Ha – that’s pretty much of an ingrained response, just one of my habits that usually serve me well. Today, I don’t actually have a lot of reason to say “Woot!”, because this day is no different than most of the days of the past week. I haven’t been working my a** off all week, so I don’t have a ton of reasons to be jumping for joy.
It’s another day. But come to think of it, that in itself is worth a “Woot!”
I’ve got some appointments this afternoon, and then we’ll get some Chinese food and watch a movie. Nice and drab. Boring is lovely. Not a lot of drama. Just taking care of business. Maybe I’ll have a nap later, probably I won’t. That’s fine. Because I’ve been catching up on my sleep, and I don’t have a very busy day today.
Yeah, thinking about my day, it’s pretty sweet. I have time this morning to catch up with some reading and writing, and just putter around the house. I’ll contemplate my life, think about the coming New Year, maybe take care of a few little things here and there, and get the ball rolling this afternoon.
Check the news… read some websites I’ve started following… and not worry about much at all.
And this is actually a slight change for me, since I’ve been a bit anxious over the past few days. Plans didn’t work out, or I got stir crazy, or I forgot to call people I promised to call… A while series of little annoyances set me off, and since all the Christmas activity wore me out more than I expected, the fatigue got the better of me.
But today is different. I’m just kind of hangin’ out. I’ll make those calls I forgot earlier, and I’ll go pick up the neighbor’s mail from their mailbox while they’re out of town for the next few days. Just get myself sorted and situated and settled. Enjoy the day, don’t make a big deal out of stuff… just kind of roll along and listen to some music I love. It’s not every day I get the chance to just chill out, so I’m taking advantage.
Looking back on the last year, I see I’ve spent way too much time worrying about stuff. For sure. It worked itself out, even though I was so focused on individual details — losing sight of the big picture, and getting swamped in minutiae. Maybe it’s just me getting older… maybe it’s looking back with hindsight (not exactly 20/20, but close)… maybe it’s just a shift in my priorities and interests… but I’m a lot less concerned with stuff outside my immediate control, than I used to be.
There’s only so much I can control or influence. I can certainly try, but my abilities are, of course, human, so…
The best thing to do is really take care of myself and figure out how I can make stuff work for myself. The rest of the world will figure itself out. Or it won’t. Either way, my life goes on.
Taking care of the present sounds so formal. It seems common-sense. And I suppose it is. But we live in a non-sensical world, these days, so it’s a lot more difficult than it seems like it should be.
Kick-starting my future is something I do — or don’t do — each day, with every choice I make. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds, and it’s a lot more complicated than it seems.
The thing is, we do this each and every day with the choices we make. We define our lives by our choices, and we further our plans with our actions. It’s not mysterious, it’s not magical. One thing leads to another, then another, then another. And all along the way, we have the chance to change direction, even slightly.
If you’ve ever thrown a ball, you know how wide of the mark you can go, if you alter the angle of your arm just a little bit. The same is true of our lives. One slight change in “angle”, and you can end up in a very different place than you originally intended.
A “little” slip on some stairs… a “minor” bump on the head… and your life can change in that instant. You can find yourself waking up each day, not knowing where you are, exactly, or where you want to go. Or you may wake up each morning wondering why the heck you didn’t get to where you were going the day before.
The brain is an amazing thing, and it’s surprisingly easy to disrupt in life-altering ways. We constantly take it for granted, like electricity or hot-and-cold running water. They’re all supposed to just work, just be there. And when they don’t… when they’re not there, we’re thrown into a state of chaos and confusion that blocks our ability to deal with anything.
The thing is, we tend to get stuck at that place of chaos and confusion. Perhaps because brain injury “rehab” is big business, with plenty of facilities billing plenty of hours to insurance companies, we don’t see a wholesale rush towards figuring out brain injury the way we should have long ago. Too many facilities make their money from people in need of help, rather than getting people back on their feet, never to need them again, so where’s the impetus to properly serve the brain-injured population? There are lot of us, with over a million TBIs added to our numbers, each year in the United States, alone, so I’d expect someone, somewhere to figure out how to end the suffering and teach people how to get back on their feet.
Well, never mind. Because there’s nothing I can do about that. What I can do is share my own experiences for everyone who’s interested in actually doing something about their situation, rather than staying stuck in something that can actually get fixed.
We all need a good dose of reality, when it comes to brain injury. That goes for health care providers, as well as those of us who get hurt. The brain is highly vulnerable. And the ways it’s most likely to get hurt are ways that hit us where it hurts the most — in our executive functioning, in our ability to plan and follow through, in our accustomed patterns that fall apart and plunge us into a steady state of anxiety… which builds up over time and impairs our ability to heal over the long term.
When we understand the true nature of brain injury (and don’t just get caught up in recycled notions that came from investigations done back in the infancy of brain research), we can also see that it is survivable.
We can — and do — recover from brain injury.
No one can take that from us. No one. Not any of the “experts”, not any of the scientists or neuropsychologists or psychiatrists.
The thing is, “recovery” means more than just restoring prior functionality to the injured brain. ‘Cause people, once the connections in your brain are disrupted, they stay that way. You can’t rewire broken connections. But we can — and do — create new connections that may function a little differently, but are still every bit as useful (sometimes more useful) than the old ones. And ironically, in my case, I find that some of my new connections are much, much better than my old ones, because I formed them with more life experience than before.
What we’re recovering is our personhood. Our dignity. Our self-respect. Our individuality. I think the brain injury rehab industry lacks an understanding of how much more important that is, than any level of physical or cognitive processing. People get hurt all the time. We break bones. We get cut up. We get smashed and smooshed and crushed. And then we recover. We may not have full range of use after we heal, but we get on with our lives. We may limp along or not be able to reach over our heads to get stuff or have to stop shoveling our own snow, but that doesn’t keep us from living our lives.
Same thing with brain injury. We may not restore our brains to their former glory, but we can adapt. Losing certain brain functionality is not the problem with TBI recovery. It’s losing our Sense-Of-Self that does a number on us. It’s the panic that sets in when we find ourselves doing things that are “unlike us”. It’s the repeated little shocks of being surprised by one thing after another that didn’t used to surprise us. It’s the gradual disappearance of our friends and family who used to know us as one person, but can’t adjust to the new person we’ve become. That loss of the Self, that erosion of security about who we are… that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome with TBI.
Because if you don’t deal with that, your functional recovery is going to lag. Brain injury recovery is a re-learning process. It’s all about re-training the brain. And if you’re totally stressed out over everything, you can’t learn properly.
It’s that simple. And it’s that complex.
And it doesn’t need to be the big-a** mystery that we make it out to be, because it has to do with the braaaaiiinnnn.
Brain injury recovery is a matter of living your life. Learning to live your life. Teaching yourself how to get on with things, when everything looks different, feels foreign, and doesn’t square with how everything used to be.
It’s about choice. Action. Reaction. Learning. Adapting.
And when we tend to our present, choosing to learn from each and every conscious moment, we move ourselves towards a future of our own making.
As the current year winds down and the new year approaches, I hope you can own that, yourself, and — whether your brain is injured or not — take responsibility for a future you can absolutely positively make up as you go along.
I have been meaning to get more sleep, during this vacation. I’m able to take naps in the afternoon, which is great. I just can’t seem to get to sleep at a decent hour (before 11:00 p.m.) Part of the problem is that I just don’t want to go to sleep earlier than 11:00. I’ve got an internal clock that tells me when it’s time to sleep, and it generally doesn’t kick in till 10:45 or so.
It’s a little nerve-wracking. But I do it to myself, putting all kinds of pressure on myself to go to sleep, when I’m not really feeling that tired. And then getting up at my regular time, which lately has been anywhere between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. So, I’m not always getting a full 7.5 – 8 hours, like I need to. And then I wake up irritated, because I can’t sleep through.
It’s an ongoing problem, especially during this vacation.
Well, my life is structured very differently now than it is when I’m working. I’m still doing my morning exercise, which is crucial. I’m actually doing better with it than usual — getting both my bike ride and the weight lifting done. I just don’t move enough during the day. I move more, when I’m at the office, because, well, I’m at the office. I have to go to meetings. I have to get my lunch on the ground floor. I have to make trips to the water cooler as well as the restroom. It gets me up and around, while being at home — where everything is within easy access and just a few steps away — keeps me sedentary. Heck, I can even work while sitting/lying on the sofa, which sounds great, but is a bit of an occupational hazard.
Anyway, it’s the end of the year, and I’m kind of out of sorts. Feeling like I’m drifting, cut loose from my moorings a bit… feeling like I fell asleep in a rowboat that was tied to a dock, and then I woke up finding myself drifting out in the ocean, with the dock in the distance. The thing is, although the distant docks look familiar, and that’s where I expected to wake up, I can also see other sights in the distance.
Cities I didn’t know existed before.
Distant piers and jetties that look every bit as interesting as what I’ve known before.
Busy industrial ports that hold mysteries within their iron fortresses
And secluded beaches to explore.
Different sorts of places where people live, work, and go about their business, which are both foreign and fascinating to me.
And lighthouses to guide me along the way.
Lights… sights… sounds… And a whole world of choices out there.
When I actually have some time to catch up with myself, I can see so many more possibilities. And it’s invigorating.
But it’s also a little depressing. Because I spend so much of my time in recovery mode, just trying to right myself in the very wrong world, that I don’t have as much time as I’d like to just kick back and relax into finding out What’s Next.
I look around me at my life… And I see so much more beyond my present situation. And I also see that the resources I have at my disposal are, well, limited. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying. I don’t have all the energy in the world, and I don’t have all the patience to match it. I want to cut to the chase and get on with my life, to the best of my ability. And after all these years of really working on my TBI recovery and firming up my Sense-Of-Self, I’m finally at a point where I have a reliable idea of how “I” am going to react and behave under certain circumstances.
That’s the biggest, hairiest, most dangerous part of life after TBI — losing your Sense-Of-Self. It erodes your self-confidence. It crushes your self-respect. It makes every situation into a danger-fraught series of surprises that threaten everything you care about. And then the real trauma of TBI sets in.
I really believe that the biggest trauma in mild traumatic brain injury comes after the injury itself. There’s a steady stream of “micro-traumas” which stress out our systems and add to the fight-flight biochemical load. And unless we learn how to manage our fight-flight overload and learn how to clear out the neurochemical gunk of all that ongoing stress, mild TBI continues to take its toll. It continues to haunt us, to tax us, to load us up with invisible burdens that nobody else understands, but which are very, very real.
If you really understand the physiology of trauma (and not a lot of people know about it, let alone understand and fully appreciate it), and you understand the profound change that even a “mild” TBI brings to your entire system, all of this makes sense. You know that the subtle changes to how your system works are disorienting and anxiety-producing. You know that the body’s mechanisms for protecting itself are working overtime post-TBI, and they’re kicking in, in the most unlikely of situations. You know that the overall effect builds up, and you know that it’s cumulative.
You also know that while the effects may show up as a psychological disorder, the underlying basis is a combination of mind and body — and the body bears the burden of it all.
The thing about this whole deal is, because the body is involved, it’s possible to work with the body to turn that sh*t around. Even if your mind feels like mush (I’ve been there), even if you can’t remember what you did, just a few hours before (I know the feeling well), even if you can’t get through your morning without a detailed checklist (the story of my life for years), the body can act as a gateway to recovery.
Regular exercise helps stabilize your system. Eating the right foods (and steering clear of the wrong ones) helps your metabolism stay stable and keeps you off the blood sugar roller-coaster. Getting enough sleep lets the brain “knit itself back together”, as well as clear out the gunk that builds up, just as a result of everyday living. Plus, learning to regulate your heart rate and your blood pressure can train your overall system to get back to a stable state, even if everything feels like it’s falling apart around you.
I’m sipping the last little bit of my half-cup of coffee, as I write this. The snow from last night is giving way to freezing rain, which will fall until midday, when the temperatures start to rise, and regular rain falls. There’s always a chance that the ice buildup will take out our power, and that’s no fun. But I have wood for a fire in the fireplace, and we’ve been keeping the house pretty warm, so we’ll have some residual heat to see us through. In the past, we’ve had some pretty hair-raising experiences with losing power, and I don’t look forward to repeating them.
But I know a lot more now about keeping my physical system stable, and I’m in a much better place, mentally, than I’ve been in past years. So, I’m at much less risk than before. And knowing that relieves the pressure and also reduces the risk of my “losing it” even moreso. And that’s good. It’s awesome.
So, where was I… I’m kind of meandering, this morning, as I try to get my bearings. I’m looking back at the last year, wondering if all the effort really paid off the way I wanted it to. I’m not sure it has. Some things I started have kind of stalled. And other things I wanted to continue with have floundered, as well. In some ways, I’ve been as diligent as ever. In my day job, for example, I’ve been invested and involved in ways that have actually paid off. When I think of all the other jobs I screwed up since 2004 (and even before that), it’s kind of depressing.
So, I won’t think about them. I’ll focus on the good.
And as I look forward to my future, I see a much simpler — but much more do-able — path ahead. I’ve let go of a lot of old activities that were busy-work I picked up for the sake of pumping up my tonic arousal (the state of wakefulness in your brain) and getting my system turned “ON”. I had a handful of websites I wanted to start, a number of business ventures that seemed promising, apps I wanted to build, and novels I wanted to write. That extended experiment in busy-ness went on for 10 years or so, and it just didn’t work out, so I’ve now narrowed my focus to a few particular activities, which will actually lead somewhere.
Heck, they’ve already started to pay off. And taking the pressure off myself to go find another job… yeah, I’ve let that one go. Yes, traveling for work every few months really takes it out of me, but there’s no guarantee the next job won’t be just as much of a pain in the ass. Plus, it’s too stressful to go changing jobs every few years. I used to thrive on that experience, but now it’s just a pain in the ass. I need to look for the good in things and tweak the things that I’ve got going on… not ditch them and go looking for something better, somewhere else.
So, I guess I’ll wrap up my ramble. My morning is in free-flow, so I’m just letting my mind wander as it will, for the time being. I got my grocery shopping done yesterday. I got my meals for today prepared yesterday, too. I can’t go out and do anything, because the roads are bad. There’s no need to go anywhere, anyway. I’ll just hang out for the day… drift… make a fire, perhaps, and catch up on my reading.
And write a bit more. Because I can. I’ve got the time and the opportunity. So, yeah…
So, it’s Monday, and I have to say I’m relieved. This past weekend was kind of sh*tty, and I didn’t get much of anything done that I had planned, which is a bit of a problem, because I have a lot of things I need to get done, and I had two whole days to do them.
Oh, well. Next…
It’s always interesting, seeing how my best-laid plans turn out. I mean, I had the whole weekend choreographed within an inch of its life, and then Friday I flared out and spent the weekend feeling like crap, fighting with my spouse, recovering, and just trying to feel like an normal person again.
Now it’s Monday, I’m back in the swing of things, and I’m actually feeling better — even though I am still foggy and dull and not nearly as sharp as I’d like to be.
The thing is, during the week, there’s all this energy, all this activity. And on the weekends, there’s not. It’s a massive disconnect, and I think that’s what makes me sick — just not being able to keep moving. My spouse has a lot of issues with my “energy levels” — they say I make them anxious, and I’m “too kinetic”. Yah, well, whatever. Kinetic gets the bills paid, you know?
At the same time, they do have a point — I do push myself too hard at times, and I burn out. That is my doing, and it’s the result of me not taking sufficient breaks and not allowing myself sufficient recovery time to come back from my flurries of activity. I need to do a better job of that, and I’m working on it.
One other piece of the puzzle, though, is how much my spouse has slowed down over the past years. They’re a few years older than me, but they act like they are a LOT older than me. We each have very different ideas about lifespans and quality of life — they are convinced that they’re going to live only a few more years — as long as their parents (who both died years sooner than they should have) — and at the same time, they’re terrified of dying. I, on the other hand, believe I’m going to keep going for decades to come, and my main concern is keeping myself mentally sharp and active and able to be involved in my life for the many coming decades. So, I’m ramping up at the same time my spouse is slowing down.
Total disconnect. It’s pretty tough to see someone so close to you, who has been such an integral part of your life for the past 25 years, just giving in to the hype and giving up hope of anything different happening. They say they don’t want to die, and they say they want to live a long time, but they actually don’t act like it. Actions speak louder than words, and their actions say they’re getting ready to pack it in and pass on. The bitch of it is, at the same time they’re doing less for themself, I’m required to do more.
Yet another reason to keep my strength up and keep fit. I can’t imagine the next 10-20 years with them (if we have that long) is going to be a cakewalk.
Well, anyway, what can you do? I’m just glad the weekend is over, and I can get back to my regular routine, taking care of what needs to be taken care of.
I did my warm-up exercises this morning — some weight lifting and some balance work and some coordination footwork. I’m focusing less on building strength and endurance with extended workouts and focusing more on warming up, feeling good, moving, and getting in the swing of things. Waking myself up, and feeling good at it, too. Just moving. Getting the blood pumping and getting a bit out of breath. Pushing myself a little bit, and then giving myself a chance to recover.
I’ve got my list of things I need to do, and I started on one of them this morning. Having my list makes things so much easier — I don’t have to keep things in my head, and I can put everything in perspective by seeing it all on paper in front of me.
That helps. When I try to do it alone without any tools or props… look out.
Speaking of looking out — the day is waiting. Gotta get a move on and see what the day has to offer.
So, my plan to go for a walk this morning got postponed. I realized that I needed to start work on some important day-job stuff that is due in a couple of weeks, so I dug into that, and three hours later I realized that I wasn’t making the kind of headway I wanted to, so I gave it a rest.
Which was good, because my brain is *fried*. I had an incredibly full day yesterday, with a training I attended in a nearby city. Between the 90-minute drive in, the two-hour training, the urgent errands I needed to take care of while I was there, an introductory phone call to a possible business connection, the two hour drive home, and then dinner with friends out in the country, an hour’s drive from home, and then another hour driving back home, I spent about 5 hours driving, three hours on very mentally taxing stuff, and then even more time talking through some heavy stuff that our friends are trying to navigate — and there was a business/logistical aspect of that, too, which was more mental effort.
Come to think of it… no wonder I was baked, this morning.
So, yeah, my plans for a walk got hijacked by work-work stuff that needed to be started. And the deeper I got into that, the more I realized how much work remains to be done before this massive deadline. And then the panic sets in. And then the frustration starts to mount, and then the wheels start turning about how much I have to do in other areas of my life, and before you know it, my head is going a mile a minute in circles — or rather, it’s headed downhill at top speed, headed for the cliff, with me all caught up inside it.
And the panic starts to set in…
And then I get depressed, and I start to feel so incredibly weighed down by all the burdens of my world, and I begin to feel like there’s no hope, no chance of ever getting or doing better, and why should I even try? Why indeed?
I sat outside for a while, getting some sun and feeling better in some ways. My balance is WAY off, today — with so much activity, I’m jammed in high gear, which wears me out and makes my vertigo zoom to the outer regions of charts. I can’t spell, I can’t type, I can’t hold a pen, I can’t dial a phone, I can’t keep my balance unless I’m moving in a specific direction at a high speed, or I’m holding onto something… and I feel like CRAP.
After a while of hanging around outside getting some sun, eating some lunch, feeling like crap, and then getting bit by mosquitos, attacked by biting flies, and stung by a wasp (my bad – I walked near its nest), I finally had enough, so I took a hot shower and went to bed. I just sank into the oblivion of silent darkness, with my earplugs in and my light-blocking curtains pulled tight. I had the air conditioner on to put a chill in the air, because I sleep better when I’m not hot, and I just let it all go. After I had an hour’s rest, I went out for my walk, got my head together, and came back home to make dinner.
All I can say is, thank heavens for that nap.
This is my new thing — closing my eyes and just letting it all go… letting go of any thoughts, any tension, any ideas, any hopes, any dreams, any aspirations, any anxiety, any nervousness, any plans… just proverbially taking 1000 mg of Fukitol and dropping off the edge of the cliff to oblivion. Just saying “screw it” to everything — the good and the bad, the positive and the negative — and letting myself sink into complete darkness.
I mean, frankly, sometimes the “good” stuff is a bigger hassle than the “bad”. So many hopes, so many aspirations, so many interdependencies, so many people “rooting for me” and all that. Things were so much easier when I was a chronic under-achiever who spent their weekends hanging out, lying around on the back porch, sleeping in the sun, going for long walks in the woods, and being satisfied with a decent meal. Okay, so I was on a perpetual roller coaster and my moods were insane, and I was always on edge about something, so it wasn’t all hunky-dory. But thinking back, I can’t say it was a terrible thing, to live like nothing hung in the balance with my decisions.
Now things are very different. I own a house. I have several projects which are high profile and have a lot of people depending on them. I do a job that only I can do. And I’m the sole breadwinner for my household. Ugh. Days like today, I truly wish I didn’t matter at all.
But you know, when I think about it, the fact of the matter is, I really don’t matter that much at all. Yes, I have my hopes and dreams and the things I want to accomplish. Yes, I have my friends and associates and dependents. Yes, I have my work and goals and “deliverables”. But in another hundred years, it may very well be as though I never even existed. All the drama, all the worry, all the ambitions… in time, they all disappear and dissipate into the ethers. And what have we got to show for it? Nada. Zip. Zilch. We’re gone. And the memory of us is not far behind.
I know a lot of people who are horrified by that prospect. They want to be remembered. They want to be memorialized. They hope and hope to become a cherished memory in the minds of others.
Why? What difference does it make? Our “legacies” are never what we intend them to be, and we invest all this time and effort in “leaving our mark”, when the best thing we could probably do for posterity, is to leave no mark at all — just let them live their lives as best they can without the intrusion of our “legacy”. All that talk and fluffernutter about “creating change”… please. It seems to me it’s just a convenient way for us to distract ourselves from our existential anxiety — the simple fact that one day we will not be here anymore, and nobody will ever notice we were ever here.
I think about mortality a lot, this time of year. The leaves are starting to turn and fall, and things that were so alive during the spring and summer are starting to die off. Worms and snakes are crawling out onto warm road surfaces to keep out of the cold, and they’re either drying up or getting run over by cars. Among the larger mammals, the older, slower ones and unwary members of the new generation are getting hit by cars and dying by the side of the road.
Crops are being brought in and fields are being mowed for perhaps the last time of the growing season. Summer is ending. In another week, it will be official (work-wise, anyway). And we will launch into our busy-ness driven flight from our existential angst through to the holidays.
Yep, I’m a little depressed, these days. I always get this way around this time of year. Another year has passed. Another batch of hopes and dreams unrealized. Another year of laboring to feed the gods, without a heck of a lot to show for it. Just survival.
On the brighter side, though, in 2014, I am on track to have several large outstanding debts repaid – which will save me close to $700 a month. That’s not small potatoes, and it’s going to be pretty friggin’ awesome to have it all squared away. The first of the problem debts, which is close to $450/month, will be repaid in January of 2014 — sooner, if I can rustle up a couple of thousand bucks, which might be doable, depending. The second of the problem debts will probably take the full year to lay to rest, but I might be able to get that squared away sooner, especially if I can find a better job that pays me well.
In any case, there is a light at the end of that horrible tunnel. And the difference an “extra” $450/month can make, is nothing to sneeze at.
Looking back, I can be pretty proud of myself, having kept it together as long as I have, under these conditions. For three years, I was shelling out about $1500/month for debt settlement payments, which cut very deep and put tremendous stress on my spouse and myself. Yes, I do realize that that’s more than some people bring home in a month. Hell yes, I realize it. It was a direct result of me losing a good job, thanks to a mild TBI in 2004, and then living off credit cards for years, before it all caught up with us, and we had to choose either trashing our credit to bits and settling our debts at a great rate of about 40 cents on the dollar, or living in a perpetual cycle of indentured servitude and avoiding credit card companies calling every other week. We took a gamble and made the tough choice and went down the debt settlement road. When it was happening, it was hell. But now that it’s going to be over in another year’s time, it was so worth all the pain and suffering and threatening calls and hair-raising visits to claims court.
We have been seriously strapped for years. All sorts of things fell by the wayside, including vacations, new clothing, car repairs, dentist visits… you name it, if it could be cut or postponed, it got cut or postponed. Now we’re settling up and leveling everything out, and it feels pretty friggin’ awesome. So, that’s good. It’s something to be happy about, in the midst of my autumn depression.
So, I look for what I can, and I do the best with what I’ve got. If I’m feeling down, I’m feeling down. There it is. I can still keep on with my life, not give up, but stay steady and keep my eyes on the prize of finally being DONE with things I detest and hate. And I can spend a little time thinking about where I want to be and go instead. There are a lot of possibilities for me. I just need to not get overwhelmed.
But in the case I do get overwhelmed, I can always go to bed.
For some reason, there’s a part of me that thinks I’ll be able to soldier through this TBI stuff and come out on the other side, issue-free.
Like I won’t have any more sensitivity to noise or light when I’m tired.
Like I won’t feel like going off the deep end, when I get overwhelmed and fee cornered.
Like I will finally feel rested and be able to live each day with an abundance of energy.
Like I will feel like my old self again.
Broken record me – it’s not happening.
But check this out – that doesn’t so much matter.
I mean, it does matter that I generally feel like crap on any given day, that I feel like I’ve been dragged behind a bus, at any given moment, and I feel like I’m going to just drop from exhaustion and overwhelm at the least expected times. That’s no friggin’ fun, for sure.
But the main thing is — these things don’t have to ruin my life. Sure, its unpleasant. Sure, it’s troubling. Sure, it’s a hassle to deal with. But just because it affects me, doesn’t mean it has to affect others, make them miserable too, and ruin my chances of being able to do something worthwhile in the world.
I can live and do the things I need to do, regardless of how shitty I feel.
And if I can’t get these issues to go away, I can at least keep them from ruining everyone’s day.
Okay, time to rewind a bit… my memory has been really failing me a lot, lately — moreso than usual — and I’ve been noticing it a lot more than usual. I don’t know if it’s because I have been more forgetful, or I’m just more aware of it. I suspect it’s because I’m more aware. At the same time, though, I have been misplacing things a lot — things I need to not misplace. My notebook with all my recent notes and tasks in it, for example.
On the other hand, my memory has been improving in other ways — I can remember short sequences of numbers and letters better than before. I’ve been practicing, so I think that’s been helping.
But this morning — for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t remember if I’d washed my hair while I was taking my shower. I washed my hair again, for good measure — then remembered that I already had.
So, I need to get back to the tools I’ve used before, to keep me on track. I’ve gone back to using a paper-based datebook, rather than my smartphone, for keeping track of things. I’ve been “winging it” for the past year or so, with just a smartphone to keep myself in line, and I don’t think it’s helped my memory. I also don’t like being dependent on an electronic device. I need to start keeping my notes in a notebook where I can see them and track them. I let a LOT of stuff slide over the past year, because things sucked at work, and I just didn’t give a damn. Now things are changing at work, and suddenly I feel like I can afford to give a damn again.
That’s nice. But it also means I have to step up my game and get myself back on track.
Which I will.
I need to not be complacent, not sit life out and say, “It’s out of my hands, so screw it.” I need to get involved in my own life again – and so I shall.
Keep track of things I’ve done, the things I need to do, the things I haven’t gotten done yet.
And just do the things I set out to do.
It’s not terribly difficult, if I think about it — it just takes a certain sort of technique, which I once had. I’ve done it before, so I need to do it again.
First step of the day (after posting this): Find the notebook I got for this year, and write down the things I need to do, that I had written in the old notebook that I lost over the weekend. And get on with living my life again, like it’s really mine.
This Thanksgiving has been a good one. It’s been a whirlwind tour, and it’s been completely exhausting, but I have held up remarkably well, I’ve taken good care of myself, and I haven’t had any terrible breakdowns, as in years past.
So, for that I am very thankful.
I got to see family members who live far from me. Got to reconnect, had some good times playing games and visiting. There’s a lot about this that makes me sad and angry and upset, but when I am rested, I can handle it.
So, I’m handling it.
I’ve been taking regular naps — yesterday I didn’t get one, but that’s okay. I’ve also been pacing myself and making sure I step away on a regular basis. I don’t feel the need to force myself into the fray constantly. And the old pressure to pack as much visiting in as humanly possible, has given way to common sense and a better pace.
I’m pretty well exhausted from it all, but I’m doing my breathing exercises, and I’m getting regular brisk morning walks up a very large hill, which is helping a great deal.
I’m headed home this afternoon, and I’m looking forward to having my life back – in my own home, with my own food, my own bed, my own schedule, in my own way.
Well, I’m tired. Really, really tired. But the project got launched yesterday, and with it another big deadline moves into my rear-view mirror. And now the way looks clear ahead.
We still have a few things to clean up, but the lion’s share of the work is done. And I can move on.
In spite of the stress and fatigue and the pain I’ve been having lately, I feel great. I feel like I’m all in one piece, like my life is finally together. And even the leftover pieces that are a little out of whack, don’t crush me like they often do. I am in pretty tough straits, financially. I barely have enough money to make ends meet, and I don’t live extravagantly. I am having trouble getting my projects done at work. And my commute is about to double (and with it, my travel costs). I haven’t been sleeping well, and I’ve been having more and more pain. I’m also gaining weight, which doesn’t feel healthy. But at the same time, I’m really feeling good. All these situations, I can see, are temporary. And they don’t define who I am or what I’m worth. I have this underlying foundation of … well, wholeness, that gives me strength to go on.
Some of my friends who are very religious will tell me it’s God working my life. That could be. I don’t count that possibility out. Others of my friends who are more secular would say I’m “in the zone”. And that applies as well. Others would say I’ve reached a highly desirable state of equanimity. I say, I just feel really good. Solid. Like I’ve finally gotten myself on an even keel.
I think a key to this new development has been a regular routine, and also practicing my breathing. I’m actively developing a routine I can follow each day — I’ve followed a morning routine for some time, now, which has helped me to start my days much better. And now I feel even more strongly that a routine is useful for me. It helps me get my mind off the little details of everyday stuff, that I can just do rote, and it leaves me time to rest my brain and also think about things that are more interesting than what order to eat my breakfast in.
I’ve also been taking time to sit and do my coherent breathing in the mornings and again at night. I don’t always succeed at clearing my mind of distractions, but some days I do really well. I’m sure that there are people out there who have lots of input and ideas about what happens to our minds, hearts, and spirits, when we sit silently and breathe. I am very interested in what happens to the body — as the starting point for so much of what happens in my mind, heart, and spirit.
I’ve noticed that when I sit a certain way — as has been suggested — holding my back straight, with my chin a little lowered (reaching the top of my head towards the sky), with my hands resting comfortably in front of me, I get this really cool tingling sensation in my face and arms and hands. A friend of mine who had a stroke several years ago gets very spooked by any sensation of tingling in their hands or body. It means — to them — that they’re in trouble. But for me, it means that my spine is in alignment and my brain and spine are communicating more freely with the rest of my body, which can’t be bad, right?
I also find that when I am sitting, I often lean forward a little bit. I can’t even tell that I”m doing that, unless I pay close attention to my posture. All of a sudden, I’ll notice that I’m leaning forward, and I’ll have to consciously get myself to sit up straight.
I’ve also noticed that if I pay attention to the tingling sensations, I can tell when I’m out of alignment. So, I can sit up straighter and get back in alignment. That gives me something to focus on, that gets my mind off the coming day — or the day just now behind me.
I don’t sit for a long-long time. Just about 10 minutes. Sometimes longer, sometimes less. But the important thing is, I sit. And breathe. And it gets me off to a good start.
I think I really need to do better about keeping my mind quiet, while I’m doing this. Today was pretty difficult. I think all the excitement of the all-day launch yesterday had an effect. And I’m tired, too. When I’m tired, it’s hard for me to focus — even on the breath. I think that’s the neurologically induced constant restlessness I’ve been told about — my brain is fatigued, so it just keeps racing and racing and racing. I do think that I can do something about this and learn to calm down my brain activity so I can not be so out of whack. I just need to keep that mission in mind, when I sit down.
Mission… yes. It’s a mission, for sure. To chill and learn to master the craziness that can run me, at times. Starting small, with working with my breath and the behavior of my mind, is a start.
The nice thing is, by the time all is said and done, even if I haven’t been that good at keeping focused and chill during my sitting and breathing time, I still get up feeling great. What an awesome way to start the day. And even if there’s nothing else that I gain from this practice, that alone is enough.
I didn’t want to exercise, when I got up this morning.
But I did it anyway.
I was feeling “gunked up” and sluggish and I have a lot to do. I didn’t want to spend the first half hour of my day riding the bike and lifting my 5 lb weights.
But I did it anyway.
And I’m glad I did.
I would like to say that I was able to follow through with my morning routine because I realize it is good for me, and I look forward to doing it every single day. But that would be untrue. Fact of the matter is, I’ve built this routine into my daily schedule so completely, that to veer from it or deviate in any way causes me intense anxiety. Its not so much high-minded intentions and enlightenment that gets me on the bike and stretching and lifting weights, first thing. Its the sheer force of a strictly enforced habit.
A friend of mine tells me it takes six weeks for a habit to form. Well, I’ve been at this morning routine for nearly six months, and its so ingrained in me that doing something different is not a prospect I relish. I have a tendency to intense anxiety and nervousness — and I use that to my benefit, by creating positive, constructive structures which cause me intense anxiety if I deviate from them.
If you can’t get rid of your neuroses, you might as well put them to work for you. That’s what I did this morning. And I’m glad I did.
‘Cause now I feel a whole lot better. My sinuses have cleared, my body feels more awake, and I’m mentally much clearer.
Clear is good. I have a lot to get done today. It’s Sunday, and part of me feels like I should be taking it easy, as I had such a rough and long week, last week. But if I work this right and play my cards right, I can actually settle into what I’m doing and take it easy while I’m doing it.
Easy does it, say friends of mine. After hearing them say this for 20 years, it’s starting to sink in.
About time 😉
Anyway, this morning I realized I’ve run out of my pre-printed daily tracking forms, and I had to go back to writing things out by hand on scrap paper on my clipboard. In a way, I like this better. I’ve recently realized that the more stressed I am, the worse my handwriting is, so I can use that as a measure of how tweaked I am over things. Since being tweaked over things sets in motion a whole bunch of complications that set me off-track — I start to load up all sorts of extra activities on myself that do not need to be done — I’ve realized that I can gauge how well or how poorly I am doing, in general — and how well or how poorly I am likely to do through the course of the coming day — by my handwriting.
Having a pre-printed form with lines on it that keeps me neat and tidy is actually a short-cut that keeps me from having to really focus in on my handwriting. It’s also a little bit of a crutch for me, as it structures my day for me and tells me what I’m supposed to do — and when. I’ve been very much in need of that kind of structure, for the past decades, and I’ve suffered with out it. Stuff just didn’t get done. It just didn’t. Important stuff. Stuff that I’m now paying the consequences of not finishing. And a lot of stuff got started and commitments got made that had no business ending up on my plate. Not having that structure, not having a consistent way to go about things, was — well — in some cases small-scale catastrophic.
But in the past couple of years, since I realized what havoc mTBI has played in my life, I have done a really focused and intensive job of ordering my life in a much more constructive way. I’ve created routines for myself specifically to strengthen and support the parts of me that need help. I’ve taken myself to task for lots of things that I messed up for no good reason, and I’ve taken steps to remedy them. I’ve really stepped up in many, many aspects of my life that used to either languish or fall by the wayside. And I’ve made tremendous strides in the past 18 months — largely because I suddenly realized that I had problems, and those problems needed to be solved.
Now I find myself not only able to follow through with the required activities I set for myself each day, but I’m also better able to manage the optional ones. I’m also better at distinguishing which ones matter and which ones are wishful. I am better and not packing my plate full of things that “must” be done, and I’m better at deciding which ones are energy drains and not contributing to my overall progress.
It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally starting to come together. And a key part of all of this has been the force of habit. Identifying what I’m going to do, and doing it religiously, each and every day without fail. The things that are important to me — like exercising — I do every single day. Without fail. At the same time, each and every day. Without fail. And it’s the daily aspect of it that I think really makes a difference.
Now, a lot of people say that you don’t have to exercise every single day, in order to get benefits. Well, I tried that, and in my case, if I don’t do my exercises each and every day, I end up forgetting about them, doing other things, and not doing them even once a week. Trust me – I’ve tried to do the “half-way” fitness routine, and it doesn’t work. So, I broke the cardinal rule of fitness and I do my workout every single morning.
No, I do not give myself time to “rest” between daily workouts. I do not give my body time to “catch up”. But I also don’t push myself really hard every single day that I exercise. Some days, I’ll put a little more into bike ride, pushing myself to work up a sweat. Or I’ll focus on more weights with my lifting, so I feel a little sore the next day. But I don’t give myself time off, because by this time exercise has become like any other daily activity — like eating a meal or sleeping. It’s just part of my daily routine. It’s just part of my life.
Force of habit to the rescue.
And now that I’ve got the exercise thing down — which still takes discipline and determination, some days, like today — I can extend that into other areas of my life. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I want my life to be like, on down the line, and I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what parts of my life now are contributing to making that a reality later. I’ve come to the realization that my neurological and physiological issues may never go away and I’m going to have to factor them in at every turn, but I’ve also proven to myself that I am capable of positive change, and if I follow certain steps and do so consistently, I can — and will — make the kinds of changes I need in my life.
I may not be able to get back the years and the money and the relationships which fell prey to my injury, but I can work towards building something new for myself which is a reflection of what capabilities I have, and what my character truly is.
Ultimately, for me, the real power of the force of habit is about it relieving me of the need to think through every single action I take. Developing good habits frees up valuable time and energy I would otherwise be spending considering the pros and cons of what I’m doing, getting my head around the reasons why I’m doing them, and convincing myself they’re worthwhile. Developing rock-solid habits around good activities and behaviors enables me to focus on the important stuff — the actual doing of the activities, not the constant thinking about them. Developing positive habits frees me from analysis paralysis, and it acts as a kind of artificial executive function that keeps things running smoothly, even as the thinking parts of me are noodling about how to go about things.
Set-in-stone habits take care of the What and Why, so I can focus on the How.
And that’s a good thing.
So, that being said, it’s time to come up with some more habits. It’s time to create some more structure around what I absolutely positively need to do, in order to get where I’m going. This morning I created my daily planning list without the benefit of a pre-printed form. And my day is progressing really well anyway.