I can hear the Glenn Miller Band playing “In The Mood”

Or should it be “In A Mood”…?  I am in such a terrible mood, these days, it’s not even funny.

Fortunately, I know it, so I’ll spare you my emotional ups and downs.They’re artificial, really. Not based on anything substantive, other than that I’m extremely tired and over-taxed, and there is a lot of change going on at work.

Very little of which seems to be managed well. By others, or by me.

No, scratch that. I am handling it all pretty well — all things considered.

I’m just very, very tired and wading through unknown territory as best I can. I have to be careful that I don’t let my physical state trick my mind into believing that I’m worse off than I am. That happens to me all the time, and for years it really messed me up, because I interpreted feeling bad as being bad.  Not the same thing. Not even close.

I might as well get used to this, because the way things are going for me, it’s not going to get easier or simpler, anytime soon. The people in charge are seeing what I can do under really challenging circumstances, which will only bode well for me, job-wise. So, in that respect, things are good. At the same time, if nobody else is stepping up except for me… well, you get the picture.

Getting ahead of myself, though. Way ahead of myself.

The wild thing is, things are actually going really, really well for me. When I step back and take a look from 30,000 feet up, and I can disengage from all my internal angst — not to mention the pain and confusion and frustration I’m in — things are looking great. But my biochemistry is completely out of whack, and I’ve been running on adrenaline for a bit too long.

So, screw it. Just keep going. I’m sure everything will brighten up, on down the line. It just feels like I’m not making headway, my spouse is perpetually under the weather, I have too much on my plate, the new car is having issues, and I’m feeling pressured all over again in a multitude of ways.

Okay, I’ll stop now. That’s enough for one morning. Time to just get moving and do something about this.

I miss the solitude under my rock

I’m fine here… Really, I’m fine.

God, what I wouldn’t give to just be away from people for a while. But I can’t. I have to be social. I have to talk to people. I have to deal with insurance people, and I have to talk to people about what happened to my spouse during their car accident. The worst part is giving them the details… and then having them tell me all about their car accident experiences.

It’s all very social. And it’s all so exhausting. Driving out to the hospital to get my spouse and their friend and get them to a motel and then get them home, cleaning out the car, and getting info from the tow yard lady, has not been the hard part. The hardest part has been the emotional upheaval afterwards, and my spouse fixating on how close they came to being killed. PTSD.

I’ve been in a number of motor vehicle accidents, myself (three of which gave me TBIs), and I hate thinking about them, because everything gets so jumbled up. It’s also over and done with, and trying to sort all the ideas out takes so much energy. I want to just let that all go and move on. Get back to my regular life. That should be happening in the next few weeks. But right now, everything feels hard and frustrating and confusing. I’m foggy and having trouble doing more than one thing at a time.

My big deadline yesterday actually worked out, pretty much, and even where I screwed up and complicated the process, people were super helpful helping me sort through it all. Nothing else really got done, other than that project. I had to focus on that — and only that. Keep watching. Keep emailing. Keep tracking. Keep following up… It was exhausting, and I slept for another 10 hours last night.

I miss the solitude under my rock. I miss not having to talk out loud to people. I just want to hole myself up and not put words together, not put ideas together, not express them, not make them clear to anyone. It’s just so difficult for me at times like these, when I am stressed, and I am in visual-nonverbal-mode.

Visual-nonverbal-mode is my mode when I am trying to get things done. I see pictures of what is happening, and I see how it’s all fitting together, and I’m moving forward, making that happen. I have a hard time paying attention to anything around me, other than what’s in front of me, and I don’t hear a lot of things that go on. I basically pretend… while my brain is processing images and getting ready to spring into action, instead of sitting around talking.

Less talk, more action, is what that mode is all about, and it’s how I’ve been for most of my life. I had trouble hearing, when I was a kid, and I am having trouble, these days. I also had trouble getting words to organize in ways that others understood. Plus, I didn’t know the proper sounds to use for some letters, so that didn’t help. It’s hard to explain, but when I am stressed, the verbal part of my brain shuts down, and since people are so damn’ eager to talk and talk and talk (it soothes them and connects them to others, thus reducing their anxiety), talking things through just makes things more stressful for me.

It’s like talk and action are mutually exclusive in my brain.

Which is why I favor solitude so much. Nobody is talking to me. I’m just taking action. I’m just doing what I need to do. I don’t have to explain things to people. I don’t have to get their feedback. I’m just doing it. I’m not sorting through my ideas to make them “accessible” to others. Oh, let me digress for a moment…

<rant> why the hell do other people feel entitled to have “access” to each others’ ideas, anyway? can’t we all just do and be what we are, without demanding “access” to each other and being slavishly social? wtf people?! </rant>

Okay…. anyway, being alone is such a tremendous relief for me, especially in times like this, when I have a lot to handle and a lot is on my shoulders. I haven’t been talking to a lot of people about the accident (I told 2 of my close coworkers yesterday), and I really don’t want to get into it, if we’re not exchanging some meaningful information that people can actually use — like dealing with insurance companies.

The other reason I don’t want to talk to others about the accident is that it really upsets me on so many levels, and I need to stay functional. I can’t afford to break down, and when I am this tired and this stressed, it’s easy for me to lose my sh*t. I can’t do that at work. I have to stay steady. I just barely missed getting cut from the roster, a few weeks back, and I need to handle my more demanding workload.

All the more reason to seek out solitude. I go to the cafeteria to work, so I don’t have to be around people and hear them talking. I also go there, so no one will come up and talk to me. I really just need to be by myself, and while that does piss people off, I can use food and an excuse to do it. We’re not supposed to eat at our desks, and I need more than just a piece of candy to keep me going. So, I take my instant oatmeal or little bag of chips, and camp out in the caf.

It works.

Anyway, I have to get going. I have another full day ahead of me, and I just need to get things done. I am working really hard at recovering and getting back on track, so I can continue my trajectory to the type of life that I can be happy with — making the most of all my talents, making the most of my situations, and getting to do things that I can’t do right now – like travel. I just have to make my hours at work, earn the money, do the work, and let everything fall as it will.

It will be fine. I just miss my solitude under my rock.

Fine when I get there

In praise of stillness
Peace be with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not now. Not anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really am very fortunate.

Crushing. Just crushing. And yet…

The week ahead of me is one of those one-foot-in-front-of-the-other types of weeks. I can’t think too much about things, because inside my head, it’s a swirling mass of panic, rage, fear, anxiety, frustration, and a whole lot of other stuff that has no business coming to the surface.

I’m working my ass off, keeping positive and moving forward. It is a herculean effort, and when I think about how f*cking hard I have to work, to keep myself on track, I’m actually really proud of myself.

Because how things are on the outside is nothing like how they are on the inside.

And to all appearances, I’m succeeding, I’m doing well, I’m holding my act together.

While inside, I’m absolutely dying — or bordering on aggressive rage.

One thing that TBI has taught me, is how to not get sucked into the turmoil that seethes beneath the surface. There is *always* turmoil beneath the surface with me. I walk around looking quite calm and collected, while inside I’m anything but that. I know the chaos is there. It’s like having a Tasmanian devil creature living in a sound-proofed back room of my house. From the street, you can’t see it, you can’t hear it, and you’d never know it’s there. But inside my house, I know it’s there. And even though I can’t hear it tearing around shrieking and howling and slamming into the walls, I can still feel the thud-thud-thud of the creature throwing itself around.

It’s there. I’m not sure it’s every going to go away. And yet, I don’t have to let it out of its room. I don’t have to let it into the rest of the house. I can live my life, sliding food under the door now and then to keep it satiated and a little calmed down. I can go about my business, taking care of that side of me, to make sure it doesn’t get too wild, too out of control. I know it’s there. I’m not sure it’s ever going to go away. The confusion, frustration, fear, anxiety, panic, anger…

Whatever. I have a life to live, and I have tools in place to keep me balanced and steady, no matter what.

In a way, learning to manage my own internal state is helping me manage my external state. It’s pretty depressing, sometimes, thinking that this crap may never go away. But when does it ever — for anyone? We all have to deal with it. We all have to handle it.

It’s crushing. It’s demanding. It sometimes feels like too much.

Then I realize there’s more to the picture. There’s the amazingly beautiful weather today. There’s the wonderful day I spent with my spouse, yesterday. There’s the camaraderie of my coworkers waiting for me. There’s the calm I feel as I settle in for a good night’s sleep on the weekend, when I don’t need to set my alarm. There’s all the amazing beauty and inspiration I find from so much of life.

Yes, it can be crushing. And yet… there is more.

Letting it go – for good reason

I missed the original date, but maybe they have an “encore” event this month?

I had a lousy meeting with my neuropsych on Friday evening. First problem was, it was Friday evening after a very long week. I was not in a good space, and neither was my neuropsych, apparently. They kept wanting to talk about diagnostic labs and bloodwork and tests and all that stuff that goes along with figuring out levels of vitamins and what-not.

As it turns out, I have been running a low-level Vitamin D deficiency for about five years. I am sure it has not helped my cognition in the least. But my doctor told me they weren’t worried about it, because they figured it would sort itself out. I was supposed to be supplementing Vitamin D — which I often forgot or just decided not to do. I resolved — about a million times — to spend more time outside and get my Vitamin D through natural sunlight. But then I didn’t do it, and my D levels stayed low — to the point of danger.

The weird thing is, my PCP didn’t seem to think much of it. Despite the fact that Vitamin D levels directly affect cognition, and you can end up feeling foggy and dull as a result. I’ve felt that way for a long, long time — but since I started aggressively loading up on Vitamin D, and my levels have improved, I don’t feel nearly as foggy as I used to. I’m now within the acceptable range (in the lower 33%, which I’d like to raise), and I feel more clear and “with it” than I’ve felt in a long time.

And that pisses me off, that my PCP just kind of blew off my Vitamin D levels and was willing to wait a year, to see if they were better. It’s like my doctor waits for me to report symptoms, but to me, everything is a tangled mass of experiences and feelings, and on any given day I can feel both fantastic and terrible, all at the same time, so making sense of any of it is sorta kinda impossible in my jumbled-up head. So, I take a stab at things, and if I get lucky, it works out. If it doesn’t work out, I try again — and again — and again — till I get where I’m going.

Ultimately, it pays off, but it’s a long time getting there, sometimes.

Anyway, I got pretty angry that my neuropsych kept talking about healthcare and choices and things to do to get proper care. I couldn’t see what it had to do with anything that mattered at the time, and it made me angry that they were going on and on about the best process to follow to get medical help. Now, I realize that they were kind of pissed off that my doctor had done nothing about my Vitamin D levels — that they hadn’t kept an eye on it and raised a flag earlier.

Part of the responsibility is mine. I didn’t think that Vitamin D was that big of a deal, and I figured I could just go outside regularly and get the light I needed to synthesize. Untrue. I don’t go outside nearly enough (as is the case now, as I sit at my desk in my study, looking at the outside, rather than sitting on the back deck, working “in the wild”). I didn’t realize that Vitamin D affected your cognition and mental functioning. If I’d known that before, I’d have done more about it.

But that’s water under the bridge.

Looking back, I realize that I spent a lot of time being really angry with my neuropsych. I didn’t tell them that, but I was upset to the point of wanting to not go to them anymore. That happens, every now and then. I don’t “get” what they’re trying to communicate to me, I feel like they’re talking to me like I’m an idiot, and I get resentful and resistant. And I want to just drop it and just live my life without having to work at it.

But that generally doesn’t go that well, and if I walk away from my neuropsych, I walk away from one of the very few people who understands what’s going on with me — and is equipped to talk some sense into me. Going it alone has a way of backfiring on me. I have few real friends. I’m on friendly terms with a lot of people, and I feel pretty connected with other people, but I have no immediate support group I can turn to — other than my neuropsych. I also have a therapist I see — but that’s more to check in and make sure I’m taking care of myself and to build some self-preservation skills in the face of dealing with my spouse’s various illnesses (both physical and mental). Other than those two, I’m on my own.

Anyway, yesterday I decided not to keep harboring that anger, and I just let it go about my neuropsych being a pain. I realize now that what made me angry, was 1) being really tired after a long week, and 2) not fully understanding what they were talking about, and why. Also, I think my neuropsych was tired after a long week, and they were in rough shape, as well. I’m the “easiest” patient they have to work with, I believe. There are tons of other things going on for them, and I’m just one face in a crowd of many — many of whom need a lot more support and assistance than I.

This is how it often is. When I’m really tweaked and upset, it’s best that I just get some sleep, take a long walk, and let it all settle. Then I can get my balance again, get my bearings, and enjoy the life I have, instead of stewing about the life I’m imagining.

Weather is nice today. I should be able to get that last lawn-mowing of the season done, later this afternoon when the grass is more dry. I may just go out for a long ride, too. I hear the colors are getting nice up north.

Steady, steady, steady…

Keep ‘er level…

The past two days have seen a lot of upheaval and emotion — giving notice at my job on Monday, talking to folks yesterday about my decision to go… and all the while trying to keep things going. It’s never easy making a transition, and certainly not for me, who likes things to stay even-keeled and chilled out…

All the emotion is so… distracting.

I want to be able to just get on with my work, get on with my day, and go about my business. But that’s not going to happen for another couple of weeks, at least, when I’m finally situated in my new position.

The main thing for me right now, is to keep positive and steady and level-headed and not get pulled into other people’s drama. It is harder for them — the ones who are left who have to do the work — and it is hard for me to leave them, because so much of my work has been about keeping them safe and sound and shielding them from the difficulties that come from substandard technologies and poor management decisions. I’ve been a protector, for the past four years, and now I cannot protect them anymore.

In a very real way, I feel as though I’m leaving my “tribe” exposed… and it doesn’t feel good.

At the same time, though, I have been taking it on the chin for them for a long time, and it’s high time I took care of myself.

That being said, this interim period is an excellent time to work on my focus and my further develop skill at staying steady and calm in the midst of the storm. Letting go. Seeing where I can help, as much as humanly possible, and leaving them a legacy of useful resources.

All the bookmarks I use to keep the joint running. All the login information for the different sites. All the instructions I follow to do things that other people will have to do now.

There is a lot of knowledge and experience I am carrying around with me — without it, they will be hurting. So, I’ll do what I can to help them, while I can.

Part of me would love to just ditch the whole scene and move on, but that would not be a fitting end to what has been a really phenomenal “run”. Despite all the upheavals and the problems and shortcomings, I’ve done a phenomenal job of holding down my part of things, and I can see that now. I think I’ve seen it for a long time, but it had much less meaning for me — and them — than it does now, so it’s just that much more noticeable.

Now I need to focus in, keep steady, not let myself get pulled off-track by everything going on around me. People will be upset. They will be emotional. They will be questioning whether they want to stay or go. And I need to keep up with the “agreements” I have with myself about what I will do between now and next Friday.

What I need to do:

  1. Make a list of all the regular tasks I perform that nobody else does.
  2. Document the steps I follow to do those things, so others can pick up where I leave off.
  3. Make a list of all the projects I am working on, which still have steps to be completed.
  4. Document the steps which are still outstanding.
  5. Go over the documentation with my supervisors and explain it all to them.
  6. Write up a list of talking points for both the uber-boss and HR, to explain things that contributed to my decision, and things that could be done differently to help those I’m leaving behind.
  7. Finish up the pieces I still need to do before the 23rd, and follow up with folks about the status.

All this is a pretty big undertaking for me, but if I break it down, and I see it as part of my personal mission to be a solid team member and support the people I work with, it all makes sense. It will be a great way for me to also evaluate my past performance and see all the things I have done right over the past four years. I have been very focused on what I have done wrong, or have not done as well as I wanted to, and now I can look at what I have done right — and really kick it… make some real progress.

And not let things distract me — my emotions… people lashing out because of their own emotions… my concern about emotions. Probably the biggest source of distraction is my anticipation of what can happen. Last weekend, I lost two very good days because of that anticipation, and I need to not succumb to the same drama for the next week and a half.

If I look at the next 8 days as a way to sharpen specific skills where I have trouble… which will then translate to other parts of my life where I want to make better progress… then it’s a lot less daunting for me, because I know the purpose is larger than the individual tasks alone. And it also makes coming up short — as I so often do — less of a tragedy, because it’s all part of an overall program of progress. It’s not just about the next eight days (well, seven, because I’m taking Friday off). It’s about my overall life.

And that makes all the difference.

It takes the pressure off. And that’s really what I need right now — to take the pressure off. Let myself just be, and let myself succeed at what I’m doing for this next week and a half. This is not going to be easy for folks, but a lot of this is self-created, so it’s not about me at all.

The stuff that’s about me… well, that’s where I need to pay attention.

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…

 

 

Keeping that warm fire burning

It’s up to me to feed the fire

I’m in kind of a raw place this morning. I’ve got a phone screen interview for a potentially great job, later today, and I’m starting to get nervous. The last phone screen I had went really badly. And the last couple of interviews I had didn’t go that great, either.

So, I’m nervous. I need to change jobs, and this could be a great next step, but I’m pretty raw from my past experiences, and I’m concerned that I’m going to screw it up all over again.

It’s disheartening. I want to do well, and the last few times, I intended to do well, but I just couldn’t manage it, and things just tanked on me from that point. It’s been a while since I had what really felt like a win for me, job-wise.

I’m probably making it worse than it is. I know I am. My perception of myself and my abilities is much inferior to what others think of me, and when someone pays me a compliment, I have a hard time accepting it. I have a hard time accepting anything for myself that isn’t criticism and blame. I want to change this, but it is extremely hard. I feel like I have to be pretty hard on myself, or I won’t perform. I won’t pay attention. I won’t be sharp, if I’m not being stressed and put on the spot.

This is when TBI becomes a real issue for me. Or rather, the real issue is the reactions of people around me to my abilities and behavior after all my TBIs. I’ve been getting injured since I was pretty young, and people have never been particularly generous or forgiving about the problems I had with attention and memory and figuring things out and just knowing where I stood in the world.

It really blows chunks, to get beaten up on all your life, because of other people’s stupidity and failure to realize what the problem really was.

It just sucks.

It’s not my fault I forgot things and didn’t realize it. I wasn’t lying. I just didn’t remember.

It’s not my fault I was easily distracted and I got confused and tired, and I couldn’t finish big jobs I was given. I just got turned around and couldn’t figure out how to keep going, and nobody would bother to help me figure it out.

It’s not my fault that light and sound and touch all hurt me, and I pulled away from people when they tried to make contact with me. It was so painful, and sometimes it felt like they were burning my skin.

None of that was my fault. I got hit in the head a lot. I fell. I had accidents. I got roughed up a bit. But rather than giving me the benefit of the doubt and helping me sort things through, all anybody could manage was criticism and name-calling and taunting.

The weird thing is, a lot of what used to happen to me is a bit blurry. My memory is definitely not what it used to be, and when I think back, I don’t have a lot of really clear memories about what all happened. I have some memories of bad stuff I went through and some memories of good times I had, but it’s all kind of jumbled together.

So, for all I know, a lot of good things could have been happening to me, but I can’t seem to remember them. The bad things are easier to remember.

And that doesn’t help me.

It really hurts me. It keeps me locked in a partial understanding of myself that isn’t at all fair. I have a lot on my plate and a lot of things I want to do with my life, and new people are coming into my life, so I need to not let that hold me down. I need to not let those old “versions” of me define the new life I am building for myself.

Why would I want those old tales that people told about me to limit the new life I’m building?

I don’t. So, I’m taking steps.

The first step is to realize that all the things people have said to/about me, have been more about them, than about me. My parents were young when they had me — in their early 20’s. So, they were living with very limited experience, themselves. Heck, they were just kids, themselves. What did they know? On top of that, they were living very responsible lives with a lot of duties and pressure on them, and the world was not kind. So, they took it out on everyone around them, including me.

They were literally doing the best they could, under the circumstances, and if they realized now what they actually did and said back then, I’m sure they would be distressed. My parents have selective memories about my childhood — it’s like we were living on two different planets. Maybe we were. But to go back and dredge it all up… what point would there be to that? Even if I did confront them about it, would they even remember or understand?

I doubt it.

So I’m letting that sleeping dog lie.

And I’m focusing on the positive — not getting mired in what went on before, but looking to what the future holds. The main thing I need to remember in all this, is that my memories of how things were is very spotty — and it’s biased towards the negative. It could very well be that I actually was the happy, active kid my mother remembers me being, but I just don’t remember much of that. It could be that I’m forgetting a ton of great stuff, for whatever reason.

So, if I just take my mother’s word for it, and I don’t let the old negativity about my father get the better of me, it works in my favor. If I just keep in mind that my memories of things, my recollections — my “cellular memory” if you will — is partial and slanted towards survival instincts and identifying and avoiding danger, that puts things in perspective. And I can not get hung up on all the old crap. Certainly, I need to face the old pain and accept it, but the fact is, there’s more to the story than that, and I should know as well as anyone that I can’t trust my memory when it comes to details about what was really happening and what it all meant.

It’s far more productive for me to focus on the things I can change — my present and my future — and not let those old misperceptions hold me back.

That means, each day I need to find something to be grateful for, something to keep me going. I need to seek out ways to focus on my strengths and keep my energy up. I tend to “run hot” and burn up my energy very quickly, so I need to keep a steady supply of fuel for myself — mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

A lot of this is really logistics — arranging my schedule each day so that I have enough time to focus on what I need to focus on, but not so much time that I can get distracted and pulled in a million different directions. It’s also about keeping my mind engaged in positive ways — reading things that motivate and encourage me and offer me new ways of looking at my life. I need to get plenty of rest, which I have been doing better at, ever since I got my new bed. And I need to eat properly, which I have been doing — especially since my parents left, and I’m not eating any more sweets that my mother loves to bake.

Most of all, I need to stick with the facts of my life — they speak for themselves. I spend way too much time talking myself down, making light of all the things I’ve accomplished, and brushing off compliments. I need to really “own” what I’ve done in my life, professionally and otherwise, and not let others’ insecurities drag me down. That’s a huge piece of it — because I seem to be surrounded by really insecure people who love to make me feel less-than. What they say and do towards me, is about them, not about me. And I can’t let them trash my life.

They would if they could — just to prove that what I’m capable of doing is not possible, and make themselves feel better. But why should they hold me back?

They shouldn’t. I’ve got to move along, and I need to do what I need to do. I have connected with some pretty cool people, lately, and I’m getting more socially involved in areas where I have a lot of interest and skill. This is outside of my workplace, which is pretty much of a creative desert. And it’s really pushing me to upgrade how I am in the world — with myself and others.

So, that’s good. It’s what I’ve been needing. Isolating all by myself is no good. And that’s what I’ve done for a long, long time. I was just so tired all the time. But now that I have my “rocket fuel” mixture of coffee and butter and oil, I’m actually in a much better place — and I have the energy to keep going, keep moving, and stay involved with the world.

May is almost here. I can feel a big and positive change coming. It’s good. It really is.

 

 

 

TBI Anger Hack – from cracked.com

Cracked.com has a great piece on 5 Brain Hacks That Give You Mind-Blowing Powers. The title is a bit overblown, but it hooked me, so I picked up some tricks… and found this useful piece of info. I’m going to add it to my collection of lifehacks to deal better with all the crap that gets sent my way. The principle is the same as with intermittent fasting — which helps me with my self-discipline and helps me learn to better manage my internal state when I’m just a little stressed. Here’s what they have:

#2. Control Anger by Using Your Less-Dominant Hand

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com

Everyone knows at least one guy who hulks out over the stupidest things — a messed up coffee order, a red light, global warming. Usually these people are just harmless joke fodder until they road rage on an elderly person over a politically charged bumper sticker. If you don’t know one of these people, consider that it might be you.

Of course, there are all these tricks that your mom taught you that are supposed to calm you down (“Stop and count to 10!”), which of course don’t work because in the moment you’re enraged, you can’t think logically anyway. What you need is to beef up your anger defenses before it gets to that point.

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com
“Somebody stop me before I rob a sperm bank and make this town disgusting.”

The Hack:

This one comes from the University of New South Wales, who found the perfect anger-management trick, and it wasn’t cool jazz music or playful kittens wearing sunglasses. People who had anger issues were asked to spend two weeks using their non-dominant hand for anything that wouldn’t endanger anyone: opening and slamming doors, writing hate mail, pouring coffee, and other dirty activities that are now crossing your mind. After two weeks, the subjects could control their temper tantrums better, even when other participants deliberately insulted them to get a reaction.

Why would this possibly work? Well, looking at angry people under brain scans shows that outbursts are less about too much anger and more about depleted self-control. That’s both good news and bad news. The bad news is that self-control is a finite thing, and you can run out of it. The good news is that it’s a physical mechanism of how your brain works, and you can strengthen it (or hack it into working better).

Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images
“Fudge you, mother lover!”

Now, you’d assume that the only way to do that would be some kind of meditation or long classes in anger management. Or maybe to pay somebody to make an annoying noise in your ear for hours at a time and slowly decreasing the frequency with which you punch them in the head. But it turns out it doesn’t take anything like that — just asking these people to use their clumsy hand to do everyday tasks forced them to deal with hundreds of tiny, totally manageable moments of frustration. But that was enough to make them somewhat immune to it.

So, when things got ugly, suddenly they found that the walls around their internal anger demon were stronger. And it’s probably also calming to know that if things get so bad that a gunfight breaks out, you’re now capable of dual-wielding that shit.

BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images
“Oh, hey, you are totally correct. The grass is indeed purple. My mistake.”

Figuring out what matters

Find what matters and focus on that

One of the big differences between the conference I went to last week, and the first time I attended, about four years ago, was that this time, I could tell what I needed to focus on, and what I needed to ignore to conserve my energy.

Part of the challenge is usually figuring out what matters the most, and that comes with experience. When you’re new at something, you often feel like you have to do everything (or at least try), so that you have all your bases covered. You don’t want to leave anything unchecked, you don’t want to be under-prepared, you don’t want to get taken by surprise. Especially when you’re new at something and you’re just learning those particular ropes.

That’s how it was, four years ago, when I first worked that conference. I was a nervous wreck, for weeks in advance. I was way over-prepared, with a clipboard full of printouts with notes and all sorts of color coding for where I was supposed to be, and when. And I ran myself ragged. I helped out anywhere I could — at registration, behind the scenes, running errands and interference for people. I was completely baked, by the end of the six-days I was there. It took me days (maybe weeks) to get back to normal.

The next year, it was a little better. I had fewer notes, and I relied a lot more on the vendor I was managing to do their job. I was there for five days, and I picked up some work here and there, to help out. I was tired at the end, but not destroyed, like I’d been the first year.

The year after that (last year), I was too sick to go to the conference. I was just getting over the flu, and there was no way I was going to make it in one piece.

This year, I went for four days, which was plenty, and I came out of it in good shape. I will need to catch up with my sleep, of course, but that will get done. I feel a tremendous sense of comfort and satisfaction at how things went, and I really got a lot out of the interactions with people there. It was more than I usually do, but it wasn’t enough to completely wreck me.

Probably the biggest difference between this conference and the last ones I went to, was that I didn’t get all worked up over every little thing. There was very low drama for me — some people had a lot, but I kept it pretty mellow, overall. I didn’t micromanage my staff, I just checked in, now and then to shoot the sh*t and make sure they had what they needed, and I let them do their thing. We know each other by now, which is a big help. And we trust each other, which is even better.

I also didn’t push myself to attend every last session that was offered. This conference is typically chock full of workshops that are interesting to me, but there was so much going on, and the sessions were about things I am interested in, but don’t do on a daily basis, so whatever I would learn, would have evaporated, anyway. I saved my energy. I hung out with my teammates. I mended bridges and talked some of my higher-strung colleagues down from their drama highs (and also pushed them a little to do the right thing they didn’t feel like doing). And I generally had a good time. I didn’t set all kinds of impossible goals for myself, and I didn’t measure my success based on how many strangers I talked to, or how good of an ambassador for the company I was.

My spouse also got to come with me, which was both a blessing and a challenge. They got pretty irritable at times because I was working so much and I didn’t have all the time in the world to spend on leisure. We also didn’t have the money to stay a few extra days in the warm, sunny weather, which was disappointing. But in the end, it was all okay, because they met up with friends who lived in the area, and they had plenty of time to kick back and relax in that beautiful place… which was good.

I also didn’t get waylaid and sucked into the drama when they would get angry at me in the mornings. They’ve got their own brain injury issues from several minor acquired brain injuries, a few years after my own last TBI, so much of what applies to me in the irritability department, also applies to them. When they are tired — or just waking up in the morning — they can be hell to deal with — very demanding, accusatory, needy, and pulling on me like crazy, while I’m trying to get out the door and go to work. This is especially true if they start to get anxious, which is frequent.

The difference between us, is that I know what it’s about and I manage it. But my spouse doesn’t see it as being anything unusual or irrational. They figure, they have every right to be irritable and to vent. And so they do. They just want to be “free and unfettered” and “let it all hang out”… and if I “cramp their style”, they lash out in anger. They get anxious and demand to be settled down and soothed, while my own plans are more and more delayed by their games. They don’t actually want to fix any of their anxiety — they just want to be soothed, calmed, feel like they’re being taken care of. Meanwhile, I’m running late… and getting more and more delayed all the time.

It’s very unpleasant. Some days, it just sucks.

But this vacation, I didn’t get pulled into the drama of them dragging me down and holding me in the hotel room in that choke-hold of “anxiety bartering”. I just kept saying, “I’ve gotta go…” and managed to extricate myself from that choke-hold. And I got myself out the door in one piece, in good shape. This is something I’ve been working on, and it went pretty well. I felt a bit guilty, as I was leaving the room, but that’s just the old routine wearing on me. I’ve got to break that cycle of emotional manipulation and control, so I can just get on with my life.

This trip, I managed to do that, and it worked out well. My spouse was not harmed by the experience of me leaving when I needed to go — they just rolled over and went back to sleep. And I made it to breakfast with a colleague on time… well, almost. I was a few minutes late.

The point is, I managed to figure out what was happening, when it was happening, and I figured out how to block out the anxiety static that was just standing between me and my goal of getting out the door. I was able to not get sucked into things that don’t have any reality and that don’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things (problems that are self-invented fall into that category), and just get on with my day. And I think, in fact, my spouse was better for it.

Anyway, I’m back now, and speaking of being on time, I have some things I need to do by a certain time. Gotta get my mail from the post office, where they’ve been holding it. Gotta take my trash to the transfer station. Gotta get this day rolling in earnest.

Yep. Onward.