Getting off coffee — After the migraine subsides

So, this is interesting. I did something to my system over the weekend, and I came down with a horrific migraine yesterday afternoon. It was the worst one I’ve had in quite some time. I’ve had some of those where you go blind in one eye and the world is spinning and you feel like you’re going to throw up, but I don’t remember the headache and weird feeling and light sensitivity ever being as bad as they were yesterday.

Holy crap.

I really didn’t expect it at all. My weekend was going really well. I was cutting back on the coffee and eating a more substantial breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, along with more fruits and vegetables throughout the day, getting more exercise (I rode the bike a long while on Saturday and Sunday and went for multiple hikes in the woods, up to the top of a nearby hill in our local conservation area), and drinking more water. I felt fantastic, with a lot of energy. I also got some roasted dandelion root tea, to try out as a substitute for coffee. I drank some on Saturday afternoon. It was nothing to write home about, and certainly not a reliable substitute for coffee. But it was worth a try. It was in the coffee aisle at the grocery store, after all.

But I woke up to a screaming migraine after my nap on Sunday afternoon. Couldn’t stand the light, head throbbing, sick to my stomach, feeling dull and drugged. Usually my headaches are just there, but this one was intrusive. Holy crap, whenever I moved, it just thrashed me. Up around an 8.5 – 9 on a scale of 1 – 10. I had a bunch of things I wanted to do on Sunday afternoon, but all I could do was sit in a dark room with my sunglasses on, soaking my feet in a hot mustard bath.

I had half a cup of coffee, ate a banana and a piece of chocolate, took a couple of Advil, and drank water (how’s that for performance enhancement?) and I started to feel better. Not as sensitive to light and not as sick. Still not great, but better than I had been. You do what you have to do.

I suspect this was partly about cutting back on coffee… increasing my exercise… changing my diet… and drinking that tea. All that change was abrupt, even if it was in a positive direction. I have a tendency to overdo things out of enthusiasm, and I think this was one of those times. I’m nervous about the MRI, and my anxiety is really rising. So, to calm myself down, I do things that give me the sense that I have some control over my life — changing my diet, exercising, trying new foods, cutting out coffee.

I’ve done some reading over the weekend about migraines, and they can be triggered by a bunch of things, including changes to diet and activity – check, and check. I know that exercise tends to start a headache with me, and I did start to get a bit of an ache while I was riding the bike — both days. But it’s usually just a headache, not the nausea, crazy feeling, and intense sensitivity to light that had me walking around the house with all the curtains drawn and wearing my sunglasses because even through the curtains, the light was too bright.

So, I did a number of things differently than usual, and I learned my lesson. I need to take things slowly — gradually — not dive in head-first, as I tend to do. Impulsiveness plus anxiety equals — surprise!

And not a good surprise, either. Right now, I’m fighting back more throbbing pain, keeping the blinds drawn, and reaching for the Advil. I don’t want to take the Imitrex, because I don’t know what it will do to me, and I have to be “on” this morning.

So, I need to take things easy and make change gradually. Not bombard my system like it’s a machine. As much as I like the idea of roasted dandelion root tea as an alternative for coffee, I don’t think it’s going to do it for me. I think it really contributed to the migraine. After the pain subsided to a relatively simple headache of “4” on a scale of “10”, I tried to drink it again yesterday evening. And the headache started up again. So, even if it’s not the sole contributor, it did not make things better for me. Dandelion is a natural diuretic, and it has other properties, too, that are used as home remedies.  I got some to get ready for my MRI on Wednesday, so I can flush out my system and not be poisoned (too much) by the contrast agent. But I just can’t do it.

Well, better I learn now, than later. That’s for sure. I’d rather get this lesson out of the way ahead of time, while I have the time to rest and recuperate. I have a busy day on Thursday, so I need to not get knocked out by the MRI on Wednesday. Most people don’t have problems with it, and they look at me like I have two heads when I tell them I get sick afterwards, but so what? I know what happens to me, and I need to get ready.

So, it’s plain water and healthy foods for me, thank you very much.

Onward.

Seldom recognized – the impact of physical issues after mild TBI

It starts in the brain and moves from there…

I’ve been working on final edits of a book I started writing in 2008-2009, about how sensory processing difficulties affect one’s frame of mind and psychological state. It’s called “The Deepest Day” and it draws from both my own experiences with light, noise and touch sensitivities, as well as vestibular (balance) issues, along with a fair amount of research I did when I was trying to understand what was going on with me… and why I felt so terrible all the time.

Sensory processing issues (or Sensory Processing Disorder / SPD) can have a lot of sources. And it’s often mixed up with autism, ADHD, and other conditions. When I first came across it, I felt like a door had been thrown wide open to a shadowy part of my life. Suddenly, so much was clear.  I did write a bunch back of posts in 2008, 2009, 2010 about sensory issues, and I’ve written a lot more about particular issues, but it all got too overwhelming to think about. I got turned around by all the talk about what it’s all about, the politics of it, the healthcare territorial disputes, and so forth, and I had to take a break and focus on other things. So I stepped away from the research and focused on my daily life. Plus, the proverbial ship of my life was running into some proverbial shoals, so I had to focus on what was in front of me, day to day.

Still, knowing one of the main sources of my distress was hugely helpful, and it made it possible for me to take corrective action that — no joke — has changed my life dramatically for the better.

I’m inclined to believe that my sensitivities are related to all the times I’ve gotten clunked on the head. I have had a number of mild traumatic brain injuries over the course of my life, starting when I was a young rough-and-tumble kid, and from what I read about TBI, sensory processing difficulties often go hand-in-hand with TBI. When I read the “laundry list” of possible symptoms/issues following TBI, all the physical issues read like a narrative of my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had sensitivities to noise and light and touch. I’ve also had severe balance issues for a long, long time. I never really understood what was happening with me when I was a kid — or as an adult. All I knew was, the whole world seemed like a hostile, hurtful place.

And for me, it was. When sound hurts your ears and light hurts your eyes — not always to the same degree, and not always in a predictable way — and it hurts when people touch you, the world turns into an ordeal to be survived. And that colored every aspect of my relationships to life and the people in my life.

Looking back now, I realize that people weren’t trying to harm me. They were just doing what people did. And they had no idea how much it was hurting me. If they had, they would not have done it, I’m sure. A lot of people have loved me over the course of my life — they’ve really cared for me and tried to show it in kind and caring ways. But those ways hurt me, because of my sensitivities. And because I didn’t understand the nature of my issues — nor did I know how to address them — every interaction with other people was a struggle to be survived.

When I first wrote The Deepest Day in 2009, I had to walk away from the book. Seeing in words what a usual day in the life could be like for me… it was just too much. It’s one thing to deal with constant pain and discomfort, as well as balance issues. When you’re in the midst of it, it’s just there. It’s just how things are. But when I stepped away from it and looked at everything as an observer, the sheer magnitude of my issues was simply overwhelming. And I had to stop thinking about it.

I tried to write the book in different “voices” — as both a man and a woman. I wrote it as a first-person masculine “I” speaking. Then I changed it to a masculine third-person “he/him” narrative. Then, after studying a number of different books and papers and reading different accounts, it occurred to me that the way people talk about sensory processing disorders seems to differ between men and women. The way people talked about sensitivities with women seemed in some ways to be more alarmist, yet also more dismissive. I have a big problem with the differences in quality of healthcare for men and women, and I believe that starts with how we conceptualize “men” and “women”. So, I rewrote the book in a female first-person voice… then changed it to a third-person “she/her” narrative.

I also experimented with second-person “you” storytelling, putting the reader directly in the shoes of the main character. But that felt too strained. So, now I’m rewriting it in a neutral gender (very similar to this blog), so that readers can make the main character any gender they want, and experience the book in the way that makes the most sense to them.

Anyway, gender and healthcare aside, the book is finishing up nicely, and looking closer now, I can see how close I was to being done, back in 2009 before I stepped away. It was just too much for me, I guess. And I also needed to do something about those issues.

I have done something about the issues, since then, and it’s made all the difference in the world. I will be the first (and possibly only) person to tell you in writing and for all the world to see that when it comes to TBI, sensory processing issues can be a massively complicating issue which completely mess with your head in ways that can easily be mistaken for psychological issues. In fact, sensory issues do produce psychological issues, but in a way that is hidden and hard to diagnose by the folks who are looking at your state of mind.

Healthcare providers and psychologists just don’t seem to be trained to deal with sensory processing issues, and like me, a lot of people can end up going down psycho-drama ratholes, looking for emotional or relational sources of psychological disorders which in fact have a physiological basis. That whole mind-body thing…

And when you are working with a psychologist who has a poor relationship with their own body… then things can really get clouded.

Because chances are, they’ve trained themself out of even remotely considering their physiology, when it comes to their psychology. Dealing with their body is not “safe territory” so they avoid it because their own fears and anxieties keep them from conceptualizing clearly and cleanly.

That doesn’t make our physical experience any less impactful. If anything, it just heightens it. And The Deepest Day really brings that home for me. Just thinking back to how off balance I was, how nauseated I was all time time, how turned around and dizzy and in pain I was… and then you throw in the light and noise sensitivity on top of it, and whammo — you’ve got yourself a potent recipe for a messed-up head.

Personally, think that TBI recoveries are impeded by physiological issues more often than most folks can guess. Here’s a “mind map” I created of the issues, back in 2008. It’s still relevant today.

How one thing leads to another

How one thing leads to another – click the image above to see the whole map

Those physical problems add stress to our systems, and when stress is in the mix, it makes it more difficult to learn. TBI recovery is all about learning and re-learning how to live your life effectively, and if your ability to learn is impeded in any way by environmental stress, well then, you’ve got yourself a prolonged timeline for recovery — if you have recovery at all.

That’s what was happening to me in the years after my fall in 2004. I was having more and more problems that were more and more stressful, and although my neuropsych says that my actual functional capabilities were not completely wrecked, and my difficulties arose from the way I was conceptualizing and relating to my injury and life situation (I’ll rant about that later), the stresses around the experience were adding up in ways that made things increasingly worse over time.

The impact of my injury was disproportionate to my actual injury, and after searching high and low like a possessed person for years, I can tell you exactly why that was, how it happened, and how I dealt with it all to get where I am today — happier, healthier (for the most part), and more functional than ever before in my life.

The Deepest Day is a start to an extended conversation we all need to have about the real causes of difficulties after concussion/mild traumatic brain injury. Or any brain injury, for that matter. Stroke. Aneurism. Encephalitis. Whatever. It’s all related, it all directly impacts our experience as human beings, and our Sense-Of-Self. Clinically, our injuries may not be noticeably impactful. In terms of scientific measurement, they may not even register. But something is happening, and that something really matters. For us, for the ones in our lives, and everyone who is even peripherally impacted by our difficulties (including the countries we pay our taxes to).

The longer we ignore or downplay this, the longer we make it possible for people to suffer. The more we deny the connections, the more we guarantee that this problem will persist — for us all.

The slow return to normal – and beyond

Kind of what it feels like

So, the upheaval over the accident a week ago has begun to settle down. I truly cannot imagine a worse time for life to be disrupted. It’s been a roller coaster of tears and anger and frustration and confusion, with some pretty intense extremes.

I really don’t have time for this sh*t.

I’m not being selfish and insensitive. I really feel for my spouse and all they are going through. It was a really traumatic experience, and I totally understand the reasons for the tears and the anger and all the emotional upheaval. I truly do understand. And I’m there for them to support them as they heal. And I have to deal with my own emotional stuff, too.

The thing is, life goes on, and I have a lot going on with me, just to keep the ship sailing in the right direction. I have to keep functional at work. And I have to finish my own personal projects which are a way for me to A) earn some extra money now, and B) set me up for future income in the years to come, when I cannot do this 9-5 work thing anymore.

I’m feeling less and less capable of dealing with the workaday world, each day, and I know I need a change. I’m not happy with how my brain functions at work – I’m forgetful and distracted and I am not functioning at the level I want to be at. I feel so marginal. I think it’s a combination of brain injury stuff and motivation and the general environment. When you’re dealing with TBI, you have to put in a lot of extra effort and find the “special sauce” that keeps you actively engaged in your life. Then things can go relatively smoothly (on a good day).

But if you take away the motivation and the joy, the sense of purpose and connection, everything gets harder. A lot harder. People at work are very nice, and I’ve had worse jobs, but they’re cliquish and petty and we have very, very little in common.

It becomes more obvious to me, every day, that I cannot continue to make a living, doing what I do the way I do it now. I am wearing so thin, it’s a challenge just to keep my head in the game and show up 100% each day. I really friggin’ hate the 9-5 scene, with the cubicles, the pettiness, being stuck inside all the time, and being in an artificial environment. It also makes me nuts that the people running the show don’t seem to be interested in actually running the business for profit, so when they come up short, people get cut, and it leaves me feeling quite vulnerable and exposed.

That will never do. Someone else who can’t run their business is going to dictate how my life develops? Oh, I don’t think so. It’s really wearing thin with me, and I need to get out. I’ve started counting down to when I can leave — not sure when that is, but I’ve got this countdown going in my head.

So I’ve been putting a lot of my time and energy into developing concepts and projects that can get me out of that environment. I continue to get up each day and go through the process of living my life and building the pieces I need in place for myself in the future. I’m very clear about my ongoing direction — there’s a lot of writing and publishing and “information marketing” in the cards for me — and I’m very clear about how to get there. Plus, there are a lot of resources online to help me get where I am going. So, I’m fairly confident these ideas will take flight.

It just takes a lot of work and a lot of focus. Every extra hour I have, when I’m not eating or sleeping or trying to relax for just a few hours, gets funnelled into my Great Escape. And having this car accident intrude on my focus and having to process all the drama around this event has really been sucking the life out of my activities.

I’m not feeling like I have the wherewithal to go through this whole post-traumatic process with my spouse, and deal with it along with the rest of my life. It was traumatic for me, too, because whatever happens to my spouse, happens to me, and it was pretty intense, being at the hospital and not knowing what the hell was going on. And the car being wrecked… that’s not so great, either. Working through it all… it takes time, and time is something I just don’t have much of.

The thing is, in the back of my mind, I am absolutely certain that things are going to turn around for us. My personal projects are solid and valuable, and I know a number of businesses which have a real need for them. It’s only a matter of time, till I can break free of where I’m at.

It’s the getting there that takes so much time and energy. So, I’m just keeping steady… slowly returning to normal… sitting through the tears and anger and fear and anxiety… looking for every opportunity to change and improve, picking and choosing how I spend my time.

I’m also continuing to grow and expand and develop. Getting new ideas. Following through on them. Testing and seeing what works and what doesn’t, and just staying steady. There’s none of that old haphazard approach, where I would just throw something out there and hope for the best. I’ve got plans in place, and it makes all the difference in the world.

And so it goes. I have to keep current with my sleep, as well as my nutrition. I need to keep on with the everyday, as well as reach beyond to what’s yet to come. I’m feeling really positive about the direction I’m taking.

I just need to get through the fallout from this accident in one piece.

Onward.

Endless headaches … continual symptoms… life goes on

What lies beneath – I live down there

For the past several weeks — on and off — I’ve been pulling together descriptions of what my symptoms are, Headaches, dizziness, nausea, feeling drugged and “doped up”, tremors and twitching in my face and hands… I usually don’t think about these things. I just get on with my life and don’t let them stop me.  Now that I’m putting them all down on paper to discuss with the new neuro, as well as review with my neuropsych.

You know, it’s funny… all this time, I’ve been really actively involved in my own recovery from TBI, and my neuropsych has had a very big positive influence on me, but not in ways that they probably intended. I think they’ve been thinking they’re helping me develop better skills and approaches — and they have.

But the real way they’ve helped, has been just being there reliably for me each week, to turn to and discuss matters of importance to me. Just being able to talk about my life to another person who can get it, is hugely helpful.

The only thing is, now I’m going down this path of digging into all these symptoms and complaints, and it feels very foreign to me. I spend so much of my time looking past the problems, disregarding the issues, coming up with ways to not have to deal with them explicitly – just work around them or do a variety of things to relieve them – that now I’m feeling the burn pretty intensely.

All the things I don’t talk about with others — because A) they can’t believe that it’s true, and B) they get all freaked out that I feel the way I do — is getting put down on paper. And it’s a trip.

God, I have a headache. And I’m sick to my stomach. Migraine? Who knows? And who cares?

There’s no sense in getting all depressed and upset about it. I can’t always do anything about the headaches — they don’t always respond to Advil, and the rest of the supposed “headache medicines” are like sugar pills to me. I’m much better off, just finding something I can focus my full attention on, and sticking with that.

Like my writing projects. Like the books I’m writing. Like the variety of things I have to occupy my attention. Fun things. A heck of a lot more fun than thinking about my headaches.

Anyway, life goes on, regardless. Or it doesn’t. Who knows how long any of us has, and why not make the most of it, while we can? I have my ways of dealing with headache that may even be more effective than medication. If you can’t feel the pain, you don’t have pain. So, if I can keep my focus on something that really captures my imagination and lifts my spirits, why not do that… instead of fretting about the headaches that never go away?

So long as it’s not something that’s life-threatening, why let it wreck my days? There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to experience… why let headaches stop me, when I know how to stop them?

Onward.

Stopping. Just stopping.

Sometimes you gotta hit the button

The holiday season is upon us. All the pressure to BUY-BUY-BUY and run around doing what everyone else is doing, is at an all-time high.

I feel unusually immune to it, this year. Nothing much has changed outside of me — the commercials on t.v. are all the same, the urgency is the same as in other years, and everyone is as busy as ever for this time of year. The world is the same as it ever was, things are just as messed up, we’re getting just as much news about how sh*tty the world is, along with a lot of pleas for financial help (that — just to be clear — is tax-deductible), and pressure to use the last weeks of the year to make up for the last 11-1/2 months of general negligence.

But while everyone else is running around like a chicken with their head cut off, I’m not. I feel pretty calm, actually, and I’m not running around to all the latest sales, spending hours online looking for presents, and going from party to party.

Even if I wanted to, I can’t run around and buy-buy-buy. I don’t have the money, which is kind of a relief. I’ve got to improvise. Come up with other ideas. And I will. I received a book in the mail that looks like something my mother would enjoy. And I’ve got some other ideas for things I can get for other family members for very low cost. I’m not worrying about it. I know how to handle things. And I am. Just handling them.

I also think it has a lot to do with the everyday pressure being off me, thanks to my short commute. I now have the time to get up in the morning and do what I please for an hour or so, before I start doing what the rest of the world wants me to do. I can move about, run errands at lunchtime, come and go as I please, and still get all my hours in at work. I can live my life without having to plan and think through everything I do in detail. And since I’m not a permanent, full-time employee, I don’t have to be existentially affected by changes at work and what they mean for my future.

I can just get on with my daily life and not worry about things like that. I’ll be updating my resume over the next few days, just to log the different thing I’ve accomplished at work, and make sure my resume is current and in good shape. And I’ll be taking time to just relax and enjoy myself.

Having a long commute, along with a demanding job, is a killer for me. I realize that now. I’ve had to work so hard for so long, to get where I am, but now I’m finally at a place where I’m comfortable with myself, professionally and personally. I realize that I’ve been in a good place for some time, now, but for the past number of years, I’ve been really on edge and nervous about where I am and how I’m doing.

Part of that nervousness was due to all the debt I was carrying and the pressures of just paying bills on time. I wiped out my debt over the past four years, so that pressure is off.

Another problem was that I was in a line of work that pays really well, but is inherently tension-producing, high-pressure, and precarious. Just the nature of the work — which is all about keeping current with the latest technology developments — was personally and professionally pressurizing. I got out of that side of the industry, turned my focus to people management, and now I’m in much better shape, overall.

And of course there’s the commute. I keep mentioning it, but it was such a huge factor in my life, I can’t even begin to say. Other people just take it for granted — and in fact so did I, for the last 25 years. But now that I don’t have to travel 45 minutes to an hour (or two) each way, every day, my life has literally turned around. I can rest. And even when I don’t get a full night’s sleep, it doesn’t wreck me like it used to. Long commutes used to seriously mess with my head.

No more. No more to all of the above.

The wild thing is, so much of what was making me miserable, I just took for granted. I figured that was how things were supposed to be. That’s what I knew, and that’s how I figured things were supposed to be. It wasn’t until I was pushed to my utmost limit, that I changed things up. Lots of suffering, lots of years of pain. Lots of change — needed change.

Ultimately, I’ve come out on the other end feeling strong and clear. It’s just such a huge difference. Even when my head is fuzzy and foggy, like today, my ears are ringing, my body is wracked with pain, I’m off balance, my thoughts are jumping all over the place like little jumping beans, and every little sound and light hurts me, I still feel strong and clear. And I know I can adapt and deal with the things that are getting in my way.

I’ve got a lot to do this weekend, but before I do, I’m stopping — just stopping — to take a breath, to get myself in a good frame of mind, and get clear on what needs to happen, before I charge forward into the fray. I’ve got my list — I wrote it out last night, while I was waiting for supper to warm up — and I’ll organize it for the best and most sensible direction to take, so I don’t waste time, and I can really focus on what I’m doing.

And I may even get a nap in there, somewhere.

This is good. This is very good.

Onward.

Back again… and landing on my feet

The Thanksgiving holiday was good. Traffic was insane, as just about anyone who drove during the past week can tell you. I traveled close to 2,000 miles, going from state to state to see extended family, and it was good. A lot of driving… and now I’m pretty sore from all the sitting… but it was good to break out of my routine for once.

Sometimes you just gotta trust (this guy landed on his feet, by the way)

I was really “off” my routine — I did almost nothing similar to what I normally do. I felt a little bit like the guy who jumped out of his space capsule a few years back, and fell 23 miles to earth. Like him, I had my reservations.

I ate different foods, I did different things, I had a different schedule, and I slept different hours. I didn’t sleep nearly enough, that’s for sure, but I managed. I got pretty sleepy when I was driving a few times, but I did things to wake myself up, and I took breaks when I needed to. Got out in the cold air, stretched, did jumping jacks, swung my arms around and sprinted a little bit. Whatever it takes to get there safely.

And like Felix Baumgartner, I came through okay.

I’ve been feeling pretty depressed, over the past month or so. I had a death in my family that has shifted the family dynamics. The person who died had a very complicated relationship with just about everyone — in some ways they were very loved, in other ways they were very feared. They were a challenge to deal with, although they had many, many fine qualities that we loved.

Their passing was actually a blessing for some folks in our family, and now they can rest and take a break and get on with their lives. For others, it was a deep loss, and now they don’t know what to do.

I didn’t expect this death to affect me as much as it has, but it’s changed my status in the family — it’s made me more “senior” in the generations, and my parents are now leaning on me, more than ever. Death brings that out in some people — we all become more aware of our mortality, and my folks are certainly more aware now.

So, there’s been more demands on me and my time and attention, and I believe that’s what was pulling me down. Just the demands. Being so tired. Having people relying on me, and feeling a little overwhelmed by everything. I know I can handle it. I just get very tired, and even when I’m doing well, I feel beaten down and low, when my energy is tapped out… which it was.

The other thing that’s been bothering me, is the sense that I haven’t accomplished the things I’ve intended to accomplish in life. I’m not talking about being a millionaire or being a powerful player on the world stage. I’m just talking about simple things like New Year’s resolutions and other projects I’ve started and could not finish. There are a lot of little things I have started and have not completed, and it was really pulling me down — especially since I’m that much more aware of death and how close it is.

It’s been pretty tough… but then again, it hasn’t. The tough part is not having the energy I usually do — feeling so blah and bland, like nothing really matters and there’s no point to anything. I haven’t had that steady “pump” of exuberance I usually do. And people have noticed it — tried to cheer me up, tried to get me all perky and what-not again.

I’ve noticed that people around me really do rely on me being positive and pro-active, and when I’m not that way, they get a little irked. Like I’m raining on their parade. Sorry, folks, I’m just not feeling it.

And I’ve noticed that I’m sort of the same way — I need that burst of positive energy, a certain perkiness, an “up” sense of myself, in order to get through the day.

But is that actually realistic? We can’t always been “up” and perky and feeling fit as a fiddle. Sometimes we’re tired and depressed and troubled by things that really should trouble us. It’s a little mentally ill to NOT be troubled by so much that’s going on in the world.

The thing is, I can’t let the down times derail my life. And what I’ve been working on, over the past couple of weeks, has been functioning very well without a sense of being “up” or pumped or pro-actively positive. Life goes on, even when I’m not emotionally euphoric. I can’t let my moods stop me from living my life. And in fact, when I get myself going, despite feeling down and depressed and defeated, before long, I feel that much better.

My moods follow my activity, as often as not. They shouldn’t set the stage and make or break me. I should be able to choose what I do and think and accomplish, each and every day, regardless of my emotional state.

That’s my goal, anyway.

And somehow, it’s strangely freeing. I’m off the emotional roller coaster, and I’m going about my business as I see fit. I’m not held back by feeling down and confused and depressed. I’m keeping on. Even if it doesn’t feel so fantastic, that actually doesn’t need to matter. If anything, it makes me feel better to be able to continue on in living my life, even if I’m feeling down.

As a TBI survivor, my moods come and go very abruptly. In one day, I can feel a thousand different ways, and each one would be true. My mood swings can be very extreme, as well. I can be euphoric one minute, and in the emotional basement the next. There’s not a lot of rhyme and reason to it — although being tired plays a big part in it. Things just come up, and I need to deal with them. I need to deal with my life in a constructive way, even if my emotions are running wild, and/or the rest of my system is a bit whacked.

That’s where I am, right now. I’m still really tired from the driving, I’m still overwhelmed from the family visits, my world is still evolving after the death, and my whole system is a bit “on the fritz”. I’m having trouble typing and putting words together, the ringing in my ears is pretty intense, and my main issues — fatigue, tinnitis, sensitivity to light and noise and touch, insomnia, general pain, headache, attention issues, emotional lability, panic/anxiety, anger spikes, raging behavior, confusion, difficulty understanding, trouble hearing, slowed processing speed, limited short-term working memory, balance, vertigo, difficulty reading and learning new things, nystagmus, and tremors — are being a real pain in my ass.

I don’t quite feel like I’m “here” yet. That will come, in the next days of getting rest, getting back to my routine, and eating the right foods. It will all come.

It just takes time.

It’s just good to be back home again.

Swimming through the downwelling — Got my STP going on

Good stuff for a tired-ass rainy day

When in doubt, Stone Temple Pilots are good company to keep. I’m listening to No. 4, and it’s as good as ever. I went through a period, over the past few years, when I didn’t listen to much rock music. It was a lot of electronic stuff — trace and whatnot. Always good for getting me flying down the road, to and from work.

Lately, though, I’ve been getting back to my good old rock ‘n’ roll. Lots of hard rock, as I drive to and from work. And it feels normal again. Like I’m picking up where I left off, a few years back.

It’s like I went on a detour for a few years. Thinking I was going to be or do something different. I blame that last job I had, where I was so out of place, and I just didn’t fit in at all, and I needed to take the edge off things.

The whole last ten years feels like a big-ass detour for me. It was that damn’ mild TBI in 2004 that screwed me up. I’m still pissed off about it, and how it derailed me. I’ve been swimming upstream, trying like crazy to get where I’m going, fighting a current I couldn’t see — a downwelling, as they call it in the ocean – watch a video about surviving downwelling here.

In a downwelling, when you’re scuba diving, an invisible current hits you and carries you down-down-down into the depths — potentially past your approved depth. It can take you down very quickly — fast enough to increase the nitrogen in your blood enough to make you feel — and act — drunk. And also pressurizing you very quickly. It’s crazy. If you get caught in a downwelling and can’t get out, you’re done for.

That’s kind of like what chronic mild TBI / concussion is like. Most people see their issues resolve in weeks or months, but some of us are stuck with them, and they can catch us unawares and plunge us into the depths — towards the abyss — before we even know what’s happening. It can be deadly. And if you choose wrong, you can get totally screwed up.

I didn’t realize until late 2007, that there was really a problem — three years past my injury. Everything went downhill, and I didn’t even realize it. Money was disappearing so fast, I might as well have set piles of it on fire. I jumped from job to job, not realizing how it would affect my future job prospects. I could not read, I could not learn, and I felt like I was literally disappearing from my life. I could not go outside very much, because of my light and noise sensitivities, and I had cataclysmic panic attacks that felt like seizures.

I was in the grip of a “life downwelling”, and I didn’t know which direction to swim to escape.

A number of things happened to help me along the way

  1. I realized that something was wrong
  2. I realized I needed to do something about it
  3. I hunted high and low to find information and people who could help me understand what was happening
  4. Almost by chance, I connected with an excellent neuropsychologist who was able to help me soldier through
  5. I just kept going, no matter what

I’m now at a place in my life where I’m back on track. My mountains of debt are gone, my job situation is stable, and I’m able to read again.

And yet, I feel like a stranger to myself.

Technically, I supposed no one really knows themself inside and out. We all delude ourselves to some extent. But with TBI, it feels to me like there are a ton of gaps that I just can’t fill. I don’t even know where to start. It’s like my life is a big hunk of swiss cheese with a lot of holes in it, and I don’t even know the holes are there, till it’s too late. I’m in trouble again.

Anyway, STP helps me get my mind off that. They help me just keep going, even when I’m not feeling up to it. Keeps me swimming — out of the downward spiraling current and up towards safety again. A good dose of heavy guitar and rock lyrics gets me back on track in useful ways.

Gradually, I’m coming back to where I want to be. It takes time. And I need company, along the way. STP is good company. Thanks, guys.

Music is the best company I can think to keep. It’s there when I need it, and I can always turn it off, when I’m done for the day.

Speaking of the day, I’ve got to get on with it. I’ve got a handful of things I need to do today, including resting up. It’s been a long, long week, and I need a break, for sure. I’ll get that break later today after my chores are done, and I can comfortably settle into my bed, pull the covers over my head, and just check out.

Looking forward to it.

But in the meantime, there’s always hard and heavy rock music.

I didn’t fail. I just got tired.

So much depends on your outlook

I had a revelation this morning, as I was waking up. In the space of a few seconds, it turned an imagined failure into a chance for long-term success.

It was the realization that when I started to lose my temper with my spouse last night, it wasn’t a sign that I was failing at my attempts to be more level-headed and calm, no matter what the situation. It was a clear sign that I was tired, and that my brain needed sleep.

I have been working on being more level-headed — no matter what the situation. This is a lifelong pursuit, actually. I saw the need for it, when I was a teenager and a young adult… as an adult in the working world… and it continues to be important to me. It’s not that I want everything to be perfect for me all the time and give me no trouble. What I want, is to be able to handle my circumstances, be okay with them (within reason), and make the best of any situation’s opportunities, no matter now “bad” it may look at the time.

I have had some good success with this approach over the years. After all, I have seen the ill-effects NOT having a level head in challenging circumstances, and the results are rarely pretty. I have had plenty of opportunity to witness this in the people around me — in my family, especially, when my parents could not hold it together with one of my “problematic” (that is — drug-addicted, alcoholic, sleeping-with-anything-that-moved, drug-dealing) siblings. It was bad enough that my sibling had all those problems (which were signs of something far deeper going on with them). But my parents could not maintain their composure or clarity of thought when it came to my sibling, so that made a bad situation even worse.

I’m not judging my parents — they were not equipped to handle it, and we lived in an area where any problem with kids was a reflection on the parents, so they went from being respected members of society to being “those people” who everybody handled very gingerly.

Anyway, I’ve seen many examples in my own life, where keeping a level head and a calm demeanor helped me through tough times. I actually credit my many TBIs (I’ve had 9+) with helping me with this, because they slowed down my processing speed. When your processing speed is slowed down, it makes it pretty difficult to get on the same wavelength with everybody else… and in case you haven’t noticed, being on the same wavelength as everybody else leaves a lot to be desired.

Everybody gets so worked up over things. But when you’re not thinking as quickly as everyone else, you can’t jump to the same conclusions and get to those snap judgments that can send you careening into HOLY SH*T WHAT THE F*CK land. Everybody else is freaking out — oftentimes about something that isn’t worth freaking out about — and you’re still trying to figure out what just happened…

So, if you think about it, slower processing speed isn’t always a bad thing. And equanimity… peace of mind… level-headedness in the face of a crisis is a definite advantage. Especially when everybody else’s “normal-fast” thinking is vectoring off in a really unproductive direction.

Anyway, that’s one half of the story. The other half of it is less cheery — that’s the aspect of my thinking that is WAY more reactive than others’. It’s the instant-freak-out part of my experience that has made me nuts for years. At an instant’s notice, I’ll suddenly FREAK OUT over something. It can be a dropped spoon, or a missed channel that I’m trying to change with the clicker, or something my spouse says or does that rubs me the wrong way.

When things go haywire in my head, they go really haywire. There’s no middle ground. Everything goes nuts. I know I’m being unreasonable, I know I’m being crazy, I know there is no logical reason for me to be freaking out, but it’s happening anyway. And it’s never good for anyone. I’ve lost more relationships than I can say, because of this. That includes a really good job I lost in 2005 after my TBI in 2004.

People are afraid of me, when I start to get agitated and aggressive — which may have to do with me, or may have to do with them. I don’t want to give anyone any reason to be afraid of me. It’s counter-productive. And it hurts everyone involved.

So, there’s all the more reason to keep tabs on myself and foster a calm demeanor, a cool head, and a self-possessed state of mind. And with that goal in mind, I have pursued a number of different practices and philosophies that might help me with that. I have worked on practices that emphasize acceptance, calmness, not reacting to things around me, and philosophies that teach about how transitory life is, and how important it is for us to understand what we can and cannot change, and not make ourselves nuts trying to alter things that can’t be changed.

Like the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.

This has been a very powerful concept in my life, and I have it displayed in my kitchen where I will see it each morning when I get up and make my coffee.

Along the way, I have had many surges in interest in deepening this practice — in really getting to a place where I can make peace with the things I cannot change, and make the most of the opportunities that are hidden there. I’m a big believer that some of our worst hurdles and challenges offer us the greatest rewards — and when we resist those challenges, we miss out on the chance to become bigger and better than ever before.

Some things I can accept and work with — political changes, cultural changes, relocations from one area to the next, and small-scale changes at work. Other changes I have a harder time with — job changes, especially. The ones that make me the craziest are the ones I feel like I cannot understand or control — or that go off in a direction that is completely different from the direction I see myself headed.

Other things I cannot seem to accept, are the foolishness of others — the stinkin’ thinkin’ that my spouse indulges in, their constant anxiety, their devotion to drama, their bad habit of telling everyone exactly what they want to hear instead of the constructive truth. I have trouble with the attitudes of people at work, who can be cliquish and juvenile. I have trouble with the judgment of Management at work, when their decisions seem counter-productive and get in the way of us doing our work. My siblings also depress the sh*t out of me, with their choices and their prejudices and their holier-than-thou attitude. My parents are a little easier to deal with, because they are many hours away, and I don’t see them that often.

It’s the people who are closest to me, who I have the greatest investment in, that get me with their unhealthy habits of thought and action, their outlooks, their attitudes, and their behavior that seems to serve no useful purpose, other than to make them feel good about themselves — at the expense of everyone else.

The thing is, their behaviors and beliefs and actions have almost nothing to do with me. Even my spouse’s bad habits have more to do with them, than with me — no matter how much they may blame me for their anxiety. I am making myself unhappy over things that are far beyond my control, and it’s not helping me at all.

So, there is all the more incentive for me to calm myself down, not react to what they are doing, and step back and look at them and everything from a distance.

I have found some philosophies and outlooks that can help me do that, and I have pursued them eagerly, on and off, over the years. The thing is, I get to a certain point, then everything falls apart. My equanimity dissolves. I melt down, inside my head and heart. My temper explodes. And I end up feeling worse off than when I started. I feel like I’m back to Square 1, without having made any progress at all.

But in fact, I have made progress. My meltdowns and explosions do not mean that I have utterly failed at learning a new way of thinking and being and relating to others. They do mean that my brain has been working hard, so it is tired. And I need to rest it.

Because changing yourself and your brain and your patterns of thought and action and attitude is hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight. And the fact that I am getting frayed and losing it, actually means that I am making progress — I just need to take a break, rest up, learn what I can about what sets me off, and resume learning again, once I am rested.

This realization is just what I’ve been needing — for a long, long time. Getting frayed at 10 p.m. over someone being a pain in my ass is NOT a sign that I’m failing. It’s a sign that I’ve been working hard all day at changing my mind and my brain, and that it’s time to rest. It’s not a condemnation — it’s a diagnostic tool. And far from being an indication of my inferiority, it’s evidence that I’m actually making progress.

The simple fact is, I’m a brain-injured human being. If you think about it, there are a lot of people who are injured in one way or another, and we are all working our way through the maze called life, trying to find a better way to live. And because of my injuries, because of my history of experiences, my individual makeup, and all the different things that have made me what I am today, I have certain limitations I need to be mindful of and accommodate, so I can work around them and not let them get to me.

Fatigue and the irritability that comes from being tired are a couple of those limitations. So is:

  • a sharp tongue — over little things
  • a hot temper — at an instant’s notice
  • slower processing speed than one would expect
  • the almost constant pain that I’ve become resigned to living with, the rest of my born days
  • perpetual, never-ending tinnitus
  • light-sensitivity
  • noise-sensitivity

And so on.

It’s not that my life is awful. It’s pretty sweet, to tell the truth. I just need to be aware of these issues, not forget them — or when I do forget them, find a way to remember that the things I’m doing and saying are about my brain injury, NOT about my character.

So, there is hope. There always is, so long as I don’t give up.

And speaking of not giving up, I’m going to get ready for work and get into my day, knowing that I didn’t fail last night, when I got cross with my spouse. I was just tired, and no animals were hurt in the filming of that movie.

Onward.

The shell-ter we carry with us

Our home is what we make it

One of my readers made a great comment over at a recent post:

I have come to recognise and realise, we people with TBIs need to embolden a special type of shell-fish (to otherwise be read as selfish.) The “shell” to house us from what would otherwise be attacks, accusations and allegations over being or feeling “bad” or that we may seem self-centered, any of our actions taken had very real and perceptive reasons and consequences.
Only when we debride a wound, or reach deep within residual scar tissue, are we allowed to uncover (very necessary to the healing process) healthy tissues.
A thorough study of the self amid the healing process, is a study in contradictions. The study of the self in TBI is, filled with cyclical change, growth, angst, beginnings. It is as though we are of two or more persons; walking through the situations in real time, taking the time to study, perhaps rehearse and may even attempt to resolve the consequences of earlier decisions.
Are these not the habits of people without TBI? Of course.
Therefore, the “shell” of being shellfish in TBI, may need to be a little more hearty and courageous, mayhaps even a little outrageous, to understand the absolute truth of these matters.

It’s very true. Like a hermit crab, we need to find shell-ter where we can, develop our defenses like a protective shell, and learn to carry it with us, as we go through life. No one else can know 100% what we are going through, so we need to develop our own defenses, our own sense of self, our own techniques and tricks to get us by.

I was just thinking about this yesterday — how I can basically make it through most situations in life without alerting everyone to the fact that I am struggling so terribly at times. My memory fails me.

The noise is too loud, the lights are too bright, and I have deafening ringing in my ears.

I am in pain.

I am off balance, struggling with vertigo, feeling like I’m going to lose my mind with having to keep upright.

Or I am boiling on the inside and fighting back my intense desire to either run screaming from the building or punch someone in the face.

Or I am dying inside, feeling like I am just not keeping up, and I have no idea what is going on in the conversation I’m participating in, even though it really matters a lot that I keep up.

I can get through those situations intact, because I have a shell of collected tactics I have built up over the years. Some of them I’ve been using a long time, while others are fairly recent.

But whatever their source or “vintage”, they work.

They keep me safe. They are not me, and they are not something I want to have, but I lost my “real shell” a long, long time ago, so I make do as best I can. And it works.

That’s the main thing. My internal state changes frequently, often without making any sense to me. It’s usually connected to my physical well-being — when I get tired, everything gets harder, and I am tired a lot of the time. So, I have to have a way to offset that effect, so my life can continue.

It’s not easy. It’s pretty painful at times. And it takes a lot out of me. But it works.

And that’s what really matters.

It’s bad enough that I have these issues. But having them screw up my life at the same time? That’s no good — not if I can at all avoid or prevent it.

And so I do.

Onward.

 

10 Reasons I Keep Juggling

I feel like a clown now… but I’m improving!

It’s pretty amazing… the effect that juggling is having on me. It benefits me in these ways:

  1. It’s improving my eye-hand coordination. I am finding it easier to “juggle” other things, like multiple grocery items and bags I have to carry inside after work, along with my knapsack and travel mug.
  2. It’s improving my response time.  I am finding myself catching things that are falling or slipping out of my hand, much more quickly than before.
  3. It’s improving my quality of responses. I have problems with flying off the handle over things that irritate me, and lately I’ve been getting more short-tempered and reactive. Teaching myself to just pick up the ball(s) I dropped and move on without missing a beat, is so very important to know and do — all throughout my life.
  4. It’s improving my balance. Following the balls and keeping my center of gravity steady, is making a small but noticeable improvement to my balance. And that translates to better posture and more confidence as I go about my daily business.
  5. It’s improving my left-side coordination and abilities. I can now toss and catch a ball in my left hand much better than I could, just a few days ago. I think this has more to do with training my brain than my body. But whatever.  All I know is, my left side is getting a lot more coordinated and capable. And that cuts down on the distractions that come with fumbling around with crap — and also the frustration that accompanies the fumbling.
  6. It’s raising my frustration level. Dropping the ball over and over, and learning to pick it up and just move on without getting mired in frustration is good. Also, working through my frustration with not being well coordinated or very able to juggle, is good practice too. I can see myself improving a little bit each day, which is good. And I know that tolerating a little frustration now will pay off on down the line.
  7. It’s keeping me engaged and interested in something other than my boring-ass life. Some days, my life seems so incredibly boring, because I’m following my formulas and schedules and agendas — getting a lot of things done, but really bogged down in the drudgery of the everyday. Juggling gives me a way to pique my attention and get me interested in other things. I have a long way to go before I can say I truly know how to juggle, and can do it well. And even when I do manage to juggle more than two objects, and they are things other than foam balls (no chainsaws, thank you very much), I will still have room for improvement — and I will keep learning.
  8. It’s a cheap hobby that I can do just about anywhere, anytime. I have a bunch of small balls in a ziploc bag I carry around in my knapsack, and I also have balls lying around the house that I juggle when I get a chance. I can juggle pens and pencils and my toothbrush and just about anything I find lying around. I don’t have to shell out a bunch of dough, and I don’t have to reserve space to do it. I can do it indoors and outdoors. I can do it morning, noon, or night, for a long or short time.
  9. It gets me moving. Granted, it’s not the most demanding exercise, but it does get me out of a stationary state. And it does it for short periods at a time, so I don’t wear myself out. It’s really the perfect break in the middle of a long slog. And rather than pulling my attention away from what I’m doing, it helps me refocus and go back to what I was doing, sharper than before.
  10. Most of all, it’s giving me a chance to learn and develop a skill without any downsides. Nobody cares if I cannot juggle like a pro. It doesn’t matter if I’m a barebones beginner. All I can do is improve and learn and grow… and enjoy my learning and growth as I go.

So juggling is really helping me in a number of ways.

Try it – you might like it! Especially if you’re dealing with TBI after-effects, or some attentional issues.