Just updated – BI Recovery Tools for Behavioral Issues

Few things will make your post-brain-injury life more difficult than Behavioral Issues.

I just updated the BI Recovery Tools page for Behavioral IssuesΒ 

I’ve added info for how to deal with Impulsiveness, Aggression, and Raging Behavior.

Vacation!

I may not be around for a few days πŸ™‚

What a word… I’ve been thinking I need one, and sure enough, here it is. Today and tomorrow I’m OFF work (employment work, that is – I actually have a lot of chores I need to take care of).

All in all, it’s turning out to be a fairly active vacation. I’ve got guests coming from out of town, the same weekend that my spouse is going away on a business trip. I had originally planned to kick back for four whole days, maybe head to the beach, maybe hike some woods that I haven’t explored yet, maybe go for some long drives, maybe visit an old friend in the next state who I haven’t seen for 20+ years… lots of non-work-related activities to get my head back on straight. Oh, yeah – and get some rest, too.

But then I got a call from some family members who are traveling through on their way back home. They’re retired, so they have extra time. And guess what – they’re big into outdoors activities, exploring, etc., so they will actually make the perfect company for the weekend. They’ll arrive later today, after my spouse gets on the road, and then they’ll stay till Sunday morning, when they’ll head back. So, I’ll have three days with family members who frankly do not give a damn about work and working, who are into just enjoying their lives and seeing what all life has to offer. Things have been so intense at work, lately, it will be good to take a break from all that.

Honestly, folks, wouldn’t it be good to just ease off on the gas pedal, now and then?

Yeah, I think so. And it will be good to rest, too. These relatives of mine, being older, have slowed down a lot compared to how they were when they were younger, so they move at a much more deliberate pace — none of this high-powered frenzy sh*t that I have to deal with every day. My work situation is go-go-go, and that sucks-sucks-sucks sometimes. Maybe it’s fun for people who need to drown their cares in a steady flow of adrenaline, noradrenaline, ephinephrine, and norepinephrine, but I’ll pass on that heart attack cocktail, thank you very much.

It will also be nice to get out of my head for a few days. After my meeting with my neuropsych this past Monday, all sorts of emotional stuff got stirred up, which makes me very uncomfortable and uneasy. I hate to admit it, but I’ve been breaking down intermittently — in the car on the way to/from work, in bed before I go to sleep or before I get up, fortunately in private, out of the way of notice by people who would say, “Dude –WTF?”Β  My NP wants more specific examples of the times when I’ve done the kinds of things I talked about on Monday, and man is it stirring up a lot of old memories that I’d rather put behind me. All the times I said and did things that pissed off and alienated people I really cared about… all the times I said and did things that got me in trouble and I couldn’t figure things out and/or speak up quickly enough to dig myself out of that hole… all the times I was accused of things I didn’t do (like stealing a co-worker’s leather jacket) because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and had to blurt out something that sounded like I was admitting I did it. I couldn’t even remember what the jacket looked like — and I was certainly not going to steal it. But I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, no matter how much I kept telling myself to shut it… something in me just had to blurt out a lame comment about “not being attached to material possessions”. Geez. Smooth. And about 15 minutes after my little counseling session, I realized everyone was looking at me weirdly, and they kept looking at and talking to me suspiciously the rest of the time I worked at that place.

Nothing like having all eyes on you.

The worst part is, I didn’t steal that jacket, but when I was a kid, I used to steal from the other kids at school. I went through a period of about a year when I would steal lunch money and things they’d brought in for show and tell. If they had something really nice or something that they really needed (like lunch money), I was compelled to steal it. This was in first grade, when I was six. Fortunately, the compulsion didn’t last — the straw that broke that camel’s back was when I stole something and felt so much remorse that I vowed to never, ever do it again. I knew I caused my classmate tremendous pain and suffering because I took something they really loved — and I hated that feeling. I “got it” at that time, and although I’ve had a number of compulsions to steal over the years, I’ve managed to keep that at bay and not act on it.

But when that co-worker’s expensive leather jacket was stolen, even though I didn’t do it — and wouldn’t have, even if I’d had the chance — all the old guilt came up, and all the old feelings about “being a thief” took over. And I ended up taking the rap (even though they never pinned it on me, they were sure I’d done it) for something I did not do.

All those years of struggling with that old way. All those years of fighting it tooth and nail, but still feeling like I was carrying around a handful of hot coals that would never lose their heat. Those old ways, those old experiences just burn themselves into me, day in and day out, and I can’t seem to get them out of my hands.

And I wonder how many other people out there are walking around carrying those kinds of hot coals — especially people in prison or people who allow themselves to be trapped in a way of thinking and doing and living that reinforces their “worthlessness”. I think about all the folks out there with sketchy histories who can’t seem to shake those old habits, those old ways, and who have worked so very, very hard to overcome their past… only to have instances come up when they just can’t shake/fight/out-run it anymore… and it gets the best of them.

Or the worst of them.

All these things stay with me — the past words, the past deeds, the past mistakes and mis-steps and screw-ups… the glowing hot coals of past experiences that I cannot undo.They stay with me always, lurking under the surface, always waiting… waiting… for the instant when my guard is down or I’m not paying close enough attention, or things get tight and tough… and then they rise up again. I say things that peel back the veneer I’ve worked so hard to create, and once they’re said, there’s no un-saying them.

In a way, I wish I’d never brought up these issues with my NP. But I know that if I don’t deal with them, if I don’t find ways to manage them and work with them and better understand them, they will stay as hot and as burning as ever, and I will probably never get free. At least with my NP, I have a chance at understanding what makes this kind of experience “tick” — what causes it, and what can help me manage and/or prevent these kinds of outbursts, these kinds of experiences in verbal incontinence.

My strategy over the years has been to just shut the hell up as quickly as possible and move on, pretending I never said what I said. But sometimes there’s no denying it. And the cumulative results of these screw-ups have aggregated into a mass of intense discomfort. There’s only so long I can ignore and overlook the elephants stampeding through my proverbial living room. Gotta suck it up and deal with it.

But christalmighty does this take it out of me.

Well, it’s a beautiful day. I’ve got a bunch of stuff to do before my company gets here. Run some errands, clean up around the house, and get ready for an actual vacation.

Dealing with it all

The storm is a-brewin'

So, yesterday I pulled out my Big List Of All The Stuff That TBI Can Bring, and I checked off all the issues I’ve had going on with me for the past couple of weeks. And after looking at everything — realistically — and realizing how much I’ve had going on (and after getting some nice comments from a reader) I’ve settled into feeling pretty positive, overall, about getting through this time.

A couple of years back, I would have been completely — and I mean completely — derailed over this extended episode. I had my moments (well, days actually) of really Bad Behavior, but I can’t get fixated on them. They’re just part of everything, and the important part is that I’ve moved through, learned my lessons, and I’m able to communicate to others the conditions that can (and will) cause others considerable suffering, if they repeat this cycle again. And I can tell them why. And I can tell them how to avoid it all.

So surprise, surprise, I’m human after all. But even more than that, I’m able to transcend and transform the whole experience into something that can benefit others at work.

And on top of that, I get a whole new appreciation for how far I have truly come in the past several years. Three years ago, I might have just bolted from the situation — just picked up and left. Or gone ballistic and gotten myself fired. Three years ago, I might have collapsed under the pressure and not recovered. That’s how it was for a few years… drifting from job to job, not really digging in anywhere, and certainly not pushing myself to really perform.

This time is different. And I realize that I’ve developed some pretty effective techniques for handling the truly rough spots that used to derail me. I’ve got to get going to work in a few minutes, but I do want to talk in detail about the ways I’ve managed to handle this ridiculous level of crap.

First, in the Behavioral department, here’s how I handled things:

[x]Β  Impulsiveness – I realized, a few days into the project that being overly impulsive and jumping from task to task was never going to help me get it all done. I had to build 8 different versions of a somewhat complex website in 8 different languages, and I had to coordinate pulling together all sorts of media, text, and regional resources in an extremely short timeframe. After going at things sort of willy-nilly for a few days, I started to melt down and was having huge problems handling the workload. So, I collected all my information and make up a plan, breaking out the different kinds of tasks that needed to be done, instead of jumping from one thing to the next. I call it “the jumping spider syndrome” where I’m all over the place, hopping from one apparent problem to the next without any rhyme or reason, and like a jumping spider, where I land is never very predictable, and it’s never a given. But when I sat down with my lists of Things That Had To Be Done and I organized them all in my head, things started to sort themselves out. I even spent a whole day (a week ago Saturday) not “doing” anything, but thinking through how I was going to do everything — planning it out, getting clear in my head about what my plan of attack would be. Then on Sunday, I got sick as a dog, and I had more time to think (when I wasn’t asleep or in excruciating pain).

[x]Β  Aggression (verbal/physical) – Holy smokes, was I on a tear for the first week. I was seriously aggressive over the project. The people who had made the arrangements that put me in that tough spot were gallivanting around, busy being important, and there I was left holding the f*cking bag. Their f*cking bag. I was doing all the work, and they were taking all the credit. Idiots. My aggression was off the charts, in large part because there was so much friggin’ work to do, the project was already 2 months late, I had lost 2 weeks off the end of it, and I was locked on target for getting things done. But perhaps the worst part of it all was that the people who had created the mess suddenly decided they should really help me get things done, and their idea of “helping” me was to encourage me to “take it easy” and “not work too hard”. Had they lost their minds?! What is wrong with people? If this was going to get done in the ridiculously short timeframe that they had locked us all into, I had to work harder, not “take it easy”. Please. So, after having some completely pointless and fruitless conversations with people who were both the cause of the problem and were undermining the solution, I basically blocked myself off from everyone with an attitude that warned everyone I was NOT to be Disturbed until this whole project was done. I told the people whose projects were going to be late that they were going to be late because of this project, and I just got down to work. I focused my aggression on the project at hand, and I basically gave up trying to explain the most basic, fundamental facts of the matter to people who just didn’t get it at all. I didn’t get rid of the aggression. I directed it. I used it. I focused in. And I stayed late into the evenings, getting things done, when all the pains in my ass were out of the office, so I could actually focus, instead of having to stroke their egos and play up to their anxiety. Holy crap… Come to think of it, one of the things that eased the aggression was my deciding that there was actually something wrong with these people and they were handicapped by some invisible challenge that they were blind to. That was my explanation, and I gave up on expecting them to have any sense at all. I decided that their heavy drinking and personal pecadillos had taken too great a toll, and they were simply incapable of behaving like adults. In a strange way, that helped.

[x]Β  Raging behavior – Again, I was on a tear. I was in a flat-out rage for days on end, and everyone knew not to come near me, not to talk to me, not to interact with me, and if they had anything for me, they should just drop it off at my desk and walk away. All the people who felt guilty were coming around trying to make nice to smooth things over. The only problem is, the only thing that actually smooths things over is people behaving like responsible adults and pulling their weight and using their power wisely… not coming around to make nice and schmooze and pat me on the back and bolster my ego. News flash — that doesn’t work with me. And the more people try to smooth things over, the more suspicious and distrustful of them I become. It’s like someone who beats or cheats on their spouse buying them gifts afterwards. You want to do me a favor? Act like a friggin’ adult and take some responsibility. None of this BS where you prance around, making yourself look fabulous, then think that making others “look fabulous” is going to change a goddamned thing. … Oh, I see the rage is still an issue πŸ˜‰Β  Anyway, like with the aggression stuff, I eventually gave up on these people having any sense at all, and I just buckled down and used the rage. It’s so pointless to even discuss this with people who create these scenarios, because they occupy a universe that’s parallel to mine, and parallels by definition never meet. So, there’s no point in trying to explain to people. Just buckle down and do the work. And keep the f*ck away from people till the project is done. Because I’m no friggin’ fun till that’s settled.

Anyway, considering the levels of my indignation and outrage and frustration and just plain pissed-off-ed-ness, I think I’ve done pretty well. I’m not likely to forget this anytime soon. And all the lazy, kiss-ass, brown-nosed people I’ve had to deal with over the past couple of weeks have shown their colors, so now I know what I’m dealing with.

And that’s not all bad.

One thing I noticed — after not taking time to sit and breathe for close to two weeks — is that when I do sit and breathe for 10 minutes in the morning and before I go to sleep, I feel a whole lot better about my life and myself. I know things aren’t perfect, but when I balance out my fight-flight with just 10 minutes of stopping, well, that makes all the difference in the world.

I’ve started doing it again. And it helps.

Now, I’ve got to get to work to put this project to bed. Wish me luck.

–

A learning life is the best rehab for me

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and today I’m traveling to my extended family, several states away. I expect the traffic to be heavy, and I expect the trip to be long. I’ve spent the past week preparing myself for this mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I’ve consulted with my neuropsych, I’ve checked in with friends, I’ve been eating right and I’ve been working out and stretching regularly. Last night I actually got eight hours of sleep.

This year is very different from past years, in that I’m not pushing myself up to the very last minute when my spouse and I hit the road. I’ve been taking it easy, taking the different tasks in manageable pieces, not biting off more than I can chew, but keeping on task and on point. And I’ve been using my timer, to make sure I stay on schedule.

This year is also different, in that I called my parents ahead of time to find out what the plan was going to be for the next few days. I checked the weather, too, so I could be prepared to offer suggestions. I’ve requested that we just take Friday “off” and relax and do some light activity outside — the weather is going to be beautiful, and I would really like to spend time with my folks, just hanging out and talking.

I am also planning to share with them the findings of my neuropsych evaluations and work. I’ve made tremendous progress, over the past year, and I want to share the info with my parents in a positive and constructive way. I haven’t been able to do that, till lately, as I’ve had a lot of reservations about my progress (not helped by my psychotherapist, who has been trying to talk me into “accepting” (i.e., giving up on) my limitations and settling for less of an amazing life than I believe I can have.

I’m not sure how they got to be that cynical, but I’m not on the same page with them, and I am certainly not going to settle for less, just ’cause I’ve had some misfortunes along the way.

Anyway, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how much progress I’ve made over the past year or so. My neuropsych says they are encouraged and inspired by my progress, which is great. I’m really happy I can return the favor of their assistance. I really have come a long way. A year ago, I was pretty turned around, I didn’t have much direction, and I was very muddled and confused by the ramifications of my issues. I had a long way to go, to figure things out.

My previous therapist wasn’t helping matters, by constantly focusing on what my mother did, as a source of my woes. I invested a lot of time with them, essentially being led down the wrong path — it wasn’t necessarily my mother (or my father) that was the root of my issues. It was more the neurological context in which I was living in my childhood — all those unidentified, misunderstood, pesky issues that complicated and intensified every experience I had, and had me “pegging” emotionally and behaviorally all over the map.

Now, I have to say, my current psychotherapist has helped me regain my balance from before. I think my previous therapist was trying to regress me, to find some deep, dark secret hidden in the innermost recesses of my psyche, so they could exorcise my demons or something like that. And my current therapist helped me regain my balance by helping me focus on the logistics of my day-to-day life, rather than floating around in the distant past. And I am very grateful for their help (tho’ I have to move on now).

Indeed, I think the thing that has helped me the most, over the past couple of years, has been the help I’ve gotten in dealing with my everyday life — keeping my issues in mind, understanding them and how they impact me, and getting to the bottom of the problems I can expect to have, given different situations. Being aware of patterns, like:

I get tired after a full day of intense activity, and when I get tired, I have a tendency to get turned around and agitated, which adds to my internal confusion and throws gasoline on the fire of my temper… and really contributes to me melting down over every little thing

helps me immensely, and it also helps the people around me to help manage and anticipate my issues before they get completely out of control.

And one of the big things that helps me identify my patterns is examining my life on a regular basis. I take a lot of notes, and I record a lot of my experiences. I look back on my days and weeks, and I watch for issues and patterns that emerge over time. I write down the times when I am having a really hard time of things, and I identify the contributing factors. And I draw pictures of my problems and the “flow” I use to deal with them. I work with my life — the failures and the successes — as my own individual recovery plan and practice. And I see results.

Real results. Like promotions at work. Like improved relationships with others. Like a more creative approach to my life, overall. If I can get past the old bad habit of being so hard on myself, and I can treat my difficulties as challenges (from the outside — from my faulty wiring — rather than from my inside character or personal worth) to be tackled creatively … challenges just waiting to be overcome… well, then, the ultimate results of my examined life are tangible improvements, the likes of which I never thought I’d see happen.

Truly, this is remarkable. I always thought — before I knew why things were always getting so screwed up with me — that I was flat-out doomed to failure. I had precious little expectation that things would ever turn around for me permanently… I figured it was always just a matter of time, till things got mucked up for no reason I could identify, and everything I’d worked so hard for just went away, swallowed up in the sinkhole of my life.

But now that I’m paying attention to the basics, and I’m following up to deliberately study the results of my actions and see how they can be improved… Now that I’m treating my life like the miracle that it is, and I’m studying my daily “playbook” with focus and intention, and I’m refining my approaches, based on what I know about my limitations, I no longer believe that I am stuck in endless cycles of attempt-failure-attempt-failure-attempt-failure.

My life is different now. Because I’m living it differently now.

And it’s good.

In case you’re wondering how I go about doing this, here’s the basic flow of my practical-life-recovery-plan:

  1. I figure out what I want to do. I understand why I want to do it, and how it fits in the overall picture of my life. For example, I figure out that I need to exercise first thing in the morning, and I need to really work up a sweat, because I have been feeling a little sluggish lately and I need to “pump up” my system a little more.
  2. I do it. And I track what I do. For example, I do my morning workout, but I don’t manage to work up much of a sweat.
  3. I figure out if I accomplished what I set out to do, and if I succeeded, I celebrate in some way. If not, I ask myself why that is. For example, I make note that I worked out — and I congratulate myself for doing that — but I didn’t work up a sweat, and I wonder why.
  4. I figure out why I didn’t accomplish exactly what I set out to do, and I ask myself what I can do differently to change that the next time. For example, while I’m having my breakfast, I look at how I’m doing, and I realize that I’m tired and distracted. I figure out that I didn’t get to bed at a decent hour the night before, and I also see that I let to many errands wait till later in the day, which pushed my schedule back farther into the evening, so I couldn’t relax and get to sleep at a decent hour.
  5. I think of alternative strategies I can follow to make changes in my daily life, that will help me accomplish what I set out to do better today. For example, I spend a little more time planning my day in a way that will let me get my busy-work done first thing, and give me more time in the afternoon to take it easy and wind down.
  6. I go about my day and check in with myself periodically, to see how I’m doing. I make a point of remembering the goals I did not accomplish, which I really, really wanted to accomplish, and I work a little harder to keep myself in line. For example, I check my daily work list periodically to make sure I’m staying on schedule and make sure I’m not overloading myself with extra stuff in the evening.
  7. Last but not least, I follow up. I do a check-in later to see how I’m doing, and if I’ve accomplished the goals I set for myself, I celebrate and reward myself. For example, if I get to the end of the day without wiping myself out, I treat myself to a little bit of television, watching a show on cable that I really like. Or better yet, I make an early night of it and I get in bed at a decent hour, which lets me sleep and sleep and sleep till I’m actually rested.
  8. And then I do it all again the next day.

To some, it might sound arduous and like a lot of work, and it is. But it’s good work, and it’s really more of an orientation to my life, a kind of spiritual practice, if you will. In the Give Back Orlando material, they talk about how TBI survivors need to be more mindful of their lives, and I have found that to be very true. But even more importantly, I’ve found that I want to be more mindful of my life. Yes, it’s work, but I don’t mind the work. Yes, it’s different from how most people live. But I’ve never been like other people, so why start now — and why feel badly that I can’t be like them? I’m just fine, the way I am.

In the end, yes, it does take more work to live this way. In the end, yes, it is more time-consuming to do things that a lot of people do quickly and easily without a second thought. In the end, no, I don’t have as much time to fritter away on non-essential activities.

But in the end, the payoff is huge. I get to have a life.

Better yet, I get to have the life that I want to live.