Putting Anxiety to Good Use

river winding through green landscape

I had a really good weekend. I made a lot of progress, and I got a lot of plans in place that I think are really going to help me get stuff done. I didn’t clean my gutters, which I really needed to do. And there were a few other things I need to do this morning, to catch up. But all in all, it was a good and satisfying weekend.

My top achievement was getting rid of some serious distractions that have been pulling my attention in all different ways. Those are old projects I was very fond of… and that I was very fond of thinking I’d ever finish. As it turns out, because I had too many things going at the same time, I never advanced down the path I was hoping to, which resulted in me getting nothing done.

So, that’s stopped.

And that’s a big deal for me. Because distraction and dissipate have been regular themes in my life, for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure what’s changed with me, but suddenly I don’t feel drawn to spread myself so thin.

Part of it might be getting a hold of my anxiety. Or just using it for something productive, instead of trying to get rid of it entirely. For quite some time, I’ve tried to manage my anxiety by calming myself down. But at the end of last week, I realized that anxiety is actually a really potent source of energy for me. And it’s constant. It never really goes away.

So, I can use up all my time and energy and attention trying to control / manage something that’s always there, anyway. Or I can redirect the energy into something productive. And really kick it.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the past several days. Kicking it, using my anxiety. Not trying to calm myself down, but directing my energy into something useful. Making plans. Creating a new pace for myself. Letting that old companion anxiety propel me forward…  Turning that often-unwelcome companion into a friend.

And it’s working out pretty well, I have to say. After years and years of being so dissipated and distracted by, well, just about everything, I feel like I have a much better understanding of how my system works — and how it can work for me.

Of course, none of this would have been possible, if I hadn’t worked at my TBI recovery intentionally and with a lot of trial-and-error. I can tell my brain is behaving more, these days, because I’m actually able to focus. I used to be able to do it, at will. Then I fell in 2004, and that went away. I couldn’t manage much of anything, concentration-wise. That’s something that’s come back over time, with lots and lots of practice and (again) trial-and-error. I’ve let myself make mistakes. That’s how I learn. And I gave up worrying about “failure” in the process, which always helps.

So, yes. This is good. I’ve got my mandate for the next year — maybe two. I’m only focusing on one major project, for 2019, funneling my anxious energy into taking steps to do something about each hurdle I come up against — which are many. I will keep this blog going, because it helps me keep my head on straight and also keep focused on what’s most important to me. But I’m not working on a bunch of other side projects that I had going, lo those many years.

And, ironically, that tames my anxiety. Using it for something good not only lets it just be without judgment or blockage, but it also gives it somewhere to go. Like a rushing river, when I let it just flow and direct it in a certain direction, it takes me on some really interesting turns. Instead of damming it up and trying to control it, I just let it flow… and I ride that wave.

Which is good.

And overdue.

Onward.

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Taking it easy… sort of

work sign showing person shoveling a pile of dirtI’m doing my version of “taking it easy” today.

Basically, I’m working on my projects that have been on the back burner for weeks and weeks. Five weeks, pretty much. Count them – five. Ouch. Especially considering how psyched I was about finally getting back into them, about a month ago.

Then I had to travel.

Then I got tired.

Then I had to travel some more.

Then I was exhausted.

I’ve spent the past week swamped at work – two very late-night working sessions, and both nights not getting much sleep at all.

It was really demoralizing and depleting.

But — ha! — now I’m back.

I’ve had the whole day to myself today, to do as I pleased. And it’s been good. I didn’t do the errands I typically have to do on Saturday mornings, because, well, they’ll keep. Those errands aren’t going anywhere, and I needed the down time… the time to just sink into my passion projects and not be governed by someone else’s timeframes, deadlines, limitations.

Even though I worked really hard, this morning, it was very much a vacation from all the intense work at the office, as well as the care-taking for my spouse. Oh, also, my spouse has been ill, so I’ve been doing even more care-taking this week, than I did when we were traveling. And that’s a lot. Nearly constant attention paid. Lots of interruptions. And a trip to the doctor, as well as wrangling with the pharmacist who didn’t understand why I was asking all those questions about the type of medication that was prescribed. My spouse is extremely sensitive to meds, and the pills given before made them violently ill.

So, yeah. I’m going to ask questions. Too bad. At least I kept my wits about me and didn’t yell at anyone. That’s helpful.

Anyway, I spent a great deal of time this morning (and early afternoon) mapping out specific steps I can follow to make the most of my time and not make myself crazy in the process. Now that I have it figured out (mostly), I can move forward.

I hate not knowing what direction to take. It stops me. It blocks me. I’m not a fan.

Anyway, duty calls. I’ve got some things I must take care of this evening, so I’ll sign off for now. I am very much looking forward to this next week, when I’ll have five days off work… to continue to make progress.

 

Ha! No sooner do I say I’ll be blogging more regularly, than I drop out of sight

merry go round with city in background

Think of that promise as me being on a merry go ’round and waving as I ride by… then I disappear for a while. I wanted to do better, I really did. But then life happened.

But I’ve dropped out of sight for a reason. I’ve been traveling for the past three weeks – one week for a business trip, two weeks for a working vacation with my spouse. This weekend will be the first I’m able to sit down with some uninterrupted time to blog (and think) in nearly a month. I was intending to spend time blogging over the past two weeks, while my spouse was busy at their conference, but it turned out they needed a lot more help than I’d anticipated. So, I spent most of my time taking care of them.

It takes me quite some time to get myself ready for my business trips, with all the coordination with my fellow travelers, not to mention setting up meetings with people where I’m going. And I have to get my spouse squared away with their needs and requirements, making sure they have the right food and medication on hand, making sure they have their time scheduled properly for when I’m away, and doing everything up front that I normally do while I’m home.

Nobody at the office seems to realize how much work it is to go on these trips. They all act like it’s no big deal, but it’s so much more effort and attention for me.

And when I travel with my spouse, it’s even more demanding, because they have a lot of special needs, and I have to ensure that they’re totally taken care of. Sometimes I “nail” it, sometimes I don’t. Usually, it’s a mix. And then I have to scramble all the more to make up for my misses, during the trip.

Long story short, it takes A LOT for me to travel. But I do it anyway.

And now I’m back. With lots of amazing insights from the past three weeks.

I’ll be able to say more later. But for now, I’ve gotta got get some food in the house and catch up on my sleep.

It’s good to be back home again.

Onward.

Now in Print: “Top 10 Things I Wish They’d Told Me After My Concussions”

Top 10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me After My Concussions
Top 10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me After My Concussions

I just published Top 10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me After My Concussions in print. You can buy a copy here

My hope is that the word will get out via Amazon – it will eventually be available there, after I get my proof copy and sign off on it. Because TBI/concussion is not only survivable, but there are things we can do that can help our recovery process.

You can also read the series on this site here.

 

Who’s stopped by in the last month

picture of world readership from the last 30 days
Who all has stopped by in the past month

I just checked my stats from the past 30 days, and it looks like word has gotten out about this blog. Or people have been finding their way here. The breakdowns of countries are below – this is just the past 30 days, but the range of countries is pretty extensive.

world readership statistics from the last 30 days
The full list of visitors from the last 30 days

Chronic Blogging – Setting up your blog with the most important elements

Once you have your blog setup, you need to get your overall design together. There are a lot of different choices, but I focus on the following three elements:

  • Sidebars
  • Widgets
  • Sharing

I’m sure there are plenty of people who would argue with me on this, but for me, simplicity is best. I’ve tried different settings and configurations over the years, and to be honest, keeping it super-simple has really turned out best for me. But it’s up to you. Whatever you like and works for you, is just as good.

And always remember — you can go back and change things later, if you like. Just experiment with it, and see how it works. You’ll learn a lot, so keep an open mind and have an adventure 😉

Sidebars are the columns to the right or left of your main blog content area. Many blogs have two of them, but a lot have only one, on the left or the right. I prefer a sidebar on the right, because it looks better to me — more like a blog, and less like a regular website. There’s nothing wrong with having a design like a regular website, but the convention for blogs seems to be putting your extra stuff on the right.

Some themes will let you pick and choose how many sidebars you have and which side they’re on. The theme I use just puts it on the right, so that keeps it simple.

Widgets are the extra stuff. You find them under the menu with the little paint brush:

widgets-menu

You’ll see the options you have for widgets, as well as where you can put them.

widgets-selections
Click the image to see full-size

Widgets include “follow” buttons, email signup fields, lists of archives and recent posts, social sharing, as well as promotional and nice-to-know additions on the right. I’ve seen authors put pictures of their books on the right, and then link to their “buy page” so you can get a copy of their book. I have put extra stuff like quotes and facts and figures in my sidebars. These are all done through widgets in WordPress.

Depending on your theme, you can have a ton of different options. Here’s what I have to choose from:

all-widgets
Click the image to see full-size

Obviously, I’m not going to use ALL of them. I need to pick and choose carefully. So, after years of experimenting, and realizing that some things were more trouble than they were worth, I ended up using these:

sidebar

Sharing is a really important piece of your setup, because you want to reach as many people as possible, and giving others the ability to share your posts with others. You can put a Social Media Icons widget in your sidebar, at the bottom of your posts, and you can also configure your blog to share automatically for you.

You find your sharing settings under the Settings Menu:

sharing-menu

You’ll see this page (if you’re hosted on WordPress):

sharing-settings
Click the image to see it full-size

First, you want to set up your Publicize settings. Click the Publicize button:

publicize

And you’ll go to this screen:

publicize-settings

You can see that I have only connected to Twitter. I blog anonymously, so I don’t want my posts connected to any of my “real life” personal or professional social networks. So, all I have connected to is Twitter. You may wish to connect to everything. That’s your choice.

Whenever you post to your blog, with Publicize, you’ll post to all your connected social media without needing to do anything. For someone with memory and sequencing issues, this is a godsend — you don’t need to make a checklist of where all to post after you blog something. Publicize does it for you.

That’s why it’s so important to set it up.

Next, you want to set up your Sharing Buttons (which will appear on your pages), so people can share your posts with others. You just drag all the Available Services down to the Enabled Services area. You can see that I only have Twitter, Facebook, and Email enabled, because my posts are very text-heavy and also very personal. I could put the Print button in there, but people usually know how to print pages, so I won’t take up the space on the page.

sharing-buttons

You also want to turn on the buttons for your whole blog — check all the boxes beside “Show buttons on”, and you can also put your Twitter username in there, so whenever your readers tweet your posts, your own username will show up.

Like and Reblog are also turned on for me — especially Reblog because that makes it really easy for people to share your posts on their blogs.

So, that’s the lesson for today — three basic things to do that aren’t terribly complicated but will make your blog easier to use and share with others.

Chronic Blogging – Picking the right theme (design)

I like WordPress. A lot.
I like WordPress. A lot.

WordPress is basically made up of two parts:

  1. A “back-end” framework, like the inner gears of an engine, that runs the whole deal. Think of the back-end like you think of an engine of a car. You don’t necessarily need to know how it all works, to pick the right car for you.
  2. A customizable “front-end”, using themes that change the design of your blog and offer different features. Think of themes as the “body” of a car – it has the elements that you (and others) will actually have contact with on a daily basis. Just as you pick a car based on its roominess, interior features, color, and flexibility, you pick a theme for your blog.

The part you really care about for your blog is the “front-end” – it’s what you can most easily control. And you usually don’t need to know any programming to manage it.

There are literally thousands of themes available for people to use. Design professionals make a business out of creating WordPress themes, and there are some really great ones out there.

You can pay for a theme, or you can get them for free. I always go for free, because my needs are basic and straightforward, and I can do everything I need to do with a free theme.

What are my needs?

  • Responsive – my site will adjust to the size and shape of whatever device people are using: phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, etc.
  • Customizable header – so I can change my look, if I like.
  • Sidebar – so I can put in my “follow” buttons and links list and archives, etc.
  • White color scheme – it’s easier for me to read.
  • Social sharing – so people can share my posts with others.
  • Good font size – that makes it easy to read (most themes have that now, but it’s an important thing to check).
  • Free – because there are too many good choices, and I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles.

So, where do you find the magic? Log into WordPress, and you’ll see an “Appearance” choice in your WP-Admin.

theme-menu

 

Choose Themes, and you’ll see this (or something like it):

theme-choices

This page shows you which theme is active for you, and it lets you pick from a wide array of choices.

You can see all the different options that you have for themes. There are themes with a single column, two columns, three columns, and there are themes in different colors and so forth. I have spent a lot of time looking through a lot of different themes, and I have found that in my case simplest is best. You can easily spend hours and hours looking through all of the different options, trying them out, and seeing what you like. But it is a much better use of your time, if you find something simple to use, and start with that.

If you search for “responsive white sidebar”, the page will change to show the ones that fit your search. And you can explore from there.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of Twenty Sixteen. It’s responsive, it has one sidebar on the right, I can customize the header, and it does everything I want it to do. It’s fast and easy to configure, and it’s not a huge headache like other themes.

There are many, many web pages and guides out there which talk about WordPress themes, so if you want to dive deeper, scout around a bit.

To activate your theme, all you have to do is put your mouse over the theme, and the Activate and Preview buttons will show up:

theme-activate

You can preview your blog and see how it will look with that theme. If you don’t like it, then just close the preview. If you do like it, click the Activate button, and now you’ve got that theme.

Remember that you can easily change out your theme in the future, so don’t worry too much about choosing the exact right one, right off the bat.

You’ve got plenty of flexibility to change later.

So, have fun with it!

The magic of voice-to-text

My hands are pretty tired. Time to give 'em a break.
My hands are pretty tired. Time to give ’em a break.

My hands have been giving me a lot of trouble, lately. I’ve been writing a lot – typing a lot – on the computer most of my waking hours. And it’s taking a toll.

The only problem is, I have a lot of writing I want to do. I’ve got a handful of projects that are just itching to get done – my Chronic Blogging project being the most pressing, right now. Maybe I’m just being spoiled, or maybe I’m finally getting to a place in my life — and my writing — where I’m really hitting my stride.

The latter, I think. I’ve been struggling with keeping things together for so very long, that just carving out time to write has been rough. And I’ve been foggy and fuzzy for so long, that it’s been a challenge to get the words together in decent order.

Blogging counts… but not exactly. It’s much more stream-of-consciousness, and it doesn’t require me to create a huge amount of structure around my thoughts. I can just get up, do my morning workout, get my breakfast, and then spend an hour writing about whatever comes to mind. It’s not the sort of activity that I have to plan out, structure, and then keep steady with.

Writing extended pieces takes a lot out of me. I tend to get distracted and lose my train of thought / resolve before I’ve completed the extended thought. That’s why I favor blogging – it’s “low-impact” for me, and it lets me mentally ramble more than I can in a structured work. I can also break down individual ideas into bite-sized chunks that are easier for me to digest.

But every now and then, I get a hankerin’ to write something more involved than my daily blog posts — something that demands real commitment, and which will have to do with more than the passing moments of my life.

Which brings me to my Chronic Blogging book-in-progress, and all the stuff that goes along with it. I have to figure out a way to elaborate on some really key points, without blowing out my hands and wrists.

Thus, the speech-to-text functionality of my devices.

I’ve got an iPhone for work, and an Android tablet of my own. The iPhone seems to do a much faster job of transcribing, although the Android tablet seems to be more accurate.

Speed vs. accuracy — the eternal quandary!

Anyway, I’ve been testing both of them out, and this weekend I’ll do some more work on my Chronic Blogging project, dictating rather than typing. I dictated about 1/3 of the book yesterday p.m., and it’ll be good to just plug it all in and edit it, rather than tap-tap-tapping away at the keyboard.

I need to break things up, anyway, and this will be a great way to do it.

So, as usual… onward.

Chronic Blogging – Getting Properly Setup – Blog Configuration Basics

I like WordPress. A lot.
I like WordPress. A lot.

The first order of the day is to get your blog properly setup and configured. This is not nearly as difficult as it sounds, and what you do here, can really help you in the long run.

The first I’ll discuss is the basics of setting up your blog to make your life easier. With technology, it’s easier than ever to complicate everything — to the point where you just don’t want to do it, anymore. I’ll keep things simple here. I also won’t cover every single topic I can think of — just the basics you should consider.

There are a lot of great books and websites out there that can offer you in-depth tips and tricks. Use them as much as you can. There are lots of smart people who share really useful info with the world.

In this guide, I’ll talk about using WordPress, because after years of blogging and using different systems like Blogger and Typepad (and some others I can’t recall the names of), WordPress is my favorite for a number of reasons.

  1. It’s stable and well-supported. It’s not just a side project of some folks who needed to do something fun and fulfilling on the weekends (that happens more often than you think). It’s managed by real people who do it for a living. And it’s actively supported. Sometimes they make changes to the interface that drive me nuts, but overall, it’s worth the hassle. There’s a ton of help and documentation about how to different things, but you can do a lot with just a little bit of information. There are many, many themes (designs) that give you a lot of different options, and they are also well supported.
  2. You can do a lot with a little — for free. You can sign up for a free blog and be publishing your work in a matter of minutes. There are a lot of different customizations you can do, but you don’t have to do many at all, to get a functioning blog that looks good. Simplicity is important, if you just want to focus on your writing, instead of configuring your “technical platform”. And it doesn’t need to cost you anything other than your time and attention.
  3. It has a lot of SEO stuff already built in – like “human-readable” urls, correct html, consistent page designs, and the ability to optimize your images so search engines love you. That is so important — I think one of the reasons I rank pretty high in Google, is precisely because I am on WordPress.
  4. You’re automatically connected with a wider community. WordPress has a ton of bloggers on it, and they’re all connected via the Reader feature. You can easily find others on WP who write about the stuff you’re interested in, and they will show you the tags that people are using, so you not only find out who’s writing, but what they’re writing about the most.
  5. They make it really, really easy. Signing up is easy. Setting up is easy. Blogging is easy – and you can also password protect and schedule your posts, if you like. Promoting is easy, too. For example, if you want to tell the world whenever you post to your blog, you can hook up Publicize to post to FB and tweet automatically whenever you publish. That’s important for your wider community.

I could list many, many more reasons why WordPress is my blog platform of choice, but the five above should be enough to convince you to give them a try.

In this section, I’ll talk in some detail about the basic things you want to do for proper setup.

  • Picking the right theme (design)
  • Setting up your blog with the most important elements – sidebars, widgets, sharing, and pages
  • Making your blog readable
  • Managing publishing, comments, and ongoing discussions
  • Making sure search engines can find you

You can read the tips and tricks in order, or you can take them piece by piece in whatever order you like. You can skip around and do what you please, and any one of these changes can make a positive difference. We don’t need to “boil the ocean” here – dealing with chronic health conditions is a big enough challenge, let alone adding a regular writing practice to the mix. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like, but even in its simplest form, a blog can make a positive difference in others’ lives.

Chronic Blogging – Good voices needed by good people

It doesn't take much to get started
It doesn’t take much to get started – you just have to keep going 😉

Dear blogger – I want to help you become better at what you do.

Especially if you blog about chronic health conditions (spanning mental health to physical conditions), you’re in a great position to help others who share your same situation and concerns. Many folks with chronic health issues are housebound and don’t have a lot of contact with the outside world. Some are isolated by their conditions, and many have lost their social support network because their one-time friends just couldn’t deal with their problems.

You know first-hand what it’s like to be hampered by chronic conditions, so your voice can help others to better understand their world, as well as feel less isolated.

When they first started picking up steam, about 15 years ago, blogs were a novelty. They were something only egomaniacs bothered writing, and only voyeurs bothered reading. They were dismissed by “serious readers”, partly because the medium had not had a chance to mature. But over time, the depth and breadth of blogs written by genuinely good writers, has won over countless readers. And some bloggers share the same regard and influence as well-known journalists – some of them enjoy even more.

I’ve been “chronic blogging” about my ongoing recovery from repeat mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI/concussion) since around 2008, and it has been a long, slow process developing both the blog and a readership. I started out wanting to just help others with information I gathered, as well as sharing my experiences. And there were times when I just didn’t write very much at all. Also, at the start, I was very verbose… rambling… overly emotional… kind of a mess. But some of my readers complained, and I stopped whining constantly.

I wanted to do something really useful, not just vent all the time. And so I changed things up, tried different approaches, and I learned from my mistakes and successes alike. As of this reading, my blog Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind (brokenbrilliant.wordpress.com) has had 433,743 views from 192 different countries. That’s a result of posting nearly every day for the past several years – 2,615 different posts since 2007.

10,000 foot view
10,000 foot view

By far, though, the most gratifying thing has been the feedback I’ve received from others. There are a lot of people like me out there, who feel isolated and alone and without access to support. Their feedback has been so welcome, so fantastic, so heart-warming. It’s not always easy to hear people’s accounts of their own difficulties, but knowing I’ve helped ease their pain – even just a little – makes all the effort worthwhile.

It’s still an occasional challenge to keep from whining – and sometimes I don’t manage to suppress it very well. But I’ve found a lot of satisfaction from researching my own health issues and sharing what I find with others, as well as publicizing the work of other brain injury and chronic health challenge bloggers. There really are a lot of great folks doing fantastic work out there – and we can always use another strong voice.

If you’ve ever thought about starting your own blog, or you’ve got one going and you’re looking for ways to increase your exposure and grow your readership, I may be able to help. I have been working with this “web stuff” for 20 years, now, so it’s second nature to me. But it’s not obvious to most folks. SEO, in particular, is shrouded in unnecessary mystery (probably to keep consultants employed), however you’ll probably find that common sense trumps gimmicks every day.

Ultimately, it’s really about building community – reaching out to others who need your help or could use a friendly voice – and making us all stronger in the process. I’ll do my best to provide truly useful tips and tricks, without overwhelming you.

Try doing some of this a little bit at a time, and really give a lot of thought to each piece of the puzzle. It’s a discovery process, and it may take months for things to turn around for you, but I believe that these changes can really help you a lot in your blogging.

If you’ve got something to say about managing a chronic health condition, and you want to help others, by all means, join us with your blog. It’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of dedication and discipline, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.