“Down In a Hole” – Rediscovering Alice In Chains

volcano hole in the groundYesterday, I was wandering around the interwebs, and for some reason, I ended up listening to an old MTV Unplugged show featuring Alice In Chains. They used to be played on the radio all the time, when I was still listening to the radio, instead of listening online, and I remember well, singing along with “Rooster” and “Down In a Hole” and other songs I don’t know the name of.

And it felt great to listen to those songs again. For two reasons:

  1. I can completely relate. The songs really speak to me, especially on days like yesterday. It really felt like I was down in a hole, and that everything was conspiring against me. Those songs especially remind me of how intensely I used to relate to them about 10 years ago, and that old feeling is familiar and comforting.
  2. I realize just how far I’ve come in my recovery. Those songs used to mean so much to me… but now they’re more important to me as intermittent reminders, occasional reassurances. Something to keep me balanced and reminded that life has its ups and downs, and continues on, nonetheless.

I don’t think I’m going to go back to listening to Alice In Chains on a regular basis. I start to feel a little depressed, when I do that.

But it’s good to remember, they’re still there. And I can tune in to listen to them, anytime I need that.

And so my Tuesday begins.  Onward…

Whether I like it, or not

What I need right now, is some music.bartleby-imageAnd that’s what I’m getting. I’m now plugged into Pandora and gettin’ my groove on.

I’ve been lolling around the house for the past couple of hours, reading and making myself a late lunch. I’ve been eating candy, because my energy is really low, and I can’t seem to work up the enthusiasm for much of anything other than sweets.

I burned through the last of the candy that interested me, and now I’m eating a big glob of peanut butter and honey all mixed together. Some frozen mango chunks are thawing nearby, and I’ll have them later, for a “healthy” snack.

After the mention from a reader, earlier today, I checked out the Herman Melville short story Bartleby the Scrivener, which I have heard about in the past. Heck, I may have even read it at one time, but I can’t remember having done that. Doesn’t mean I haven’t. I just have no recollection.

It’s Saturday, and I feel an odd combination of relaxation and ennui. I’m feeling a little like Bartleby, who “preferred not” to do common-sense things. It’s also a hot one today, and I am still feeling wiped out from my week, even after a morning nap. I have been keeping off Facebook, but I did check out Twitter earlier. So much talk — arguing — controversy — fear — anxiety — pressure… football season is up on us. Kids are going back to school. It’s all building to a fever pitch.

It’s a wonder any of us can hold a conversation with anyone. All the pro/con conflicts and ideological jousting… good grief. I get depressed just looking at all the tweets. And I’d prefer not to deal with it, right now.

But I must deal. Because I’m involved.


I’m one of those kids who was repeatedly hurt in sports and a generally active / action-packed childhood, who had a ton of problems as a result, and those problems followed me like stray pets that got dumped at the local 7-11 and found out I’d feed them. So, they followed me around for years and years.

I’m still hassling with them. Less now, than only a few years ago… but they still crop up.

And I cannot help but think back to how it was for me — even as the memories fade (as they tend to, with me)… even as the particulars about my past become hazier, I still remember how it felt. And I still remember what it was like to get hit, to love getting hit, loving that feeling, and jumping up to dive back into the fray for more.

I need music, today. I need something to keep me moving and get me out of my maudlin head. I need something that will move me forward with the plans I have. I need to work towards finishing TBI S.O.S. and then get on with finishing the book I started about the connections between TBI and PTSD.

I also need to continue work on “After the Hit”, which is about the experience of getting hit, getting concussed, and how it really affects you immediately after you get “dinged”. That, to my mind, is a serious consideration in the struggle to deal with concussion — the under-reporting, the concealment of symptoms, the types of behavior and play that contribute to this ongoing issue.

In my experience, the problems that come along with concussion — the fogginess, the distractability, impaired risk-awareness, impaired judgment, having all your filters being blown to smithereens, and being overwhelmed and inundated by SO MUCH STIMULI — sets you up for more concussions, because the one thing that will take the edge off, is another blow to the head, which fires off all the mechanisms that send your system into hyperdrive and also block out all the noise, the chatter, the competing information. It may feel good at the time, but the long-term results really do suck.

I used to play to get hurt. It was the only thing that would stop the noise. It was the only thing that made me feel sane again.

And that’s depressing me. I’d prefer not to think about it. But if I don’t.. and if I don’t at least say something about it, then I’m helping the problem to persist. People have to know about this hidden piece of the concussion puzzle. We need to appreciate just how big a role that wanting to get hurt has in unsafe play — and risk-taking of all kinds post-concussion. And we need to not just medicate or institutionalize a response, but come up with some healthy alternatives that harness that knowledge and use it for good — not just prescribe a handful of pills to make the problem go away.

Argh! That maddens me. All the meds… given to people who are extremely sensitive to them, thanks to their injuries… pharmaceuticals that sometimes only make things worse, because they do the exact opposite of what needs to be done for someone with a mild TBI / concussion.

But I can’t let it get me down. I’ve got my tunes on, and it’s good. I just have to get myself in gear.

Or maybe go back to bed?

Heh. Which would I prefer? I should probably do the opposite.

Back from my 2-day reboot

Ahhhh… that’s more like it.

I just got up from a 2-hour Sunday afternoon nap, feeling like I’ve gotten the reset I’ve been needing.

My parents came to visit over the weekend, and we three really good days together. I took Friday off, and we hung out, roamed around my area, spent some time on Saturday with friends they’ve never met, who are more like extended family to my spouse and me, and made and ate good food.

I tend to really dread their visits, because there tends to be a lot of tension with my spouse, who doesn’t see eye to eye with them, politically or socially. This time there was some tension, but I spent a lot of time alone with my folks, while my spouse slept or did other things, so we didn’t have too much overlap.

And the times when there was tension, we managed to diffuse it pretty well.

Overall, I handled things pretty well. Both my spouse and my parents are very high maintenance, so I have to actively manage their activities. I have to manage my spouse, keep them relatively calm and not panicked, jump in and help them with different physical activities, and make sure they feel like they’re involved. And I have to manage my parents, because they have a tendency to pick up tools and start to cut and trim and “fix” things that don’t actually need fixing, which leaves more work for me to do later.

In the past, we’ve had a non-functioning bathroom faucet for several months, because my father decided to fix the drip without having a seat wrench.

Took me a few months to get the seat wrench — I kept forgetting to look for one — and then took me a little while to figure out how to properly use it and fix what my father broke. I felt pretty stupid wrangling with that simple tool, but there it is. What can I say? I’d never used a seat wrench before, let alone looked for one at the local hardware store.

My mother has a green thumb, and she loves to prune and dig and rearrange plantings, which is great, so long as she’s supervised. Once, she “went rogue” with a clipper and pretty much denuded one of my spouse’s favorite plants — one they’d been given for their birthday.

So much for the prized birthday present. That was a sore spot for months, because the plant in question was a centerpiece in our home and became a constant reminder of the havoc my mother can wreak, if left unattended with a clipping implement.

This time, I was “riding herd” on all three of them — parents and spouse — because my parents are starting to slip a little, mentally and physically, and my spouse has been increasingly unreasonable, hyper-sensitive and aggressive… and I didn’t feel like dealing with yet another Clash of the Titans, like we’ve had in prior years. In years gone by, they’ve practically come to blows.

And that blows.

But this time, we kept peace pretty well, and we left things on an up note, when all was said and done. My dad got to fix something that needed fixing. My mom got to plant some perennials we’ve been meaning to plant, and my spouse got to sleep almost as much as they wanted to, as well as spend some valuable time with our friends on Saturday.

Coming off the weekend, I’m feeling pretty good about the whole experience. My parents are utterly exhausting — they are go-go-go, non-stop, all the time. They’re like sharks. They never stop moving, and they can never sit still for longer than an hour. An hour is long for them. In the past, I’ve completely melted down with them, because of the constant activity, the constant movement, the frantic pace they keep up. It’s generally too much for me, and it sets off all my issues — irritability, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, sensitivity to touch, distractability, fatigue, anxiety… you name it, they set it off.

But this time I did well with them. I kept up. And when I felt like I was starting to wear thin, I stepped away for a little bit. I went to bed early. I took breaks from them all, now and then, and I was pretty good about watching what I was eating. I ate more than I should have, that’s for sure, but it was all healthy food, so that’s something.

Yes, that’s something.

At the end of it all, I’m feeling like I did a good job of handling myself and the challenges of the past three days. I had a lot of trepidation and anxiety about how I would handle things, because in the past things have been very tense, there have been a lot of fights and tension, and for days afterwards, my spouse would go on and on about the things that my parents did and said “to” them.

But we’re all slowing down, and none of us has the old intense edge we used to. My parents have pretty much “gotten” that they don’t have the answers to everything, and now their priority is on enjoying the time they have with the people they love. Their friends and peers are getting sick and dying. Members of our family are going through very hard times. And it’s like they finally got their heads screwed on straight with their priorities in life.

That’s a relief.

And my spouse has lost a lot of their hell-bent momentum, since they got really sick about seven years ago. They’ve also been declining, cognitively, so they’re less able to kick ass and take names like before.

Basically, everyone’s decline is working in my favor. I hate to say it, but it is.

And now, as I look back on the non-stop action of the past 2-1/2 days, I feel a great sense of relief and relaxation that my parents have returned home, and I can get back to my regular life.

Of course, “regular life” means going back to work to deal with all the bullsh*t at the office, the politics, the jockeying, and all the stupid-ass competition between co-workers (who should really be collaborating, except that they don’t seem mentally capable of doing that). Well, that’s tomorrow.

Right here, right now, I’m getting my act together, figuring things out, and pretty much settling into what’s left of my weekend. It’s been a good couple of days, it’s reset my priorities again, reminded me where I come from and where I want to be heading in my life, and it’s good.

It’s all good.





Staying smart about things

Keeping my head on straight

I like to think that since I’ve experienced so many TBIs over the course of my life, and in spite of that I’ve managed to put together a life that many people would find enviable, and I’ve come so far in my brain injury recovery, I’m on the good foot permanently. I look at my laundry list of symptoms, and then I look at my life, and I think, “Damn, I’m doing great!”

It’s true to some extent, tut that’s not the case constantly. Especially lately. I have been having a ton of issues with distractability, as well as memory issues. Last weekend, I watched the second half of the last Harry Potter movie, and I enjoyed it. While I was watching it, I was tired, but I was engaged, and I was “actively” watching it, making comments, thinking about what was going to happen next, etc.

And then the next day, I could not remember what movie I had watched the night before. It was just a big blank space, and I could not find anything in my memory to tell me what I had been watching for 2-1/2 hours that night. I knew I had watched a movie, but I could not remember which one. It was just blank. Completely empty. Void.

Then I thought about what I was doing while I was watching the movie, and I remembered lying down on the couch to watch the movie from a more comfortable position, and it all came back to me, one piece at a time.

As long as I can find a way to remember at least part of something, the rest of it is often “tucked away” in the back of my mind somewhere. I just need that access point. And the access point is often not what I was doing prior to the activity I’m trying to remember, but something during the activity.

Normally, things like this don’t bother me, but this time did. I’ve been incredibly distractable, lately — walking into a room to do one thing, then getting distracted and doing something else, and then walking out of the room without doing what I went there to do. It happens to me constantly, and I fault the job I’ve had for the last three years, for making things worse.

My job has been a non-stop parade of distractions, driven by inexperienced individuals who have not been properly trained in time management and office etiquette. They think it’s perfectly okay to interrupt anyone for any reason, and they’d been doing it with me tens of times a day, each and every day that I’m at work. It’s bad. It’s really bad. And the fact that most of my coworkers are in their early to mid-20s and have probably grown up that way, doesn’t help.

The problem is not that I’m old (as old as many of their parents). The problem is that they have no ability to control their attention and their time and their energy, and they have no impulse control. It doesn’t bode well for their futures, but that’s not my problem. My own future is my concern.

In another week, I can start actively looking for a new job. I’m in a very good position — in a job where I am needed and valued, and I have no pressing requirement to leave, other than my own personal career plans. I can take my time and pick and choose from the offerings out there, because I have a ton of experience, and the economy is picking up, and my skillset will transfer across industries. So, that’s a good thing. And as soon as I am done with these deadlines and can move along, I shall.

I really need to pace myself. I have been running myself ragged (literally) for months, now, and it’s taking a heavy toll. I have known that it was catching up with me for some time, but I couldn’t stop, because there were time limitations I had to work within, and I wanted to get everything sorted out quickly.

So, I pushed myself. Hard. Too hard, perhaps. And the result has been:

  • sleeping problems — not able to get to sleep on time, or waking up too early
  • mood issues — blowing up over things and threatening my spouse
  • memory issues — not being able to remember things
  • cognitive issues — miscalculating and misjudging all sorts of things (that I should be able to calculate and judge, like the price of something I’m selling)
  • fatigue — being wiped out all the time and depending on adrenaline to keep me going
  • pain and sensitivities to light and sound and touch

Basically, I feel like I’m walking around in a fog, half the time, but I keep going. I hate feeling like this. It sucks. And I haven’t felt this foggy and out of for some time. The last time I felt this way, I hadn’t yet started seeing a neuropsychologist, and I was just muddling through everything and faking my way through.

Now I’m back to faking and muddling… not making much effort to remember exactly what’s going on around me, because it is so much effort… just turning to other people around me to clue me in about what comes next… not worrying so much about getting everything right, just getting it done. Actually, not worrying so much about that is not a bad thing — I should have stopped with the OCD stuff years ago, because so much of what I obsess over doesn’t really matter in the long term. But my filter for what I should and should not care about is pretty much shot.

I’m too tired and too out of it to pay much attention.

So, all my activity sneaked up on me and is pulling the rug out from under me on a regular basis. I like to think that once I get away from the current job situation and workplace configuration, I’ll be able to restore my ability to focus on what I’m doing. Seriously, the environment of constant interruption has taken a huge chunk out of my ability (and will) to focus. There’s just no point, anymore. There’s no point in even trying. It’s like trying to assemble a model airplane in the midst of a basket of puppies. You get the point. There is none.

So, I actually am starting to feel better, and in feeling better, I’m letting down my guard and looking at the bigger picture and seeing where things are not so great, and where they are really good. Because I’m not so focused on just surviving every day, I am able to honestly see how harmful the situation has been for me — and to get clear about what I want instead. Ultimately, I need a skillset that will not just lock me into one industry and one way of making a living, but is going to give me more opportunities with more (read, “higher”) ranges of salary. I’m headed down that road now, and I realize that I’ve been headed down that road for some time. I’m not just starting out from scratch with this; I’m farther along than I tend to think I am.

And now that I’m taking stock of where I’m at, I’m realizing just how tired I am. I’m exhausted. Wiped out. I’ve been pushing and pushing — and I’ll need to keep pushing for the next couple of weeks. Then I’m done. Out of there. On vacation. And then on to the next thing, the next job, the next opportunity. With hopefully more chances to focus single-mindedly on what is in front of me, rather than constantly fielding interruptions from others.

I just really need to stay smart about things. Not jump at the first chance that presents itself. Not fly into another situation because, well, it’s there and it will get me out of my current jam. I need to keep a level head about things, and sleep is a huge part of that equation. Sleep whenever I can, even when I’m at work. I can go out to my car and nap. I can also take a quick nap when I’m home from work. My spouse doesn’t understand about sleep hygiene and they say “It’s okay” for me to sleep for two hours when I get home… and then stay up till 1 a.m. They are wrong. That’s not OK at all. It’s a killer for me. But they don’t get that. At all.

So, I need to be smart for myself, and understand my spouse’s limitations when it comes to assessing what’s right and what’s wrong. Frankly, they seem to be sliding downwards and becoming increasingly cognitively impaired in certain ways. I can’t put my finger on it precisely, but they are definitely slipping with regard to their judgment, their memory, their processing… in subtle ways that are obvious to me after 23 years of living with them, but won’t get picked up by anyone else.

So, I have to be smart for both of us. It’s a little like being a single parent with a sick child. That’s how it’s been for years, on and off. Only now it’s almost constant.

Add “sole caregiver” to my resume.

All this means I just need to step back and be smarter about how I do things. I started out one of my big projects with a lot of assumptions and plans I thought would pan out, but they are turning out very differently. Rather than get stuck on the disappointments and frustrations, I need to treat this all as a learning experience. Treat it like school. Business school. In the real world. With real opportunities and real consequences, not just some case study or thesis.

This is life. This is for real. And I’ve got to keep my wits about me.

And get some sleep.

I had a nap yesterday, after getting a lot of things done. Today I’m going to do the same. I’m off to run some errands that will get me out of the house and get me around people — and interact. I have a lot of questions I need to ask someone, and there’s a lot of money (for me) that I’m going to have to pay in the process, so I need to keep a level head and be smart. Not go too fast, not go too slow, and keep at them till I get the exact answers I need and know I am making choices for the right reasons.

It’s all learning. It’s all growing. It’s all the stuff of life.


Weekend break : Food and travel and doing

This was like my weekend break – more fun than it looks like

I took a break this past weekend. Actually, I worked my ass off around the house, and I didn’t have my nap, either day, and I didn’t get a couple of of important things done that I *had* to do (oh, well…)

But I still took a break. I took a break from the crazy confusion, the frantic ad-libbing, the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants improvisation that wipes me out and depletes me and makes me feel worse than ever by the end of the day.

To be honest, I am pretty fried. I’ve been fried since Saturday morning, actually… I was in really rough shape — Woozy and out of it and really confused and off balance. Forgetting things left and right. Having to double back and do things over and over and over, till I actually do them correctly. Literally not knowing where I was or what I was supposed to be doing… till I stopped and took a breath and looked around, and then — oh, yeah — then I remembered. But in slow motion. Everything in    v e r y   s l o w   m o t i o n… Crazy.

Feeling all weekend like I was being dragged behind a horse with my foot jammed in the stirrup, and there’s no end in sight to the gallop. I woke up feeling sick and tired, Saturday  morning, and I’m still feeling sick and tired. The main difference is that this sick and tired is a whole lot less stressed than I was on Saturday morning, 48 hours ago.

Because I took care of business. I made my lists. I mean, I was brutal to myself this weekend. No Mercy. NO DISTRACTIONS. NONE.  ZIP. NADA. ZILCH. Not Even Going There. I had a lot to do, and the whole lot was a confusing mass of must-do’s, to-do’s, better-do’s, and what-not, some of the things more mandatory than others, but all of them feeling mission-critical.

Yeah, mission-critical. Whatever. I got my notebook out with my to-do list in it, and I sat down each morning, yesterday and today, with my special pen that I always use when I am writing Something Important, and I waded through my lists, culling the things that could wait, and making damn’ sure that I did the things that Couldn’t Wait. I felt like a blithering idiot, needing to write down each step:

  • Go to the post office
  • Check whether mail has come
  • Pay box fee
  • Go to the bank
  • Deposit one check in one account
  • Deposit the other check in the other account
  • Go food shopping and buy [insert items here, grouped by the section of the store where they are located]
  • Eat lunch
  • Take the trash to the dump

… and so on, but I did it. Because if I didn’t write it down exactly the way I needed to do it, it wasn’t going to get done. I was going to get pulled in a million little directions by a million little distractions. And I needed to get things done.

I took that to-do-list notebook with me everywhere, and I checked in with it every few hours, to make sure I was still on track and not wandering off into never-never land.

And you know what? It worked. As fried as I was, as sick, as confused, as turned around and impulsive as I was, I soldiered through. And by the close of Saturday night I had completed the last of the Ultra Critical items that Must Be Done, and I could finally wind down the evening with some hot tea and a glass of cold water. And some Advil, of course.

Not that the weekend wasn’t without mishaps. I jumped the gun and ordered a $30 replacement battery for my cordless drill before I thought to check the Home Depot website, where they actually had the exact same battery for $9.97. That’s an expensive mistake. I can’t afford to just spend $30 at the drop of a hat. But I can’t cancel the first order. Screw it. I’ll justify it because I’m supporting a local business instead of a massive big-box chain store, so I’m fine with spending that $30 (almost). I went ahead and ordered a second battery at the great price, and now I’ll have two batteries that hold a charge, instead of one little weak one that peters out after I drill a couple of holes in some plywood.

It took me forever to get going in the mornings. I couldn’t settle down and get myself in the right direction for hours. I was incredibly distractable, both mornings, going in circles at top speed. Crazy. But when I reined myself in and got myself back on track, it was okay going.

Get that list together. Check that list.

Right now, it probably doesn’t sound much like a weekend break. But it was — with my lists. Sitting down and figuring out what I was going to do – and when – and then just going through the steps of doing it all, one piece at a time, really took the pressure off. It let me stop thinking about what I was going to do, and let me focus on the things I was doing, when I was doing them.

Trying to figure out what to do next is a big problem for me, and it’s a huge time and energy suck. I can literally run in circles, trying to get things done — and getting nothing done at all. It’s also a big source of stress for me, because I can get caught up in the logistics and trying to figure things out and trying to think through what’s next – what’s next – what’s going to be next after that.  Caught up and confused. Crazy. And then I end the day feeling like crap because I got nothing done that I intended to.

Fortunately – and thanks to my lists – I managed to get a bunch of stuff done around the house that I’ve been meaning to do for years. I did a bunch of work in the yard, clearing out a ton of weeds and invasive plants that have been wreaking havoc with my grass for years,  but I never got around to addressing. I also cleaned out my garage and gave it a good sweeping-out, which it has also been needing for years, but hasn’t happened. Till yesterday. I worked in my basement, rearranged things that needed rearranging, managed to hook up my web cam on my computer, fiddled a little bit with video, moved some files around on computers, did some research, and got just about everything important checked off my list.

Amazing. Pretty fantastic.

So, what’s with the food and travel? Well, this weekend I was flying solo. My spouse was traveling for work, and I had the house to myself. I also had the kitchen to myself, and I was able to experiment a little with the meals I made. Friday night’s experiment was pretty much a disaster. It didn’t taste bad, but the house smelled terrible all night, and I was concerned it might still smell bad by Monday. I aired the place out on Saturday, so that helped. I also decided to try my hand at making barbecue pork in a slow cooker. On our recent trip to see family, my sister-in-law made pork and onions in her crock pot, and it was amazing. I couldn’t remember what all she’d put in it, other than pork and onions, so I looked up some slow cooker recipes, combined some of the simpler ones that sounded good, and by 8 o’clock Saturday night, I had a killer batch of pork BBQ that was out of this world. I mean, it was good. Very sweet and mellow with just a hint of tang. I bought the cheapest ingredients I could find — it was an experiment after all — and I kept it super simple. But the end result was nothing short of phenomenal, and I dined on that all weekend.

And the travel? Well, both Saturday and Sunday nights, Anthony Bourdain was on CNN (in between the tornado alerts from the network), exploring regions to the north and mid-east. So, two nights in a row, I got to see parts of the world I may never get to see in person. And I got to see the food. The chances of me ever going to any of those places is slim-to-none, so I’m happy to let him go there with a camera crew and bring back his impressions. He seems to be one of those guys who just goes to soak it all in, enjoy it, and let the experiences affect him – be that positive or negative. He just is, in the midst of all that crazy doing and happening and activity. Sure, he does along with folks, but what strikes me the most about him is that he just IS.

And when I watch him just BE in the places where he is, talking to folks, exploring, taking it all in — and eating — I get to do that, too. I get into the spirit of his adventures and get to watch how he does it. It’s a good model for me, because that’s the kind of spirit I want to bring to my own work and life, and watching someone just be open to what happens, and then talk about how it is for them, reminds me that it’s possible to be that way — even when I am dog-tired and in pain and am running out of ideas about how to be in the world.

Not that I want to make myself into Anthony Bourdain. I’ve got my own ways, my own personality, my own take on things. It’s the spirit of his work that speaks to me, and that’s what I look for.

… Not to mention, learning about amazing new foods… most of which I may ever make, but some of which are giving me ideas.

Anyway, after a very full and productive weekend, I am feeling a little better, but I’m still feeling sick and woozy. So what — I’ve got to get on with my day. The thing with me, these days, is to not let feeling bad hold me back. I might be dizzy, confused, disoriented, distractable, forgetful, and have almost no impulse control, but I have my ways of dealing with it:

  • dizzy : take it slow, keep one hand on a stable surface at all times, don’t make any sudden moves, and think about what I’m going to do before I do it
  • confused : make notes about what I need to do, keep refining my list, striking off the unnecessary things, and using post-it notes to remind me of what I’m doing
  • disoriented : again, use the notes, and don’t get too bent out of shape about being so disoriented
  • distractable : keep things simple, keep one task in mind at all times, repeat to myself — out loud and silently — what I’m doing and why I’m doing it
  • forgetful : see disoriented and distractable above
  • almost no impulse control : take it easy, and when I screw up (which I often do), just take a deep breath, think about what I should really be doing, and do that, if I can.

It’s not fun and pleasant, and if I think too much about it, it’s pretty depressing, but in the face of all of the above, I can still get on with my life and be productive and effective. It might take me twice as long as I’d like, and it might make me nuts at times, but it can be done. And in the end, I’ve got something amazing to show for it.

I now have a clean garage and a mowed yard, and a lot more hope and peace of mind. Not bad for a weekend’s work.

Keeping the compass true

So, I had a really good session with my NP yesterday. We talked about all the things that are going well for me, and my future job prospects. Of all the people I know, they really get the importance of staying positive and moving forward. And they also help keep me headed in that direction.

The one way they really aren’t much help to me, is in dealing with my setbacks and difficulties. When I start to discuss things that are challenges to me that I really need to work on, they have a standard line about how it’s more about my perception of things than anything else. They’re convinced that I don’t have substantial cognitive issues, and that any other issues I do have, I am perfectly capable of overcoming with the right attitude.

Okay, fine. That working relationship has been extremely productive in terms of helping me get my self-confidence back and figuring out what excites and moves and motivates me. But when it comes to the things I need to overcome and things that are going wrong, it’s a bit “fair weather” and the discussions start to fall apart, because we have completely different perceptions of how people and the world work. I believe that human beings are driven by biochemistry and internal wiring and instincts which kick in long before conscious thought gets a chance to step in, and they believe that the whole of the material world (including the human body) must necessarily bend to the will of an enlightened and highly trained mind. I believe in recognizing issues, understanding them, and either fixing them or learning to live with them and manage them, while my NP seems to believe that you can drive out all perceptions of problems through the power of the mind. They’re a bit “command and control” in that respect, while I have are more inclusive and — I think — accepting outlook on what goes wrong, and why.

When things are going great, and I have good things to report, then our discussions go well. At the same time, I don’t really have anyone to use as a sounding board when things are going poorly or my issues are catching up with me.

Oh, well. It’s pretty much standard fare for me. Most of my relationships and friendships offer me something significant and unique, but they’re limited in that way. Like any of the situations or relationships in my life, I have to accept that it can’t provide everything to me, and I have to figure out if what it does provide makes it worth it to continue. In this case, yes — with the understanding that I’ve got to fill in an awful lot of blanks, and I have to seek help in other arenas, when the going gets tough.

This is where the books come in, I guess. And Give Back LA. I really need to break out those reading materials again and get back into studying them. I also need to do a check-in about where I am, today, compared to where I was back in 2005, 2007, and 2009. I figure two-year checkpoints could be good. Lord knows, I’ve got notes. Have I ever got notes. I’ve got big three-ring binders in my storage closet filled with notes from 2007-2008, when I first realized that my fall in 2004 had screwed me up.

Should be interesting. I’ve actually avoided looking at those notes, for the past several years. I just wanted to get on with my life. And I have. I think looking at the notes can give me an appreciation of how far I’ve come, how much I’ve progressed. I don’t want to get lost in it, just check it out. I’ve got vacation coming up in September (after 3 years), so I’ll have some time to review and pay attention to this stuff.

All in all, I really have a lot to be thankful and grateful for. And I have made a huge amount of progress. In many ways, I’m even more functional now, than I was before, because even with the limitations on my energy levels and my working memory and my processing speed, I’m still functioning at a pretty good level. I’m talking quality level, not quantity — I’m talking quality of life, presence of mind, awareness, and a real sense of purpose. I’m talking about finding what moves me, what matters to me, and staying true to that direction, keeping my compass directed towards that and not getting pulled off in all different directions.

It’s like improving distractability at a meta level — the concept of fractality is about patterns that repeat themselves time and time again, on different levels and in different sizes, throughout a situation or picture. In a way, my distractability, my attention deficit, ballooned up to a whole-life scale, and it kept me constantly on the go, flitting from one shiny object to another,  distracting and diverting me from what meant most to me, my core values, my deepest priorities, and the actual foundation of my life. People talk about having a moral compass, and I think that’s important. Perhaps even more important is having a compass that is true to your innermost values that aren’t dictated by an outside individual or belief system. I guess it’s an “ethical compass” I’m talking about — our own personal ethics, versus the morality of the culture you live in. It’s great to have a moral compass, but if your own inner compass is not true to what you yourself believe, then you can get really lost and do things for reasons that may not be the best or most true.

After I fell in 2004, my own inner compass went haywire. And I got lost. I got pulled off in a thousand different directions, and I’m really feeling that burn as I look for another job, and people ask me why I moved from one job to the next from 2006-2010. A year here, a year there… three months here, six months there… it adds up, and when you’ve had 6 jobs in 4 years, potential employers are going to take notice. Of course, I can’t tell them that my irritability, distractability, and rage were out of control. That’s no way to present yourself well 😉 But I’m figuring out how to frame those moves in positive ways, and have them work in my favor, which is the best that anyone can do, really.

And I’m not getting hung up on it, because ultimately, if one thing doesn’t work out, something else will. It’s fine. Because my job is presently not in extreme danger (that I know of – could be wrong, who knows?) and I have a regular paycheck coming in. I also work with people who love me — and I love them, too. I just can’t stand the work environment and what our employer is foisting on us, and that’s a shame. But again — no hang-ups about this. As my neuropsych reminded me yesterday, working memory is a limited capacity resource, and if I spend a lot of time getting hung up on things, then I don’t have room for the good and productive stuff.

So, today I’m making room for the good and productive stuff. I’ve got another interview this afternoon with a recruiter, and I’m looking forward to it. Things are lining up. The big project that I’ve got going on is going to roll out in less than two weeks, and I have a handful of things I’m going to be able to get accomplished before I go. Every time I talk with people I work with, who are in other parts of the world, I’m reminded that this could be one of the last times I talk with them, so I make the most of it. It’s a good way to go out, and I’m sure that I will keep in touch with a lot of these folks — maybe even see them again in my future travels.

There’s a lot to look forward to. My compass is true, I know where I’m going, and I’m holding my own. That’s the best that I could ever ask for, right here, right now.

Tired, but doing well

Like the sea and the tides… ebb and flow

Man, am I tired. I’ve said it before, but today I’m shaky and sick to my stomach. I didn’t get enough sleep last night, because I got all riled over my boss rattling my cage. I should know better than to check my email at 11:30 at night, but I did. And the resulting rage really threw me into a mind-bender that kept me up probably till about 12:30 or so – maybe later. I think I got about 5 hours of sleep, which is not helping.

Of course, not all the reasons for my lack of sleep were bad. The good stuff kept me up, too. I was going to take a long nap yesterday, but I was so jazzed about things that I could only sleep for half an hour. Oh, well. I’ll try again tonight. I don’t have any meetings or commitments or phone calls, so I can just chill with my spouse and then get to bed at a decent hour.

This weekend was very exciting for me. Especially yesterday, when I spent a whole lot of time working on my technical skills. I studied and experimented and worked at things. And I actually got a lot done. I didn’t exercise much — sat for nearly the whole day, and paid for it later, when I was not only in pain but also couldn’t sleep because I was physically out of balance — but mentally I felt great. The fantastic thing is, I’m back doing what I started out doing, nearly 20 years ago, and it feels amazing. Just to be able to sit down at a computer and code, rather than trying to get things done through a bunch of other people.

As much as people who want me to succeed would love to see me leading a team or doing some sort of consultative work, there’s nothing — absolutely nothing — like being able to sit down and hammer out some great web pages with some amazing functionality. Too cool. And I realize how much I’ve missed it. So very, very much.

Why did I get away from it? Well, because things were moving that way, about 10 years ago. All the work like what I do was going offshore to people who didn’t know how to do it in the first place, and the rates were dropping like rocks. I couldn’t make a living. It just wasn’t happening. Now, though, it’s coming around. I had a feeling that would happen in the space of 10 years, and sure enough – I was right.

Now the rates are going up, and the work is a whole lot more interesting than it was a decade ago. Now we can actually do things we always wanted to do — and the technology is mature enough that you can learn something and expect to be able to use it.

I’ve noticed something else that’s different now, from how it was about five years ago. Once upon a time, whenever I came across something that didn’t make any sense to me, I would “pop the hood” and take it apart and figure out how it worked. After I fell in 2004, I stopped being able to do that — I couldn’t figure out how to get the proverbial hood unlatched to begin with, and then I couldn’t figure out how to break things down and master them. Everything looked like a jumbled mess, and I couldn’t even begin to decipher it. That was when I learned the helplessness thing — and, from my workaday world to taking care of my house to keeping relationships going, I just couldn’t figure out HOW — and I slipped down into a pit of learned helplessness.

That agitation really messed with my attention and distractability, and I could not figure out how to even approach new challenges that weren’t immediately apparent to me. If I could do something right from the get-go, I was fine with it. But things I had to figure out, step by step? That was a no-go.

This has changed. It has changed dramatically. I noticed this yesterday, when I was looking at a piece of code that made no sense to me at all. I tried fiddling with it a little bit, but it wasn’t working. Then I tried something else. It still wasn’t working. In the past, I would have just bagged it and told myself it was too hard for me to handle. But it’s still in my mind, and I’m determined to figure it out. Surely, there must be a way. People who are a lot dumber than I am are able to figure this stuff out. It’s just a matter of technique. And persistence.

I still don’t understand how that thing works. But I am going to find out. There’s a lot of stuff to this piece of code that stumped me terribly before, and that stuff is exactly what I need to learn to handle. I can feel it – comprehension is so close. I’m so close to understanding it. There’s a fundamental concept that I’m missing, that once I have that in place, it’s going to springboard me forward, and then there’s no stopping me.

The only thing that can really stop me, is me. In the past, I have looked at these puzzles and chafed and gotten freaked out, and then just ran away to do something else. Something easier. Something that was less of a challenge. Something I had done before. Something I already knew how to do. And while it did comfort me to be back in a zone I recognized, and it took off the edge of the anxiety and agitation, it’s not where I need to be for the long term… especially if I’m going to earn a decent living.Especially if I want to be happy in my work.

What I’m doing now is just not fitting me well. I am able to do it, and I’m able to do it reasonably well. But it’s not where I am most comfortable. The place where I am most comfortable was taken from me, in 2004-2005. I thought it was gone for good. But it turns out, it’s not. I just had to relearn how to get back there… and trust that I’ll be able to rebuild the abilities that used to come so easily and fluidly to me.

I am a firm believer that if you truly love something, and if you are intently determined, and you don’t let the nay-sayers of the world stop you (including the one in your head), you can often find ways to restore the things you’ve “lost” to TBI. I know the brain changes, and there are sometimes fundamental differences that keep you from actually replicating the exact kinds of synaptic connections that once made your life so smooth and functional. At the same time, the brain is a pretty big place, and as long as we keep pushing, keep working, keep practicing, and keep resting and reviewing our progress, it is possible to build back functionality — sometimes in whole new ways that augment areas that needed augmenting to begin with.

This is not to say that everyone can magically {poof!} return to their formerly glorious state. Some can and some just can’t. And like a piece of metal that gets bent, no matter how you hammer and bend and coax it, you’ll never ever get it back to its original shape. You can get pretty damned close, but the change is made. There’s no going back 100%.  At the same time, the brain is built to rewire itself, and as such, there’s no reason on earth why new functionality cannot be discovered and explored and developed. There’s no reason at all. We have millions upon millions of synaptic connections, and a practically infinite number of different possible reconfigurations for those connections. If we get stuck trying to make ourselves into exactly what we were before, we lose the chance to make more of ourselves — and find out what else is possible.

So, that being said, I’m going to take another little crack at that puzzle. I find that if I spend maybe 15 minutes on it, then I step away and do something else, it’s easier for me, than if I muddle over it for hours on end. It’s easier on my brain, and it keeps me from getting discouraged.  And that’s important. Discouragement… that’s no good.

Taking on our own issues

I’ve been reading a piece in USA Today about the care that people do/do not get after TBI. For brain injuries, a treatment gap is a pretty good read, though a bit depressing at times. It’s wonderful that Congresswoman Giffords is getting thorough care, but for the other millions of TBI survivors… that’s just a distant fantasy.

It is really easy to get depressed over this and become bitterly resentful towards the government for subjecting everyone else to insurance and healthcare uncertainties, whilst they have their own special plan that is little more than a pipe dream for the rest of the country. I, for one, cannot even conceive of having that level of care available to me. I don’t rank or rate highly enough for that. As far as the government and Blue Cross Blue Shield is concerned, if I’m in need of assistance, I’m just another liability and a drain that would take away from people with real problems.  “Blue Cross, Blue Shield doesn’t run a science fair. We run a business…” says the chief medical officer of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, which makes recommendations that (BCBS) member companies typically follow. And my life is anything but a double-blind controlled laboratory test. I’m not sure if I’d call it a “science fair”, but I’m definitely on the cutting edge of self-therapy for TBI (and I’m actually winning – so there). For the purposes of formal insurance coverage and consideration by the established money-holders of who-gets-t0-live, my life is a statistically unjustifiable waste of funds.

But when I think about it, I have to say I’m not entirely sure I WANT the government — or the insurance companies or formal rehab — to rehabilitate me. The people and the (official) science and the money and the resources that these institutions have may be helpful and therapeutic for many who need their help, but I hesitate to place my total faith and confidence in them. They are, after all, institutions, and their approaches — while sophisticated and scientific and whatnot — are going to be informed from an institutional point of view. So, whatever personal attention and assistance you may hope to receive from them, is going to be tailored to a scientifically established standard, which may or may not work for you. It’s a real problem, because no two brains are alike, and no two people are alike, so you have this potentially damaging disconnect between what they are offering (and they tell you that you need or should need) and what is truly helpful to you. Plus, with their established standards of care, the folks working for them may be pretty much prohibited from exploring alternative therapies which may work wonders for TBI survivors.

Let’s get honest, people. Government isn’t going to solve our healthcare problems for us. The best that it can do is keep the greed and homicidal tendencies of fiscally driven insurance coverage decision-makers in check. Modern medicine isn’t going to improve our quality of life. It’s just going to keep us from dying from the crap that killed off our great-grandparents, and patch us up after catastrophes. The rest is up to us. If we want to live long and healthy lives, we need to act like we want to do just that — take care of ourselves, eat right, exercise, and stop doing the things that everybody knows will kill them. And we need to stop being so surprised when — after a lifetime of eating junk food, drinking to excess, subjecting our bodies to constant drama and stress, and smoking like chimneys — our bodies turn on us.

A Great Society is all very well and good, and having a government that gives a damn about whether you live or die is nice. But ultimately so much of our care (and rehab) issues come down to personal responsibility. Shared responsibility, too.

Now, I’m sure there are those reading this who protest that traumatic brain injury survivors are not in any position to take full responsibility for their lives — to at least some extent. And I would agree in principle. I myself was so impaired after I had my last fall, that it wasn’t till my life savings was almost gone and my life was in a shambles that I reached out for help. But I do think it’s important to accept your part in shaping your own life. I did, and it didn’t kill me. I would also suggest that when it comes to recovering from brain injury, it’s not just the survivor who needs to cowboy up, but the family and friends, as well.

I’ll spare you my rant about how I feel our society has become far too permissive and accommodating and personalized — to the point where nobody knows what we stand for and nobody seems to get the difference between right and wrong. The thing is, we need to re-learn what family is all about. We need to re-learn what community is all about. We need to stop being so isolated from each other, come together, and support one another in making the kinds of decisions and taking the kinds of actions that enable a person to live a productive and healthy life. We need to start sharing responsibility for each other’s health and well-being. We need to start TAKING responsibility for our own actions.

Even after TBI — especially after TBI — we need to strengthen our grasp on the concepts of cause and effect and get a clue about consequences — AND learn to choose the kinds of actions that will produce the results we want.

Which requires that we stop and think. Not just race from one distraction to the next. It requires that we overcome our impulsiveness — that’s both TBI-related and general socially encouraged — and learn to pause and examine what it is we are doing, and why, and what we hope to achieve. That deepened involvement in our own lives, the honest and courageous examination of what it is that we are doing and how it is affecting others — to my mind, it’s a sign of maturity. And we all need to grow up, at least a little (myself included).

I think there’s a real danger of falling for the false promises that the government will (or even can) help and preserve us in the face of danger. And persisting in the illusion that insurance companies are there to help you when you’re in need of assistance, is bound to disappoint, sooner or later. Insurance — and the government — exist for their own purposes: to survive. And the minute it stops being in their own best interests to allow you to live, you can expect to be cut out.

I’m not (entirely) bitter. This is just what I’ve seen – the cold, hard truth of what these institutions are all about.

And that leaves many, many of us out in the cold. Those of us who are lucky can get help. Those of us too busy (and not obsessed enough) or not living in the right place to find competent rehab help, fall by the wayside. We’re on our own. As are our friends and family members and coworkers. We end up trashing our families, destroying our finances, losing our businesses, living out of our cars (if we can even keep our cars), and eventually ending up on the street or in a nursing home somewhere. Not a pretty prospect, by any stretch. We DON’T end up like Rep. Giffords, surrounded by caring professionals who are at our beck and call. Those same professionals, if they passed us on the street, might very well avert their eyes and walk faster to avoid us, hoping to think of something more pleasant. We DO end up struggling. If we’re fortunate, our struggles pay off. If some weird trick of fate intervenes, they don’t.

I hate to say it, but that’s what it often boils down to — circumstance and fate.

Will broader government intervention help us? I’m not sure. I think it’s tempting to imagine that the VA is going to offer the same level of investment in injured soldiers that the armed forces offer to fully functional ones who are deployable, but I’m not sure that will ever happen. It’s nice to think that medicine is about healing and helping people live their lives, but it is after all a business, so good luck finding that level of care in the medical world. It’s tempting to imagine that one can find the same level of comaraderie and support in society at large, that you can find in fighting units… but in the personalized, customized, convenience-driven society we have built, it’s all about ME, and the rest of you can go pound sand, so I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.

Ultimately, thinking about all this brings out my libertarian streak and makes me fall back on personal responsibility and personal empowerment type thinking. It also makes me pine for quality online resources where people can turn for reliable, non-commercially driven assistance to help TBI survivors rehabilitate themselves, educate family members about how best to help, and help people rally around each other in a supportive, common sense way. Any time you get money involved (and what is government, other than a way to collect and distribute money to the causes that further its existence?) and you put your hope and future in the hands of people far, far from you – geographically and ideologically – you’re gambling with your future.

That’s a gamble I’m not willing to take. I hate to say it — and many people might take offense at my point of view — but the government and formal medical establishment are about the LAST bunches of people I think should be answerable for our cognitive future. There’s just too much at stake, to lay it at the feet of any machine.

People are involved. People need to solve these issues. Not machines.

Making the most of my impulsiveness

While I was riding the exercise bike this morning, I read up on impulse control problems. According to the research, impulse control is managed by the brain’s executive function, is located in the frontal lobe, so when you have an injury there, it can really do a job on your mechanisms for deciding what you will and will not do, which impulses you will and will not follow. I’ve been in a number of accidents where my head was thrown forward really hard, then back again — car accidents, falls during sports games, etc.

Coup Contrecoup brain injury

Now, the injury you have doesn’t have to be only banging the front of your head against a fixed surface. You can also hit the back of your head against something, and have your brain “bounce” off the back and then slam into the front of your skull, as well. That’s called a “coup contrecoup” (front of head, back of head) injury. It can work both ways – you can get hit on the back of your head and have the brain fly forward. Either way, you have that pudding-like substance that sits in your skull ramming up against the rough inside of the bony case surrounding it. Two injuries for the price of one, which is probably why executive function problems — including impulse control — are so common with head injury.

Anyway, I’ve struggled with impulse control for decades. My first clear recollection of serious impulse control problems was after my TBI when I was eight years old and was hit on the head with a rock. All of a sudden, I noticed myself behaving in ways that were not unlike me. Not everyone is very self-aware when they’re eight years old, but I noticed very clearly that I was behaving in ways that I did not want to. I was an older sibling, and I took my role very seriously, to be a good role model for my siblings. It was a huge focus of my life – I was a very sincere kid, you see. All I wanted, was to be a responsible older sibling, especially since my family lived in an area that was somewhat dangerous, and all of us kids had to look out for each other.

After my TBI, I found myself saying and doing things with (and to) other kids that didn’t seem like me at all. I started teasing them and taunting them, trying to provoke them, being argumentative and aggressive. It was the weirdest thing – like I was watching myself in a bad movie, and I was unable to stop. I remember thinking many times, Why am I doing this? Why am I acting this way? I need to stop… but I can’t.

It was terrible. And I became convinced that there was something terribly wrong with me, that I was a bad person, and I was not to be trusted around others.

So I withdrew. And for most of the rest of my childhood, I stayed in my shell and did my utmost to not interact with other people. After all, I couldn’t be trusted.

Ironically, the thing that got me out of my shell was something pretty bad for me: I started to party when I was in high school. My sophomore year, I got into drinking (and some drugs), and I started hanging out with kids who didn’t give a damn about my grades or my clothes or whatever — so long as I would party with them. And so I did. But I digress…

The bottom line is, my impulse control issues — also, violent temper outbursts when I was a kid (not helped by parents who were combative and liked to bait and provoke me), problems with stealing, intense distractability issues, and problems with just blurting out things that I had no business saying — have wreaked havoc with my life, and they’re still a bit of a problem with me. On any given day, I can follow impulses that take me far from where I intended to go, when I got up in the morning. And then I need to play catch-up, which is exhausting and frustrating and demoralizing.

But at least now I know about it – at least now I’m aware that impulse control is a big issue for me, and I need to take steps to address it. I’m also aware that with my history of head injuries, the chances of me NOT having impulse control issues are a bit slim. So, I try to make the most of it.

Here’s how:

First, I try to stay rested. I try to keep up with my sleep. My executive functioning (including impulse control) goes downhill when I’m fatigued, so I try to keep myself relatively rested. If I’m not well-rested (like right now – I had a long weekend, and I missed my afternoon nap yesterday) I can tell a difference in my thinking and my choices. So, I try to stay mindful of being a little bit impaired in the executive functioning area. I have to remember that my brain is tired, and it’s going to be prone to wandering around more than usual, so I have to keep an eye on it — like watching a toddler in a department store.

If I can’t stay rested, I try to stay relaxed. I don’t always keep up with my sleep, so I try to stay loose and relaxed. I make more of an effort to stretch and do my breathing exercises, to keep myself from tensing up. If I have less energy, due to fatigue, it means I need to be more judicious with energy I do have. Being tense just eats up even more of my energy and burns me out — kind of like driving down the highway in 2nd gear. It’s hard on my “vehicle” so I try to consciously relax throughout the course of the day. This helps me to not be as impulsive, because it cuts down on my agitation, which makes me more anxious and prone to just follow some impulse to do such-and-such, to relieve the pressure I’m feeling. Relaxing helps me manage my anxiety and agitation — and it gets my mind off the latest impulsive distraction I’m running off to indulge.

I try to keep things simple. I pick and choose what I’m going to work on, and I try not to overwhelm myself with too many things. When I’m tired, I tend to load up all kinds of chores and tasks on myself to do — for some reason, my brain thinks that’s a good idea to pile more stuff on the list. It’s like there’s a part of me that knows I’m liable to overlook things, so if I throw as much stuff on my plate as possible, something is bound to get done. But the exact opposite happens. When I have so much going on, it overwhelms me, and I have that much more I have to think about, which tires me out even more. Keeping things simple and focusing on one task at a time, rather than 20 of them, helps me keep my sanity.

I use my own distractability to get things done. This is a little piece of brilliance that occurred to me about a year ago. I know I’m impulsive and prone to distraction, and I also know there are sometimes things I have to get done, no matter what. If I’m working on something in one room, I’ll often completely forget about what I need to do in another room, and I’ll be so caught up in doing what I’m doing, that some things won’t get done. So, I create distractions for myself that trigger my impulsive streak, to get me to take action on things that need to get done.

Case in point: Doing the laundry when my spouse was working yesterday. We tend to share this work between us, especially when one is working and we’ve got loads and loads of dirty clothes piling up in the hampers. My spouse will often remind me of things I need to do, so I don’t lose track. But yesterday I had a bunch of things I needed to do for work, and they were out, so I was on my own. The laundry had to get done, but I’m notorious for forgetting to start the washer, or switch the clothes to the dryer when they’re done washing. We’ve had to throw out perfectly good clothing because it soured and was ruined by sitting in a wet pile in the washer for days on end. I really didn’t want that to happen yesterday, so I created distractions for myself to catch my attention and get my action impulse going. To remind myself that I had to bring the clothes downstairs, I put a pair of shoes in the middle of the kitchen floor, where I would have to either walk around them, or put them on and go upstairs to get the clothes (I need to change out of my downstairs slippers, because our stairs are wooden –and very slippery — and the last thing I need is another fall down the stairs). I also put the laundry basket out in plain view where I would see it,  so when I went in the kitchen to get something to eat or drink, I’d notice it and then check on the clothes. I also left the light on in the laundry room (we try to keep it turned off) so I could prompt myself to check on the clothes.

Everything worked – I got two loads of laundry washed, dried, folded, and put away — all in one afternoon/evening. It might not sound like that big of a deal, but it’s not the sort of thing I take for granted.

Whenever possible, I try to harness my impulsiveness. It’s a little like engineering my own success, using one of my most glaring weaknesses. I know I’m prone to perseverate and get stuck in a certain thinking/behaving track and not be able to get myself out. I also know that I tend to be quite rigid and set in my ways about how things ‘should’ be done. S0 if I need to remember something or do something important, I create interruptions for myself that not only catch my attention, but also trigger some impulse to DO something. I do things like putting stickie notes on the sliding glass door of the kitchen. They catch my attention because they don’t “belong” there, and I definitely take action to get them out of the way. Having stickie notes on the sliding glass door makes me a little nervous, for some reason, so if I harness that nervousness and my impulsiveness, I can actually get things done, remember to do things, etc. The more important someting is, the more disruptive the interruption I create. Like putting objects where they don’t “belong” — a pair of shoes in the middle of the floor, or a stickie note on the sliding glass door, or an empty bottle of shampoo in the bathroom sink — so I remember I need to do something about them. The more nervous something makes me, the more likely I am to impulsively do something about it, so if something is very important, I’ll use a nervous-making experience to prompt me to action.

Thinking about how I do this, part of me thinks that I’m kind of copping out. I should really be training myself to have improved executive function, think through what I’m doing, be clear on the choices and consequences, and have a more “evolved” approach. But when I’m really busy, and I need to switch gears quickly — go from answering emails for work, to checking the laundry, to bringing up another bottle of water from the basement, to making myself some lunch — I need to switch gears quickly and not over-think my choices. All too often, I get stuck in over-thinking things, and then I get waylaid by the opposite of impulsiveness — a combination of perseveration and rumination and slowed processing speed.

For what it’s worth, this works for me — creating distractions to harness my impulsiveness and get things done, even keep myself on track. It can be a little messy at times, but it works for me. And that’s the important thing.

The Problem with Impulsiveness

Okay, you say, so you’re a bit impulsive at times. Who isn’t? What’s the big deal?

Here’s the big deal: With me, there’s no such thing as “a bit impulsive”. I’m REALLY impulsive. And when I go down that road, it can be a real problem coming back. The “whim” I get, to go check out Facebook for a minute turns into a two-hour time drain of reading all sorts of non-information about people I barely know anymore, clicking through to YouTube to watch videos, surfing around the web to indulge my curiosity, and generally not doing the things I originally sat down at the computer to do.

I’m burning up all my available energy, doing things that have nothing to do with my best interests. The end result is that I’ve lost two hours of my day that I’m not getting back, and if the things I was supposed to be doing were very important, now I am not only behind on things that are important to me, but I’m also more tired, so getting back to doing them is harder. I may have “taken the pressure off” by indulging my curiosity and allowing myself to follow my impulses, but I’ve now added more pressure to my life, by getting so far off track.

The other problem with impulsiveness, is that the things I tend to give into — though they may feel good at the time — don’t actually help me live my life in a productive way. Giving in to the impulse to yell at my spouse or other loved-ones has rarely produced positive results (to put it lightly). At the moment, when I’m venting at them, it feels honest and true and sincere, but it doesn’t do much for them. And I end up straining important relationships, thanks to not curbing my impulses.

Incidentally, I have a friend who sustained a mild TBI about 10 years ago, and they have huge problems with this sort of impulse control. The main difference between me and them is, they haven’t sought any help for their injury, and their relationships have suffered as a result. They also had a few small strokes several years ago, which complicates things further. They just love to vent and yell at people, because they say it makes them feel better. Personally, I think they’re just indulging their impulses — “go with the flow, man!” they tell me all the time. They are severely underemployed (they don’t get out of bed till about noon each day, and they often don’t go to sleep till 3 a.m., because they’re busy reading emails or following some other impulse of theirs. The only thing that keeps them afloat is their spouse, who has a great job — and is usually so busy with work that they’re not around to keep them on track, which is a double-edged sword. I’ve tried to suggest other ways of living life, and they’ve said they want to do better, but so far there hasn’t been much change. Oh, well…

Impulsiveness comes in all different shapes and sizes, and left unchecked, it can really wreak havoc. In my case, not only does it pull me off course and keep me from doing what I’m supposed to be doing, but it also gets in the way of me getting back on track when I’m no longer impulsively distracted. I mentioned it above, but in more depth, the whole process of getting myself out of my impulsiveness-vortex can be a real drain on my system. Here’s how things go downhill:

  • I realize I’ve gotten pulled off what I originally sat down to do  (write an important letter to a creditor, for example).
  • I get a little startled at how much time has gone by, and I am dismayed that I’ve spent the last two hours impulsively flitting here and there, instead of just getting this letter written.
  • I start to beat myself up over having “forgotten” to do this, and I start calling myself all sorts of unpleasant things.
  • My mind is racing, my heart is pounding, I’m sweating, and I’m getting more stressed by the minute, as I imagine the terrible things that can happen to me because I got pulled off in a different direction (20 different directions, actually).
  • I spend waste a whole bunch of time being hard in myself and trying to get myself back in line. I’ve used up a lot of energy, surfing around and doing this and that, and now my brain has less energy to work with than before — just at the time when I need more energy.
  • I get frustrated and irritated, and my spouse makes the mistake of walking in the room and talking to me. By this time, I’m beside myself  with frustration, and I yell at them for bothering me. No impulse control there, either. Temper, temper…
  • We end up having a fight, and both of us end up feeling even worse than I had felt by myself when I realized I’d gotten distracted and pulled off course. Now, not only am I a slacker, I’m also a total loser and a terrible spouse. What good am I?
  • The final result is, I’m all tied up in knots, my spouse isn’t talking to me, the letter gets written, but it’s a painful, convoluted process and I don’t get all the information correct. I’m worn out and agitated, which gives me a headache and makes my whole body ache. My hearing is quite sensitive, and light bothers me. I need to go to bed early, but I’m so bent out of shape and overly fatigued, I end up sitting up late watching t.v. to get my mind off things, surfing around the channels — again, impulsively — eating snacks and drinking soda. Not good at all.

Now, I’m not laying all of this at the feet of being impulsive and getting distracted, but this is now impulsiveness can contribute to the mess my life sometimes becomes. It’s not just that I get pulled away from doing things I’m supposed to be doing. It’s that I have to work that much harder to get back to those things, once I realize what’s going on. And I have to overcome the internal chatter that’s talking all sorts of trash about me in the back of my head.

Okay, you might say, so you’re impulsive, and it’s a problem. Doesn’t everybody have this challenge now and then? I can think of a hundred different people who do this, too.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who struggle with this. But for me, TBI has a way of making everything bigger and badder than it would normally be. It intensifies my emotions, slows down my thought process, and it complicates my thinking, so that things that one would think are pretty straightforward, actually require more effort than one would expect. Plus, the after-effects are pretty severe at times. Because emotionally I get so tweaked that I blow my distraction and impulsiveness out of proportion and I can’t see the way clear, sometimes, to just get myself back on track. It’s pretty discouraging at times, to have to struggle with something that should be so easy. Other people do it – why do I have such a terrible time with it?

It’s one thing to get impulsively distracted, it’s another to get stuck there, and then have to work like crazy to dig yourself out of the hole… And get worn out and bent out of shape in the process. You wouldn’t think it’s that big of a deal, just to get back on track, but sometimes it’s a huge friggin’ struggle. Probably one of the biggest contributing factors in this is fatigue — the tiredness that sets in after using up my energy doing everything except what I started out doing. But that’s another post for another day. For now, suffice it to say that impulsiveness is a Real Issue when dealing with TBI. In some ways, for me, it’s truly Issue #1.

How I deal with this is a subject for another day. For now, I need to get back to taking care of some work I didn’t get done yesterday… ’cause I indulged an impulse to do something other than what was on my to-do list.

I suppose it never ends…

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