Back from vacation, and doing things differently

Rowing through the fifth circle of hell – anger

So, my “vacation” was quite different from expected. My spouse got really sick, so I spent the bulk of the time taking care of them, running errands, and making sure they stayed fed and were headed in the right direction – towards recovery.

I did almost nothing that I had planned. I had thought I’d have time to do some writing, but to be honest, when I was there, I didn’t want to do anything other than just roam around, take long walks, and explore parts of the nearby national park I hadn’t seen in years.

One thing became very, very clear to me, while I was away — I have let myself get too complacent, too lax, too mellow. The net result of my chilling out, has been putting on some pounds and also losing my stamina. Keeping up with everything when my spouse is “holding invalid court” — as a sick person who needs to be waited on like some sort of royalty — is NOT easy work. It’s pretty draining, if I don’t stay on top of things.

So, it was pretty rough. But that’s not because of all the demands. The fact is, I am not in as good shape as I need to be, and all the running and juggling (figuratively speaking) showed me where I need to improve. I used to do all this — and a whole lot more — as a matter of course, each and every day. But over the past number of years, as I’ve focused more on taking care of myself and making sure I didn’t get overrun by the craziness of my employer(s), spouse, and TBI recovery, I’ve lost my edge.

And I need it back.

I’ve gotten way too lax about things, and I’ve “let myself go”, for the sake of just enjoying myself and taking things as they come. But you know what? That’s not me. I am by nature a very “on” person, who needs some “off” time on a regular basis to recharge. I’m not meant to be an “off” person who occasionally “turns on” to kick into gear. I need to stay active and involved in my life — to live my life to the fullest, and really keep my energy high. If I don’t, the feeling seems to backfire, and I end up having a whole lot of energy “double back” on itself… it eats me alive.

So, I need to live. And live fully. Not with panic, not with anxiety, but fully alive.

Just kicking back has become a way of life for me, which is not good at all. I’ve gotten into that habit in part because of my past job that had me commuting so much every day. It’s tough to stay active and engaged, when you start and end your day with an hour’s worth of driving. What a horrible life-suck that was.

All that sitting got me tightened up — my muscles, my fascia, my mind — and I was so full of resentment and anger that I had to continually manage, to keep it from wrecking my life — that I got sucked into a downward spiral that shot me straight into the doldrums, where I languished. Hoping against hope that something would change. Eventually it did, but what a miserable time that was.

It was like renting a room in Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell — Anger — and not being able to get the money together to move out to a better place, and having to make the best of it by getting to know my neighbors, have some barbecues, hang out… you know, make the best of it, all the while wishing to God something would give.

It didn’t give. For three long years. And it really was hell.

Now I’ve been out of that world for three months, and I’m starting to normalize… get my balance back… remember what is important to me. I don’t have to put all my energy into dealing with the emotional flack of a horrible workplace, barely being able to function on the weekends, just spending all my free time languishing like a glorious lump.

I can start putting my energy into the healthy things again. And I can get back to my practice — my martial arts of living.

Over the week when I was balancing work and vacation and my spouse’s illness, it became clear to me that I needed a better way of handling their mental illness. They have suffered from panic/anxiety and depression for almost 20 years, and it has wreaked havoc with their life. All the while, they have been unable to admit that they had a real problem, and that it was hurting them. They have treated it like it was protective for them — living less of a life was keeping them safe from untold dangers. I know where that comes from — their childhood, and also their family story, which is all about unseen threats which must be managed.

Over the years, I have dealt more or less effectively with their mental illness, seeing to various degrees, the depth of their dysfunction. I actually dealt with it pretty well, from the start, even when they were absolutely nuts with anger and rage and fear and a seething cauldron of hyper-fight-flight reactions to everything, including their own shadow. I could keep my own attention trained on my own activities and issues, and I could steer myself (and sometimes them) in a better direction.

Over the years, I’ve had my own issues to deal with, and many of them have been really hard for my spouse to deal with. The old anger, the rigidity in my own mindsets, my outbursts and unpredictability… I was a real piece of work, I can tell you. I’ve been brain-injured a number of times, which made me incredibly difficult to deal with, when I was tired or overwhelmed (which was a lot of the time).

But we had a kind of balance going on, that worked for both of us.

Then I fell in 2004, and everything came to a head. Everything really fell apart, and we were on the verge of breaking apart after 14 years. I didn’t even realize it, at the time. I was really out of it, had no idea what was going on with me.

Anyway, what I realize now is that things have often sucked with us, from day one. But the things that have been good, have been well worth all the suckiness. It’s like the suckfulness didn’t even matter, because the good was more than enough to offset everything. Plus, no marriage is perfect, so was I going to just ditch the love of my life because not everything was idyllic all the time? Nope. I dealt with it.

And now I need to deal with it again. I need to deal with my spouse’s demons, their mental illness, their panic and anxiety and encroaching dementia, with a form of martial art. Keep calm, keep centered, and be ready to deal with the demons that threaten to attack. They are very real demons, and making light of them doesn’t serve me at all. Denying that they exist doesn’t help. And avoiding confronting them is the worst thing I can do.

I need to deal with this. Because try as they might, my spouse has limits, and there are things they just refuse to do for themself that will make things better. They’re trying, yes. They’re really trying. But the demons are always there in the background, with an eye out to get hold of me, too.

They’re greedy demons — panic, anxiety, fear, aggression. They feed on the energy of others, and how they love to feed. They are insatiable, and they will stop at nothing, till they get what they need. I can’t forget that they exist. I’m not saying I have to live in fear. Far from it. I just need to live with awareness, and figure out how to keep my own essence safe and protected, while the demons swirl around, seeking madness.

It can be done. And I’ve been working out, first thing in the morning, for the past four days, strengthening myself and doing exercises to stir up my stagnant “chi” and get good energy flowing in me. It’s helping. And I need to stay with it, not get bored and go do something else, when it all feels too familiar and boring.

Life is waiting. Get strong. Be smart.


I must be getting better… a lot better

Sometimes you have to bring your own light

Got back last night from my return drive home. Found my spouse sitting in a dark house, watching television. Now, that’s depressing. They were really happy to see me… but it only took an hour till they started digging into me and my family about in-law pet peeves.

That’s par for the course. I’ve been hearing this same litany of complaints against my side of the family for over 20 years. The thing is, it hasn’t bothered me in the past, and it was kind of a semi-annual ritual for my spouse to complain bitterly about my family being the way they are. It really is my spouse’s loss. My family isn’t perfect — whose is? But they are my family, and they helped make me what I am, so you can either spend your time getting all revved and riled about something that cannot and will not change, or you can look on the bright side, find the things that are good and positive, and focus on them.

That’s what I choose to do, and it has made life more than tolerable for me. I’ve been able to find good in even the most miserable conditions. Now, miserable is miserable, for sure. But there’s always something good to concentrate on, that keeps you from getting all worked up and unhappy about things.

In the end, it’s my spouse’s loss that they can’t see the good in my family. And the fact that I’m not willing to dive into that old back-and-forth, and I managed to keep it from sliding downhill into an all-out fight… well, that’s signs of progress.

I need to remember that my spouse always starts to get “revved” around midnight, which was when we started talking about the trip. That was a killer for me, because I should have been in bed by then, but they wanted to find out about the trip and hear the details. The thing is, because they start to “rev up” around midnight, they wanted to fight, which made it really difficult for me to wind down and get to bed. It was just a poor choice on my part. The poor choice was all about me forgetting that my spouse gets anxious and aggressive and wants to fight, around midnight, and giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Mistake. Note to self — no matter how optimistic you may be about your spouse’s mental health at midnight, every single time, they prove you wrong, and you end up getting the short end of the stick. As in, not nearly enough sleep — like five hours or something like that. If I’d had my wits about me, I would have just turned in and said we’d talk about the trip today, after I had some time to let it all sink in — and catch up on my sleep.

Also, last night showed me pretty clearly that I really am getting a lot better. I’m in a good space… while my spouse is not. If anything, they’re getting worse. They really do seem to be slipping away from me… fading away, wallowing in outrage and upset, and just getting worse and worse. I think what’s happening is that they are blowing out their system — they’re not watching what they eat or getting adequate exercise, and because of that, their vascular system is not holding up. So, when they get all worked up over things and their blood pressure gets up, it blows out the little capillaries and connections in their system — their brain, possibly their kidneys — people have talked to me about this, and I didn’t really want to come to terms with it, but being away for a few days just makes it all the more obvious to me that they are not well.

But I am.

And I’m getting better. I’m getting much, much better — each and every day. I’m focused on it. I’m working at it. I’m making it a top priority. Part of my motivation is seeing how sub-par my spouse is functioning. Seeing them going downhill so steadily is a great motivation for me to do more to keep myself fully functional — and even improve. I know in my heart and mind that we have more “say” about what happens to our bodies and our brains, than popular conventions give us credit for. I also know in my heart and mind that even if I am going downhill, it’s not going to be by default. They’re really going to have to work at killing me, to take me down.

I’m not going down just because “that’s what happens” when you get to a certain age.

Another thing that’s really motivating me, is seeing the rest of my family and seeing how they’re living. That’s not how I want to live, at all. They are constantly on-the-go, and it’s really exhausting. They just go-go-go, and they don’t spend a lot of time to stop and think things through. They’re all on auto-pilot, doing what everyone around them does, and that’s pretty depressing in its own way. They do have connections with a larger community, and they do have a strong sense of belonging, but the community they belong to, leaves a lot to be desired, in my opinion.

If their community were so great, I’d still be there. Note well, that I am not.

So, on both ends, I can see that I’m doing well. I’m doing better than ever. And while things are rough and rocky, here and there, the fact that I can see that things are not how I want them to be, is a great sign of progress.

Once upon a time, I would get sucked into the fights and arguments and bitch-fests with my spouse, and I’d feel all the more alive and invigorated from it.

Once upon a time, I could not spend any time around my family without wanting to kill myself. Literally.

Now, neither of those are true. I’m finding a healthy middle ground, and it’s good.

Now, it’s time to get on with my day.











Engaging Anyway

September 14, 2012

Vacation is treating me well, I have to say. The weather is gorgeous, the condo is great, and the beach was amazing last night. We got here late – off to a delayed start, no surprises there — but we had some time to get something to eat and then crash on the beach. We must have slept for at least an hour. I was exhausted, and I could barely keep my eyes open. I have been pushing really hard at work for a number of weeks – and I got sick in the meantime, too – so small wonder that I’m shaking-tired, my stomach is in knots, and I look like I have permanent dark circles under my eyes.

I’m hoping this coming week will change that up a bit. Just being able to rest will be great… though with a spouse who suffers from intense panic-anxiety, it’s constant work to keep stabilized and even-keeled. All the drama about little things… things not being placed in the right way, things not being done in the right sequence… it’s surprising what some folks get hung up on. Oh, well. I think it’s biochemical – no logically thinking person would get this bent out of shape about how a towel is hung in the bathroom.

I’m on vacation, after all.

So, we’re having some friends come to visit later today – one of the friends is very much like me – even-keeled and very “grounding”, as they say. Another one is like my spouse – always on hyper-alert, very uptight about every little thing, and always looking for something that’s WRONG that they can take on and fight over. The third friend, I’ve only met once, by my spouse knows them, and they seem cool. We’re going to hang out and just chill for a few days. That’s the plan, anyway.

Last night I had an interesting conversation with the strung-out friend over some housing issues they’re having. They’ve been having trouble finding a place to live for a couple of years, and they’ve been bouncing around, here and there, living out of their truck (they have a big-ass pickup with a cap on it that they have a bed and all their earthly belongings in) and looking around for other options. They’ve had a bunch of opportunities come up, but they keep deciding that’s not good enough. They say if so-and-so offers them something, then they’ll have to offer something in return, and they don’t want to get into that. Yada-yada-yada. And winter is coming. There’s not a lot of time to screw around.

This person seems to think that they can hold out indefinitely and the perfect thing is going to come up. I’m going to have a talk with them when they come around this weekend. They have got to quit acting like they’ve got all the time in the world. Because they don’t. They seem to think that “the universe” – whatever that is – is going to provide for their every need perfectly. They keep talking about “the universe” like it’s a benevolent parent who wants to make sure they’re taken care of and all set.

News flash — “the universe” (at least, the one that I live in) doesn’t work that way. It’s all very nice and wonderful to think so, but from what I’ve seen, you’ve got to get involved in your own life and take responsibility for your own decisions and do what you can when you can – not wait around for some invisible Force to step in and save you from everything. Interestingly, this friend was treated really badly as a kid – they were beaten and shuttled around between family members and foster homes and probably have a history of tbi in the mix. (When I say “interestingly” it’s not to make light of their hardship – I think it’s just an important piece of the puzzle they are.) They’re also dyslexic and have a really hard time reading. And they’ve got major ADHD. Those are some more pieces of the puzzle.

The puzzle that they are seems to be living in some fantasy world – like maybe they did when things got so rough for them as kids and they had nowhere to hide but in their own mind. They seem to be all hung up on the idea that something outside of them needs to come and save them – that they can’t figure things out for themself. I think that’s a big piece of it – they don’t seem to want to figure things out. Because it might get messed up as it does so many times. And then, no matter how hard they try, they will be back at square one.

Now, in the midst of all of this, the place where I see them needing the most help – and not always asking for or using it – is with communicating with people. I think they’ve got huge problems following what others are saying, they have a hard time comprehending, they jump around a lot, and by the end of the conversation, they have wandered off in different directions and are in a different cognitive “neighborhood” than when they started out. It looks and sounds so familiar to me – like I’m looking at myself, from the time before I got help for my TBI issues. It’s crazy – all the faking it through, all the bravado, all the halting interactions, the jumping around, the inability to hold conversations and make real decisions… it sounds eerily familiar. It reminds me so much of how I was before. Really, truly.

And I wonder how I got past all that. Because I really was locked into that for years and years. For over 40 years, actually. That’s a long time to be locked away in that prison of non-comprehension and confusion.

The way I got past all of it, when I think about it, was doing the exact opposite of what I was used to doing – I started reaching out to others and engaging. I started extending myself and taking a chance at sounding stupid, so that I could have actual conversations with people. To be perfectly honest, I had gone most of my life without having actual conversations with anybody – it was just nodding my head, repeating back to people what they’d said to me, and pretending I got it, when I was actually losing much of what they’d said to me, in the past few minutes. It got me by, but it was a really shitty way of living. And it only helped others, not me. In fact, it didn’t help others, either, because they were talking to a ghost. They were talking to someone who didn’t even exist.

When I started working with my neuropsych, however, that really started to change. To be completely accurate, a lot of the “work” we did each week was just sitting and talking – me saying stuff that probably sounded like I was half insane, and them sitting there just listening and responding to me like I had good sense. They didn’t call me on the crazy stuff I came up with; they just let me talk. And eventually I built up some skills in having a conversation with another person that I could actually participate in. I learned how to engage.

And what a difference it made. I can’t even begin to say. Between those weekly conversations and my regular blogging, I gradually learned how to put thoughts together in a relatively coherent way that had something to do with reality, rather than some fantasy concoction in my head – some fantastical interpretation of what was really happening and what it all meant.

Crazy. I mean, it was just nuts, the way I used to live. It had nothing to do with actual reality – it was all about my own internal interpretations of what was happening and what people were saying to me.

And that’s exactly where I see this friend of ours living. That’s the “cognitive neighborhood” where they live. And it’s where my spouse lives, as well, with their anxiety-driven interpretations of how everything that’s out of place, everything that isn’t perfectly to design, is a sign of imminent danger — and it needs to be fought against and overcome right away – right now – no hesitation – just strike hard and fast – and rule with shock and awe. It holds you back, it stops you from interacting with the world. It keeps you from engaging with your life, and it keeps all the best ideas from showing up and becoming reality.

That’s what happens inside our heads. We all do it. We all get pulled into that, at some point or another. And all the while, the chance at having a peaceful, happy life is draining away, as our anxiety and interpretations of What’s Happening pull the plug out of the tub of our presence of mind.

If you’ve been following this blog at all, you can probably guess what I’m going to suggest next – that these are issues with the Autonomic Nervous System – the constant activation of fight-flight that keeps us on edge and keeps us from being present, even intelligent, in our daily lives. It’s our histories of trauma, our mass of experiences with being beaten, abused, violated in some way, neglected, mistreated, dismissed, and generally treated like ever-loving CRAP that puts us in that state of mind, and keeps us there indefinitely, when our lives are filled with drama that we cannot control.

It’s when we grow up that we get the chance to control the drama – or at least manage it. But if we’re so accustomed to (and comfortable with) the drama that we feel out of place or we feel like strangers to ourselves if it’s not around, then we end up re-creating it, over and over and over again, and we keep ourselves stuck in that place where we cannot think on our own and act, only react. We end up in that place where we are our own worst enemies – even when we think we’re being our best friends.

And there you have it. At least, that’s my neat little sum-up of how it works. In the case of this friend, I can totally see it. They’re so strung out on anxious drama, that they can’t even think. All they can do is find reasons to doubt every option they have – and poke holes in it. Till their whole life looks like a loosely woven wicker basket they’re trying to use to carry water.


People sure are funny… Except it’s not funny when your life is hanging in the balance and you don’t have a clear view to how to get the hell out. Which is where this friend is, right about now. So, maybe I’ll get to talk to them, maybe I won’t. I’m going to try. Because winter’s coming, and they have GOT to get their shit together. They can’t keep living like this, living in some fantasy world about how things will be so great, if the impossible happens. Life is full of contradictions and hard choices. We always have to make trade-offs and we always have to deal with things that are less than perfect, and anything but ideal. The way I’ve found to deal with all of these, is to step up to life and really engage with it – get involved, don’t hold back, just get in there. I can’t afford to think about what other people think of me. It’s just not worth my time and energy. Anyway, people are so self-obsessed that they probably don’t notice half the stuff that I do, and if they do notice it, they probably have a completely different interpretation of what it means and what it’s about.

So, I’ve just gotta engage, no matter what. I’ve just gotta keep going, and make it all work. Just keep at it, never give up, never give in to the fears and hesitations. Acknowledge them yes, but keep moving forward.

The past two years have done wonders for helping me get me to that place. I’m not perfect at it, and I’m still learning, but I’m a hell of a lot better now than I was just a few years ago. A lifetime of holding back and not being able to stand on my own, make my own decisions, speak my own mind, and have actual conversations with people, is gradually giving way to something else, something different, something new.

And I’ve got to keep on keeping on. I’ve got to keep moving forward. I really feel like I need to talk to this friend and let them know A) they’re not alone – I know exactly what it’s like, and B) I have discovered some tools that have helped me a whole lot, and might actually help them, too. They have to know they are not alone. I used to operate like they operate – every single day of my life. And they have to know that I figured out a way to live that works for me. With the help of a handful of people who know how to not make fun of me, how to not beat me down, how to not treat me like shit, I have come a long way. If anything, I hope that I can get this friend to trust that I’ll be able to do the same for them.

Winter is coming. There’s no time to wait. Life wants us to engage with it. So, let’s engage.

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