How things change

Getting it all sorted out
Getting it all sorted out

I’m cleaning up my home office, getting rid of a whole lot of junk stuff I have collected over the years.

To be fair, it’s not actually “junk” — it’s just leftovers from years gone by, which are no longer needed. I used to need these things. Or, in some cases, I thought I was going to need them, but it turned out, I didn’t. Lots of scrap paper… lots of cardboard I used to use for packing, when I was sending things to people. Lots of old equipment that needs to go to “technology heaven”.

And look… there’s the coupon for $10 off my next $50 spent at the hardware store. It’s good for another 3 days. That will come in handy — especially if I actually make it to the hardware store this weekend. I should. I have a number of things I need to pick up, and my garage needs to be cleaned out for the impending fall. Right now, it’s got too much stuff — and junk — taking up the space that my car should fill.

I’m feeling a little frustrated, right now. A lot of what I’m finding is a reminder of how much I have had to let go of. Or all the things that I had such hopes for, and never managed to make happen. I was really convinced, for so many years, that I was going to make all these dreams come true. But I never reckoned with the reality of fatigue, confusion, frustrations, and the constant toll that TBI-related stress and distraction takes on a person, day after day after day.

A number of objects in my office are from my spouse, and looking at them all, seeing how many things I’ve been given, which don’t actually suit my personality… or seeing how many of them were given to me in good faith (which I never followed through on)… that’s a little depressing, too. It’s a little disconcerting to have so many reminders that your significant other has never really understood you — and probably never will.

Then again, who ever really understands anyone? And in the midst of the sorting, I find one reminder after another of our bond — birthday cards, Valentine’s Day cards, little notes left for me that say “I love you!”… that’s really what matters. Everything else seems a best guess to me, anyway.

And I realize I am at a significant juncture in my life. I’m finally at a place, where I can relax and settle into my work, because it suits me, all across the board. For decades, I was not committed to my “day job” other than as a way to make a living and pay for the expenses of everyday life. I wasn’t invested in the least. I mean, it was hard to feel invested about anything in technology, back when the Web was first starting up. Nobody knew how it was going to go, if it would last, if it was “a thing”. It took many years for that to be proven, and now it’s a given.

And now, after so many years of work and pioneering and opening the frontier, the world I helped to create — as one tiny cog in a massive machine that has an intelligence all its own — I finally feel invested in it all. Because I connected with a company that’s invested in me. It really is remarkable, after so many years of being treated like I’m disposable, expendable, interchangeable. Like I didn’t matter, and nobody cared. The people around me cared, sure, but at the management level, it was all too Darwinian and it wasn’t at all conducive to getting the best performance out of the people who were committed to doing the work.

They didn’t even seem to realize that we were committed to doing the work. They just treated us like we showed up each day to earn a paycheck, and that was it. Eventually, no matter how much more it may all mean to you, if you’re treated that way, day in and day out, you can end up slipping into that mindset, yourself.

What a waste.

And for years — decades, really — my life was driven by a profound need to be more than just a cog in the machine, a plug in a hole that would have leaked if it weren’t plugged. I spent so, so many hours trying to fill that void left by my day job, seeking with every fiber and ounce to actually express myself in a way that made me “me”. It was a constant struggle to prove my identity, to prove my worth, to know that I was more than what I was treated like, day in and day out.

I wanted more, I needed more. I had to have it.

So, I created it myself. I carved out a niche for myself in my own life with constant work, constant writing, constant creation. I volunteered. I got involved in groups. I had an active life outside work, and I crammed a whole lot of stuff into it.

And for years, that worked. It just felt normal and right and free. As long as I was free, that’s all that mattered to me.

But then I fell and hit my head. And the freedom went away. It just seemed to evaporate overnight, and everything that had felt smooth and sensical, just turned into mush. I lost my spark. I lost the joy. I lost the passion that comes from within — it was replaced by a manic stress response that was fueled by pure adrenaline that came from post-traumatic stress, life-and-death choices, a long series of bad decisions that either trashed or threatened to destroy so much that I had worked so hard for.

The energy and passion I’d had before, which was always accompanied by hope, was replaced by rage and fear and anxiety. On the surface, it looked like I was still engaged and energetic, but inside I was a tangled mass of nerves.

Big difference from before. My fuel was not hope, but desperation. Confusion. Frustration. And the need to have enough stress in my life to keep my attention focused on what was in front of me.

The last 10 years have been a chaotic blur. A blur, because everything has seemed to happen so fast – and yet so slowly – and chaotic, because I could not figure out what was going on inside my head and outside of it, too. So much confusion. So much dancing on the edge of disaster — often without realizing it. So many poor decisions, so many knee-jerk reactions that cost me so much. Since 2004, I had 11 different positions – more, if you count changing roles within organizations. That’s more than one job change a year – I hopped from one position the next four times in about a year, back in 2008, without knowing why. Part of it was just bad decision-making, part of it was anxiety, part of it was not being able to function and needing to “skip town” before people found out how incompetent I was at the job I’d signed up for.

In the meantime, there were the marital troubles, the money shortage, the creditors knocking down my door and blowing up my cell phone, the logistical troubles, the health problems and cognitive decline of my spouse… Yeah, it’s been a wild ride.

And looking around me at my office, I see so many relics of the years before 2004, when everything seemed so simple and straightforward, and I was content to be living as I was. Back when my spouse was still healthy and working. Back when I was good with where I was, and everything just progressed and unfolded without concern for the future. Back before everything started to fall apart.

I’m cleaning up, now. I’m getting rid of the old stuff that I no longer want or need. And I’m saving what I can still use. The post-it notes that were given to me at a past job, when the company changed its branding and they had all these extra supplies to get rid of. The paper clips and butterfly clips. The pens I can still use. The notes I made, some time ago, about ideas that still interest me. Much of this I can still use.

But in a very different frame of mind. A relaxed frame of mind. A state of mind that makes it possible for me to settle in and concentrate — and not worry constantly about the outcome. A frame of mind that  have not had in so many years. It’s more than relaxed. It’s at ease.

Finally, I can settle in and just enjoy my life again.

Not that things are completely event-less. Lately, there have been unfortunate losses in my family, a bunch of my friends lost their jobs, and things are not hunky-dory, all across the board. But my frame of mind is very different, now. And while I don’t much care for the tragedy, I can handle it without going off the deep end. I can walk through the crises without letting them wreck me, too. Whatever happens now, I feel as though I’m up to the challenge.

I know how to think things through.

I know how to break things down and take my time and work through them from start to finish.

I used to have that ability, years ago, then it went away. Now, ten years later, it’s back.

And that makes all the difference.

So, the day is waiting.

Onward.

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Adversity is my friend, this week

Up and over

This has been an extraordinarily challenging week. Thursday and Friday, especially. All sorts of stuff “blew up” at work — most of the drama being emotional.

Hm. I know all about that. Over the years of struggling with unexpected behaviors and results after my fall and mild TBI in 2004, I’ve had more than my fair share of meltdowns, freak-outs, blow-ups, and countless hours of feeling like a miserable piece o’ sh*t for long stretches of time.

The positive outcome of all this (now that I’ve learned how to modulate my inner state – which, I can tell you, has not been easy) is that I am much less thrown off by intensity and seemingly impossible situations. I’ve already been to the depths of that pit, and I know how to pull myself out of it.

And in the process, I can pull others out of their tailspins, as well. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of days — keeping a cool head, so I could do a “knowledge transfer” from someone who was leaving the company — and was the very last person in their group to leave, effectively taking all the resident expertise with them.

{insert big sad face emoticon here}

Anyway, everyone has been pulling a “nutty” and freaking out — yelling at each other, slamming their hands on desks, and spinning in circles — because a few key people in management didn’t put two and two together, and they got caught out with a big massive gaping hole in their staff.

Ooops.

Oh, well.

So, I got pulled into the mix, because I actually have years of experience doing the sort of thing the departing individual did on a daily basis. I used to do it everyday, in fact, and it surprised me that nobody reached out to me to loop me in.

Of course, I was all booked up with another massive project that has been nearly going off the rails, on and off, for the past few months — in no small part because management is making decisions that negatively impact the lot of us, without so much as an explanation why, or providing any sort of support for our transitions.

Oh, well.

Anyway, the good news is that I’m a contractor, so no matter what goes down, I still get paid, and this sh*tstorm can’t hurt my future prospects. All it’s done is given me opportunity to get involved in the kind of work I’ve been wanting to do for some time, now, but haven’t been able to.

Plus, I figured out how to automate a seriously drudge-work task yesterday, and I’m working today on programming a tool that will save the sanity of many people to come after me.

So yes, this is not so bad, after all. I get to step up and save the day, I get to be the hero, and I get to expand my skillset — in a practical professional manner, in a way that goes right on my resume (woo hoo). This just makes me stronger, in the long run, because it shows that I can rise to the occasion and keep my cool in the midst of a mess… and come out with a solution that works for everyone.

And to be perfectly honest, if I hadn’t spent years in the pit of despair, not knowing how to pull myself out, stuck in my fight-flight sympathetic nervous system overload “soup”, I wouldn’t be able to keep calm, right now. I have developed some serious skills over the years, at handling these sorts of experiences, with varying degrees of success. And actually, nothing that has happened to me over the past few days has come anywhere near close to the level of distress, panic, anxiety, and meltdown that I used to experience on a regular basis.

Compared to the emotional upheaval I used to marinate in on a regular basis, this is relatively minor.

Which just makes me look good. Calm in the midst of the storm. So much calm, in fact, that I’m going to build a little app that will offload a sh*t-ton of manual drudge-work from the hapless soul who has to do it in the future.

So there.

I’m pretty wiped out from the past few days, but I’m energized by the programming I’m going to get to do, and it’s all good. Just have to pace myself and catch up on my sleep.

For sure.

Onward.

 

This is not a drill – maybe

My last remaining grandparent may be dying. They’re over 100 years old, and I am making the daylong trip to my family several states away, to hopefully see them before they pass. They’ve been close to the edge several times over the past few months, but this time seems different. I hope we get there in time.

It’s always a struggle, figuring out what the right thing to do is – we can’t just pick up and go whenever something seems amiss. Because things seem amiss pretty frequently, and then they level out. It’s not a short trip to my family. And I have limited energy and time. Also, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid, so taking time off is very, very expensive.

But this trip looks like it’s going to be necessary. This might be “it” for my grandparent, and I would like to get there in time to say good-bye and “thank you” for everything.

I really owe a tremendous debt to them – they set such a strong example about how to live a good life, and they overcame so many huge odds to really have a life worth living. If anyone has showed me how to stand up straight in a crisis and hold your own, how to be compassionate towards others who are different from you, and how to just love and accept people and the world for who they are (while never giving up hope that things could be better), it’s them. They also taught me the importance of staying curious, staying interested, and always learning-learning-learning about the world and the way life works.

In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I have them to thank for my being here. Obviously, if they had not had kids, then I would not have come into the world. But beyond just making my birth possible, they showed me what it means to persevere and prevail and correct your poor choices whenever you can. I never wanted to disappoint them — even though I often did. So, that pushed me to really step up and challenge myself in so many different ways.

I’ll be leaving in about 4 hours – I have a lot to get together before I leave. I have to check in with work to let them know what’s happening and to get coverage for my projects, I have to pack clothing, get the car inspected (in addition to forgetting to pay my mortgage, I forgot to get both cars inspected, this past summer, so I’ve been driving around with not one but two overdue inspection stickers), run to the bank, get some food for the road, and take care of some odds and ends that are due in the next couple of days. I don’t know how long I’m going to be away – it could be a few days, or it could be a week, but I’ve got clearance from work to stay as long as I need to.

I’m putting my list together now, to see what all I need to do. I’ve been tired lately, and I’m really distracted, so my sequencing is off this morning. I’m doing things backwards, forgetting to do important things (like make my coffee in the proper order), and I have to triple-check everything. Like packing clothes. If I stay longer than a few days, I was thinking I will need all my work clothes with me, and I was going to load them into a garment bag to take with me. Untrue. If I stay, I will be at my parents’ house, and I will not need work clothing at all. I just need one set of dress clothes, in case the funeral happens. I will need casual clothes for the everyday — just to get around and look halfway respectable.

The main thing is taking the right computers with me — my personal laptop as well as my work laptop. Also, I need to remember my camera. I don’t have a smartphone, and my spouse loves to take pictures. And my sunglasses. I can’t forget them. I’ll never make it without.  And taking all the crap out of the traveling car, rearranging everything in it for the ride. And packing an extra set of sheets, in case the people we’re staying with use scented laundry detergent we are allergic to. And putting the mail on hold. Just getting everything together.

I have my main list of things to do. Not getting too granular with it is a big change for me. I used to make long lists of everything that could possibly be covered, and I would get so caught up in making the lists, that I would lose track of where I was and have to abandon my plans half-way through. I would also forget important things and wear myself out, trying to juggle everything that didn’t even need juggling.

Now things are very different, and I’m feeling pretty calm and systematic about my planning. I am tired, I know, and my memory and attention are a little sub-par, these days. But I’m taking steps to offset that, using the tools I have to keep steady and stay on track.

I really hate these kinds of situations. I have been through a lot of them in the past with my spouse. There’s been a lot of illness and struggle in both sides of our family over the 24 years we’ve been together, and we’ve spent more time than I care to think about in hospitals, waiting to hear news.

A part of me is selfishly feeling like it’s not fair that I have to leave my cushy new job situation, while it has that “new car smell” to go participate in unavoidable grief and sadness. I am finally getting into a groove at work, and now this happens. I have had a really challenging last few weeks, and no sooner do I feel like I’m settling in and getting things sorted, than I have to pick up and dash off to the kind of drama that I just hate. I stay away from my family because of all the drama. It’s just too much, and I’m feeling too tired to really deal well with this. Times like these are when I can get hurt.

Again.

But like I said, that’s me being selfish and not seeing the bigger picture. We need to extend ourselves for others and step up. That’s what makes our lives worthwhile and more than just an exercise in self-serving pettiness. That’s what my grandparent would have done.

My head is in a whirl, right now. I don’t like death, and I don’t like racing the clock. But here we are…

So, onward.

Time for something different…

Different worlds in different minds

It’s pretty amazing when I look around me, these days. On one hand, I know people who are intently focused on the terrible things that are happening in the world. On the other hand, I have friends who flatly refuse to engage in any kind of discussion unless it’s positive and uplifting. I know people who are actively protesting against things going on in the world, and I know people who are fighting with all their might to hang onto the way things are and have “always” been.

To look at each of these groups of people, you’d think the world was in a completely different state — that they’re living in a bunch of entirely different and separate planets.

Yet, we’re all here. That’s the one thing they all have in common. Oh, one other thing – they are all pretty much convinced that their way is the ONLY way to look at things.

Personally, I could use a change. These different worlds certainly exist, but they’re not the only worlds that are available to us. And we’re free to shift in and out of our perceptions at will.

We can literally make (and re-make the world in any way we choose).

So, that’s where I’m taking myself today… and tomorrow, too. All this stuff going on at work… what-ever. All the stuff going on in the world… there’s something more to it than meets the eye, and who am I to judge, really. Certainly, I don’t want to stand by while people suffer needlessly, but I also need to be smart about how thin I spread myself, and see where I can make a real difference, and where I’d just be pissing in the wind.

The places where I can make a difference, are in my personal relationships with people, my personal relationships with myself. Doing no intentional harm to others, and being considerate to others, even when they are inconsiderate to me.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt. Approaching people with generosity and compassion, even when they really do seem to be assholes and either not know or give a damn about how they are behaving in the world.

If I stay stuck in my resentments and accusatory nature, if I take up permanent residence surrounded by my criticisms and issues, then whom does that help? My own version of how things are may be very different indeed from the fact of the matter, so it’s best I take my own rantings with a grain of salt. And not get too worked up over them. Tempests in teacups never got anyone anywhere.

Yeah, it’s time for something different. Something better. What can I do today that will get me into a better space and help me live my life, instead of fight it all the way?

Hmmm… let’s see…

Because rust never sleeps

 

Tea catastrophe averted

 

I got a good lesson this morning. I managed to sleep in  till 8:15, with my earplugs firmly wedged in my ears and extra curtains pulled across the windows to block out the light. Even the birds that fill the trees around my house, clamoring for attention from each other and battling for position at the bird feeder first thing in the morning didn’t wake me up, as they often do, ’round about 6 a.m.

I’ve been feeling progressively more under the weather over the past few days, with my balance getting worse and worse and the headache starting up again. Work has been really good – very rewarding and satisfying. But it’s taken a toll, and when I got up this morning — without doing my usual breathing exercise (I did that at 4 a.m. when I was trying to get back to sleep) — I was feeling wobbly and out of it. I had to lean against the walls as I walked to the bathroom, and while I brushed my teeth, I had to prop myself up with one hand firmly on the sink counter.

I managed to get downstairs in one piece, and I made my breakfast slowly, deliberately. I took my time with it, taking care to not move too quickly and put myself off balance. In the past, when I was still dealing with the early years after my last injury, being off balance would send me into a panic and it would throw me off for the whole day, even before the day began. But since I’ve been making important changes in my daily life — including regular exercise — the panic has subsided considerably, and I’ve learned how to handle the sense of teetering on the edge of collapse without having my psyche collapse, too.

And that’s important.

So, anyway, after I had my breakfast, I decided to spend my day reading and writing and checking in with myself. The weather has been pretty wet, lately, and I can’t do much outdoor work. Plus, I’m not feeling well, and I would love to just spend the day reading, studying, and writing. Taking it easy, instead of taking care of everybody else’s business. I put some water in the electric kettle and fixed myself some fruit with crackers and goat cheese and went up to my study to settle in.

After a little bit, I realized I’d forgotten my trusty writing cardigan, and I went back downstairs to get it from the kitchen. While standing in the kitchen, looking around to see if there was anything else I’d forgotten, I heard an odd hissing sound. I went over to the kitchen counter and found my tea mug with a dry tea bag in it, and beside it was the electric kettle, hissing away, nearly all the water boiled out of it.

Now, the way the kettle has always worked in the past, is that when it gets low on water or reaches a certain temperature, it shuts off. This time, it did not shut off. So, I did. And when I looked closely at the heating element, it was showing signs of rust — perhaps from the intense oxidation from the coils evaporating off the water?

I kind of went into a tailspin about this. Yes, I know my alarm was disproportionate to the situation, but I got seriously upset by this and I started to beat myself up over having put water on and then walked away. I won’t write all the things that went through my head, because they are not the kinds of things I care to archive for posterity. Suffice it to say, for a few minutes this morning, I was not my best friend.

But then I realized I was pretty off the charts with my distress — how much would a replacement kettle cost? not very much, really — and it was more about me being absentminded and not paying close enough attention … no to mention feeling ill and “off” this morning. So I was wasting a lot of precious time getting bent out of shape over this. It’s turned out to be a beautiful fall day, and I have given myself permission to take time off to take care of myself. Why should I waste my time and energy beating myself up over a simple case of absent-mindedness that really anybody could have done, too?

Okay, so I established that it wasn’t worth wrecking myself over this oversight. And I realized that this electric kettle is not going to automatically turn off whenever it’s low on water, as I assumed. I would just get in the habit of A) putting more water in the kettle and B) not leaving the kitchen till it’s done heating the water, which takes all of maybe 30-60 seconds. Simple solution, right?

Well, what came up next was the burning question (and yes, I realize this sounds a bit neurotic, but I am not feeling well this morning) about what to do with the “extra” water that I wasn’t using for my tea? See, when I pour water in, I pour exactly as much as I need, so when it’s hot, I don’t have to check the level of liquid in my mug. I just know that I have exactly as much water as I need. If I heat more than I need, what will I do with the extra?

This was the hotly burning question in my fuzzy brain this morning (in the moment it seemed extremely important). I was all up in my head about the evils of waste and getting frantic about not having the exact amount of water I needed in the kettle, and having to gauge how much I was pouring in… and so on.

Ugh.

Then it occurred to me that having the extra water would come in handy for clearing the drain. I’ve been having some problems with the kitchen sink drain getting sluggish. My fix for it is to pour boiling hot water down, and that often works. So, this “problem” is actually no problem at all — in fact, it solves some problems, namely:

  • I need to slow down more in the morning, and this will help me do it.
  • I need to heat more water in the kettle, so it doesn’t fry the coils, and this will let me do that.
  • I need to periodically clear the drain with boiling water, and this will let me clear it daily, so the buildup doesn’t accumulate and become a bigger problem down the line.

So, there’s really no problem at all. Not anymore. But this morning, for about 15 minutes, I was going into a tailspin that threatened to wreck my entire day and set me down a spiraling path of upset — at the innocent electric kettle and at myself for getting so bent out of shape.

The electric kettle is forgiven, and so am I. I know full well that I am off balance, not feeling well, and I am spending an awful lot of cognitive energy just trying to keep myself vertical and not get hurt. I can cut myself a break, and just get on with my day and my recovery from the past week+ of hectic activity.

I’d better cut myself a break. Because rust never sleeps.

Neil Young reminds me of that constantly, while I’m driving to and from work. For some reason, radio stations in my area keep playing his music, and “rust never sleeps” is often what I hear him singing about. My, my,  hey, hey… It’s better to burn out, than to fade away… And this gets me thinking. Especially in the autumn, when the effusive growth of summer is giving way to frosts and withering and deadening, and the cycle of life turns to a cycle of death, my thoughts become, well, a little maudlin. The change of the season gets me to wondering “what’s it all about?” and “is this all there is?” and all manner of existentially angst-y ruminations. And my brain starts to perseverate and lock onto misperceptions and misconceptions and any number of irregular reasons to doubt my ability to live effectively in the world.

Some days, I suspect it’s due to the way my life turned in the course of my concussion-punctuated years. Each injury left a mark on me — a “ding” or two or three in the fuselage of my vehicle that didn’t exactly ground me, but kept me from achieving the heights I might otherwise have reached. I don’t want to blame the brain injuries for my ills — certainly, they have played a part, but they’re not the only reason I’ve had difficulties.

More than the traumatic brain injuries, in fact, I believe that the aftermath, the reactions, the later reactions of others and myself (which were based largely on ignorance about what brain injury does to the personality) and the meanings I gave to those reactions, had the biggest impact. And the time when I was actually recovering from the physical effects, I was sinking into a psychological morass of confusion, dread, insecurity, and the conviction that this temporary situation was permanent, totally screwed me up. After my injuries, my neuroplastic, adaptable brain was on the mend and finding new ways of doing the things I wanted to do, but because those new ways were different from the old ways — and therefore threatening and alarming to me — I discounted them and told myself they were WRONG and I should not be doing things the way I was doing them.

I had it in my head that the roundabout way I learned was Wrong.

I had it in my head that the way I communicated with people was Wrong.

I had it in my head that the way I structured my daily life — much more downtime than most people I knew — was Wrong.

I had it in my head that the choices I made about my social life — who I would and would not interact with — were Wrong.

I had it in my head that the choices I made about my domestic life — not having children and not officially getting married until 15 years into the settled, intricately entwined relationship — were Wrong.

Now, to be fair, there was an awful lot of social pressure to adhere to certain ways of doing things, so I had plenty of reinforcement for judging myself and my choices. And the rigidity of my upbringing didn’t help. But I suspect that the rigidity of my parents and wider social circles wasn’t the only reason I was so locked in, and so quick to judge myself. Indeed, I believe that the head injuries I sustained as a young kid (when I was about 4, then again when I was 7 and 8 ) predisposed me to an intense rigidity that locked out any alternatives to routines or “standard issue” behaviors.

The Brain Injury Association of New York State has a great little tutorial on Flexibility Versus Rigidity In Thinking And Behavior that I really like. (They’ve got a bunch of great material there, especially for teachers and parents of brain-injured kids.)

Here’s a snippet from the tutorial:

WHY IS RIGIDITY/INFLEXIBILITY IMPORTANT FOR SOME STUDENTS AFTER TBI?

Students with TBI or other neurological conditions sometimes demonstrate extreme forms of rigidity or inflexibility. Rigidity/inflexibility is often associated with damage to the frontal lobes, the most common site of injury in TBI. Therefore, some degree of inflexibility is common in students with TBI. This may manifest itself as difficulty (1) making transitions during the school day (e.g., from lunch or gym back to classroom work), (2) tolerating changes in schedules or everyday routines, (3) adjusting to changes in staff, (4) ending an intense emotional feeling, and the like. In extreme cases, a transition as apparently simple as from sitting to standing may be difficult and cause stress.

Related but not identical to inflexibility is the phenomenon of perseveration. Perseveration is a possible result of neurologic impairment and is characterized by continuation of the same behavior or thought or words or emotions after the reason for the behavior, thought, word, or emotion has passed or the thought or behavior is no longer appropriate to the situation. . For example, a student may remain focused on a given emotional behavior state long after the reason for that state has been forgotten.

This pretty much describes me when I was a kid, though today I’d have to say that emotional rigidity and perseveration is much more of an issue than cognitive. Cognitively, I can move on. But emotionally, I’m still stuck. I think that getting out in the world and holding down jobs and having gotten positive reinforcement in work environments has helped me cognitively. I’ve been able to really reap great rewards from using my head, and that’s encouraged flexibility and creativity. Emotionally, though, I get jammed up and stuck. That’s where I get rusty — stuck in place and wedged into an old pattern that doesn’t serve me or the people around me.

No, rust never sleeps. So, what do I do? Do I drive myself onward-onward-onward, in hopes of burning out before I fade away? Do I race at top speed through life and damn the torpedoes?

Um… No. Racing around and pushing myself are the very things that encourage rust. Like the super-heated coils in electric kettle caused the metal to rust, so does my super-heated life cause my system to lock up and show signs of wear. Maybe not in Neil Young’s case, but in my case, pushing for burnout is a sure route to rust. And I don’t have all the time in the world — I’m not getting any younger, and my window of non-fatigued time is significantly less than most people’s I know — so I just don’t have a lot of time to spare, cleaning up after myself when I crash and burn.

That’s no way to live.

What to do?

This is the eternal question, and it keeps coming around with me, no matter how much time I put between myself and my injuries. My first TBI probably happened when I was about 4 years old. And there were two more when I was 7 and 8 years old. More came over the years, including sports concussions and car accident mTBIs, for a total of at least nine separate instances of head injuries that involved some level of disruption of consciousness, followed by cognitive, behavioral, and physical problems.  I never got help for any of them, until about 3 years ago — just a lot of headaches (literally and figuratively) — and only in the past 3 years have I started to systematically and mindfully approach my issues with a focused desire to overcome them.

I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with the basic things — get my exercise regularly, eat right, get enough sleep, and check in with my neuropsych on a regular basis. But as the basic issues get resolved, the “higher level” questions emerge — as in, how to make the most of what life I have left, so that I can have the best life possible, whenever possible?

Ironically, the answer to this question has gone hand-in-hand with the answers to my most basic human needs. The answer is to just slow down and pay attention. For someone who is as driven as I am, it’s a tall order, and not that easy to do. But you know what? When I not only slow down but also pay very close attention to what I’m doing with myself and my life and my choices, many of my TBI related issues resolve.

When I slow down and pay attention to my physical fitness, my joint pain and headaches subside considerably.

When I slow down and pay attention to what people are saying to me, the problems I have with understanding and following clear up considerably.

When I quit going 150 miles per hour through every single day and pay attention to what I eat and how rested I am, my need to pump myself full of adrenaline and push past all sensible limits becomes far less pronounced.

Now, slowing down and paying attention is the sort of thing I’ve had to learn from scratch. A big driver behind my rushing is a constant low-level panic that simmers in my gut, day in and day out. It’s that constant restlessness, the constant agitation that comes with TBI. It’s my brain working overtime trying to find its way through the tangled networks that have developed over the years. It’s my body’s reaction to the intense energy needs of my very-active brain, and the low fatigue threshold I have.

Slowing down and paying attention has been closely connected with my exercise routine, taking the edge off my stress, finding outlets for the nervous energy, and clearing out the biochemical sludge that builds up after countless experiences of surprise/shock/dismay/confusion that come at me in the course of each day, when the things I expect to happen … just don’t… and I need to immediately adjust and move in a different direction to get where I’m going.

That surprise/shock/dismay/confusion is an ongoing situation for me, and it may never change. I may find myself spending the rest of my life realizing I was all wrong about something and needing to find another way to think/act/be. But at least I have my exercise to help me clear out the chemistry of those micro-traumas. And I have an understanding of that bio-cognitive action that lets me cut myself a break and not get all bent out of shape — for extended periods of time — over things that are either directly attributable to my brain having gotten a bit banged up over the years… or are long since over and done.

But even if I do spend the rest of my born days troubleshooting these kinds of cycles of pseudo-drama, I always have my fall-back, my comfort in the midst of the storms — the knowledge that slowing down and paying close attention to what’s going on around me, with heightened awareness and intense curiosity, can and will pull me out of my funks, can and will restore me to some sense of myself, can and will connect me to my life once more, in ways that running around at top speed never can and never will.

Rust may never sleep, but I don’t need to run from it. Ultimately, it’s not the quantity of life that staves off the debilitating freeze, the rust. It’s the quality. Cooling the hot elements, adding more water than I “need”, and just sticking with my life in all its aspects till I find some peace, some resolution, and I can make my tea… that’s what does it for me.

Now, what can I pay attention to next?

Be very, very careful

 

Warning Will Robinson!

 

Not long ago, one of my readers posted a comment about how important it is to be careful, so you don’t sustain a brain injury. Those words (at least, the gist of them, as I’ve since forgotten exactly how they said it) have stayed with me over the past day or so.

I have been working overtime a lot, having taken on a lot more responsibility that is a pretty big deal. And I have not been eating quite as well as I should be. I’ve been hitting the vending machines regularly — not insanely, chowing down on Skittles and Pop Tarts and Swedish Fish and all manner of sugar and chocolate. But I have been eating a chocolate bar a day, along with my beloved peanut M&Ms that keep me going (I need the protein).

At the time when I’ve been needing more sleep, I’ve been getting less. The Headache is back — not headaches but Headache — the long-lasting, perpetual one that doesn’t have any breaks and just keeps going to the point where I barely even notice it anymore. Except when I do. I’ve started to get the tactile sensitivity —  my clothes are hurting me — and light sensitivity and noise sensitivity. I’m kind of wired, as I’m sure you can tell. And in fact, it doesn’t take a whole lot to get me wired, so I’m feeling the burn, right about now.

On the bright side, I am functional. I’m able to do my work and get things done and interact with people at work. But that’s a downside, too. Because when I get like this, I tend to push myself and go faster than I should. And when that happens, I can get hurt. I’ve fallen down stairs a number of times in the past six months, because I was in a hurry. Nothing bad enough to injure me, but enough to rattle me.

I must be very, very careful. Especially because the BIGGEST symptom I’m having, which I neglected to mention above, is the vertigo. Dizziness. Crazy spinning head and the inability to turn quickly in any one direction, without my head going haywire. I am so dizzy,  I have to keep my back absolutely ramrod straight, or I start to lose my balance. Standing at the tops of stairs is interesting, too. And I have to hold onto walls as I walk along, or I tend to wobble and stagger like I’m drunk.

This sucks.

I can’t even close my eyes without the room spinning, and I have felt like I was going to throw up for three days running. Fortunately, I’m able to keep it together reasonably well with a discretion that masks my issues. Nobody needs to know that I’m as badly off as I am. Nobody needs to know that I’m about to heave all over my office. Nice for them. Not so nice for me.

Yes, this sucks.

But you know what? It’s all in the line of duty, and it’s all for a good cause, and I get to lay low this weekend. I don’t have any pressing activities I must do. I can lay low and be ill and take care of myself at my own pace. My spouse has a bunch of commitments over the weekend, so again I’ll have the place to myself for most of the coming two days. So I can roll myself up in my blankets, pull the blinds, and just hibernate in my cave.  Drink hot tea — the nasty cold season tea I can’t drink with anyone around, it smells so awful — and read a book. I never did finish The Bourne Identity. I got it it out of the library again a week ago, so I can spend my time catching up (and seeing how much I remember from before).

All in all, I feel physically awful, but I’m still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I’m so tired I’m literally falling over, but it’s a good tired that comes from having spent so many, many hours doing work I love in an environment where I’m actually able to do it.

Yeah, baby.

But I have to be careful. Seriously. I need to watch myself, make sure I don’t fall, make sure I take care of myself better this weekend, and get some recovery under my belt. I can’t continue on at this pace — must take some downtime. And be very, very careful, as I’m moving about.

Times like this, I’m reminded of how head-injured folks — especially athletes — so often re-injure themselves.

We tend to have have crappy risk assessment skills after we get hurt.

We also tend to over-estimate our ability to navigate challenging situations.

And all too often we feel like we have something to prove, so we push ourselves even harder than most — even with diminished co-ordination and balance.

These things I know. These things I know about myself. As euphoric as I am about this new job and all the great potential for it, I still know that I am running a risk every time I push myself, and I am running a risk every time I don’t take it easier than I am. I know that I am in danger of being injured — as anyone is who’s overtired and tremendously off-balance and walking up and down stairs, driving in heavy traffic, and generally going about their business in environments where you can slip and fall and get hurt.

I must be very, very careful. And so I shall.

Addressing the trauma in traumatic brain injury

Source: Scott Butner

As I’ve been exploring the landscape of my head injuries over the past few years, one aspect of my life experience has consistently come to the fore — trauma… and its long-term effects on lives of both survivors and the ones they love and live/work with on a daily basis.

It’s almost a total fluke that trauma should even have this on my radar. But over the years, I’ve befriended — and been befriended by — a number of psychotherapists and counselors, most of whom specialize in trauma. In retrospect, I suspect that many of them have assumed that my difficulties were due to past traumatic episodes — rough childhood, misspent youth, etc. In fact, one of them has flatly denied that my issues could be due to TBI, and they became more and more insistent about me getting a therapist, which was probably the worst thing I’ve ever done, in retrospect. (This friend’s denial is a topic for another post — it’s quite interesting, “clinically” speaking.)

Now, I have to say that after more than 10 years of being around these friends of mine, I get a little tired of every ill known to humanity being ascribed to after-effects of trauma. When I talk about experiences I’ve had and people I’ve encountered who have annoyed me or done some seriously sick stuff, I’ve often heard the refrain, “Oh, they’re a trauma survivor, so they’re dissociating/being triggered/experiencing kindling/re-enacting their past traumas.”

There’s not much room for just being an asshole. For some of my friends, it’s all about the trauma. And in an attempt to better understand what it is they’re talking about, I’ve attended some trauma workshops, as well as read some books. I’ve got Peter Levine on my bookshelf, along with Belleruth Naparstek. And now I’m reading Robert Scaer, M.D.’s  book The Body Bears the Burden, which explains (from a neurologist’s point of view) the effects of trauma on both the body and mind of someone who’s gone through awful experiences — and those whose experiences don’t seem that terrible, compared to, say, Pakistan’s flooding or suicide bombings in Kabul.

The DSM-IV defines a “traumatic stressor” as:

[an stressor] involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s physical integrity; or witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; or learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate

The part that interests me is the “direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s physical integrity”. The other parts are just as significant, but I’m not going to speak to them at this time.

When it comes to mild traumatic brain injury, I think sometimes the severity of the experience tends to get downplayed. After all, the injury is mild, right? Well, interestingly, mTBI survivors apparently can show more disruptive symptoms of traumatization after the fact, than survivors of more severe injuries. And these long-term effects  can wreak havoc in the lives of survivors, as well as their immediate circle.

Problems such as fatigue, emotional volatility (emotional lability), rage, agitation, irritability, insomnia, sleep deprivation, anger, temper flares, temper tantrum, anxiety, fear, panic, risk-taking, danger-seeking, not to mention all the crisis and drama that can accompany hormonal spikes during times of stress, certainly don’t make things any easier. If anything, they complicate recovery by flooding the system with stress hormones which interfere with your ability to learn from your experiences. So, at the time when you’re having to get a new grip on your newly changed life with its “new normal,” the biochemical processes going on behind the scenes may be getting in the way.

How maddening is that? At just the time when you need your brain to be able to recover, it’s busy cranking out all sorts of interesting concoctions that specifically get in the way of your recovery.

Because (I believe) there is unresolved and un-dealt-with trauma wreaking havoc behind the scenes.

Trauma in mild traumatic brain injuries is particularly tricky. After all, the injury itself may not have been that dramatic — something gets dropped on your head, or you get in a fender-bender, or you slip and fall down and clunk your head on something. You get up again, walk away from the scene… maybe pay a visit to the emergency dept of your local hospital, get scanned, and you get a “clean” bill of health (and maybe a few pointers on what to watch out for to make sure you don’t have more serious issues later on). Then you’re expected to get on with your life.

But inside your skull, something else is happening. Some of the fragile connections in your brain have been sheared or severed or frayed, and your brain isn’t able to communicate with itself like it used to. On a fundamental, profound level, your very existence has been threatened — only nobody can see it. Even you can’t see it very well, because your brain is either still bathed in the stress hormones designed to keep you from feeling a bunch of pain (and thus preventing you from fleeing an immediate threat), or it’s just not making the connections it “should” in order to give you — the resident owner — a clear picture of what’s going on. Or it could be both things going on.

In some cases, from what I’ve read in Dr. Scaer’s book, the onset of problems can be delayed by hours, even days. So, right after the accident/event, you’re walking around looking fine, seeming to be fine… maybe you’re a little shaken up, but that’s to be expected.  But then you start to slip away… decline… feel the effects of what was supposed to be a mild event that had no serious immediate effects you. In your system, hidden from view, the process of gradual (and possibly debilitating) problems has begun.

This process is utterly maddening. Everyone around you, who was worried for your safety, just wants to be relieved that you’re okay. But all of a sudden, you’re acting strangely, you don’t seem like yourself, and you’re complaining all the time. The complaints don’t get better over time, either. They get worse. And for no apparent reason. People think you’re looking for attention, that you’re trying to “milk” your accident for all it’s worth. They just want you to get back to being your old self. But you’re doing the exact opposite.

And the pressure to return to normal builds, even as your system is being eroded by the biochemical havoc of trauma that was introduced to your system which has not been cleared — it hasn’t even been recognized. How can you clear away what you can’t see/hear/detect?

Indeed, the most insidious and problematic manifestations of trauma take root when the person having the experience is taken by surprise. Studies have shown that bracing for impact limits the impact, but being blindsided makes it worse. And it makes the experience as a whole worse. The body detects this threat to its safety and existence — all of a sudden out of nowhere — and it unleashes myriad biochemical substances for us to deal with it — including endogenous opioids designed to numb the pain of injury. Animals in the wild which are being chased by predators, when there is no way to escape, will often fall down as though dead, their bodies full of chemical substances that will both numb the pain of being devoured and turn them into “dead” prey which might discourage a predator from actually killing them.

The same biochemical process is in place with human beings. After all, once upon a time, we were hunted as prey by animals larger than us. Indeed, we still are, in some cases — the predators happen to be other people, more often than not. In times of combat and assault, when all escape routes have been blocked off and we believe (on some level) that we’re done for, our brains and bodies do their natural thing — they bathe us in substances to protect us from feeling that knife going through our lung or feeling that bullet smash through muscle and bone.

Our brains and bodies are doing their utmost to protect us as best we can. But our minds tend to interpret the experience differently.

In the case of animals who freeze and then survive the assault, they shake themselves, go through a series of shuddering/jerking motions, do heavy, deep breathing, and then pick themselves up and get on with their lives. In the case of humans who freeze and then survive the assault, we tell ourselves we were wusses for freezing the way we did, and we plunge into cycles of self-doubt and conflict, feeling like we failed — when we were simply being the biological creatures we are designed to be.

And the self-perpetuating downward spiral of the PTSD loop starts. Where it stops, is anybody’s guess.

Therapies which have been successful in freeing people from that negative feedback loop are those which engage the body to discharge the sudden burst of biochemical self-protection, and get the autonomic nervous system back into balance. In the completion of the fight-flight-freeze cycle, the body is allowed to return to its most effective ways of working. And we can get on with our lives.

Here’s where the problem starts with mTBI. (Note, I’m not a doctor or certified health professional — this is just my belief system about how our systems interact with the world around us.) If the injury is “mild” then what’s the big deal? Why should we even need to complete the fight-flight-freeze cycle? Wasn’t the injury itself mild? We just got clunked on the head. Big deal, right?

Hardly. I think with mild traumatic brain injury, there may be another aspect of it that comes into play. With “mild” injuries (not that any brain injury is ever mild, mind you), the brain itself perceives the threat on a basic, biological level. It knows something’s wrong, and it kicks into overdrive, trying to right what’s wrong.

I suspect this is why people who have sustained concussions or mTBIs are so prone to denying that there’s anything wrong. Our brains are so busy trying to right their internal systems, that they fail to communicate with the rest of the world — that includes our conscious mind.

Based on what’s happened to me, what I’ve observed, and what I’ve read, here’s the cycle that I believe gets set up:

  1. An individual experiences a sudden, unexpected impact or injury, which injures their brain. This can be a fender-bender, a tackle or collision in a sports game, getting cold-cocked by an attacker, or having something fall on/hit their head.
  2. Fragile connections in their brain are frayed, sheared, or destroyed completely… or all three.  On the surface, they seem to be fine. The injury doesn’t look like that big of a deal. It’s just a bump on the head or a hard hit or a bit of soreness or being dazed after the fact.
  3. The body interprets the impact as a threat to the system, and it unleashes a biochemical cascade of hormones and other neurochemicals which narrow the focus, numb the system to pain, and shunt energy away from “extraneous” body functions.
  4. The injured person’s brain senses something is amiss, and it works like crazy trying to sort out what just happened. The whole body-brain connection needs to be tested to make sure everything is still online, so the system can correct itself as need be. Any outside talk or input is dismissed and rejected — “Are you alright?” isn’t a sign of concern, it’s an intrusion into the vital process of the brain checking through the bodily system for problems. And the brain is so focused on its internal process, that it “forgets” to tell the rest of the world what’s going on. There is no full communication loop with the brain — it’s in damage assessment mode, and it blocks out any input as well as refuses to provide output.
  5. The impacted individual wanders around in a bit of a daze, then they appear to recover, and they get on with the rest of their activities. They drive on in the car, they get up off the bench and go back in the game, they pick themself up off the pavement, or they go back to work.
  6. In the course of going about their business — both immediately and over the course of the coming days and weeks — their brain is having trouble figuring out how to do the things it used to do so effortlessly. The old connections have been disrupted, as though a massive storm had torn through a region, torn up trees, unleashed flash floods, and made many of the old roadways either treacherous or impassable.
  7. The brain senses something is amiss — the inability to do things it used to do before is intensely distressing, and it doesn’t understand why things aren’t working. This confusion represents a “threat to one’s physical integrity” and the body reacts as though its very existence were being threatened. The cascade of stress hormones and fight-flight-freeze substances wash through, and the sympathetic nervous system is activated.
  8. Unfortunately, the incidents of confusion and disorientation and disrupted functioning aren’t intermittent. They can be regularly occurring — as well as unexpected. Time after time, the brain is surprised by its sudden (and unexplained) inability to do what it’s always done. Surprise sharpens the experience, making it both more intense and more indelible in the body and brain.
  9. The brain/mind interprets these inabilities as a problem with the self, and a chain reaction of personal recrimination starts up, which assigns more meaning to the events, which triggers further releases of adrenaline and cortisol into the system when the amygdala is tweaked by this interpretation.
  10. When cortisol and adrenaline are released, higher reasoning is impaired, and lessons which might be learned from trial-and-error are not retained. One misstep after another occurs… one screw-up after another… confusion compounding confusion… anxiety heightening anxiety. What was originally “just a bump on the head” elaborates into a full-scale debilitating condition which becomes more and more entrenched over the ensuing months, even years.
  11. Social pressure doesn’t help at all. Impairments to speech understanding (that happened to me) aren’t interpreted as symptoms of brain injury, rather as laziness or stupidity. Sensitivity to light or sound, which foster distractability and make holding a conversation difficult are not perceived, but the results — wandering attention and apparent oblivion to what others are saying — are obvious (and not at all appreciated).  Social pressure leads to increased stress, which in turn triggers the release of more chemicals that prevent the injured person from effectively learning new patterns and building new pathways in their brain.
  12. The brain is still trying to sort out what’s going on, and it’s not very communicative, either with others or with the “resident” in this body. It gets wrapped up in the drama of flawed interpretations of what’s going on, the crisis of stories it’s invented about what’s going on around it, and the increasing struggle to make sense of anything.
  13. Time passes, and things just seem to get worse. Self-esteem plunges, and resilience declines. Self-recrimination builds, and difficulties at work and at home erode the ecosystem of the impacted individual. Jobs are lost, relationships fail, and money seems to fly away for no apparent reason.
  14. If they’re lucky, the impacted individual can find help from a competent neuropsychologist, counselor, or neurologist — or even friends who are up to the task of helping them get back from the brink. If they’re like all too many traumatic brain injury survivors, they cannot get the help they need, and they end up becoming permanently unemployed (or sporadically employed), with no savings or source of income, no social support network, and no justification for going on disability or collecting insurance payouts.
  15. Muddling through, maybe they make it, maybe they don’t. Ultimately, many end up on the streets, in jail for behavior problems, or on medication for psychological disorders that mimic brain injury after-effects and carry lasting side-effects. And unfortunately, a number eventually commit suicide, hastening the process that an oblivious, uneducated society and tough-it-out culture sets in motion.

As you can see — assuming this progression is at least somewhat accurate (and I believe it is) — the impact of a head injury need not be severe, in order to lead to severe consequences.

To fully understand the pervasive effects of mild traumatic brain injury, you need to look at multiple systems — from the brain’s inner workings, to the autonomic nervous system, to the demands of adult living or childhood development, to the expectations of one’s surrounding social milieu. With mild TBI, it’s never just one issue that sends you down the dark road — it’s a million little, subtle, interrelated issues that combine to create a recipe for disaster that, like bread dough sitting near a hot wood stove, will inevitably begin to rise and expand.

Trauma and the body’s internal responses to perceived threat and our interpretation of those threats, is like yeast added to a sugar-water-flour mix of our injury. With enough heat and time, it’s going to double, triple, even quadruple (and more) the issues that initially come with mild traumatic brain injury. Unfortunately, it appears that our systems are designed to work that way, and unless we can figure out alternative ways to address the issues, we’re in for a rough ride… till we can find help, sort things out, or end up incarcerated or dead.

What strategies and approaches we can hope to employ in this trickiest of situations — which might actually work — is a topic for another post.

Common sense, vitamins, homeopathy, and sleep

Source: stepzh

Well, the change-of-weather insomnia issues are starting again. Last year, I had a hell of a time dealing with temperature changes and getting enough sleep. I would wake up in the middle of the night, too hot. And/or I would wake up at 4:30 — too cold.

The early morning hours are the worst for me. When the temps start to dip just before sunrise, is when I’m fast asleep and unable to pull more covers up over me to keep warm. Then, I wake up shivering an hour or two before I’m supposed to get up, and my head gets going, thinking I should just get myself up and get into the day, since my head is going, anyway.

But my head’s going at a weird-ass pace, and it’s coming up with all sorts of strange thoughts (all of which seem perfectly logical to it), and if I stay in that “groove” it’s a total dead-end.

On good days, I realize this before I have wasted too much time obsessing over stupid shit. One of the benefits of knowing about my brain injuries and understanding the consequences is being able to self-monitor a whole lot better than I could before I knew why I do/think the things I do.

Actually, “self-monitor” is probably not the best word, because at 4:30 in the morning, I’m not particularly adept at gauging the quality of my thinking. “Self-critique” is a better choice. Or even “self-doubt” — because a good dose of skepticism when my head is off to the races can be a powerful antidote to early a.m. crazies. Just being aware that I am capable of coming up with all sorts of insanity when I’m sleep deprived — and knowing that it’s not because there’s something wrong with me — it’s my brain acting up again — helps me stop the cycle of madness before it takes me into the morning hours.

On bad mornings, I get stuck in a loop and end up just getting up after lying there staring at the ceiling or tossing and turning while my brain is obsessing. I’ve had one bad morning like that in the past week. On better mornings, I can get my attention back to my body, do progressive relaxation as I remind myself that whatever is holding my attention hostage will be there in another few hours, and it could be that the things it’s locked onto are not going to be that big of a deal when I actually do wake up… and then I can roll over and go back to sleep.

One of the things that tends to wake me up during colder weather is pain. If I don’t stretch adequately before going to bed, I often wake up at 3:30 with my back and legs in knots. Not fun. And then my head gets going. Sometimes I can stretch and crack my back and get my legs to settle down. But sometimes even that doesn’t work to help me. It’s maddening. Especially when my head gets going yelling at me about not remembering to stretch or take Advil.

I need to start taking Advil again before I go to bed. During the high summer, when I was ultra-active, swimming regularly and out and about a lot, I had less pain. I was pretty vigilant about what I was eating, I took more time to shop and prepare my meals, and I was moving a lot on a regular basis.

I was also better about taking my vitamins, especially magnesium, which someone told me helps with pain. I had been doing really well with taking my vitamins — B-Complex for nervous system support and to help me with stress… D for immune system support, bone health, and cancer prevention… Magnesium for joint pain… and Chromium Picolinate to help my body with insulin production and how it handles sugar.

When I take these supplements regularly, I notice a marked improvement in my daily well-being, which in turn helps me sleep better. When I’m stressed throughout the course of each day, I tend to get over-tired, and when I’m over-tired, I push myself even harder. That leads me to put in longer days and get all revved in the evening, which makes getting to bed at a decent hour harder. Then, when my body is all fried form the daily stress, I’m susceptible to increased pain and temperature sensitivity, not to mention waking up in an adrenaline rush.

Those adrenaline rushes are no fun at all. Out of the blue, I wake up in a frantic panic, all systems on full alert, my heart pounding, sweat pouring out of me, the sheets soaked, and my chest clenched up tight. I’m on full alert, out of nowhere, and it’s a good thing my spouse and I have been sleeping in separate bedrooms for the past year and a half — if they were in bed with me, it would not be a good thing. I can’t guarantee, either, that I would be able to tell that they pose no threat to me. I might lash out at them — that would not be good. That’s no way to live. I had an uncle who would wake up in panics and hit my aunt, thinking she was attacking him. No way do I want to repeat the performance. He was killed in a tractor trailer accident out in the Southwest about 30 years ago, but those inexplicable and totally unexpected attacks left a mark on my aunt that’s still there.

Yeah… stress… When you’ve been tweaked and freaked-out way too many times, it can really do a number on your nervous system. Fortunately, when I was much younger, I learned how to slow my heart rate and chill out my system. It has to do with the breath — slow, measured breaths… stopping the breath at the end of each inhale and exhale, and then slowly continuing. It’s all about the breath. When I was in high school, at track practice after school, my heart would sometimes start beating so hard it felt like it was coming out of my chest. I would hyperventilate, and I would start to feel like I was falling down a deep hole. All this, just because I was at track practice. I suspect that my concussions throughout my childhood and adolescence may have had something to do with it. It’s my understanding that concussion can lead to more extreme heart rate variability, where your heart isn’t beating at a steady pulse all the time. So, perhaps my concussions had something to do with it.

I have to admit it worries me a little now, when it happens, because I just learned a few years ago that I have a slight heart murmur. Nobody ever mentioned it to me before, that I can recall (or maybe I just don’t recall). So my heart health is a bit of a concern to me. And when I wake up in a cold sweat, with my heart pounding a mile a minute for no reason that I can tell, I get concerned.

I start to talk myself down and start to do my slow, measured breathing, which brings me back to a stable state. Still and all, I’d rather not be waking up at 3:30 a.m. with this crap.

So, clearly it’s time to start taking my vitamins regularly again. I’m not sure why I stopped. Maybe I was feeling fine and didn’t feel like taking them — for about a week. While I was taking them, I was getting good sleep, I was pretty chilled out in my daily life, and difficult things were not derailing me as much as they have been lately. I don’t want to lay it all at the feet of supplements, but you know what? When I was taking my vitamins, I was sleeping pretty well. And I want to sleep well again.

Another thing I’ve been trying, to deal with the pain and anxiety, is homeopathy.  I’ve got a friend who’s a homeopath who swears by it. They actually had a “widow-maker” heart attack a few years back, died on the table and came back, and proceeded to change their entire life. They were in the traditional western medical field before their heart attack, and after, they changed over to homeopathic remedies, and they’ve been urging me to use it for my own issues.

I must say I was really on the fence about it, for a while. I tried some things, and they didn’t seem to have an effect on me. Then I tried Magnesium Phosphate for some pain that I just couldn’t shake, and it seemed to take the edge off it. So, I would use that remedy and it gave me relief. (Please note, I am an extreme skeptic, when it comes to alternative remedies. I resist novelty when it comes to my health with almost every fiber of my being.) But that was it.

Then I started using Rhus Toxicohendron for joint pain, and it too seemed to take the edge off. I’ve been using that, on and off, with a variety of results, for several years, now.

But the real breakthrough remedy for me showed up a couple of weeks ago, when I was out shopping for some help for my spouse (who is into alternative remedies — needless to say, I tend to temper my opinions about these alternatives in their presence). I picked up some Kali Iodatum that I’d read is good for certain types of nerve pain.  But on the label, it said “colds with frontal sinus pain”. Apparently, homeopathic remedies treat a variety of different conditions – not sure how, they just do.

Anyway, my spouse decided to go with more bodywork than homeopathy, so we had these remedies lying around. And then I started to get sick with a cold, with lots of frontal sinus pain and post-nasal drip and coughing that was keeping me from sleeping.  Just for the heck of it, I took the Kali Iodatum, and my symptoms cleared up within the hour. Pretty amazing. I woke up this morning with that same cold and sinus stuff, and I took some a little while after I ate my breakfast, and once again, it appears to have cleared things up. Part of me wants to believe that it’s just getting moving and getting in to the day that helps, but it really felt like my body was stronger and able to fight off what was ailing it. So, I’m going to add the Kali Iodatum to my health regimen, as needed.

So, while I know that homeopathy is widely discredited (by allopathic medicine competitors, in particular) as a placebo and a bogus mode of treatment, I do know that when I take some of these remedies, I do feel better. And when I feel better, I am less stressed. And when I am less stressed, I am less fatigued, less likely to indulge in carbs and coffee to keep myself going for long hours. That means I sleep better and can sleep through the night.

I’ll probably continue to take Advil before going to sleep, now that colder weather is here. I’ll keep up with my exercise routines and focus more on my morning workouts, now that I’m not going to be able to swim at the lake several times a week. I’ll also make a continuous effort to eat well and watch out for drinking coffee after 2 p.m. and loading up on carbs just to get myself feeling better.  I’ll definitely make a point of stretching plenty before going to bed. And I know what to do, if/when I wake up early with cold sweats and pounding heart and panic. The main thing for me is to do all these things regularly and consistently, and not let myself get behind.

When I let myself get behind, my head has more ammunition to attack me at 3:30 a.m. for screwing up — yet again. And the last thing I need is to give it even more ammo than it already has.

If I can get out of my own way, good things can happen

Source: doliveck

Well, the job situation is looking up. The new responsibilities at work are good things, and they are definitely going to test me in ways that will help me grow. The level that I’ll be expected to perform at is about the same level I was at, when I fell in 2004. In a way, it’s like the big detour my life took after my head injury is coming back around to meet up with where I was before.

And it scares the be-geezuz out of me. A thousand different thoughts are running through my head, many of them not so good. In the past 5 years, I’ve been so derailed so many times, and I’ve had so much practice coming up with wrong answers to important questions, that a deep-seated self-doubt has gotten lodged in my brain. Every time I come up short and don’t meet a goal I set, I get confirmation that that self-doubt is right — See?! You really can’t do it after all.  See?! There’s no hope for you, and you might as well pack it in and go home.

I’ve had extended discussions about this with my neuropsych, and they’ve been good about telling me that I don’t have to listen to those voices — I can listen to my “better angels” and make better choices. I don’t have to let my future be defined by my past. The brain heals. It mends. Life has a way of self-healing in some ways, or just finding different ways of being, in the face of extreme adversity. Broken bones heal. Broken brains may not heal in quite the same way, but broken lives can. And brains can rewire and reconnect.

It ain’t over till it’s over. And I need to quit making things look like they’re over, before they’ve even begun.

It really feels like this new development at work is a milestone test for me. It’s like I’ve crossed an invisible line between determined-to-recover and committed-to-ongoing-recovery. “Recovery” for me is about more than fixing frayed connections in my brain’s wiring. It’s about recovering the important things in my life that mean so much to me — allowing the strengths I have, which I have had for decades, to come forward again, after being in cold storage for the past several years. Recovery for me is about getting to a point where I can regain my self-regard and objectively see that I am doing well at many things, I’m challenged at others, and I have uneven results with a bunch of stuff in between. It’s about getting my distance back — not getting sucked into every little drama that comes up (inside and outside my head), and being able to step back and make my own decisions about how I perceive and react to the world around me.

Recovery, for me, means being able to finally get out of my own way, so the people around me who sometimes have a much clearer view of my capabilities and potential than I, can promote me and support me and point out ways that I can make my — and their — world better. Those people can’t sit inside my head, which has a full inventory of all the ways I’m in need of improvement. So, I have to trust them and their assessment of my potential and ability to contribute to the whole. After all, they can probably see things that I can’t, and they wouldn’t be supporting me if it weren’t in their best interests. I just have to trust them on this.

And I have to quit listening to carefully to myself about every little thing I think I’ve done wrong. I went through a period where I was cataloguing every single thing I did wrong, digging myself deeper and deeper into holes of self-doubt and misery. It was important for me to realize where I was impaired and struggling. But all the while that I was keeping records of what was wrong with me, that very exercise was helping me to regain my ability organize my thoughts, motivate myself, monitor and manage my own behavior, and function in the world at large. Ironically, at the same time my mind was becoming increasingly convinced that something Awful was amiss, the awfulness was slowly but surely subsiding. And I ended up inventing a story about myself that became less true, with each passing month.

That’s not to say I didn’t have issues. I certainly did. But the story I told myself deep down inside about my ability to deal with those issues was not always a good one. And the more I learned about my issues, the more anxious I became, which impacted my ability to think clearly and sort out my recovery. It impacted my ability to formulate an objective, accurate view of myself. And it held me back from living my life in ways that I couldn’t even begin to fathom.

What remarkable creatures we are. We’re so alive, yet we’re so eager to avoid living life to the fullest. There burns within each and every one of us a spark of vibrant life, yet our very makeup seems to come “pre-loaded” with a sort of psychic brake that slows us down when we are picking up speed. Maybe it’s a self-defense mechanism — too much speed can do serious damage, as so many of us find out the hard way. But after we’ve taken our lumps and gotten knocked down, we can be all too all-or-nothing — either driven to rebound immediately (and damn the torpedoes) or frightened of our own shadows and refusing to participate in even the most rudimentary aspects of life for fear of yet another bump or fall or crash.

For me, it’s been both — after my many falls, I’ve tended to be driven to immediately dive back into the fray, with no rest, no recovery and not even a shred of perception that I needed rest or recovery. But after realizing what had happened, I swung to the opposite extreme and set about constructing for myself an alternate personality that was so encased in protective measures that I could barely move. I ended up like the little brother in “A Christmas Story” who was so bundled up against the cold that he couldn’t get up after he got knocked down.

Fortunately, for me, the virtual winter of my past 6 years has been easing up. And I’m getting to a point where I can just get on with my days, instead of second-guessing everything I do and say. There is a lot riding on my shoulders — a household to support, loved ones with health issues, a mortgage to pay, a professional position to pursue. But I can’t second-guess every single thing I do right or wrong. Even the things I think I do ‘wrong’ aren’t always bad, in the eyes of others.

I can be my own best friend or my own worst enemy. Deciding which I’ll be, from moment to moment, seems to be the theme of my life, these days. Today, I choose to be a friend.


Overslept – thank heavens

Source: public-domain-photos.com

Today is a big day – my new boss starts today. Actually, it’s my boss’es new boss — the existing boss’es boss who flipped out over my faux pas a few weeks ago wisely perceives that they need an additional layer of management to help with all their reports. It’s good. Plus, there is a chance that it may mean I get a promotion (and possibly a raise) in the deal, because it’s common knowledge that I have a ton more experience at what I do, than what my current boss does. And it could mean that the two of us become peers, rather than me staying subordinate.

Plus, my spouse has a conference call this morning with a potential new business partner which could really help bump their business up in a way it’s been needing to, since around 1999, when a former business partner changed their business model and moved on. Ever since that, my spouse has been seeking a replacement business partner, but they never materialized.

Now they’re materializing, and it looks very promising. Good stuff. That, on top of the fact that my partner is getting more and more clients for their business, and they’re developing new services that are catching on in the community… more good stuff.

It’s exciting. And uncertain. And I haven’t been sleeping well, lately, which makes this the prime opportunity for a freak-out melt-down, which happened last night (this morning) at around 2 a.m.

For some reason, my brain decided that my spouse has been lying to me about a relationship they’ve developed with a co-worker — someone they work very closely with, and with whom they have admitted they have “chemistry”. It’s been a pretty sore spot for me for the past 9 months or so. It’s been a subtext in our lives that I have tried valiantly to be tolerant and understanding of. My spouse has assured me, time and time again, that there is nothing untoward going on, and I’ve had to believe them.

But lately, between being tired, starting the new job, and the great new business developments… not to mention the change of the season which always gets me a little down… it’s been getting harder and harder fight back the tendency to suspicion and distrust.

Now, you have to understand — the potential “other man/woman” has been a regular presence in our relationship for as long as we’ve been together — nearly 20 years. There have been “others” who have been more or less intimate/inappropriate with both of us. And we’ve both always had some other people experience sort of “spark” with each of us. We’re very different people, but we’re both very much alive, and people are attracted to our liveliness. It goes with the territory. Plus, we’re married, but we’re not dead, and we both appreciate an attractive, alluring individual when we encounter them.

When we’re strong, we’re fine. Neither of us has let infidelity get hold of us, and we’ve always come back from those kinds of gray areas stronger than ever.

But this time is different. For me, for my spouse. My spouse has traditionally turned to me for support (both moral and logistical and economic) when they needed an extra set of eyes for a marketing piece, or a strong back for lifting and carrying gear, or a little extra $$$ to pay a contractor or some other obligation. In many ways, I’ve been a silent partner in their undertakings. But over the past year, they’ve resolved to be more independent, more self-sufficient, and not depend so much on me.

It’s for good reason — one that has as much to do with me, as with them. As I’ve emerged from my latest TBI fog, I’ve realized how much I tend to overdo it, how I tend to over-extend myself, and I’ve realized that helping my spouse with as much as I have has taken a significant toll on my energy stores, which has made the rest of my life more difficult. So, I’ve requested that they “use” me a lot less for their events and activities, and they rely more on their support network for getting things done.

And they have. So I have been doing much better about handling my energy stores and my overall activities. But it also leaves me feeling unwanted. Unneeded. Cast away. Pushed aside. Discarded.

How does that work, exactly? I say I can’t keep holding down three jobs (my 9-5, another regular job I have that takes from 5-10 hours a week, plus helping my spouse), and I need a break from being their utility person. And when they give me what I ask for, I feel like so much human refuse. What’s up with that?

I think it’s human nature, actually. And I think it points out that I have used my position with my spouse, over the years, to “give them a reason” to stay with me. If they were dependent on me, then they would put up with my moodiness, my temper outbursts, my wild emotional lability, my melt-downs, my blow-ups, my friggin’ temper flares… and my intermittent troubles, thanks to intermittent TBIs. I figured, as long as they needed me for the most basic, fundamental stuff in life, they would keep me around. And I wouldn’t be alone.

But now that’s changing. And my job is changing. And the world is changing. And the seasons are shifting. And I’m tired. So, I become convinced that they’re having an affair and lying to me about it and hiding other things and making a fool out of me, talking about me behind my back with friends in common, and generally keeping me around until they can get enough money together to leave my sorry ass.

It came to a head at 2 a.m. this morning. Ugh. Fortunately (and I think this may have to do with my spouse having grown up in a household with volatile, sometimes violent parents) my partner was able to keep cool and not flip out on me, and what could have escalated into a full-scale fight that ended up with me driving off in the car and sleeping in a parking lot somewhere, ended up with us just talking things through.

And I got my head to calm down. With the help of my spouse, I managed to tame my crazy-ass broken brain that fixates on stuff and then turns it into something Big And Bad and awful, and got in touch with the fact that I’m feeling pretty alone in the world, right now, without any real-world friends of my own to just hang out with. I don’t have a real-live support network. Work doesn’t count – you need to maintain some professional distance there. And the friends that I have in common with my spouse… well, I haven’t done much to reach out to them. I’m so tired, so much of the time, I just can’t find the energy to reach out. Even my family is at arm’s length for me. We’re all so busy. So busy working just to keep it together and make ends meet.

Anyway, about 3:00 a.m. I managed to calm down enough to go back to bed. My spouse and I have been sleeping in separate bedrooms for almost 2 years now. They kicked me out a few winters ago, when my volatility got to be too much for them — they’d come to bed later than me, and I’d freak out on them waking me up and screwing up my sleeping pattern. Not good. Not pretty. So, I moved to the “guest” bedroom, which by now is really my bedroom. It’s a little lonely, and the mattress leaves a little to be desired, but it’s dark in there all night (my spouse likes to sit up late reading, and they like a night-light on all night), and with my earplugs in (to block out the sound of them moving around, which seems all the louder when I’m tired), I can sleep through.

Which is what I did today. I slept through the 6:30 alarm and woke up at 8:00. I had wanted to get into the office today early, so I could be there when my new boss gets there, but you  know what? I’m rarely there that early, and I’m going to stay late today, so why do something to throw myself off and put myself in an untrue light?

Plus, my present boss gets in around 9:30, and I don’t want to upstage them. I just want to start off on a foot that gives folks an accurate view of who I am and how I work — not manufacture an ideal image that I can’t live up to.

So, I’m running later than I expected to, and that’s fine. I’m also back on-line with my spouse, and I’m thinking about how I can change my life this autumn/winter to make it more “mine” the way I am now, instead of a shadow of the life I had before my last TBI. Much in my life has changed, since I embarked on my intentional TBI recovery, and I’m finding that the ways I’ve been over the years have not been true to who I really am, and how I really am.

I need change. I need something better. I need something that’s mine.

I did oversleep today, but it gave me something I’ve been needing desperately — more rest. The kind I can actually use.