Gearing up for my new job

Getting everything in place

In three weeks, I will be at my new job. It seems surreal. I am finishing up with my current job, just trying to get all my “ducks in a row”… along with rolling with all the change that’s going on in the organization.

It’s a hard time for most people there. And it’s hard to not get pulled down into their frame of mind.

So, to counter-act that, I am expanding my skillset and gearing up for the next stage in my career. I’m taking some courses that will get me prepared for my new job — and my new career. I’ve always been out on the “front lines” of my industry, and this is giving me the chance to get out ahead of it again.

It’s pretty amazing. Exciting. And the beauty part is, the line of work I’m getting into is so new, there are no real college degrees in it, so the fact that I don’t have a Bachelor’s or Master’s doesn’t work against me. Nobody has that, yet. It’s all about practical results. Being able to do the job. Produce the numbers. Meet the need that my employer has.

I’ve got them covered, in that respect.

Anyway, I’m feeling like I have a new lease on life, with this new job. I’m finally getting out of the rut I fell into, when I crashed my head down those stairs in 2004. It’s taken me 10 years (and a few months) to get myself functional again the way I want to be… the way I need to be. And I still have a ways to go.

I can get there. I’m not going to be held back. I can use the same sorts of skills I developed in my TBI recovery to recover my career, as well.

Now, this isn’t all happening overnight, and it’s not happening in a vacuum. Nor is it some situation where my fairy godmother or a genie from a bottle is showing up to shower pixie dust on me. I have put in a lot of hard work, over the past years, to get to this point. I have been studying and studying, working and working. Back when I was injured in 2004 until around 2010, I was unable to read books the way I had before. I had always been an avid reader, but I lost the ability to keep information in mind long enough to go from page to page. I would literally lose the train of thought if it went on past several paragraphs.

So, I quit reading, period. I read websites, in bits and pieces… news… etc. Whatever I could, without wiping myself out. I studied TBI and the brain, because that was the only thing that held my attention. It was the only motivated reading I could do, and even that was in fits and starts. One of the books that changed my life — The Brain That Changes Itself — I had to read in bits and pieces. In fact, I’m not sure I ever completely finished it (I should do that now).

I surfed the web and researched brain injury. I struggled to find really good sources of information — partly because there weren’t as many out there as there are today, and partly because it was hard for me to sort through all the search results and decide what was helpful and what wasn’t.

I also studied trauma and its effects. I managed to read a few books about trauma, but it was slow going. I had to find summaries online to really make sense of things.

Over time, my ability to read improved — ironically it came back after I had given up on it completely and decided, “Well, I’ll never read again…” It was slow going — fits and starts. But eventually it came back, and I worked my way back slowly.

One of the books I read (Aging With Grace – a study of nuns who outlived the surrounding population by 10-20 years and stayed sharper and functional longer than was typical for their geographical area) showed how “idea density” can contribute to holding off Alzheimers and other kinds of cognitive decline. Basically, with “idea density”, the more ideas that are packed into a sentence / paragraph, the more “dense” are the ideas. And I found out that scientific research papers had a lot of idea density. Not the most, but a pretty decent amount.

So, I started actively looking for scientific papers about TBI that related to me. Long-term outcomes. Childhood head trauma. Behavior issues. Mood disorders. Mental health issues. Sports injuries. Recovery approaches. Rehab. Frontal lobe and executive function. Mindfulness. I specifically searched for information that related to me, that would be useful and meaningful… and I could put to good use.

All together, over the course of several years, I found and downloaded over 300 research papers about TBI and TBI recovery. There were a lot more that I found and did not download. I did not read all of them from beginning to end, but I did read the summaries and abstracts, and sometimes I read the discussions recapping all their findings.

That was the best rehabilitation I could have asked for, because it was intimately related to me, it was self-directed, and I believe it even helped with my gist reasoning.  When I did read the whole papers, and then I read the abstracts again, I could piece together the central theme of the data that was collected, and learn to screen out the things that did not matter. So, many, many researchers have indirectly contributed to my recovery.

Slowly but surely, I’ve felt my abilities improve. It took time, and it took a lot of diligent effort. Each and every day, just about. Each and every weekend. On my free time. During my not-so-free time. I have had a total life orientation towards TBI recovery that has paid off.

I never felt like there was a choice for me. I have been given a lot of gifts in life, and I believe it’s on me to ensure that I return the favor to the universe — or whoever else has helped me.  I really feel that sense of responsibility. Even when I’ve been at my worst, I never lost sight of that. I knew I had to get back… I was on a mission.

Now I can read books again. And I can remember what I read, pages and chapters later. Miraculous. And I’m gearing up for my new job by reading some more. And thinking. And taking some classes. One class I started, but I’ve realized it’s best that I do another class first, so that I have a better foundation. I also need to strengthen some of my skills, including math. Geometry has always made perfect sense to me, and I was doing advanced fractions when I was in elementary school, years before most kids even had a concept of fractions.

It all just made perfect sense.

But over the years, that sense got kind of trained out of me, because nobody was really qualified to help me excel. They were so busy trying to get kids “normalized”, and I was so un-normal in some ways, that they focused on my weaknesses, rather than my strengths. And in the process, any latent ability I had for advanced materials got lost in the shuffle because of my attention/distraction difficulties, behavior issues, and trouble understanding what people were saying to me. I kept getting punished because I simply did not understand.

Now things are different. I’m all grown up. At least that’s what they tell me 😉 And I have to let go of that earlier conditioning. I’m not stupid. I’m just out of synch with a lot of the world. And now I have a new chance to start fresh in a line of work that suits me so well, it’s scary. I’m going to my dream job in less than three weeks, and I want to be ready for it.

So, I’m studying. I’m finding more papers to read, that have to do with my new field, rather than only TBI. I’m also pacing myself, taking my time, not getting ahead of myself and being very systematic about my approach. Because it matters to me so deeply, and I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn and grow.

On top of it, I have an appointment tomorrow with a trainer who focuses on strengthening specific neurological features. I’ve been reading about this method over the past couple of weeks, and I’m very excited to see what comes of our meeting tomorrow.

It’s all good.

Onward.

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The force of habit

I didn’t want to exercise, when I got up this morning.

But I did it anyway.

I was feeling “gunked up” and sluggish and I have a lot to do. I didn’t want to spend the first half hour of my day riding the bike and lifting my 5 lb weights.

But I did it anyway.

And I’m glad I did.

I would like to say that I was able to follow through with my morning routine because I realize it is good for me, and I look forward to doing it every single day. But that would be untrue. Fact of the matter is, I’ve built this routine into my daily schedule so completely, that to veer from it or deviate in any way causes me intense anxiety. Its not so much high-minded intentions and enlightenment that gets me on the bike and stretching and lifting weights, first thing. Its the sheer force of  a strictly enforced habit.

A friend of mine tells me it takes six weeks for a habit to form. Well, I’ve been at this morning routine for nearly six months, and its so ingrained in me that doing something different is not a prospect I relish. I have a tendency to intense anxiety and nervousness — and I use that to my benefit, by creating positive, constructive structures which cause me intense anxiety if I deviate from them.

If you can’t get rid of your neuroses, you might as well put them to work for you. That’s what I did this morning. And I’m glad I did.

‘Cause now I feel a whole lot better. My sinuses have cleared, my body feels more awake, and I’m mentally much clearer.

Clear is good. I have a lot to get done today. It’s Sunday, and part of me feels like I should be taking it easy, as I had such a rough and long week, last week. But if I work this right and play my cards right, I can actually settle into what I’m doing and take it easy while I’m doing it.

Easy does it, say friends of mine. After hearing them say this for 20 years, it’s starting to sink in.

About time 😉

Anyway, this morning I realized I’ve run out of my pre-printed daily tracking forms, and I had to go back to writing things out by hand on scrap paper on my clipboard. In a way, I like this better. I’ve recently realized that the more stressed I am, the worse my handwriting is, so I can use that as a measure of how tweaked I am over things. Since being tweaked over things sets in motion a whole bunch of complications that set me off-track — I start to load up all sorts of extra activities on myself that do not need to be done — I’ve realized that I can gauge how well or how poorly I am doing, in general — and how well or how poorly I am likely to do through the course of the coming day  — by my handwriting.

Having a pre-printed form with lines on it that keeps me neat and tidy is actually a short-cut that keeps me from having to really focus in on my handwriting. It’s also a little bit of a crutch for me, as it structures my day for me and tells me what I’m supposed to do — and when. I’ve been very much in need of that kind of structure, for the past decades, and I’ve suffered with out it. Stuff just didn’t get done. It just didn’t. Important stuff. Stuff that I’m now paying the consequences of not finishing. And a lot of stuff got started and commitments got made that had no business ending up on my plate. Not having that structure, not having a consistent way to go about things, was — well — in some cases small-scale catastrophic.

But in the past couple of years, since I realized what havoc mTBI has played in my life, I have done a really focused and intensive job of ordering my life in a much more constructive way. I’ve created routines for myself specifically to strengthen and support the parts of me that need help. I’ve taken myself to task for lots of things that I messed up for no good reason, and I’ve taken steps to remedy them. I’ve really stepped up in many, many aspects of my life that used to either languish or fall by the wayside. And I’ve made tremendous strides in the past 18 months — largely because I suddenly realized that I had problems, and those problems needed to be solved.

Now I find myself not only able to follow through with the required activities I set for myself each day, but I’m also better able to manage the optional ones.  I’m also better at distinguishing which ones matter and which ones are wishful. I am better and not packing my plate full of things that “must” be done, and I’m better at deciding which ones are energy drains and not contributing to my overall progress.

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally starting to come together. And a key part of all of this has been the force of habit. Identifying what I’m going to do, and doing it religiously, each and every day without fail. The things that are important to me — like exercising — I do every single day. Without fail. At the same time, each and every day. Without fail. And it’s the daily aspect of it that I think really makes a difference.

Now, a lot of people say that you don’t have to exercise every single day, in order to get benefits. Well, I tried that, and in my case, if I don’t do my exercises each and every day, I end up forgetting about them, doing other things, and not doing them even once a week. Trust me – I’ve tried to do the “half-way” fitness routine, and it doesn’t work. So, I broke the cardinal rule of fitness and I do my workout every single morning.

No, I do not give myself time to “rest” between daily workouts. I do not give my body time to “catch up”. But I also don’t push myself really hard every single day that I exercise. Some days, I’ll put a little more into bike ride, pushing myself to work up a sweat. Or I’ll focus on more weights with my lifting, so I feel a little sore the next day. But I don’t give myself time off, because by this time exercise has become like any other daily activity — like eating a meal or sleeping. It’s just part of my daily routine. It’s just part of my life.

Force of habit to the rescue.

And now that I’ve got the exercise thing down — which still takes discipline and determination, some days, like today — I can extend that into other areas of my life. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I want my life to be like, on down the line, and I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what parts of my life now are contributing to making that a reality later. I’ve come to the realization that my neurological and physiological issues may never go away and I’m going to have to factor them in at every turn, but I’ve also proven to myself that I am capable of positive change, and if I follow certain steps and do so consistently, I can — and will — make the kinds of changes I need in my life.

I may not be able to get back the years and the money and the relationships which fell prey to my injury, but I can work towards building something new for myself which is a reflection of what capabilities I have, and what my character truly is.

Ultimately, for me, the real power of the force of habit is about it relieving me of the need to think through every single action I take. Developing good habits frees up valuable time and energy I would otherwise be spending considering the pros and cons of what I’m doing, getting my head around the reasons why I’m doing them, and convincing myself they’re worthwhile. Developing rock-solid habits around good activities and behaviors enables me to focus on the important stuff — the actual doing of the activities, not the constant thinking about them. Developing positive habits frees me from analysis paralysis, and it acts as a kind of artificial executive function that keeps things running smoothly, even as the thinking parts of me are noodling about how to go about things.

Set-in-stone habits take care of the What and Why, so I can focus on the How.

And that’s a good thing.

So, that being said, it’s time to come up with some more habits. It’s time to create some more structure around what I absolutely positively need to do, in order to get where I’m going. This morning I created my daily planning list without the benefit of a pre-printed form. And my day is progressing really well anyway.

Good, good, good… and more good.

Okay, FINE, I’ll self-assess!

Well, the long weekend is almost over, and I’ve been spending the past few hours logging my experiences from last week, so I can share them with my neuropsych this coming week.

I keep daily logs of the things I plan to do, and I also track my successes/failures when all is said and done. Being the busy (compulsive?) individual that I am, I usually have a full page, each day. I use color highlighters to mark the things I get right and the things I don’t. Green means success, pink (which I hate) means failure because of my cognitive-behavioral/physical issues, and orange means something got in the way or I didn’t complete things for a benign reason (like I ran out of time).

I also have a log in my computer (aren’t spreadsheets wonderful?) where I list the things I’ve planned to do, and how they turned out, and what the reasons for my successes/failures were. I have been typing in my last few days’ worth of experiences, and as usual it’s a real eye-opener.

I tend to get very caught up in the moment… lose track of things I was working on a few hours or a few days before hand. I am very present-oriented, as well as future-oriented. I guess enough unpleasant, confusing mess-ups have happened in my recent and distant past, that I just got in the habit of not paying any more mind to experiences, once they’re over.

That’s fine, if I don’t care to ever learn from my past… but these days, I’m feeling more and more like I really need to pay attention to my lessons, get what I can out of them, and make a lot of effort to incorporate them into my life.

So, I’ve been logging my experiences into my computer log, so I can take them with me and discuss them with my neuropsych this coming week. It’s funny — they have been so supportive and encouraging and impressed wtih my progress… I’ve kind of gotten the impression that they don’t fully appreciate the range of my difficulties and how they get in my way.

Good heavens, but I keep busy! Good grief, should I say… My hands are tired from doing three pages’ worth, and my head is spinning with what I’m seeing. Basically, the pattern that’s emerging is me jumping around from thing to thing, not completing some important tasks, and running off to do side projects for no other reason than that I can.

On the other hand, I have made some really substantial progres, here and there. But I haven’t taken the time to really sit with it and appreciate it. Things like me getting my 2010 priorities in order… cleaning my study at last… doing my daily exercise… and taking really good care of my house… These are very important things I’ve accomplished in the past week, and I need to pay attention to them. I need to give myself some props.

I also need to give myself a good swift kick in the rear, because there are a lot of things I’ve let slide. It’s not enough for me to make a list in the morning, check some things off, and then not pay any more attention to it, after 2 p.m., which is my pattern. I really need to stay on top of myself, or I’m going to get hopelessly swamped in partially-finished projects. And I’m also running the real risk of taking on too much — yet again — which can spell disaster when it all comes to a head, and the non-essential things are crowding out the essential ones.

I must admit, I hate to self-assess. It’s difficult and painful and awkward and it reminds me of all the problems I have.

But it’s a new year, and I really have no choice but to change my dissipating ways. I need to rein myself in and buckle down to get done what I need to get done — what I’ve promised my boss I’d get done.

I expect to feel like crap for another day or so. I always feel terrible about myself and my life, when I start self-assessing. It’s so uncomfortable for me to see all the things that are amiss in my life… all the things that need fixing. But what’s the alternative? Leave them alone, and leave myself to rot? Don’t think so.

I can do better than that.

And so I shall.

Solutions-Oriented TBI Recovery

I’ve been having a pretty good month, so far. Actually, the goodness goes  back to late November, when I planned and completed a very successful Thanksgiving. It wasn’t successful in the “worldly” sense — it was successful interpersonally and individually. I managed to make it through the holiday without a meltdown, without a breakdown, without total loss of all control, and with a presence with those I was with that I cannot remember ever having had at that time of year.

Now the next spate of holiday activity is coming up. Two families in several states await the pilgrimage of my spouse and myself. It’s going to be even more rigorous than Thanksgiving. Twice as much driving, four times as many families, probably about 20 times as much activity. And this, over the Christmas “break” when everyone will probably be on the road.

I’m being smart about it, planning ahead, pacing myself… Not taking on too, too much at work, but managing (sometimes just barely) to keep up with my workload. Just thinking about it all makes me flush with excitement/dread. But that’s the nature of the game we play at the company where I work, so if I don’t like it, it’s my own danged fault for staying in it… or it’s up to me to change it.

I’ve  been having some pretty amazing revelations, too, with regard to my recovery. I’m reading again, which is a miracle in itself. I’m also able to sleep 8 hours at a stretch, now and then (last night was such a night). And I’m actually awake before 11 a.m., thanks to the daily wake-up exercise routine. I’ve also discovered that, even if I am planning on doing some exercise in the morning — like outside chores that promise to wipe me out — I still need to do my exercise routine to wake myself up, before I do anything else. No compromises, no shortcuts.

My neuropsych has been, well, psyched about my recent breakthroughs. The fact that I’ve been able to manage several extremely challenging travel/family situations in the past five months… the tremendous progress I’ve been making at work… the exercise and the better choices… the difference in my outlook and how I do things, each and every day… not to mention the revelations that I’ve had about what I’m truly capable of… it’s just floored them. Part of me wonders if they’re really amazed, or if they’re just trying to encourage me. But I trust them and their judgment, and I believe them when they say they’re just amazed at my progress.

It’s true. I have been making incredible progress. I have Give Back Orlando to thank for that, as well as my neuropsych and the materials I’ve been reading. One of the main ingredients that’s been critical in my rebound from teetering on the brink of financial ruin and homelessness (I’m not kidding), a few years back, has been the approach I’ve taken to my recovery. Ever since I realized I needed to recover — to rebound — from my fall in 2004… not to mention a lifetime of multiple periodic concussions… I’ve been focused not only on understanding the nature of my issues, but also devising solutions for the issues that are tripping me up.

Indeed, when I look back at my concussive life — starting when I was a young kid, on up through my late 30’s — I can see a pattern, an approach, that has served me well in rebounding from my falls and accidents and knock-out attacks. That pattern/approach was temporarily hidden from me, after my fall in 2004, so I literally forgot how to recover. But when I started getting back, I started to get back into this pattern, and it is helping me as much now — probably more, since I understand the underlying issues — as it did when I was trying to get through my childhood and adolescence and young adulthood after my different injuries.

I could post a laundry list of all my issues — and I probably will in a later post — but I haven’t got time for that right now. Suffice it to say, I’ve got a raft of them. Tens of them. And they cause my trouble on a daily basis. Now, looking at them all by themselves (which I tried doing, a few years back) just gets way too depressing. Seeing my issues for what they are — serious and threatening to my way of life and everything I hold dear — is necessary, true. But if I’m going to recover and rebound, I have to focus not on the problems they cause me, but the solutions I develop to deal with them.

If you’re interested in figuring out how to recover and rebound from your own issues — whether they’re TBI-related or some other sort of cognitive-behavioral bugaboo, like PTSD — I’m happy to share what I do — and have done for as long as I can remember — to get a handle on my issues and overcome them, day after day. (Note: Clearly, I’m human, and some days are better than others, but this is what works best for me — and I have a very successful and fulfilled life to show for it.)

Here’s the approach I take:

  1. I figure out what I want to do. I establish a goal or a desire I wish to fulfill— Like getting out of the house in time to make it to work by 9:30 a.m. I write down what I’m going to do.
  2. I plan my approach and try to prepare as best I can — I collect everything I’ll need for the day, the night before, set my clock early enough to get up, and talk myself through what I’m going to be doing to get out the door at a decent hour. I write down the steps I’m going to follow, in the order and time I plan to follow them.
  3. When the time comes to accomplish my goal, I make a point of focusing completely on it, and I do my utmost to achieve it. I also write down the things I did, and if I don’t make my own goal, I write that down, too, and make a brief note of why it didn’t happen. — As in, I get myself up, do my exercise, and prep for the day. I make a note of what I did all along the way — not lots of notes, but little notes so I’ll remember later. If I can’t manage to get out the door, I make a note of why that was (such as, I miscalculated the amount of time it would take me to eat breakfast, or I forgot that I needed to take out the trash and clean out the back of my car) so I can go back and think about it later.
  4. Over the course of the day, I continue to write down the things I am doing, if they are working or not, and I also look back at how my day started, to put it all in context. If my late morning arrival at work threw off the rest of my day, I can see how it all comes together, and I can also shift my schedule a little bit (like take some things off my plate) so I can catch up with myself again.
  5. At the end of the day, I take a look at how the day went, and I make a note (mental and written) about the things that stopped me from achieving what I wanted to do. I think about this as I plan my next day — if I’m not too tired, I can sometimes head future problems off at the pass. For example, if I was late getting out the door on that morning and it screwed up my day, I can look at what I’ve got going on the next morning, and make changes accordingly. Like double-check my list of things to do, and do them ahead of time. Or set my clock earlier, so I have more time to get things done.

I do this every day, just about. Yesterday, I was really late for work, and I didn’t get to do some things I was  supposed to, because I had forgotten to do some essential chores the night before. I realized, over the course of the day, that I was very tired from a full and active weekend, and I did not rest enough over the past two days. I also realized that when I get tired, I tend to push myself even harder, so I needed to not drive into work today, but work from home. Working from home lets me move at my own pace AND it lets me get an afternoon nap in, which is very important — especially with the holidays coming up.

And all along, I consult my notes. I don’t try to make them all neat, but I do try to make them legible and leave room for other notes in the margins ans I go through my day. Making notes of why things didn’t work out is actually more for consideration throughout the course of the day. I don’t spend a huge amount of time with neatness and completeness. The point of writing it down is more for developing mindfulness around the things I did not manage to get done when I planned to. And giving me a point of reference, when I’m starting to get overwhelmed, as I tend to do.

All in all, the system works for me. It’s solutions-oriented, and the only reason I pay attention to my problems, is so that I can overcome them. I refuse to be held back by these issues, which can be dealt with systematically and logically and logistically. If I have certain problems with fatigue and overwhelm, I can take steps to head those problems off at the pass, or address them in the moment they come up.

This orientation towards goal-oriented solutions is the only way to go for me. It puts my issues in a context that is empowering, rather than defeatist. It also cuts them down to size, by breaking them into smaller and smaller pieces, which I can take, one at a time, to overcome them. When I look at the mammoth iceberg of issues I have — all together at one time — it quickly becomes overwhelming. But if  I break them down into “bite-sized” pieces and tackle each one at a time, AND I attack them with the purpose of achieving the goals I set for myself each day, I can make some real progress.

And I have. And I continue to. Almost by accident — but with a lot of great help from a few key resources — I have come up with a blueprint for addressing my TBI issues, one at a time. And it works. The proof is in my life, which just keeps getting better.

What I do, versus who I am – TBI and Behavior Issues

I have been giving a lot of thought to behavior issues that arise as a result of TBI. Discussing my “eventful” childhood with my parents, in light of the concussions I experienced, brought up a lot of old memories about the bad behavior I exhibited, time and time again.

At the same time, I’ve been meeting with my neuropsychologist, who has been trying to explain to me that relatively speaking, the neurological after-effects of my TBIs are not so terribly severe. For the most part, I have a lot going for me, and I score well in key areas. I do have a few significant areas of difficulty, but I’m really not in terrible shape, neurologically speaking.

I’m still trying to get my head around it. Maybe I’m being dense, but it’s hard for me to see how little is wrong with me.

Because I struggle. Oh, how I struggle. The fact that I’ve been up since 1:30 — wide awake from worry and pain — is evidence thereof. Now, part of it may be the fact that I’m a highly sensitive individual with a lot of life and curiosity and adventurousness in me… which tends to put me on a collision course with the less desirable parts of human experience. A lot of it may be due to that, in fact. But it certainly doesn’t help that my memory leaves a lot to be desired, my processing speed isn’t as fast as I’d like, and I tend to get overwhelmed and melt down.

I don’t want to make more of my situation than need be, and I certainly don’t want to hold myself back in life  by focusing on my limits, rather than my strengths. I just need to understand why it is that I have such a hard time with things that others seem to be fine with. What, in fact, is holding me back?

All things considered, I think most of my day-to-day issues are behavior-related, versus purely neurological. I have had a bunch of head injuries, it’s true, but my MRI and EEG both came back looking peachy, and that doesn’t seem to correlate with the difficulties I have. Indeed, the problems I’ve got with insomnia, anger management, becoming quickly fatigued, trouble getting started, trouble reading, getting turned around and overwhelmed, saying the wrong things and doing things differently than I’d like, seem more behavioral than cognitive.

Well, it’s 4:30 a.m. and I’ve been up for three hours. I’m bushed and I need to sleep. So, for now I’ll just share a number of links I’ve found interesting and useful in understanding tbi and behavior: