Done worrying about stuff — for the time being

man and woman jumping for joy on a beach

It’s Friday. Woot.

Ha – that’s pretty much of an ingrained response, just one of my habits that usually serve me well. Today, I don’t actually have a lot of reason to say “Woot!”, because this day is no different than most of the days of the past week. I haven’t been working my a** off all week, so I don’t have a ton of reasons to be jumping for joy.

It’s another day. But come to think of it, that in itself is worth a “Woot!”

I’ve got some appointments this afternoon, and then we’ll get some Chinese food and watch a movie. Nice and drab. Boring is lovely. Not a lot of drama. Just taking care of business. Maybe I’ll have a nap later, probably I won’t. That’s fine. Because I’ve been catching up on my sleep, and I don’t have a very busy day today.

At all.

Woot.

Yeah, thinking about my day, it’s pretty sweet. I have time this morning to catch up with some reading and writing, and just putter around the house. I’ll contemplate my life, think about the coming New Year, maybe take care of a few little things here and there, and get the ball rolling this afternoon.

Check the news… read some websites I’ve started following… and not worry about much at all.

And this is actually a slight change for me, since I’ve been a bit anxious over the past few days. Plans didn’t work out, or I got stir crazy, or I forgot to call people I promised to call… A while series of little annoyances set me off, and since all the Christmas activity wore me out more than I expected, the fatigue got the better of me.

But today is different. I’m just kind of hangin’ out. I’ll make those calls I forgot earlier, and I’ll go pick up the neighbor’s mail from their mailbox while they’re out of town for the next few days. Just get myself sorted and situated and settled. Enjoy the day, don’t make a big deal out of stuff… just kind of roll along and listen to some music I love. It’s not every day I get the chance to just chill out, so I’m taking advantage.

Looking back on the last year, I see I’ve spent way too much time worrying about stuff. For sure. It worked itself out, even though I was so focused on individual details — losing sight of the big picture, and getting swamped in minutiae. Maybe it’s just me getting older… maybe it’s looking back with hindsight (not exactly 20/20, but close)… maybe it’s just a shift in my priorities and interests… but I’m a lot less concerned with stuff outside my immediate control, than I used to be.

There’s only so much I can control or influence. I can certainly try, but my abilities are, of course, human, so…

The best thing to do is really take care of myself and figure out how I can make stuff work for myself. The rest of the world will figure itself out. Or it won’t. Either way, my life goes on.

And on.

And on.

Woot.

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Tending to my present… Kick-starting my future

road leading into the distance, with country landscape surrounding it

Well, that sounds dramatic. And I suppose it is.

Taking care of the present sounds so formal. It seems common-sense. And I suppose it is. But we live in a non-sensical world, these days, so it’s a lot more difficult than it seems like it should be.

Kick-starting my future is something I do — or don’t do — each day, with every choice I make. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds, and it’s a lot more complicated than it seems.

The thing is, we do this each and every day with the choices we make. We define our lives by our choices, and we further our plans with our actions. It’s not mysterious, it’s not magical. One thing leads to another, then another, then another. And all along the way, we have the chance to change direction, even slightly.

If you’ve ever thrown a ball, you know how wide of the mark you can go, if you alter the angle of your arm just a little bit. The same is true of our lives. One slight change in “angle”, and you can end up in a very different place than you originally intended.

A “little” slip on some stairs… a “minor” bump on the head… and your life can change in that instant. You can find yourself waking up each day, not knowing where you are, exactly, or where you want to go. Or you may wake up each morning wondering why the heck you didn’t get to where you were going the day before.

The brain is an amazing thing, and it’s surprisingly easy to disrupt in life-altering ways. We constantly take it for granted, like electricity or hot-and-cold running water. They’re all supposed to just work, just be there. And when they don’t… when they’re not there, we’re thrown into a state of chaos and confusion that blocks our ability to deal with anything.

The thing is, we tend to get stuck at that place of chaos and confusion. Perhaps because brain injury “rehab” is big business, with plenty of facilities billing plenty of hours to insurance companies, we don’t see a wholesale rush towards figuring out brain injury the way we should have long ago. Too many facilities make their money from people in need of help, rather than getting people back on their feet, never to need them again, so where’s the impetus to properly serve the brain-injured population? There are lot of us, with over a million TBIs added to our numbers, each year in the United States, alone, so I’d expect someone, somewhere to figure out how to end the suffering and teach people how to get back on their feet.

But no.

Well, never mind. Because there’s nothing I can do about that. What I can do is share my own experiences for everyone who’s interested in actually doing something about their situation, rather than staying stuck in something that can actually get fixed.

We all need a good dose of reality, when it comes to brain injury. That goes for health care providers, as well as those of us who get hurt. The brain is highly vulnerable. And the ways it’s most likely to get hurt are ways that hit us where it hurts the most — in our executive functioning, in our ability to plan and follow through, in our accustomed patterns that fall apart and plunge us into a steady state of anxiety… which builds up over time and impairs our ability to heal over the long term.

When we understand the true nature of brain injury (and don’t just get caught up in recycled notions that came from investigations done back in the infancy of brain research), we can also see that it is survivable.

We can — and do — recover from brain injury.

No one can take that from us. No one. Not any of the “experts”, not any of the scientists or neuropsychologists or psychiatrists.

The thing is, “recovery” means more than just restoring prior functionality to the injured brain. ‘Cause people, once the connections in your brain are disrupted, they stay that way. You can’t rewire broken connections. But we can — and do — create new connections that may function a little differently, but are still every bit as useful (sometimes more useful) than the old ones. And ironically, in my case, I find that some of my new connections are much, much better than my old ones, because I formed them with more life experience than before.

What we’re recovering is our personhood. Our dignity. Our self-respect. Our individuality. I think the brain injury rehab industry lacks an understanding of how much more important that is, than any level of physical or cognitive processing. People get hurt all the time. We break bones. We get cut up. We get smashed and smooshed and crushed. And then we recover. We may not have full range of use after we heal, but we get on with our lives. We may limp along or not be able to reach over our heads to get stuff or have to stop shoveling our own snow, but that doesn’t keep us from living our lives.

Same thing with brain injury. We may not restore our brains to their former glory, but we can adapt. Losing certain brain functionality is not the problem with TBI recovery. It’s losing our Sense-Of-Self that does a number on us. It’s the panic that sets in when we find ourselves doing things that are “unlike us”. It’s the repeated little shocks of being surprised by one thing after another that didn’t used to surprise us. It’s the gradual disappearance of our friends and family who used to know us as one person, but can’t adjust to the new person we’ve become. That loss of the Self, that erosion of security about who we are… that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome with TBI.

Because if you don’t deal with that, your functional recovery is going to lag. Brain injury recovery is a re-learning process. It’s all about re-training the brain. And if you’re totally stressed out over everything, you can’t learn properly.

It’s that simple. And it’s that complex.

And it doesn’t need to be the big-a** mystery that we make it out to be, because it has to do with the braaaaiiinnnn.

Brain injury recovery is a matter of living your life. Learning to live your  life. Teaching yourself how to get on with things, when everything looks different, feels foreign, and doesn’t square with how everything used to be.

It’s about choice. Action. Reaction. Learning. Adapting.

And when we tend to our present, choosing to learn from each and every conscious moment, we move ourselves towards a future of our own making.

As the current year winds down and the new year approaches, I hope you can own that, yourself, and — whether your brain is injured or not — take responsibility for a future you can absolutely positively make up as you go along.

Looking back, looking ahead… and trying to get some sleep in the meantime

rowboat at docks

I have been meaning to get more sleep, during this vacation. I’m able to take naps in the afternoon, which is great. I just can’t seem to get to sleep at a decent hour (before 11:00 p.m.) Part of the problem is that I just don’t want to go to sleep earlier than 11:00. I’ve got an internal clock that tells me when it’s time to sleep, and it generally doesn’t kick in till 10:45 or so.

It’s a little nerve-wracking. But I do it to myself, putting all kinds of pressure on myself to go to sleep, when I’m not really feeling that tired. And then getting up at my regular time, which lately has been anywhere between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. So, I’m not always getting a full 7.5 – 8 hours, like I need to. And then I wake up irritated, because I can’t sleep through.

It’s an ongoing problem, especially during this vacation.

Well, my life is structured very differently now than it is when I’m working. I’m still doing my morning exercise, which is crucial. I’m actually doing  better with it than usual — getting both my bike ride and the weight lifting done. I just don’t move enough during the day. I move more, when I’m at the office, because, well, I’m at the office. I have to go to meetings. I have to get my lunch on the ground floor. I have to make trips to the water cooler as well as the restroom. It gets me up and around, while being at home — where everything is within easy access and just a few steps away — keeps me sedentary. Heck, I can even work while sitting/lying on the sofa, which sounds great, but is a bit of an occupational hazard.

Anyway, it’s the end of the year, and I’m kind of out of sorts. Feeling like I’m drifting, cut loose from my moorings a bit… feeling like I fell asleep in a rowboat that was tied to a dock, and then I woke up finding myself drifting out in the ocean, with the dock in the distance. The thing is, although the distant docks look familiar, and that’s where I expected to wake up, I can also see other sights in the distance.

Cities I didn’t know existed before.

Distant piers and jetties that look every bit as interesting as what I’ve known before.

Busy industrial ports that hold mysteries within their iron fortresses

And secluded beaches to explore.

Different sorts of places where people live, work, and go about their business, which are both foreign and fascinating to me.

And lighthouses to guide me along the way.

Lights… sights… sounds… And a whole world of choices out there.

When I actually have some time to catch up with myself, I can see so many more possibilities. And it’s invigorating.

But it’s also a little depressing. Because I spend so much of my time in recovery mode, just trying to right myself in the very wrong world, that I don’t have as much time as I’d like to just kick back and relax into finding out What’s Next.

I look around me at my life… And I see so much more beyond my present situation. And I also see that the resources I have at my disposal are, well, limited. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying. I don’t have all the energy in the world, and I don’t have all the patience to match it. I want to cut to the chase and get on with my life, to the best of my ability. And after all these years of really working on my TBI recovery and firming up my Sense-Of-Self, I’m finally at a point where I have a reliable idea of how “I” am going to react and behave under certain circumstances.

That’s the biggest, hairiest, most dangerous part of life after TBI — losing your Sense-Of-Self. It erodes your self-confidence. It crushes your self-respect. It makes every situation into a danger-fraught series of surprises that threaten everything you care about. And then the real trauma of TBI sets in.

I really believe that the biggest trauma in mild traumatic brain injury comes after the injury itself. There’s a steady stream of “micro-traumas” which stress out our systems and add to the fight-flight biochemical load. And unless we learn how to manage our fight-flight overload and learn how to clear out the neurochemical gunk of all that ongoing stress, mild TBI continues to take its toll. It continues to haunt us, to tax us, to load us up with invisible burdens that nobody else understands, but which are very, very real.

If you really understand the physiology of trauma (and not a lot of people know about it, let alone understand and fully appreciate it), and you understand the profound change that even a “mild” TBI brings to your entire system, all of this makes sense. You know that the subtle changes to how your system works are disorienting and anxiety-producing. You know that the body’s mechanisms for protecting itself are working overtime post-TBI, and they’re kicking in, in the most unlikely of situations. You know that the overall effect builds up, and you know that it’s cumulative.

You also know that while the effects may show up as a psychological disorder, the underlying basis is a combination of mind and body — and the body bears the burden of it all.

The thing about this whole deal is, because the body is involved, it’s possible to work with the body to turn that sh*t around. Even if your mind feels like mush (I’ve been there), even if you can’t remember what you did, just a few hours before (I know the feeling well), even if you can’t get through your morning without a detailed checklist (the story of my life for years), the body can act as a gateway to recovery.

Regular exercise helps stabilize your system. Eating the right foods (and steering clear of the wrong ones) helps your metabolism stay stable and keeps you off the blood sugar roller-coaster. Getting enough sleep lets the brain “knit itself back together”, as well as clear out the gunk that builds up, just as a result of everyday living. Plus, learning to regulate your heart rate and your blood pressure can train your overall system to get back to a stable state, even if everything feels like it’s falling apart around you.

I’m sipping the last little bit of my half-cup of coffee, as I write this. The snow from last night is giving way to freezing rain, which will fall until midday, when the temperatures start to rise, and regular rain falls. There’s always a chance that the ice buildup will take out our power, and that’s no fun. But I have wood for a fire in the fireplace, and we’ve been keeping the house pretty warm, so we’ll have some residual heat to see us through. In the past, we’ve had some pretty hair-raising experiences with losing power, and I don’t look forward to repeating them.

But I know a lot more now about keeping my physical system stable, and I’m in a much better place, mentally, than I’ve been in past years. So, I’m at much less risk than before. And knowing that relieves the pressure and also reduces the risk of my “losing it” even moreso. And that’s good. It’s awesome.

So, where was I… I’m kind of meandering, this morning, as I try to get my bearings. I’m looking back at the last year, wondering if all the effort really paid off the way I wanted it to. I’m not sure it has. Some things I started have kind of stalled. And other things I wanted to continue with have floundered, as well. In some ways, I’ve been as diligent as ever. In my day job, for example, I’ve been invested and involved in ways that have actually paid off. When I think of all the other jobs I screwed up since 2004 (and even before that), it’s kind of depressing.

So, I won’t think about them. I’ll focus on the good.

And as I look forward to my future, I see a much simpler — but much more do-able — path ahead. I’ve let go of a lot of old activities that were busy-work I picked up for the sake of pumping up my tonic arousal (the state of wakefulness in your brain) and getting my system turned “ON”. I had a handful of websites I wanted to start, a number of business ventures that seemed promising, apps I wanted to build, and novels I wanted to write. That extended experiment in busy-ness went on for 10 years or so, and it just didn’t work out, so I’ve now narrowed my focus to a few particular activities, which will actually lead somewhere.

Heck, they’ve already started to pay off. And taking the pressure off myself to go find another job… yeah, I’ve let that one go. Yes, traveling for work every few months really takes it out of me, but there’s no guarantee the next job won’t be just as much of a pain in the ass. Plus, it’s too stressful to go changing jobs every few years. I used to thrive on that experience, but now it’s just a pain in the ass. I need to look for the good in things and tweak the things that I’ve got going on… not ditch them and go looking for something better, somewhere else.

So, I guess I’ll wrap up my ramble. My morning is in free-flow, so I’m just letting my mind wander as it will, for the time being. I got my grocery shopping done yesterday. I got my meals for today prepared yesterday, too. I can’t go out and do anything, because the roads are bad. There’s no need to go anywhere, anyway. I’ll just hang out for the day… drift… make a fire, perhaps, and catch up on my reading.

And write a bit more. Because I can. I’ve got the time and the opportunity. So, yeah…

Onward.

Five hours of sleep. Oh, well. I’ll try something new today.

Fatigue Range with "Not Sleeping" red zones at the top and bottom and an "Energy Level" line curving up into the top "Not Sleeping" zone
Fatigue Range – I’m just within the top red line, in the gray zone.

I can really tell the difference when I don’t tire myself out with afternoon exercise. I had a very lazy day, yesterday, catching up on some reading and organizing myself a bit better. On Friday night, I cleared out a bunch of boxes I’d kept in the corner of the dining room. I have an old habit of saving boxes for later use, because I grew up in a time and place where such things were scarce, and you had to save stuff for later — especially good packing boxes.

Now, though, the world is full of packing boxes. All you have to do is order some dental floss from Amazon.com to get a big-ass box in the mail. The floss will be packed at the very center of the box, surrounded by packing paper or those bubble packs. It’s very wasteful, but it’s one way to get a box.

Anyway, I got that done on Friday night, and that got me in the mood to do more organizing on Saturday (yesterday). I needed to go through a bunch of notes I’d written down, so I spent most of the day dictating my notes into my smartphone and emailing them to myself. I ended up with something like 20 pages of notes – and I could put away my handwritten notes. It was very productive, but also very sedentary. I did get out for a quick walk in the afternoon, but it wasn’t intensely strenuous, and I had just a quick one-hour nap afterwards.

Last night, I got in bed by 10:25, but I tossed and turned for a good 20-30 minutes before I got to sleep. And then I woke up at 4:00 and couldn’t get back to sleep. Not great for my brain function, to tell the truth. I’m foggy and fuzzy, this morning, and I’m worried. My spouse has been having some more noticeable cognitive and behavioral issues, and that’s heavy on my mind. I really worry about them and if I’ll be able to take care of them the way they need. I feel like I’ve failed in many ways, and may have contributed to some of their issues with my own temper and being hard to live with at the end of long days. I worry that I’ve actually made things worse for both of us. But I’m doing the best I can, I suppose.

Anyway, about this sleep business… During the work week, I usually get in a half hour of strenuous exercise. It tires me out, but I regroup and finish out my workday. And then I go home, have my supper, and go to bed. That works best for me, because it really wears me out, and I can’t help but crash at the end of the day. Yesterday, though, I wasn’t wiped out at the end of the day, so I didn’t just fall into bed per usual.

Today, I’ll try something new — I’ll try getting back on the exercise bike and going for an intense 20-minute ride. I’ll put on some music and crank up the resistance, and really push myself. It’s something to get my blood pumping and wear me out. Then I can regroup and take care of the rest of the day in what I hope will be better form. And then with any luck, I’ll be so tired, I won’t be able to keep my eyes open past 10:30. And I’ll sleep through to the morning.

I hope, anyway.

Onward.

Why have I been away?

Sometimes it's hard to see the path ahead
Sometimes it’s hard to see the path ahead

I just jump-started my TBI blogging again. Looking at my archives, I have only posted six times, so far this month. That’s quite a difference from my past. It’s been for good reasons. I’m getting a lot of things done that have languished for some time.

But I also have been depressed. I get really busy… I exercise regularly… I tick items off my checklists… then I get really tired and feel depressed. No joy left, by the end of the day. No enthusiasm on the weekends. Just slogging through my daily life, pin-balling between hyper-productivity and not wanting to have anything to do with anyone, not wanting to go anywhere or talk to anyone… just waiting for the day to be over.

It’s an odd combination. Because I’m pretty well scheduled, and I’ve got a lot of discipline and focus for the things I need to do. My upbringing stressed getting things done, no matter how you feel about it. Your state of mind was really beside the point. You just got on with life and did your part, even if you had no joy in it. Even if you didn’t care about it. Even if it had nothing to do with you.

If you were depressed, so what? You just got up and got on with your day, anyway. If you were in pain, so what? You just picked up where you could and did your part. Personal feelings and emotions had nothing to do with anything. Getting the work done and playing your role was the critical thing.

I think it went hand-in-hand with being in a rural area, raised by parents and grandparents who’d grown up on farms. When the cut hay has been lying in the field for two days and is dry, and rain is threatening for the late afternoon, you don’t get to lie in bed and say, “Oh, I don’t feel like baling today.” You get your ass up out of bed, and you go bale the hay. You work through any and all weather conditions. You do what is needed by the community, and you pull your weight, so that even if it does rain at 4:00, the hay is all baled and in the hay mow of the barn.

It’s non-negotiable.

And I suspect that’s why depression and mental illness have become more prevalent in society. It’s not that there’s so much more of it, now. There’s just more recognition and acceptance of its very existence. I’m sure there have been many, many people over the eons who have been depressed or had some other mental illness. It was just never allowed to be seen. Or if it was so extreme that it couldn’t be eclipsed and covered up by strict roles and duties, you just got sent away.

Anyway, I haven’t felt much like interacting at all, this month. The shootings in Orlando really upset me. To me, it’s an assault on diversity and community. It’s an attack on human nature and our freedom to simply be who we are and gather with others like ourselves. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re gay or straight — everybody has something about them that is different, and we need to gather with like-minded people to remember who we are. It’s just that the people in Orlando who were killed and maimed aren’t in the mainstream, so many people don’t know how to talk about it or think about it, without looking for a way that “they brought it on themselves.”

I don’t see it as a religious or political thing. I see it as the product of our society that encourages people to take violent action against others, to relieve their own pain. And the politicizing of it by the very people who believe that same thing, really angers me.

And that’s all I’ll say about it. No more comments. There’s too much of that, already.

But back to my present. I really need to start blogging again. Regularly. It actually anchors me and helps me collect my thoughts. And I don’t need to get all rigid about the “right” and “wrong” ways to do it. I just need to do it.

Because the voices crying out that people with brain injuries are broken and can’t be repaired, are too strong.

Because all the fear about concussion often seems to completely overlook the chance of recovery. Concussion is turning into a sort of delayed-action death sentence, and I think that’s wrong. It’s a terrible message to send. But of course, that’s what gets the funding flowing.

Because despite having sustained 9+ concussions in my life, things are going really, really well for me, and I need to bear witness to that. To show that I’m good. That I’m recovering. That it’s not by accident, and it’s not a fluke.

Because, well, this is a huge part of my life. And in the midst of getting everything done, exercising, trying to get my sleeping schedule in order, and generally feeling down, it’s the one thing that can get me out of my head and lift my eyes above my current challenges to show me the precious long view.

I can’t make any guarantees, but I’ve just given myself some really good reasons to re-kick-start my TBI blogging.

So, I expect to see you soon.

Should I stay or should I go?

The road behind... leads to the road ahead
The road behind… leads to the road ahead

There’s a lot of change going on in my life, these days. For the past couple of months, I’ve been vascillating between hope and despair with regard to my job situation. Nothing is certain, and the change I made back in July, which was supposed to signal the end to my professional wandering.

I’ve been moving around for so long… settling in… being hyper-productive… then moving on… that my resume literally takes up five pages to cover just the basics.

A lot of that moving around has had to do with me getting overwhelmed and sinking into a pit of despair. All the pressures and confusion that come with each day, each week, each month, build up over the years to a point in my professional life, where I would lose focus. And I would have to move on. I’d have this terrible sense of impending doom… feeling like I’m just playing along and doing a good impression of the person I was supposed to be. But the disconnect between who I was and how I presented was too great — and it felt like everything was going to cave in.

So, I’d move on. Sometimes after six months. Sometimes after a year. Sometimes after 18 months. The longest I was ever at a company for an uninterrupted stint was 9 years — but only because I kept moving within the company to other positions where I could start fresh.

Staying in one place wasn’t an option, because I didn’t understand my issues — that they were caused by TBI / CBI / concussive brain injury — and I didn’t know how to manage them.

Now, though, I actually do have the skills built up to manage the overwhelm and the anxiety and the frustrations. There are far fewer disconnects between how I am and how I seem, than ever before. But no sooner do I get to a place in my life where I actually can settle in for the long haul… than the places I’m where working turn out to be even more unstable than my former ability to deal with long-term professional commitments.

They lay off lots of people. Or they restructure. Or they end up merging with another company.

Oh, the irony.

And part of me feels like, what’s the point? Why stick around? If all anyone can do, is reshuffle the deck and make it more difficult for me to just do what I signed up to do, why should I invest much energy at all in hanging in there?

Why, indeed?

So,there are two ways I can go with this — be disgusted by the whole thing and give up, or take it as an opportunity to just do what I please and make of it what I can. I’m pretty much on track to do the second…  although I do have my moments of doing the first.

I still don’t know what’s going to become of this job. Some days, I love it and never want to leave. But more often, I have to ask myself, what’s the point? In another six months, everything may change completely. And at this stage of my life, that’s a lot less appealing than it was, 25 years ago.

Basically, I just have to take it a day at a time… all the while thinking about my future, and keeping my own best interests in mind.

In other words, being realistic. But also willing to do what needs to be done.

Onward.

Or… I could have fun with it

roller-coasterWhat a roller coaster. One day, we’re up. The next we’re down.

Sigh.

I started out yesterday feeling pretty great. Then came the speed bump.

My employer announced its quarterly numbers about a week ago, and they just missed their projected numbers by a smidge. But they still missed.

So, yesterday we found out that our bonuses will be affected by the shortfall, and there are a lot of unhappy campers walking around. The holidays are coming, and there’s going to be a little less Christmas cheer for some.

The crazy thing is, I’d bet good money that none of the people actually responsible for running the company will have their personal financial situation affected. A lot of them have a ton of money, already, so even if they do share in the bonus payout reduction, they won’t feel even a 10% drop — whereas the rest of us “on the ground” have a very different story to tell.

I think it would be much more fair for the people in charge of the big decisions to take the hit, rather than passing it along to us. It just feels like a sort of punishment. And that on top of the ongoing negotiations about the company being acquired… It’s all very exciting.

And my back and hips are killing me, because the chair they gave me is for sh*t… and I have been sitting too much. I used to have a self-constructed standup desk at my old office.  Four cases of seltzer water with a shelf on top. I think I’ll reconstruct that. I have the room in my new cubicle, and it’s the exact right height for me. We’ll see. I do have a shelf that’s the right height, as well, so maybe I don’t need to reconstruct it.  Bottom line is, I need to be standing, not sitting. Sitting is bringing the pain.

So, my bonus is messed up, I have no idea if I’ll have this job in another 6-8 months, and people around me are getting tweaked… emotionally needy… upset… And it’s just the beginning. The acquisition/merger won’t be done for some months, yet, so we’ve got a ways to go. There are a number of acquisitions and mergers going on in the tech world, right now. Some of them have epic proportions. All these people being moved around and nudged/pushed out of their comfort zones…. It’s like the whole world is in flux.

But at least I’m not in the dire straits that people in the Middle East and Africa are. All those people being displaced… Holy crap, it’s just crazy.

In the midst of it all, I can count my blessings, which is fortunate. And I am actually in a really good space. I have a line of work that I love so much, I do it in my spare time. I just love it, and it really is a natural progression of my skills, abilities, and interests. Compared to where I was, just a year ago, my situation is much more stable — and this, in spite of being on the verge of possible displacement.

The thing that’s more stable is my prospects of employment. I have a killer skillset, with the right kind of experience at the right kinds of companies (home-grown global corporate success stories that everybody in the region knows about and respects). And my skills are portable across a number of different industries, so that bodes well for my ongoing employment. I’m less concerned about working for only one company for the long term. That’s never actually been my ideal. I’m much more concerned about staying viable — especially as I’m getting older in a field where employers favor people who are 20 years younger than myself. And the happy fact is that my skills and abilities are still very much in-demand, and they meet a lot of needs very neatly.

No need to “shoehorn” myself into a position – I’m flexible enough to fit in a lot of places, which has really been my goal all along. While I do love the work I do for a living, and I do it on my own time as well, I still have a lot of other interests that I need to pursue without financial pressure. I have research to do and writing to do. I have blog posts to write. And I need to do that all without having to worry about where my next meal is coming from. That kind of stress is a killer.

So, I’m looking on the bright side and just having fun with things. I had a dark time on Sunday, when all the excitement of the past week caught up with me, and I started to sink into that dismal place where I didn’t feel like going on. At all. Of course, I had to, because I had things I needed to take care of, but I just didn’t feel like it. And that, after feeling so strong and clear for many days…. depressing.

But I took it easy, got some rest, and yesterday looked very different to me. Today looks different, as well. I’m getting back on track, having fun with things, and really digging into my work. I have no idea what they will be doing with me or anyone else on my team, in the future, so I’m just “doing my thing” and doing the work that’s meaningful to me — and also valuable in the market. I’m doing my research via online job boards, to see who’s paying the most — and for what types of work/skills/interests.

I know I’m supposed to follow my bliss, but it’s a lot easier to be blissful, if you have a roof over your head and a belly full of nutritious food and a healthy body… not to mention hope for the future.

I do have all of the above, and I plan to keep it that way. It hasn’t been easy, and if I didn’t work at it, I could easily be in very different straits. But I don’t feel like struggling and hassling with basic survival things, so I’m laser-focused on finding where I can improve… and doing just that. It’s all trial-and-error-and-success. And some days I have huge setbacks.

Today, I can see how all my setbacks can set me up for a better future.

Every piece of info I get about how I screwed up is valuable. It gives me more info about how to move forward in a different way. Story of my life. My mistakes are my own — and they can be the most valuable possessions I have. When I realize that, it frees me up to do more things.

And have fun with it all, as best I can.

Onward.

Well, THIS is unexpected… or not?

Skyscraper
Welcome to the Big Time! The Great Overlords in the Sky have some plans…

So, apparently, my new employer got bought by another company.

How ’bout that.

There has been talk in certain circles about the company merging with another one, for some time, now, but The People In Charge all told us that it was just rumors and speculation, and they believe the best route to take is to stay steady and keep to the course they laid out.

Of course, they were not the ones who were actually working on the deal. And while it is probably 100% true that they agreed with the original course and were NOT in favor of a change, they were actually not the ones calling the shots. So, they don’t have to look like liars, because they weren’t. Ironically, the people working on the deal showed up and made the announcement like it impacts them emotionally. How could it? The only thing that changes for them is how much money they have — and they already have more money than God, so I’m sure it doesn’t have nearly the impact that it does for those who are at the bottom of the food chain. How could it?

Oh well, who can say? The Great Demon in all of this is dread speculation. Gotta hold that at bay. All I know is… nothing specific, yet. There was a company-wide conference call yesterday that told us a few important points, and there will be a team meeting today.

This rarely works
This rarely works

I’ve actually always known that things would change at this job; my current boss told me from the start that they didn’t know who I would be reporting to in six months. So, no surprises there. I actually belong to a different group than the rest of the folks in my team — it’s all pretty confusing if you try to make sense of it.

So, I don’t bother trying to make sense of it. Not until I have more information… which will be unfolding over time.

I actually find this news quite energizing. I’ve been at the company long enough to see that they are very entrenched in old ways of doing things, they have old loyalties and rivalries that get in the way of getting work done, and a change would do a lot of people good. It’s an excellent company with good products – and in some ways, they have been victims of their own success and have gotten in the habit of resting on their laurels. So, they really do need a shakeup. The days of constancy and steady-as-she-goes have never actually existed in the tech world, and those who believe things should just stay as they are, really don’t belong here.

So, who knows what will happen? My little group may get disbanded. I may get reassigned to another team. Who can say? I’m betting that in the next months, there will probably be plenty of opportunity for folks to reinvent themselves and see what else they can do. I’m keeping my eyes and ears open to see what’s available — and I’m also checking out the acquiring company’s website to see what positions they have had open and what their staffing priorities are.

I’ve been doing this an awful long time, and it’s not the first restructuring I’ve been through. I’ve been through no less than 10 different re-orgs at multinational companies, over the years, so I’ve learned a thing or two.

Main thing is to keep chilled out, continue to exercise regularly, eat right, and get plenty of rest. That way I can keep alert for opportunities when they arise.

And this could turn out even better for me than the awesome situation I’m in now.

Onward.

How things change

Getting it all sorted out
Getting it all sorted out

I’m cleaning up my home office, getting rid of a whole lot of junk stuff I have collected over the years.

To be fair, it’s not actually “junk” — it’s just leftovers from years gone by, which are no longer needed. I used to need these things. Or, in some cases, I thought I was going to need them, but it turned out, I didn’t. Lots of scrap paper… lots of cardboard I used to use for packing, when I was sending things to people. Lots of old equipment that needs to go to “technology heaven”.

And look… there’s the coupon for $10 off my next $50 spent at the hardware store. It’s good for another 3 days. That will come in handy — especially if I actually make it to the hardware store this weekend. I should. I have a number of things I need to pick up, and my garage needs to be cleaned out for the impending fall. Right now, it’s got too much stuff — and junk — taking up the space that my car should fill.

I’m feeling a little frustrated, right now. A lot of what I’m finding is a reminder of how much I have had to let go of. Or all the things that I had such hopes for, and never managed to make happen. I was really convinced, for so many years, that I was going to make all these dreams come true. But I never reckoned with the reality of fatigue, confusion, frustrations, and the constant toll that TBI-related stress and distraction takes on a person, day after day after day.

A number of objects in my office are from my spouse, and looking at them all, seeing how many things I’ve been given, which don’t actually suit my personality… or seeing how many of them were given to me in good faith (which I never followed through on)… that’s a little depressing, too. It’s a little disconcerting to have so many reminders that your significant other has never really understood you — and probably never will.

Then again, who ever really understands anyone? And in the midst of the sorting, I find one reminder after another of our bond — birthday cards, Valentine’s Day cards, little notes left for me that say “I love you!”… that’s really what matters. Everything else seems a best guess to me, anyway.

And I realize I am at a significant juncture in my life. I’m finally at a place, where I can relax and settle into my work, because it suits me, all across the board. For decades, I was not committed to my “day job” other than as a way to make a living and pay for the expenses of everyday life. I wasn’t invested in the least. I mean, it was hard to feel invested about anything in technology, back when the Web was first starting up. Nobody knew how it was going to go, if it would last, if it was “a thing”. It took many years for that to be proven, and now it’s a given.

And now, after so many years of work and pioneering and opening the frontier, the world I helped to create — as one tiny cog in a massive machine that has an intelligence all its own — I finally feel invested in it all. Because I connected with a company that’s invested in me. It really is remarkable, after so many years of being treated like I’m disposable, expendable, interchangeable. Like I didn’t matter, and nobody cared. The people around me cared, sure, but at the management level, it was all too Darwinian and it wasn’t at all conducive to getting the best performance out of the people who were committed to doing the work.

They didn’t even seem to realize that we were committed to doing the work. They just treated us like we showed up each day to earn a paycheck, and that was it. Eventually, no matter how much more it may all mean to you, if you’re treated that way, day in and day out, you can end up slipping into that mindset, yourself.

What a waste.

And for years — decades, really — my life was driven by a profound need to be more than just a cog in the machine, a plug in a hole that would have leaked if it weren’t plugged. I spent so, so many hours trying to fill that void left by my day job, seeking with every fiber and ounce to actually express myself in a way that made me “me”. It was a constant struggle to prove my identity, to prove my worth, to know that I was more than what I was treated like, day in and day out.

I wanted more, I needed more. I had to have it.

So, I created it myself. I carved out a niche for myself in my own life with constant work, constant writing, constant creation. I volunteered. I got involved in groups. I had an active life outside work, and I crammed a whole lot of stuff into it.

And for years, that worked. It just felt normal and right and free. As long as I was free, that’s all that mattered to me.

But then I fell and hit my head. And the freedom went away. It just seemed to evaporate overnight, and everything that had felt smooth and sensical, just turned into mush. I lost my spark. I lost the joy. I lost the passion that comes from within — it was replaced by a manic stress response that was fueled by pure adrenaline that came from post-traumatic stress, life-and-death choices, a long series of bad decisions that either trashed or threatened to destroy so much that I had worked so hard for.

The energy and passion I’d had before, which was always accompanied by hope, was replaced by rage and fear and anxiety. On the surface, it looked like I was still engaged and energetic, but inside I was a tangled mass of nerves.

Big difference from before. My fuel was not hope, but desperation. Confusion. Frustration. And the need to have enough stress in my life to keep my attention focused on what was in front of me.

The last 10 years have been a chaotic blur. A blur, because everything has seemed to happen so fast – and yet so slowly – and chaotic, because I could not figure out what was going on inside my head and outside of it, too. So much confusion. So much dancing on the edge of disaster — often without realizing it. So many poor decisions, so many knee-jerk reactions that cost me so much. Since 2004, I had 11 different positions – more, if you count changing roles within organizations. That’s more than one job change a year – I hopped from one position the next four times in about a year, back in 2008, without knowing why. Part of it was just bad decision-making, part of it was anxiety, part of it was not being able to function and needing to “skip town” before people found out how incompetent I was at the job I’d signed up for.

In the meantime, there were the marital troubles, the money shortage, the creditors knocking down my door and blowing up my cell phone, the logistical troubles, the health problems and cognitive decline of my spouse… Yeah, it’s been a wild ride.

And looking around me at my office, I see so many relics of the years before 2004, when everything seemed so simple and straightforward, and I was content to be living as I was. Back when my spouse was still healthy and working. Back when I was good with where I was, and everything just progressed and unfolded without concern for the future. Back before everything started to fall apart.

I’m cleaning up, now. I’m getting rid of the old stuff that I no longer want or need. And I’m saving what I can still use. The post-it notes that were given to me at a past job, when the company changed its branding and they had all these extra supplies to get rid of. The paper clips and butterfly clips. The pens I can still use. The notes I made, some time ago, about ideas that still interest me. Much of this I can still use.

But in a very different frame of mind. A relaxed frame of mind. A state of mind that makes it possible for me to settle in and concentrate — and not worry constantly about the outcome. A frame of mind that  have not had in so many years. It’s more than relaxed. It’s at ease.

Finally, I can settle in and just enjoy my life again.

Not that things are completely event-less. Lately, there have been unfortunate losses in my family, a bunch of my friends lost their jobs, and things are not hunky-dory, all across the board. But my frame of mind is very different, now. And while I don’t much care for the tragedy, I can handle it without going off the deep end. I can walk through the crises without letting them wreck me, too. Whatever happens now, I feel as though I’m up to the challenge.

I know how to think things through.

I know how to break things down and take my time and work through them from start to finish.

I used to have that ability, years ago, then it went away. Now, ten years later, it’s back.

And that makes all the difference.

So, the day is waiting.

Onward.

New day, new me

new-beginning
The start is just the beginning. Gotta keep it going…

Probably the best thing about this new job, is the fitness benefit – the gym, the pool, the free classes, and the ability to go to the gym and/or hit the pool just about anytime that fits my schedule. The pool isn’t open 24-7, but the gym is.

I don’t live close enough to the office to go to the gym on weekends, but after work is a great time to work out, when everyone else is heading for the freeway to get home.

So, on my swim days, I can work out and swim after work, when I’d normally be stuck in traffic. And the grocery store is on the way home, so I can pick up supper on my way.

It’s a good arrangement. In more ways than one.

A week into exercising just about every day of the work week, I can honestly say I’m feeling better than I have in quite some time. My back and torso are stronger, which means my posture is better, which makes me less tired. It also makes me less irritable. And I have a lot more energy and stamina than I’ve had in recent memory.

Sure, I’m sore. But I’ll hit the pool at the end of the day today, and I’ll work some of this out. Just gotta move. Just gotta keep moving.

Fitness has become a real focus for me. The gym at work is small — but it still has all the equipment and weights I need — so it’s not overwhelming, like a lot of those big-box gyms full of blaring music and hundreds of machines. I don’t know how people can work out in those places. I’ve tried, and I never last. A smaller gym, with just the right equipment, is ideal.

So, since it’s not overwhelming, I can actually get into getting into shape. It’s giving me another focus — and getting me out of my head — which is all good. Looking around my study, I’ve got all these books … so many books… and I remember how I used to spend so much time in the past, just sitting and reading. Sitting and reading.

It was great for my imagination, but terrible for my body. And because of that, it wasn’t so great for my brain.

Body and brain go together. Closely. And it’s important to really take care of both. In fact, strengthening your body and making sure it has what it needs, is critical to keeping your brain safe.

It gives you more stamina and makes it possible to keep a positive attitude. It’s tough to be chipper when you’re exhausted by life itself.

Being also strong helps you balance better and function better, so you don’t get tired and uncoordinated and off-balance. Not having enough strength introduces the risk of falling, so getting strong in the right ways can prevent a fall — and another brain injury.

The times when I fell or had accidents and got my TBIs in the past, were often times when I was over-tired and/or uncoordinated, and I did not have the strength or stamina to keep myself balanced, alert, and safe. I was worn out from working a lot, and I had a car accident. Or I was pushing myself too hard, and I fell and smashed my head. Or I was getting tired and clumsy, and I “lost it” – slipped, tripped, fell, got hit… you name it.

Although a bunch of my injuries happened while playing sports, the more impactful ones happened in everyday life. And if I’d been in better shape and had more strength and stamina, I wonder if things might have turned out differently.

Well, the past is the past, but bottom line is, I’m feeling better now, than I have in quite some time, and it’s pretty cool. Just have to pace myself and make sure to rest when I can. My body is still getting used to the fitness routine, and recovery is a critical component of any fitness routine. ‘Cause if you don’t rest, you don’t give your body a chance to recover and repair. I, of all people, know the importance of recovery.

And  with that, it’s off to my day. Onward.