Like football, like life

football player being tackled and landing on his headI just read about the WBUR Poll: For Head Injuries, Football Fans Support Regulation, But Haven’t Changed Viewing Habits, and it got me thinking. I’m a big football fan. Even though I don’t watch every single game, I still love the sport. I also love to watch boxing and MMA.

Even though I know what it’s doing to the contestants — potentially causing brain injuries that will screw them up, sooner or later — I still love to watch the sports.

There’s something about seeing people wade into a fight and then come out on the other side (victorious or not) that’s very cathartic for me.

I think that’s because it reminds me of my life. I feel, on any given day, like I’m wading into a fracas of some kind. Either it’s work, or it’s just the everyday occurrences, or it’s dealing with the slings and arrows of the world. But whatever the nature of it, I feel like I’m getting beaten up… like another “team” is gunning for me… and like the players and fighters I love to watch, I have to keep my act together and keep going, till the end of “regulation play”.

I think that I’m not alone in this. A lot of people I know feel constantly attacked by life. We know we’re gonna get roughed up. That’s a given. We know it’s gonna hurt. We know we’re going to get pushed and pulled and trampled in the process, but we have to keep going.

Like the players on the field.

And like those players, we take a calculated risk, every time we engage with life. We know the odds may be stacked against us, but we still keep at it. We stay in the game. And like so many of those players and fighters, even when we should probably sit out to let our brains recover, we head right back in there, as soon as we can. Because that’s the only way we know how to be, how to act, how to get along in life.

Personally, I cringe, when I think what’s being done to the “heroes” on the field and in the ring. I know what’s being done to their brains. But life is rough. It’s tough. It beats you down and knocks the stuffing out of you, time and time again. Football players and fighters are like our proxies. We fight to live, they live to fight.

And just about everybody can relate to that.

Staying ahead of the game

Gotta stay sharp… get a jump on the day

Learning lessons as I go… it’s no good for me to start early-early at work, where there are people around who want to talk about this, that, and the other thing. It’s better if I start my workday at home, and prepare for the day here. If I have to make early morning calls with people, it’s best that I do it from home, rather than the office. That way I’m not distracted, and I can think.

It’s hard to think at the office.

And that really threw me off on Monday, which made it a terrible day I had to recover from. I also had a blowup with my spouse on Monday night, which could have turned out badly. When I’m in a bad space, they love to goad me and push me and keep firing questions at me and demand that I pay attention to them. It’s like they can sense when I’m vulnerable and struggling, and they want to see how far they can stretch me. They just push and push and push, needling and goading and provoking me, because something in them just craves that intensity at the end of the day.

It wakes them up. It’s familiar to them, because of their childhood family history. No evening is complete without a heated argument, when they’re feeling dull and out of it. I know they love the fight for the fight’s sake, because the minute I stop dealing with them and just walk away, they stop what they’re doing. They stop the provocation, they stop the needling, they stop the questions, the pushing, the prodding. And they start bargaining to get me to come back and sit down, have some nice dinner, etc.

It’s almost like my spouse is not even there, when that happens. Something in their brain switches on, and the person they are switches off. It’s become worse, in the past years, and now (thanks to help I’m getting from a counselor and my neuropsych), I can see it for what it is — just some weird-ass neurochemical/biological impulse they have to FIGHT. If I step away or just stop the progression, it’s like magic. They turn into someone completely different.

It really does a number on me. In the aftermath of my meltdowns, my spouse is so calm. They almost seem like they just had a cigarette or a beer — they’re very relaxed. Meanwhile, I’m a friggin’ mess, I feel like crap, and I have to build back my self-confidence again. They get the upper hand. They get to recreate the dynamics of the past. And the old cycle is in place. I don’t even think they realize what they’re doing, so it’s up to me to stop it, myself.

And I stopped myself on Monday night before I got too bent out of shape. I could tell I was getting to the point where I wanted to throw something or hit something (or someone). So, I backed off. I just slammed on the brakes and walked away from the situation. When I walk away, my spouse starts to behave properly again.

So, I’ll have to start doing that, anytime I feel that “rise” starting to come up with me. I’m just walking away to let them calm down and stop provoking me.

Yesterday was better. I took my early calls at home, I got into the office after rush hour traffic, and I had a pretty productive day. It was like pulling teeth at the end of the day, but I got things done, exhaustion and all.

One thing that’s throwing me off is a new coworker who has really been annoying the crap out of me. I’m supposed to be their “buddy” and train them and bring them along in the organization, and they’re not making my job any easier. This individual has a ton of qualifications, certifications, and degrees. They were a teacher in the past, and they like to show off how much they know about ancient history and roleplaying games. They also like to get into a lot of heady discussions about intellectual things, but they don’t have a ton of depth, and some of the things I know a lot about, they’ve never even heard of.

Their overall affect is a little bit arrogant, and while they do know a lot about some things, they don’t know nearly enough to act like they own the place. Actually, their personality would be best suited to teaching middle school or high school, where they will always be ahead of their students. It’s the adults around them, they can’t keep up with.

I feel sorry for them, a little. The rest of the group is not exactly welcoming, which is what I came up against when I first started. But this individual is getting increasingly insecure and posing like they’re an expert, which is causing them to become increasingly annoying. They’re trying like crazy to show that they already know how to do everything, but they’ve only been on the job two weeks. Meanwhile, the rest of the group, who are not at all intellectuals (or don’t fancy themselves to be), are getting irritated at the apparent arrogance.

All that training, all those certifications. All the degrees… And this new person can’t deal with people. Adults, anyway.

On the other hand, seeing them in action has been a learning experience. It’s reinforced a few ideas with me.

First, that I am so glad I did not go into an academic line of work. It’s so annoying to have to deal with people who are impressed with how smart they think they are. And all the pitter-patter about academic subjects that have nothing to do with anything current or applicable in everyday life… that’s annoying, too.

Second, despite my lack of certifications and qualifications, I can hold my own professionally. No problem. I’m the real deal, and I can get along with just about anybody, I can figure things out, make them right, and I can get the job done. And if I don’t know something, I come to it with beginner’s mind and start from the bottom-up. I tend to overstep and screw up — of course I do. That’s how I learn.

Third, if you want to succeed in life and work, you’ve got to be teachable. For the long run. In every conceivable situation. Not just in the classes you take, but in real life. Each and every day. Ask questions. Stay curious. Don’t get arrogant and think you have it all figured out, because every situation is different, and the people around you won’t appreciate your attitude.

Fourth, resilience matters. All the time. Under any and every circumstance. You’ve got to be able to bounce back — and that’s something I’ve learned how to do, time and time again. You always have another chance, if you give it to yourself.

So, those are the four lessons I’ve learned from dealing with this new person. It’s reinforced things I know about myself, and it’s actually making me feel better about my own abilities and skills. Even if they are a bit like a rock tied ’round my neck, and they’re slowing me down… and they may not last in the job, because our boss is getting irritated with them… at least I’m getting something out of it.

Let this be a lesson to me. Let it all be a lesson to me.

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off…

… start all over again…

And try to not let it get to me.

I had a standoff with a friend last night about something that’s been really bugging me about their behavior, lately. Basically, it boils down to them not pulling their weight with a project we’re working on. I’m working my ass off, and all I hear from them is excuses, as they make even more demands on others to pull their weight for them.

This individual has been in and around my life for the last four years, and it hasn’t been easy dealing with them. I haven’t had to interact with them on a regular basis until lately, and now that I do, I see pretty clearly that they are just a friggin’ wreck. And for no good reason. Here’s someone who has has their share of difficulties in life, like so many of us. But where some folks rise to the occasion and take on what’s in front of them and actually do something about what they’re facing, this individual is intent on making everyone else responsible for their situation — it’s always someone else’s fault, and they refuse to take responsibility for anything.

Because their life has been so hard.

Cue the violins…

Anyway, we had a pretty heated discussion last night, when I was trying to figure out what the hell they were up to, and also let them know that their recent spate of bailing on important work was not acceptable. We went a few rounds of some pretty intense back-and-forth, and the whole thing left me feeling stupid for even opening up the conversation with them. Now I’m “hungover” from the exchange, and frankly I never want to see them again in my life. Unfortunately, they’re a business associate and close friend of my spouse, so I’m probably going to have to interact with them at some point. Jesus. We’re all supposed to get together on New Year’s Day.

No thanks.

This morning, I was up at 4:30 a.m., still revved over the experience, and just wanting to disappear. Just check out. Say adios amigo to everyone and everything, and invite the lot of my spouse’s friends and business associates to go pound sand. So, I went for a walk down the road under the waning moonlight, with the world all lit up around me. It was pretty amazing, actually, except for the hungover feeling that had my head spinning and left me feeling like shite.

I really friggin’ detest those people. They’re freeloaders and posers who are just this far from  getting busted for what they do. Meanwhile, I’m keeping my nose clean, living as honestly as I can, and taking what life sends my way with a grain of salt — and a whole lot of hard work. Then along come these losers who offer nothing, but take plenty.

They say golf is a “good walk ruined”, but my walk this morning came in as a close second. But after an hour and a half of walking and talking it out, I got my head back on pretty straight, and now I can get some things done.

Time for me to get going on the things that I want to do. Keep my head down and just work. Just take care of the things I need to do, and steer well clear of them. Just occupy myself, keep myself busy, and not give them any more time or energy or thought.

Seriously. I’ve got plenty else on my plate already, without these losers dragging me down.

Things at work are pretty intense. They are having another re-org and I’m trying to negotiate my next steps for my job. There’s a lot we don’t know yet — and won’t for another couple of weeks, and rumors are flying left and right. Whatever. Again, I just need to keep occupied, keep my head down, and leave everyone else to their own devices.

I guess the thing is, the more I heal up from all my traumatic brain injuries, and get my life in order, the more I realize just how different I am from the people I’ve been around for so many years. I used to think I was one of them — slacking… aimless… now and then trying to pull a fast one to get over on someone or something, because I felt like life was stacked against me, and that was the only way I had to get ahead.

At the same time, though, I’ve always been a hard worker, conscientious, and dedicated. So, I haven’t really been like those folks on the margins. Not really. I just thought I was, because my head was so turned around and I didn’t understand the true nature of my issues — or how to address them.

Now I do know. And now I’m doing something about it.  I guess it’s a testament to how far I’ve come, that those people’s behavior and activity bothers me. It would probably be more of a problem, if it didn’t bother me.

Anyway, these situations keep coming up, where I cannot tolerate those kinds of people anymore. We have it out, and I cut them loose. They’re basically dead to me, and that’s that.

The only problem is, my spouse is still involved with them. And there we have it.

Oh, screw it. I’m going to get some work done.

Feel like crap, but I don’t care

This is my whole new attitude, these days. And it seems to be working. Ironically, when I stopped worrying about feeling like crap, and I quite trying to always get myself into a “good space”, I immediately began to feel better.

I got about 6-1/2 hours of sleep last night. I had a 2-hour nap yesterday afternoon, which helped me yesterday, but it left me feeling almost worse after I got up. I am really dragging, today — probably due to having lost a LOT of sleep last week (waking up at 2:30, not being able to get back to sleep), and not being anywhere near caught up. Another thing that’s dragging me down is a bunch of things I meant to do yesterday, but didn’t get to, for one reason or another.

Anyway, this morning I’m foggy and slow and “clunky” – about the only way I know how to describe it. I am definitely not sharp, and even a cold shower and some exercise didn’t perk me up. Part of it is my mood. I’m not feeling very positive about my life, right now. A lot of situations around me seem really messed up, and it’s completely out of my control. It wouldn’t be so bad, if it didn’t affect me, but people close to me — family and friends alike — are making incredibly bad decisions, in my opinion. Actually, no, it’s not my opinion. They really are making bad decisions that have bad consequences. It would be easy to sit back and say, “Oh, too bad – not my problem,” but ultimately it will fall on me to help them put the pieces back together — pieces that they broke, to begin with.

It’s all way too messed up, in my opinion. Especially with the stupid health decisions, some of which are landing my relatives in the hospital. People are seriously causing themselves a lot of suffering because of how they don’t take care of their bodies, minds, and emotions. So many things around me seem broken and sad, and I cannot do a thing to change them. I have friends who tend to see the world in recovery-type terms, and they love to go on about “co-dependency”. I don’t think I’m being “co-dependent”, wanting the best for other people and wanting them to make decisions that make them happy and healthy, rather than stressed and fried. I don’t think it’s a sign of a problem, for me to genuinely care about others… and also care about myself and my own limited bandwidth. I feel like I have to be on constant guard against people close to me, because they are so habituated to patterns of thought and action which do not help them in the least — if anything, they work against them.

Everybody seems so caught up in their illusions and confusions, and they apparently love it. I know how that goes — it makes them feel alive. But for me, it’s a total friggin’ drain. And the thing that drains me the most is feeling like people close to me are getting progressively worse, not better, and they’re on this downward slide into one form of madness or another. Meanwhile, they’re sucking up valuable time and energy from the things that I really care about and the things I want (and need) to do.

It sends me over the edge. Like last night, when I went out to pick up some dinner with a friend, and we ended up arguing and tossing f-bombs at each other in the restaurant parking lot. Nothing like a little public display and disturbing the peace to round off a really aggravating afternoon with this person who loves to get riled over all kinds of crap, is diabetic, overweight and they don’t watch their blood pressure. Not only are they becoming increasingly difficult to deal with, but they’re also one of my main supports. The restaurant staff were understandably wary — good thing we got the food to go.

Note to self: Make New Friends, because the ones I have aren’t taking good enough care of themselves to be around for the long run. I expect to be visiting this friend in the hospital within a few years — again. I went through a near-death experience with them nearly 10 years ago, and it wasn’t fun. The prospect of doing it all over again (if they survive this time), is one of the little black clouds that hangs over my head regularly.

Well, the only thing I can do, is try to stay strong and positive in my own life, do things that make me feel like a real person again, and let me get my life back. I get sick of feeling like someone else’s sounding board/punching bag, when they aren’t being responsible with their own physical, mental, and emotional health, helping them pick up the pieces that they break apart and throw all over the place.

Call me “The Cleaner”. Only I don’t get paid for this job.

Well, I’m sick of bitching about everything. Vent, vent… whatever. I’m not feeling well physically, and I know it. That messes with my frame of mind, and it makes me touchy and edgy — things that I usually take in stride don’t get to me. I have another day to myself before I go back to that hell-hole of work. At least tomorrow I have all-day training that will help me get to the next stage of my working life. I think this is going to be good — it’s formal training in something I’ve been doing on my own, on the side, and it will give me a good idea of I’ve learned enough and if I’m expert enough to market that skill. It’s almost like a formality for me, but it’s an important one.

So, that’s a positive thing.

Summer is winding down, and I know that things can change in an instant with me and my outlook. All it takes is a little bit of good news, and I’m back. I know I’m tired, and I’m feeling crappy today, but that doesn’t need to derail my day. I have a wide variety of things I can think about and focus on, so if I can manage to get myself out of that bad headspace, it can only help.

At least I am centered and doing well in my own life and my own head. Public melt-downs aside, I’m doing pretty well, I have to say. I’ve been making good progress with my projects (marketing pains notwithstanding), and I’m feeling really positive about where things are going. I have a meeting coming up this week with some folks who may be able to help me reach some of my goals, so that’s encouraging. And I have other folks who have expressed interest in what I’m doing and may want to help in other ways. I just need to clear some of the extraneous stuff off my plate, take care of little to-do items that are hanging over my head, and just move forward.

Yeah, keep moving forward… Use the anxious, nervous energy I have for something that’s positive and pro-active. Don’t fight that energy, use it.

Which brings me back to the original theme of this post — feeling like crap, but not caring. When I stopped fighting feeling like crap and decided to just go with it… and use the energy for something positive… things started to really look up for me. There is an awful lot in my life that is just plain wrong, but rather than fight it or struggle with it, when I accept it and then take that anger/sadness/frustration and channel the energy into a positive activity, things really start to turn around for me.

And this is new. Because all my life, I’ve been in damage-control mode, where I had to have everything just-so, in order to do anything. Now that I’ve stopped caring so much about things being p.e.r.f.e.c.t. I have access to this store of energy I can use for other things. Instead of pushing it down, I let the anger/sadness/frustration just bubble up, and then I direct it towards what I want to do with it.

In the end, it’s all just energy. What I do with it, is my choice.

And right now, I’m choosing to go do something I meant to do yesterday, but didn’t get the time. I have the time now. So, let’s do it.

Finding a good place

May you find your own good place

I’m sitting outside this morning, writing in the quiet of the day, before the lawnmowers start and the leaf blowers and the construction projects my neighbors are doing over the long weekend.The sun is hot, where there is no shade, but the air is cool where there is no sun, and I have been moving my chair around to find the best place to sit where I am not too hot, but not too cool, and I can enjoy the morning.

Some robin has found some good bugs/worms in my back yard, and it’s making repeated caterpillar-fetching trips to the high grass (I’m letting it grow, so the roots get well established before I start mowing for the summer (and yes, I am aware that summer is practically here). Other robins have also discovered this, and they have been fighting over that little space in the back yard for a little while, now. They are very aggressive with each other, and they have been flying and fighting over this territory with loud, angry cries and swooping attacks. The other birds that happen to be nearby — the blue jay, the downy woodpecker — have been also getting the brunt of their aggressive anger.

But something very educational just happened, while they were fighting with each other. They were all embroiled in a flying group brawl, when I saw a big crow fly into a nearby tree. He sat there a few minutes, seeming to hide behind the trunk of the tree, seeming to look over at the robins. Then, when all the robins were flying around attacking each other, the crow flew over to where they were… and a minute later, it flew away — with a baby robin in its beak. I could see its legs hanging down, and the crow’s flight was a little more lumbering than it had been, coming in.

All the robins flipped out and realized what was happening, and they turned from their attacks to chase the crow, which was already on the wing, headed off to some place where it could eat its little victim.

Over at the nest, a lone robin calls plaintively, chirping with distress over and over again.

Nature can be cruel. And it can be beautiful. Just now, a yellow swallowtail butterfly flew over to me and fluttered around my head for a while. A study in contrasts — in the space of a few moments, terrible “cruelty” and wonderful beauty. Coarse necessity and fragile bliss.

That crow has to eat. The butterfly has to fly. Sooner or later, each of them will in turn become food for something else. That’s just nature’s way — as surely as it’s also nature’s way for yellowjackets and mosquitoes to be visiting me, as well.

This was a good lesson this morning — watching the robins fight, and seeing how their distraction cost them one of their little ones. I doubt that if they had all been minding their nest, the crow would have come in and picked off one of their babies. It is a natural thing, but it could have turned out different, if those birds hadn’t been so fixated on fighting amongst each other.

The other thing I noticed was how quickly these aggressive enemies became allies, when they had a common foe. When they had the same threat to combat, they quickly left their differences behind and joined forces. That is also nature’s way.

Seeing this happen, I can’t help but think about all the ways that we people also fight amongst ourselves, and in the process lose things that are very important to us. We can be so intent on proving we are right, or filling some need that we are convinced we need to fill, that we trash our relationships and alienate/punish those closest to us. We can get so caught up in “taking care of ourselves” — or just looking out for NUMBER ONE — that we lose the connections that bring us life and happiness and fulfillment. We can get so caught up in chasing after the things we think will bring us happiness, that we never get there. And the more we chase, the harder we try, the farther we are from our goal of ultimate happiness.

Ironic, no?

But it seems to me that that’s how we are built. All the chasing, all the fight-flight we are caught up in… that’s the very thing that keeps us from being truly happy. When that is all we do, day after day, week after week, year after year, our ability to just let in the happiness and joy tends to shrivel and shrink. It’s like a muscle, this ability to enjoy ourselves — if we don’t use it, it atrophies, shrivels, shrinks, and becomes so weak that it actually hurts to try to use it.

But like our muscles, our ability to enjoy life can be restored. It doesn’t have to go away for good, and although at times it may feel like we will never ever get back to a place of peace (like I felt this morning at 1 a.m.), the fact of the matter is that with practice and time and patience, we can get back that sense of pleasure, that sense of enjoyment, that resting, digesting part of our lives that is as real and as vital to our survival and ability to thrive, as our beloved fight-flight reflex.

We can get back to that good place again. Because it’s always there. We just need to find it again.

We can, you know. We all come into this world with an autonomic nervous system that gives us as much access to enjoyment and relaxation, as it does to drama and stress. Over time, we may get trained to focus more on the fight-flight, and we may actually feel more alive when we are in fight-flight. But the fact that we digest our food and breathe and even have a regular heartbeat is testament to the fact that we always have a side of us that can — and does — love to just chill. Getting back to that place takes practice. God knows, I can testify to that. For some of us, it comes easy. For others (like me) it takes A LOT of practice. But it gives you something to work towards — and the rewards are pretty awesome.

So, on this beautiful day, I wish you rest and relaxation — remember those who have given their all so that we can enjoy our freedom and our opportunities. Remember those who have also returned, still bearing the burdens of their missions and their service. I like to also remember all those who have served in another capacity, tho’ they weren’t in the military — all the individuals who have given their all to make this country, and this world, a better place for those to come in the future.

May you find peace, may you find rest, and may you find your own good place.

Concussion making you crazy?

The broken connections can make you a little nuts

Don’t be surprised. Concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury — or any brain injury, for that matter, including stroke or some other brain “attack” — will do that to you.

Why? Because the connections in your brain have been rearranged a bit. Sometimes they get really rearranged, sometimes they shift a little bit. But often it’s the little shifts that make the biggest problems.

Because everything is “off” just a tiny bit, and it can create a huge amount of insecurity and anxiety and stress in your life, trying to figure out why the hell everything is working wrong, all of a sudden. On top of your own confusion and frustrations, you’re suddenly surrounded by a whole truckload of people who also wonder why the hell you’re “off” … and whose patience is getting shorter by the day (sometimes by the hour).

What – did you suddenly become an idiot? Did you suddenly get stupid? What’s wrong with you?

Actually, there’s nothing wrong with you — your brain has gotten its wiring scrambled a bit. The old connections that you built up over years and years have been disrupted, and your brain has to work all the harder to find new ways of making those old connections to do its job. It tires you out. and when it tires you out, it makes your brain work even less well than before. Everything’s messed up, and nothing makes sense. And the worse things get… well, the worse things get.

Of course it all makes perfect sense, in a way. The brain needs energy to function, and when it’s spending all its available energy on trying to things the same old way, when the same old way is exactly what’s not working, it’s exhausting. It’s like you’re beating your head against a wall — ramming up against it, time and time again, getting more and more frustrated with your failures, and working overtime trying to overcome the obstacles. But the obstacles aren’t moving. The harder you try, the worse it gets, and you spend your life marinating in a daily biochemical soup of stress hormones, adrenaline, epinephrine, cortisol… you name it … that tenderizes your life into a big piece of raw meat. It’s the ultimate paradox — the very things that should be made easier by trying harder, actually get harder. And the things that you normally don’t have to think about at all, you have to give a huge amount of thought to.

So, your brain gets completely depleted, drained of all energy… and hope… and nobody is the wiser for how this has all gone so wrong.

For those who understand, it’s quite logical. (I saw the new Star Trek the other night). But for those who can’t see and don’t know, it’s a huge problem. Why are you screwing up? Why can’t you get anything right? Why do you seem so dumb, all of a sudden?

Well, think of it this way — all those connections in your brain — the synapses — are like roads and bridges between the different parts of your brain. You’ve spent a whole lot of time building up the right connections, building the right bridges, paving the right roads. TBI is like an earthquake or a tsunami that tears through those connections and wipes them out. Maybe they get rebuilt over time, maybe they don’t. The point is, for the time being — who knows how long — those connections are frayed, the old bridges and bypasses are damaged, sometimes severely, and you have to do a combination of figuring out how to go around the wreckage and/or repair the damage.

It’s literally like the aftermath of a storm, the hours and days and weeks after a concussion or traumatic brain injury. Looking at pictures of the recent storms in the northeast, I’m reminded of TBI challenges. From house to house, from block to block, from town to town, you just don’t know till you investigate or go there, how much damage has happened. And you sometimes can’t tell from looking, what kind of infrastructure damage has taken place. A structure that looks sound may have significant cracks in the foundation. Or a bridge that looks like it’s out for good might be easy to repair.

You just don’t know till you try to travel the old routes in your brain. Then, by experience, by trial and error, you find out.

And it’s the finding out that’s the problem. Because as you go along, when you’re not expecting problems and they come up, it’s stressful, no doubt about it. It creates confusion. Frustration. Stress. It causes all these chemicals to be released into your brain and body that do not help you with your recovery. The more anxious and stressed and agitated you are, in fact the harder it is to recover. Because when you’re in fight-flight mode, parts of your system get shut down to conserve energy for basic survival. Your body doesn’t know any better. It’s just trying to protect you. But its way of protecting you is actually hurting you. It’s making you less capable of recovery, just when you need to be more capable.

So, here’s the thing — after concussion, after TBI, after brain injury of any sort, you’ve got to stay pretty chilled out. Relax. Not get bent out of shape over things. You have to find some peace, some calm. And that can be very difficult, indeed. You have to keep your system mellow and stable, so it can repair the damage.

Of course, the problem is, you’re all jazzed up and revved up, and your body and mind are going into overdrive, trying to correct the damage as soon as possible — ’cause your body and mind detect imminent danger, and their natural impulse is to fight it or flee it. So, you end up in this loop, this messy, messy loop of one problem after another, with no apparent way out.

Crazy, right?

Yeah.

But if you can see through to understanding that the connections in your brain are like roads and bridges after an earthquake… and if you can “get” that you need to either rebuild or divert the traffic in your synapses… and if you can find a way to test out the roads and bridges and see what’s going on there without getting too bent out of shape over it… you can start to rebuild your life and find new ways of dealing with this.

This is not to say you necessarily need to resign yourself to a “new normal” of disability and disadvantage. For a while, I myself thought I was going to have to do that. But then I chilled out, found someone to talk to regularly, and I was able to build back my abilities over time. And that’s good. It’s really good. I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to do things exactly the same way I have — and why would you want to? You’re your own person. But I do think that with the right approach, and an open mind, people can overcome a ton of stuff that they never thought they could.

It’s all about in the infrastructure. So keep on going. Concussion doesn’t have to make you crazy.

Just keep on going.

Picking my battles

Boxing Gloves
Gloves on... or off?

Lately, I’ve been following some pretty lively discussions online, some of them heated, some of them not. These days, it’s pretty easy to find heated arguments cropping up online. Whether it’s a movie that people like/dislike, or it’s a social issue, or it’s the political races going on, there’s no lack of things to get upset about.

I managed to get a 3-hour nap today. I’m working at home, which means I was online answering emails at 7, I worked till noon, then I lay down and slept till 3… got back online at 5, and this evening I’ll work a few more hours to get my 8 hours in. It’s not your cut-and-dried work schedule, but it works for me — especially considering how sick and tired I’ve been feeling, the past few days.

Anyway, one of the things that came to mind when I woke up, is that I “need” to jump into this heated discussion I’ve come across online. It’s about a subject that is near and dear to my heart, and I have a lot of experience with it. I also would like to share some of what I have experienced, for others to consider. I came this close to jumping in.

Then I thought better of it. Much better. While I may have some things to add, I’m not willing to commit as much time and energy to the debate as would be necessary. I just don’t have that kind of time or even inclination. I have other things I’d rather be doing, besides. The argument I’d be joining can be an ugly one. And I’m not going to make it pretty anytime soon.

So, I’m moving on to other things. I’ve got a bunch of other interests that promise more productive results. And that don’t drain my attention and energy from the things that I really, truly care most about.

And that’s progress. ‘Cause I can get caught up really quickly in all sorts of distractions that seem like a great idea at the time. I’m most susceptible when I am tired, angry, lonely… when I am tapped out and looking for a fight to pick up my spirits and give me more energy. Sometimes, there’s nothing like a good skirmish to make me feel truly alive. But the results of it can drag me down greatly, in the aftermath.

And I have to remember that. Always.

This is progress — battles come, battles go. I don’t need to jump into each and every one.

Debunking Ten Myths of (TBI) “Recovery”? – Myth #1

Activation of Brain Region Predicts Altruism.
What do the experts have to say?

I recently was sent a comment by a reader who referenced the following 10 myths of Head-Injury in their comment. I wasn’t able to publish the comment, but I’ll share what they sent along to me. I’m not sure how I feel about the 10 myths which are discussed. The first one, for starters, is full of things I don’t really agree with. And I’ll tell you exactly why in this post. It’s only fair, since the book/writing in question is by some very famous and authoritative experts who (as far as I can tell) aren’t actually brain injury survivors. I’m sure they have their reasons for saying what they do, but I’d like to weigh in with a different perspective

DEBUNKING TEN MYTHS OF “RECOVERY”
~from CH2 “The Nature of Head Injury” by Thomas Kay, Ph.D. and Muriel Lezak, Ph.D., the book is entitled “Traumatic Brain Injury and Vocational Rehabilitation”, Published by The Research and Training Center, University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Myth #1: The Concept of “Recovery”
Throughout this chapter we avoid such phrases as “recovery after head injury,” There is a reason for this. Most people’s experience, and therefore expectations, regarding illness and injury is one of temporary reduction in functioning, followed by a gradual return to normalcy. People get sick, go to hospital, and get better. Bones are broken, casts applied for a period, muscle strength regained over several months, and scars fade.

BB: The refusal to use the word “recovery” in terms of brain injury is, in my opinion, a huge mistake. It deprives us of hope, and it gets us thinking that we’ll never, ever be able to regain our lives as functioning human beings. It strips us of our humanity — and for what? Semantics? Some overblown sense of self-importance that certain “qualified” people can (and are allowed to) decide what words others should and should not use to describe their journey back to functioning?

I think that clinicians and other experts are using it in the narrow sense — regaining the full use of every single faculty that was impacted by brain injury exactly the same way it was before. And that narrowness does us a disservice, in a number of ways.

First, as we grow and change and mature, our brains are constantly changing, anyway, so the idea that any person — after a significant experience — would be the same after the event, as they were before doesn’t hold up, either with or without brain injury. We are constantly changing, constantly growing. We move forward, and we slip back. That’s just the human condition, and we are built to overcome setbacks. Implying it’s impossible for us to regain our ability to function after brain injury is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. If that were true, I’d be a vegetable by now.

When commonplace notion of recovery is applied to head injury, however, considerable harm can be done. Almost never does a patient “recover;” the residual deficits are usually significant and permanent. The continual expectation of recovery can lead clients and families into denial, frustration, disappointment, and even worse, extremely unrealistic expectations and planning.

BB: Yes, I get that people get their hopes up about being able to get back to where they were before, and sometimes it doesn’t happen. But it seems to me the real harm is in people who are supposed to be helping and caring, not bothering to help people move on. “Almost never does a patient ‘recover’?!” WTF?! That’s ridiculous. Maybe they’re talking about moderate or severe brain injury, where large portions of the brain are destroyed. Okay, then… but still, it’s possible for the brain to reorganize itself. If this is true all across the board, then how about Paul Bach y Rita’s father, who had something like 75% of the motor ability section of his brain destroyed by stroke, yet recovered and went on to take up mountain climbing? Please. Significant and permanent residual deficits are not going to be helped by people giving up and saying, “Oh, well… you’re brain injured, so I guess you’re screwed.”

A continual expectation of recovery is NOT bad. You just have to define what kind of recovery you want. Okay, so maybe you can’t keep your balance as well as you once did. Maybe your coordination isn’t as great. But we know much more about brains and neuroplasticity now, than ever before, and who’s to say it couldn’t happen in the future, with the right approach and the right dedication? I’m really convinced that it is possible to restore functioning in ways that these experts think is impossible — largely because I’m doing it.

Four years ago, I was putting myself directly in harm’s way, hiking down deer paths in camouflage during deer hunting season (no kidding). I was spending money like there was no tomorrow. Six years ago, I would sit in front of my computer at work and just stare at it for hours. I would flip out on people who came into my cubicle. I would try to pick fights with on-duty policemen. I don’t do that anymore. I am recovering.

Moreover, the successful rehabilitation of the head injured person cannot take place until they and their family are aware of the new limitations, accept them, and formulate new goals based on changed expectations.

To speak of, and implicitly believe in and hold out the hope for recovery as defined in the first paragraph can severely impede this process. Of course, this process of awareness and acceptance, on the part of the family, is a process that takes time. Certainly families, especially in the early stages, must hold out hope. However, we prefer to speak in terms of hope for as much improvement as possible, to build in realistic expectations from the beginning.

This is crap, if you expect this to apply to everyone all across the board. There are so many exceptions to this, I can’t even begin to say — starting with myself. I do implicitly believe and hold out hope for my own recovery — precisely as it is defined in the first paragraph. I don’t care what they say. It has NOT impeded my progress. If anything, it’s improved it. Holding out hope for “as much improvement as possible” is beneath us — as human beings and as survivors of brain injury. And “realistic expectations”, as far as I’m concerned, are just ways for experts to help caregivers who are totally tweaked by the experience of having a loved one sustain a brain injury, to shield themselves from the rigors of building back what you’ve lost.

Seriously, the big myth of this first point, from where I’m sitting, is that there can be no recovery. That’s crap. My neuropsych says so, and so do I.

So, just keep at it

Yesterday was a very up-and-down day.  I had to get some medical tests done last week, and I didn’t get the results back till yesterday, so it was a tense weekend. The tests came back with some non-standard results — but nothing to be concerned about on the extreme end of the spectrum. It’s just one of those wait-and-see types of things.

So, I’ll be waiting and watching and making notes about things that happen that seem unusual or unexpected.

Yesterday went pretty well all day — my spouse and I have been having a lot of trouble with arguments escalating into shouting matches, and we’ve been working pretty hard, trying to restore some civility to our relationship. We’ve been having a lot of troubles, as tends to happen with families that are in financial straits, and who have additional health issues. The pressure is pretty intense, and we both often feel as though we’re just there for the other to hound and hassle.

So, we made the extra effort yesterday, and things were going pretty well. Until later in the evening, when we started to argue about health choices my spouse has been making, which are really impacting their life. They have several conditions they have to be careful of, and they just haven’t been careful. At all. Things escalated, and the evening went south pretty quickly.

Not nice.

And today I’m feeling pretty hungover from the emotional drama. It was so friggin’ pointless — unbelievable, what some people will do, to avoid looking at their habits and admitting they are making bad choices. Not just poor choices, but BAD choices that can have lasting consequences.

I’m pretty sick about the whole thing, and given how many times they’ve agreed to change and seemed really intent on changing… then went right back to what they were doing before… I don’t have much hope. On the “bright” side, I was able to take out life insurance for them through my work. No reasonable insurance company would insure them, but my work offers free, no-exam-required life coverage up to a certain amount. I hate to sound cold, but given the path they’ve been on, it’s about the only thing left that I have to cover me, in case all their chickens come home to roost.

I’m not one to look on the dark side, but at the very least, I can be prepared for the worst. The person I’m married to has absolutely NO interest in getting life insurance — they think it’s “depressing” and don’t want to dwell on potential misfortune. So, I’ve got to protect myself. ‘Cause they’re sure as hell not going to do it. Hell, they won’t even protect themself.

It’s maddening. When you love and care for someone who is neglectful of their health and then attacks you when you ask them to change their ways, what the hell can you do? Makes no sense, to be stuck in some kind of emotional vortex, avoiding dealing with reality just ’cause it’s unpleasant.

Then again, they’ve pretty much always been this way. It’s only in the past several years, as I’ve gotten my own act together and really focused on dealing with my own issues, that I’ve become less tolerant of this kind of foolishness. In fairness to them, I never had a problem with it before, so why should I now?

Because I really, really want to live a healthy life. And I would like it very much if they would join me in that commitment. But they may not. So there we have it.

Oh, screw it. I’ve got to get back to work. I’ve just gotta keep steady with my own life. If they choose to screw themself over and wreck themself, there’s only so much I can do. I just have to take care of myself. ‘Cause they’re not going to do it for me.

Cheat-Sheet for Noticing Head-Injured Moments

Source: alphadesigner

This Cheat-Sheet comes from Give Back Orlando

1. Things I wish I had not done, or things I wish I had done differently.

2. Things I wish I had not said, or things I wish I had said differently.

3. Things I said or did that got a bad reaction out of other people.

4. Things I said or did too quickly.

5. Things I said or did without being careful enough.

6. Things I forgot to do.

7. Things I wanted to do but did not get around to doing.

8. Things I was told and later forgot.

9. Repeating myself without realizing it.

10. Forgetting where I put something.

11. Getting too emotional.

12. Wasting time.

13. Spending too much time on something that was unimportant.

14. Spending too little time on something that was important.

15. Being unable to put something out of my mind when I need to.

16. Making the same mistake I made before.

17. Taking unwise risks.

18. Misunderstanding people.

19. Having trouble getting others to understand me.

20. When search for something, overlooking it.

Most, if not all of these, have applied all too well to me, lately. I know I’m tired after spending so much time getting ready for this new job, but c’mon… enough is enough.

Time to get back to basics, I guess.

Again.