It’s Friday. I have the day off work. I still have to do some daily “housekeeping” tasks for work, but it’s not that big of a deal, because it doesn’t require that I pay attention at all. Just start a program at 6:30 a.m. and wait for it to finish a few hours later. I should probably fix it so that it kicks off by itself.
I’ll do that later today.
Yesterday was get-it-all-done-before-the-snow-flies day. We’re supposed to get a bunch of snow and rain today, which could get messy. It’s not the kind of weather you want to be driving in, so I won’t. My spouse and I spent yesterday afternoon and evening doing our last-minute shopping, and we got just about everything done. So, that’s good.
It wiped me out, but it was good. Now I just have a bunch of stuff to wrap. And that’s fine. Because I have three days to get that done — a big improvement over past years, when we couldn’t get ourselves in gear before the very last minute.
All that last-minute shopping of years gone by just boggles my mind. How did we do it? Chaotically and crabbily, as a matter of fact. And it pushed me to my limits, year after year. But Ye Olde attentional problems and executive function issues kept me/us from getting ahead of the game and preparing in a timely manner. We always needed the stress of last-minute pressure to put us over the finish line, and it took a toll, year after year.
Of course, that’s just how things were, so we never thought to do things differently. And it took a toll. Good grief, when I think about all the drama and yelling and frustration… and how my spouse and I just took that for granted… I’m glad things are different now.
Part of it is that we’ve both gotten older and more tired, so we don’t have the energy for all that whoop-de-doop. Who has the energy for squabbling? What does it accomplish, other than sharpening our sense of being “ON”?
Come to think of it, that was a huge draw for us. Getting all worked up over things was a great way to perk up the old tonic arousal and get the brain to think it’s awake. That “pump” from the drama literally made me feel like I was alive again… a better state of mind than the steady level of dullness that came after my concussion(s). So, getting all “drama’ed out” was a way for me to wake myself up and get myself feeling normal again.
That’s not a small thing. It’s a critical thing. It was central to my Sense-Of-Self, and while it did make me pretty tedious to deal with during the holidays, it nevertheless played a role in making me feel like myself again.
But eventually that got old. And I learned new ways to perk myself up. Like getting regular exercise, first thing in the morning. Like getting the crap food out of my system. Like finding things that really made me feel great and focusing on them… not the things that made me feel terrible and perked me up as a result.
It’s an ongoing process, of course, and I’m not perfect. I still have my moments. Heaven knows. But things are a heck of a lot better this year, than they’ve been in past years.
I’ve made some great progress, this morning. I spent the last three hours going through my stand-up files and clearing them out, then dumping a whole bunch of old materials from my filing cabinets, and re-sorting the contents, so that the old stuff I am done with, is in a drawer far from view. I have a 4-drawer corner filing cabinet where I store all my old stuff, and I went through and cleared out a ton of old crap that was about 10 years old.
Looking through my existing “filing system” I am amazed that I have kept things together as well as I have over the years. Instead of filing papers in an existing folder and drawer, I started new folders in different drawers. And I have a number of of duplicate folders with important information in them, stashed here and there. Banking records. Tax records. Health records. Exactly the kinds of records I need to keep organized in one place… they are anything but.
However, now I have a much better sense for where everything goes, what I need to keep and what I can let go, and where the best place to store things is.
What strikes me the most is just how crazy it all is – a very, very poor use of space, and everything just kind of thrown around. It’s like I haven’t even been mentally present when putting things in “order”. I feel kind of developmentally delayed when I look at it all, to tell you the truth. And it depresses me a little bit, to think that’s how I did things for so many years.
Well, now that’s changing. And I am really motivated to put things in order, so I can really move forward with living my life, instead of shuffling through mounds of paper, and “filing” the same kinds of papers in different places, only to take up space and generally obstruct my life.
Looking over at my bookshelves, I see even more disorganization. I’ll need to do something about that, as well.
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.
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.
I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about the info I read recently about how making breakfast can make you more creative, and I’ve realized that this approach has been helping me a great deal. I’ve been breaking up my established routines more, lately, and I think it’s been helping me learn better ways of dealing with my life in general, coming up with more creative solutions, and generally improving my performance at work.
I have to say, looking back at my job choices and performance in the years after my last TBI, I was nowhere near the level I should have been at. And my job choices showed it, too. I went from being a senior consultant type of person, to being a “plug and chug” person who could barely handle the most elemental of tasks. And a lot of them I didn’t handle. I just muddled through and hoped people wouldn’t notice that I was screwing up. And then I would take off when things got to be unsustainable and I was pretty sure everything was going to catch up with me, and they’d figure out that I was pretty impaired.
God, when I think back, I was just a WRECK at work. I just wasn’t doing a very good job at all. WTF?!
TBI, that’s WTF. One hell of a TBI.
It took me years to get back to a place where I was even capable of building myself back up. It took me years to stop screwing myself over and digging myself deeper and deeper holes I couldn’t climb out of.
But even after getting back on my feet again and “normalizing” to where I wasn’t shooting myself in the foot every other day… looking back at the last 18 months I’ve been at this job, there are so many things that I was tasked with doing that I just didn’t “get” how to do. It’s embarrassing to think about it now, looking back. Things like sending certain kinds of emails to people, performing certain tasks that I have been doing for years and years, and generally managing my workflow. It’s been a bit haphazard and chaotic, I’m embarrassed to say. And I’m not sure why they’ve tolerated that level of performance in me… unless they figured that I was still on a learning curve…
Wow. That’s a pretty long learning curve. And yet, they keep me around… I guess I must be doing something right.
Anyway, I’m really doing so much better than I have been before, and I think I know why that might be.
Basically, it’s because I have developed routines in my life. From the first moments that I wake up in the morning, to my preparation for going out into the day, to my schedule at work, to what I do in the evenings… and the weekends, too… I have a routine I follow. It probably sounds boring and uber-disciplined, but it has been my saving grace. By establishing what I’m going to do each day, and doing it the same way each day, I have “offloaded” the burden of having to re-think everything I do, and I have more time and energy to think about things that matter more to me — like better ways to do my job, better ways to live my life. I have more energy to repair the damage from before, because I’m not having to figure out what I’m going to have for breakfast each day… how to dress for work… what route to take to work… etc.
The time and energy I save on not having to re-think my breakfast each morning, is time and energy I have for thinking about my day and planning things I’m going to do. The time and energy I save on having a routine for my morning prep for work is time and energy I have for thinking through what I need to get accomplished and forming a picture in my mind of how to go about doing what I need to do.
Getting rid of all the hashing through minute details frees me up to actually have some depth of thought and consideration, so while I may look like I’m on autopilot, I’m actually able to think more in-depth about what I’m doing and experience it, not just “git ‘er done”.
So, my routines have helped me tremendously. They’ve also helped reduce the amount of stress in my life. Having to re-think everything constantly takes a lot of energy and it can become quite stressful, which put me into a constant fight-flight state of mind/body… and that was no good. I was always on and the adrenaline marinade from having my proverbial foot on the pedal-to-the-metal, day in and day out, was kicking the crap out of me, frying my system, making me way too jumpy — and not helping my thought processes at all.
Another the way my routines help me, is when I break up my routine a little bit, now and then, and do things differently — like in the article about how making breakfast differently can help you become more creative. With my stress level down, and my foot taken off the fight-flight pedal, my system has been able to balance itself out, and I’ve been able to relax a whole lot more… which also makes it possible for my brain to learn.
When you’re really stressed, your brain just doesn’t learn as well as it does when it’s relaxed. So, having a regular routine that gives me a sense of comfort and stability has been critical to my ability to improve and change. It’s like, you need a routine and some “boring” stability to get settled down. Then when you’re settled down and your brain is receptive to new ideas, then you can try new things and shake things up a little bit.
But having that routine in place first is critical. Because when you’re shaking things up, you need to have some sort of mental safety net you can fall back on, if things get too stressful. If things are too chaotic and confusing and unpredictable, it’s easy to go into a mindset of panic and anxiety, and you end up losing ground. But if — in the midst of your innovation — you have a safety net to fall back on, and you can just go back to your regular routine when you’re scared or stressed, then you have more freedom to experiment.
And you have more freedom to grow.
But you have to have a foundation first. You have to have stability and a sense of calm and comfort, in order to make real progress. At least, that’s my experience.
And it works for me.
Now, I know a lot of people think that routine is the opposite of creativity, but I have found that routine supports creativity. How can you be truly creative, unless you have freed your mind from the truly deadening burden of re-thinking even the most basic activities of your everyday? I know people who insist that they cannot stand routine, that they need to be “free” to go to bed whenever they like and get up whenever they like, spend their money however they feel “in the moment”, and drift in and out of relationships “as the spirit moves them.”
It may feel to them like they’re being creative, but I see a lot of them really suffering with problems and issues that never, ever go away. They get stuck in these cycles of personal problems that they never have time to really think deeply about, because all their energy is used up “being creative” about the smallest of details in their lives. And the result is chaos — personally and professionally. They go from one crisis to the next, over things that could be solved if they slowed down long enough to really look at what is going on with them, and if they gave some honest, extended consideration to how to fix those things.
But honesty scares them. And so does the idea of routine. So, they end up stuck. And they’re not nearly as creative as they’d like to be, because all their energy is used up performing low-level activities that can be put on auto-pilot.
And God forbid I suggest that they do things differently. It’s wild, seeing how intensely they defend their “creativity” when all it seems to be is a series of distractions that keep their minds off their troubles — troubles which never, ever go away.
Am I being harsh? I don’t think so. After all, I used to be like that. For real. I was so caught up in the low-level details of my everyday, that I never had any energy left over for the things that actually mattered or would let me get ahead. I was so stuck, and until I developed a routine for each day and stuck with it, I couldn’t get free.
Oh, thank heavens. I have had an incredibly long day, filled with all the “best” that life has to offer. I was scheduled for a late call tonight, but the person I am supposed to be talking to is traveling until Friday, so I have the evening OFF.
Except that I need to go pick up my car from the garage later. And then I need to make an early night of it, because I have an early meeting in the morning. All these meetings at all these hours. It gets to be a little much.
But at least I have a job, and at least my situation is reasonably secure (as far as I can tell). At least I’m not out looking for work. I may be, in a few more months, but then again, I might not be. I’ve made peace with my situation, somewhat. Although I think it’s ridiculous and foolish and debilitating on a number of levels, I have been offsetting the stupidity with my sitting and breathing. It’s something. Something that helps, no matter what.
It does feel good to be home. Back to my routine. Back to the familiar. It was good to step away and break up the monotony, but it’s also good to have structure and regular events to mark the time with.
A part of me is still profoundly discontent with how things are, but I can trace that directly to my fatigue and anxiety levels, and the lower my fatigue and anxiety, the lower my discontent. So, there’s an explanation that also shows me that A) I can do something about my state of mind/heart, and B) the quality of the conditions around me is not permanently screwed up. It’s very much dependent on my own state of mind/body/heart, so that both simplifies and complicates things.
I feel like I’m rambling. I guess maybe I am.
Anyway, I’ve been really bothered by memories from my past, these past few days. Not so much thought-memories as sense-memories… remembering how I’ve felt in the past. When I was a kid. When I was a teenager. When I was a young adult… all the way up to recent past. And it doesn’t feel good. All that confusion, all that anger, all that frustration and pain… it’s like it’s stuck in my “wiring” and it won’t let go. I try to let it be and just get on with my day, but it follows me, dogs me, hangs onto me like a needy stray looking for some attention, some scraps of food, some fleeting shelter. And when I stop long enough to pay attention to it, it’s so sad, so pathetic, so weak and strung-out, I just don’t know what to think or how to feel about it.
I don’t usually think of myself as someone who’s had a hellish life, but all these old memories of when I was a little kid, banging my head on walls and crawling into dark corners just to escape the bright lights and loud sounds and confusion of all the activity around me… pulling and picking at myself, worrying scabs that wouldn’t heal, throwing myself around like a broken toy, and feeling so much better when I’d hit my head and the noise and franticness and the confusion would stop, for however long.
And I remember how my mother was afraid of me, my father talked to me like I was a piece of crap, and my siblings all learned to steer clear of me when I “got like that”.
Strange, that after I got this sudden reprieve from work this evening, all I can think about is how awful I’ve felt in the past.
It wasn’t always bad. There were times of incredible bliss and joy and absorption in things and ideas that fascinated me. There were people, here and there, who treated me well and could handle me for a little while. There were situations when I did very well for myself and I had a lot to be proud of.
It’s crazy — it feels like it’s all bubbling to the surface, these days. Crazy. I’m okay, but I’m going from one silent extreme to the other, almost breaking down in tears when I’m driving home and listening to someone talk on the radio. Or I’m feeling incredibly calm and peaceful and nothing can move me. Actually, the calm and peace is what’s closest to me, with this undercurrent of upheaval flowing underneath it all. Now and then it bubbles up, or it splashes up, as though it’s rapids on the river.
And then it fades. And I’m fine again.
Oh hell, it’s all a damn’ mystery. Time to get some supper. And take the evening OFF.
More and more people are coming to this blog, looking for ideas on chaos and rigidity and mental health. I suspect it’s due to the “Mindsight” work of Dan Siegel, whose work I’ve read. I’ve also seen him speak at an event, and he seemed genuine and sincere, and I could relate to what he was talking about.
For me, chaos and rigidity are both symptoms of some sort of neuro imbalance. In particular, of the autonomic nervous system. When I’m in a regular state of fight-flight-freeze, it makes it really difficult for me to be flexible. I’m on guard all the time against what else might be coming to get me. Even if my fight-flight is about regular everyday stress at work that I encounter all the time, it amps up my responses to things that happen to me in the course of each day — especially when I am tired. And I become really rigid about what I can and cannot tolerate. I’m on edge in the extreme, and I’m really hard to live with at home.
On the other hand, when I swing to the opposite extreme and “take a break” for several days and don’t do what I’m supposed to be doing, spend time just roaming around on back roads, or surfing around on the web, watching dumb YouTube videos and such, I’m about as far from fight-flight as I can get. But my rest-digest has sent me into the opposite end of the spectrum. And you can bet your hard-earned money that, come Monday, my life is pretty much chaos. Things that needed to get done, just didn’t get done. I’m behind on my stuff, I’m behind on my life. And so I swing to the opposite extreme with my moods and my nervous system — I go from extreme rest-digest to extreme fight-flight. And God help anyone in my path…
All of which makes it really hard to have a whole and wholesome view of my life. When you’re constantly ON, there are parts of you that forget that they’re off… and you can forget how to turn them back on. Things like digestion, prolonged concentration, relaxation, and restful sleep, can become distant memories that you may become convinced you don’t need, anyway. And you can’t imagine why they ever interested you, once upon a time.
In this process, I become a little mentally ill, feeling like there’s something wrong with me that needs to be eradicated or fixed or ignored, or whatever. I feel like there are holes in my soul, and I have lost a significant part of myself. I am so caught up in feeding the part of my system that shuts other parts down, that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to more and more trouble, more and more trauma. And all the while, the part of me that’s ON, thinks everything is fine.
Which is pretty mentally ill. Oh, well. At least I’m aware of it. And I’m aware that it’s not the best thing for me, so I’m not delusional. Not this way, anyway 😉
But speaking of the part of me that’s ON, it’s time for me to take it offline. I’ve had a long day, a busy day, an active day, and I need some serious downtime. So, off I go…