The downward spiral of fatigue

It’s wild – it starts with the best of intentions. It’s exciting… very exciting to life my life, to go-go-go, to do lots of things and get tons of stuff done.

But if I don’t watch myself, I can get into trouble pretty quickly. If/when I get over-tired (and at the rate I tend to to, it’s usually a question of when I’ll get over-tired, versus if that will happen), a downward spiral starts in, that just won’t quit, till I start to rattle and shake like the USS Enterprise being pushed through an asteroid field at full speed. (And I hear Scotty yelling, “Cap’n, she’s breakin’ up! I can’t give ‘er anymore!“) I question my sanity, my ability to cope, my ability to live, and I’m exhibiting symptoms that someone who doesn’t know better would interpret as mental illness.

It’s not mental illness, per se. It’s my brain acting strangely under abnormally taxing conditions.

Here’s how things steadily go downhill…

The Downward Spiral of Agitation and Fatigue

And before I know it, I’m in trouble. I’m angry, I’m emotionally volatile, I’m raging, I’m blowing up at people, I’m melting down into a pile of quivering agitation, I’m irrational, I’m over-reactive, I’m hyper-active, I’m everything I know I should not be, but I am powerless to prevent it.

Also, I am in pain. Not just the muscular/skeletal pain that comes from over-exertion, but the surface pain that comes from fatigue, that makes everything hurt, from my clothing to human touch. It’s awful, and there’s nothing to do to stop it, when it’s full-on.  Advil doesn’t help. Only sleep does — days and days of extra sleep.

The thing is (the pain aside), a lot of the behavioral problems that come up are a result of how I perceive myself in relation to the rest of the world. Yes, I’m emotionally volatile. Yes, I’m losing it when I should be keeing cool, but it’s not so much that I am in trouble over things I’m doing — the real trouble happens and I get bent out of shape, when I misinterpret what I’m doing. I assume that because I’m having problems keeping things straight in my head and I’ve gotten turned around, that I’m screwing up (yet again) and I’m a mess, I’m broken, I’m damaged, I’ll never amount to anything, yada-yada-yada-yada-yada-yada-yada-yada-yada… an unbelievable amount of agitation results, which feeds back into the insomnia/fatigue loop. And that just makes my behavioral issues worse.

I’ve been seeing this more and more, lately, as my sleeping habits have deteriorated. They truly have. It’s been very fun and exciting to do things late into the night (as in, after 10 p.m.), but it’s cost me dearly, in terms of peace of mind, not to mention being able to deal effectively with increasing demands and challenges.

Stop the madness!

Seriously.

So, I have re-prioritized rest. I’ve bumped it up to the top of the heap. And I’ve made some small but important adjustments in how I do my work, so I have a better handle on things.

Objectively speaking, I’ve actually been dealing with some of the challenges and demands quite well — but because I’m so tired, I can’t really accurately assess how well I’m doing. So, when I feel like I’m having trouble, I assume I’m not doing well at all… and my successes are nearly lost on me. Unless someone can talk me through them. Like my spouse or my neuropsych.

Speaking of my neuropsych, I had a really great meeting with them  last night (thank heavens), on the spur of the moment. I was in town, they were in town, they had an opening in their schedule, and I had a sudden cancellation on mine. So, we managed to meet for a few hours. And after checking in with them about some recent experiences that had thrown me for a loop, I realized that I had actually done extremely well under very demanding and challenging circumstances. The biggest hurdle in all of it, was me being so tired that I couldn’t think clearly about what had really happened that was good.

I was so tired, nothing seemed good. But it actually was. So, my neuropsych talked me back from the brink of despair. And then I went home and  got to bed at a decent hour — 9:30 p.m., thank you very much! — and I woke on my own after 8 solid hours.

Wonder of wonders.

And suddenly, the world looked a lot better. The “mental illness” subsided, my mood disorder cleared up, my crappy attitude and biting self-criticism subsided, and I was able to get on with my life. Like a normal person.

And I’m back on track with watching myself more closely than I had been, taking my issues one at a time through the course of each day, and addressing the real underlying problems when they come up, so I can get on with my life, despite them. I’ve refined my daily log for what I have planned and what I really do. I’ve become quite diligent about keeping notes on my daily activities, and now I’m furthering that even more with a better kind of journal that helps me a lot.  Tracking my activities and the results is one sure way to see how I’m doing, from day to day. My brain will tell me any number of things about how I’m doing — many of which may in fact be untrue. But if I’ve got my notes, I can see for myself how I’m doing.

Onward…

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How I deal with the source(s) of my temper issues

Over Thanksgiving, I was telling someone for the first time about my mTBIs, and they asked how I figured out it was a neurological thing, and not just me having a bad day.

I rattled off “cognitive problems” and “memory issues” and “tinnitus” and “constant headaches” as examples. One of the folks who was traveling with me, who has known me for nearly 20 years said, once and for all, “Rage — it was the rage.”

I was abashed to admit it then, and I still am, but it’s true. The sudden violent rages – the yelling, smashing things, going off on people, becoming infuriated over very minor things, rolling along at a full boil, completely unable to stop my downward plunge into the blackest and most aggressive of moods… It’s always been rough for everyone — myself and everyone around me — to weather my tirades. But dealing with the aftermath — mending the broken ties, or having to say goodbye to people I hurt beyond repair, or having to look people in the face after I’d roasted them over the blazing fire of my temper — the aftermath has been at times even harder and more trying to deal with, than the events, themselves.

I can identify a number of sources of my temper flares:

  1. Fatigue – not getting enough sleep makes me think slower, and when I’m not processing quickly enough, my frustration level goes up, while my ability to monitor and manage myself goes down.
  2. Not eating properly – being hungry makes me mad quicker, and eating junk food stresses my body and makes me even more volatile than usual.
  3. Being/feeling alone – I feel assailed and overwhelmed and put-upon, when I’m alone (either for real, or perceived)… I often feel like I can’t keep up, and I’m going to pay for it.
  4. Not preparing adequately for stresses that I know are coming down the pike – not only does this open me up to the increased stress of the unfamiliar, but I also tend to beat myself up for not being better prepared, which just throws gas on the fire of my temper.
  5. Self-recrimination/blame – being hard on myself makes me even more aggressive and short-tempered with others, while cutting myself some slack eases my attitude towards others.

Ironically (or perhaps not), what is best for others, is when I take care of myself. When I’m in a good place and I’m happy with who I am and my place in the world, I tend to go easy on others, have patience, do well. But when I’m hard on myself, everyone around me pays – big time.

So, I:

  1. Make a point of getting enough sleep. Sometimes I work from home, so I can nap mid-day.
  2. Plan my meals and eat well-rounded meals and avoid junk food like the plague it is. I also stay away from sugar, which whacks me out.
  3. Reach out for help, either by contacting a friend/relative, or going online and either researching or participating in forums to help others and get help.
  4. Plan my days and weeks and months ahead of time. I can’t tell the future, but I do know that if I’ve got a lot of appointments in one week, I’m likely to be more tired along the way, so I try to schedule in some down-time. If I’m traveling or visiting family, I try to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for the trips. And if I have a busy week coming up, I try to “choreograph” my time as best I can, so I can dance my way through, instead of bumbling about, bumping into everything that gets in my way.
  5. Go easy on myself, make lists of things I do right, make lists of things I’m grateful for, remember how far I’ve come and how much I’ve accomplished in my life. Even if some of the things don’t seem like big deals to others, they may be to me, so I try to claim every small victory I can.

TBI and temper often go hand-in-hand, but if I know my stressors and I am aware of how my life is shaping up, I can often head off problems at the pass.

Most of all, I try to keep an open heart and a clear head and seek to help others whenever I can. Seeing that others have troubles, too, and seeing that I can help them, not only makes me feel grateful for all I have and makes me grateful for what I can do, but it also gets me out of my head… which can be a very dangerous place to be trapped.