I’ve had a very quiet few days… when I’ve been at home, that is.
This past week has been crAYzy, and I’ve spent my time at home relaxing and just enjoying the quiet.
Interestingly, these days, I don’t have much interest in going online, when I’m not at work. I think it’s about just being all maxed-out with the computer — all day, every day — and really enjoying not having to type anything…. or be in front of a humming electronic box, when I don’t have to.
So, I’ve been spending time reading and thinking… sketching out some ideas I’ve been having, and just working through a lot of logical problems in my head.
That’s my new thing — exercising my brain on “problems” I invent, and then try to solve. Some of the problems are very practical and everyday — like, how best to organize people at work to get all the jobs done, without completely frying their systems. Some of the problems are very abstract — like, what do we really experience, and how do we know what we know?
It’s good practice for me. And it gets me thinking in all new ways.
It keeps me honest and it keeps me humble. And it also keeps me on my toes and reminds me to take care of myself and my brain. I tend to wear myself out a bit, when I think too much about things.
That’s another thing I’m working on — patterns of thinking that move me forward, instead of wearing me out. What’s the best “cadence” for me? How do I best function? When is the best time of day for me to “do thinking”, and how can I organize my day, so that I can put my brain to work on different problems, and still have a life?
I think I have some good ideas around this. I pace myself. I also think up to a certain point, then step away and do something completely different. Like today — I read about a new type of computing, and then I cleaned the bathrooms. My spouse has mobility issues and cannot get down to floor level, or lean over to clean under the commode basins, so that was my “quest” for this morning. I promised myself I wouldn’t spend more than 30 minutes on the task, because I have really bad recollections of being forced to clean toilets when I was a kid, and I am also sensitive to the cleaning supplies. So, I worked as quickly and as efficiently as I could, and I was done.
And then my mind was clear again to go back to what I was reading before, and come at it from a new angle.
Now I’ve been reading and researching and thinking for another half hour and it’s time to go for my long walk again. I walked for 2 hours yesterday, and I got some great ideas, along the way.
Time to walk again — this time in a different direction. Who knows what will come to me then?
And this afternoon, while I have the house to myself, I’ll take a nap, then get up and do some chores… make some supper… and get a good night’s sleep.
I’ve got a good cadence going. Last night I actually got in bed before 11:00 p.m., and I got over 8 hours of sleep.
It’s amazing what a little balance will do for you. That, and exercise.
So, yesterday we had company – the friend who visited us over vacation who’s looking for a place to live. The morning started out good and we were just hanging out, talking everything through. By mid-afternoon, they had driven us crazy enough for us to ask them to leave. Seriously, they were spinning their wheels, back and forth all over the place, and cancelling out all their progress with a single simple statement.
Holy f’ing crap – how maddening. I mean, it’s not like they can afford to dick around with things, but they just kind of flit-flit-flit all over the place from one idea to the next. I get it, that they’ve got intense ADD, dyslexia, and a bunch of neurological issues from having been beaten a lot as a kid. But holy crap. They were just all over the map.
Then I come downstairs this morning after waking up earlier than I wanted to, and I fin the downstairs in a bit of a shambles, because my spouse was up till god-knows-what-hour just hanging out, watching t.v., and probably snacking, too. It would not have taken much for them to just pick up after themself. Just a little.
But I guess that was just too boring. Not very exciting at all. And who wants to bother with that?
I’m guilty of that, as well, though. There are things that need to be done, to just take care of everyday life, that I just don’t do. So, there are two of us in the house who slack off… just ’cause.
That being said, I got my ass in gear and did some exercises this morning. I mowed yesterday and tended to the plantings and trees in the front yard and back. I also realized that my grass is in really bad shape, which is not good, because that’s what keeps my leachfield together for my septic. I’ve been saying each year in the spring that I was going to take care of that… this year. And then the summer comes and the summer goes, and in the fall I’m looking at the sad state of my grass, wishing I’d done more for it.
But like cleaning up the living room, somehow it’s just not that exciting, so I get distracted by other things, and then everything falls by the wayside.
The ironic thing is, it’s really not that difficult to keep up with stuff, so long as you do a little bit at a time, and you do it regularly. Consistency, practice, application, repetition — those are the keys to keeping things going. And those are the things where I (and most people I know) fall down the most.
So, it starts with the little things and it moves from there. Little things, done everyday, stay little things in the short term, but turn into big things over the long term. That’s also true of the little things that are NOT done everyday, which then turn into big regrets later on. So, keeping steady is the thing. Keeping motivated. Seeing the point to it all, and keeping focused on the future direction you’re headed.
How to stay motivated? Well, that’s the question. I think for myself it needs to be a combination of work and rest — intervals of activity followed by a chance to recoup and regroup and really digest what’s going down. I have to be careful that I don’t get caught in a vortex of rumination, of course. I have to keep things moving — but in a good way, not in some crazy manic numbness-inducing grind that just dulls the pain of daily existence.
It’s important to have a life.
And it’s important to enjoy it and not get hung up on all kinds of crap and bogus drama… for nothing other than entertainment value, as well as getting yourself to feel more “alive” because you’re all amped up with adrenaline and all the rest of the stress hormones that are designed to dull pain so that you’re not suffering so terribly when you die.
I’ve got no intention of going down that route. There’s no point to it. It’s such a simple thing, to just do a little bit everyday on the things that mean something to you. It’s not always a simple thing, to keep up the motivation and inspiration and keep those things in mind. Sometimes I just get tired, and nothing means anything to me at all. But if I can find ways to keep myself even vaguely interested in what I’m doing with my life, then so much the better.
And this applies to the things I want to do with my workaday life, as well as the things I do outside my workaday world. I’ve realized that I’ve been investing waaaay too much time in work-and-work-only (9-to-5 work, that is) and I’ve not allowed my life to be full and well-rounded. I’ve poured myself into my day job, and utter exhaustion is the result — exhaustion of body, mind, and spirit.
Does it have to be this way? Oh, hell no. One thing that this vacation brought front and center is how much I miss my contemplation time. Back in the day before I got sucked into the whole career focus, got all those awards and rewards for being so dedicated to my employer, and made my workaday world the primary focus of my life, I used to spend a lot of time just sitting and thinking and letting stuff sink in. It wasn’t so much processing… it was just sitting and being, listening to music, reading, and taking time for myself. Just soaking up whatever life I could experience.
Actually, come to think of it, what took me away from that contemplative way of life was the mild TBI I had in 2004, which send me reeling… and sent me spiraling off into this hyper-drive state of constant alert and constant fight-flight fever pitch “living”. Prior to my TBI, I could sit and read and write, look at art and listen to music for hours, and lose myself in that world. I was pretty much of a hermit, and I liked it that way. Then I fell and smacked my head a bunch of times on a staircase, and I decided I had no use for that kind of life – the reading, the contemplation, the writing. All along, it was because I couldn’t read, I couldn’t keep my attention focused on anything for long, and my restlessness was off the charts. So much for a contemplative lifestyle, right? The change was really dramatic, and I can hardly believe I used to live that way.
Well, now things are different. I am really noticing this, lately. It’s like a switch got turned on with me again — a chute got opened, and all the old ability to just sit and be and make sense of my life, has started to flow in again. And that’s good. Because I sorely need that. And I needed that vacation last week like nobody’s business, because until I was able to completely unplug and step away. I had no access to the internet in the condo where I was staying, and until I had the choice to do whatever the hell I wanted to do, I didn’t realize how much I have been needing that quiet orientation, that focus, that perspective.
And now that I’m back to everyday life, I really want to keep that going. I need it. And I don’t want to sink back onto that massive fight-flight mode that keeps me so much on edge. I need to re-learn how to get back that sense of peace in the midst of the storm.
Concussion can be such a bitch, because it can fray the pathways that make it possible for you to be how you need to be. It can “reroute your wiring” and make you into someone you don’t recognize. And you can spend a whole lot of time chasing that person you used to be, trying the same old routes in your neural pathways which just are not working like they used to. And when you don’t let go of the old routes, and you don’t try to find new ones, it can be a very discouraging and self-defeating process that puts you under such stress that you develop PTSD… and maybe some other neuroses and mental illnesses to boot.
See, that’s the real danger of TBI — not the initial damage that happens. The brain is capable of creating new neural pathways to do the same kinds of things you’re used to doing. It’s the long-term disruption of your life that does the most damage. It’s the confusion that arises that keeps you trying to go down the same old pathways to get where you’re going. It’s the rigidity that keeps you stuck in old ways of thinking and doing, for fear of anything else. It’s the brittleness that comes with anxiety and fear and lack of insight and control over your emotions and behavior.
TBI is just the start — the real problems happen after rehab, after discharge, after the doctor has given you a clean bill of health. And those problems can persist for years. Taking their toll.
But it doesn’t have to all be that difficult and painful and frustrating… we have other options. We can look for different ways of doing things. We can accept that things have changed in our brains in ways we cannot detect — and we’re going to make a bunch of “mistakes” and take some “mis-steps” along the way, in the process of learning how to live life in new and different ways.
But we have to be willing to step out on a limb and take some chances. We have to be willing to endure the embarrassment of our mis-steps and our mistakes, and learn something from it all. We have to be willing to let go of preconceived notions that are holding us back. Those notions can be old ones we are accustomed to and are still holding onto. Or they can be new ones that we developed about ourselves after our injuries, which we are allowing to limit and define us in ways that are less than true about who and what we are.
I must admit, I struggle with both — but the latter more than the former. Since my fall in 2004 (and in fact throughout the course of my life, when I got hurt and then revised my view of myself), I have been in the habit of deciding that such-and-such was true about me, and then letting that define my personality and my destiny. The real truth of it was that I was going through a rough patch, and I was going to come out on the other side, but I had it in my head that I created the problems I was having and — clearly — I was somehow deficient.
I was crazy.
I was lazy.
I was stupid.
I was error-prone.
I was doomed, no matter what I might try.
None of that was true, but enough things happened that “confirmed” these suspicions, so there you go — I magically turned myself into someone I was not.
Thank you TBI. Not.
But that was then, and this is now. I really have a very different perception of myself, and coming off this vacation, I have a renewed understanding of who I am and where I fit in my world. I also have a renewed understanding of what I want to create in my world — and chasing fabulous career success in technology is not at the top of my list anymore. Getting away from it, I realize that that’s just one part of my life, and I have given up a lot in my life for its sake, while losing out on some things that were really important to me. I also realize that that tech career focus was very much about proving to myself and the world that “I can do it!” and I’ve invested so much of myself in just proving things to everyone that never needed proving, that I’ve lost perspective… and also some of the things that have meant the most to me in my life — reading, writing, reflection, contemplation… The outside world prizes highly social, outgoing, extroverted behavior. But guess what — that’s not me.
And I don’t have anything to prove to anybody anymore. I’m doing so much better with the many aspects of my life. My issues are still very much there — the 84 ways that TBI can make my life really interesting are still very much in evidence in my life — but I’ve found a way to live with them, to manage them, not try to control and stop them.
I’ve given up the tries at stopping them. They’re just there. They may always be there. But they’re also lessons I need to learn. And I know — TBI or not — there are plenty of other people out there who struggle with these same issues, on some level.
We all struggle. We are all human, after all. And if we’re living life to the fullest, we tend to get hurt. We fly… and then we often fall. It’s not the falling that’s the challenge — it’s the getting up that tends to be so hard. But when we work at it, we can learn a lot. And when I think about it, getting up doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t have to be hard. If I just accept that I’ve fallen and I need to pick myself back up, and get on with it, I can get my head off the whole mess and get on with living. Just living.
It doesn’t have to be that difficult, if I just get out of my own way, and remember — there’s more life where that came from.
I was up early this morning. I just woke up, as I often do. I tend to have early meetings on Mondays, so I have gotten in the habit of waking myself up early. That’s changing, though, and my Monday mornings are being pushed back a few hours, so there’s no need for me to be up before dawn.
This morning, as I lay in bed, looking at the still-dark window, my head was going a mile a minute. This is classic for when I’m tired. I had a pretty active weekend, and I wore myself out. Didn’t get as much rest as I needed, but I did have a great time. Now I’m paying for it — I’ve got some time blocked off later this afternoon to do my breathing and get some rest, so I’m not terribly worried about being able to keep up. But seeing the workings of my head going full-speed-ahead as the sky is just starting to get light… well, that’s classic fatigue-driven adrenaline-pumped gears churning.
With all this Occupy Wall Street stuff going on, I’ve been pondering lately what it is that we’re doing with ourselves…? Where is this country going, and how is it that there is such a disconnect between the protesters and the people who work in the buildings where they are demonstrating? Having worked in finance in the past, and having once been part of one of the big companies that people are so actively faulting and blaming, I wonder at the disconnect between the way “the bankers” are portrayed, and how they really are in real life. I’m not making apologies for anyone – as far as I’m concerned, it’s corporate policy and assumptions about what constitutes “good business” that are to blame, much more than individual people making such-and-such amount of money. But that’s another post for another time — probably never, actually.
Perhaps more pertinent to my own situation… What am I doing with myself? I have a job, I have a house, I’m pretty far behind in many respects, and I’m nowhere close being able to afford to do the repairs on the house that it needs. But I’m not about to go out and protest about what others have done “to” me with their policies and priorities. Maybe it’s just me, but in all my years of all my difficulties, I’ve never had trouble finding work. And I wonder about the people who do. I can’t speak for them, but I’ve always been prepared to do what needed to be done to put food on the table — and that involved a lot of really degrading “below my pay grade” work over the years… which I always parlayed into something else.
Now I look around me, and it seems like I’m sorta kinda running out of options. It’s not that I’m in danger of losing my job — I feel a little like I’m slotted into a position that doesn’t have a lot of room for advancement — or the advancement it offers isn’t something I truly want, or that I can even do. I work for a company that’s global, and the people who are rising, do a lot of traveling. I don’t have the funds — or the time — to be spending shuttling back and forth across the oceans. The company reimburses you everything, but I literally don’t have the $500 to front for hotel and taxi and other incidentals till I get reimbursed. That old adage, “You have to spend money to make money,” comes to mind. But I’m neither able to do that, nor in the mood to throw money around. I just don’t feel like it. Nor do I have the time to go flying around, getting jet-lagged, hob-nobbing, etc. I don’t feel like doing that, either. Seeing the world is all very well and good, but I’d rather do it on my own steam, on my own time, in my own way — not as part of a rushed business trip.
So, on a Monday morning, here I sit in the early morning light, pondering my fate. We’re moving offices in less than two weeks, to a place that’s twice as far from home as my current office. More time in the car. More gas expenses… I don’t feel like doing that, either. I just don’t. Part of me just wants to settle in to a simple life, plant and tend a garden, make things with my hands, watch the seasons come and go, and just be. Pursue a dedicated life of contemplation and service, with a nice daily ritual to keep me on track.
But when I think about it, maybe that’s what I have already. I am just so busy looking for what’s better, that I lose sight of the things around me that are immediate and real and have the very qualities I seek in my ideal life. I have valuable knowledge about what conscious breathing can do for me, and I have the ability to get to a state of peace, calm, and balance, by focusing on my steady breath for 5-10 minutes. For all my imagining about how much better it would be, if I could extract myself from my current work situation, the fact is that the things I think that would get me are actually available to me on a daily basis, regardless of my employer. That means that my job is NOT keeping me from whatever peace I desire. And although the money isn’t there to do things like travel for my job, it isn’t keeping me from interacting with my overseas counterparts on a regular basis. That’s what email and the phone are for.
So, what this morning really boils down to for me, is that it’s not the external situation that is keeping me from living my life — it’s how I relate to it — if I am engaged, if I am open to what it brings, if I am willing to put myself into it and do those things I think a “simpler” life would offer — service and contemplation. Nothing around me is preventing me from having those things right now — the only one stopping me… is me.
That all being said, I know what I need to do — find the Monday morning in my heart as well as my head, and get right with my life as it is — here and now. It’s pointless to run away from what’s waiting for me. It’s also pointless to think that a drastic change in how I live my life would really solve anything. My ways of doing things would follow me wherever I go, and knowing myself, even the simplest, most contemplative life would end up a complicated mess, if I let myself have free rein.
So, there we have it. It’s not Monday that’s the problem. It’s not my job or my employer or my office that’s the problem. It’s my attitude, my desire to perpetually kick back and do nothing at all. It’s my fantasies about how much better things would be… if only.
But time’s getting away from me. I need to prepare for a conference call. Life, if I take a close enough look at it from the right angle, is perfectly fine and good.
I notice small things, here and there, which need to change. And in changing those small things, I see large effects.
Like email, for example. Steering clear of it for days on end, and then only looking at the messages from people I recognize and care about.
And the bruises that have been showing up on my arms and legs for no apparent reason. I don’t recall banging into things… Then I check online and find that fish oil is a blood thinner, and too much of it can lead to increased bruising. I’ve been taking double my usual amount — two big capsules instead of just one. I thought I was doing myself a favor. Turns out, I may have been making myself bruise more easily.
And my finances. Creating a spreadsheet of my monthly income and expenses, so I can see where I can reasonably expect to be over the coming weeks and months… and plan accordingly.
And breathing. In traffic. When something comes up that flips that switch that gets me going. At work. In meetings. At home. Whenever I feel myself tensing up and becoming cramped and anxious. Breathing. Counting breaths. Feeling the sensation of my breath in my nostrils, filling my lungs… sensing the expansion of my chest, the rise of my shoulders… Breathing.
Little things, made large. Small things take care of, as the essential elements of life they are.
I look up from my desk and look for stars in the night-time sky beyond my study window.