This is pretty much how my morning looks – me with a cup of strong, black coffee and a notepad with a pen to write down what I’m supposed to be doing, this morning.
Under normal conditions, I’m usually out and about by this time (it’s nearly noon). But today is different. I’m more tired than normal, and I have a lot of catching up with myself to do from this past week.
Reading… blogging… organizing…
Getting myself together for the rest of the day, which will be all about getting my spouse together to go to the even they’re hosting tonight. It’s a lot of work. There’s a lot to remember. I don’t feel up to it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it needs to be done.
I need some motivation. Something to perk me up.
Then again, I think just resting tonight, spending time in my own home in solitude and peace is probably motivation enough. It’s been months, since I had any time to myself. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like.
Almost, but not quite.
I think tonight, I’ll spend some time organizing my study. I have a whole room with books and workspace(s) for myself, but I’ve taken to using it just as a storage area, where I put things I don’t want to think about anymore. That’s gotta change. For sure.
So, I’ll do that tonight. It’ll be a really good use of time.
And now, out I go into the world today. It’s cold and windy and clear, and I have trash that needs to go to the dump. Recycling, too. And I’ve got to run to the store to get some supplies for tonight. It’ll all get done. I just need to rouse myself and get my act in gear.
I’ve got my hands full, for the next 24 hours. I’m coming down to the wire with shopping and cooking and preparation for Christmas Day tomorrow. My spouse and I typically take it easy on Christmas, when we’re at home.
And this year, like last year — and several other years before that — we’re at home. Just the two of us.
No two days of driving, in both directions.
No packed houses with lots of people vying for our attention.
No navigating family dynamics and going the extra mile to let everybody just be who and what they are.
None of that. Just peace. Heavenly peace.
And to make sure it stays that way, I’m thinking ahead to the coming week, getting my schedule clear in my head so I don’t have to deal with a bunch of surprises, on down the line. I’m not very fond of surprises. I’ve got enough on my plate that I already know about, and I haven’t been sleeping well, lately, so that makes me more irritable and hard to deal with. I need to take better care of myself wherever I can, for the sake of everyone around me.
And that means streamlining and planning ahead wherever possible.
What do I need to do, this coming week? We’ve got some appointments we have to attend. I also have some car repair work I need to schedule. And I’ve got a handful of things I’d like to sort out around the house, too. Like do much-needed organizing of the files on my computer and the various “thumb” drives I have. I’ve got a lot of USB drives with a lot of stuff on them, and it’s time I consolidated them. Also, cleaning up, organizing the various rooms in the house. Moving furniture we don’t use to the basement, making room for the things we do use. Making space to move and breathe and live. And unwind.
Unwinding is good. I’ve been pretty tightly wound for quite some time. Unwinding will be a welcome change.
Before we know it, it’ll be 2018. Christmas almost seems like a blip on the screen, but of course it’s not. It’s a pretty big deal for my spouse, and I need to do my part. I’ve never been much for holidays, birthdays, special events — they all seem like just another day to me. But being part of something bigger than me — which also really matters to my spouse — is more important than indulging my Bah-Humbug spirit of the season. Just gotta put my own sentiments aside and get into it.
It’s not forever. And it won’t kill me to just go with it.
So, go with it, I shall.
And then… into the New Year with a positive frame of mind.
I haven’t been doing nearly as much blogging, lately, as I used to.
Time was, I’d get up, do my exercise, eat my breakfast, and then spend 30 minutes or so blogging before I got my shower and went to work. I did this (almost) without fail, each and every day. And on weekends, when I had more time, I’d blog even more.
I researched. I wrote. I commented. I actively committed to sharing information about my life to everyone who might find it useful in their own recovery from traumatic brain injury, or in helping someone else who was recovering.
And it was good. It kept me going. It gave me a sense of purpose — a mission, if you will. This went on for a number of years. And yes, it was good.
Lately, I find myself wishing I were blogging, more than I really am. There are a lot of thoughts in my head, but it’s hard for me to sort them out, these days. I don’t think I’m declining cognitively… if anything, I think I’m doing much better than I have in a long, long time — maybe ever. The difference seems to be that I’m handling more on a daily basis. I have more challenges in my work life and home life. I have more responsibilities and more accountability. And that takes more energy from me, to handle everything well.
So, as I volunteer more, as I take on more responsibilities at work, as I gear up for my next career move, as I read more and am more active, I get tired more… so, I need to rest more. And I also have less opportunity for blogging.
And from where I’m sitting, that’s a good thing.
Here’s the thing though — in the midst of doing all that I’m doing, I really need to check in and show the rest of the world that recovery after mild TBI is possible. Recovery of a really high-quality life is possible after multiple concussions. And even when you sink as low as you think you can go, there’s still the chance (however remote) that you can get back.
I used to be pretty active on Twitter, but not so much, anymore. Frankly, it depresses me. It seems like all the concussion and TBI talk is around sports, especially pro football, hockey, Aussie football, etc. Despite the fact that countless non-athletic folks sustain mild TBIs from falls, assaults, and motor vehicle accidents, the talk is still focused on pro sports. Lawsuits. Who’s to blame for CTE in football players… and all that.
And it does the conversation a disservice. Because not only does it accentuate the dire nature of concussion — which just puts fear in the hearts of people everywhere (and possibly makes people less inclined to report or seek treatment) — but it also diverts the attention away from actual recovery.
How DOyou recover from TBI? Even Mild TBI can do a number on you (as I found out, 11 years ago). So, how do you deal with it? Work with it? Overcome it? Everyone’s recovery is different, clearly, and what I’ve done may not work for everyone, but for heaven’s sake, certainly we can do better than we are now!
When I say “we”, I should really be saying “I”. Because I’ve been to the “valley of TBI despair” — not once, but a number of times. And I’ve wished I could simply die and disappear into the cold, dark earth. At different points, I’ve lost my ability to read, to write, to understand what people were saying to me, as well as how to regulate my moods and control my temper. I’ve had miserable, terrible headaches that wouldn’t go away 100% for years. I’ve had balance issues, sensory issues, work issues, relationship issues… directly related to and resulting from repeat blows to the head. So, yeah, I know what it’s like — at least in part.
All these things have resolved with me, for the most part… although I do have intermittent issues with them, now and then. And if I don’t talk about that, well, then it’s my bad.
It’s my bad, indeed.
I’m not one for sitting around feeling terrible about myself, though. I’m in a position to make a positive difference, so I will. It’s probably not going to be at the frequency and intensity that I’ve been working at for years, but it’ll be a heck of a lot more than I’ve done for the past couple of months. (Hmmmmm… I seem to remember vowing to do that, a little while ago, but nothing much has happened since then… but I can’t be too hard on myself – something is better than nothing.)
Let me close by saying this: My job situation, as tenuous as it is, is kicking me into gear to really re-examine my job choices. There are things I do really, really well, and there are things I struggle to do. I’ve been urged to master the things I struggle with, for my entire life. Now I’m at the point where I feel like I should put more emphasis on what I naturally do well, and not sink so much time and energy into mastering the stuff that I have trouble with. That’s not to say I don’t want to constantly improve, but I think there’s a missed opportunity to make the most of my innate talents and strongest interests… I just have to figure out what those are, after so many years of swimming against the stream of things I have trouble with.
I’m using this job uncertainty as an opportunity to get to know myself better — not only remembering what I’ve done well in the past, but what I’ve really enjoyed doing in the past (whether I did it well, or not). I have a deadline to update my job goals by next week, probably because of the impending merger, and also rumors that a lot of staff will get cut (mid-level management, I hear — although they alwayssay that, and then it’s the little guys who get axed). I need to state clearly what I’m up to, what I plan to be up to, and why that matters to the company.
So, today (with no meetings — woo hoo!) I can spend some quality time really thinking about them, examining what I’ve done, thus far, and taking stock of what I’d like to continue to do. I can then transfer that into my resume and update it with what I want to do, not just what other people have told me I do well (but I don’t really like to do). Seriously, I am so hard-headed and tenacious and perseverative, when someone challenges me to do something — even if it’s not a good idea — I do it. I pull out all the stops, and I GO FOR IT. But what I’m going for, is sometimes someone else’s idea of a good thing. It’s not always mine.
For the past several jobs, I’ve stepped up challenges and roles that I’ve been asked to take on. Not because I wanted to, but because I was asked to. And I did a fabulous job — better than I thought, actually. That looks good on my resume, and it’s gratifying to realize I did great, but it’s not how I want to keep spending my life. God help me, no. I want to do things that appeal to ME, and that don’t exhaust me like the stuff that other people tell me to do.
That’s my goal. That’s my plan. Now, it’s time to go examine my life, see it for what it has been, what it is, and what I want it to be.
It’s time to dream a little — and put the pieces in place that will let me reach my dreams.
I’m tired. I need to catch up on my sleep. I need to recharge my batteries. Not get so tired. Get back to where I want to be.
When I get tired, I start doing things like stressing myself out, so I feel more alert.
I’m not alert. I’m just stressed. Big difference.
And one of the things I do to stress myself, is slack off on my job, procrastinate, and think about leaving for greener pastures.
Oddly, the better I do at things, the more uncomfortable I am. Because stress makes me feel alert. And if I’m not stressed, then I don’t feel alert.
I may be alert, but I don’t feel that way.
I have a long history of jumping ship from good jobs, for no apparent reason. I just got so danged uncomfortable — but that discomfort actually comes from fluency, efficiency, being plugged in and capable. Somehow, being stressed and behind the 8-ball makes me feel more alive, more alert, more able… even though it’s undermining me and making me feel insecure and vulnerable.
It’s a fascinating conundrum. And the best thing to do, really, is keep an eye out for it when it starts to happen and not let it derail me.
I also need to plug myself into some positive stresses, some real challenges — not the ones my imagination comes up with.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy Christmas. Frohe Weinachten. Feliz Navidad. And many more wishes in languages I do not know.
I hope it is a good day for you, and that you find peace and a measure of happiness before the day is through.
Christmas is a tricky time for a lot of people, including those who have some sort of limitation or particular need. One of the most poignant things about it, is actually the spirit of it, which so often gets lost in the shuffle. The original story (whether you’re a believer or not) is about people under duress making the best of a bad situation.
A whole country is uprooted by a tyrant (of sorts) and hauled away from their homes, so they can be taxed in the town of their family’s origin. One couple in the midst is a man and his very pregnant wife, who have to make the trek, regardless of her condition. Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary were from, was a kind of crappy area — economically depressed and not the sort of place “nice” people lived. So, Joseph probably wasn’t all that well-off to begin with, and dragging him away from his work as a tradesman to tax him, was just heaping one injury on another. It wasn’t like he made that much money, to begin with — but he gets taxed and he loses however many days or weeks of work. That’s rough.
And when Mary and Joseph get where they’re going, there’s literally no room for them in habitable lodging. So, they end up in a stable. In a strange city. Anyone who’s spent time around farm animals, knows this is about the last place you want to deliver a baby, but apparently that’s where it happened, and the child ended up laid in a feeding trough for his first night on earth.
Now, I’m not a hugely religious person, these days. Once upon a time, I was, though. I was raised in an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian household and I was “raised in the church.” It was my primary social network. My parents are still very involved in their church community, as are some of my siblings. I’ve always been pretty spiritual (even after I stopped believing the way my family did), and that endured through the years with a strong tendency to feelings of mysticism and spiritual connection with something higher.
My TBI in 2004, however, pretty much erased my religious feeling. Suddenly, it just wasn’t there, anymore, and I could not for the life of me figure out why anyone would have any interest in religion or spirituality. My spouse has always been very spiritual, and I can assure you, the times when I did not pray along with them were not the best moments in our marriage. I rolled my eyes and tapped my foot impatiently, waiting for them to finish, which really hurt their feelings.
My lack of spiritual feeling has persisted somewhat, but in the past few years, that’s started to change. Just goes to show you how the brain continues to alter and develop along different lines, over time. And I’ve gotten some of my spiritual feeling back — though I have probably gotten back more willingness to play along so I don’t hurt others’ feelings, than I’ve gotten back my old religious fervor.
But religious belief aside, the story behind Christmas is one that really resonates with a lot of people. It’s all about being forced into a less-than-ideal situation, and making do. It’s about modest, humble circumstances setting the stage for later greatness. And to me it’s about dealing up-front with the indignities of life and recognizing that beneath the limitations of your circumstances, there lies a potential for rising above it all. The indignities of not having enough, of being pushed aside, being just another face in the crowd, aren’t the whole truth about who we are and what we’re capable of. We may not all be divine (though some believe we are), but we can surely rise above our circumstances, like that little baby who spent his first night in a feed trough.
Making do… that’s pretty much what this season has been about for me. I have been working overtime for months, keeping my emotions from getting the best of me, and that’s taken a toll on my system. It takes a lot of energy to keep yourself on an even keel, when everything around you feels like it’s going nuts, and I have really felt it, this holiday season. Not having a doctor I trust and can rely on… that’s a subtle source of pressure. Being told my neuropsych is retiring in the spring… that’s more pressure. Being threatened with a layoff in the immediate term… that’s a direct and intense source of pressure. Having everyone around me at work be in rotten spirits because of the impending job changes… that’s an indirect but distracting source of pressure. Expensive car repairs and drama while traveling over Thanksgiving wasn’t easy. Being sick has been a disruptive challenge. And having my spouse being sick, too — and increasingly disabled — has been hard to get my head around.
Most of this I’ve had to deal with on my own, but I don’t mind. It’s actually easier for me to handle things alone, so I don’t have to verbalize with people. Talking out loud is yet another source of pressure, and I’ve been doing it pretty poorly, this holiday season. Seriously — I haven’t been able to describe things I’m looking for, and people in stores don’t take kindly to it. It’s been kind of funny, actually, when I’ve tried to describe caulk… or a little bracelet with colorful beads… and failed to do so.
I’ve kept it together, more or less, but it’s taken a toll.
The energy that I’ve been using to keep myself on an even keel had to come from somewhere, and my thought processing has not been the sharpest. I’ve been forgetful, scattered, emotional, foggy, and that all makes it even worse. It’s really been a challenge to do the kinds of things that used to come easy to me, and that’s hard to take. I can’t believe I have to deal with all of this — and take things so much more slowly, plan so much more carefully, and resort to what feel like remedial measures.
And through it all… I am so tired.
But then I come back to the Christmas story. And I can relate. I have a pretty good idea how it must feel to be uprooted from your home and dragged somewhere else to pay someone money that you probably don’t have. I don’t know how it feels to have a baby on the way, but I know about long journeys and having more asked of you than you feel you can spare. And I know the feeling of despair and overwhelm, when everything around you seems to conspire against you, and you can’t catch a break.
I also know what it’s like to make do with what little I have. This year, we don’t have a tree indoors, because the artificial tree we’ve had for years has gotten old and smells terrible. It’s musty and dusty and the materials are starting to degrade and off-gas, so after a couple of tries, we ended up just putting the tree out on the back porch and arranging our presents on a beautiful golden cloth we have, surrounded by colored lights.
It’s modest, but it’s beautiful, and later I’ll roast the turkey for our Christmas dinner. We’ll have a quiet day, today, and just enjoy the quiet in our own merry way.
We’re better off now than we’ve been in quite some time, and for that I am grateful. We have our issues, but we also have our ways of dealing with them. It’s Christmas. Time to focus less on what we don’t have, and more on what we do.
I woke up early today and have had some time to catch up with myself. I gave a friend some feedback on their resume (which someone had prepared for them — and very badly, too). I hope it helps – they are not in a good position at work, and they haven’t been challenged for quite some time. They need to make a move, but they can’t do it with a resume like the one they got from the “consultant” they hired.
Anyway, I’ve had an hour and a half to just take care of some things, which feels good. I had hoped to start Monday out on a steady note, but my plans got hijacked. Yesterday turned into a whirlwind tour. I had no meetings till 9:30, but I had to run some errands before work, and I barely made it to my meeting on time. And my cube move got all mixed up. I was supposed to have everything in place by 8:30 yesterday, but the facilities folks didn’t even have me on their schedule – until they checked again, which I asked them to do. It took till early afternoon, and then I had to retrieve some extra cables from my old space, because the person who just moved out, took theirs with them.
By the end of the day, everything was settled, and that’s fine.
So yes. I got my new cubicle at work – it has a window, and it’s in a quiet spot. I feel like I hit the jackpot. Now I can set up my workspace as a little sanctuary at the office. In the past, I have not valued my workspace enough, and I just used it as a “holding pen” for my stuff.
Now I see things quite differently, because it is, after all, where I spend most of my waking hours. And I’m starting out on the right foot, putting a lot of thought into the space and how I want it to be. How I want it to feel.
I’ve got some plants I had at my other job(s), and I’m going to get more. It needs some life and light. I’m also going to get some pictures I used to have up. I’ve already got a cool laptop wallpaper of a place I’ve traveled to before, so that’s good. I need a side chair. Maybe I can order one.
I know it’s not forever, and I may be moving at some point on down the line, but for now, I want the space to really be somewhere I want to be, each day.
The great thing is, I’ve had time to think about it, today. I didn’t go to the chiropractor yesterday after work. I just went for a swim. It’s so much better. When I see the chiro – or acupuncturist or massage therapist or even my neuropsych – I feel a bit off-balance for a day or two afterwards. It’s helpful at times, but other times I just need to take a break from all the WORK.
I’m going to back off on my appointments each week. I think I need to discontinue with the chiro, because it’s so time-consuming and the benefit doesn’t offset the cost the way it used to.
This came to me this morning, while I was exercising. Some mornings, I hate to exercise. Some mornings, I just don’t do it.
The thing is, our organic systems are extremely good at streamlining and taking effective shortcuts. So, over time they can get acclimated to taking the easy way out. Because that’s what they are best at.
But our brains and bodies and minds won’t grow that way. Growth comes through challenge and difficulty.
So, my new approach is to figure out what my body and brain and mind all are telling me I don’t “need” to do… and do the opposite.
I have been looking at my WordPress stats, following up on who has recently followed this blog.
In the last 2 weeks, 24 of you have joined me on this journey (22 via WordPress, 2 via email), so welcome. I don’t mean to be rude or take you for granted — please know that I appreciate you following, and I hope I bring something positive to your life.
I’m about to go out for my morning walk on an amazingly beautiful day, and before I do, I just want to say:
Whatever brought you to this blog, was probably for a very good reason. People come here all the time, not knowing what they will find, then they discover something that helps them. It’s both by accident, and by design. I don’t have any particular “content strategy” in mind, other than writing about the things that matter to me, as a TBI survivor dealing with an invisible set of difficulties, a regular person trying to build the best life possible, and as a member of the larger community who is sure that I’m not the only one who feels this way.
There are times when I am annoying, I whine and bitch and complain and am not my best self by any stretch of the imagination. I can be petulant and cranky and self-absorbed, and I can be a real trial at times — especially to myself 😉
Be that as it may, I have an incredible amount of goodness in my life, and I want to share that experience, as well as show others how I’ve gotten there through a combination of hard work and perseverance, and using my noggin to determine if what I’m doing is actually working. The times when I fail are the biggest lessons — and at times the most valuable.
I’m not afraid to fail. I just get a little tired of getting back up all the time.
But then, don’t we all…?
I know I am not alone in my frustrations and challenges. I’m human, and whether you’re dealing with a brain injury, another sort of injury, past trauma, ongoing difficulties in your life, or a hidden condition that others can never suspect is going on, we are all in this together, and we all have so much to share, if we take the time and put forth the effort.
The effort is not easy. But it is worth it. I start most of my days on this blog, because I remember all too well what it’s like to go through life in pain and frustration and despair, and feel so terribly alone. Some days I’d rather be doing something else than typing into a machine, and I can go for days without writing a word. But I know this is important — to me as well as others who find their way here and really value hearing someone else talk about life in ways that they can relate to.
That happens all too seldom. But I hope it won’t happen here.
So, to all of you — followers, as well as new readers from all over the world — thank you for your support. I’m happy you’re here.
An odd thing has happened with me, since I had my contract renewed at work. After being relieved and elated that I wasn’t going to have to go searching high and low for another job, the surge in energy left me feeling pretty depleted… and also depressed.
That happens with me — I run a lot of energy — I “run hot” — and then when I run out of steam, my energy ebbs, and my mind gets to thinking that I feel like crap because my life is crap, and everything is wrong and nothing will every be right again. It’s sorta kinda like bipolar stuff on the surface, but fundamentally, it’s about me being tired, my brain getting irritable, and my head jumping to wrong conclusions about how crappy life is in general.
It’s not true. It’s just me being tired. And getting a lot of extra rest solves that issue — which is what I did this past weekend. I rested. And my depression went away.
Anyway, last week I got upset that I’m no longer a technical whiz, that I’m not doing the type of programming I used to do, and that I kept (and keep) getting calls and emails from recruiters about technical jobs that I want to take, but can no longer do.
The money is better in technical positions, that’s for sure. And it’s a simpler way of life that doesn’t involve navigating the choppy waters of human interaction. But I just can’t do it, anymore. My brain doesn’t work like that anymore. I’m out of practice. And even the simplest examples which are given for “dummies” don’t make any sense to me.
Insert giant sad-face here.
The thing that gets me even more than the money and type of work, is that ever since my fall in 2004, I have not had that kind of immersive focus in my work that I used to have. I used to have a “zone” I would go to, when I was deep in coding, when I was deep in the experience and working smoothly and confidently. But that hasn’t been anywhere in sight (except for some occasional times), for over 10 years.
And that’s the loss I feel the most keenly. It’s heart-breaking. I used to love that way of working and feeling, and now it’s gone. Like a pinkie finger that got cut off. I can live and work without it, but I like all my fingers, and it just doesn’t feel the same.
So, rather than wallowing in that unhappiness and marinating in my discontent with something that isn’t likely to change in exactly the way I want it, I did some research. And I came across a book called “Flow” by a psychologist whose name I cannot pronounce. I watched some videos on YouTube and found the book at a local library, and I’ve been digging into it, a little bit at a time.
See, the thing that I miss is not so much the technical work, as it is the experience I used to have while doing the technical work. And after reading “Flow” a little bit, I now realize that what I miss is being in the “zone” — being able to concentrate completely on my work with total confidence and skill.
That’s what made that work magical, not just all the bits and bytes and algorithms.
So, that’s what I’m working on, these days — getting back to a zone state. Finding where I am really confident and skilled — even in the little things like washing dishes or fixing things around the house — and doing those things “in the zone”. Not zoning out, where I’m not present and I’m ignoring everything and everyone around me, but really being caught up in the amazingness of what I’m doing.
Finding that amazing quality to the world I live in, and really relishing the details — no matter how small.
Even the littlest thing, like brushing my teeth or sweeping the floor, can put me in the zone, if I have the right frame of mind. Or bigger things like doing my taxes or completing a project at work… that can give me a sense of Flow, as well.
It’s really the quality of experience I’m interested in. And out of that can then come a sense of mastery, which in turn feeds the desire for mastery in other areas of my life.
But I have to start somewhere, and then build from there.
So, that’s what I’m doing. I know what I’m missing, and I have a good idea how to restore that “zone” sense, that feeling of flow. It’s probably going to be different, of course, because my new work is different from my old. But maybe it will be quite similar.
This has been an extremely challenging week. But at the end of it all, I come home to a weekend of rest and relaxation, and sincere gratitude for all the good that is in my life. Things are not easy. They have been extraordinarily difficult this week, and I’ve been teetering on a thin edge between resolve and despair.
But I made it through. And for all the help I received along the way, in the darkest of times, I am truly, truly grateful.
Now it’s time to settle in and read a little, think a little, and relax into my evening.