Everything that makes up the day

It’s not always clear

Today’s Fog Factor: 70% “with it”

Well, I’m glad I had a nap yesterday. I got a little less than 7 hours of sleep last night, but I got right up, a little after 6 a.m. I really wanted to get into the day — get my exercise, eat my breakfast, and get some writing done before I get into my full-time packing.

I started to get a headache when I was riding the exercise bike, and now my head hurts. I am supposed to get headache specialist info from my neuropsych, but they never got back to me, even though they promised. This isn’t the first time they’ve forgotten about me. Ah well, I may be better off taking care of things myself. I would like to see a neurologist or someone who can tell me if it’s a structural issue with my brain, or if it’s more about my neck and my stress level. I start to get a headache when my spouse is going on and on about some drama at work, so I’m guessing that it’s a stress thing — at least in part.

I guess I need to get back to my meditation exercises again — just training myself to keep calm in the face of whatever comes my way. Things at work have been intense, and that’s not helping. I need to improve my skills at handling what comes down the pike – no matter what that may be.

I did a little bit of writing and reading, this morning, and I’m about ready to start packing my bags for the trip. I need to collect my clothing, do some laundry, and get my pieces all squared away. I have a list of things to do and take care of.

I’ve got about 7 hours before I need to leave for the airport. I have to check in when I get there – I can’t check in online, unfortunately, which puts a real crimp in my plans today. I need to give myself an extra 30-45 minutes, so I’ll need to leave the house earlier than planned. I need to review my list of everything that needs to be done, so I don’t miss anything.

With any luck, this will be my last trip in a while. They are cutting down on travel at work, so that could relieve me of the constant pressure to get ready to go away, and then recover from coming back. What a waste of my precious — and very limited — energy.

I really just want to devote as much time as I can to my own projects and not have my job take over my life, as it has in the past. It’s bad enough that it already consumes so much of my time and renders many other hours pretty much useless to me — because I’m so tired.

I’m making the best of things, of course. I’ve given up fighting it, and now I’m just going to get into my day and live it as fully as possible, whatever comes down the pike. Whatever the day brings, I need to be fully involved in it – not just up in my head, and not standing at a distance. But in it.

This is really the thing that saves me in my TBI recovery — being involved in my life – up close and personal – and not letting setbacks keep me from making progress. There is so much that is a lot more difficult for me, than I’d like, and I really hate my life, some days. I think back on how things used to be, and everything now just feels so strange and foreign. Things used to feel like they flowed. I had what I thought was a very fulfilling life, with hobbies and pastimes that really gave me a sense of belonging. Then I got hurt, and everything changed, and getting back to some semblance of normalcy — at least feeling like there’s some semblance of normalcy — has been a daily challenge.

Now, though, it’s feeling more “normal” to me, and I’m finding my way back to things that used to be part of my everyday life. Reading. Writing. Being active in my community and having friendships to fall back on. TBI can be so very alienating, because of the personality changes — people who used to like you for who you were, no longer have that same person to like. So naturally a lot of them move on, because you’ve almost broken a promise to them about being the kind of person you are “supposed” to be.

Also, your tolerance for the way certain people are can change a great deal. I noticed that in my own life, a lot of the “endearing” characteristics of other people, which I could accept and gloss over, became glaring points of conflict with me. And I became a lot less tolerant of other people’s flaws and foibles, so I couldn’t bear to spend waste more time with them.

As an example, I used to hang out with a lot of people who had a real victim mentality — like all the world was against them, and they had to constantly struggle against the dominant paradigm to just break even in their lives. I used to hang out with a LOT of escape artists — devotees of role-playing games, computer games, renaissance faires, comic books, and other alternative culture types. That was my world — all full of arts and music and imagination. But it became pretty apparent to me, after I got deeper into my TBI recovery, that so much of that was a convenient way to avoid dealing with harsh truths about oneself, instead of taking action to make right the things that were all wrong.

And I realized, too, that so much of the world that my friends thought was out to get them or designed to make their lives miserable, was a result of how they were thinking about those circumstances. They kept telling themselves that “the mainstream world” was designed to destroy them, and they were in a constant state of conflict and antagonism. So, small wonder that they couldn’t get ahead in life. They came across as angry and aggressive with everyone who wasn’t just like them, and they boxed themselves into a version of life that only existed in their minds.

And because I realized more and more, just how much of what they believed was originating within them… and I saw how much that was costing them, in terms of time and energy and positive living… I just couldn’t spend a whole lot of time hanging out with them anymore. That, and the fact that I was so wiped out after working all week, and I just needed to have time to myself to regroup and recuperate. I just couldn’t stand their bitching and moaning and blatant assumptions about life, which only served to get in their way.

The world wasn’t the problem. THEY were the problem.

And so I dropped a lot of them and I’ve gone my own way.

It’s been kind of lonely, to tell the truth. It’s tough to connect with other people like you, when you all have so little energy to spare, beyond basic survival. And the people I’ve tried to stay friends with and tell about my TBI issues… well, they just weren’t having it. They were so convinced that “there’s nothing wrong” with me — and a lot of them still are. They can’t see the internal issues I have to deal with, each and every day. They can’t see the struggles, the pain, the frustration. There’s not much point in trotting them out for others to see, because they just get nervous if they don’t know what it’s like. And they don’t know what to say.

So, it’s complicated. And it’s challenging. But in reality, is sustaining a TBI and not being able to shake the symptoms really that different from any other kind of loss? Losing your home, or your marriage, or a child, or a loved one, or a job? Or any other things that make up part of your identity in the eyes of others? People fall out of your life, they move on, they don’t know what to say to you… and sometimes they are never replaced. I think it comes with life. And getting older. And realizing who you are and what you will — and will not — tolerate in your life.

So, while I have a lot fewer friends in my life, and my activities have really pared down to the most essential of activities, and I’m not nearly as social as I used to be, that’s all fine. Because I’m fine.

I’m fine with how my life is now. I’m fine with things being so much quieter, and having a lot more time for the things that matter most to me. I’m fine with not being surrounded by people who are convinced the world is out to get them. And I’m fine with what the day has to bring.

Because being in the midst of my daily life — all the little details, as confounding as they can be — and experiencing it all, fully alive and engaged in my own life, is what brings me back to myself.

For many years after my various TBIs, I held back and was off by myself in a world of my own inventing, like so many of my ex-friends. And I didn’t really let life in. It was safer, but it was no way to get myself in shape to live my life. I avoided a ton of experiences, because they were too overwhelming or too confusing for me. And I thought I could avoid all that and prevent the anxiety that came with it.

Now, I generally accept that I’m going to get confused and overwhelmed, and I can plan for it. I expect it. So, it’s not such a terrible thing. It’s just one more aspect of life I have to manage. And so I do.

All that the day brings — all it has to offer — it’s there for me.

Now, what shall I do with my life today?

Let’s find out.





Another year of living dangerously

Making some lemonade out of the situation

So, things are shaken up a bit at work. I have been moved up in the hierarchy by new folks who have no reason to fear or distrust me. Now, I just need to prove their trust is worth it. I don’t want to be cocky, but I’m sure this is going to work out well. I just need to be mindful and chill about things, and not let all the head games get to me.

Other people in my group, including my former boss (who is no longer my boss, praise be) are jockeying for position and subtly undermining others to shore up their own positions. Needless. All we need to do is really promote each other, find our places, and just do all the jobs we’re given to the best of our abilities. There’s no need to be undermining each other and operating behind each others’ backs.

Some people will chose to do that, of course, but I just can’t be bothered. I have so much on my plate, now, I need to focus on my own work and just do my thing. I can’t worry about what others are doing. Frankly, they’ll probably hang themselves with all the rope they’ve been given.

And things will shake out as they will. Some will win, others will be phased out, and others will move on of their own accord.

As for me, this is going to be a really challenging year. I’ve now got some people reporting directly to me, which is a change from having 10 people reporting indirectly to me (sort of “dotted line”). I may “get” 6 more dotted-line reports, but we’ll see. A lot will depend on my performance over the next six months.

So, it’s time to step things up a bit… Get myself in a real groove, take care of my health, get plenty of rest, keep my wits about me, and not let myself go off the rails. I have some travel coming up, which will be a challenge, and it may really test me. But I can’t let it throw me off. I need to just step up and get into it, rather than holding back.

Right before things were 100% finalized, I was getting a bit freaked out, mainly because my spouse has been having health issues, and there is no one else they have to assist them when I am traveling. They are really upset at the prospect of me traveling more frequently over the coming year, and their intense emotional storms about changes (even if they are good changes) hangs over my head, poisoning the whole experience for me. It’s like I can’t even enjoy my new promotion, because they are so desperately afraid of change. I end up spending so much time trying to calm them down and reassure them, I can’t even enjoy my moment.


So, after 24 hours of being anxious and dreading their tirades and outbursts (which did happen, but not as explosively as they have in the past), I decided that if I’m going to do this thing and step up to the promotion and improve my standing in the world, I’m just going to do it. I’m going to just enjoy myself and make the most of the opportunity and get as much out of it as I can. I have passed up opportunities to advance in the past, because of my trepidation and pressure from my spouse to not change things too much, and my career has suffered for it.

That’s no good. I can’t let my spouse limit my possibilities. As much as I love them and am devoted to them, I can’t let their fears and insecurities and anxieties become my own. That’s just toxic. So, I’m going to actively manage my situation at home, by having a plan in place, sticking with it, taking steps to strengthen myself and also support them, and really let them know that I support and love and am committed to them. Heck, we might even take a foreign language class together, so they can feel part of my new life and new career direction. Just so they don’t feel so left out and abandoned, as my career takes off.

The thing is, their career is really taking off, too. It has been, for the past couple of years. And I have been 100% supportive — 500%, in fact. I have gone above and beyond to help and support their career — making sure they have everything they need to move up, giving them space to travel and experience new things, giving them room to grow personally and professionally, and really bending over backwards to help them along.

Now it’s my turn. I have an incredible opportunity ahead of me, and it’s just getting better.

So, it’s time to step up and forget about the comfort zone. Get on with it, and see what can be done in this new world. Live a bit closer to the edge… but not so close that I lose my balance and fall off. Realize this is a greater challenge, and I’m going to need to step things up a bit… but that I’ll be able to do it. I have a lot to learn… and I’m looking forward to it.


Still managing TBI issues, still paying attention…

Brain injury is a funny thing — not funny as in “Ha-ha-ha”, but funny as in “How weird – I didn’t expect that to happen at all”.

One day, I’m fine, feeling good, and not sure how or why I ever had issues before at all.

And a few days later, I’m teetering on the edge of complete nervous breakdown, trying to talk myself back from that edge with what I hope is a calm and soothing demeanor.

It’s really weird, how things just suddenly become HUGE ENORMOUS PROBLEMS, for no apparent reason. Well, actually there are very good reasons, and when I track them over time, I can usually see how they happened. The thing is, leading up to those HUGE ENORMOUS PROBLEMS, I’m feeling good, I’m feeling fine, and things seem like they’re going along at a pretty good clip.

And all seems like it’s well. For all time. And I forget that it’s ever been any other way.

Or that it could possibly become any other way, without an instant’s notice.

But it can get ugly fairly quickly, and when I’m least expecting it. I’m not expecting it, because my attention is focused on other things besides my frame of mind and my stress levels. I’m caught up in something “important” — and it often is, despite my diminutive quotation marks — and I have a lot on the line, and I feel like so much is riding on me doing such-and-such in a certain specific way… I’m caught up.

And that’s when I get caught out. Pants down. Short and curlies waving in the breeze. And I have to stop the madness, back up, and start to put things back together again.

It doesn’t much matter whether all the excitement I’m dealing with is good or bad — I get tired and my system gets stressed in either circumstance. In fact, if anything, good things bode worse for me, because I get so caught up and so consumed by what I’m doing, and the energy is high, and I’m getting more and more tired but I don’t even notice it, because there’s so much good happening around me. And I don’t want it to stop. So, I keep going, keep pushing myself, keep stressing my body with a lot of adrenaline, but not always a lot of good food and water and rest.

When unfortunate things are happening with me, it can actually be less stressful overall, because I’m aware that I need to actively manage my stress levels, eat right, get enough rest, etc. Because there are “bad things” happening, and I need to be up to the task at hand. So, when things are rough, I’m actually less stressed overall. Here, let me show you:

The good, the bad, and the results

The good, the bad, and the results – the higher a rating is, the better it is. The lower it is on the chart, the worse the situation is.

Click the image above, and you can see the relative difference between sleep deprivation, anger, anxiety, and excitement – and you can see that my “AMF” (or “Active Management Factor”, which is the rating I give myself for how much attention I am paying to my situation) is actually a bit higher when things are bad – which translates into less anger, less anxiety, and less sleep deprivation. And more excitement. The less well I manage myself when things are going crazy around me — even if it’s a good crazy — the less enthusiasm I have over time, as well, so it’s an all-round whammy, when I don’t pay enough attention to myself and my state.

When things are rough, then I tend to pay closer attention, because I know bad things can happen. But when things are going well for me, I tend to not actively manage my situation, and then I lose out on things like sleep and good food and also excitement. Keeping up the excitement when I’m dog-tired is even more work, even if the excitement initially drives my behavior that deprives me of sleep.

I can easily get complacent, when things are going well, but the net effect on my overall system is the same — I wear out.

That’s kind of where I am right now – I spent about 15 hours yesterday working on a project that I am very fond of, and which I believe has a lot of potential. But today I am wiped, and I’m feeling pretty antsy. I did a LOT of work yesterday that was good, and now today I am feeling the effects of it. So, I need to take away the arbitrary deadline(s) I set for myself, and stop stressing myself over this. There is a lot of stress going on at work, these days, and I can’t afford to let everything get the better of me… which is the line I’m treading right now.

I need to be smart about this… and also manage this situation actively. It doesn’t help me at all, if I push and push and push… and then end up with a crappy result. I need to give myself more time, not let the adrenaline and arbitrary deadlines drive me. I need to do a reality check and just get myself collected and sane again.

Because I have more to do today, than just work on my project. And my project is the one part of my life that I’m NOT driven by someone else’s insanely stupid deadline. So, I can cut myself a break. Give things some thought, and let reason drive my motivation, not some crazy lottery-style pipe dream that’s going to solve all my problems in one fell swoop. That’s no good. Let reason prevail.

And so I shall. Because it’s a beautiful day. And I want to keep it that way.

Bringing light

Light is where you find it – find more art like this at http://www.atagar.com/bobsGallery/

I’ve been thinking a lot about this holiday season – and all the ways that it’s associated with light. Most of the “big” traditions I know about feature light of some kind, and no wonder — this time of year is when the days become longer, and we literally can celebrate the return of the light. It’s a physiological thing, as well as a psychological and spiritual thing. And it’s well worth celebrating.

I celebrated yesterday by walking deeper in the woods than I have in a long time. Once upon a time, when I first moved to this place, I was out in the woods for most of my waking hours every weekend, rain or shine, good weather or bad. I guess I’ve always been drawn to the forest — it was the one place I felt at home when I was a kid, and there’s something really calming about being in the woods. When I was younger, I wanted to be a forest ranger, until my guidance counselor talked me out of it because it wasn’t “practical”.


Anyway, now I get to be my own forest ranger, and I don’t have to worry about government funding cutting me off from my livelihood, so it’s not all bad, the way it turned out. And yesterday I got a good reminder of the things that matter most to me in my life — clean air, fresh water, room to roam, and friendly, like-minded people also sharing the paths.

And I couldn’t help but think about how — for years after my concussion/TBI in 2004 — I couldn’t go into the woods. I just couldn’t. There was too much stimuli there for me. It was either too bright or too dark, or it was too quiet or it was too loud. I got tired so quickly, and when I did, I got confused and anxious. And the idea of interacting with anyone I came across on the paths, was out of the question. I panicked anytime I had to interact with someone who was out for a nice quiet hike like myself. I also got turned around and lost very easily, and since I have never had the best sense of direction to begin with, I would spend hours just trying to find my way back to where I wanted to go. I told myself I was “exploring” but the fact was, I was getting lost and had to keep walking to find my way back.

And half the time, I couldn’t remember where I’d come from. Even reading maps was impossible for me. Especially reading maps.

So, I quit going into the woods. I gave up my forest. And things were very dark and dreary for a number of years. The crazy part was, I told myself it was by choice, not something I was stuck doing, because I was so trapped in anxiety and sensory overwhelm.

What changed it? I think just living my life. Working with my neuropsychologist to just talk through my daily experience. Also, doing my breathing exercises — and exercising, period. And practicing, practicing, practicing some more at the things I wanted to do, until I could do them pretty close to how I wanted to. And learning to not be so hard on myself for being different now than I was before.

I also really paid attention to the times when I saw signs of more functionality — like when I started going on hikes again, after years away from them. Like when I was able to read an entire book, after years of only being able to read short papers — and not understand much of them at all. Like when I gave things my best shot, and found them turning out pretty darned close to how I intended — sometimes even better.

Taking the edge off my anxiety, giving myself a break, focusing on things that were bigger and more significant than my own petty concerns… those helped. Those brought light to my life.

And it continues to get better.

When I think back on how I was, just five years ago, it amazes me. I was so trapped in a dark place, confused and not knowing what was wrong with me. I didn’t understand what was holding me back, I didn’t understand what was stopping me from just living my life. I didn’t understand how confused I was or what I was confused about. I couldn’t discern the different issues I had, because it was all just a dark blob of problems that pulsed like a nebula of hurt and pain and confusion. When I think about how things are now — with so much light and so much more possibility… it amazes me.

There are answers out there, if we look… if we know to ask. There are solutions out there, if we take the time to be clear about what the issues truly are. There is hope out there, when we are willing to take a chance, have some courage, and move on — move on.

As the days lengthen and we roll towards the spring (I know, winter is just now beginning, officially)… as we take this holiday season to step away from the everyday grind and do something different with ourselves… as we try to imagine what else is out there for us… let’s all remember that as dark as it gets sometimes, the night does pass. There is always dawn and a new day, just around the corner.

Yes, let there be light.

A strangely vulnerable place

What does the shadow know?

I recently was pointed to an excellent blog post by someone who writes about disability. Her post No, You Are Not Adam Lanza’s Mother and Yes, Your Kid’s Privacy Matters really struck a nerve with me. She basically took to task the author of a blog post that went viral, recounting personal struggles with a challenged kid and what she felt she was forced to do. She seemed to truly believe that her kid might one day turn into a shooter like the one who massacred all those little kids and teachers in the Newtown, CT elementary school.

When I read the words of that mother who blogged about her troubled son and publicly “outed” him in ways that can — and will — follow him the rest of his life, frankly it was eerie. And like the author of No, You Are Not Adam Lanza’s Mother, it really bothered me, hearing a mother tell the world about her usually brilliant, sometimes violent son. To all appearances she was calling out for help. I got that. But I also had to wonder – what about her son? And not only now, but what about later?

Certainly, it must be horribly, terribly difficult for any parent to struggle so much with a kid like that. I feel a great deal of compassion for her. At the same time, I also cannot help but think of my own mother, who spent much of my childhood reaching out for support and help from her friends, by telling them what a difficult time she was having with me and one of my other siblings, who was also a “problem child”. I can remember quite vividly the winter vacation we took with the family next door, when I was 12 or so, and I overheard my mother complaining with great anguish about me and my anger. She could not understand why I was so bitter, so angry, so uncontrolled. I’ll never forget the tone of her voice, the disgust, the helplessness, the blame — as though my anger, regardless of the cause, was an insult to her.

I was making her look bad.

After all, my other siblings were so good — except, of course, for the other problem child who ended up addicted to heavy duty drugs, dropped out of high school in 9th grade, and was in and out of trouble with the cops for years. If only we could all be like the other three who were such good kids, such diligent students, so responsible for their age. If it weren’t for the two of us, everything would have been just right — no criticisms from grandparents, no condemning stares from strangers, no tsk-tsk-tsk from the “church family”. Just a nice all-American family growing up together in a happy little unit.

But of course, there was me… the kid who’d gotten hit in the head a bunch of times (not that anyone put two and two together and understand that was why I was so angry, so quick to act out, so impulsive, so unable to keep focused on anything for long). I was a problem. An embarrassment. A puzzle that could never be solved. I was the wedge between my family and perfection, the barrier between my mother and her happiness. My dad spent a lot of time traveling for his work, when I was a teenager, so he got out of dealing with us, most of the time. So, mom was left to deal with me and The Other One. We were her cross to bear. Especially me — at that point in time — age 12-13, when I seemed irreversibly at odds with everything in the world, including myself, and nothing could calm or soothe me except solitude and the company of my own imagination.

And I wonder about that kid who got basted in that blog post. I wonder how he must feel — how he’s going to feel. The sound of my mother’s dismissing, disparaging, judging, disgusted voice in that cabin in the woods, some 35 years ago, stays with me to this day, and it did a number on my head for years after I first overheard it. I cannot even imagine how that kid must feel, having his issues broadcast all over the world wide web, for all to see and read and think they know about.

Truly, it must suck.

What also sucks, is imagining what it means for the kid long-term. He’s been committed, and his mother has publicly said he’s a threat. What are the chances now, do you think, of him ever being admitted to a public school, or for that matter a college? What school would want him? What college — especially considering the episodes at Virginia Tech — will welcome him with open arms, with a record he’s already started at 13? It probably makes no difference if they sort out his meds. It probably makes no difference if his chemistry rights itself with his advancing years. And it certainly makes no difference, if he learns coping mechanisms and behavioral strategies that help him keep centered and grounded in the midst of any storm.

The damage is done. His face and his name are out in the open for all to see. He’s well and truly screwed.

But hey, at least his mom feels better, right?

What a strange feeling this is. I can only be thankful that my mother had no access to the blogosphere when I was a kid. If she had, she would have been all over it, broadcasting her woes and my ills to the world on every forum and blog and social media outlet she could get to. She did that sort of thing — old-school — as much as she could, with both me and my other problem sibling, with whomever she could, so long as they were willing to listen.

To this day, she hasn’t let go of the pain and humiliation and hurt which my ex-addict sibling brought to her and her otherwise perfect family. She continues to punish them with judgments and criticism and public humiliation, even decades after they had their last high. And she continues to treat me like I’m somehow deficient — to this day she still jumps a little whenever I make a sudden move, as though I’m still as unpredictable and volatile as I was when I was younger. It makes no difference that both of us kids have paid our dues and gotten our lives in order. It makes no difference that we are different. For her, we are just the same.

She remembers. She remembers what we did to her and her chance at perfection. And we will never live it down.

That recollection of what it’s like to have your mother broadcast your illness for her own sake… it’s only half the actual struggle with all this I’m having right now. The other half is with privacy, and the freedom to be anonymously imperfect in this increasingly invasive world. There’s a reason I don’t tell people who I am and where I live. There’s a reason that no one I know is aware that I keep this blog going. Because people just don’t get it. Unless you’ve been in this kind of situation, where your brain and your body and much of your life are all seemingly pitted against your will and best intentions, you cannot know how it is. But you can sure as hell judge. You can sure as hell condemn. And you can sure as hell make certain that your views are known — whether it be on Twitter, Facebook, blog comments, or some other online social medium. There’s just too much talk and not enough knowledge, too much criticism and not enough compassion.

And that is a battle I choose not to take on. Because it’s a losing one. A long and losing one, at that.

Now, being curious to see if there was any kind of response/backlash against the blogger who took issue with Pseudo-Adam Lanza’s mother, I checked back today. Sure enough, she got a ton of comments, apparently a lot of them were not that great. She followed up with a great post: Debriefing: On the Ethics and Implications of Outing a Child in the Media and she touched on many of the things I was thinking, myself. I hope you’ll read her piece – she says it all quite well.

In the end, like many people after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, I’m feeling quite raw and vulnerable, these days. But even moreso, as someone with a history of cognitive issues and anger issues and attentional issues that could easily be amplified and skewed by the scapegoating mob who are seeking to root out “bad influences” and “threats” from polite society. Behind every rock, there seems to lurk a demon. People are looking high and low, and you generally find what you look for. It’s truly bizarre, to feel that after so many years of working so hard to gain some semblance of normalcy, I should experience this sense of intense vulnerability — not as a victim, but as someone who might be targeted by the status quo, because of my past. Especially my childhood.

And it makes me reluctant to actually speak my mind and talk about what’s really going on “ïn here”. Someone might take it the wrong way, after all. And then what?

I know I’m indulging in some pretty far-ranging what-if’s… and yet…

Are people with mental illness going to be targeted by an uninformed and aching public? It’s quite possible.

Are people who have different cognitive capacities going to be singled out and marginalized by a world seeking desperately for ways to return to normalcy — a normalcy which never actually existed and we frankly will never “get back”? It wouldn’t surprise me if that happened.

Are people with known anger issues, who struggle with impulse control, who honestly and sincerely work towards keeping to stable ground and staying centered in the midst of chaos going to be seen as potential threats to those around them? I wouldn’t doubt it.

In the extremes, of course we have to be careful. We have to be wise and prudent and use our heads and not let the batshit crazy people loose their rage on the rest of us with tools of mass destruction. But there’s a whole lot of different kinds of crazy swirling around in many, many guises, and I for one wouldn’t care to be labelled by the maddening crowd and possibly targeted by those who “mean well” and are trying to protect their loved ones from threats they imagine are there.

Nor would I want my ills to be dragged out into the light of day without my consent or say-so, and marked as “a future Adam Lanza” — just because my mother needed to feel that she wasn’t quite so alone.

Not feeling sorry for myself (right now)

Light it up

So, life is going to be life. And very often the hardest things are the most rewarding. And very often I lose sight of that and start feeling sorry for myself that “everyone else” gets to just move at their own pace and do what they want to do, while I have to work overtime just to do the basics.

Boo hoo.

No, it’s not fair that I fell back in 2004 and it rearranged my life.

No, it’s not fair that other people get to just “get” things without having to push themselves like crazy.

No, it’s not fair that I have trouble sleeping, and even when I can sleep, I can never get enough of it, because life is calling me out to get on with it.

Not fair at all.

But “fairness” has nothing to do with it. We humans seem to have this odd sense of entitlement, like we deserve to take it easy, like it’s something we’ve “earned”. We treat ease like a prize we get for just being on the planet and living our lives. And if we’ve been through some difficult times, then, well, we really “deserve a break”. Personally, I think this is an invention of Madison Avenue in the 1950’s, when WWII vets and their families were really struggling with the emotional aftermath of the war, and convenience and comfort and junk food were presented as rewards at the end of a tough day — just something to keep us going. Then McDonalds came up with the 1970s jingle “You deserve a break today… so get up and get away… to McDonalds” (anybody else remember that little ditty? I can’t get it out of my head now – sorry)

It was really drummed into us – and I think maybe it predates WWII and goes back to the Great Depression, when nobody had anything, and times were so tough, and any little thing was a luxury. Or maybe it’s just part of human nature. But in today’s American society, it is so very prevalent that it’s almost second nature.

Hard work is bad (you should “work smart, not hard” – because apparently if you’re working hard, you’re an idiot). Labor is beneath us. Getting the job done is something you do through other people, not through yourself.

Might be a class thing, too — managerial class being “better” than working class, yada-yada-yada. What-ever.

Anyway, enough about everyone else. The issue with me is that I get tired, and when I get tired I get foggy and dull. Not thinking well. That’s got to change. I’ve got to learn to think/act clearly when all is going crazy around me — which it usually is. Just find that clear space in my head, heart & gut, and have that be the thing that defines me, not the craziness around me. I’ve got to learn how to do that in the moment, not wait for some down-time of meditation or quiet breathing so I have “enough time” to do it. There is never enough time. I make sure of that by having so many things I love to do, and always wanting to do them.

I’ve got to get my act together and just take care of business. And that’s what I’m doing. I’ve quit feeling sorry for myself and I realized yesterday that this is what’s going on with me — I’m just being badly behaved and I’m chock-full of self-pity. I also realize that the Big Job Change I had been wanting to make isn’t really practical. I’m trying to find the kind of work that I was doing over 2 years ago, and in this industry, those things change almost overnight. I am NOT current with my skills, and I’ve realized that I cannot and will not be spending every spare minute coming up to speed with those skills. It sounded so good at the time, when I was dreaming about just escaping where I’m at — but when I think about going back to typing all day, with my hands and wrists under all that stress… you know what? No thanks. I’ve had my vacation, I’ve rested up, and as a result, I’m getting much more realistic about my current situation.

Now, to keep myself from being down on myself for “screwing up” and trying to find work with recruiters that didn’t really suit me.

Just move on. Just get a move on. Keep going. Keep making progress.

I’ve had a couple of really long days — 14 hours of really hard work on Wednesday and 12+ hours yesterday. On the one hand, part of me feels like (and people are saying to me) that that’s wrong, it’s too much, it’s too demanding on me. But in actual fact, it feels good to be able to just knock things out, take care of what needs to be taken care of, and just get on with my life. Just get it all done. What others say, what others think, what others expect of me… that’s fine. Whatever. I’ve got my own mission, I’ve got my own agenda, and I need to stay steady with it.

I can’t run a head trip on myself about being “impaired” by too little sleep. So long as I just keep going, so long as I keep moving forward, even the little missteps along the way can be adjusted for. I’m in the process of adjusting for a ton of missteps over the past year, when I basically slacked off and coddled myself because life was hard and confusing and — frankly I was a spoiled brat.  Enough of that. Enough of the self-pity, the whining, the pissing and moaning. Just get on with it, already. Just move along. Keep steady, keep true to my vision and my own nature, and move forward. Sometimes back, sure, but ever onward.

And now, a word from Mr. Henry Rollins…

Navy SEALs Mental Training Video

The “Big 4” Components of Navy SEALs Mental Training

  1. Goal Setting – pick a goal, a “small chunk” of an overall goal, and focus on meeting it
  2. Mental Rehearsal (visualization) – see yourself doing what you going about to do, and see yourself succeeding
  3. Self-Talk – keep positive to override the negative effects of the Amygdala
  4. Arousal Control – use long, slow breaths to quiet down the effects of fight-flight

Now, to see how I might use these same principles in combination to improve my own responses to perceived “threats” in my life…

Today I rest… and read… and write

Time to read... and digest

Well, I’m back from my working vacation. I had five days of work-work-work, from 7 a.m. till 8 p.m., then I had a few days to play. I got home in the wee hours, this past weekend, to find that my hot water supply had died sometime earlier that week, so I wasn’t able to wash off the contagion from the couple of plane rides I’d been on.

That was unfortunate.

But on the up-side, I was so wiped out that I slept about nine hours straight — a record for my recent patterns. And by Sunday afternoon, the repairman had come out and set things right, so I was able to finally get my shower and get a nap. I slept for about three hours … and felt like I’d been trampled by horses when I woke up.

All that work and relaxing really took it out of me, I guess.

It’s really good to be home. I’ve missed my routine — waking and sitting/breathing and exercising, then working and writing. It’s good to get away sometimes and break up the set patterns — the effect it seems to have for me is making the set patterns even more valuable to me. Absence making the heart grow fonder, and all that.

And coming out of the experience, I can see some real signs of progress on my side. Last year, when I went to this same convention for work, I was an anxious, nervous wreck. I was convinced I was going to do poorly, that I would melt down, that I would be unable to function. I considered myself a ticking time bomb who couldn’t manage anything. But I was wrong.

This year went pretty well. I took care of business. I got things done. And it was pretty seamless overall, with only a few little bumps in the road that I handled as a matter of course. No sweat.

On the whole, the conference went well. And now I’m ready for something more to handle. I think, anyway. Or that could be my often-over-enthusiastic side of me not wanting to take the time to just relish the experience of doing better, and take on something bigger that’s more stressful, that’s more challenging. I’ve got to watch out for that stuff – I do tend to over-extend myself when things are going really well for me.

Like yesterday. While I was waiting for the repairman, I decided to do a little yardwork. It was a beautiful day, and I had the time. By the time three hours had passed, I’d completely re-raked my front yard, getting up a lot of dead grass to make room for new growth, and spreading some lawn lime to lower the pH of the soil. I wore myself out, which felt good. It also let me get some of my extra nervous energy out.

And now today I’m feeling the effects. I’m pretty sore and stiff, which is fine, actually. I need to be more active, and this is the temporary state of pain that signals that my body has a chance to get stronger. The important thing to keep in mind, with strenuous exercise, is that rest and recovery are as important — maybe moreso — than exertion. Overtraining is always a danger with me.

So today I’m going to rest. And write.

Some things that I was able to do, while I was away, were read and think. I picked up a copy of The New Science of Breath and it’s given me a lot of food for thought. I’m familiar with a lot of the concepts that author Stephen Elliott talks about — in part because I’ve been reading his newsletters, on and off, for a couple of years. I am also familiar with the principles he talks about, from my own personal experience. In practicing slow, steady breathing, I’ve found that my reactions to unforeseen circumstances are much less intense and much less extreme, and I’ve found that I have more energy, I sleep better, and I generally feel better overall, when I practice this slow, steady breathing.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the keys to my ongoing recovery from the after-effects of TBI/concussion. And I wish to high heaven that everyone could benefit from it as much as I have.

To say that it’s made a huge difference would be an understatement. It’s been a serious foundation for so much that I’ve been able to accomplish over the past years — and even before I knew about it and put all the science together, when I had concussions in the past and I was suffering with intense mood swings, insomnia, and cognitive issues, I instinctively  turned to breathing and sitting, as a solution.

After my last TBI in 2004, I stopped doing those things that used to help me so much, and I have no doubt that this exacerbated my issues. Only in the past three years or so, have I been able to get back to some sort of stability. I’ve still got plenty of issues, but with my steady breathing and balancing out my autonomic nervous system (stopping the dominance of fight-flight knee-jerk reactions), I have a chance to get myself back on track more quickly and with less wear-and-tear than before.

And it lets me rest, which is critical for my recovery — long-term and short-term.

So, today I’m taking advantage of the holiday and the extra time I have to rest. I’m taking a break, catching up on my sleep and reading, and I’m writing down the ideas that came to me when I wasn’t blogging regularly. Most of all, I’m just spending the day letting myself feel good, which doesn’t always come naturally to me. I’m taking the pressure off and just chillin’. There will be plenty of time later to “tear it up” again.

Taking a break for about a week

Leavin' on a jet plane...

I’m headed out of town for business travel in the morning, so I won’t be posting anything until after the 18th. I’m sure I’ll make some notes along the way and think more about my series about sports, concussion, and warfare, but since I’m going to be limited to the company laptop (which I can’t use for personal activities) and I’m going to be surrounded by people 23 1/2 hours of each day, it’s not likely I’ll find the time or space to post anything.

So, I’ll pause for a moment to really soak in the realization that a year ago, this time, I was freaking out about a business trip I was going on. That trip went extremely well, by any estimation, and I’ve had a number of other really good experiences along the line, as well, so this year it’s a very different scene than before.

And that’s pretty amazing. It’s so surreal, I almost can’t believe it… and I almost can’t believe how bent out of shape I used to get over things like this.

Now, it’s just business as usual. A HUGE change from how things were only 12 months ago.

Which leads me to say, yet again, that healing from the effects of TBI is very possible. It’s not always probable, and everyone has a different experience, but for me, the unimaginable has become the everyday. And where (in recent memory) I used to cower and shrink from every unexpected situation and run from anything new, now it’s a very different story.

And it’s good. I’m good.

This makes me all the more keenly aware of how much TBI affected me, this last time. Once upon a time, I would just get on a plane and go. Once upon a time, I would just pick up and take off on any old adventure. But after my mild traumatic brain injury, that all changed. And suddenly I was a hothouse flower who would shrivel and weep at the slightest thing.

God, I hate being that way. It makes me nuts. And while I can get that way when I’m not working at holding myself together, the thought that I’m no longer that way “by default” — that I once again have a choice about my experience — in every unusual situation, makes me extremely grateful for all the help I’ve received and the hope I’ve been given.

Yeah, things are good. Now I’ve gotta go pack.

Be well, folks – I’ll check in again when I’m back.

The radical mindfulness of the everyday

Nothing special... or maybe it is?

Some time back, I heard someone speaking about having sustained a pretty serious head injury, which left them without any memory or any awareness of who they were for about 24 hours. They had a bad accident, which pretty much reconfigured their face, and left their brain blank, when it came to knowing who they were or what they were doing far from home with a bunch of other researchers.

They said that right after their accident, they had no idea what their name was, where they were, who they were with, or what they were doing there. They were on a research trip with a bunch of other scientists, and their job was to collect data. But after the accident, all that changed.

Their amnesia lasted about 24 hours, and then all of a sudden, they were back. They said they believed that the thing which brought them back was paying extremely close attention to every detail about their experience.

The air they breathed.

The food they ate.

The sounds they heard.

The feeling of their body.

Every sensation that they encountered, they focused in on it with their whole might.

And a day later, they were back.

What strikes me about that story — and the person who told it is a nationally recognized leader in their field with an avid following — is that they plunged full-on into their life experience after their brain injury. And decades later, they are a thought-leader in their chosen domain.

Now, who can say if their mindfulness was the thing that restored both their memory and their awareness of who they were, but they were convinced that this “extreme mindfulness” approach made all the difference for them.

And so am I. I’ve been thinking a lot about that story, since I first heard it several years ago, and I have been employing that approach more and more in my life. The principles behind it, as I think of them, are that when we engage our whole selves in our lives, noticing small details and really dwelling on our immediate experiences, we create new connections in our brains — new physical connections that really “fill in the blanks” for who we are. When we approach our lives as actively involved individuals, and we learn as we go (from trial and error, or just thinking things through very carefully ahead of time), we “build out” parts of our brains that may have been neglected before, or that may have gotten hurt in that accident. When we try new things, eat new foods, think new thoughts — and do it repeatedly — we lay in new connections that strengthen with repetition. We acclimate ourselves to the new life we have, and we find ourselves better and better able to function in this new way. (Or we discover that that new way really isn’t for us, and we go off to find another way.)

The process is gradual, but it can also jump us ahead in leaps and bounds, when we least expect it. That’s been my experience, anyway. But it’s a process. And my experience has been that it is cumulative and accumulative. It’s pretty cool.

The biggest threat to this process, from what I can see in my own life, is fear. Fear keeps us from engaging with our lives. It keeps us from getting involved. It keeps us at a “safe” distance, and it may make us feel smart (for detecting danger) or safe (for avoiding situations that we think are dangerous), but it doesn’t help our brains very much. If anything, it robs us of the chance to rebuild what we need to rebuild. It keeps us from building new connections, and it keeps us from developing as truly human beings. I know a number of people who are extremely fearful, and over the past several decades that I’ve known them, I’ve watched their lives become smaller and smaller, as my own has broadened. And it makes me sad to see it.

It’s also a good lesson for me. Every time I see them making choices that have to do with fear, instead of curiosity, I am reminded of the kind of life I do not want to have. And I start to make different choices of my own.

Now, fear can be a tricky thing. Some is good to have — fearless animals tend to be short-lived, and I want to live a long time. But having it run your life… that’s no good. And from personal experience — having had fear run my life for many, many years, when TBI-caused anxiety was wreaking havoc with my soul — I can say it’s no darned fun. And it keeps you from recovering what you need to get back.

Looking back at my life over the past 40+ years, I can see a direct correlation between the traumatic brain injuries/concussions I experienced, and a growing anxiety… which eventually built into a nasty case of post-traumatic stress. I was so wired all the time with anxiety and stress over constant fight-flight situations (that were induced by my TBI-related anxiety) that even though I wasn’t in immediate danger a lot of times, I felt like I was. I was often completely taken over by fear, which kept me from developing as a person and kept me from recovering from my injuries.

But since I’ve been actively dealing with the anxiety and agitation… and now that I understand the actual nature of my issues (they are neurological, not psycho-spiritual)… it’s taken the edge off my experience in ways that simply amaze me. And it makes it possible for me to engage fully with my life, day after day, as an actual human being, not a shell of the person I once was.

Active mindfulness is actually pretty radical, if you think about it. When I say “radical” I mean “Relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.” I mean, it turns me 180 degrees in a different direction from where I’m going when I’m stuck in fear. Diving into my life experiences, and not holding back because “there’s something wrong with me” has proven utterly transformational for my life, my relationships, my sense of self, and my sense of well-being.

And the weird thing is, even though to this day I don’t feel like I’m the person I used to be, and I have this nagging sense that something about me is “missing”… that doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as it used to. I can accept that I’ve changed, that my life has changed, that I’ve lost the things I’ve lost. Because now I realize that I’m actually gaining a lot of things I didn’t have before. I have a much deeper and higher-quality of everyday experience, each and every day. And I am involved in my life and my relationships and my work on a far deeper level than I can ever remember being, before I got help for my TBI issues. Life is a series of losses and gains, and when I can accept that and get on with the gaining, instead of getting stuck in the losses, that only helps.

Now, thinking about it, I am struck by how this approach — total, full-on engagement with the world around them — can compliment the directions we’re receiving from doctors and athletic trainers, to rest the brain completely while recovering from concussion.

I am NOT a doctor. Nor am I an athletic trainer. I have not received their level of education and training, and in no way can I compare myself to their expertise or even rival their formal knowledge. But I really believe, based on what I’ve read, that the concept of total rest after a brain injury is 100% right, and I often wonder what might have happened, had I actually taken the time to rest after my injuries, to give myself time to heal and give my brain a chance to sort itself out.

Now, each and every person is different. Each and every brain injury is different. There is so much we don’t know. And I don’t know any of the other details of this radically mindful post-TBI individual’s full experience that might shed light on why they came back from their amnesia so quickly, and why they lived out such a high-achieving life. What we do know is that there is still a whole lot of uncharted waters out there, when it comes to what-to-do-about-concussion/brain-injury, and we may just find different ways of approaching the injury, based on the individual and their own scenarios.

I really support the wisdom of pulling student athletes from play and keeping them out for extended periods of time. I also believe the science behind the biochemical cascade that happens when concussion takes place. And I only wish that the NFL and NHL and student sports leagues would pay attention to what we now know about concussion and traumatic brain injury, and take full responsibility for what their sponsored activities make possible — damaging, potentially catastrophic traumatic brain injury.

At the same time, I think that something more needs to follow the initial resting period. We need to manage concussions not only immediately after the injury, but over the long term. We need to find ways to help the injured — and that includes veterans returning with TBI, as well as countless other individuals who experience brain injury each year — re-engage fully with their lives, on a whole new level. Experiencing life as it comes up, learning to taste and feel and see and hear all that is around us, each and every day, can help the brain create whole new connections and pathways that “fill in the blanks” that TBI can leave. It might not fix the “busted parts” 100%, but it can create new parts and new connections, where none previously existed. And in the creation of these new parts, we can turn our minds from focusing on what we don’t have, to focusing on what we can have.

I hope that others who have been concussed or brain-injured can find this same kind of experience, that they can find ways to overcome the anxiety and agitation that wreak havoc with our minds and our brains and our spirits. And I hope the same for those who live with them and care for/about them. Beyond the initial recovery period, there is a whole world to discover out there — a world that I found severely limited by my rigid thinking and my inflexible attitudes, which were really cemented in place by anxiety and agitation.

Most of all, I hope that we can all keep open minds when it comes to what will work for individuals, that we can all learn about what has worked for people who have “been there”… and continue to look beyond the initial mechanics of concussion and traumatic brain injury, to seek out longer-term approaches to restoring life after TBI. Standard protocols of immediate response and treatment are very important, in my opinion. And so is innovation and an open mind — as well as a truly scientific approach that keeps the doors of the mind slightly ajar when it comes to alternatives and workable approaches.

In the end, we have to keep learning – fortunately, we’ve got tons of opportunity to do exactly that.