And suddenly, it is fall

Autumn coming... time to bring back the reservoir
Autumn coming… time to bring back the reservoir

I have been so preoccupied this week with the work changes and catching up with old friends whom I haven’t seen in over a year, that I have not directed much energy towards noticing this season.

I’ve been tired — with that kind of cognitive and physical fatigue that is particular to brain injuries. My head has been looking for ways to make sense of it all… past, present, future… and that’s been taking up a lot of my time and attention.

It’s a double-whammy. On the one hand, opportunities like I’ve had in the past weeks are rare — having three days of solitude to clean out my garage and basement… having friends from overseas come to visit… being part of the beginnings of a corporate merger… These are over and above the usual speed bumps and wrinkles that populate my days and weeks. These are different, and they demand a special kind of attention — the sort of attention I actually try to avoid: drama, excitement, speculation, intense work for 12-14 hours straight, without much of a break.

Rapid-floating-in-FinlandBut because of their nature, I have to  just go with it. Get into it. Be a part of it. Allow myself to be swept along in the current – like a proverbial kayaker who gets dumped from their craft in the rapids — as you get washed along in the current, keep your head above water, keep looking forward, and keep your ass up and out of the way of rocks.

The main thing is to keep your head up. Don’t drown. Keep looking forward.

One thing you learn from TBI, is that when it comes to activities, you have to pick and choose. I suppose it’s true of anyone who expends a lot of energy in their activities… or who is very effective in what they do. You mustn’t squander your energy on things that don’t matter. But especially with TBI, you have to be extra careful.There is literally only so much you can do, and if you try to do it all, you end up wiping out your reserve of extra energy — and then you have to spend even more time building back those reserves.

Because lack of energy and fatigue just make everything worse. It siphons off your cognitive abilities, it depletes your stores of happiness and joy, and everything can feel like a slog.

Even the good stuff, the fun stuff, the stuff you know you should be grateful for and happy about.

For me, that’s probably the most depleting thing — knowing that I should be happy about things, knowing I should be pleased and excited and uplifted… but just not having the energy for it. Even energy spent on good things, is energy spent. And building it back is not a simple matter of sleeping in on the weekends. For every two days of extra energy I burn through, it takes two weeks to build it back. And if I don’t have two uninterrupted weeks (like this past month) and exciting things keep happening to me, well, then everything gets that much harder.

In what ways?

  1. distractionI get more distractable. I lose my focus and find it next to impossible to concentrate on the tasks in front of me. I get caught up in all sorts of side activities — which seem so important at the time, but are not actually relevant to what I’m supposed to be working on.
  2. I get more irritable. I can’t deal. I get cranky and snappy like an arthritic terrier. I get anxious and difficult to live with — with others, and with myself.
  3. I get less attentive. My attention gets fuzzy, and I stop noticing details – like the leaves turning outside, or just how beautiful everything has suddenly become. Everything around me seems wrapped in hazy gauze, and my senses are not sharp. My sense are so busy just trying to attend to the basics, that the extra special things in life slip by me very easily.
  4. Joy sorta kinda evaporates from my life. I know (intellectually) that I have a lot to be grateful for, and I know there is so much that I have to be glad about, but I just can’t find the joy. It’s nowhere to be found. And any attempt at reasoning with me to get me to find that joy… well, that just makes me feel stupid and ungrateful. My neuropsych tries to do this all the time, and the net result is that I feel stupid and short-sighted… rather than realizing that I’m simply tired, and letting it go at that.
  5. It gets hard to sleep. The more tired I am, the harder it is to relax and sleep. When I should be getting to bed early, I end up getting on Facebook for 90 minutes — and completely blowing past my normal bedtime. And you guessed right — fatigue becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where I get more and more tired and wired, as the days wear on. All of the above continue to escalate. It’s awful, and it’s very difficult to stop it.
  6. I end up in a downward spiral. Unless I can get a bunch of good nights of sleep, I’m toast. Things get worse and worse, until I finally just  Give Up. And it turns out, giving up is the best thing for me. Some nights, I go to sleep hoping I never wake up again — I am feeling that depleted and used-up. But the very act of completely abandoning hope actually makes it possible for me to rest. And in the morning, everything looks quite different than the night before. Usually, anyway. Some mornings, I’m still not convinced I want to keep going.

So, fatigue is a thing. It’s a very real thing. And if I don’t stay alert to it, and recognize when it’s getting to me, it can get the better of me, which is never good.

For today, I know I’m tired. I have a full day of things to do, but I can pace myself and take my time… really soak up this fine fall day, and enjoy what I come across, as best I can. Seasons change. It would be a shame to completely miss this one, because I’m distracted.

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After a flurry of activity… a bit of calm

Decisions, decisions…

All the excitement of last weekend is finally chilling out.

I’ve talked before about how I’m just not interested in things that used to fascinate me.

I’m actually interested in a whole lot more things. And the weird thing about how my brain works now, is that I’ll completely forget the things that I’m fascinated with, and what I can do to explore them.

I think I need to make a list.

And even more importantly, I need to stick to it.

I have been really, really impulsive for the past month or so. I think the talks with doctors get to me. I went to see a physiatrist yesterday to help me with my neck and back, and possibly with my headaches. They were really good, professional, and they ordered x-rays and referred me to a physical therapist of my choosing.

I have another neuro appointment coming up next week, and I’m a little nervous that I’m not going to handle that right. The last visit was okay, it was just overwhelming talking about my issues with a brand new person. The next time will be better, I’m sure.

I hope.

Anyway… nerves…

When I’m nervous, I have all kinds of “great” ideas that I want to rush into right away. A lot of them are really good, it’s just not the time, yet. And by getting caught up in the new ideas, the existing ideas fall away.

But I’m so caught up in the new ideas, I don’t feel the need to think about them. The old ideas seem boring to me. No spark. No excitement. No motivation.

No good.

That’s what’s happened to me. I had a flurry of activity, this past weekend, and I actually did some decent things. I just didn’t do the things I was intending to do. And that’s no good. I lost a lot of time AND I didn’t exercise the way I usually do, so my system feels more off. And I’m having more headaches.

I seem to be calming down, now, for some reason. I think I just got to a point where I realized ALL THIS STUFF IS NOT GOING TO GET DONE, UNLESS I MAKE SOME CHOICES. I can’t just have it all hanging around. I need to clear some of this stuff out.

So, it’s back to basics. I’m digging out my old list of projects and picking things to work on. I have five things “in rotation” right now, which means I can do one thing each day of the week for the next three months, and get them all done.

And leave my weekends open to just enjoy myself. Unwind. Kick back. Relax, already. Just relax.

Because that’s what I need.

And that’s what makes everything else possible.

Onward. But be smart about it.

Finding my zone again

Gotta get there

An odd thing has happened with me, since I had my contract renewed at work. After being relieved and elated that I wasn’t going to have to go searching high and low for another job, the surge in energy left me feeling pretty depleted… and also depressed.

That happens with me — I run a lot of energy — I “run hot” — and then when I run out of steam, my energy ebbs, and my mind gets to thinking that I feel like crap because my life is crap, and everything is wrong and nothing will every be right again. It’s sorta kinda like bipolar stuff on the surface, but fundamentally, it’s about me being tired, my brain getting irritable, and my head jumping to wrong conclusions about how crappy life is in general.

It’s not true. It’s just me being tired. And getting a lot of extra rest solves that issue — which is what I did this past weekend. I rested. And my depression went away.

Anyway, last week I got upset that I’m no longer a technical whiz, that I’m not doing the type of programming I used to do, and that I kept (and keep) getting calls and emails from recruiters about technical jobs that I want to take, but can no longer do.

The money is better in technical positions, that’s for sure. And it’s a simpler way of life that doesn’t involve navigating the choppy waters of human interaction. But I just can’t do it, anymore. My brain doesn’t work like that anymore. I’m out of practice. And even the simplest examples which are given for “dummies” don’t make any sense to me.

Insert giant sad-face here.

The thing that gets me even more than the money and type of work, is that ever since my fall in 2004, I have not had that kind of immersive focus in my work that I used to have. I used to have a “zone” I would go to, when I was deep in coding, when I was deep in the experience and working smoothly and confidently. But that hasn’t been anywhere in sight (except for some occasional times), for over 10 years.

And that’s the loss I feel the most keenly. It’s heart-breaking. I used to love that way of working and feeling, and now it’s gone. Like a pinkie finger that got cut off. I can live and work without it, but I like all my fingers, and it just doesn’t feel the same.

So, rather than wallowing in that unhappiness and marinating in my discontent with something that isn’t likely to change in exactly the way I want it, I did some research. And I came across a book called “Flow” by a psychologist whose name I cannot pronounce. I watched some videos on YouTube and found the book at a local library, and I’ve been digging into it, a little bit at a time.

See, the thing that I miss is not so much the technical work, as it is the experience I used to have while doing the technical work. And after reading “Flow” a little bit, I now realize that what I miss is being in the “zone” — being able to concentrate completely on my work with total confidence and skill.

That’s what made that work magical, not just all the bits and bytes and algorithms.

So, that’s what I’m working on, these days — getting back to a zone state. Finding where I am really confident and skilled — even in the little things like washing dishes or fixing things around the house — and doing those things “in the zone”. Not zoning out, where I’m not present and I’m ignoring everything and everyone around me, but really being caught up in the amazingness of what I’m doing.

Finding that amazing quality to the world I live in, and really relishing the details — no matter how small.

Even the littlest thing, like brushing my teeth or sweeping the floor, can put me in the zone, if I have the right frame of mind. Or bigger things like doing my taxes or completing a project at work… that can give me a sense of Flow, as well.

It’s really the quality of experience I’m interested in. And out of that can then come a sense of mastery, which in turn feeds the desire for mastery in other areas of my life.

But I have to start somewhere, and then build from there.

So, that’s what I’m doing. I know what I’m missing, and I have a good idea how to restore that “zone” sense, that feeling of flow. It’s probably going to be different, of course, because my new work is different from my old. But maybe it will be quite similar.

We shall see.