter how hard i try, things don’t seem to ever turn out the way i plan, or even the way i need

maybe in the short-term, it looks like it, but over the long term… nope

all the things that looked like they were doing great — it’s all very precarious and fragile, and it doesn’t take much to wreck something that took years to build up

so why bother building it up?

seriously, why bother? if everything is so precarious and so easily wrecked, why sink a lot of time into it?

it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me

so, i’m backing off on my investment in a lot of things around me

there’s too much that’s out of my hands and beyond my control

i have no use for people who set me up for failure, and i have no use for people who sit by and don’t lend a helping hand and watch others slip into oblivion

i have no use for people who profit from others’ failures

which means i have no use for a lot of the people in my life, these days

everybody wants something, yes

and what do i get in the bargain?

everything is falling down for me, right now

and i don’t even know if i care

I don’t have to do a thing… everything changes for me

In years gone by, I had a terrible time sticking with a job for longer than a year or two. I’d get so overwhelmed and exhausted, I’d have to leave before people figured out that I was, in fact, overwhelmed and exhausted.

I’ve had a tough time sticking with this current job, too. And now it seems like I’m going to get a reprieve from the monotony of same-old-same-old, because apparently the company is being sold… again.

It’s only been a few years, since they shuffled us from one company to another. From what I hear, there were a lot of layoffs. I haven’t been personally impacted, other than losing a couple of people who were occasionally really helpful to me. And I certainly haven’t had my world rocked by restructuring, the way others have.

But this time might turn out to be pretty significant.

Or not.

It’s impossible to tell.

All I know is, the change I’ve been craving is right around the corner, most likely.

We’ll see how this goes…

Onward.

Movement is not optional – it’s gotta happen

pineapple splashing into waterMy left shoulder is still killing me. But I know how to fix it — for the near future and in the coming weeks and months:

Movement. Keeping mobile. Not letting myself sit still for hours and hours, like I have been for the past several weeks.

Or maybe it’s been months. I’ve had a lot going on, lately, and 90% of it has been in front of a computer. Yes, I’ve gotten a lot done, but it’s come at a price.

So, it’s time to change that up. Move my entire body (not just my hands). Get up and walk around the room, while I’m on the phone. Get my morning exercise AND build in additional movement (especially weight-bearing movement) throughout the day. Don’t just sit still for hours on end. That’s kicking my butt.

I’ve got a plan. Now, I’m going to get up and walk around a bit.

Because that’s gonna keep me knit together in one piece.

Onward.

 

Doing what has to be done — and loving it

traffic cone standing on a muddy patch of groundWell, I’m off to an interesting start, this morning. I got a good night’s sleep, then I got myself out of bed at a decent time and got my exercise. Did some stretching. Did some lifting. Rode the exercise bike for a little longer than usual. I gained a few pounds over the past couple of weeks of intense work-eat-sleep-work cycles, and I’m not feeling that great, as a result.

Sluggish, stiff, the opposite of limber. And weak. That’s how I’m feeling, these days.

So, I’m doing something about it. And it’s not very pleasant, I have to say. It’s downright painful, in fact. Getting myself back on a regular routine, after going down the rabbit hole of overwork isn’t something my body is very happy about. It wants to languish. It wants to just keep eating and sleeping and working. But I can’t give in to that. Because that leads to more of what I’ve got now — weakness, chronic pain, and trouble doing basic things like brushing my teeth with coordination and putting my socks and shoes on easily. When my body isn’t working well, those things — and more — fall apart.

And I can’t let that happen.

Some days, it feels like a constant struggle to just maintain a normal pace. Some days, it is a struggle to do that. But struggle just comes with the territory in my life. Nothing important happens on its own, in my experience, and I tend to have different ideas about what should happen, compared to the rest of the world. So, to do things like have some peace, I have to structure my  life very differently from most people.

I’m not particularly interested in living in a steady stream of busy-work and mindless distractions to take my mind off the poor choices I’ve made. I’d rather just not make those poor choices, to begin with. So, that means I opt out of so many of the activities that others take for granted. I keep my social media interactions to a fraction of what most people have — including Facebook. I try not to get sucked into the current news cycles, including all the in-depth “analysis” (which just boils down to propaganda, from what I can see). I don’t go out to movies or concerts. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke, and I avoid bars and clubs when I can. I take time to cook decent meals and I keep my television viewing to a minimum, watching just a few shows — many of them on-demand, rather than clicking around the channels looking for something interesting.

And weekends I keep as low-key as possible. Every now and then, I’ll go out and do something, or I’ll launch into a flurry of errands and projects, but I try to avoid the rest of the world as much as possible on my weekends. I have to deal with everyone the rest of the week, so I give myself a break on Saturdays and Sundays.

Most people I know would hate living like I live. They’d find it boring. Or they’d get nervous in their own company. They wouldn’t like to hang around the house with only their own thoughts (and some interesting reading) to keep them occupied. They’d probably go out looking for something to take their mind off all that.

But for me, this is what I have to do to keep myself stabilized — and sane. Having these two days to decompress is not optional. Sure, sometimes I’ll venture out to spend time with friends, but the more active I am on a Saturday or Sunday, the more low-key my other day is. And the downtime is bliss. Sheer bliss. And I’m not sure I could live without it.

I was talking about this with a friend last night — somebody I haven’t seen in quite some time. They were asking why I don’t do as much as I used to, and I explained that keeping up the 9-to-5 work schedule, and then doing all the extra activities I used to do with my spouse, just got to be too much. It wore me out, and I needed some downtime. And they got it. Because over the past couple of years, they’ve been divesting themself of a lot of the “trappings” of a settled life. Rather than keeping up a house and paying a mortgage, they’re traveling around the country, house-sitting for friends for a month at a time, and then moving on to the next thing. Some people cringe at the idea, but it was working well for them.

It’s what they have to do, at this point in time. And it’s working. And they love it. Just like I’m keeping my life low-key on the weekends, cutting back on online social media stuff, and following the news a LOT less than I used to, while the rest of the world goes crazy around me.

To some, these would seem like sacrifices. And in fact, 15 years ago, before my 2004 mTBI, I would have really fought against a lot of these choices. But over time, I’ve realized that this is really the best way I can possibly live my life, and enjoy myself while I’m at it.

I’ve had a really busy couple of weeks, so I’m going to rest as much as possible, today. Do some reading. Think about stuff. Or just stay in bed. We’ll see what happens. In any case, it’s all good.

The rest of the world will be there when I resurface in another 24 hours.

This is how I know I need to slow down and take better care of myself

snow covered buildings

Like many places across the country, we had snow, this past weekend.

I went outside. I shoveled. I scraped. I roof raked. I waded around in the snow, taking care of business.

Then I went back inside.

I’ve been tired, and I can tell I’m over-tired, when I don’t want to go outside. Or I avoid it. Or I go outside at night, instead of during the day. I’ve been so caught up in the job situation and dealing with deadlines, that I didn’t realize just how worn out I was.

But when I avoid going out into the snow… I know something is wrong.

I love the snow. I love the cold. I feel best, when it is below freezing. I don’t feel cold when it’s the coldest. My internal thermostat kicks on, and I feel warm.

But not when I’m worn out. When I’m overtired, I get more sensitive to light — so going out into the bright snowy day isn’t any fun. I also get less coordinated — so, walking across slippery ground is very dangerous for me. I can’t afford to fall, so I avoid going outside. If this happens when we just got six inches of beautiful fluffy stuff, I know there’s something wrong.

So, I have to take better care of myself. Give myself more time to do things. Take more time to sleep. Relax. Put down the smartphone. Just relax.

I haven’t been doing enough of that, lately.

But I can start now.

Because we got our Christmas decorations up. I put up the tree and we hung our ornaments last night. The boxes of unused decorations are back down in the basement where they belong (some years, I don’t take them downstairs for weeks, even months, so this is progress). The driveway is cleared, and my schedule at work is going to be pretty mellow for the next couple of weeks. I only have seven more work days before my break, and I’m stoked.

Completely stoked.

Woot.

I just need to take care of myself during my time off, give myself a break, catch up with myself.

And take some time to enjoy the beautiful snow.

Just a few weeks left…

… in 2017. It’s been quite a year. Very, very busy. Too busy for my liking, but that’s been out of my control, for the most part.

I am getting more leads on other employment opportunities, and I’m doing a better job of not getting emotionally invested in a certain company or a certain position. No matter how transparent companies are, there is always additional info the interviewers leave out.

So, I have to make up my mind based on actual objective facts — length of commute, salary, stability of the company, vacation time, insurance and benefits. The rest of the people stuff and roles and responsibilities is “ephemera”. That gets worked out in the process of just doing the job.

This is one of my favorite months of all time. I have time off — leftover vacation time I need to use up, as well as a week off between Christmas and New Years — which will let me catch up on a bunch of stuff I need to wrap up before the end of the year. The weather is getting colder, too, which is great. I don’t do well with the heat, as I get older. And I sleep better when it’s cold.

I’m also getting a lot of things done at work — at the job I’m hoping to leave. It’s a roller coaster. Every day, it’s either really great, or it sucks beyond belief. One day, I can’t wait to get out of there, the next, I could stay forever. If I find a situation that’s vastly superior to where I am now, I’ll go for it.  But I’m not under a ton of pressure to go. That’s more a personal preference.

In the meantime, I’m plugging away at my work. Just keeping going. Talking to recruiters, doing my own projects, and keeping my head down, overall.

I’ve got time to relax and think things through… or just sleep.

I might just do that.

What we lose after TBI… and what we can get back

woman standing with a leaf in front of her faceI’m feeling really grateful, this morning. I’m tired, but I’m content. I’ll have my nap later, and everything will get even better.

I spent yesterday doing some of the things I love the most: cooking, eating, writing, reading, napping, and watching football while eating non-dairy ice cream… all with my partner, who has been really struggling with mobility issues, lately.

I bought us a collapsible massage table a couple of weeks ago, so we can both take turns stretching out and do horizontal exercises without having to get down on the floor. I set it up last night for my spouse to lie out flat (major plus) and do the exercises their physical therapist prescribed. The floor has gotten too cold to lie on, plus, it’s hard for them to get up and down without pulling something or hurting. So having the table is a huge benefit. Plus – bonus – I went to bed at a decent hour after a long day of lots of work

And by the end of the day, I realized just how good I have it. I realized that, after all the years of struggle, all the years of incredibly hard work, all the pain and frustrations and perseverance, all the dead-ends, all the plans to just give up, and battling all the despair… I have come through to another side, and I am in a place where I am good.

It’s taken years for me to get to this point. And it feels like this is the first time I’m really settled into this good-ness in a way that I actually believe. I’ve spent so much of my life confused and confounded, thwarted and hurting… without much of any clue about why that was, or what I could do about it… I had started to think that’s just how things were going to end up for me.

Permanent disablement. Permanent screwed-over-ness. And I just needed to get used to the experience and accept if for what it was.

But that feeling has completely changed, just in the last 24 hours. Things are not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. There’s a lot of stuff that’s going really, really wrong in my life — and the world in general. And there are lot of unanswered questions in my mind. Still, I feel like I’m in a state of mind (and body — fitness is so important) that I can handle whatever comes my way.

No, my thought process is not perfect. I still get turned around and confused, and lately I’ve really been struggling with memory issues and misplacing things that I can’t afford to lose. I still have my intense lows, when I completely despair and lash out at the ones closest to me. I still have my moments of feeling useless and unlovable. I still struggle with crushing fatigue and not being able to do things that plenty of other people can.

And of course, I struggle with the fact that I can’t tell people about my issues, because it will work against me in the larger world. It’s not going to help me get a better job, if I tell the hiring manager that I function best if I have a 20-minute nap at the middle of each day. That’s not part of the deal in the 9-to-5 world I operate in.

But these are all things I’m convinced I can manage effectively on my own. I can handle it. Because I have a much better sense of who I am, and what I can expect from myself.

People have said that “you can’t recover from brain injury“, but that was decades ago, and we know a lot more about brain injury than we used to. Also, we know more about how concussion really is a brain injury… and so many people have them, yet continue to live their lives.

I myself notice that there are some things I just can’t do like I used to. It’s not as easy for me to push through marathon tasks. I need to stop and take a breath… do something completely different. And it’s harder for me to remember what I was doing before I took that break. I lose things. I get lost, too. I sometimes look around and have no idea where I am — but that’s more because I tend to be so focused on what’s in front of me, that I don’t notice my surroundings, so I don’t think it’s one of those “On Golden Pond” moments where I’m literally lost and have no idea where I am, period.

I’m more forgetful about things that really matter to me. My home office is pretty much of a wreck, but in a Thomas Edison “genius-y” kind of way, and my work area has spilled into the dining room that we rarely use. I have been misplacing important documents I just can’t afford to misplace… and then scrambling to replace them. I have a harder time initiating stuff I know I need to do (like go for a swim at the pool), because it feels way too complicated and involved. And try as I might, I really mess up things I’m positive I’m going to “nail”. I’ve been feeling really ambitious about making new meals while I’m on vacation this week, but my cooking skills have really degraded, thanks to the bone-crushing fatigue and difficulty sleeping. And coordination? Yah, forget it. Don’t leave anything near the edge of a surface. I’ll knock it onto the floor, for sure.

I know I’m not as sharp as I used to be. I know I’m not as sharp as I’d like — or intend — to be. I can be downright dull, and the bummer is, I’m aware. Oh, lord, how I’m aware. It’s not the most fun thing in the world.

And yet… I’m happier now, than I’ve probably ever been. And even with all my limitations and drawbacks, I’m definitely more functional, all across the board, than I’ve ever been. I’ve got “the whole package” together, at last. Even with the TBI after-effects, the slowness and slipping, the exhaustion and intermittent sense of defeat.

See, this regaining of competence and practical functionality is the real TBI recovery I wish people would talk about. Not getting your coordination and cognitive quickness back, watching your memory and endurance dwindle, having all kinds of intense emotional ups and downs… some experts might consider those blockers to TBI recovery. They might say it means that a person has lost too much and can never fully recover from a brain injury.

But everybody on the planet has something they struggle with, TBI or no.

And in any case, the real loss for me from TBI had far more to do with my Sense-Of-Self and my sense of “agency” in the world, than any objective physical or cognitive limitation.

TBI/concussion isn’t debilitating just because it knocks out your practical abilities. It’s most impactful because it takes a chunk out of your understanding of Who You Are and How You Handle Life.

It strips our self-confidence, and in doing so, it hits us hard with a self-doubt that’s a huge source of stress and ongoing trauma. What does stress and trauma do to the human system? It makes it harder to learn. And since TBI/concussion recovery is literally an exercise in re-learning to live, so your brain can rewire with reliable connections, that loss of self-confidence is in itself a source of ongoing injury.

TBI / concussion is an injury to the Self. And until people start accepting that and dealing with that piece of things — as well as finding practical, common-sense, science-based ways to address those issues — TBI and concussion survivors will continue to suffer from their injuries as well as the limitations of the people who intend to help them.

My road back from multiple mild TBIs has been a long one. It’s taken me 13 years to get to this point (and today is the 13th anniversary of my last concussion). It’s been a grueling and winding path. Fraught with perils. It nearly cost me everything I worked so hard to earn. But I can honestly say, I’m finally on the other side.

I understand my situation. I also understand the nature of my injuries, and how they affected me. But most important of all, I understand what I can do about it. And while I do tend to whine a bit here at times, the most important thing is for me to focus on the positives and share the lessons I’ve learned, so others don’t have to suffer as terribly as I did.

TBI and concussion are “recoverable”. We might not get back every single ability, and we may be left with lasting challenges, but we can restore our Sense-Of-Self, so we can get on with living our lives to the best of our developing abilities.

We’re made to heal. We’re made to grow. Regardless.