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.

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At last… the walk

Funny, how everything can sneak up on you…

So, my plan to go for a walk this morning got postponed. I realized that I needed to start work on some important day-job stuff that is due in a couple of weeks, so I dug into that, and three hours later I realized that I wasn’t making the kind of headway I wanted to, so I gave it a rest.

Which was good, because my brain is *fried*. I had an incredibly full day yesterday, with a training I attended in a nearby city. Between the 90-minute drive in, the two-hour training, the urgent errands I needed to take care of while I was there, an introductory phone call to a possible business connection, the two hour drive home, and then dinner with friends out in the country, an hour’s drive from home, and then another hour driving back home, I spent about 5 hours driving, three hours on very mentally taxing stuff, and then even more time talking through some heavy stuff that our friends are trying to navigate — and there was a business/logistical aspect of that, too, which was more mental effort.

Come to think of it… no wonder I was baked, this morning.

So, yeah, my plans for a walk got hijacked by work-work stuff that needed to be started. And the deeper I got into that, the more I realized how much work remains to be done before this massive deadline. And then the panic sets in. And then the frustration starts to mount, and then the wheels start turning about how much I have to do in other areas of my life, and before you know it, my head is going a mile a minute in circles — or rather, it’s headed downhill at top speed, headed for the cliff, with me all caught up inside it.

And the panic starts to set in…

And then I get depressed, and I start to feel so incredibly weighed down by all the burdens of my world, and I begin to feel like there’s no hope, no chance of ever getting or doing better, and why should I even try? Why indeed?

I sat outside for a while, getting some sun and feeling better in some ways. My balance is WAY off, today — with so much activity, I’m jammed in high gear, which wears me out and makes my vertigo zoom to the outer regions of charts. I can’t spell, I can’t type, I can’t hold a pen, I can’t dial a phone, I can’t keep my balance unless I’m moving in a specific direction at a high speed, or I’m holding onto something… and I feel like CRAP.

After a while of hanging around outside getting some sun, eating some lunch, feeling like crap, and then getting bit by mosquitos, attacked by biting flies, and stung by a wasp (my bad – I walked near its nest), I finally had enough, so I took a hot shower and went to bed. I just sank into the oblivion of silent darkness, with my earplugs in and my light-blocking curtains pulled tight. I had the air conditioner on to put a chill in the air, because I sleep better when I’m not hot, and I just let it all go. After I had an hour’s rest, I went out for my walk, got my head together, and came back home to make dinner.

All I can say is, thank heavens for that nap.

This is my new thing — closing my eyes and just letting it all go… letting go of any thoughts, any tension, any ideas, any hopes, any dreams, any aspirations, any anxiety, any nervousness, any plans… just proverbially taking 1000 mg of Fukitol and dropping off the edge of the cliff to oblivion. Just saying “screw it” to everything — the good and the bad, the positive and the negative — and letting myself sink into complete darkness.

I mean, frankly, sometimes the “good” stuff is a bigger hassle than the “bad”. So many hopes, so many aspirations, so many interdependencies, so many people “rooting for me” and all that. Things were so much easier when I was a chronic under-achiever who spent their weekends hanging out, lying around on the back porch, sleeping in the sun, going for long walks in the woods, and being satisfied with a decent meal. Okay, so I was on a perpetual roller coaster and my moods were insane, and I was always on edge about something, so it wasn’t all hunky-dory. But thinking back, I can’t say it was a terrible thing, to live like nothing hung in the balance with my decisions.

Now things are very different. I own a house. I have several projects which are high profile and have a lot of people depending on them. I do a job that only I can do. And I’m the sole breadwinner for my household. Ugh. Days like today, I truly wish I didn’t matter at all.

But you know, when I think about it, the fact of the matter is, I really don’t matter that much at all. Yes, I have my hopes and dreams and the things I want to accomplish. Yes, I have my friends and associates and dependents. Yes, I have my work and goals and “deliverables”. But in another hundred years, it may very well be as though I never even existed. All the drama, all the worry, all the ambitions… in time, they all disappear and dissipate into the ethers. And what have we got to show for it? Nada. Zip. Zilch. We’re gone. And the memory of us is not far behind.

I know a lot of people who are horrified by that prospect. They want to be remembered. They want to be memorialized. They hope and hope to become a cherished memory in the minds of others.

Why? What difference does it make? Our “legacies” are never what we intend them to be, and we invest all this time and effort in “leaving our mark”, when the best thing we could probably do for posterity, is to leave no mark at all — just let them live their lives as best they can without the intrusion of our “legacy”. All that talk and fluffernutter about “creating change”… please. It seems to me it’s just a convenient way for us to distract ourselves from our existential anxiety — the simple fact that one day we will not be here anymore, and nobody will ever notice we were ever here.

I think about mortality a lot, this time of year. The leaves are starting to turn and fall, and things that were so alive during the spring and summer are starting to die off. Worms and snakes are crawling out onto warm road surfaces to keep out of the cold, and they’re either drying up or getting run over by cars. Among the larger mammals, the older, slower ones and unwary members of the new generation are getting hit by cars and dying by the side of the road.

Crops are being brought in and fields are being mowed for perhaps the last time of the growing season. Summer is ending. In another week, it will be official (work-wise, anyway). And we will launch into our busy-ness driven flight from our existential angst through to the holidays.

Again.

Yep, I’m a little depressed, these days. I always get this way around this time of year. Another year has passed. Another batch of hopes and dreams unrealized. Another year of laboring to feed the gods, without a heck of a lot to show for it. Just survival.

On the brighter side, though, in 2014, I am on track to have several large outstanding debts repaid – which will save me close to $700 a month. That’s not small potatoes, and it’s going to be pretty friggin’ awesome to have it all squared away. The first of the problem debts, which is close to $450/month, will be repaid in January of 2014 — sooner, if I can rustle up a couple of thousand bucks, which might be doable, depending. The second of the problem debts will probably take the full year to lay to rest, but I might be able to get that squared away sooner, especially if I can find a better job that pays me well.

In any case, there is a light at the end of that horrible tunnel. And the difference an “extra” $450/month can make, is nothing to sneeze at.

Looking back, I can be pretty proud of myself, having kept it together as long as I have, under these conditions. For three years, I was shelling out about $1500/month for debt settlement payments, which cut very deep and put tremendous stress on my spouse and myself. Yes, I do realize that that’s more than some people bring home in a month. Hell yes, I realize it. It was a direct result of me losing a good job, thanks to a mild TBI in 2004, and then living off credit cards for years, before it all caught up with us, and we had to choose either trashing our credit to bits and settling our debts at a great rate of about 40 cents on the dollar, or living in a perpetual cycle of indentured servitude and avoiding credit card companies calling every other week. We took a gamble and made the tough choice and went down the debt settlement road. When it was happening, it was hell. But now that it’s going to be over in another year’s time, it was so worth all the pain and suffering and threatening calls and hair-raising visits to claims court.

We have been seriously strapped for years. All sorts of things fell by the wayside, including vacations, new clothing, car repairs, dentist visits… you name it, if it could be cut or postponed, it got cut or postponed. Now we’re settling up and leveling everything out, and it feels pretty friggin’ awesome. So, that’s good. It’s something to be happy about, in the midst of my autumn depression.

So, I look for what I can, and I do the best with what I’ve got. If I’m feeling down, I’m feeling down. There it is. I can still keep on with my life, not give up, but stay steady and keep my eyes on the prize of finally being DONE with things I detest and hate. And I can spend a little time thinking about where I want to be and go instead. There are a lot of possibilities for me. I just need to not get overwhelmed.

But in the case I do get overwhelmed, I can always go to bed.

The next time I have a head injury…

Clunk

Not to be negative, but I’ve been thinking a fair amount about what I would do if I have another concussion/head injury/TBI. I live a pretty active live, after all, and the chances of me getting in a car accident or falling or getting hit in the head, are not miniscule. And considering that I’ve averaged a TBI every five years or so, since the age of three, the odds are in favor of me getting clunked in the head, sooner or later.

So, what then? What indeed… I have to admit, the prospect does put me off a bit. But at the same time, I actually feel like I’m prepared for it, if it comes. I know the tell-tale signs, I know the symptoms, I know the complications. And I also know how to handle them. I don’t always do a fantastic job of it, but I do handle them in my own way. I feel like I’m prepared for what might come — not through any planning or intention, but almost dumb luck of just having to find out the hard way – trial and error. Lots of trials, lots of errors.

And I have to say, thanks to the school of hard knocks (Iiterally), I’ve learned a ton of useful things that I really do believe will help me, if ever I am concussed again. And that takes the pressure off. Because although I worry (not constantly, but pretty regularly) about the chance of getting hurt all over again, I do feel like I’m prepared.  And I don’t have to be blindsided by my symptoms if and when they show up. I can keep an eye out for them, and should they appear, I know what to do for them — above all, stay calm. Do my breathing exercises. Get physical exercise. Rest well. Track my symptoms and address them as they come up. And let my brain rest. Do lots of that.

Speaking of rest, I should do that now. I’ve had a really active day, back from some time away from home, just as the autumn yardwork season is picking up. I worked my ass off today — working out the frustrations from work and the office and having to be away from home for a while when I would rather have been at home in my own domain. Poor me… yah. Anyway, I worked it all out today with the rake and tarp and long-handled pruning clipper. There are some trees around my yard that have not been playing nice with others, so I had to pull out the extender tree saw/clipper and wrangle with some serious branches. Fortunately, I escaped without injuring myself, though I had a few close calls. Tree work is dangerous. But hey, if I get clunked in the head… like I said, I have a pretty good idea what I’ll do about it.

Personally, I think they should make this yardwork stuff an Olympic sport — and not just featuring skillful use of a leaf blower, but also raking (yes, by hand), trimming branches (also by hand), and hauling tarps piled high with leaves into the woods to dump them out. The raking and clipping and hauling are a hell of a lot more athletic than leaf blowing, but it all has its place. And when I get tired of the exertion, I can always plug in my leaf blower and stroll across my yard in that stately gait that puts me among the elite — the vaunted home-owners of the world (whose numbers dwindle by the year, endangered species that we are).

Getting punchy. Time for supper and early to bed.

G’night all.