Tracking sleep

fairgroundThe countdown to my business trip is T-minus-4-days. And in the meantime, I’m taking care of my everyday life as best I can.

I’m seeing the neuro nurse practitioner tomorrow, and I’ll be reporting in about my sleep.

Below is a chart of the numbers I’ve collected for every night over the past month. It shows how many hours I’ve slept, as well as how many hours I napped. And it shows how I stack up, relative to my target time of 8.5 hours.

sleep-log-april-2016

I’ve been falling short consistently, apparently. I’ve been thinking I’ve been doing well, but when I see a chart, it’s clear I have a ways to go. A couple of weeks ago, I was really behind on my sleep, due to work stress and a conflict I had with a friend of mine that really got me bent out of shape. I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but it did.

I am human, after all.

So, this is all stuff to work on. Things to stay mindful of, and not let it all get to me. And to find ways to calm myself down and chill out, rather than getting wound up and bent out of shape. Maybe I’ll put a printout of the chart beside my bed. Yeah – that’s a great idea for a reminder.

I’ve been prepping for my business trip next week, doing some shopping and also some checklists, as well as practicing my talks for the trade show booth. I’m not feeling a huge amount of pressure, though. If I do a good job, then fine. If not, I’m not sweating it. In a way, I don’t really care about the event. I care about the customers I’m going to meet, and I care about the people I work with, but I’m not personally invested in the company. Not anymore. Not since they’re selling out, lining the pockets of the people in charge, while laying off a lot of people.

So, I’m treating it like a free trip to a part of the country I’d never normally go to. Resorts in warm climates are fine, but I hate amusement parks and places where large crowds gather, so yeah, this will likely be the one and only time I ever go to this place.

One good thing is that I’ll get to see a relative I haven’t seen in over 30 years. They’re living in the area, and I’ll get a chance to catch up with them, which will be nice. That will get me off the hook of hanging out with my workmates, who just want to run wild and party while they’re away from their spouses.

I have no interest in joining them. I see them every day, as it is. I’m just going to do my job, and then come home. I wouldn’t even go to the place, if it weren’t for work. I need my sleep (see above). I need to eat right and take care of myself. I can’t get drawn into their version of fun.

So, I’m hoping my relative can provide some welcome respite from their company. It’s a plan, anyway.

In the end, I’m just looking forward to everything being over. Flying there, doing the job, flying home… and getting back to normal again.

But that all feels like a distraction from what my real focus is — getting enough sleep, so I can keep my health in balance… and also not have to use the sleep medication that was prescribed to me. My old neuropsych warned me away from it, because although it supposedly metabolizes quickly, that’s not true for everyone. And I’m so sensitive to meds, as it is, I can’t imagine my body is going to behave like everyone else’s.

The neuro visit this week is really just a way for me to check in — and check out. They don’t seem very interested in addressing the reason I actually went to see them – my balance. So, I’ll handle that myself. And never mind the pills. Or the procedures. They’re not that helpful, anyway.

I think my biggest frustration is that I go to these specialists in good faith, believing that they are willing and able to assist me. And then they just don’t deliver. Or show much interest in delivering. There are a million possible reasons, but figuring it out is not the best use of my time.

I’ve just got to keep the focus on myself, on keeping my own balance in every way possible, and keeping myself fit and capable as best I can. It’s really the only way my life is going to be as great as it can be.

And that’s my intention, really. To just have a great life — and enjoy it to the fullest.

They say it’s the brain, but it’s also the body

It's ALL connected
It’s ALL connected

TBI can seriously mess you up in the head. That’s a given.

But it can also seriously mess with your physiology.

In fact, out of all the problems I’ve had over the years, the physical issues I’ve had have far outweighed the cognitive ones – if anything, they contributed to my cognitive and behavioral issues.

  • Fatigue – bone-crushing, spirit-sapping exhaustion;
  • Problems keeping my balance, which messed with my moods.
  • Heart rate increase – or decrease, as well as blood pressure changes.
  • Light and noise sensitivity.
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Sensitivity to touch, which really messed with my head, as well. Imagine never being able to have human contact… it’s not much fun.
  • Constant adrenaline rush that wired me out, something fierce.

When your brain gets injured, it can affect your whole body. Because as we know, the brain is mission control for the rest of the works below the neck.

 

I lowered my heart rate from 90 to 73 in a minute

Last weekend, when I was recovering from a migraine, I checked my blood pressure and pulse:

100/59 with a heart rate of 90
Before… 100/59 with a heart rate of 90

My heart rate was up, for some reason (this was just after noontime), and my pulse seemed a little off. 100/59 might seem awesome, but it seemed a little low to me.

So, I did my breathing and checked again:

95/66 with a heart rate of 73
After – 95/66 with a heart rate of 73

I was able to bring my heart rate down to 73, which felt better, and I raised my “bottom number” on my BP to 66, which actually felt better.  I don’t want my blood pressure to get too low, and I can bring it up with my breathing.

So, I did.

I made the mistake of not checking my bp and pulse while the migraine was setting in. I’ll need to remember that later, so hopefully I can head it off at the pass… before the stabbing pain sets in.  Who knows? Maybe I can head off the other symptoms at the pass: light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, sensory issues, balance, dizziness, etc.

In any case, this is probably a good thing to do on a daily basis, no matter how I’m feeling. It might save me a lot of hassle – and it’s definitely easier and cheaper than dealing with medication.

Migraines have been under control

trepanning - migraine relief?
Fortunately, I have a better solution than this!

Summary: Controlled breathing seems to be helping me control my headaches, especially my migraines. After years and years of having constant headaches, I believe I’ve found a way to control them. This is good news, because constant headaches are no fun, and they kept me from really living my life.

I’m happy to report: My migraines have been under control – The headache part, anyway. Last week, I had a weird couple of days, where I was definitely altered… very strange feelings, colors brighter and higher contrast, everything feeling like it was moving in slow motion… I didn’t take any meds, because I didn’t have a headache, and I wasn’t actually sure if it was a migraine, or if it was just one of those things that comes up.

I will occasionally have bouts of dizziness (well, not occasionally… more often than that). And I will have my bouts of clumsiness and feeling spacey. Especially when I’m under pressure, feeling emotional, or I haven’t slept, it can be a problem, and with the last days of my current job winding down, all three of those boxes get checked off.

So, I just let it ride. And Saturday evening (after my nap, ironically), the headache set in.

But to be honest, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it has been in the past. Certainly not as bad as when I was cutting back on my coffee and went through that miserable withdrawal that lasted for days. And I actually have been feeling pretty good, without the constant headache. I think I must be doing something right.

The thing that seems to have moved the needle, is that I’m actively working with controlling my heart rate and blood pressure with controlled breathing. I can bring my heart rate down from 93 to 73 in a minute, using my technique. And I practice this on a regular basis, sometimes because I need to, sometimes out of curiosity.

It seems to be helping my migraines.

Now, the thing to be careful of, is thinking that one thing leads to another, when there could be other issues happening, too. I have also drastically cut back on caffeine, which supposedly helps headaches. That’s ironic, because I always heard that caffeine will help a headache, and to be honest, the times when I have been really struggling with the pain, having some dark chocolate or a bit of strong coffee really seems to help. If nothing else, they make me feel human again. I’ve also been exercising more regularly — at the very least, riding the exercise bike for 15-20 minutes each morning, and usually lifting light weights to boot. That could certainly be helping.

The thing is, I couldn’t exercise regularly for a number of years, because the headaches were keeping me from it. Nowadays, I still do get little headaches when I exercise, now and then, but when I do my controlled breathing and relaxation, they go away. Pretty amazing, really.

This is how it goes for me, these days:

Exercise: I get on the exercise bike and ride. I set the resistance to about medium, because I don’t want to overdo it. I’ll bump up the resistance and push myself, now and then, but when I do, I will sometimes get a little headache… which in my experience can turn into a big one — and big problems for the day. I back off on the resistance and check my pulse on the handlebars (there’s a pulse monitor there). If it is really high, I will control my breathing and bring it down. And the headache goes away.

Emotional Upset: My spouse and I have always had a “fiery” relationship. Our discussions sound like all-out fights to people who don’t know us. Our actual disagreements literally make other people run away. It wasn’t a problem for me, when I was 15 years younger (we’ve been together nearly 25 years), but in the past years, I’ve been getting more upset by these kinds of exchanges, and I’ve noticed a connection between the upset I feel and screaming headaches that come on — especially migraines. Sometimes I get so upset, I get an 8-out-of-10 headache (complete with light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, sensory issues, balance problems, dizziness, and nausea) that lasts for days. So, I need to find a way to deal with it. Now, when I get upset and I feel something coming on, I immediately “disengage” and focus on controlling my breathing. Sometimes I will go to a dark room and block out all sensory input. I can usually feel my blood pressure and heart rate going way up… but after a little while (maybe 15-20 minutes) of slowing everything down, I can “rejoin the living” and have a logical conclusion to what was probably a silly argument, to begin with. And no headache to speak of.

It’s pretty cool.

And it’s a relief.

Because now I feel like I can live my life without being in constant fear of headaches and migraine symptoms, etc.

Of course, there’s the other host of symptoms that come with migraine. Like feeling like my left side is carved out of a block of wood. But that’s also diagnostic. It tells me I need to take better care of myself, rest, get something decent to eat, and take the pressure off.

Bottom line is, I figured out a way to manage my migraines, and I’m pretty happy about it.

Getting off coffee — After the migraine subsides

So, this is interesting. I did something to my system over the weekend, and I came down with a horrific migraine yesterday afternoon. It was the worst one I’ve had in quite some time. I’ve had some of those where you go blind in one eye and the world is spinning and you feel like you’re going to throw up, but I don’t remember the headache and weird feeling and light sensitivity ever being as bad as they were yesterday.

Holy crap.

I really didn’t expect it at all. My weekend was going really well. I was cutting back on the coffee and eating a more substantial breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, along with more fruits and vegetables throughout the day, getting more exercise (I rode the bike a long while on Saturday and Sunday and went for multiple hikes in the woods, up to the top of a nearby hill in our local conservation area), and drinking more water. I felt fantastic, with a lot of energy. I also got some roasted dandelion root tea, to try out as a substitute for coffee. I drank some on Saturday afternoon. It was nothing to write home about, and certainly not a reliable substitute for coffee. But it was worth a try. It was in the coffee aisle at the grocery store, after all.

But I woke up to a screaming migraine after my nap on Sunday afternoon. Couldn’t stand the light, head throbbing, sick to my stomach, feeling dull and drugged. Usually my headaches are just there, but this one was intrusive. Holy crap, whenever I moved, it just thrashed me. Up around an 8.5 – 9 on a scale of 1 – 10. I had a bunch of things I wanted to do on Sunday afternoon, but all I could do was sit in a dark room with my sunglasses on, soaking my feet in a hot mustard bath.

I had half a cup of coffee, ate a banana and a piece of chocolate, took a couple of Advil, and drank water (how’s that for performance enhancement?) and I started to feel better. Not as sensitive to light and not as sick. Still not great, but better than I had been. You do what you have to do.

I suspect this was partly about cutting back on coffee… increasing my exercise… changing my diet… and drinking that tea. All that change was abrupt, even if it was in a positive direction. I have a tendency to overdo things out of enthusiasm, and I think this was one of those times. I’m nervous about the MRI, and my anxiety is really rising. So, to calm myself down, I do things that give me the sense that I have some control over my life — changing my diet, exercising, trying new foods, cutting out coffee.

I’ve done some reading over the weekend about migraines, and they can be triggered by a bunch of things, including changes to diet and activity – check, and check. I know that exercise tends to start a headache with me, and I did start to get a bit of an ache while I was riding the bike — both days. But it’s usually just a headache, not the nausea, crazy feeling, and intense sensitivity to light that had me walking around the house with all the curtains drawn and wearing my sunglasses because even through the curtains, the light was too bright.

So, I did a number of things differently than usual, and I learned my lesson. I need to take things slowly — gradually — not dive in head-first, as I tend to do. Impulsiveness plus anxiety equals — surprise!

And not a good surprise, either. Right now, I’m fighting back more throbbing pain, keeping the blinds drawn, and reaching for the Advil. I don’t want to take the Imitrex, because I don’t know what it will do to me, and I have to be “on” this morning.

So, I need to take things easy and make change gradually. Not bombard my system like it’s a machine. As much as I like the idea of roasted dandelion root tea as an alternative for coffee, I don’t think it’s going to do it for me. I think it really contributed to the migraine. After the pain subsided to a relatively simple headache of “4” on a scale of “10”, I tried to drink it again yesterday evening. And the headache started up again. So, even if it’s not the sole contributor, it did not make things better for me. Dandelion is a natural diuretic, and it has other properties, too, that are used as home remedies.  I got some to get ready for my MRI on Wednesday, so I can flush out my system and not be poisoned (too much) by the contrast agent. But I just can’t do it.

Well, better I learn now, than later. That’s for sure. I’d rather get this lesson out of the way ahead of time, while I have the time to rest and recuperate. I have a busy day on Thursday, so I need to not get knocked out by the MRI on Wednesday. Most people don’t have problems with it, and they look at me like I have two heads when I tell them I get sick afterwards, but so what? I know what happens to me, and I need to get ready.

So, it’s plain water and healthy foods for me, thank you very much.

Onward.

I feel like crap. I must be getting better

Wheeeeeeeeeeee….

Holy smokes, I am dizzy. I’m having difficulty keeping vertical, and I constantly feel like I’m about to fall over. It’s gotten so bad, that I had to cancel some appointments this week, because I really can’t drive long distances in this shape.

It’s either a cold / infection affecting my my inner ear, or it’s neck strain. I’m inclined to think it’s the latter, because it really sets in when I am looking up  for extended periods of time. I can focus intently on something, and that will make it better, but when I stop focusing on something intently, it comes back, and it’s pretty bad.

I’ve had problems with dizziness for many years. It’s been a problem for a long, long time, and I now believe it’s related to the head and neck injuries I’ve had over the years. I’ve been in a number of car accidents that gave me whiplash and screwed up my head and neck, and I’ve also fallen on my back and had my head snap back. So, I’ve had plenty of neck trauma over the years.

And dizziness, too. I’ve gotten used to it, in away.

The encouraging thing about this is that I can actually tell that I’m dizzy. In the past, I was so stressed out and so taxed, just keeping up with the simple day-to-day activities, that this sort of thing didn’t register with me. I just kept going. I just kept pressing on. I didn’t let it stop me… and it didn’t.The thing is, I didn’t really deal with it, either. And I certainly did not cancel appointments because I was off balance. That would have been stupid, according to the old me.

The fact that I’m making these sorts of decisions now tells me that I’m getting better, I’m better able to see what’s going on with me, and I’m better able to take care of myself.

It’s interesting – when I cancelled one of my appointments yesterday, the person I was going to see told m=e it sounded like I was acutely ill and needed to see my doctor.  I guess it did sound kind of dire, the way I described it. Then again, it didn’t. It was just about me being so dizzy that an additional 2-1/2 ours of driving (round trip) was not going t help my situation.

I  told them, No, I’m just more dizzy and crappy-feeling than usual, and I expect it to go away with time.Sure, I’ll contact my doctor, but not over something as common as this.

The thing is, I can track the increase in dizziness to when I started doing more overhead work around the house. I’ve had to do a bunch of repairs to items over my head, including changing light bulbs and cleaning windows and the eves of my house. I was also helping my neighbor do some overhead cleaning, too, and since then my neck has been very tight and sore and I’ve been dizzy. Even now, when I move my head from side to side, I get dizzy.

So, acutely ill, no.But extremely dizzy and not feeling that safe driving around, yes.

I’ll just do what I usually do, which is stretch more,work on my neck — and I also have a massage on Monday, which should help a lot. I’m looking forward to that. I should probably do it more often. There’s a place down the road from my home that has a jacuzzi and sauna and they also do a variety of massage types.Hopping in the jacuzzi to soak in hot water, then getting a massage sounds like about the best thing I could possibly do for myself, quite frankly.  That, and sleep.

Too bad I have to go to work later today.

Well, anyway, I actually do need to go back to my chiropractor. They really helped me before, and I need to go back, so I can address the lower back pain and the neck stuff. Now that I am working closer to home, it’s going to be possible for me to do this again. I had to stop going, because my commute was so long, and I was so tired, and going to the chiro added an extra hour to my daily commute, which was brutal.

Now that’s changed. I need to take action. So, I’ll give them a call later today.

Either before or after my manager sits down with my group and tells us about people getting laid off.

New day, fresh start, woo hoo

A new day awaits

January seems to have flown by. And today actually feels like a fresh start for me. There’s something about today… I’m going to give the new neurologist another call to see if I can get in to see them. They transferred to a new hospital — which is only 30 minutes from my home (score!!) — and their credentials and records all have to be transferred to the new practice. I called two weeks ago, and the deal wasn’t done yet. They told me to call back in two weeks, so I’m doing it.

I’m feeling pretty positive about this. The main thing I want to find out, is if there is something serious going on with me. All these symptoms could be nothing. The tremors, twitching, headaches, dizziness, vertigo, nausea, etc. could be “just one of those things”. Or they could be something more serious. I just want to rule out the “more serious”, so I don’t have a degenerative condition eating away at me behind the scenes.

I’ve dealt with some vitamin deficiencies, which have really helped my head. And I’ve been dealing with my physical fitness to stave off the creeping effects of aging. I just want to make sure I’m not in a situation where things are getting worse without me knowing it. My PCP, as much as I like them, has pretty much checked out of their practice. They’re just putting in time until they retire, it seems like. They don’t like the practice they’re in, they don’t like how they’re told they’re supposed to practice by the insurance companies, and they don’t follow up adequately with me. I can talk to them about most things, and I feel pretty good about our rapport. But medically, I have reservations. They’re just not as engaged as I’d like them to be.

Anyway, yesterday was a very telling day for me. Monday’s are always informative, in one way or another. The changes at work have not worked in everyone’s favor, and there are a lot of disempowered, disenfranchised people walking around the office. The people who are most disenfranchised are the long-timers, the ones who seem to think that they’re “in”, and they don’t have to really do anything special, other than just be their fabulous selves.

Hm. In today’s economy, that will never work. The whole long-term employee thing is a trap in many respects — first, because it is no longer valid. Companies don’t have loyalty to people who are loyal to them. It used to be that being a permanent full-time employee was like being married to the company — there was an expressed bond between the two, an agreement of fidelity and loyalty. But that’s not the way things are anymore. Companies are very quick to shed employees who no longer serve them.

And when I think about it, it’s like the companies are spouses who ditch their partners because they’ve “let themselves go”. I think that tends to happen in companies, where long-term employees stop thinking about how they can keep fresh and current and keep adding value to their employer. They get complacent. And they get lazy. And then when they get “out of shape” and carry on with an air of entitlement, it’s actually really easy to cut them loose. What do they add? The business world is brutal. Companies can’t afford to “sponsor” employees who don’t pull their weight.

That’s how it is, too — companies “sponsor” employees over the long term, covering for them and making it possible for them to keep working, despite getting lazier and lazier and more and more entitled. There’s no more hustle. There’s no more innovation. There’s just more and more complaining, and less and less productivity.

Now, I’m not an apologist for companies that just cut people left and right, because they can’t run their own business. I’ve worked at a bunch of places that couldn’t keep their act together, and wrecked a lot of lives as a result. That kind of stupidity makes me crazy. It’s so unnecessary — and I think it also stems from the same sort of laziness and entitlement that gets employees into trouble. People quit doing the things that made them great to begin with. And then they lose it. And get replaced. And people get hurt as a result.

But sometimes they just hurt themselves. Like these days, with the folks around me having a really crappy attitude and not taking responsibility for their decisions and frame of mind. People running off to huddle and complain and gossip. People gathering in little cliques to “circle the wagons” and protect themselves. I know what that’s like. I’ve done it myself, many times in the past, when I was younger.

It really is a sign of immaturity — I recognize it well. And time will solve that problem, I assume. Right now, though, it’s a pain in my ass. I really need to be surrounded by positive people who have a can-do, entrepreneurial attitude, and who are willing to work.

And around me, there’s not much of that sort of attitude. Just people feeling sorry for themselves.

Well, whatever they want to do, that’s their business. I don’t have to let that bother me. I just take myself and my laptop to the cafeteria and work there. As long as I have a wireless connection, it’s cool. I put my headphones on and put on some tunes, and I can make some pretty great progress. And have a nice view from the table I’m sitting at. I have my ways to get away from the little dark clouds.

I have a great feeling about today — it feels very promising, and I’m looking forward to what the day brings. I have my plan. And I remembered my datebook today, so I can see what I’m supposed to be doing with myself. It’s morning, and the sky is getting lighter behind the hill in the back of my house.

It’s a new day — why not make the most of it?

Onward!

Doctors: They’re just so far away from us

It’s hard for me to know what to say to doctors, and how to say it

In preparation for seeing a new neurologist in the beginning of next year, I’ve been listening to some physician podcasts, lately. It’s my latest “thing” I do when I have some free time to listen. I need to better understand doctors and how they think and talk, so that I’ll be better able to communicate with them, if I end up seeing them.

The podcasts are usually pretty short and I can get at least 20 minutes in, during lunch or while I’m doing busy work at the office.

I don’t really have that much time to listen to podcasts or watch videos, in general, because it seems to take me longer to “get” what’s going on, than I expect. And it’s a little discouraging to listen and expect myself to understand immediately, but have to either back up and listen again, or just let it go.

I think it’s harder when I can’t see someone talking. Watching videos, it is easier for me to get things. But again, it takes up a lot of time, and it’s a bit discouraging to feel like I’m falling behind.

Anyway, today is my last full day of work before my Christmas and New Year’s vacation. I’ve got a few things planned for next week… but not much. Most of what I’m doing is taking care of myself with my support group — seeing different folks who can help me in one way or another — and resting. And doing some work on the projects I have going. This is going to be a good time to get away from my routine that has me on-the-go all the time, and do some deeper thinking than usual.

Should be good.

One thing I’m going to be working on, is collecting my info for this new neurologist I’ll be seeing. I’ve been intending to see a neuro for about a year, now, and finally it looks like I’m going to connect with one. I have high hopes about this… but I don’t want to get myself too caught up in hopes. I’ve had things go wrong before, so I have to factor that possibility in.

Anyway, it will be good for me to just collect all this info, anyway, so I have it to talk to any and all of my doctors later on. I haven’t really discussed my headaches in-depth with my PCP — they told me to go see a neurologist, anyway.  It will be good for me to collect my info in one place… also for myself.

I tend to just disregard what’s going on with me, because there is so much going on, on a given day. And I’m kind of resigned to it all — the vertigo, dizziness, feeling sick to my stomach, always having a headache, the ringing in my ears, the noise and light sensitivity, the joint and muscle pain… it’s all one continuous “cloud” of background noise for me, and I just live my life in spite of it. I don’t let it stop me. It slows me down at times, but it doesn’t stop me. And I use it as a barometer to make sure I’m not overdoing it. More pain, more noise… that means I’m overdoing it and I need to rest. So, it can come in handy.

But some days, it just feels like too much, and I’m not all that sad about the idea of not living forever. “Eternal rest” sounds pretty friggin’ good to me, some days. Not that I want to kill myself (I haven’t felt that way in a few years, which is a positive development). But I don’t mind the idea of this whole “deal” not going on forever.

Other days, I manage to deal with it… and I have hopes for things changing for the better.

If only I felt like I could effectively discuss this all with a doctor. I really don’t.

Talking to doctors has never been my strong suit. Conveying the right information in the right manner has always been a challenge for me — I either gave them too much information, or not enough. Either way, I often end up looking a bit dense and malingering, like there’s not really anything wrong, so what the hell am I taking up their time for? Listening to the physician podcasts, I’m struck by how specialized their language is, and how differently they describe and conceptualize things. They have their own language, and with their own language, comes a different way of thinking about things — very, very different from how the rest of us think and deal with things.

Going to the doctor is like going to a different planet, sometimes. It’s a foreign place that often doesn’t seem to have anything to do with my everyday life. Doctors are often so removed from the flow of regular everyday life, with their entire systems being reshaped by medical school, their thought processes shaped by specialized terminologies and ways of looking at situations, and their social status being separate and apart from “the sick”.

They deal with extreme cases all the time, so of course they have to protect themselves. They’re human, just like us, and the medical school system seems to crank out professionals who are doctors first, and humans second. And if they never have any physical problems of their own… well, how can they really truly understand the situations of the people they’re working with?

It’s very odd. And it’s also perfectly understandable.

But even though I understand it, it still bothers me. Yes, I get how the stresses and strains and secondary trauma of medical training produces individuals who are pretty far removed from their patients, in terms of thought process, language, and deep understanding of the human condition, but it’s still pretty depressing. And I get very anxious when I think about trying to explain myself to the next neuro I see — if that ever materializes at all.

Who knows if it will? But whatever happens, I still need to track my symptoms and keep decent notes, so that if it ever happens, I’ll have something useful to convey.

Well, anyway, gotta get to work. The day is waiting.

Onward.

 

 

Body practice for brain improvement

I’ve added a new piece to my morning/evening routines — when I am about to brush my teeth, I pull my toothbrush out of the holder and toss it from hand to hand. Sometimes I flip it around and try to catch it. Sometimes I can, sometimes I miss… drop it, and have to wash it thoroughly before I brush my teeth.

But I have noticed my hand-eye coordination improving. And my response times improve, as well. Also, I have noticed that I have been able to catch things that I start to drop more easily than ever before.

Like silverware falling out of my hands and headed for the floor — I have caught them several times.

Like a travel mug full of coffee that tipped over, and I was able to right before it spilled all over the place.

There have been a number of situations where my eye-hand coordination is definitely better than I can remember it being for a while – perhaps if ever. I was very active as a kid and played a lot of ball games, but I was a little spastic and had trouble coordinating my movements.

And I was convinced I could not juggle, because I was so “dorky”. I was convinced I was a lot of things (not all of them flattering) because of my coordination problems. My issues were probably a lot less than I believed they were, but because they didn’t match what I was expecting, I considered them terrible.

And I kept myself from doing a lot of things, because I figured, “Well, that’s just how I am, and I have to live with less as a result.”

Sad – pretty much of a waste.

Now things are different. Now I’m not convinced that anything I believe about myself is actually true. I’m questioning it. Trying new things. And discovering more things about myself than I ever did before.

Juggling helps me. Even just tossing around a pen is beneficial.  How?

  1. It improves my eye-hand coordination. I am getting better at catching things I toss from one hand to another. And when I spin the thing(s) I toss, it challenges me. I have dropped a lot of things, but I am getting better.
  2. It improves my self-control. When I drop things, I typically get very upset and start to blow up (inside mostly, sometimes outside). This is very disruptive. Knowing that I am practicing keeps it chilled out for me. Tossing a non-essential object, dropping it, and then practicing self-control and not flying off the handle, is helping me in my everyday life, when things go wrong unexpectedly.
  3. It improves my sustained attention. I can focus for longer and longer periods of time. I notice that I drop things when my attention wanders. Focusing on the object I’m tossing from hand to hand for a few minutes… then a few more minutes… then a few more minutes… is helping me to stay focused longer.
  4. It teaches me to block out distractions.  This is different from sustaining my attention. It’s one thing to lengthen the amount of time I can focus single-mindedly on something. It’s another thing to know how to block out sudden distractions that pop up into my field of view, or come to mind. Most of my distractions actually come from inside my head. I’ll start thinking about something else… and then I’m toast. I drop what I’m trying to catch. Or I toss something in the wrong direction. Practicing tossing things from one side to another — and most of all practicing not getting my attention pulled away — has actually helped me a great deal.

Recently, a reader posted a comment:

I saw a documentary on the brain and neuroplasticity and heard that juggling tennis balls can improve executive function.
I think it worked:
It only took the (uninjured) guy in the movie one practice session to be able to juggle several tennis balls.
It took about 2 months for me to be able to consistently juggle one ball.
I could only do a few minutes once or twice a week because it used so much of my brain energy.
After a few weeks I noticed my thinking seemed faster and switching between tasks was easier. There was also a measurable jump in my typing and reading speeds.

Now aprox 3 months later; I still do a few minutes, two times a week, but can use 2 balls. I just tested my typing speed again and it is aprox. twice as fast it was when I started the juggling exercise.

It’s worth a try: low cost, no side effects. Be aware that it took lots of patience and really used up a lot of brain enery when I started (so plan accordingly), but it got easier.

This is WAY cool. As they said, it is low cost and has no side effects — other than improvement in important areas.

It also takes a lot of brain energy at the start — I can also attest to that, because when I started tossing my toothbrush from hand to hand, first thing in the morning, I dropped it a lot, and spent a lot of time rinsing it off. (Why did I used my toothbrush? Because tossing something important raised the stakes and forced me to pay close attention.) It was very challenging when I started, to tell the truth.

But bringing in a tennis ball has expanded this — and it’s something I can do just about anywhere, just about anytime. In fact, I sometimes take a break at work to go to a quiet room and toss a tennis ball around. I may just add another ball to it and practice juggling.

Now, it’s all very well and good to learn how to juggle. It’s fun. It aids neuroplasticity. And it will be an accomplishment, if I ever manage it.

But the real benefit is not the juggling ability alone. It’s the psychological, experiential, and behavioral benefit I get from it.

Having better eye-hand coordination can reduce the number of “clumsiness events” in my life that not only drive me crazy but make me feel stupid and dim.

Being able to catch a tipping cup of coffee — that I can’t afford to spill — is a huge boost to myself-confidence. And it also spares me the internal storms of anger, range, frustration, and self-recrimination. It’s also good for my self-image, which can use a lot of help.

Being in better contact with the world around me, and having a more fluid interaction with my physical environment can offset the effects of my dizziness and the times when I am “off” — for one reason or another. Developing my coordination, my muscle memory, my ability to skillfully adapt to sudden changes in my environment… it’s all good, and it only helps me.

Overall, the strangely wonderful side-effects of tossing objects from one hand to another are helping me feel better about myself, feel like less of a klutz, and make me more relaxed and at-ease with the world around me.

And that’s a good thing.

So, onward…

 

 

Rested, exercised, cleaned… ready to go

Starting the day right

So, I got off to a good start today.

Got some decent sleep – almost 8 hours… got up and moved with my weights… and I cleaned my bedroom a little bit.

While my spouse is away this weekend, I’m sleeping downstairs in the living room where it’s cool. It’s been crazy hot, for the past week, and the A/C in my bedroom is on the fritz. On the one hand, it might not make that much of a difference, because I tend to overheat at night, anyway, and the heat might not even get to me. But it’s like a psychological thing with me, so I pulled out the sleeper sofa and made myself cozy in the living room A/C.

I woke up dizzy again, but less than yesterday, and definitely less than 2 days ago. I stumbled/wobbled around for a little bit, till I got my bearings, then I did some exercises to get my system back online. Doing the movement with the weights really seems to help me get my balance – pushing myself a little bit to stay upright with the added weight of the dumbells seems to kick my system into gear. I’m still dizzy, and I’ve got a sick throbbing headache, but I’m better than I was an hour ago. At least I can stay upright and I can see better than I have been, over the past few days.

Yesterday when I was running errands in the morning, I was having a hard time seeing. Nothing would stay in focus, and I couldn’t read very well. Crazy. I had to do a lot of driving around in the morning, so I had to stay 1000% focused on the road, on driving, talking to people, getting things done… all of that. I got some weird looks from people who maybe thought I was a little drunk, but so what. I had things to do, and I was going to get them done. It probably wasn’t the safest thing for me to do – driving around in such a state – but I had no choice. The stuff had to get done. Before noon. There was no waiting and there was no other option. I did manage to get it all done, with some minor snapping at my spouse — they were really pushing me, and I wasn’t in the mood to be pushed. But then I lay down for an hour and listened to my stress-hardiness tape, and I got a little sleep. So I woke up better than I was when I lay down.

Now my spouse is gone for a few days, and I have peace. No panic. No anxiety. No constant hounding about this, that, or the other thing… How do people live like that, with the non-stop worrying? I’ve got my own panic-anxiety issues, but it’s not this constant thing. At least, not anymore. Once upon a time, it was, so I know what that’s like.

The thing I don’t get is how someone can let themself stay in that state, year after year. It’s like my spouse isn’t happy if they’re not stressed out about something. Then again, I know what that’s like, too, so I need to have some damn’ compassion, already.

Yeah, okay. Point taken. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming about my own stuff and my own life and what I’m doing to take care of myself and keep myself out of trouble…

After I exercised, I went upstairs to grab some clean clothes, and I noticed how messy my bedroom is. I sleep in a separate room, because my spouse stays up late and then reads for hours, and it’s impossible for me to sleep through the night with them crawling in and out of bed and keeping the light on. They also need to have one of those salt lamps on at all times — apparently it cleans the air? If nothing else, it makes them feel safe – they cannot stand a totally dark room. It just terrifies them, I guess because of bad things that once happened in dark rooms when they were a kid?

I don’t have those issues. I like a completely dark room. The light of the salt lamp made me nuts, and they were not going to change, so I relocated to the guest bedroom some time ago. I have to say, it’s been really good to have control over my own sleeping space. I went out and got some light-blocking curtains, hung some new curtain rods, and now I’ve got a veritable cave that is pitch dark when I arrange the curtains correctly — even in daytime. It is amazing – what a huge relief it was, when I first started sleeping there. No more salt lamp light. No more being woken at 2 a.m. by someone getting into bed, no more sound of pages turning in bed beside me. And I could stretch out and toss and turn to my heart’s content and sweat like I was in a sauna, without someone pitching a fit.

People tend to think that sleeping apart means spouses are incompatible, or their relationship is on the rocks. In some ways, that is true for us. We have seen better days. However, sleeping apart has actually helped our relationship over the years. The biggest hurdle we’ve had to overcome with regard to sleeping apart, is the internal bias against it — getting ourselves used to the idea that this is a good thing and not a sign that we can’t be married anymore. Once that was overcome, things got a lot better, and now I’m feeling 100% fine with the sleeping arrangement.

So, back to the cleaning bit — I picked up around my bedroom a bit, which was overdue. It was starting to look like a — well, never mind what it was starting to look like. For some reason, I couldn’t get started with picking up — I would just drop clothing into an appropriate pile and move on. It wasn’t terrible — not like you see on “Hoarders” — but it was getting to be a bit much.

So, I took 15 minutes and got rid of the piles. Folded up t-shirts and jeans and put them in my closet. Sorted the socks and underwear and put them in their respective drawers. I could have done more, but that was enough for the moment. It made a noticeable difference, and that’s fine. I’ll get to the rest of it later.

Cleaning is something I really need to do better at. I keep pretty busy, and then I get distracted and don’t spend enough time cleaning up after myself. I don’t live in filth, by any stretch — the house is clean and functional and fairly well-organized. On the other hand, there are a bunch of piles of stuff — papers and miscellaneous items — around the house. I’m looking at a pile of papers right now. They will be easy to deal with, if I just take a few minutes to do so.  The trick is just spending a few minutes, which is hard for me to do.

I think part of the reason I don’t pick up more often is that I have a hard time stopping, once I start. I sort out one pile, then I’m in the swing of things, and I sort out another pile… and another… and another… until I’ve taken care of a bunch of things, and it’s all good, but I have lost track of time and I’m behind on other things. Later, when I think about cleaning, I have this association in my head that it will take me hours to do the work, and it will set me back on other things I’m supposed to be doing. It’s unconscious, and it’s pernicious, and I need to find a way around it.

So, here’s my new strategy for cleaning, which is very similar to other strategies I have set for myself lately — only give myself a short period to do it. Limit the period I’m going to do it, and then stop when the time is up. I’ve got a timer I bought a number of years ago for exactly this purpose, but after using it for about six months, I got bored with it. I also got sick of the ear-piercing beep, so I decided to not time myself anymore. But I can start using it again, and that will be fine. Heck, I can use the timer on the stove to time myself, since that’s a lot less obnoxious.

Sounds like a plan.

So, life is good. I got almost 8 hours of sleep last night, I woke up feeling pretty rested — albeit pretty dizzy and with a sick headache. I got my exercise in. And I cleaned a little bit, which is good.

I’ve got a lot of things I want to do today – I just need to get myself on a timed schedule for much of them, because I’m noticing that the same thing that keeps me from cleaning, keeps me from starting other things — I anticipate them being so big and taking so long, that they will consume me and I will get lost in them and not do the other things I need to do.

Breaking them all up in chunks will fix that. And sticking to that “deal” I’m making with myself, to ONLY do things for as long as I give myself, is essential.

Now, off to get some things done.

Onward.