Wake up call #392

Time to sit up and pay attention

Okay, it’s been a few months since I really applied myself to one of my big projects, and now that I’m back in the swing of things, I can really tell I’ve been away. I had to produce a little side-project, this past week, and it turned out to be a lot harder than I remembered it being, a few months back. That’s basically because I stepped away from that activity for a while — and anytime you’re away from something that you do, even daily, you get rusty.

And rusty I was. It was a pretty humbling experience, and I was definitely feeling the burn 48 hours ago, because it turned out to be a challenge I hadn’t counted on being that hard — and I almost didn’t get it done in time.

That’ll teach me to wander off and distract myself with other side projects, while I’m getting the Big Project up to speed.

You know, it’s funny. I made really rapid progress with my Big Project for about 10 months running, then everything ground to a halt. I made great strides, and everything was looking awesome. I mean, I was booking. Seriously. People I talked to were amazed at how much progress I was making. I was focused, I had a vision, and I had the drive to make it all happen.

Then I hit a few big bumps in the road, things got crazy at work, and everything with my Big Project stalled. Just stalled. Like I threw a rod or something. The work, the thinking, the progress, the innovation… everything… suddenly, where there was once focus and drive and determination, there was nothing – zip, zilch, nada. 

And I went into a kind of hibernation — a sort of depression — not feeling up to much of anything, and just wanting to hide from the new world I was moving into, and resuming residence in the old world where I lived for so many years… a world of books and reading and writing and words and thoughts and plans and very abstract, non-solid kinds of thinking. Fluid… general… pie-in-the-sky, without much actual work going along with it. Just thinking in the abstract, high-level. I went back to my books, back to my studies, back to writing pretty much non-stop about new ideas I had.

Comfort zone. Sweet spot. And it felt great to be away from all the new-to-me activity I’d been caught up in. It felt great to take a break from that new sort of busy-ness, the anxiety of figuring things out from scratch, and get back to the old familiar. Ironically, it wasn’t a slowing down of my pace — if anything, it speeded things up. But it was a different kind of speed, which was familiar to me and gave me some relief from the stress of newness and uncertainty.

I actually did do a lot of really good work at that time, but it had nothing concrete to do with the Big Project I started, about a year ago. I need to follow through on some important steps, to bring it to its logical conclusion, but there was nothing — and I mean nothing — happening.

So, anyway, after 2 months away, I got a new client who wanted me to do some work for them related to my Big Project, and I said, “Sure – I can do that.” I had a hard and fast deadline to meet, and I had every confidence I could easily do it.

But — surprise — it took me about three times as long as it used to take me, when I was still in practice. I thought it would take me a day, at the most, and it took me three days of regular work, some of it really frustrating because things were not fitting like I expected them to.

And in the end, some of the results were not ideal. I also found some holes in the process I was following, and I needed to scramble a bit to get them all in order.  I can check in with my client later, to see how my product is working out for them, and I can certainly make needed adjustments, no problem. But it was a wake-up call for me, to see how much I was struggling with things that I was expecting to be very easy.

Without getting into a lot of fine detail, basically, I need to follow specific steps to deliver my new “product” — and if I do the steps out of order, it screws everything up. I have a number of different pieces that need to fit together, and I was having a hell of a time seeing how they all fit, and figuring out where to start.

It was the weirdest thing – I could see it all in my mind, at a high level, and I knew this was all very straightforward and I’d figured things out. But when it came to actually doing it, things just didn’t “gel” the way I expected them to. And I got so overwhelmed with the jumble of details and steps, I hesitated and held back on moving forward as quickly as I could have, and I lost a lot of valuable time in delays, as well as confusion.

So, the one day turnaround that was logically realistic, turned into three days of recalculating and reconfiguring and hassling over details I thought I had worked out.

The thing is, I had worked out those details. I know how to do this stuff. I’ve done it tons of times in the past, with great success. I was just out of practice after two months of not much thinking about it and even less doing it… and I underestimated the degree to which that time off affected my performance.

Well, now I’m back. And I’m practicing anew each day. After working hard for the past few days, I’ve got my motivation back, and I’m moving forward. I have my ducks in a row better than in a long time, and I’ve made some important decisions about how to move forward, that will help me in later times.

I’m also back into getting as much practice as possible, doing and doing and doing some more — at a steady pace, instead of fits and starts — so I won’t get into the situation I was last week. This has been an important wake-up call for me, and yes, now I’m fully awake and alert and back “on point”.

I’ve got my notebook with the steps I need to take each day, and I am taking them, systematically and regularly. And it feels great to see how much I’m able to do each day. I’m getting more organized every day, and I’ve got a clear path ahead of me.

So, it’s good. I’ve taken my lumps — which fortunately were only my lumps, not someone else’s — and I’ve learned my lesson(s) so I can keep going, regardless of bumps in the road.

Yes. Onward.

 

Getting my house in order

The pieces will fit together, if I pick and choose and let some things go.

Just got up from my afternoon nap. I had an early start today, waking up at 4 and working for a bit, before helping my spouse and some friends get out the door to go to a business event they are attending. Lots of movement, lots of activity, lots of coordination, lots of details to remember for things that had to be remembered.

After they got on the road, I took the opportunity to do some yard work. I usually can’t start yard work till late afternoon, because my spouse usually sleeps till 2 p.m., and they don’t much care for waking to the sound of a lawn mower or leaf blower. So, I had some freedom to just work, and I got a lot cleaned up. Then I had some lunch and ran some more errands, came back home, took a long, hot shower, and collapsed for almost 2 hours. I could have slept longer, but I decided against it. The days are getting so short, and I have a lot I want to be doing with myself, while there are still daylight hours.

Anyway, it’s better if I don’t sleep too long – I don’t want to hose my ability to get to sleep tonight. I’ve been waking up at 5 a.m. regularly, so the sooner I can get to bed at night, the better. Obviously.

Now I’m figuring out what I’m going to have for dinner. I think I’ll make myself some lamb, which my spouse doesn’t like, but I love. Times like these, when I’m flying solo, are perfect for me to eat foods I can’t normally have when I’m cooking for us both.

The one challenge with the lamb is that I’ll have to prep and cook it. I toyed with the idea of subsisting on crackers and caramelized onion goat cheese spread, which is like a crazy drug to me, for some reason. But I really need some protein. I worked a lot today, and I’m sure I’m going to be sore tomorrow. So, I need to get some meat in me.

So, lamb it is. I won’t have to hover over the stove, just prep it, put it in a pan on the stove, and set the timer. And get some more work done in the meantime.

I’ve got a handful of things I want to do with myself in the next couple of days — I’ve already done one of the big things: yard work. I also need to reconstruct my study, which I now realize has to be re-stocked with certain books I had taken away a couple of years back. I have a lot of books on my bookshelves which do not reflect where I’m at these days, or where I’m going. I’ve been back and forth about my next steps and where I want to go with my career, etc., and I’ve been clinging like crazy to the technical angle, like my life depends on it.

News flash – it doesn’t.  The technical angle is something I recognize and remember loving. But my career has moved on — and I need to just admit it and accept that. In fact, my career is very much in flux, right now, with nothing absolutely certain about where I’m going. The only thing certain, is that it’s in flux and it’s headed in some new direction that I still have to figure out. I have an idea about where that direction is — and if I can stop preventing that from happening with back-pedaling to the technical stuff every other day, so much the better.

Seriously. It’s like I have amnesia. I need to make a sign for myself

YOU ARE NOT A TECHNICAL WORKER BEE ANYMORE

And be done with it.

I guess I just get nervous and try to head back into the arenas where I used to feel safe and secure. The thing is, I felt safe and secure, because I knew what I was doing. That’s not the case, anymore.

Part of the issue is that I’m being contacted by old friends and colleagues who “knew me when” — before my fall, before my life fell apart, before I stopped being able to pick up new things at a moment’s notice and run with it. The inner workings of my brain are so very different, now, and none of them saw me go through that flame-out over the past 7 years. For all they know, I am still the technical whiz kid they used to know.

But I know better.

I guess I need to do a better job, too, of communicating to folks what my new life is. It’s kind of embarrassing for me to “admit” that I’m not highly technical anymore. And it’s also bothering me a good deal. But that’s the fact of the matter. It’s just how things are, now. Time to move on.

This is a theme in my life, these days — moving on. Getting my act together and just moving along. There’s a fair amount of grief that is going with this, because I’m having to let go of things that used to be such a big part of my life and my outlook. It’s like I have to stop hanging onto parts of me and my life that died years ago, but I have still been pretending exist. I’m kind of like one of those people who can’t let go of a beloved pet, so I keep their ashes — or their stuffed body — up on a mantle, so I think that part of them is still with me.

It’s kind of creepy, actually, now that I think of it.

Yeah, it’s time to get my house in order and let go of things. Just let ’em go and move along. Gid-along little do-gie and all that.

Because when I think about it, I have a bright and shining future ahead of me that’s well outside the bounds of where I used to function. I got into technology as a reaction to hating my old effing job that I had back in 1995, and it’s been good to me. But the changes over the years have not been positive and the job market has shifted away from me in a very big way. I need to move along in this new direction I’ve identified — do some good work, make some good progress, and let my life transform itself.

Hanging onto the past, no matter how well it once treated me, is no good for my future.

So, tonight after I have my lamb dinner, I’ll move the old books out of my study and make room for the new. It’s gonna be a whole new day.

Onward.

 

It doesn’t have to be that difficult

Back into the everyday…

So, yesterday we had company – the friend who visited us over vacation who’s looking for a place to live. The morning started out good and we were just hanging out, talking everything through. By mid-afternoon, they had driven us crazy enough for us to ask them to leave. Seriously, they were spinning their wheels, back and forth all over the place, and cancelling out all their progress with a single simple statement.

Holy f’ing crap – how maddening. I mean, it’s not like they can afford to dick around with things, but they just kind of flit-flit-flit all over the place from one idea to the next. I get it, that they’ve got intense ADD, dyslexia, and a bunch of neurological issues from having been beaten a lot as a kid. But holy crap. They were just all over the map.

Then I come downstairs this morning after waking up earlier than I wanted to, and I fin the downstairs in a bit of a shambles, because my spouse was up till god-knows-what-hour just hanging out, watching t.v., and probably snacking, too. It would not have taken much for them to just pick up after themself. Just a little.

But I guess that was just too boring. Not very exciting at all. And who wants to bother with that?

I’m guilty of that, as well, though. There are things that need to be done, to just take care of everyday life, that I just don’t do. So, there are two of us in the house who slack off… just ’cause.

That being said, I got my ass in gear and did some exercises this morning. I mowed yesterday and tended to the plantings and trees in the front yard and back. I also realized that my grass is in really bad shape, which is not good, because that’s what keeps my leachfield together for my septic. I’ve been saying each year in the spring that I was going to take care of that… this year. And then the summer comes and the summer goes, and in the fall I’m looking at the sad state of my grass, wishing I’d done more for it.

But like cleaning up the living room, somehow it’s just not that exciting, so I get distracted by other things, and then everything falls by the wayside.

The ironic thing is, it’s really not that difficult to keep up with stuff, so long as you do a little bit at a time, and you do it regularly. Consistency, practice, application, repetition — those are the keys to keeping things going. And those are the things where I (and most people I know) fall down the most.

So, it starts with the little things and it moves from there. Little things, done everyday, stay little things in the short term, but turn into big things over the long term. That’s also true of the little things that are NOT done everyday, which then turn into big regrets later on. So, keeping steady is the thing. Keeping motivated. Seeing the point to it all, and keeping focused on the future direction you’re headed.

How to stay motivated? Well, that’s the question. I think for myself it needs to be a combination of work and rest — intervals of activity followed by a chance to recoup and regroup and really digest what’s going down. I have to be careful that I don’t get caught in a vortex of rumination, of course. I have to keep things moving — but in a good way, not in some crazy manic numbness-inducing grind that just dulls the pain of daily existence.

It’s important to have a life.

And it’s important to enjoy it and not get hung up on all kinds of crap and bogus drama… for nothing other than entertainment value, as well as getting yourself to feel more “alive” because you’re all amped up with adrenaline and all the rest of the stress hormones that are designed to dull pain so that you’re not suffering so terribly when you die.

I’ve got no intention of going down that route. There’s no point to it. It’s such a simple thing, to just do a little bit everyday on the things that mean something to you. It’s not always a simple thing, to keep up the motivation and inspiration and keep those things in mind. Sometimes I just get tired, and nothing means anything to me at all. But if I can find ways to keep myself even vaguely interested in what I’m doing with my life, then so much the better.

And this applies to the things I want to do with my workaday life, as well as the things I do outside my workaday world. I’ve realized that I’ve been investing waaaay too much time in work-and-work-only (9-to-5 work, that is) and I’ve not allowed my life to be full and well-rounded. I’ve poured myself into my day job, and utter exhaustion is the result — exhaustion of body, mind, and spirit.

Does it have to be this way? Oh, hell no. One thing that this vacation brought front and center is how much I miss my contemplation time. Back in the day before I got sucked into the whole career focus, got all those awards and rewards for being so dedicated to my employer, and made my workaday world the primary focus of my life, I used to spend a lot of time just sitting and thinking and letting stuff sink in. It wasn’t so much processing… it was just sitting and being, listening to music, reading, and taking time for myself. Just soaking up whatever life I could experience.

Actually, come to think of it, what took me away from that contemplative way of life was the mild TBI I had in 2004, which send me reeling… and sent me spiraling off into this hyper-drive state of constant alert and constant fight-flight fever pitch “living”. Prior to my TBI, I could sit and read and write, look at art and listen to music for hours, and lose myself in that world. I was pretty much of a hermit, and I liked it that way. Then I fell and smacked my head a bunch of times on a staircase, and I decided I had no use for that kind of life – the reading, the contemplation, the writing. All along, it was because I couldn’t read, I couldn’t keep my attention focused on anything for long, and my restlessness was off the charts. So much for a contemplative lifestyle, right? The change was really dramatic, and I can hardly believe I used to live that way.

Well, now things are different. I am really noticing this, lately. It’s like a switch got turned on with me again — a chute got opened, and all the old ability to just sit and be and make sense of my life, has started to flow in again. And that’s good. Because I sorely need that. And I needed that vacation last week like nobody’s business, because until I was able to completely unplug and step away. I had no access to the internet in the condo where I was staying, and until I had the choice to do whatever the hell I wanted to do, I didn’t realize how much I have been needing that quiet orientation, that focus, that perspective.

And now that I’m back to everyday life, I really want to keep that going. I need it. And I don’t want to sink back onto that massive fight-flight mode that keeps me so much on edge. I need to re-learn how to get back that sense of peace in the midst of the storm.

Concussion can be such a bitch, because it can fray the pathways that make it possible for you to be how you need to be. It can “reroute your wiring” and make you into someone you don’t recognize. And you can spend a whole lot of time chasing that person you used to be, trying the same old routes in your neural pathways which just are not working like they used to. And when you don’t let go of the old routes, and you don’t try to find new ones, it can be a very discouraging and self-defeating process that puts you under such stress that you develop PTSD… and maybe some other neuroses and mental illnesses to boot.

See, that’s the real danger of TBI — not the initial damage that happens. The brain is capable of creating new neural pathways to do the same kinds of things you’re used to doing. It’s the long-term disruption of your life that does the most damage. It’s the confusion that arises that keeps you trying to go down the same old pathways to get where you’re going. It’s the rigidity that keeps you stuck in old ways of thinking and doing, for fear of anything else. It’s the brittleness that comes with anxiety and fear and lack of insight and control over your emotions and behavior.

TBI is just the start — the real problems happen after rehab, after discharge, after the doctor has given you a clean bill of health. And those problems can persist for years. Taking their toll.

But it doesn’t have to all be that difficult and painful and frustrating… we have other options. We can look for different ways of doing things. We can accept that things have changed in our brains in ways we cannot detect — and we’re going to make a bunch of “mistakes” and take some “mis-steps” along the way, in the process of learning how to live life in new and different ways.

But we have to be willing to step out on a limb and take some chances. We have to be willing to endure the embarrassment of our mis-steps and our mistakes, and learn something from it all. We have to be willing to let go of preconceived notions that are holding us back. Those notions can be old ones we are accustomed to and are still holding onto. Or they can be new ones that we developed about ourselves after our injuries, which we are allowing to limit and define us in ways that are less than true about who and what we are.

I must admit, I struggle with both — but the latter more than the former. Since my fall in 2004 (and in fact throughout the course of my life, when I got hurt and then revised my view of myself), I have been in the habit of deciding that such-and-such was true about me, and then letting that define my personality and my destiny. The real truth of it was that I was going through a rough patch, and I was going to come out on the other side, but I had it in my head that I created the problems I was having and — clearly — I was somehow deficient.

I was crazy.

I was lazy.

I was stupid.

I was error-prone.

I was doomed, no matter what I might try.

None of that was true, but enough things happened that “confirmed” these suspicions, so there you go — I magically turned myself into someone I was not.

Thank you TBI. Not.

But that was then, and this is now. I really have a very different perception of myself, and coming off this vacation, I have a renewed understanding of who I am and where I fit in my world. I also have a renewed understanding of what I want to create in my world — and chasing fabulous career success in technology is not at the top of my list anymore. Getting away from it, I realize that that’s just one part of my life, and I have given up a lot in my life for its sake, while losing out on some things that were really important to me. I also realize that that tech career focus was very much about proving to myself and the world that “I can do it!” and I’ve invested so much of myself in just proving things to everyone that never needed proving, that I’ve lost perspective… and also some of the things that have meant the most to me in my life — reading, writing, reflection, contemplation… The outside world prizes highly social, outgoing, extroverted behavior. But guess what — that’s not me.

And I don’t have anything to prove to anybody anymore. I’m doing so much better with the many aspects of my life. My issues are still very much there — the 84 ways that TBI can make my life really interesting are still very much in evidence in my life — but I’ve found a way to live with them, to manage them, not try to control and stop them.

I’ve given up the tries at stopping them. They’re just there. They may always be there. But they’re also lessons I need to learn. And I know — TBI or not — there are plenty of other people out there who struggle with these same issues, on some level.

We all struggle. We are all human, after all. And if we’re living life to the fullest, we tend to get hurt. We fly… and then we often fall. It’s not the falling that’s the challenge — it’s the getting up that tends to be so hard. But when we work at it, we can learn a lot. And when I think about it, getting up doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t have to be hard. If I just accept that I’ve fallen and I need to pick myself back up, and get on with it, I can get my head off the whole mess and get on with living. Just living.

It doesn’t have to be that difficult, if I just get out of my own way, and remember — there’s more life where that came from.

It’s great to be able to read books again

I’m reading books again =:D

So, this is cool. I’m back reading books again. I’ve had trouble reading for a number of years, where I couldn’t hold my attention on the words I was reading long enough to get through a chapter, let alone a whole book. And that’s been a huge loss to me, because perhaps more than anything else, books have always been companions and a refuge for me. When I was a kid, and everyone was being cruel and thoughtless to me, I always had my books. They never turned me away. So, when I found myself unable to read a book and enjoy it, it was like I’d lost a big part of myself.

In a way, I had.

But I’ve worked my way back, using articles and websites on the internet and magazines to build up my stamina, to where I can actually read a book from cover to cover. I’m not retaining everything I read, and sometimes authors will refer to things they said before, and I can’t remember much at all about what they said earlier, but still… I’m reading books again.

A funny thing happens when I read a book. It’s like a whole other world opens up, and I can see what else is possible in my life, because of what’s happened in others’ lives. Reading their stories, I can see similarities, get new ideas, and get a little infusion of hope as a result.

One thing that books have always brought me is training – teaching me how to do new things, and do them well. I’m gearing up for a renewed job search in another 2 months, so I really need to get back to the books and brush up on some critical skills. I don’t want to end up in another job that is not on par with my skills and experience. I need to do myself justice, this time around. I’ve had a bit of a bumpy ride, job-wise, ever since my fall in 2004, alternately scaling back on all the things I thought I could do, and then pushing myself to try something more. I’ve had a lot of trouble in the past 7+ years, partly because I was having more trouble than usual, partly because I was afraid I’d get in over my head and not be able to get myself out, and partly because I misjudged my ability to do the jobs I took on.

Now I need to get back in the swing of things, and books are my lifeline. For real. I just need to make sure I have a decent strategy for reading and studying. Just sitting down and sailing through things may be fine for a novel or short story, but for studying, it needs to be different.
There’s a lot on the line, here, and I need to treat this with appropriate consideration. I don’t want to psych myself out, but I also don’t want to be flippant about this situation.

At the same time, I need to be “on” at the job I’m in right now. I need to really bring it, each and every day, without losing my focus. This takes tremendous discipline on my part, but it’s also good exercise. And reading books about motivation and change… well, that’s helping me get through this with the right attitude. The last thing I need, is to spend the next 10 weeks in abject misery because I can’t keep my head in the game. So, in addition to using books to boost myself out of my present situation, I’m also using them to make the most of where I am right now.

Yes, it’s great to be able to read books again.

 

New theme for a new day

Time for a change. I’ve been at this blog, now, since November, 2008, and I haven’t had a different theme since I started (I think). I’ve put in links and what-not, added stuff on the sidebar, etc. But I haven’t really done much with the look of it.

I’m not sure how I’m going to like this new theme. It’s different, obviously. And when I switched from my other theme, apparently the bridge burned behind me, and I can’t get the old one back. The design is gone. The widgets I created are gone. A lesson in impermanence.

Oh, well. Nothing like total commitment to get me back on point.

Speaking of being back on point, I need to get myself back in the game, here. I had pulled out all the stops to get this project done, and pushed a lot of other projects to the side. Now it’s time to bring those other projects back, front and center. And it’s time to dig in and make some more progress.

It does get a little tiring, being constantly over-committed. But it keeps me on my toes. And it’s how everyone at work does things. Doesn’t leave much time for digesting what’s going on, unfortunately. But maybe that’s a good thing.

All I know is that I can easily get caught in a kind of vortex of analysis. Analysis paralysis. I get caught in a loop — fueled in part by anxiety about doing the wrong thing — and I can’t seem to make progress.

This is something I am actively working to change. I have way too much going on in my life to dally. Though sometimes it is nice to take some time away and just BE.

Being can come after doing, however. What I need most, is to get things off my plate and keep moving forward. Finish the things that matter. Table the things that don’t. And keep moving… giving myself time to rest and recuperate on a regular basis.

See, that’s the thing – rest and recuperation needs to be a regular part of my life, so I have the chance to build myself back up after I tear myself down. I can do a real job on myself at times, pushing as hard as I do. And I can do a job on everyone around me, as well. I need to step back on a regular basis, take a break, get some rest, and allow myself to catch up. Most of all, I need to fully appreciate just how much I’ve done and accomplished, from time to time, so I can sit back, relax, and take it all in.

Speaking of sitting back and relaxing, I need to make some significant changes in my living space. My home has gotten pretty cluttered with a lot of stuff, and we need to do some serious prioritizing and cleaning out. The basement long ago became a catch-all for things we didn’t want to deal with. And my home office is a hodge-podge collection of papers and books and ideas and projects from days gone by — things that are long gone and are no longer a regular part of my life, but for some reason I am hanging onto them.

No need for that. I can safely let those things go. All the old books about subjects that no longer interest me… why do I keep them? Because they remind me of a time when I was immersed in those topics and they meant a lot to me. It’s more for the memories… but those memories are taking up space and time and attention that I need to free up for new things.

A new life. A new day. A new theme.

This blog isn’t the only thing that’s changing. Other things need to change for me, as well. And so they shall.

Someone reviewing books about brain injury

Here’s the latest entry — one of my favorite books, and one that made all the difference in my being able to address my own TBIs.

The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

I finished reading a book

Here’s a blast from the past. About a year ago, I wrote this post (but forgot to publish it), absolutely giddy about having finished reading a book. Looking at where I’m at now, it’s pretty amazing the changes I’ve been through. After not having been able to get through an entire book in years (although one of my favorite pastimes was always reading), last November, I actually finished reading a book.

Here’s the post:

November, 2009

Yesterday afternoon at about 3:30 p.m., I finished reading Aging with Grace, the book about the Nun Study of those long-lived School Sisters of Notre Dame, which explores how and why some people live long and never succumb to Alzheimer’s or dementia, and why others may be more vulnerable. This book has a lot of meaning to me, because as a multiple TBI survivor, I’m statistically more vulnerable to dementia, and about the last thing I want, is to be incapacitated and demented later in life. No thanks…

I found a number of tips and clues about what you can do to avoid dementia — even if you do have some brain degeneration — and I read reports of nuns who had all the signs of advanced Alzheimer’s, but no symptoms whatsoever before they died. Sounds good to me.

I’m invigorated by this new information. I highly recommend it to anyone. And I’m even more invigorated by the fact that I actually finished the book! It took me a month to read all 219 pages, but I did it!!!

This would not be big news for most people I know. Most people I know read books as a matter of course, and when they start a book, they generally finish it (unless it’s truly awful and/or they run out of time). I, on the other hand, have not finished reading a book I started in a number of years. It’s hard for me to remember the last time I actually reached the last page of a book I started.

Let me walk around my study, looking for a book I know I’ve read cover to cover… Let’s see… I am reasonably certain I’ve read about 56 of the books in my study, which constitute maybe 10% of the total on my bookshelves. And the  most recent one I finished prior to Aging with Grace was consumed in a hurry back in 2006. I may have read something from cover to cover in 2007, but I cannot recall.

Now, mind you, I have tons of books, but most of them I’ve only read the first couple of chapters, if that. It’s a lifelong habit that goes way back to when I was a kid, and I never even really realized it was a problem, until this past year or so, when I started to take a long, hard look at my reading habits — or lack thereof — in the context of my TBIs.

It’s a complicated issue — part difficulty with the material, part difficulty with keeping focused on the material. I can be really distractable, so I often end up wandering off on cognitive tangents, when I’m reading. But part of what feeds my distractability, I think, is the fatigue that sets in after I’ve been reading for a while, as well as the discouragement I feel when I realize my eyes have been skimming pages for the last half hour, and I cannot remember what I just read. It’s complicated. And it sucks. And it never occurred to me before that I might have difficulty reading. I’m such an avid infovore — I’m usually reading something. Who would guess that reading is such a challenge for me?

It’s taken some adjusting to get used to this fact. And the adjustment has been as much of a hit to my self-image as anything else. I was always known as a bookworm. Much of my knowledge comes from books. If I’ve been reading at substandard level all these years without knowing it… and also not grasping a lot of what I was reading… what does that say about me, as a person? Does it completely invalidate many of the beliefs and assertions I’ve had about myself, for over 4 decades? It’s troubling to think so.

But now that I know reading is a problem for me, I can take steps to do something about it.  And that’s good. I literally cannot live this way, not being able to read a book from cover to cover. I am NOT going to continue in life this way. Something must be done. I need a plan. Here’s my plan — which so far has worked well, the first time through.

I need to acclimate myself to reading for longer periods of time, by reading for fun and pleasure, getting up to speed with that, and then starting to read for learning and understanding. I need to practice regularly and build up my stamina, and also develop different strategies for how to handle the material I absorb.

First, for the fun reading, I need to identify a topic that interests me which will stimulate me. I need to have some investment in the material, some payoff, some reward that comes with it. Preferably, I need to find something to read that also has “companion” material, like a movie that was made of it. I need to have the information presented in different formats, that different parts of my brain can “hook into”.

I chose The Bourne Identity, because it’s an action adventure novel that’s broken into relatively short chapters. It’s also got a movie made of it that is one of my favorites, and I have visuals of the action to prompt me as I read along

Second, I need to set aside time to read. I have to have time to do it, when I have time to rest either before or afterwards, or both.

I do this on the weekends. I take naps on the weekends to catch up with my rest. And I read during the afternoons.

Third, I need to gradually increase the amount of time I spend reading. I pay attention to how much time I’m spending, how I’m feeling, how my pace is. And I really congratulate myself, when I’ve read more than 10 pages at a sitting and understood what was being said the whole way through.

I can do this, but I also need to make sure I’m not tiring myself out. I need to make special efforts to reward and praise myself for having read as long as I have. I tend to get down on myself and think I’m stupid, when I’m not reading well, and I assume that it should be easy for me. But my reading has never been as strong as I always thought, and since my fall in 2004, it’s got even worse.

Fourth, I will then transfer my stamina and interest and good experiences with action/adventure fiction to my other non-fiction reading. And I must pace myself, gradually working my way up, again, and re-reading the things that I didn’t get the first time around. I need to keep an action/adventure book on hand, to keep my interest bolstered. I don’t worry so much about finishing the fiction in a timely manner. It’s more for the sake of keeping my spirits up and having a good experience while reading, so I can focus my more intent energies on the non-fiction/professional reading.

This is what I’ve been doing, on and off, with Aging With Grace over the past month. And now that I’ve done it and see that it works(!) I am ready to move on to my professional reading.

This is such important work. My survival and success depends on it. I’ve got a bunch of books I bought in the past that I need to read for work, but I haven’t been able to crack them. Now, I’ve got to do it.  Now I have a strategy and a plan, and I’ve proved (at least once) that it works. Reading really is fundamental. And the fact that I have done it with Aging With Grace has really lit a fire under me.

But before I go any further, it’s time for my Sunday afternoon nap.

I haven’t checked out a library book in weeks

Source: Freefoto.com

This is real progress for me. It shows that my anxiety level is dropping off markedly, and I am better able to manage my impulsiveness.

When I am in bad shape, one of the first things I do to take the edge off my ragged- ness is go to the library, wander through the stacks, and walk away with am armload of books, all of which I have every intention of reading cover-to-cover. And that rarely, if ever, happens. Which leaves me feeling worse afterwards.

All those ideas and words lost… It’s sad. And I chafe at the lack of time and the way fatigue gets the best of me before I can dig into the good stuff of a nice sturdy book.

Oh, well. I’m alive. That’s something. And I’m comfortable in my own skin, which is a novelty for me. All new. This I can enjoy — so much so, that I don’t miss the books.

At least not as keenly as I used to.

One of the best books available about sports-related concussions

head gamesOne of the things that drives me nuts, is how little truly good and reliable information there is about sports-related concussions. There are many, many studies about it, and there is tons of life experience with concussions. Yet, precious few books actually exist to share this vital information with the general public.

Despite my difficulties reading (my distractability turns it into more work than play, at times), I got through this book in the space of a few days.

Head Games – Football’s Concussion Crisis — was penned by former football player and professional wrestler, Chris Nowinski, who had his career cut short by concussion. He gives good information that makes total sense. He also has some good ideas about how to address what is truly a crisis in our country. It’s well worth the read.

You can either click the image/link above, if you want to support this site by passing along Amazon affiliate commission to me (it won’t increase your cost), or you can just visit amazon.com — or you can do what I did and check it out from your local library.

Personally, I’ll be buying my own copy, so I can go through it again with a highlighter. There is much good in there to be had, learned, and applied.

Check it out!

Telling stories

I’ve been coming across a lot of references people are making to telling stories… what stories we tell ourselves, what stories others tell us… what stories we want our lives to embody.

Once upon a time, I was big into stories. I wrote constantly, and much of what I wrote was stories — fiction, non-fiction… just accounts that were meaningful to me. Sometimes others found them meaningful — when I showed them to others. Most of the time, I kept them to myself. They were my stories, and I didn’t want  anyone else meddling in them.

I continue to write, but now I share my stories. I do a whole lot more writing online, than in my onetime journals, and it’s good. It’s a good development. Looking  back at all my past journals, I’m amazed at how circular I was — rehashing the same topics over and over and over and over and… well, you get the point.

I have that problem a lot less, now that I’m putting what I write out in public.

Keeps me honest.

It’s good for me.

And I’ve been thinking it might be good for me to do more of this writing — along different lines. I’ve written books before, and it’s strangely easy for me to collect several hundred pages of words that hang together well. I’ve written under pseudonyms, to keep my writing identity safe and sound, and the material I’ve written has gotten good reviews from some. And I think it might be time for me to write about growing up with TBI. I’ve been looking around some, and it doesn’t appear that there’s much literature out there about kids with head injuries — especially from the point of view of the child.

The books that I have come across about kids with TBI have been either non-fiction (I did find a really good one, the other week), or they’re biographical accounts/personal stories from the point of view of parents. Not much — that I’ve found — has been written by people who grew up with TBI.

Could be, people just want to put it all behind them and forget about it. I could see that. I feel that way, myself, sometimes. But then I think about all the parents and the kids out there who have experienced TBI — especially concussions in sports, which is so common — and I think, “Maybe this is something I need to NOT put behind me. Maybe it’s something I need to put out there in front of me.”

I’ve been feeling incredibly emotional, lately. My life is undergoing some significant changes, with my home life shifting and taking on new aspects of independence for both my spouse and me, and my job not being the most wonderful experience in the world. I’ve been waking up regularly at 3 a.m., with this nagging sense that I need to make some changes… just what those changes are, exactly, I’m not sure.

I know what I would like to do — have a lot more freedom to move and breathe and travel and enjoy my life (I haven’t had a real vacation in quite some time). I would really like to devote more of my time to this work of educating folks about TBI, writing about my life, informing people of the important details, helping survivors better understand themselves and manage their issues, and reassuring worried parents and spouses and friends that things don’t have to end badly. There is hope.

Yes, I know what I would like to do. I’m just not certain how to get there.

But writing this book will be a start. Yes, I think I’ll start here.