Calling the insurance company

Not looking forward to this. I am very tired, and my speech is slurred, my face is numb and twitching, I’ve been sleeping on my arms wrong, and the fingers on both hands are stiff with pins and needles, and I’m having difficulty putting ideas together coherently.

I’ll give it a try and go ahead and make the call. I tend to get better, once I get warmed up, anyway. I’ve got my notebook where I’ll keep my notes and keep everything organized. I have some slips of paper I wrote notes on, and I’ll transfer them to my notebook, so I keep organized. I’m really out of it and disoriented. Things always get worse in the days after. When you’re in the thick of things, everything is a blur. Later, when things calm down, is when the extended problems start.

Fortunately, I got some great tips from someone I met yesterday who told me to go to www.nada.com and get the “Clean Retail” value of my car, then call the insurance company and definitely do not settle for their offer, if they total the vehicle. They told me about different tricks the insurance company tries, like telling me they’ll pick up the vehicle and taking it to their lot, and then just sitting on it, while I wait for my settlement. I also need to find out if I have rental coverage.

I’m not sure how this will turn out. I don’t know if the car is worth saving, or if we should just get a new(er) one. I really don’t know. I don’t have enough information yet.

The airbags went off, so apparently insurance companies tend to total vehicles when that happened. Also, when I went to the tow yard and cleaned it out, there were pieces of interior that were twisted and bent, that shouldn’t have been, so that looks to me like frame damage. If you hit the front of your vehicle, and one side of the back bumper is pushed out and back, I’m guessing there’s more going on than front-end damage.

Anyway, I have a huge day ahead of me. I have some critical meetings happening, and I also need to make some important calls. It’s not a small thing, this day, and I’m not really feeling up to it. But I’ll do it anyway, as best I can.

Off I go, to talk to the insurance folks.

Endless headaches … continual symptoms… life goes on

What lies beneath – I live down there

For the past several weeks — on and off — I’ve been pulling together descriptions of what my symptoms are, Headaches, dizziness, nausea, feeling drugged and “doped up”, tremors and twitching in my face and hands… I usually don’t think about these things. I just get on with my life and don’t let them stop me.  Now that I’m putting them all down on paper to discuss with the new neuro, as well as review with my neuropsych.

You know, it’s funny… all this time, I’ve been really actively involved in my own recovery from TBI, and my neuropsych has had a very big positive influence on me, but not in ways that they probably intended. I think they’ve been thinking they’re helping me develop better skills and approaches — and they have.

But the real way they’ve helped, has been just being there reliably for me each week, to turn to and discuss matters of importance to me. Just being able to talk about my life to another person who can get it, is hugely helpful.

The only thing is, now I’m going down this path of digging into all these symptoms and complaints, and it feels very foreign to me. I spend so much of my time looking past the problems, disregarding the issues, coming up with ways to not have to deal with them explicitly – just work around them or do a variety of things to relieve them – that now I’m feeling the burn pretty intensely.

All the things I don’t talk about with others — because A) they can’t believe that it’s true, and B) they get all freaked out that I feel the way I do — is getting put down on paper. And it’s a trip.

God, I have a headache. And I’m sick to my stomach. Migraine? Who knows? And who cares?

There’s no sense in getting all depressed and upset about it. I can’t always do anything about the headaches — they don’t always respond to Advil, and the rest of the supposed “headache medicines” are like sugar pills to me. I’m much better off, just finding something I can focus my full attention on, and sticking with that.

Like my writing projects. Like the books I’m writing. Like the variety of things I have to occupy my attention. Fun things. A heck of a lot more fun than thinking about my headaches.

Anyway, life goes on, regardless. Or it doesn’t. Who knows how long any of us has, and why not make the most of it, while we can? I have my ways of dealing with headache that may even be more effective than medication. If you can’t feel the pain, you don’t have pain. So, if I can keep my focus on something that really captures my imagination and lifts my spirits, why not do that… instead of fretting about the headaches that never go away?

So long as it’s not something that’s life-threatening, why let it wreck my days? There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to experience… why let headaches stop me, when I know how to stop them?

Onward.

Stopping. Just stopping.

Sometimes you gotta hit the button

The holiday season is upon us. All the pressure to BUY-BUY-BUY and run around doing what everyone else is doing, is at an all-time high.

I feel unusually immune to it, this year. Nothing much has changed outside of me — the commercials on t.v. are all the same, the urgency is the same as in other years, and everyone is as busy as ever for this time of year. The world is the same as it ever was, things are just as messed up, we’re getting just as much news about how sh*tty the world is, along with a lot of pleas for financial help (that — just to be clear — is tax-deductible), and pressure to use the last weeks of the year to make up for the last 11-1/2 months of general negligence.

But while everyone else is running around like a chicken with their head cut off, I’m not. I feel pretty calm, actually, and I’m not running around to all the latest sales, spending hours online looking for presents, and going from party to party.

Even if I wanted to, I can’t run around and buy-buy-buy. I don’t have the money, which is kind of a relief. I’ve got to improvise. Come up with other ideas. And I will. I received a book in the mail that looks like something my mother would enjoy. And I’ve got some other ideas for things I can get for other family members for very low cost. I’m not worrying about it. I know how to handle things. And I am. Just handling them.

I also think it has a lot to do with the everyday pressure being off me, thanks to my short commute. I now have the time to get up in the morning and do what I please for an hour or so, before I start doing what the rest of the world wants me to do. I can move about, run errands at lunchtime, come and go as I please, and still get all my hours in at work. I can live my life without having to plan and think through everything I do in detail. And since I’m not a permanent, full-time employee, I don’t have to be existentially affected by changes at work and what they mean for my future.

I can just get on with my daily life and not worry about things like that. I’ll be updating my resume over the next few days, just to log the different thing I’ve accomplished at work, and make sure my resume is current and in good shape. And I’ll be taking time to just relax and enjoy myself.

Having a long commute, along with a demanding job, is a killer for me. I realize that now. I’ve had to work so hard for so long, to get where I am, but now I’m finally at a place where I’m comfortable with myself, professionally and personally. I realize that I’ve been in a good place for some time, now, but for the past number of years, I’ve been really on edge and nervous about where I am and how I’m doing.

Part of that nervousness was due to all the debt I was carrying and the pressures of just paying bills on time. I wiped out my debt over the past four years, so that pressure is off.

Another problem was that I was in a line of work that pays really well, but is inherently tension-producing, high-pressure, and precarious. Just the nature of the work — which is all about keeping current with the latest technology developments — was personally and professionally pressurizing. I got out of that side of the industry, turned my focus to people management, and now I’m in much better shape, overall.

And of course there’s the commute. I keep mentioning it, but it was such a huge factor in my life, I can’t even begin to say. Other people just take it for granted — and in fact so did I, for the last 25 years. But now that I don’t have to travel 45 minutes to an hour (or two) each way, every day, my life has literally turned around. I can rest. And even when I don’t get a full night’s sleep, it doesn’t wreck me like it used to. Long commutes used to seriously mess with my head.

No more. No more to all of the above.

The wild thing is, so much of what was making me miserable, I just took for granted. I figured that was how things were supposed to be. That’s what I knew, and that’s how I figured things were supposed to be. It wasn’t until I was pushed to my utmost limit, that I changed things up. Lots of suffering, lots of years of pain. Lots of change — needed change.

Ultimately, I’ve come out on the other end feeling strong and clear. It’s just such a huge difference. Even when my head is fuzzy and foggy, like today, my ears are ringing, my body is wracked with pain, I’m off balance, my thoughts are jumping all over the place like little jumping beans, and every little sound and light hurts me, I still feel strong and clear. And I know I can adapt and deal with the things that are getting in my way.

I’ve got a lot to do this weekend, but before I do, I’m stopping — just stopping — to take a breath, to get myself in a good frame of mind, and get clear on what needs to happen, before I charge forward into the fray. I’ve got my list — I wrote it out last night, while I was waiting for supper to warm up — and I’ll organize it for the best and most sensible direction to take, so I don’t waste time, and I can really focus on what I’m doing.

And I may even get a nap in there, somewhere.

This is good. This is very good.

Onward.

Back again… and landing on my feet

The Thanksgiving holiday was good. Traffic was insane, as just about anyone who drove during the past week can tell you. I traveled close to 2,000 miles, going from state to state to see extended family, and it was good. A lot of driving… and now I’m pretty sore from all the sitting… but it was good to break out of my routine for once.

Sometimes you just gotta trust (this guy landed on his feet, by the way)

I was really “off” my routine — I did almost nothing similar to what I normally do. I felt a little bit like the guy who jumped out of his space capsule a few years back, and fell 23 miles to earth. Like him, I had my reservations.

I ate different foods, I did different things, I had a different schedule, and I slept different hours. I didn’t sleep nearly enough, that’s for sure, but I managed. I got pretty sleepy when I was driving a few times, but I did things to wake myself up, and I took breaks when I needed to. Got out in the cold air, stretched, did jumping jacks, swung my arms around and sprinted a little bit. Whatever it takes to get there safely.

And like Felix Baumgartner, I came through okay.

I’ve been feeling pretty depressed, over the past month or so. I had a death in my family that has shifted the family dynamics. The person who died had a very complicated relationship with just about everyone — in some ways they were very loved, in other ways they were very feared. They were a challenge to deal with, although they had many, many fine qualities that we loved.

Their passing was actually a blessing for some folks in our family, and now they can rest and take a break and get on with their lives. For others, it was a deep loss, and now they don’t know what to do.

I didn’t expect this death to affect me as much as it has, but it’s changed my status in the family — it’s made me more “senior” in the generations, and my parents are now leaning on me, more than ever. Death brings that out in some people — we all become more aware of our mortality, and my folks are certainly more aware now.

So, there’s been more demands on me and my time and attention, and I believe that’s what was pulling me down. Just the demands. Being so tired. Having people relying on me, and feeling a little overwhelmed by everything. I know I can handle it. I just get very tired, and even when I’m doing well, I feel beaten down and low, when my energy is tapped out… which it was.

The other thing that’s been bothering me, is the sense that I haven’t accomplished the things I’ve intended to accomplish in life. I’m not talking about being a millionaire or being a powerful player on the world stage. I’m just talking about simple things like New Year’s resolutions and other projects I’ve started and could not finish. There are a lot of little things I have started and have not completed, and it was really pulling me down — especially since I’m that much more aware of death and how close it is.

It’s been pretty tough… but then again, it hasn’t. The tough part is not having the energy I usually do — feeling so blah and bland, like nothing really matters and there’s no point to anything. I haven’t had that steady “pump” of exuberance I usually do. And people have noticed it — tried to cheer me up, tried to get me all perky and what-not again.

I’ve noticed that people around me really do rely on me being positive and pro-active, and when I’m not that way, they get a little irked. Like I’m raining on their parade. Sorry, folks, I’m just not feeling it.

And I’ve noticed that I’m sort of the same way — I need that burst of positive energy, a certain perkiness, an “up” sense of myself, in order to get through the day.

But is that actually realistic? We can’t always been “up” and perky and feeling fit as a fiddle. Sometimes we’re tired and depressed and troubled by things that really should trouble us. It’s a little mentally ill to NOT be troubled by so much that’s going on in the world.

The thing is, I can’t let the down times derail my life. And what I’ve been working on, over the past couple of weeks, has been functioning very well without a sense of being “up” or pumped or pro-actively positive. Life goes on, even when I’m not emotionally euphoric. I can’t let my moods stop me from living my life. And in fact, when I get myself going, despite feeling down and depressed and defeated, before long, I feel that much better.

My moods follow my activity, as often as not. They shouldn’t set the stage and make or break me. I should be able to choose what I do and think and accomplish, each and every day, regardless of my emotional state.

That’s my goal, anyway.

And somehow, it’s strangely freeing. I’m off the emotional roller coaster, and I’m going about my business as I see fit. I’m not held back by feeling down and confused and depressed. I’m keeping on. Even if it doesn’t feel so fantastic, that actually doesn’t need to matter. If anything, it makes me feel better to be able to continue on in living my life, even if I’m feeling down.

As a TBI survivor, my moods come and go very abruptly. In one day, I can feel a thousand different ways, and each one would be true. My mood swings can be very extreme, as well. I can be euphoric one minute, and in the emotional basement the next. There’s not a lot of rhyme and reason to it — although being tired plays a big part in it. Things just come up, and I need to deal with them. I need to deal with my life in a constructive way, even if my emotions are running wild, and/or the rest of my system is a bit whacked.

That’s where I am, right now. I’m still really tired from the driving, I’m still overwhelmed from the family visits, my world is still evolving after the death, and my whole system is a bit “on the fritz”. I’m having trouble typing and putting words together, the ringing in my ears is pretty intense, and my main issues — fatigue, tinnitis, sensitivity to light and noise and touch, insomnia, general pain, headache, attention issues, emotional lability, panic/anxiety, anger spikes, raging behavior, confusion, difficulty understanding, trouble hearing, slowed processing speed, limited short-term working memory, balance, vertigo, difficulty reading and learning new things, nystagmus, and tremors — are being a real pain in my ass.

I don’t quite feel like I’m “here” yet. That will come, in the next days of getting rest, getting back to my routine, and eating the right foods. It will all come.

It just takes time.

It’s just good to be back home again.

Swimming through the downwelling — Got my STP going on

Good stuff for a tired-ass rainy day

When in doubt, Stone Temple Pilots are good company to keep. I’m listening to No. 4, and it’s as good as ever. I went through a period, over the past few years, when I didn’t listen to much rock music. It was a lot of electronic stuff — trace and whatnot. Always good for getting me flying down the road, to and from work.

Lately, though, I’ve been getting back to my good old rock ‘n’ roll. Lots of hard rock, as I drive to and from work. And it feels normal again. Like I’m picking up where I left off, a few years back.

It’s like I went on a detour for a few years. Thinking I was going to be or do something different. I blame that last job I had, where I was so out of place, and I just didn’t fit in at all, and I needed to take the edge off things.

The whole last ten years feels like a big-ass detour for me. It was that damn’ mild TBI in 2004 that screwed me up. I’m still pissed off about it, and how it derailed me. I’ve been swimming upstream, trying like crazy to get where I’m going, fighting a current I couldn’t see — a downwelling, as they call it in the ocean – watch a video about surviving downwelling here.

In a downwelling, when you’re scuba diving, an invisible current hits you and carries you down-down-down into the depths — potentially past your approved depth. It can take you down very quickly — fast enough to increase the nitrogen in your blood enough to make you feel — and act — drunk. And also pressurizing you very quickly. It’s crazy. If you get caught in a downwelling and can’t get out, you’re done for.

That’s kind of like what chronic mild TBI / concussion is like. Most people see their issues resolve in weeks or months, but some of us are stuck with them, and they can catch us unawares and plunge us into the depths — towards the abyss — before we even know what’s happening. It can be deadly. And if you choose wrong, you can get totally screwed up.

I didn’t realize until late 2007, that there was really a problem — three years past my injury. Everything went downhill, and I didn’t even realize it. Money was disappearing so fast, I might as well have set piles of it on fire. I jumped from job to job, not realizing how it would affect my future job prospects. I could not read, I could not learn, and I felt like I was literally disappearing from my life. I could not go outside very much, because of my light and noise sensitivities, and I had cataclysmic panic attacks that felt like seizures.

I was in the grip of a “life downwelling”, and I didn’t know which direction to swim to escape.

A number of things happened to help me along the way

  1. I realized that something was wrong
  2. I realized I needed to do something about it
  3. I hunted high and low to find information and people who could help me understand what was happening
  4. Almost by chance, I connected with an excellent neuropsychologist who was able to help me soldier through
  5. I just kept going, no matter what

I’m now at a place in my life where I’m back on track. My mountains of debt are gone, my job situation is stable, and I’m able to read again.

And yet, I feel like a stranger to myself.

Technically, I supposed no one really knows themself inside and out. We all delude ourselves to some extent. But with TBI, it feels to me like there are a ton of gaps that I just can’t fill. I don’t even know where to start. It’s like my life is a big hunk of swiss cheese with a lot of holes in it, and I don’t even know the holes are there, till it’s too late. I’m in trouble again.

Anyway, STP helps me get my mind off that. They help me just keep going, even when I’m not feeling up to it. Keeps me swimming — out of the downward spiraling current and up towards safety again. A good dose of heavy guitar and rock lyrics gets me back on track in useful ways.

Gradually, I’m coming back to where I want to be. It takes time. And I need company, along the way. STP is good company. Thanks, guys.

Music is the best company I can think to keep. It’s there when I need it, and I can always turn it off, when I’m done for the day.

Speaking of the day, I’ve got to get on with it. I’ve got a handful of things I need to do today, including resting up. It’s been a long, long week, and I need a break, for sure. I’ll get that break later today after my chores are done, and I can comfortably settle into my bed, pull the covers over my head, and just check out.

Looking forward to it.

But in the meantime, there’s always hard and heavy rock music.

No, we are definitely not alone

We’re all in the same boat, kind of

My job went well today. I have good days, and I have not-so-good days. But there is always another day to come. I was quite rested from the long weekend, and because I don’t have a short 4-day week, this week, I can work regular hours and not have to “bulk up” on my hours, so I can come close to breaking even.

I also canceled an evening appointment tonight, too, which turned out good, because we had heavy rain storms this evening, and I would have been caught in a nearby city in the pouring rain, if I had gone in. But I didn’t. I took my time getting home, and I saw some very impressive downpours and washouts.

Ah, summer.

Anyway, now I am on hold with the insurance company, because I messed up my coverage election, and I am currently without health coverage. This could be a real problem, but I’m not letting it get to me. I just need to jump through some hoops and deal with it. I can’t get all anxious about what *might* happen. I need to focus on what is and is not happening, and just stick with the details.

I noticed at work today that there are a lot of people in my same boat — we’re new, and we’re figuring things out. Some of my coworkers are ultra-helpful and bend over backwards… while others are more cliquish and don’t want to extend themself to the “newbies”.

At least there are a bunch of us who are in the same boat.

And I think about how many people there are in the same situation as me, hassling with paperwork they do not understand, trying to get help from people who aren’t very interested in helping them on the phone, hassling with devices and whatnot. I hate talking on the phone, because it is hard for me to hear and process things quickly, without seeing the person I’m talking to. It’s very stressful for me, but I have learned how to keep the person on the line until they have answered all my questions at least 2-3 times.

I make them repeat what they said, then I repeat it back to them, and ask them to confirm what I understand.

It’s awkward and difficult, but I get the answers I need that way.

You do what you have to do.

And if I let it get to me, it would make me NUTS at how convoluted and confused everything is. If you don’t have 100% clarity of thought, or if you’re distracted or you have some other cognitive issues, the system is pretty much stacked against you. That means a ton of people aren’t served very well by much of anything we have in place in this country.

I am definitely not alone.

But instead of getting all tweaked about it, I’m going to write up my notes from my call, gather my wits about me, and warm up my supper… and have a nice evening relaxing and reading.

It’s all good. It’s just a real pain in the a$$ sometimes.

 

I didn’t fail. I just got tired.

So much depends on your outlook

I had a revelation this morning, as I was waking up. In the space of a few seconds, it turned an imagined failure into a chance for long-term success.

It was the realization that when I started to lose my temper with my spouse last night, it wasn’t a sign that I was failing at my attempts to be more level-headed and calm, no matter what the situation. It was a clear sign that I was tired, and that my brain needed sleep.

I have been working on being more level-headed — no matter what the situation. This is a lifelong pursuit, actually. I saw the need for it, when I was a teenager and a young adult… as an adult in the working world… and it continues to be important to me. It’s not that I want everything to be perfect for me all the time and give me no trouble. What I want, is to be able to handle my circumstances, be okay with them (within reason), and make the best of any situation’s opportunities, no matter now “bad” it may look at the time.

I have had some good success with this approach over the years. After all, I have seen the ill-effects NOT having a level head in challenging circumstances, and the results are rarely pretty. I have had plenty of opportunity to witness this in the people around me — in my family, especially, when my parents could not hold it together with one of my “problematic” (that is — drug-addicted, alcoholic, sleeping-with-anything-that-moved, drug-dealing) siblings. It was bad enough that my sibling had all those problems (which were signs of something far deeper going on with them). But my parents could not maintain their composure or clarity of thought when it came to my sibling, so that made a bad situation even worse.

I’m not judging my parents — they were not equipped to handle it, and we lived in an area where any problem with kids was a reflection on the parents, so they went from being respected members of society to being “those people” who everybody handled very gingerly.

Anyway, I’ve seen many examples in my own life, where keeping a level head and a calm demeanor helped me through tough times. I actually credit my many TBIs (I’ve had 9+) with helping me with this, because they slowed down my processing speed. When your processing speed is slowed down, it makes it pretty difficult to get on the same wavelength with everybody else… and in case you haven’t noticed, being on the same wavelength as everybody else leaves a lot to be desired.

Everybody gets so worked up over things. But when you’re not thinking as quickly as everyone else, you can’t jump to the same conclusions and get to those snap judgments that can send you careening into HOLY SH*T WHAT THE F*CK land. Everybody else is freaking out — oftentimes about something that isn’t worth freaking out about — and you’re still trying to figure out what just happened…

So, if you think about it, slower processing speed isn’t always a bad thing. And equanimity… peace of mind… level-headedness in the face of a crisis is a definite advantage. Especially when everybody else’s “normal-fast” thinking is vectoring off in a really unproductive direction.

Anyway, that’s one half of the story. The other half of it is less cheery — that’s the aspect of my thinking that is WAY more reactive than others’. It’s the instant-freak-out part of my experience that has made me nuts for years. At an instant’s notice, I’ll suddenly FREAK OUT over something. It can be a dropped spoon, or a missed channel that I’m trying to change with the clicker, or something my spouse says or does that rubs me the wrong way.

When things go haywire in my head, they go really haywire. There’s no middle ground. Everything goes nuts. I know I’m being unreasonable, I know I’m being crazy, I know there is no logical reason for me to be freaking out, but it’s happening anyway. And it’s never good for anyone. I’ve lost more relationships than I can say, because of this. That includes a really good job I lost in 2005 after my TBI in 2004.

People are afraid of me, when I start to get agitated and aggressive — which may have to do with me, or may have to do with them. I don’t want to give anyone any reason to be afraid of me. It’s counter-productive. And it hurts everyone involved.

So, there’s all the more reason to keep tabs on myself and foster a calm demeanor, a cool head, and a self-possessed state of mind. And with that goal in mind, I have pursued a number of different practices and philosophies that might help me with that. I have worked on practices that emphasize acceptance, calmness, not reacting to things around me, and philosophies that teach about how transitory life is, and how important it is for us to understand what we can and cannot change, and not make ourselves nuts trying to alter things that can’t be changed.

Like the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.

This has been a very powerful concept in my life, and I have it displayed in my kitchen where I will see it each morning when I get up and make my coffee.

Along the way, I have had many surges in interest in deepening this practice — in really getting to a place where I can make peace with the things I cannot change, and make the most of the opportunities that are hidden there. I’m a big believer that some of our worst hurdles and challenges offer us the greatest rewards — and when we resist those challenges, we miss out on the chance to become bigger and better than ever before.

Some things I can accept and work with — political changes, cultural changes, relocations from one area to the next, and small-scale changes at work. Other changes I have a harder time with — job changes, especially. The ones that make me the craziest are the ones I feel like I cannot understand or control — or that go off in a direction that is completely different from the direction I see myself headed.

Other things I cannot seem to accept, are the foolishness of others — the stinkin’ thinkin’ that my spouse indulges in, their constant anxiety, their devotion to drama, their bad habit of telling everyone exactly what they want to hear instead of the constructive truth. I have trouble with the attitudes of people at work, who can be cliquish and juvenile. I have trouble with the judgment of Management at work, when their decisions seem counter-productive and get in the way of us doing our work. My siblings also depress the sh*t out of me, with their choices and their prejudices and their holier-than-thou attitude. My parents are a little easier to deal with, because they are many hours away, and I don’t see them that often.

It’s the people who are closest to me, who I have the greatest investment in, that get me with their unhealthy habits of thought and action, their outlooks, their attitudes, and their behavior that seems to serve no useful purpose, other than to make them feel good about themselves — at the expense of everyone else.

The thing is, their behaviors and beliefs and actions have almost nothing to do with me. Even my spouse’s bad habits have more to do with them, than with me — no matter how much they may blame me for their anxiety. I am making myself unhappy over things that are far beyond my control, and it’s not helping me at all.

So, there is all the more incentive for me to calm myself down, not react to what they are doing, and step back and look at them and everything from a distance.

I have found some philosophies and outlooks that can help me do that, and I have pursued them eagerly, on and off, over the years. The thing is, I get to a certain point, then everything falls apart. My equanimity dissolves. I melt down, inside my head and heart. My temper explodes. And I end up feeling worse off than when I started. I feel like I’m back to Square 1, without having made any progress at all.

But in fact, I have made progress. My meltdowns and explosions do not mean that I have utterly failed at learning a new way of thinking and being and relating to others. They do mean that my brain has been working hard, so it is tired. And I need to rest it.

Because changing yourself and your brain and your patterns of thought and action and attitude is hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight. And the fact that I am getting frayed and losing it, actually means that I am making progress — I just need to take a break, rest up, learn what I can about what sets me off, and resume learning again, once I am rested.

This realization is just what I’ve been needing — for a long, long time. Getting frayed at 10 p.m. over someone being a pain in my ass is NOT a sign that I’m failing. It’s a sign that I’ve been working hard all day at changing my mind and my brain, and that it’s time to rest. It’s not a condemnation — it’s a diagnostic tool. And far from being an indication of my inferiority, it’s evidence that I’m actually making progress.

The simple fact is, I’m a brain-injured human being. If you think about it, there are a lot of people who are injured in one way or another, and we are all working our way through the maze called life, trying to find a better way to live. And because of my injuries, because of my history of experiences, my individual makeup, and all the different things that have made me what I am today, I have certain limitations I need to be mindful of and accommodate, so I can work around them and not let them get to me.

Fatigue and the irritability that comes from being tired are a couple of those limitations. So is:

  • a sharp tongue — over little things
  • a hot temper — at an instant’s notice
  • slower processing speed than one would expect
  • the almost constant pain that I’ve become resigned to living with, the rest of my born days
  • perpetual, never-ending tinnitus
  • light-sensitivity
  • noise-sensitivity

And so on.

It’s not that my life is awful. It’s pretty sweet, to tell the truth. I just need to be aware of these issues, not forget them — or when I do forget them, find a way to remember that the things I’m doing and saying are about my brain injury, NOT about my character.

So, there is hope. There always is, so long as I don’t give up.

And speaking of not giving up, I’m going to get ready for work and get into my day, knowing that I didn’t fail last night, when I got cross with my spouse. I was just tired, and no animals were hurt in the filming of that movie.

Onward.

Adapting… and realizing how much good it does me

I have had a few days to “decompress” after my trip to see my family. Two full days of driving — 8 hours there, 8 hours back — did a number on me, and I’ve been foggy and dull since I got back. Also, the pace was relentless while I was there. My family goes at top speed, pretty much all the time (except when they’re sleeping, which fortunately happens more often, these days).

So, all in all, it was a very challenging time — a challenge which I nonetheless rose to, with all good results.

The thing is, now that I’m back, I need to re-acclimate to my everyday life, which is very, very different from how things are at my parents’ place. It’s much quieter here, much less active, and a lot more contemplative. It’s ironic, because my family is very religious, and they consider themselves very spiritually connected. Yet they are so busy going-going-going, they hardly have any time to deeply consider their thoughts and their actions and the consequences of them. I love my parents dearly, and it pains me to see them declining — a little more, each time I see them — because they simply won’t take a close look at what they are doing and eating and drinking and living, and accept what it’s doing to their health and well-being.

My father considers himself a self-made man, which is true in that his diabetes has worsened because of the choices he makes. He thinks he can wish the condition away, but his actions and choices of foods make that all but impossible. My mother considers herself a socially connected person who cares deeply about others, while at the same time she buries herself in busy-ness whenever close friends of hers are in trouble.

I got a good look at my potential future, visiting my parents. And I also got a good look at how things could have turned out for me, had I taken the same path as my siblings. My brother has done well for himself and his family, yet he’s living in a place that is hostile to his deepest beliefs and convictions. My sister-in-law once had big dreams, though over the years she’s limited herself more and more and more, till the thing that means most to her is having a part-time job that lets her take care of house chores. Their kids are doing great, which is gratifying, so there is a whole lot of good that’s come out of their choices. And yet, I wouldn’t trade my life for theirs for any amount of money. Parents make sacrifices for their kids all the time, and I have no argument with that. I do have a problem, though, with completely throwing big parts of yourself and your hopes and dreams and internal convictions out the window, to fit in and be safe.

Of course, people do that all the time. That’s for them to live with. It’s not for me to judge. For myself, though… I choose something different.

And coming back from the trip, I look around and realize that the life I have really does fit me exactly. I’m doing great. I have my limits and my challenges, but I can adjust to overcome them. I have been in a lot of pain for the past few weeks — not headaches, but a lot of back and leg pain — and my mind has been foggy and dull. I have forgotten some things I really needed to remember at work. Other people needed me to remember them, too.

I made a couple of really unfortunate choices at work, the day I was back, and I feel like I’ve been scrambling to catch up, ever since. I mean, one of the mistakes I made was the exact opposite of what someone had asked me to do — and entrusted me with — just 15 minutes before. And I dropped the ball. I was supposed to “buddy up” with someone new at work, and have lunch with them. Their usual buddy had a lunchtime meeting they had to attend at their desk, so they couldn’t do lunch. I managed to keep it together and get the new person down to the caf, then for some reason I spaced out and went to sit in a different area — completely forgot about them and my mission to buddy up… I basically left them to fend for themself among virtual strangers, which would have been a crappy thing to do if I’d intended to do it.

Of course, I didn’t. But that’s what happened. Instead of staying down in the caf, I went back to my desk… across from the person who had asked me to sit in for them. And I didn’t remember what I was supposed to be doing until after I sat down at my desk and realized that I was sitting across from the person who’d asked me to fill in for them.

So, I was feeling pretty stupid at that point. Talk about dull and clunky. And then I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to make up for it. I still am. I can’t very well go to the person and say, “Dude, I totally forgot all about you,” because how would that make them feel? Un-memorable, that’s how. And I can’t explain that I have short-term memory issues, especially when I’m exhausted, because that’s going to hurt my prospects at work.

All I can do now, is adapt and go out of my way to be helpful as best I can, and hope that I can develop a decent working relationship with this new person — despite that first faltering interaction.

Realizing how dim and dull I have been, I’ve been turning to my lists again for help, and it’s really doing me some good. I’m actually getting things done, that have escaped me for weeks. I finally got my COBRA insurance papers together and sent them off with the check, so my coverage is re-instated. I had read the paperwork when I first got it, but I missed the part about how you’re not actually covered by ANY insurance, between the time when your coverage ends, and it’s re-instated retroactively. So, the doctors visits that have been happening may not be covered by my COBRA. And I may need to pay out of pocket for them.

That really upset me, and I was thrown off all day yesterday. I also got anxious about the possibility of some medical emergency happening. I expect my coverage to be reinstated next week, and the idea that something serious could happen between now and then was weighing heavy on me.

Then I decided to just roll with it and let things happen as they will. I’ve got no credit card debt, and if I need to set up payment plans, I’ll do that. I’ll figure something out. I’m making enough money now to hold me in good stead.

I also need to sort out some other medical coverage stuff that is so confusing to me, I don’t even know where to start. I have been sweating it out, thinking I’m never going to figure any of it out, and it’s kept me from stepping up and doing something about it. The thing is, I’m not alone in figuring it out — at least, I don’t have to be. There are toll-free numbers for people to call, and I am planning to do that. I just need someone to walk me through the details and explain them to me. It could be that I incur a penalty because the timing of leaving my job and terminating my regular coverage and getting signed up for new plans is all screwed up, but at this point, I’m not sure I care. I’ll just make the money I need, to get by.

Or I’ll adjust in some other way.

The idea of having someone to talk to about this, is really helping me a lot. I’m not alone. I don’t need to figure it out by myself. Nobody is going to know how impaired I am, if I’m asking for clarification. I’m sure even the most brilliant people need help with all this insurance complexity. The whole system is convoluted and filled with veritable land mines, and it’s been that way for a long, long time. I just have to use my head and keep moving — and use the help that’s offered.

That being said, I need to set up time for my spouse to give permission for me to talk to the insurance folks on their behalf. I have to figure things out for both of us, and since my spouse is a few years older than me, issues like Social Security and Medicare are on the horizon. Not sure how that happened so quickly, but there it is. It’s hugely confusing for me, but I have to handle it, because my spouse cannot even begin to approach all the details — they’ve got even more impairments than I do, and their biggest one is panic-anxiety, which pretty much keeps them hostage and immobilized in a self-perpetuating prison.

So, I need to get on the horn with the SSA and other folks to talk about what’s to come on down the line, eventually. There are fees and penalties or some-such, if we do things wrong, and I think we already have stepped over the line. Oh, well. I guess I’ll pay the fees and penalties, then. The good news is (I think), my spouse has been so marginal for so long, not paying into Social Security, but 10 years out of their entire “career”, so that if the government takes a percentage of their SSI payments, it’s going to be close to nil. There are some benefits to living on the margins, I suppose.

Anyway, it’s all a grand adventure, and even if I am dull and foggy and in pain and out of sorts, I have tools I can use to get me by — making lists, and also getting someone on the phone to help me understand everything. There’s also the Web… there’s that.

Speaking of which, I need to sign off now and go check out some websites, in hopes of making sense of things. I suspect I’m going to be a bit screwed by the system, because I don’t know the ins and outs and I don’t have a lot of people in my life who are in the same situation who can help me avoid penalties and fines and all that. But I’ll adapt. At least I have my life, I have my independence, and my life is pretty much how I want it to be.

It’s all good. It really is.

Onward.

Me and my seclusion

Ah, solitude…

An interesting thing has happened with me, since I changed jobs and have more time to myself at home now. I seem to have turned into a bit of a hermit.

Actually I’ve always been a hermit, only now I have the time to go back to it more than ever. I’ve been keeping to myself for the past three days, not doing more than I absolutely have to, and not going on social media much — other than finding WordPress blogs about TBI and concussion.

And it’s really, really nice.

I had struggled for years with feeling like there was too much hustle and bustle in my life, with my day job being the biggest time sink of my life, not leaving me much time to relax and take it easy. Since around the time of my mild TBI in 2004, when I was working just 20 minutes down the road from my place, most of my jobs had long commutes. I did have a contract position for a little over a year, in 2006-2007, and I had another job close to home in 2010-2011, but for most of the past ten years, I’ve had long commutes — an hour (plus) each way.

I had not realized, till lately, how much that has taken out of me. It wasn’t just the commuting that sucked, it was the fatigue. The constant fatigue and exhaustion. And it took such a toll on me.

The biggest casualty of that weariness and time sink, was my peace of mind. My seclusion. My quiet. Looking back on my life, I realize that until fairly recently, I just took for granted that it was going to take me at least an hour to get to work. Sometimes two. It was the price I paid for a good job.

The fact that I don’t feel that way is yet more evidence that my recovery is commencing — and that I’m in better cognitive condition now than ever before. I no longer rely on stress and strain to wake myself up and make myself more alert. I no longer just assume that having a good job comes with a high price tag. I’m not in the “no pain no gain” mentality, anymore, and that’s huge. Absolutely huge.

And it gives me hope. Because doing away with the habit of using stress-and-strain to wake myself up and make me more alert, means I’m inherently safer in the way I live my life. I cannot tell you how many times I have either gotten hurt… I have nearly gotten seriously hurt… or I made choices that could have put me in an early grave… because I needed the rush to wake myself up. Just on a very basic level, on a day-to-day basis, I used stress to numb my physical pain, to heighten my senses, to make me more alert, and to get myself going when I was feeling sluggish.

And I didn’t worry too much about not having a lot of time to myself. Because going-going-going and getting a ton of things done was so important just to my basic sense of well-being. Yeah, I valued my time alone, and I have gone for years being pretty much of a hermit in my own time. But there wasn’t this powerful devotion to seclusion.

Nor was there good discipline around using it well.

I had a lot of plans, I had a lot of hopes and dreams. I had a lot of ambitions. But none of them truly amounted to anything, because I did not apply myself on a regular basis. I did not use the time I had to make progress. I flitted from one idea to the next, thinking I was just being “free”. And now here I am, years — decades — on down the line, without much to show for all those dreams and ambitions.

I’ve been down on myself for having gotten to this point in my life without a whole lot to show for what I really want to be doing with myself. But that’s not going to change anything. It’s not a good use of time. Now I feel 1000% more focused on what I want to do with myself, what I want to do with my time and my energy. And the fact that I am no longer on constant edge, looking for the next adrenaline “bump” to get me past the pain and confusion I feel… well, that makes a huge difference.

I would not be here without my TBI recovery, and I am so grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way to get here.

It’s turned out to be an amazing day. And I have been taking time to chill out and relax. This is my third day “off” and I am enjoying it like nothing else. I have a few things I still need to take care of, but an overall sense of calm and “chill” has come over me, and I finally, finally, finally feel like I can truly relax.

I’m doing what I want to do — which is reading and writing and working on concepts and mental “constructs” that explain significant parts of the world to me. You might call it “thought experiments”. Or philosophy. But I haven’t been formally trained in philosophy, and when I read “the philosophers,” it just sounds like Woodstock jabbering away in a Peanuts cartoon.

What I’m doing is a more basic, fundamental approach to understanding the world, and it makes sense to me. It doesn’t rely on jargon and specialized terminology or catch-phrases to make its point. It’s just my breakdown of understanding about how things are put together, why they are the way they are, and what it means for me and others I know.

And it’s good. It feels like an actual vocation — a calling. And since I’m not getting any younger, I guess I consider this my legacy for future generations. Keeping things simple, and understanding the world in a clear and collected way. In a way, it’s the next logical extension for my recovery — challenging my mind to be calm, clear, and collected… and to eventually share what I have garnered. I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to share it, or with whom. For me, the main thing is the exercise, the work of it. The discipline. It feels good.

And I know it is helping my brain.

Speaking of helping my brain, I’ve started juggling again. I took a break from it for a few weeks, then I picked it up again, and I am actually better at it than I was before. I was afraid I might lose my ability, but my brain’s new wiring seems to have settled in and solidified, and it feels good.

It’s all part of my recovery. It’s all related. I’m at a place now where I am actually — really, truly — enjoying my life, and my efforts now are focused on deepening my ability to do that. I have been struggling for so long, battling so much, getting hurt and having to recover… getting hurt and having to recover… dealing with my and others’ health issues… dealing with the upheavals of life… and always feeling like I was playing catch-up.

I don’t feel that way anymore. If anything, I feel like I actually know how to handle things — and that I WILL be able to handle them, come what may.  It’s a far cry from how I have felt for many, many years — probably ever. And I am enjoying myself immensely.

So, it’s back to my solitude. I am working on some ideas that have been on my mind, lately. They emerged out of conversations I’ve had with people over years and years and years, so who can say what my influences have been? Everything, I guess.

But anyway, enough talk. I hope you can find some time to enjoy yourself today.

And Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there.

The shell-ter we carry with us

Our home is what we make it

One of my readers made a great comment over at a recent post:

I have come to recognise and realise, we people with TBIs need to embolden a special type of shell-fish (to otherwise be read as selfish.) The “shell” to house us from what would otherwise be attacks, accusations and allegations over being or feeling “bad” or that we may seem self-centered, any of our actions taken had very real and perceptive reasons and consequences.
Only when we debride a wound, or reach deep within residual scar tissue, are we allowed to uncover (very necessary to the healing process) healthy tissues.
A thorough study of the self amid the healing process, is a study in contradictions. The study of the self in TBI is, filled with cyclical change, growth, angst, beginnings. It is as though we are of two or more persons; walking through the situations in real time, taking the time to study, perhaps rehearse and may even attempt to resolve the consequences of earlier decisions.
Are these not the habits of people without TBI? Of course.
Therefore, the “shell” of being shellfish in TBI, may need to be a little more hearty and courageous, mayhaps even a little outrageous, to understand the absolute truth of these matters.

It’s very true. Like a hermit crab, we need to find shell-ter where we can, develop our defenses like a protective shell, and learn to carry it with us, as we go through life. No one else can know 100% what we are going through, so we need to develop our own defenses, our own sense of self, our own techniques and tricks to get us by.

I was just thinking about this yesterday — how I can basically make it through most situations in life without alerting everyone to the fact that I am struggling so terribly at times. My memory fails me.

The noise is too loud, the lights are too bright, and I have deafening ringing in my ears.

I am in pain.

I am off balance, struggling with vertigo, feeling like I’m going to lose my mind with having to keep upright.

Or I am boiling on the inside and fighting back my intense desire to either run screaming from the building or punch someone in the face.

Or I am dying inside, feeling like I am just not keeping up, and I have no idea what is going on in the conversation I’m participating in, even though it really matters a lot that I keep up.

I can get through those situations intact, because I have a shell of collected tactics I have built up over the years. Some of them I’ve been using a long time, while others are fairly recent.

But whatever their source or “vintage”, they work.

They keep me safe. They are not me, and they are not something I want to have, but I lost my “real shell” a long, long time ago, so I make do as best I can. And it works.

That’s the main thing. My internal state changes frequently, often without making any sense to me. It’s usually connected to my physical well-being — when I get tired, everything gets harder, and I am tired a lot of the time. So, I have to have a way to offset that effect, so my life can continue.

It’s not easy. It’s pretty painful at times. And it takes a lot out of me. But it works.

And that’s what really matters.

It’s bad enough that I have these issues. But having them screw up my life at the same time? That’s no good — not if I can at all avoid or prevent it.

And so I do.

Onward.