After a brain injury, it’s awfully easy to get stuck in every single moment.
Everything seems different. Everything is different. Your brain has changed, and you have to devote a whole lot of time to each and every moment, as though it were the only one in your life.
Focusing on the present with laser-like attention became my main form of brain injury rehab. After all, I had to retrain my brain to make sense of what was going on around it, and I had to acclimate (all over again) to certain things I had once taken for granted.
Like brushing my teeth and taking my shower and getting dressed in the proper order each morning.
Like washing dishes and cooking and fixing simple snacks without losing my temper.
Like going to bed at a decent hour and getting up to exercise each morning.
The things that I had once taken for granted… well, that familiarity was taken from me, when I fell in 2004. And everything fell apart.
We don’t realize till it’s gone, how much we really do take for granted, and how much we depended on the predictability to structure our lives. When it disappears, all hell breaks loose. Literally.
But now, after 10+ years of really drilling down on the details of every day, moment to moment, I seem to have turned a corner. And now I’m looking at the “long haul” — what’s ahead of me, not next week or next month, but 10 years down the line… 20… 30… and beyond. I wasn’t born yesterday, but I also come from a long-lived family, and I can realistically expect to live at least 20 years longer than my peers. Maybe even longer than that.
So, I’m shifting my attention away from immediate stuff and concentrating on the big picture. What else is out there? What else can I learn? How else can I grow? Where can I find interesting things to expand my mind and life?
It’s all out there, waiting for me. And it is for you, too.
So, I’ve started to begin my days with a new routine — getting up and doing some meridian exercises, to get my internal energy flowing better. I’ve also been lifting weights. I haven’t been doing so much riding of the exercise bike, because I get headaches when I really push it, and then I feel bad the rest of the day.
At the same time, I still need to get my energy going in the morning, and this new routine seems to be doing the trick.
I found a book of meridian exercises for self-healing, and I’ve been doing all-over-body patting, as well as stretching exercises to get my “chi” moving. Then I lift weights for a little bit… have my breakfast of a banana, toast, butter-coffee… and I’m ready to start the day.
With everything going on, what’s become very clear to me, is that I need to improve my energy, my stamina, my ability to hold up under stress and strain. It’s no good, if I buckle under the pressures that are around me. Life is going to do what it will, so I need to strengthen myself to face up to it.
We all have within us massive stores of energy, and we can also draw energy from the world around us – if we simply let it flow. We get blocked up and stop the energy from coming in and going out and moving freely through our systems. And then things start to fall down. They start to come apart. That’s where I was last week, when I had my crisis with my spouse. What became so very clear to me, was that I was missing the opportunity to access all the energy that’s around me. And I needed to find a way to get to it, to use it, and to make the most of every situation, no matter how hard it might appear.
It’s no good for me to be falling apart — and it’s no good for me to be wrecking my rare vacations by melting down. I can’t let it all get to me the way I did last week, and I’m determined to keep my act together better than ever.
I also realize how much pressure I put on myself to achieve. It’s like I still have the old Type-A personality, but my abilities are different now, than before. I still use stress and pressure to wake myself up, but I don’t have a balanced enough approach to it, and I get tired… and end up using more stress and pressure (and sugar and caffeine and junk food) to keep myself moving.
And I need to factor that in. Over the past few days, I’ve been longing for the “good old days” when I could still do programming and learn new languages easily. That’s not the case anymore. None of it makes sense to me the way it used to, and it’s depressing as sh*t. So, I need to get that out of my head and focus on things that matter to me now. And that I can do now. And that give me good quality energy, not the adrenaline-rush of stress and pressure, which ultimately bogs me down.
The days are getting shorter, and fall is definitely on the way. I do feel more energy these days than I have in a long time, and I credit the exercises for that. I’m also taking the pressure of myself for the projects I’ve got going — somehow, they ballooned into massive undertakings that “had the potential to be huge”. For some reason, I’m always thinking BIG, which is fine — except when it involves every single aspect of my life, making my existence into a total slog through mud.
I invent the pressure for myself — I think to keep myself actively engaged in my life. But it tends to get blown way out of proportion, in many, many aspects. And my quality of life goes to hell. And for what?
Well, anyway, I’ve gotten a head-start on the day, checking in with work early, so I can get some questions answered by colleagues over in Europe. It’s been about four months, since I had regular dealings with colleagues in Europe — in my last job, it was most of what I did, but in this new job, there hasn’t been much of that. Now I’m getting more integrated with the European crowd — and also folks in Asia. So, that old routine is coming back — but this time with more sanity, and more of a collegial sense. In my last job, there was a lot of antagonism between the US and everyone else, and it wasn’t helpful. In this job, there’s a very collegial feel, although there is some naturally occurring cross-cultural tension. Different ways of doing things… But I’m very comfortable with the European ways of working and structuring things, so that’s a big help.
Who knows? I may even get to do some international travel. This time it will be very different, though, because I have past experience under very trying circumstances. So, the second time around promises to be better. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.
Anyway, as the seasons change, I am more focused on really strengthening myself from within, to handle whatever comes my way. I now feel at peace with my surroundings, for the most part, and that’s because I’m putting the focus on taking care of myself, strengthening my system, keeping stable and firm under challenging circumstances. Everything I do in my life, I consider a training for something else to come later, so really bringing focus to it and doing my best, no matter what, is my #1 Priority.
That being said, it’s time to get ready for work and head into my next stage of the day. I’ve had a productive morning, already, and this job is turning out to be pretty darned cool. Instead of being pressed to produce-produce-produce, racing the clock on limited resources and never enough time… I’m getting paid to manage projects at a higher level and motivate my team members. And so far, it’s working out well.
Even when things are very tough, it’s still good. It’s very good, indeed.
You never know when something will come up that challenges you, and that is especially true of TBI. With traumatic brain injury, there is often a surprise just around the corner, or right in front of you when you least expect it.
I’ve been struggling with this for many years — many, many years — and over time, the constant adjustment/readjustment has really taken a toll on me. It’s pushed me and pulled me and really strung me out. And it’s doing it again with this job I have. Somehow, the things I thought I was doing well, are turning out to be not so great, according to some. And I’m feeling a lot of pressure to make things right.
It’s not so much the added work that gets me, it’s the jolt and the shock of being confronted over things that are pretty tough to hear and to handle. It’s the surprise(!) of having someone say, “You know what? You’re screwing up, and it’s making us all look bad.”
… Just when I thought I was doing so well.
I have taken several approaches with this — trying to control the situations I find myself in, to minimize the element of surprise, and trying to put some limits on how much I take on in the course of each day.
The problem is, I get busy. And I literally cannot manage and control every single experience that comes my way. There is always an element of the unexpected, and rather than trying to exclusively head things off at the pass, I need to add more readiness to my “behavioral toolbox”.
Readiness, to me, is about being able to respond appropriately to situations that come up at work and at home. It’s about having a frame of mind that’s going to help me meet the challenges with dignity and honor and the kind of demeanor I can be proud of. It’s about realizing that life is going to throw some funky stuff at me, now and then, and the more advanced I get and the more I take on, the more ready I need to be — because it’s going to get that much more interesting.
I literally have no control over a lot of things, and heave knows, there’s even more stuff that’s out of my control that sneaks up on me, thanks to my neurology.
So, I need to get myself in shape. Literally and figuratively.
I’m doing pretty well with the food (aside from a surprise addiction to fruit and nut trail mix that I developed a month or so ago), and I eat pretty regularly and in reasonable moderation (most of the time). I’m also doing pretty well with the exercise, incorporating more rest into my weekly routines. I need to get stronger, that much is for certain, and I should probably invest time time at the gym at work lifting heavier weights. Looking at my calendar, I can see a couple of days I can do that this week.
Now I need to do a better job of managing my time and workflow, so that things don’t sneak up on me that really shouldn’t. I need to develop the habit of sitting down with my schedule at the beginning of each day and at the end of each day, and walking through everything I need to do. I used to do this in the morning while I was exercising, but that’s not working anymore. I need to do it when I get to work, first thing… and last thing before I leave at the end of each day.
In some ways, it really is about developing habits — habits of excellence that set the stage each day for some sort of improvement. There will be many days when I fall short, but rather than seeing that as a disappointment, I can see that as proof that I’m pushing myself to go farther, do better, be better.
At the same time, though, there’s only so much that I can depend on planning. I can do my best to minimize unnecessary surprises — so I can keep my energy for the real surprises. Because there will be many of them. In some ways, it’s like developing combat readiness — though on a much smaller, much less dangerous, civilian scale. It’s like developing the physical hardiness to keep strong in the face of some daunting tasks and schedules, and developing the mental hardiness to face up to any challenge that comes across my path.
I have a CD from Belleruth Naparstek that she created for first responders, called “Stress Hardiness Optimization”. It’s for use by firefighters and policemen and EMTs and soldiers — people who face day-to-day challenges that fry their nervous systems. My own experience is something far less extreme than that, but the principles still apply — sudden shocks, immediately pressing challenges, high stakes, and high performance demands are a regular part of my everyday life. And I need to live like that’s the case.
So, here’s to fostering more readiness — I’m reading up on the idea of readiness, drawing from different sources, from athletic and military and civilian emergency preparedness literature online. There’s a lot to read, but the basic concepts are there — training, preparedness, strength, flexibility, endurance… all the ingredients you need to stay smart and safe in a tough situation.
Perhaps the biggest threat I face on a daily basis is not one on the outside — it’s the internal threat of taking things for granted, of slacking off when I should be stepping up, of taking the easy way of not eating right or not getting enough rest, and not planning properly. But the most hazardous danger of all is underestimating my own challenges.
Speaking of which, I’m running late. Gotta go — I’ve got a meeting in a little over an hour…
It’s getting warm enough, now, that I can start going barefoot regularly. What a relief. There’s something about shoes that really gets to me. Being separated from my world by a layer of rubber or leather leaves me feeling disoriented. Where shoes are supposedly “protective” gear, in some ways, they do me more harm than good. Researchers have been looking into the adverse effects of wearing shoes when you run – apparently, barefoot is better.
I would agree – tho’ in my case, I’m not referring to running. Just living my life.
Sometimes, I need as much sensory contact with the world around me as I can get. I need to feel the world around me, sense it, be in direct contact with it. Going barefoot wakes me up, actually. It gets me in direct contact with the floor beneath me, and it actually helps me move better as I go about my business.
I’m not the only person who feels that way, either. Over at Naturally Engineered, I found a discussion about proprioception, “the ability to sense the position, location, orientation and movement of the body and its parts.” It’s good stuff.
[F]rom a simplistic perspective, the fact that our feet are the primary interface we have with terra firma is highly relevant. About 99% of every thing we do involves some sort of arrangement of our feet with the ground. If you were asked which of your senses you don’t think you could live without, most people would probably say “sight” or “hearing”, but the ability to touch and receive tactile sensation is given far too little worth (in my opinion). Certainly not by the human body though, considering there are approximately 200,000 sensory receptors in the sole of each foot. That’s right, each foot. This makes your feet some of the most nerve-rich areas of your body
So, it makes sense that it would mean whole lot to me, when I’m able to go barefoot. And it also makes sense that I’ve been seriously thinking about getting some of those five-toe shoes that fit like gloves over your feet. I saw shoes like that a few years ago, and they seemed interesting. Now they seem more than interesting. They are starting to seem essential.
But they’re also expensive. I’ll need to save up for them. And make sure I get the right size. For the time being, I’m just going to go barefoot in the house and wear sandals outside. Sandals with straps to keep them on my feet. I have a way of losing flip-flops, and I don’t want to have to think about my shoes, when I’m moving around.
Speaking of moving around, I’ve been thinking of taking the day off my physical regimen, to let my body relax and catch up. I’ve been pushing it pretty hard, for the past couple of weeks, doing different workouts and pushing the envelope on my strength and endurance. But then I look around me at the people who are at the top of their game and the top of their field, and I see them working harder, longer, training more intently, than just about anyone else, and I have to rethink this.
I think the real point is to keep balanced — to train and work and apply myself in different, more varied ways. Not to overdo it in one area only — that’s a great way to sustain a stress injury — but to change things up, so that different parts of me have the chance to rest on off days, AND I have a more varied, balanced fitness to my life — mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually.
With me, it’s not a matter of just stopping everything altogether, but stopping different things at different times, and developing an overall conditioning that lets me live my life fully, no matter what.
Strength one day, stretching the next, simple movement the next… in no particular order, just where I feel I need some help for that day. Or I need to improve.
Or I need a break. Breaks are important. I just need to make sure I don’t get caught in the “break vortex” where I go without doing much of anything for an indefinite period of time. This is an incredibly hard thing – I do tend to get stuck, and it’s hard for me to get out of that rut.
Like now. I slept in till about 8 this morning, and I’ve been taking it easy, writing and watching people train like crazy to become stronger, faster, more capable, than they were before. It’s pretty inspiring. And it’s also daunting. But it shows regular people in training to do amazing things.
This, to me, has become the theme of my life — practice and training. Focusing on the thing I want to achieve, and not letting my inexperience or shortcomings get in the way. Training to overcome those shortcomings. Practicing to overcome my inexperience. And living my life in a way that provides strength and balance and skill over time.
It does take time, though. I just need to be aware of that and keep that in mind. This stuff doesn’t come overnight, and you’ve got to stay steady with it. So, staying steady, while keeping it fresh and relevant and meaningful, is the order of the day.
Speaking of the day, I have a handful of things I need to get done. For real. Off I go.