Starving today

bone with gristle on itI’m hungry today. As in, ravenous. I had my usual breakfast egg with some coffee, but that wasn’t nearly enough. So, I finished off a sandwich I’d made yesterday. I’m still hungry. This feels like the start of a migraine coming on, when everything feels weird and trippy, and I’m hungrier than usual.

It wouldn’t surprise me, if that were the case. It would make perfect sense, in fact.

Yesterday was a long day. I had to work, starting at 6 a.m., then I had to run some overdue errands. I had to prep for a trip to the next state, where my spouse and I were attending an art show by our friend who is literally on their deathbed. We were all hoping they’d be there, but they couldn’t make it.

Dying takes precedence. Especially doing it well.

I’ve had a lot of people pass in and out of my life. Death was a regular visitor to my family, when I was growing up. That’s what you get when you have a large family and you stay in touch with a wide array of second and third cousins (many of them once or twice removed). Grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends of the family… every year or so, somebody who meant something to me died, while I was growing up.

So, yeah, I have some familiarity with loss.

Plus, a lot of people have come in and out of my life through job changes, relocations, and just the usual migrations of people in these times. Whenever someone moved away, never to be seen or heard from again (this was pre-internet times), it was just as if they’d died. And that happened to me a lot.

It’s happened so much, that when people die, I don’t have the same level of devastation that others do. To me, dying is a mystery — which I’m not qualified to understand completely. I leave it up to The Great Almighty to work out. I don’t believe in hell, anymore, so I’m not really torn up when people die, thinking they might burn in fire and brimstone for all eternity. I tend to think of death more as a transition to a different state of being. The body dissolves, but it continues on. We’re breathing air that contains tiny bits of Beethoven, from what I’ve heard.

Anyway, yesterday was a marathon of sorts. I didn’t realize how tired I was, until I’d done my mid-day errands and had my shower… then started to crash. But there was no time to crash. I had to keep going. The 90-minute drive to where we were going took 2 hours (because my spouse forgot some stuff and we had to improvise & make stops at stores along the way). And when we got there, I couldn’t find parking. I couldn’t even find the venue where the art show was… it was really disorienting, and I was tired, so that was exciting.

I did find the place, though, and the evening commenced with way more social activity than I’ve seen in quite some time. I saw a number of people I used to hang out with a lot, and I did a lot more talking to like-minded people than I do on a daily basis. It was a very artsy crowd, which was a very different “feel” than the mainstream suburbanites I’m usually around. It wasn’t better, it wasn’t worse, it was just different. And doing “different” takes effort for me.

The ride home was trippy, too. I was even more out-of-it than I was driving there, and I nearly ran a red light. But we got home safe and sound, and I got in bed at a fairly decent hour. Slept like a rock. Strange dreams, though. To be expected.

Anyway, I have another full day ahead of me — a bunch of stuff to do this morning, then I crash this afternoon. All afternoon. The plan is to have a hot-hot shower at 1 p.m., then go back to bed and not set an alarm. Just sleep.

And that’s what it takes: a good balance between doing and not-doing, between going and resting. I’m at my best, when I’m hyper-engaged and keeping really busy doing things that matter to me. I haven’t done as much of that in the past couple of years, as I would have liked to. For some reason, everything felt like it was stacked against me, and no matter what I tried, nothing really worked out. But now this sense has unaccountably changed, and I’m feeling more optimistic and practically directed, than I have been in a while. It feels pretty good. I just need to remember to take good care of myself. When I’m starting to get signs of a migraine, take some time off to recover… and then get back into the flow with a good balance of what-is and what-will-be.

It’s always a balance, and now that feels even more important.

I’ve got stuff to do. I’ve got a life to live. There’s nothing like having someone close to you die, to remind you of how short life can be, and how important it is to bring your best to each and every day.

Duly noted.

Now, it’s time for another glass of water.


Done worrying about stuff — for the time being

man and woman jumping for joy on a beach

It’s Friday. Woot.

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.

At all.


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.

And on.

And on.


Tending to my present… Kick-starting my future

road leading into the distance, with country landscape surrounding it

Well, that sounds dramatic. And I suppose it is.

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.

But no.

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.

Looking back, looking ahead… and trying to get some sleep in the meantime

rowboat at docks

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…


Quiet day today

desert-canyon-streamLast week was a full one. Full of news, both personal and international, and full of activity.

My friends in Paris are safe. That is some consolation, as the terrible stories emerge. But it does nothing for those who were killed or injured — and all of their loved ones who will forever be affected by that horrible series of events, last night.

And now the fever pitch of war cries picks up even more. When war doesn’t just happen everywhere else, and people start to notice how… horrible it is, there tends to be an outcry. Something must be done. Action must be taken. Things must change.

But then, after people have gotten used to it and made the experience part of their world view, the cries for action go away, and people go back to living their lives, grateful to be excited over things that don’t matter at all.

Of course, not everyone gets to leave the struggle behind. Some of us live with the struggle, day after day, and it never really goes away. People with chronic pain…. or neurological issues… or chronic degenerative conditions that will never, ever be cured, just get a little less painful, from day to day… or daily struggles with PTSD, mental illness, emotional trauma from things done to them, their family, or another loved-one.

Many of us carry these things around with us, day after day, sometimes coming to terms with the pain on a moment-by-moment basis.

Some days are better than others.

And today — for me — is a quiet day, which I hope will mean it’s a good day.

The attacks in Paris last night really set me off. I was up later than I usually am, but fortunately I was able to “sleep in” till after 7:20. So, all is not lost. And later today I plan to take a nap. Or two. It’s all about pacing myself… but also not letting myself get pulled down into the malaise that sometimes takes over me when I’m not active (“taking it easy”) on the weekends.

Sometimes, taking it easy is the last thing I need. It can be physically painful. A three hour nap can leave me feeling like I’ve been trampled by a herd of while boars. It also makes me feel dull and drugged. I may need the sleep, but it takes a toll. Yes, I want to rest my mind and body, and I need it. But the inactivity actually brings the pain.

So, while today will be a quiet day for me, it will also have its share of activity. Interspersed with naps, so I can get up and be active again. Short bursts of doing something, followed by a rest period.

I will also rest my mind. My head is swirling from the past week and the Paris attacks, and I need to get myself to what I’ve heard people call “desert mind” — where your mind is free and clear of clutter, and things are moving through as they will, without getting snagged on all kinds of things you make up. Or maybe that’s “zen mind”. Anyway, that’s where I want to be today. Flowing right along, playing my music, exercising a bit, driving around to run my errands, trying out some new music out of curiosity, taking care of odd things at home, and just following the day where it leads.

Sometimes, when I am trying to get to sleep, I imagine myself in a desert canyon, sitting in the shade of a rock face beside a flowing stream where wild animals come to drink. In my mind’s eye, I watch coyotes and mountain lions and rattlesnakes come to the water’s edge, while I observe in silence. They see me, but they know I mean them no harm, and they mean me no harm, either. I watch scorpions scuttle by, and I see vultures circling overhead. It’s not frightening. It’s relaxing for me — to be in the presence of creatures that many fear, and to not feel anything akin to fear — just letting them be there.

Just letting it all be. Letting it be quiet. Letting it be what it is. Seeing everything for the danger it can be, without reacting to it as danger.

That’s how I feel about the weekend ahead of me. Two days off my regular work, I have time to focus on the things that really speak to me in a way I want to be, mentally. I can create the state of mind I want to have, in the midst of it all, and that’s a mighty valuable skill. It comes in handy, in times like this.

I’ll also have time to revisit things I’ve left off over the work week, because I’ve been too busy/tired/overwhelmed to do them justice.

Things like my neuropsych retiring — and taking away the one opportunity I’ve had each week since 2009 to understand my life in a way that is useful to me, not just a blind repetition of others’ phantasmagorical imaginings. I’m starting to understand the true impact of this change. In a very real way, a part of me is going to die when they leave. I believe that our Selves are defined in large part by the circumstances we are in and the dynamics with the people we interact with. We are a certain way with people, and when those people depart from our lives, that way goes away. And it can never come back, because there will never be another person like them in our lives. Ever again.

So, it’s a death, of sorts, and our working relationship is essentially going into a sort of long-term care, and then hospice, as I say good-bye to that part of me that exists only within the confines of that office, once a week.

It’s time to dive a little deeper, now. It’s a little frightening, a little invigorating, a little freeing, because it’s finally happening. I had wondered about this for months, and now I know my hunch was right. That month they were away with their family, they were probably looking at condos, during much of their visit.

And it’s time to stop dwelling on the Paris attacks. It’s a horrible, horrible thing — and it’s not going away anytime soon. So, I can do myself a favor and step away from it to think about other things that build me up, rather than tear me down… and drain the energy I really need to just live my life.

It’s time for a walk in the woods.

Or maybe a nap…


Post 1979 – The year things got interesting again

For my 1979th post, I want to talk about my 14th year on earth – it was an interesting one. That’s the year I entered high school, I fell out of a tree and landed on my back, and I lost two really important people in the space of a weekend.

There were a lot of good things that happened that year – I became more social, and I started running cross country, which gave me a great outlet for my energy.

That year I also fell out of a tree and landed on my back across a log. I couldn’t breathe for a while, and fortunately I was near my house, so I ran home and laid down to catch my breath.

I’m not sure if I broke anything, but I was pretty dazed and out of it. I just felt so weird… like my body was made of cotton and my brain was under water.

That was the year I also lost two people who meant a lot to me. One was a parent of the family next door, who was like my own parent — even closer, because they were not cruel to me. The other was an athlete I looked up to and really aspired to emulate.

On a Friday morning, the parent next door passed away from cancer. I hadn’t talked to them in many months, because I had impulse control issues with one of their kids, and I “went off” on them and hurt them kind of badly. The “second parent” I thought I had didn’t understand my issues and was pretty strict with me. I felt wronged, so I quit talking to them.

Nobody understood me. Not even them. Nobody “got” that I was fighting issues no one could see. All I knew was, I had lost the connection that I used to feel with this adult.

And 24 hours after they passed from cancer, my hero was killed when their car was struck by a train. I heard about it on the radio, when I was out buying basketball sneakers. They didn’t say the name of the person who was killed, but I knew who it was. I just knew.

Both of those losses devastated me. I lost all connection with my world, and I went on “autopilot”.

In 1978, things started to turn around. Then in 1979, they got all screwed up again. And I figured I was cursed. Doomed to always be alone and isolated.

Oh, I have to stop writing about this. I’m getting really upset, and I am too tired to dwell on it. I have some chores I need to do, and I need a nap. I have been working on a project since early this morning, and I am tired. Tapped out.

Maybe I won’t write about my past. It’s pretty depressing. I’ll see if I can write some positive and constructive things… later.  Right now, I have to tend to other business.


The chance to make a difference, every single day


Death is never an easy thing to deal with, and losing someone — or something — that means a lot to you, is just plain hard. Grief has a timetable of its own, and even when you think you’re past it, it can come up again — days, months, years after the fact.

I’ve been thinking a lot about loss, this fall. I’m working on my book TBI S.O.S. – Restoring a Sense of Self after Traumatic Brain Injury, and I’ve been thinking about all the ways that TBI has taken something from me over the years… including my Sense of Self.

Now a dear relative has died, and I have the opportunity to look at how that loss is affecting me and many others, whose lives they touched. Looking back at their long life — over 100 years — so many people and situations came across their path. Lots of good situations, lots of hard situations. And the last thing you could say about their life, was that it was easy. The last thing you could say about their personality, was that it was easy-going. They had a hard life, and they developed the mettle to deal with it. They weren’t always fun to be around, and they could be mean-spirited and cruel. But in the end, they really had a positive impact on so many lives. So many, many lives.

No matter their shortcomings — and we all have them — they always stayed true to their commitment to make a positive change in the world. That’s what their life was really about — through teaching, volunteer work, and active service on many boards in their community. The number of people coming through their hospital room at the end, to say good-bye and thank them for their service, was amazing. So many people who gained because of their commitment.

And it occurs to me, looking back at this relative, who had so many obvious flaws, that if they can make a positive difference, then any of us can. And we should. We simply need to have the willingness and the energy to keep going. We need to have that commitment. Each of us, in our own way, has at least one gift we can offer and develop to benefit others. And each of us, when we reach out to the people around us in a spirit of genuine helpfulness, can do something positive in this world to make it a better place. We don’t have to be famous or rich or mathematical geniuses to forge ahead. We can find our own small ways to pitch in and help, and do it better in our own way than anyone else ever could.

In a way, the fact that my grandparent was a difficult person, makes their contribution all the more inspiring. They freely admitted that they had limitations, and I know that in their later years they regretted a lot of things they had done in their youth. But they kept going. They kept learning. They kept showing progress and changing with the times. They didn’t push people away because of their limitations — they engaged with them and they learned from them, as well as taught. And in the end, what really matters is the good they brought to the world.

Looking at their example, I can see so many parallels with my own life — struggling with limitations, overcoming them, finding new ones to deal with, and keeping on till I could see past the most recent obstacle and get a clearer view of the world around me. Each barrier, each obstacle has taken me higher — so long as I’ve engaged with it. And each time I’ve overcome, I’ve gotten a better view of where I stood and what my options were.

Brain injury has been a real blight on my life. It’s stolen many good years from me, and it nearly ruined me, 10 years ago. But through following the example of my grandparent, and just keeping going, I’ve gained so much more than I ever could have, otherwise. And for that, I am truly grateful.

We all have something to offer. We all have something to contribute. And that “something” will necessarily change over time. As we age, as we learn, as we grow, as we go through the changes in our lives, our bodies and brains and outlooks change, sometimes turning us into completely different people. The loss of a job, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a home, a sudden change in fortune – for good or for ill – can drastically alter us and our relationship to the world and others around us.

That doesn’t mean we stop being able to help and contribute. That doesn’t mean we stop being useful and needed. Sometimes we need to recalibrate and shift our attention… look around for new ways to be of service. But those ways are out there — if we keep steady and look for them, with an open heart and lots of humility.

Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now. I’m in a pretty philosophical frame of mind, these days.

On Thursday night, I’ll be driving to my family again for the viewing and funeral. I’ll probably be “dark” during that time, with everything going on. Right now, I’m making my list of things I need to do ahead of time, getting things together systematically, so I can just pick up and go on Thursday after work. I need to do laundry, buy food for the road, collect my thoughts for a short eulogy I’ll be giving, and basically keep myself steady and rested for the next week.

These things are never easy, but I do have a heads-up about what’s to come, so this will be logistically easier than the last weekend, when it all sort of took me by surprise. I was ill-prepared, in some ways, but it all came out okay in the end, I guess.

The main thing to remember, is that I’m doing really well.  I have NOT melted down, since getting back, and I’m keeping steady and calm. I have a long day ahead of me, but that’s okay. At least I have a plan to follow, and I know how things are going to shake out.

Anyway… onward.

Back to regular life – for now

Tomorrow I’m back to my everyday life… waiting for the call to see when I need to travel for the funeral. We’re all guessing it will be this coming weekend. We’ll see.

Regular, boring everyday life never looked so good. I can get back to my routine, my usual activities, my usual interests. And I can keep moving forward with my own life in my own way.

And that’s good.

I talked to each of my siblings today, and we all have our own perspectives on things. We also have our own priorities. We’ve all literally gone our separate ways, and coming back together next weekend will put us in rare proximity to one another. That doesn’t happen very often.

But for now, the day is done, and I’m about to head to bed. I slept all afternoon and then got up to go food shopping and just get out of the house. I’m starting to feel human again, but it’s going to take more than a few hours of sleep to get back to balance.

And then more travel…

The best I can hope for, is to keep steady and predictable and not go off the deep end because I’m tired and frustrated. Just keeping steady is the big thing.

So, I shall. As best I can.

Fine when I get there

In praise of stillness
Peace be with you.

So, I’m back from my trip to see my family. My grandparent has not yet passed away, and I got to say good-bye to them while they still recognized me, so that is a real blessing.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that. It’s deeply personal, and I don’t have words to express everything I’m feeling.

What I will talk about, is how things turned around once I was there. It can be so difficult for me to get going with new undertakings — including making a sudden trip to go see my family during an emergency. And it was so difficult for me to let to of the reins on my projects at work, so other could step in and pick up the slack during the final days before these deadlines. It’s a tough one, to A) of all get my head around everything that is going on, put it in some semblance of order, and B) communicate what needs to be done to people who are helping. I’ll head into work early tomorrow to get a jump on the week.

I’ve got some additional work to do today, connecting with my siblings about the situation and next steps. And resting up from the trip. It was pretty grueling — a lot of driving, a lot of dealing with people’s “stuff”, a lot of food that bears no resemblance to what I choose to eat on a daily basis. It’s the world I left behind… and I left it for a reason. So going back to deal with folks when they are arguably at their worst, and I am certainly not at my best… that’s a real learning experience.

But in the end, that’s what it all is — it is all a learning experience, and as long as I continue to look at it that way, there can’t be anything wrong (or even right) about what I’m choosing, what I’m doing, what I’m going through. So long as I keep going and continue to learn and grow, what can be wrong?

It’s the giving up that’s wrong. It’s the quitting that’s wrong. And now that I have tools and skills built up from the past years of active TBI recovery, I don’t have to quit anymore. Once upon a time, that’s almost all I did — start, and then quit.

Not now. Not anymore.

So, today being Sunday, it’s a day of Rest. Thank God we moved our clocks back, so I get an extra hour today. Good timing. I got a bunch of chores done last week before we left, so I wouldn’t have to worry about them when I got back, so my day is all clear of any regular requirements  — except getting dinner. I’ll need to go get that. But I need to get out in the day, so no biggie.

The main thing, is to really take good care of myself today. Countless times, when I have pushed myself to overcome challenges, I’ve worn myself out and ended up really shredding my most important relationships with the aftermath — when all has settled down, and I’m starting to get some strength back and I’m not just on autopilot, my system backfires, and I end up flipping out over every little thing, saying things I can’t take back, and basically being a terror to everyone around me.

I do NOT want that to happen to me over the next week. It’s going to be grueling, with work being extremely pressurized over deadlines for the next two weeks, and some pretty significant projects that are coming down to the wire.

So, I’m going to do the following to make my life easier and improve my chances of success:

  • Make lists, so I don’t have to think about things.
  • Pace myself – keep an eye on my schedule, give myself extra time to do complicated things, and jettison some of the pointless “recreational” things I don’t need to bother with.
  • Get plenty of rest – sleep when I can and take frequent breaks.
  • Get more exercise – to keep the lymph moving and loosen up my stiff, painful, creaky bones, after all that driving and sitting.
  • Drink plenty of water – practically flood my system, in fact. Flush it out and get the junk moving through and OUT.
  • Do the things I know are good for me, and avoid the things I know are bad for me. Enough said.

So, I have a plan. After I finish my coffee and check my email, I’m going back to bed. I’ll get up this afternoon to check in with my parents and talk to my siblings. I really need to pace myself, today — and all this week and beyond. It’s bad enough when sad things happen, but mismanaging myself just makes matters worse.

The main thing is, keeping my head on straight and not getting all freaked out over anxiety and fear about what I may or may not do properly. The most difficult part of the trip down, was all the uncertainty, and not knowing if I’d be able to handle myself well, in the face of death and sadness and tragedy. But once I was in the midst of everything, I was actually fine. The added demands really pushed me to step up — and step up, I did.

The most significant danger is actually not when things are getting tough — it’s before, and then after. Before, I am anxious and have no idea what’s to come, exactly. After, I am dog-tired and am short on impulse control and emotional management abilities. In the thick of things, I’m actually fine. It’s getting there — and out again in one piece — that’s the problem.

On the bright side, it’s a really nice fall day, overcast and moody and perfect for resting and relaxing and reflecting. I’m back in my own home, sleeping in my own bed, and I get an extra hour to rest today. I think I’m going to do some reading… pull out some of the books I haven’t had a chance to read, poke around a bit… and just settle in for a long day of good rest.

I really am very fortunate.