How things change

Getting it all sorted out
Getting it all sorted out

I’m cleaning up my home office, getting rid of a whole lot of junk stuff I have collected over the years.

To be fair, it’s not actually “junk” — it’s just leftovers from years gone by, which are no longer needed. I used to need these things. Or, in some cases, I thought I was going to need them, but it turned out, I didn’t. Lots of scrap paper… lots of cardboard I used to use for packing, when I was sending things to people. Lots of old equipment that needs to go to “technology heaven”.

And look… there’s the coupon for $10 off my next $50 spent at the hardware store. It’s good for another 3 days. That will come in handy — especially if I actually make it to the hardware store this weekend. I should. I have a number of things I need to pick up, and my garage needs to be cleaned out for the impending fall. Right now, it’s got too much stuff — and junk — taking up the space that my car should fill.

I’m feeling a little frustrated, right now. A lot of what I’m finding is a reminder of how much I have had to let go of. Or all the things that I had such hopes for, and never managed to make happen. I was really convinced, for so many years, that I was going to make all these dreams come true. But I never reckoned with the reality of fatigue, confusion, frustrations, and the constant toll that TBI-related stress and distraction takes on a person, day after day after day.

A number of objects in my office are from my spouse, and looking at them all, seeing how many things I’ve been given, which don’t actually suit my personality… or seeing how many of them were given to me in good faith (which I never followed through on)… that’s a little depressing, too. It’s a little disconcerting to have so many reminders that your significant other has never really understood you — and probably never will.

Then again, who ever really understands anyone? And in the midst of the sorting, I find one reminder after another of our bond — birthday cards, Valentine’s Day cards, little notes left for me that say “I love you!”… that’s really what matters. Everything else seems a best guess to me, anyway.

And I realize I am at a significant juncture in my life. I’m finally at a place, where I can relax and settle into my work, because it suits me, all across the board. For decades, I was not committed to my “day job” other than as a way to make a living and pay for the expenses of everyday life. I wasn’t invested in the least. I mean, it was hard to feel invested about anything in technology, back when the Web was first starting up. Nobody knew how it was going to go, if it would last, if it was “a thing”. It took many years for that to be proven, and now it’s a given.

And now, after so many years of work and pioneering and opening the frontier, the world I helped to create — as one tiny cog in a massive machine that has an intelligence all its own — I finally feel invested in it all. Because I connected with a company that’s invested in me. It really is remarkable, after so many years of being treated like I’m disposable, expendable, interchangeable. Like I didn’t matter, and nobody cared. The people around me cared, sure, but at the management level, it was all too Darwinian and it wasn’t at all conducive to getting the best performance out of the people who were committed to doing the work.

They didn’t even seem to realize that we were committed to doing the work. They just treated us like we showed up each day to earn a paycheck, and that was it. Eventually, no matter how much more it may all mean to you, if you’re treated that way, day in and day out, you can end up slipping into that mindset, yourself.

What a waste.

And for years — decades, really — my life was driven by a profound need to be more than just a cog in the machine, a plug in a hole that would have leaked if it weren’t plugged. I spent so, so many hours trying to fill that void left by my day job, seeking with every fiber and ounce to actually express myself in a way that made me “me”. It was a constant struggle to prove my identity, to prove my worth, to know that I was more than what I was treated like, day in and day out.

I wanted more, I needed more. I had to have it.

So, I created it myself. I carved out a niche for myself in my own life with constant work, constant writing, constant creation. I volunteered. I got involved in groups. I had an active life outside work, and I crammed a whole lot of stuff into it.

And for years, that worked. It just felt normal and right and free. As long as I was free, that’s all that mattered to me.

But then I fell and hit my head. And the freedom went away. It just seemed to evaporate overnight, and everything that had felt smooth and sensical, just turned into mush. I lost my spark. I lost the joy. I lost the passion that comes from within — it was replaced by a manic stress response that was fueled by pure adrenaline that came from post-traumatic stress, life-and-death choices, a long series of bad decisions that either trashed or threatened to destroy so much that I had worked so hard for.

The energy and passion I’d had before, which was always accompanied by hope, was replaced by rage and fear and anxiety. On the surface, it looked like I was still engaged and energetic, but inside I was a tangled mass of nerves.

Big difference from before. My fuel was not hope, but desperation. Confusion. Frustration. And the need to have enough stress in my life to keep my attention focused on what was in front of me.

The last 10 years have been a chaotic blur. A blur, because everything has seemed to happen so fast – and yet so slowly – and chaotic, because I could not figure out what was going on inside my head and outside of it, too. So much confusion. So much dancing on the edge of disaster — often without realizing it. So many poor decisions, so many knee-jerk reactions that cost me so much. Since 2004, I had 11 different positions – more, if you count changing roles within organizations. That’s more than one job change a year – I hopped from one position the next four times in about a year, back in 2008, without knowing why. Part of it was just bad decision-making, part of it was anxiety, part of it was not being able to function and needing to “skip town” before people found out how incompetent I was at the job I’d signed up for.

In the meantime, there were the marital troubles, the money shortage, the creditors knocking down my door and blowing up my cell phone, the logistical troubles, the health problems and cognitive decline of my spouse… Yeah, it’s been a wild ride.

And looking around me at my office, I see so many relics of the years before 2004, when everything seemed so simple and straightforward, and I was content to be living as I was. Back when my spouse was still healthy and working. Back when I was good with where I was, and everything just progressed and unfolded without concern for the future. Back before everything started to fall apart.

I’m cleaning up, now. I’m getting rid of the old stuff that I no longer want or need. And I’m saving what I can still use. The post-it notes that were given to me at a past job, when the company changed its branding and they had all these extra supplies to get rid of. The paper clips and butterfly clips. The pens I can still use. The notes I made, some time ago, about ideas that still interest me. Much of this I can still use.

But in a very different frame of mind. A relaxed frame of mind. A state of mind that makes it possible for me to settle in and concentrate — and not worry constantly about the outcome. A frame of mind that  have not had in so many years. It’s more than relaxed. It’s at ease.

Finally, I can settle in and just enjoy my life again.

Not that things are completely event-less. Lately, there have been unfortunate losses in my family, a bunch of my friends lost their jobs, and things are not hunky-dory, all across the board. But my frame of mind is very different, now. And while I don’t much care for the tragedy, I can handle it without going off the deep end. I can walk through the crises without letting them wreck me, too. Whatever happens now, I feel as though I’m up to the challenge.

I know how to think things through.

I know how to break things down and take my time and work through them from start to finish.

I used to have that ability, years ago, then it went away. Now, ten years later, it’s back.

And that makes all the difference.

So, the day is waiting.

Onward.

Adversity is my friend, this week

Up and over

This has been an extraordinarily challenging week. Thursday and Friday, especially. All sorts of stuff “blew up” at work — most of the drama being emotional.

Hm. I know all about that. Over the years of struggling with unexpected behaviors and results after my fall and mild TBI in 2004, I’ve had more than my fair share of meltdowns, freak-outs, blow-ups, and countless hours of feeling like a miserable piece o’ sh*t for long stretches of time.

The positive outcome of all this (now that I’ve learned how to modulate my inner state – which, I can tell you, has not been easy) is that I am much less thrown off by intensity and seemingly impossible situations. I’ve already been to the depths of that pit, and I know how to pull myself out of it.

And in the process, I can pull others out of their tailspins, as well. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of days — keeping a cool head, so I could do a “knowledge transfer” from someone who was leaving the company — and was the very last person in their group to leave, effectively taking all the resident expertise with them.

{insert big sad face emoticon here}

Anyway, everyone has been pulling a “nutty” and freaking out — yelling at each other, slamming their hands on desks, and spinning in circles — because a few key people in management didn’t put two and two together, and they got caught out with a big massive gaping hole in their staff.

Ooops.

Oh, well.

So, I got pulled into the mix, because I actually have years of experience doing the sort of thing the departing individual did on a daily basis. I used to do it everyday, in fact, and it surprised me that nobody reached out to me to loop me in.

Of course, I was all booked up with another massive project that has been nearly going off the rails, on and off, for the past few months — in no small part because management is making decisions that negatively impact the lot of us, without so much as an explanation why, or providing any sort of support for our transitions.

Oh, well.

Anyway, the good news is that I’m a contractor, so no matter what goes down, I still get paid, and this sh*tstorm can’t hurt my future prospects. All it’s done is given me opportunity to get involved in the kind of work I’ve been wanting to do for some time, now, but haven’t been able to.

Plus, I figured out how to automate a seriously drudge-work task yesterday, and I’m working today on programming a tool that will save the sanity of many people to come after me.

So yes, this is not so bad, after all. I get to step up and save the day, I get to be the hero, and I get to expand my skillset — in a practical professional manner, in a way that goes right on my resume (woo hoo). This just makes me stronger, in the long run, because it shows that I can rise to the occasion and keep my cool in the midst of a mess… and come out with a solution that works for everyone.

And to be perfectly honest, if I hadn’t spent years in the pit of despair, not knowing how to pull myself out, stuck in my fight-flight sympathetic nervous system overload “soup”, I wouldn’t be able to keep calm, right now. I have developed some serious skills over the years, at handling these sorts of experiences, with varying degrees of success. And actually, nothing that has happened to me over the past few days has come anywhere near close to the level of distress, panic, anxiety, and meltdown that I used to experience on a regular basis.

Compared to the emotional upheaval I used to marinate in on a regular basis, this is relatively minor.

Which just makes me look good. Calm in the midst of the storm. So much calm, in fact, that I’m going to build a little app that will offload a sh*t-ton of manual drudge-work from the hapless soul who has to do it in the future.

So there.

I’m pretty wiped out from the past few days, but I’m energized by the programming I’m going to get to do, and it’s all good. Just have to pace myself and catch up on my sleep.

For sure.

Onward.

 

All is calm, all is bright

The last few weeks have been pretty quiet, all things considered. Since getting back from Thanksgiving travels, things at work have been fairly chilled out andsteady — the re-org notwithstanding. I’m getting ready for a nice week and a half off work with time to pursue some interests without the pressures of time crunches, deadlines, and the like.

I’ll also be pulling together some details on my physical condition — possibly — for a neurologist who I may be able to connect with in the new year. I have good hopes about this, as my neuropsych has finally come through with a recommendation, and I think they’re a good possibility. I did some Googling and checking out their record, and I like what I see.

Then again, I’ve been confident before about my choices, and I chose wrong, so… only time will tell. And if I end up screwing things up again, then I’m really no worse off than I am now, which isn’t all that shabby. It’s painful and confounding and frustrating at times, but I’m managing. And there we have it.

Anyway, I don’t want neurology to derail my holiday time off. I’d really like to get into a steady flow and do some reading and writing on some projects I’ve got in the works. Some of them have been “in the wings” for many months, now, and I haven’t had the time and energy to finish them up. Between family crises and interstate travel, well, it’s been a demanding fall. Now, though, everything feels chilled out and quite calm, which is nice.

Finally. A real Christmas holiday.

I’m looking forward to it.

For all the calm, though, I’ve been feeling sad. I think the idea of starting to track my physical symptoms again and working with another doctor, is kind of bugging me. I’d almost rather just get on with my life. But I’ve been having tremors and sick headaches, and if there’s a way to deal with it all, so much the better.

Anyway, I’m getting an early jump on supper tonight — eating about 3 hours earlier than I did last night. I haven’t been getting much sleep, being so wound up and off my usual schedule. I’ve been exercising, which has been really good for me. And I’m still adjusting to it.

Well, whatever happens… happens.

The main thing is to just relax and get some rest tonight. Tomorrow is the last day I’ll work for the next two weeks, and for that I am so very grateful.

It’s all good.

Onward.

Back from vacation, and doing things differently

Rowing through the fifth circle of hell – anger

So, my “vacation” was quite different from expected. My spouse got really sick, so I spent the bulk of the time taking care of them, running errands, and making sure they stayed fed and were headed in the right direction – towards recovery.

I did almost nothing that I had planned. I had thought I’d have time to do some writing, but to be honest, when I was there, I didn’t want to do anything other than just roam around, take long walks, and explore parts of the nearby national park I hadn’t seen in years.

One thing became very, very clear to me, while I was away — I have let myself get too complacent, too lax, too mellow. The net result of my chilling out, has been putting on some pounds and also losing my stamina. Keeping up with everything when my spouse is “holding invalid court” — as a sick person who needs to be waited on like some sort of royalty — is NOT easy work. It’s pretty draining, if I don’t stay on top of things.

So, it was pretty rough. But that’s not because of all the demands. The fact is, I am not in as good shape as I need to be, and all the running and juggling (figuratively speaking) showed me where I need to improve. I used to do all this — and a whole lot more — as a matter of course, each and every day. But over the past number of years, as I’ve focused more on taking care of myself and making sure I didn’t get overrun by the craziness of my employer(s), spouse, and TBI recovery, I’ve lost my edge.

And I need it back.

I’ve gotten way too lax about things, and I’ve “let myself go”, for the sake of just enjoying myself and taking things as they come. But you know what? That’s not me. I am by nature a very “on” person, who needs some “off” time on a regular basis to recharge. I’m not meant to be an “off” person who occasionally “turns on” to kick into gear. I need to stay active and involved in my life — to live my life to the fullest, and really keep my energy high. If I don’t, the feeling seems to backfire, and I end up having a whole lot of energy “double back” on itself… it eats me alive.

So, I need to live. And live fully. Not with panic, not with anxiety, but fully alive.

Just kicking back has become a way of life for me, which is not good at all. I’ve gotten into that habit in part because of my past job that had me commuting so much every day. It’s tough to stay active and engaged, when you start and end your day with an hour’s worth of driving. What a horrible life-suck that was.

All that sitting got me tightened up — my muscles, my fascia, my mind — and I was so full of resentment and anger that I had to continually manage, to keep it from wrecking my life — that I got sucked into a downward spiral that shot me straight into the doldrums, where I languished. Hoping against hope that something would change. Eventually it did, but what a miserable time that was.

It was like renting a room in Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell — Anger — and not being able to get the money together to move out to a better place, and having to make the best of it by getting to know my neighbors, have some barbecues, hang out… you know, make the best of it, all the while wishing to God something would give.

It didn’t give. For three long years. And it really was hell.

Now I’ve been out of that world for three months, and I’m starting to normalize… get my balance back… remember what is important to me. I don’t have to put all my energy into dealing with the emotional flack of a horrible workplace, barely being able to function on the weekends, just spending all my free time languishing like a glorious lump.

I can start putting my energy into the healthy things again. And I can get back to my practice — my martial arts of living.

Over the week when I was balancing work and vacation and my spouse’s illness, it became clear to me that I needed a better way of handling their mental illness. They have suffered from panic/anxiety and depression for almost 20 years, and it has wreaked havoc with their life. All the while, they have been unable to admit that they had a real problem, and that it was hurting them. They have treated it like it was protective for them — living less of a life was keeping them safe from untold dangers. I know where that comes from — their childhood, and also their family story, which is all about unseen threats which must be managed.

Over the years, I have dealt more or less effectively with their mental illness, seeing to various degrees, the depth of their dysfunction. I actually dealt with it pretty well, from the start, even when they were absolutely nuts with anger and rage and fear and a seething cauldron of hyper-fight-flight reactions to everything, including their own shadow. I could keep my own attention trained on my own activities and issues, and I could steer myself (and sometimes them) in a better direction.

Over the years, I’ve had my own issues to deal with, and many of them have been really hard for my spouse to deal with. The old anger, the rigidity in my own mindsets, my outbursts and unpredictability… I was a real piece of work, I can tell you. I’ve been brain-injured a number of times, which made me incredibly difficult to deal with, when I was tired or overwhelmed (which was a lot of the time).

But we had a kind of balance going on, that worked for both of us.

Then I fell in 2004, and everything came to a head. Everything really fell apart, and we were on the verge of breaking apart after 14 years. I didn’t even realize it, at the time. I was really out of it, had no idea what was going on with me.

Anyway, what I realize now is that things have often sucked with us, from day one. But the things that have been good, have been well worth all the suckiness. It’s like the suckfulness didn’t even matter, because the good was more than enough to offset everything. Plus, no marriage is perfect, so was I going to just ditch the love of my life because not everything was idyllic all the time? Nope. I dealt with it.

And now I need to deal with it again. I need to deal with my spouse’s demons, their mental illness, their panic and anxiety and encroaching dementia, with a form of martial art. Keep calm, keep centered, and be ready to deal with the demons that threaten to attack. They are very real demons, and making light of them doesn’t serve me at all. Denying that they exist doesn’t help. And avoiding confronting them is the worst thing I can do.

I need to deal with this. Because try as they might, my spouse has limits, and there are things they just refuse to do for themself that will make things better. They’re trying, yes. They’re really trying. But the demons are always there in the background, with an eye out to get hold of me, too.

They’re greedy demons — panic, anxiety, fear, aggression. They feed on the energy of others, and how they love to feed. They are insatiable, and they will stop at nothing, till they get what they need. I can’t forget that they exist. I’m not saying I have to live in fear. Far from it. I just need to live with awareness, and figure out how to keep my own essence safe and protected, while the demons swirl around, seeking madness.

It can be done. And I’ve been working out, first thing in the morning, for the past four days, strengthening myself and doing exercises to stir up my stagnant “chi” and get good energy flowing in me. It’s helping. And I need to stay with it, not get bored and go do something else, when it all feels too familiar and boring.

Life is waiting. Get strong. Be smart.

Onward.

When I calm down, everything changes

So, I haven’t been doing as much sitting and breathing as I was before.

I almost feel like I don’t actually need to, right now. I get to a certain point where I am comfortable and not in pain, and I don’t feel like I need to do anything “extra” over and above my daily activities.

Of course, that’s not necessarily the case.  I still need to sit and breathe, even if I am feeling calm and good. I still have stress, and I still have situations in my days that I need to manage and take the edge off. So I’m working the sitting and breathing into my daily routine at a time that’s better suited, than first thing in the morning. I’ve been getting to bed earlier than I have been, over the past months and years, and I’m taking a few minutes to just sit and breathe, to get myself to chill out.

I still need to take care of myself, even though I don’t necessarily feel like I do.

And when I am in a good space and feeling calm, I can see that fact. When I’m stressed out and I think “I feel good”, I don’t do the things I need to do to stay healthy. When I’m not calm and I’m on edge, everything feels like it’s made out of plastic, and nothing is real, and nothing really matters.

If that makes any sense…

But when I am calm, everything changes.

It’s like I get my life back. And I can breathe again. I can feel again. Everything is real again.

So, that’s where I’m putting my attention, these days: Keeping it real, keeping myself calm. And not letting everything get hold of me the way it used to.

That’s progress.

Onward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letting things just be

You gotta know what’s what – for real

I had a long weekend, with a lot of work of all kinds. I did some work for my day-job, and I also worked with my spouse to help them with a business trip on Saturday. Then I spent most of Sunday with a house guest, who stayed until 5 p.m.

I typically prefer to have time to myself on the weekends – to be alone and undisturbed by others. I had a lot to do, and interacting with other people takes time. It takes a lot of time. And energy. And attention I’d rather put somewhere else.

One of the things that makes interacting with other people difficult for me, is that I really expend a lot of energy when I’m interacting with them. I really make an effort to see their points of view and to just let them be who and what they are. It’s a fair amount of work for me, because most of the things I see and hear and watch people doing, saying, choosing, really conflicts with what I would do, say, or choose.

But it’s their choice and it’s their life. Even if I can see that their deeds, words, and choices are going to lead them down an unfortunate path, I have to stand back and let them do it. It’s not up to me, to save them. Or even to give them a clue about what’s ahead. That’s for them to find out. If I didn’t care so much about the sufferings of others, my life might be considerably easier.

But I do care. And it is extremely hard to watch people do the things they do.

Who am I to take them to task, though? Who am I to step in and draw their attention to things? We all have to walk our own paths, and we all have to make our own mistakes.

I just don’t much care for being pulled into the foolishness that they propagate. When the people doing the ill-advised things are in charge, and they are affecting the lives of countless others on a very large scale, well, that’s a problem. Especially if one of those people is me.

So, in that case, standing by and doing nothing, saying nothing, never speaking out and never raising any questions, is negligent on my part. We all have responsibility for certain things that happen around us. The real puzzle is knowing which of those things we are complicit with, and choosing the right path to take.

For me, the right path is (ultimately) off into the sunset — toward the horizon — and away from the situation where I now am. There is so much more that I can be doing with my skills and abilities, and nobody I work with is actually mature and experienced enough to recognize that. So, I’m limited by their lack of vision and experience.

It really does boil down to experience. And there’s not a damn’ thing I can do about that.

So, in the spirit of picking my battles, I’m working on stepping back and letting things be. I need to observe them and figure out which things I want to dive into, and which things I want to leave alone. A whole lot of drama can be alleviated by just being still and letting it settle down. Then the drama dissipates. The swirling mud sinks to the bottom of the pool, and we can get clear again.

The main thing is to just remain calm and allow it to be. Just be.

And in those times when I let things get the better of me, and all the dust and muck gets kicked up and swirled into a muddy mess, I need to just step back, step away, and let myself settle down… so I can stop stirring the pot, myself.

Half the time, the pot doesn’t need to be stirred, anyway, and all the drama and kerfluffle has nothing to do with what’s actually going on at the moment. It has to do with everything else in the world that people are experiencing — the imaginary past, the elusive present, the anticipated future. And it has nothing to do with reality. At all. Things would be so much simpler, if we could just let them be, but no… people seem to be hard-wired to dive head-first into drama.

Of course, I know exactly how that works. For sure. It’s a mix of biochemistry, neurology, and the combination of fear, anxiety, fatigue, pressure, stress… that whole big mess o’ things that — for some reason — we seem to think life has to be.

It doesn’t. We’re just trained that way. Everything from our media to our interpersonal relationships, are marinated in drama. It wakes us up. It makes us feel alive. It makes us feel important, or right, or righteous, or powerful. It makes us feel as though we alone know “what’s what” in the world, and it’s comforting that way.

But ultimately, all that amounts to is drama. Biochemistry. Neurology. Habit.

It’s not real.

And that’s the thing I need to keep in mind and remember. I did an okay job of remembering it this weekend, when I started to get all OCD over my work situation and started to get all worked up over scenarios I was imagining. The imaginary scenarios were both historical (they had happened, and I’d decided what they were about and what they meant) as well as anticipated (they hadn’t yet happened, and I was pretty sure they would). And I was getting really worked up over them, while I was trying to fall asleep last night.

But I got a hold of it and remembered that I was frittering away precious time on what was basically an illusion — something I made up in my mind about what was happening/going to happen, and what it all meant — and there was not much reality to it, other than the sensations that were coursing through my veins and making my heart rate go nuts. It wasn’t serving any purpose and it wasn’t helping me at all.

So, I stopped. I just let it be. I reminded myself that the only thing that was giving any of it any reality, was me and my conviction that I knew what was what.

Silly.

Once I stopped, and I got myself calmed down, I went right to sleep. Which is what I was needing to begin with.

And that’s progress.

It’s also progress, that I’m seeing more and more clearly each day, just now made-up our world really is. We invent all these interpretations of how things are and what’s happening and what it means, and then we leap into action without checking it out first. We “jump on it” and make a mess of things, and then we run around like chickens with our heads cut off, trying to fix what we screwed up in the first place. It’s all very exciting, and it makes us feel like we’re making progress, but we’re doing the opposite — creating a lot of drama and suffering for ourselves and everyone around us.

So, in that spirit, I’m going to start my day. I’m working at home today, because I’m finally able to get a plumber in to fix a leak that has gotten progressively worse over the past two months. At last, I have the money to pay them, and I have the time for them to come to the house. Those two things have been sorely lacking in the past months.

Speaking of sorely lacking time, I think I’m going to take a day off, pretty soon. All this working, all this pushing, all the interactions with house guests and visitors and new co-workers has kicked the crap out of me, and I need a day to myself. I need some silence. Just silence.

So, I’ll look at my schedule and pick a day that works for me to just check out. Every now and then, I need a break. From everything.

But for now, it’s into the day for me.

Onward.

 

 

Keeping calm in the storm

Keeping focused on the path ahead

So, things have been interesting at work. Just about everyone is all worked up in some sort of uproar, because the organization is changing, people are not certain where they fit, and some people are afraid of losing their jobs.

The company is closing one of its satellite offices, where one of my colleagues works, so we’re going to have to figure out what to do if they take the severance package instead of moving closer to the home office. Frankly, we’d all prefer if they took the package, because they’re not very good at their job and they cause more problems than they solve.

I’m in “solution mode”, these days — with myself and everyone around me. People are really worked up, and they tend to look to me for some semblance of stability and perspective. I have the perspective of having been through this — a lot — in the past. In the 10+ years I worked in financial services, it was like this.

All. The. Time.

So, I know what it’s like, I know how to handle myself on the emotional roller coaster, and I know what it feels like to be going through it for the first time, whereas some of my coworkers don’t. Everyone handles it in a different way, of course, with even the “newbies” handling some things more skillfully than more seasoned folks. In part, it may be because they have no point of reference and/or they aren’t far enough along in their lives to have much to lose from a reversal of fortune. Or they may just have a better handle on their emotions.

Anyway, it’s interesting. I’m riding the wave and just going for it, taking advantage of the opportunities that arise, and doing my best by them… and keeping a level head through it all. I’m reporting to someone new again — someone even younger and less experienced than my former boss (oh, irony). The difference with this person is, we have a strong friendship, as well as a good working relationship, and I have been a really staunch supporter of them, even before we were realigned in our reporting structure.

Where they are in the reporting structure does not change my relationship with them. It may change things for them — I’m sure it will, as they move more into management — but for me, the importance of treating them well and with respect, still stands regardless of where they are in the organization. The other nice thing about having a good working relationship with them, is that I can speak frankly and openly and help steer them away from some potentially tragic situations.

If they let me. They’ll need to trust me, first. I think they do, pretty much, but that can change in an instant. I am well aware of that. So, I need to tread lightly and continue to keep positive and always look for the up-side of things. That’s my new mission and goal — to keep positive and pro-active in the midst of confusion and chaos, so that I can not only keep my own wits about me, but also be of use to others as well.

So far, it has been working out well. I have had a number of meetings with folks, and the ones where I am positive and pro-active and decisive, are the ones that go very well. They’re actually exhausting, though. It’s surprisingly hard work to keep disciplined and focused… especially when so many people around you are getting depressed and down and defeated.

Ugh.

Well, I’m not responsible for their well-being or their state of mind. We’re all responsible for our own attitude and perspectives. And so often, it’s a matter of choice. I think sometimes it’s a question of character. But that can change. I know that in the past, I have really gotten beaten up by circumstances, because I let them get to me, and my head was not in the right place. Now, after years of suffering and pain, I’m at a place where I have more perspective. It’s taken a long time to get here, but it’s feeling like I’ve got it now.

At least for today, anyway.

Next week might be a totally different thing. But I’m guessing it won’t. Because now I’m in a job that is considerably more challenging for me, than it’s been for the past years. It’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve been able to function at this level without losing it. My TBI in 2004, and the couple of years leading up to my accident, really did a number on me with job stress and pressures. It has not been easy. But with a lot of hard work and help from folks who have given me good perspective (not to mention my neuropsych, who has been pretty much of a lifeline for me), I’ve finally come around.

Maybe I would have come around on my own… that’s possible. But I have to give credit and thanks where it’s due.

I’m feeling better today than yesterday, though I am wiped out and feel like I’ve been beaten with a stick all week. This transition work is extremely taxing for me, and I’m working harder than probably anybody knows. Even harder than I know… I’m just “in it” — taking things as they come, and see(k)ing solutions where problems exist. And it’s demanding a lot of me — probably more than has been demanded of me in several years.

I’m up for it, though. So long as I can get some good rest, and I can acclimate to this new life.

Onward…

 

Calming it down, one breath at a time

When it’s all coming at you…

Got 8 hours of sleep last night — actually, I ran out of steam about 9:30 and lay down on the couch while my spouse was watching t.v., and slept till about 10:45. Then I woke up and watched a little t.v. … and went to bed at 11:30. Woke up at 6:30, so that gives me 7 continuous hours (not bad, compared to how I’ve been doing lately) plus a little over an hour, for 8 hours total.

I know I’m supposed to get 8 hours of continuous, restful sleep, but please. Life is just not the sort of experience right now that lends itself to total relaxation and restful sleep. I’ll be happy with what I can get, and try to not sabotage myself this weekend. I’ve got some travel going on this afternoon and evening, so it may be tough to get enough sleep, but I can always nap in the afternoon, I suppose. Maybe…

Anyway, I got up this morning and did my breathing exercises. When I first started doing this regularly, several months back, I tried to focus only on my breath — put everything else out of my mind, and just focus my full attention on the in-breath and out-breath. Okay, that’s good, but eventually I found my mind wandering and flitting about wherever it chose. I kept the breathing steady, but my mind was all over the place.

I was feeling sort of bad about that, thinking I was failing at this, not being able to keep my mind focused… but then it occurred to me that it’s actually pretty useful for all this “stuff” to be coming to mind while I’m doing my breathing.

See, here’s the thing — this steady, deep breathing calms me down physically. It slows my heart rate and really helps tone down the stress that’s going on with me. It also fills me – when I get to the zone – with a sense of well-being and calm that I can’t get anywhere else in my life.

So, when all this “stuff” starts getting riled up in me, when I think about it, I can feel my breathing speed up and my heart rate too. But when that happens, I can consciously slow my breathing, and get my heart rate down, and I can change my stress level while I’m thinking about this stuff, to something that’s way less than it is, when I’m just thinking/spinning about it and not doing anything about the quality of my experience.

When I start to “spin” and get all riled, consciously changing my breathing and my feelings about it, actually helps me get it under control — well, not control, per se, but rather it helps me to have a different way of thinking about it and a different way of approaching the problems.

So it’s actually good that all that stuff comes up when I’m sitting and breathing. It’s my chance to turn it around, to change it, to make it into something other than something that just drives me, day in and day out.

Maybe that’s what people are doing when they sit za-zen for long periods of time. Or maybe it’s not what they are doing, but what they could be doing. I don’t know. I’ve always wondered what the attraction is for sitting still all day and all night… I guess it takes all kinds.

In my case, I think it makes more sense to sit for shorter periods of time to get a handle on my experience each day. I’ve done it at work, a few times, and it seems to have helped. But the times when I did step away, I wasn’t actually “working on” any particular experience or feeling. I was just sitting for the sake of sitting and breathing.

Hm. I’ll have to try that intermittent stopping-and-breathing when I have specific problems I need to address. I think that can help me. Logically, I know that reducing stress levels around problems helps with problem-solving activities. And I know that sitting and breathing reduces stress levels. And I know that sitting and breathing with specific problems helps me feel differently about them. So, sitting and breathing on a regular basis during the day — or whenever a real problem comes up that I am getting stuck on — can be a valuable practice and tool for me. Anytime, anywhere. If I can manage to take just 2 minutes between my tasks to slow down my breathing, to settle down and just sit… it can be incredibly helpful to me, I’m sure. (So long as I don’t end up getting stuck in that sitting and breathing, and end up never getting anything done – which is also a possibility with this brain.)

It’s simple. And it’s free. And all it takes is some awareness that I need to do it.

That awareness is the challenge, actually. Just realizing that my breathing is getting fast and I’m getting tense is often difficult, if not impossible. It’s like I get so absorbed in the problems that I can’t see past them. I can’t see myself. I can’t feel myself. I get lost in it all, and I lose my ability to cope really well.

But that doesn’t have to stay that way. On the contrary. I’ve just spent the last 20 minutes writing about how I can handle this, so it’s time to do it — time to put it into action. This is good and useful, so now it’s time to use it.

Onward.

And what a beautiful walk it was

Back from my walk out in the woods. Getting towards sundown… birds settling in for the night, tiny creatures singing out of sight, and the breeze on my face, cooling me after my brisk hike into the woods.

I am struck by the amazing beauty of it all, the simple power of something as basic as new life emerging from the earth, once again. Green, new, hopeful life without a reason to be cynical or self-destructive.

And I am struck by the impact that conscious breathing has had with me. Spending just a few moments breathing steadily, slowly, focusing my attention on a single point — a pine cone, a fallen branch, water in a little stream flowing over glistening rocks…

In all my years of hiking these woods — although I’ve been away from them for the past 3-4 years, as my last fall made it very difficult for me to be outside and in wide open, uncontrolled spaces — I have rarely (if ever) had the kind of presence in that place I had this evening. I usually returned to my home somewhat tense and shut-down. I would start out wide open and ready for a good walk. But when I got home, I would be a far sight less relaxed than I expected/wanted to be.

For years, I knew something was amiss with me, when I would go out on my walks. I would walk for about 15-20 minutes and everything would be fine. Then I would start to shut down, would start to ruminate about this, that, or another thing. I’d get stuck in my head and wouldn’t actually see very much on my walks, even though I’d cover miles of ground in beautiful, healthy woods.

I always knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now, I think it’s because I would get tense, being out in the woods, I would start to feel uptight about something, and I wouldn’t breathe properly. The lack of deep, measured breath would give rise to more tension and add to my agitation, and then I’d ruminate even more… A self-fulfilling cycle that I could never seem to break.

Somehow, I’d always get trapped in my head. And my walks would turn into traveling psychodramas.

But today, I took my time, made a point of stopping to breathe, periodically. And I just let it all in. Whereas before, I would start to wall myself off and shut down, today, I let myself stay open to what came across my path. No social anxiety, when I happened across a landscaper loading a backhoe onto his trailer. No drama when cars would pass me closer than I liked. No shutting off and getting stuck in my head the whole time.

Today was different.

Because I breathed. On purpose. Measured, mindful, enjoyable breaths. Good breaths. With awareness and purpose.

Today was good.