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.

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Sometimes you have to do the exact opposite of what your body and mind want to do

This came to me this morning, while I was exercising. Some mornings, I hate to exercise. Some mornings, I just don’t do it.

The thing is, our organic systems are extremely good at streamlining and taking effective shortcuts. So, over time they can get acclimated to taking the easy way out. Because that’s what they are best at.

But our brains and bodies and minds won’t grow that way. Growth comes through challenge and difficulty.

So, my new approach is to figure out what my body and brain and mind all are telling me I don’t “need” to do… and do the opposite.

So long as it’s healthy, that is.

The chance to make a difference, every single day

Yes
Yes

Death is never an easy thing to deal with, and losing someone — or something — that means a lot to you, is just plain hard. Grief has a timetable of its own, and even when you think you’re past it, it can come up again — days, months, years after the fact.

I’ve been thinking a lot about loss, this fall. I’m working on my book TBI S.O.S. – Restoring a Sense of Self after Traumatic Brain Injury, and I’ve been thinking about all the ways that TBI has taken something from me over the years… including my Sense of Self.

Now a dear relative has died, and I have the opportunity to look at how that loss is affecting me and many others, whose lives they touched. Looking back at their long life — over 100 years — so many people and situations came across their path. Lots of good situations, lots of hard situations. And the last thing you could say about their life, was that it was easy. The last thing you could say about their personality, was that it was easy-going. They had a hard life, and they developed the mettle to deal with it. They weren’t always fun to be around, and they could be mean-spirited and cruel. But in the end, they really had a positive impact on so many lives. So many, many lives.

No matter their shortcomings — and we all have them — they always stayed true to their commitment to make a positive change in the world. That’s what their life was really about — through teaching, volunteer work, and active service on many boards in their community. The number of people coming through their hospital room at the end, to say good-bye and thank them for their service, was amazing. So many people who gained because of their commitment.

And it occurs to me, looking back at this relative, who had so many obvious flaws, that if they can make a positive difference, then any of us can. And we should. We simply need to have the willingness and the energy to keep going. We need to have that commitment. Each of us, in our own way, has at least one gift we can offer and develop to benefit others. And each of us, when we reach out to the people around us in a spirit of genuine helpfulness, can do something positive in this world to make it a better place. We don’t have to be famous or rich or mathematical geniuses to forge ahead. We can find our own small ways to pitch in and help, and do it better in our own way than anyone else ever could.

In a way, the fact that my grandparent was a difficult person, makes their contribution all the more inspiring. They freely admitted that they had limitations, and I know that in their later years they regretted a lot of things they had done in their youth. But they kept going. They kept learning. They kept showing progress and changing with the times. They didn’t push people away because of their limitations — they engaged with them and they learned from them, as well as taught. And in the end, what really matters is the good they brought to the world.

Looking at their example, I can see so many parallels with my own life — struggling with limitations, overcoming them, finding new ones to deal with, and keeping on till I could see past the most recent obstacle and get a clearer view of the world around me. Each barrier, each obstacle has taken me higher — so long as I’ve engaged with it. And each time I’ve overcome, I’ve gotten a better view of where I stood and what my options were.

Brain injury has been a real blight on my life. It’s stolen many good years from me, and it nearly ruined me, 10 years ago. But through following the example of my grandparent, and just keeping going, I’ve gained so much more than I ever could have, otherwise. And for that, I am truly grateful.

We all have something to offer. We all have something to contribute. And that “something” will necessarily change over time. As we age, as we learn, as we grow, as we go through the changes in our lives, our bodies and brains and outlooks change, sometimes turning us into completely different people. The loss of a job, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a home, a sudden change in fortune – for good or for ill – can drastically alter us and our relationship to the world and others around us.

That doesn’t mean we stop being able to help and contribute. That doesn’t mean we stop being useful and needed. Sometimes we need to recalibrate and shift our attention… look around for new ways to be of service. But those ways are out there — if we keep steady and look for them, with an open heart and lots of humility.

Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now. I’m in a pretty philosophical frame of mind, these days.

On Thursday night, I’ll be driving to my family again for the viewing and funeral. I’ll probably be “dark” during that time, with everything going on. Right now, I’m making my list of things I need to do ahead of time, getting things together systematically, so I can just pick up and go on Thursday after work. I need to do laundry, buy food for the road, collect my thoughts for a short eulogy I’ll be giving, and basically keep myself steady and rested for the next week.

These things are never easy, but I do have a heads-up about what’s to come, so this will be logistically easier than the last weekend, when it all sort of took me by surprise. I was ill-prepared, in some ways, but it all came out okay in the end, I guess.

The main thing to remember, is that I’m doing really well.  I have NOT melted down, since getting back, and I’m keeping steady and calm. I have a long day ahead of me, but that’s okay. At least I have a plan to follow, and I know how things are going to shake out.

Anyway… onward.

Reset NOW

I just came across this video – pretty inspiring

No matter what people may offer you, if it means you have to sacrifice yourself or abandon your convictions, no way no how is it worth it.

Back from my trip to see my family, I am reminded yet again of why I left. The price of admission to the community my family is part of, is way too high. You have to abandon your individuality to be part of a larger group, and that doesn’t sit right with me. My siblings have all pretty much kept the continuity going, living their lives as my parents expected them to — with a few minor exceptions, here and there. I’m the black sheep. I have broken out. And looking at how things have developed, back there, I’m so thankful I stepped away when I did, and managed to keep my individuality intact.

My family and their community have specific ways of doing things that they believe are correct and right. Everything from how you tend your garden, to how you maintain your home, to how you walk and talk, and when you light the first wood fire of the year, are watched and commented upon by the neighbors. Almost every aspect of life is dictated by a combination of religion and tradition, and those who “buck the system” are not welcome. Tolerated, but not warmly welcomed.

And while that rigidity gives them a sense of continuity and comfort, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for growth and positive change — unless that growth and positive change is part of their world view.

If there is a problem in front of them that can’t be solved by the same old thinking, then that problem stays stuck.

Like the problem of the hoarder in the family that nobody ever talked about. And nobody could ever help.

Hoarding is a complex issue, and it has a lot of different aspects and causes. There’s the perfectionism, the personalization of objects, the inability to let things go, because of the emotional connection to them, the inability to see a problem (on the part of the hoarder), and the inability to creatively think about options and choices for how to live differently.

I never realized, till this last weekend, just how badly off “our hoarder” was. Nobody ever talked about it in depth, nobody ever took steps to address it directly. The standard response was through prayer and support and trying to talk sense into the hoarder — and to model a better way to be.

Nobody ever addressed the neurological issues they had — which are obvious and several — and nobody ever addressed this in a systematic, scientific way.

What a friggin’ waste of a life. “Our hoarder” is well into their 70’s, and they have lived in the midst of their own filth for some 30 years. And I never fully realized the extent of the issues. Had I known, I might have been able to do something. But now the past is done. The wrecked house has been cleaned out. And “our hoarder” is in a retirement home, where it is literally impossible for them to collect any more crap or allow their space to become trashed. Cleaning folks come in every week like clockwork. So, with any luck, the will get the help they needed all along.

30 years have gone by, leading up to this moment, and my relative has lived in their squalor all that time, unbeknownst to me. I have never been in a position to actually help them before, because I had so many issues of my own. And now that I am on my feet again with a much more robust set of tools and skills, I am in a position to help. But their situation has changed, and help with that part of their life isn’t necessarily needed anymore. At least from me.

There is literally only so much I can do for my own family. They are set in their ways, and I’m not sure they will be able to change. Outside my own family, however, I can do some things. Like living my life to the fullest, showing others how hope is possible, and keeping the faith each day in my own way.  I can reach out when and where it’s possible, and hope that I have a positive influence. I wish it were possible for my own family, but sometimes it’s just not possible.

So, I do what I can, where and when and how I can. And do my best to not take responsibility for others’ choices and actions.

You can’t save everyone.

But you can save yourself.

And it’s time for a little reset in my life — to take what I’ve learned from the past week, and put it into positive action in my present and coming weeks, months, and years. I need to sleep… and hope that my system will “integrate” the info from the past days into something useful in the future.

No sense in letting all the lessons go to waste, right?

Okay, time for a nap.

Finished another book! Woo hoo!

The books are back!

Holy smokes – I actually finished another book! It’s called “Who’s Pulling Your Strings?” and it’s about how to deal effectively with manipulators. I have had issues with getting involved in relationships with manipulators for as long as I can remember. When you have skills and talent and energy, and you don’t have a lot of real direction and you haven’t developed the ability to clearly focus on what you want and how you’re going to do/get it, it makes you very vulnerable to the manipulations of others.

Because the control they exercise over you and their ability to get others to do what they want them to do, can be very attractive to someone like me, who wants to be effective, but doesn’t always have the attentional ability or sustained focus to make things happen reliably.

And being manipulated doesn’t feel like manipulation – it just feels like you’re making progress in the world, and it can feel really good. The only problem is — it’s not your progress. It’s someone else’s idea of progress.

So, over the years, you can find yourself drifting farther and farther from where you want to be, and the life you want to live. And eventually, you can even forget what it is you originally wanted to do.

That has happened to me a lot over the course of my life. I haven’t even minded it, until the past few years, as I’ve gotten clearer about my own abilities and interests, versus the interests and agendas of everyone else. I was so mired in TBI and attentional issues, that I was an “easy mark” for people who wanted to use me for their own purposes.

A great example is my job — I got into my current line of work because it fit the definition of a “real job”, with the regular schedule and seat at a desk. I have never, ever longed with all my heart to sit at a desk all the livelong day, working for someone else, and hoping to be noticed by the “right people”. That just kind of happened because I needed to make a living, and this line of work was the path of least resistance.

It was originally interesting to me, and I turned out to be pretty good at it, but I have felt the burn of carpal tunnel issues, back issues, and all sorts of physical issues, in the past 25 years of being a desk jockey.

And while the money was good, and the rewards were there, I have still ended up entangled in a way of life — being sedentary, primarily mentally engaged, sitting at a desk from 9-5 each day (or more like 10-7) — that has never, ever appealed to me, and which I used to cringe when I thought about doing it. 30 years ago, I would have sooner killed myself, than been consigned to the life of a desk jockey.

That’s probably the best example of my life going off the rails, that I can think of. And manipulation has played a large role in getting me where I am. The coworkers who maneuvered and schemed with or against me, the bosses who tried to control me, the whole system, which threatened and rewarded and has pulled out all the stops to keep itself in place… Also, my spouse is a masterful manipulator, and they have roped me into doing a ton of things that I did not want to do. The big reason we have been so deeply in debt, is that I gave into their pressures to spend money on things that we did not need, or that were massively over-priced. I have only myself to thank for that… and I have actually used the last three years of lean living as an example of what can and will happen, when we live beyond our means. It has been hard on us both, but mostly for my spouse — who then in turn has taken it out on me.

I don’t want to sound like a whiner or a victim. I am neither. I am just seeing clearly the manipulating-capitulating patterns that got me where I am today. I have willingly participated in this kind of relationship, at home and at work, for the sake of the rewards. And now I am seeing that something else is possible.

I really need to escape this way of life for the sake of my sanity and physical health. This manipulation-capitulation will not stand. I’ve already started taking steps to stop the momentum of those moments when I’m urged to do such-and-such right away, even though it’s not the right thing to do. And I’m turning things around at home. My spouse manipulates for their own reasons — largely out of anxiety, because not having things all set and figured out and exactly “just so” makes them intensely uncomfortable, and they don’t do well with discomfort.

I myself am working on becoming inured to discomfort. I try to condition myself a little more each day, and it’s working pretty well. But my spouse… that’s not their “thing”, and they chase after relief for their self-induced discomfort, just about every waking moment. Their habits of mind are what hold them hostage, and everyone around them pays.

Reading the “Strings” book has helped me see things more clearly. And it’s also validated the steps I am already taking to shift the balance of power in my marriage. I know my spouse loves me with all their heart, as I do them, so I have hope that things can turn around. I just need to be more clear about what I want, and what my agenda is. That’s something my spouse understands — a self-centered agenda. So, if I can invent one (even if it is not 100% accurate, seeing as I have very few agendas in my life, period), that changes the dynamic, and they respect that.

Reading this book has been both eye-opening and validating. And it has kept me engaged throughout. I actually read almost 200 pages of it yesterday afternoon, while I was resting. I had a very active morning and I needed to rest, so I just read… and read… and read. The amazing thing was that it went very quickly. I could follow what was being said, I could remember what was on the previous pages, and the flow of the book made sense to me. I could even tell when the author was repeating herself and over-simplifying things, so I just skimmed some parts.

The skimming is probably the biggest sign of progress for me. It shows that:

  1. I can read and comprehend what is there at a glance.
  2. I can get the “gist” of what’s in the paragraphs without needing to digest every single letter of every single word. I can understand what’s being said on the page, without needing to consume every single paragraph.
  3. I am not nearly as obsessive-compulsive about every single little detail that’s being communicated. I am not spending 15 minutes on a page that should take me 2 minutes to read and digest.

Only a few years ago, I wasn’t able to even get through an entire page without losing my way and having no idea what was being said. I would forget, from one page to the next, what I had read, and I would give up after a while. That was so demoralizing. I grew up with books as my best friends, my only solace in an otherwise overwhelming and hostile world. Books where my refuge, my safe place, my domain. And I would write my own stories and invent my own worlds, when books fell short. Books surround me in my home and my study — there are shelves full of them, in every room of my house. My bedside stand has a stack of books 8-high on it, and my spouse’s bedside stand has even more.

Books have been the cement in many a relationship. Having my parents read to me was a way for us to bond when I was very young. Reading the same novels smoothed over interpersonal conflicts with my parents later in life, seeing what books others were carrying and reading helped me figure out who could be my friend, and showing others what I was reading let them know if we had common interests — especially with regard to science and non-fiction. Sharing things we read has joined my spouse and me together, and bookstores have been one of my favorite places to meet interesting people.

So, when I was no longer able to read, and I lost all interest in writing, I lost a huge chunk of my life. I lost my safe place, my solace, my refuge. I lost my best friend(s) from before I could even read. It wasn’t just words — it was any story line, any collection of ideas that I needed to keep in my memory for later. I just couldn’t follow. I just couldn’t manage it. Everything just evaporated so quickly for me… and it was devastating and left me feeling left out in the cold.

The weird thing was, it didn’t even register as that huge of a loss to me. Maybe there was part of me that couldn’t face up to the intensity of the loss, and it was so potentially devastating that I could not even really think about it. Or maybe I was just too busy keeping things in order and trying to keep my life in some semblance of togetherness, that I just didn’t have the time to read. That could be part of it.

But whatever the reasons, it was tough to lose that part of my life.

And now it’s back. If I can find a book that deals with something I am intently interested in, that is relevant to my life, and that gives me good food for thought and tools to use in my everyday life, that is a huge help. It keeps me engaged. It keeps me coming back for more. I have another book called “White Coat: Becoming a Doctor at Harvard Medical School” that I am also reading, because I wanted to be a doctor when I was little, and I am fascinated by what makes doctors the way they are. This book is helping me to understand the process people go through to be enculturated into the medical community, and I am getting lots of useful tips about the mindset and the orientation of doctors.

That’s always helpful. I read this book while I am riding the exercise bike in the morning, and I’m about 1/3 of the way through. It’s a little slim on substance, but it’s an entertaining and informative overview of the kinds of experiences that make docs how they are.

I also have another book which my neuropsych loaned to me several years ago. It’s called “A User’s Guide to the Brain” by John Ratey, and it’s all about how our brains work.  I have not been able to finish it — I read it 3/4 of the way through, years ago, then I put it down when I got too confused and overwhelmed by all the information. I want to finish it and return it to my neuropsych before spring comes. It’s a goal. If things are going really well, maybe I’ll just start from the beginning and re-read it. I think that would be a good exercise, because it will show me how much I retained over the years. And I think it will also help me better understand it this time, because my comprehension is better and I’m better able to get the gist of things.

Now, I’m not sure how things are going to be tomorrow… or the next day… or the next.  It could be that I’ve maxed out my reading-with-comprehension muscles for a little while, and I need to rest for a few days or weeks to rebuild my resources. I do feel a little tuckered out, to tell the truth. But for today, by God, I have finished a book, and it feels pretty damned good!

Now, it’s time to go outside, to get my blood pumping and get some sun on my face. I’ve got a whole Sunday ahead of me, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one.

Onward.

After TBI – Stress is not the enemy

Fatigue Range
Fatigue Range – what works, what doesn’t. The red areas are where I’m most fatigued. The green is where I’m not. So, lots of fatigue with no energy can mean I don’t sleep. But lots of energy with lots of fatigue also means I don’t sleep. Conundrum.

It’s the day before the long weekend. I have three full days ahead of me to do whatever I so choose, and I plan to choose well. Have plenty of down-time. Take plenty of naps. Not stress out about everything, the way I have been for the past several months.

Most people I work with are working from home today, because they’re closing the office early – a little after noon – and nobody wants to spend the time driving back and forth. I’m going to go in, because it’s going to be quiet, very few people will be there, and the traffic promises to be light. Plus, the internet connection is so much better there — I can get more done in less time, which is the plan.

And then I’ll have my weekend free and clear to use as I please. Last weekend, I spent half my time on work-work stuff, which really wore me out. Even if I am working on my projects on the weekend, it’s nowhere near as taxing as doing other people’s work. There’s something about being able to set the agenda myself, being able to pick and choose what needs to be done, and knowing that I’m going to directly benefit from my work, that really picks me up and puts a spring in my step.

Speaking of having a spring in my step, I just got done with my morning warm-up. It feels good to move. I worked on my knees today — leg lifts are in order, because my knees have been giving me some problems. When I do my leg lefts — front, back, sideways, up, down — for a few days running, it actually helps my knees. Something about getting all the muscles around them engaged and working again… I’ve been working long hours, sitting and sitting and sitting… and it’s definitely taking its toll.

So, it’s up-and-at-em for me, first thing in the morning. I wash my face and hands in cold-cold water, brush my teeth, and head downstairs for some exercise. It takes me a little while to warm up, but once I get going, I’m good. I pretty much do whatever I feel will be good for me. Some mornings I do a lot of squats. Other mornings I do a bit of yoga-style stuff, with stretching and holding poses. Other mornings I just move in exaggerated ways, stretching and pushing myself a little bit — especially for my balance. After about 15 minutes of that, I’m done. I’m warmed up, I’m ready to go. I stress myself just a little bit, physically, then I drink my big glass of water and make my breakfast.

And it feels good. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Good.

The thing that feels the best, probably, is pushing myself… just a little… and then taking a break to catch up with myself. Stressing myself just enough to feel it, testing my limits, pushing my limits back — and out — and up/down/wherever — so that I know what it feels like to push the envelope. And after I recuperate and rest and rebuild, I usually find I’m stronger than I was before. Maybe just a little, but still, it’s something.

And days and weeks and months of “just a little better” all add up to being a whole lot better, years on down the line.

All of this would not be possible, if I didn’t push myself. If I didn’t test and stress my system just a little bit, and then recover, I would never get farther down the road I’m on. People tell me I have too much stress on myself, but I disagree. The problem is not the stress. Problems start when I don’t manage my stress properly.

I’ve believed this for years — that stress is actually good for you, it’s formative, it’s educational, it’s a key part of growth and positive change. And I’ve been finding some good reading, lately, that really concurs with what I believe. The first blog I’ve found is Getting Stronger, which talks a lot about “hormesis” — or dosing yourself with little bits of stress, so you can become more resilient and capable. I’ve picked up some great tips from that blog, as well as others the author links to. If nothing else, it’s incredibly satisfying to hear the author (and many of the other writers and thinkers he references) repeat out loud what’s in my head — and have the science to back it up.

The science is where I come up short. I just know what works for me, what keeps me on track. Having those references collected in such a comprehensive manner is hugely helpful.

I’ve also come across James E. Loehr’s book Stress for Success, which I’m working my way through right now. He shares the same belief as me, that it’s not the stress that gets you, it’s the way you handle it. And if you’re not up to the task — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually — of handling stress, and if you don’t allow yourself ample time to recover, you’re going to get whacked around a lot, and ultimately lose out on what you’re trying to win.

Again, he’s got the science and the experience as a world-class sports psychologist/trainer, to back him up. Me? I’ve just got my own life experience. But that’s nothing to sneeze at. Looking at how I was just five years ago, versus today — night and day. Total transformation. Not bad, if I say so myself — and thanks to everyone (including a lot of readers here) for helping me make that happen.

The one place where I come up short, time and again, is with recovery. I get so tired, I can’t sleep. I can’t relax. I’m on edge — and part of me loves it. If I’m not in the right “fatigue range”, I am not getting to sleep, no way. The image at the top of the page shows a bit what I’m trying to communicate. Lots of energy with lots of fatigue, means I keep going, no matter what. So, I have to change it up and alter one factor — in my case, the energy/activity piece.

This is all part of appropriately managing TBI — knowing what sets you off, knowing what unhinges you, and then doing something about that. Finding out what works best for you, so you can have the kind of life you want, and then sticking with it. There is so much conflicting information out there — all of it supported by some sort of science or belief or faith, much of it advocated and defended by people who either have an agenda or who mean well but can’t see past their own experience. You have to decide what is best for YOU, what works for YOU, and most importantly what DOESN’T work for YOU.

A great example of this is Tim Ferriss, who I have known about for a number of years now, and whose book “The Four Hour Body” I looked into about a month ago. He’s got a lot of great information, mixed in with a lot of not-so-great information. He’s pretty controversial in certain circles, and I consider much of what he does to be suspect. He calls what he does “hacking” the system, but in a lot of cases, it seems like he’s just cheating and redefining the rules to suit his needs. That being said, I have gotten some incredible tips from him that have literally changed my life for the better, so that alone is good. Reading Tim Ferriss is a lot like having a meal at Golden Corral, the monster smorgasbord buffet type places that is laden with all sorts of foods — some that will enhance your life, some that can kill you at the right amounts. You have to be careful about what you choose to put into your system, and you definitely have to pace yourself. You can get overwhelmed quickly — and develop a nasty case of indigestion — if you don’t use your own judgment and take your time picking and choosing what you’ll put into your system. And you have to take time to digest afterwards.

It’s like that with pretty much my entire life, actually. I have to really take care to not overwhelm myself, because I am prone to fixate on things, get stuck in a groove, and keep going — at top speed — even past the point of there being a point. I feel like I’m making great progress, and I’m really making things happen, but I’m not. Even if I am, if I wear myself out in the process, like I did last week, I pay for it. Big-time. The price tag is high with me. I could NOT afford to lose last weekend, but I did. And now I have to find a better way to get things done.

So, stress itself is not the enemy. It’s the lack of recovery that gets me. I’ve been “overtraining” for years — decades, really. And I haven’t allowed myself ample time to catch up with myself. I’m usually working on something. Always working. Always thinking. Always doing something. And it takes a toll on me, to the point where I don’t even know what I’m doing — or why. It’s clear to me that I need ample recovery time to integrate everything that I take in and learn over the course of my days and weeks and months. My life is pretty much about pushing the envelope, and now that I’ve gotten to a certain point in my life where I’ve pushed about as much as I feel like pushing, it’s time to change gears and invest in serious recovery time, so I can continue to make good progress and not strip my gears.

With that in mind, in another couple of weeks, I’m going to be on vacation — leaving town for a whole week to decompress and unwind. For real. The deadline(s) will be past, the insanity of several projects will be behind me, and I get my life back. To do as I please, to work on what I choose.

Not just yet, though. For the next two weeks, it’s work like a crazy person, and then let it all go.

Now, speaking of getting things done, it’s time for me to get going to work.

Onward.

 

Push hard, then let it go

Yeah – push it

I’ve come to realize that, in the course of my life, I’ve acquired habits of mind and action that have really worked against me, time and time again. Most of us have. I’m not alone in that. And I’ve also come to realize that those poor habits have always seemed to work for me because I was fairly functional and I didn’t have a lot to lose. The stakes weren’t particularly high, and I didn’t have much motivation or reason to change the way I thought about and did things.

Prime Example: My old plodding “slow and steady wins the race” approach, which saw me spending years upon years moving steadily towards a distant goal, only to give up at a certain point… for some reason or another. My intention all along was to keep things at an even keel, to not let things get out of hand and not to feel out of control, and to move forward slowly, putting one foot carefully in front of the other. The problem was, when I did that, I didn’t develop any tolerance for stresses and strains, and I became more susceptible than ever to the ups and downs of life. If things went “too fast”, I would freak out. If things didn’t go according to plan, I would lose it. I was in a perpetual state of anxiety, because I feared with all my heart those ups and downs that are in fact a normal part of life. And with nearly every major undertaking of my life, where I had a dream I wanted to realize with all my heart, I gave up when the going got “out of control”. I just let things drop, because the anxiety was too intense for me.

It’s become painfully clear to me in the past couple of years that if I continue to follow those habits of mind and action, I’m really not going to get anywhere. I’m going to stay stuck in that same-old-same-old world and I’m not going to live the life of my dreams — I’m going to just keep dreaming about the life of my dreams. I need to be more resilient. I need to be less fragile. I need my life to be less dependent on things be exactly as I envision them. I need to learn to handle those ups and downs a whole lot better. I need to actually welcome the unexpected and see where it will take me.

I think I’ve figured out how to do it. This new technique of mine involves treating unexpected things — and a lot of the things I used to fear with all my heart — as welcome challenges, not dreaded threats. It’s about walking straight into situations that normally terrify me, and taking them as they come — as a warrior, not a worrier.

See, here’s the thing… I need to be more resilient. I need to develop more ability to handle anxiety-producing situations. I need more practice dealing with those things in a positive way.

That takes practice. It takes a constant, regular willingness to step up and go into situations where I am not 100% confident of my abilities, but I am 100% confident that I will build up my abilities through this practice. It takes a willingness to look stupid, to look foolish, to possilbly be taken advantage of, and the understanding that I’m not going to be perfect the first time out, but I will get stronger. And better. And smarter, along the way.

Of course, this involves added stress — in moderate doses — followed by ample rest and relaxation. It means I need to push myself a bit, then back off and let myself digest everything. It’s like having a good workout and wearing yourself out, then resting and eating well for days afterwards, giving your body a chance to recover and bounce back — stronger than before.

The hard part in all this for me is the resting period. I’ve never been big into relaxation, and in fact, I’ve only learned to consciously relax in the past couple of years. There has been so much stress in my life, for as long as I can remember, just getting through each day, and the costs of me not being “on” have been high. Nobody likes to be attacked — physically and verbally — and nobody likes to be ridiculed. If I wasn’t paying attention and wasn’t on the defensive, that’s exactly what would happen to me, when I was a kid. And that pattern persisted over the years, in some cases becoming self-fulfilling.

So many times, we get exactly what we expect, and my expectations were very low.

Very low, indeed.

Now, though, it’s just not cutting it for me anymore. I am so sick and tired of the mediocrity around me, and the company I’ve ended up keeping over the years. I am sick and tired of being at the mercy of employers and C-level execs and managers who care more about themselves and their own little empires than the welfare of the whole company. I am sick and tired of being pushed and pulled around and used like a tool by people who have no ethics and certainly no apparent morals. I’m not getting on my high horse. I just get sick and tired of having my life influenced by people without vision and character, whose values bear no resemblance to mine.

And I’ve had enough of working for people who will happily throw me under the bus for their own short-sighted agendas, which cause so much pain and suffering to their employees and direct reports.

They don’t care about me. They don’t care about anything but themselves. Why should I care about them? And why should I keep being stuck with them and their hare-brained schemes? Makes no sense.

So, to pull away from all of that and make my own way in the world, I need to be a lot more resilient and a lot less fragile. I need to see challenges and failures and necessary and important steps along the way to making my life what it should be. I need to stop seeing things in terms of “shortcomings” and “failure”, anyway. They’re all lessons. Plain and simple. Just lessons — and opportunities to grow and learn and be better tomorrow than I am today.

All that being said, I really need to change around my approach to how I do things. Rather than mapping things out, slow and steady, and plodding through them, I need to get some fire into it. I need to push myself hard to get through the challenges, with my attention trained on what’s going on. And then I need to let it go. I waste waaaay too much time worrying about the results of my actions and choices, concerned that they may be harmful to others. It’s good to desire positive relations with others, but not at the expense of doing what you need to do.

I’m way too haunted by the “terrible” things I’ve done. Plenty of people over the years have accused me of hurting them, doing and saying “awful” things that cut them to the quick. Okay, maybe I have been on the rough side at times. I admit that. At the same time, I realize I’ve taken way too much flak from people for their own problems, their own weaknesses, and their own unwillingness to take responsibility for their own B.S.

Seriously, I have had it with people who make me responsible for their pain. I’ve wasted way too much time on people like them, thinking I was going to help them or make things easier for them. Silly. All I did was drag myself down. They weren’t interested in lifting themselves up. They just wanted people to feel sorry for how “down” they were… and then stay stuck in that pitiful state. And the more I tried to help them, the more they turned on me. Because they couldn’t stand the idea of things actually working out for them, and if my example and my words and support threatened what they knew, they would actually turn on me and punish me for trying to help them.

What a waste. I feel really bad for folks like them. But is it worth me holding myself back for them? No. Not at all.

So, here’s my new approach — push hard and just do what I need to do. Be clear about what I need to do, both for myself and others. Be totally honest with people and let them know where they stand with me, and let them worry about how they handle it. Quit taking responsibility for things I cannot control (like other people’s state of mine), and take full responsibility for myself. And treat challenges and “threats” as chances to learn important lessons. The harder things are for me, the more necessary the lessons. And the more I walk right into those lessons — face forward, standing tall — the more I have to gain.

I’m going to get knocked down. I know that. I am going to take heat, and I’m going to be threatened by people who seek to undermine me. But if I stay strong in my mind and keep focused on what it is I am doing and how I am going to do it, that can get me through. And if I keep flexible and open to change, and if I get plenty of rest and good sleep, then I can take whatever comes.

That much is clear to me, after I got 5 hours of sleep in my nap yesterday. I had a bunch of things planned, and I had a very busy morning. After my lunch and shower, I lay down “for a little bit”. I didn’t set the alarm. I just let myself sleep. And when I woke, it was 5 hours later. And I felt phenomenal. Really, really good. The best part was, later when it was time for bed, I didn’t stay up. I actually went to bed. And I got some more good sleep. I pushed myself hard, then I rested.

And today I feel like I can handle just about anything. I had my morning workout. I had an idea for a new project that’s about 5 years out (and depends on my current projects going well). And my day does not look as terribly overwhelming and daunting to me, as it often does, when I have just one day left in the weekend and there’s a lot I haven’t accomplished that I intended to.

I have a plan put together for how to handle everything, I know most of what needs to be done, and I’ve learned some incredible lessons in the past couple of weeks that will help me a whole lot later on. I’ve made some expensive mistakes in the past months, but those are not likely to happen again, and that’s worth more to me than all the easy “success” in the world.

I’m just starting out down this new road, and I am very hopeful of the good that will come of it. If nothing else, having this new approach and new attitude will help me feel better along the way, instead if burdening me with all sorts of heavy concerns about things I cannot control and am not responsible for. It’s good. It’s really good. Plus, taking my lumps and learning as I go will only help me across the board, as I move forward.

I just need to give myself ample time to rest. And now that I have that critical piece in place in my life — knowing how to relax, and realizing just how good it feels — I’m one step closer to having that be a reality for me on a regular basis.

It’s all a process of course. I will make progress, then I will lose ground. That’s just how things go. But I will keep moving and I will keep progressing. It’s all good — and it’s just getting better.

 

A whole new life, a whole new species

Keep moving… you cannot help but change

I’ve been having some interesting times, lately – and not in the sense of the Chinese curse about “living in interesting times”. I seem to have turned a corner of sorts, seemingly out of the blue… it’s like things have just focused for me and centered, and even though I don’t know the specifics of what I’m going to be doing about specific things, I have this certainty that things are going to roll out the way they should, and I will find a way to roll with them.

The vacation I took had a lot to do with it, as did the insane 3-4 weeks leading up to it. For about a month, I was all-out, just flat-out working-working-working, without distraction, without confusion. That focus came from a sort of iffy place — basically, I knew I was screwed. That much was plain. The work that I’d been doing for the past year came under a huge amount of scrutiny at work, and people decided it wasn’t what they wanted — even though they didn’t bother asking me about the specifics, they loaded me up with a ton of other work, and they just sort of shoved it all off on me like it was a pain and a hindrance. For two years, they don’t pay any attention to me, don’t listen when I give them updates, and they just dismiss this part of the equation… until suddenly it matters.

And it’s not what they wanted.

And they end up looking bad.

And it’s all my fault.

Hm. Okay, then, time to move. Time to groove. Time to hustle… right on out of there.

And I realize now that a big part of my stress has been the dynamics at work, where the boss is weak, the boss’es boss is weak, the uber-boss is a disorganized, impulsive, attention-deficient bully who’s also a bit psycho — and aggressive to boot… and all the while, the people who are running the show are actually thousands of miles away in a different time zone and a different world entirely. If sh*t rolls downhill, I ended up rolling around in it like a stressed-out pig. And everything I did to try to turn things around with my direct line of command just didn’t work out. On top of it, the people my boss reports to don’t really like me very much. They wouldn’t. They’re most comfortable with 20-somethings who don’t know enough to call them on their games. And that’s just not me.

So, while I was working my ass off before vacation, shoving everything off my plate except for those three massive projects that just had to get done, I had plenty of time to shake it off and just focus on the work at hand. I had plenty of time to get used to the idea that no matter what I did, no matter how hard I worked, no matter how much effort I put into my job, the fact that people above me don’t like me and aren’t comfortable around me is a bit of a gating factor — so long as I let it be, that is.

And it occurred to me that part of what was making me nuts and cutting into my happiness with my work and my focus and my energy levels, was my mindset that I was ever going to be able to get those folks to like me, to be able to sit comfortably in a room with me and have a conversation with me, to see the value and the reasons behind what I do… that they were ever going to appreciate and see eye-to-eye with me. It just wasn’t going to happen. And I was wasting a whole lot of time chasing something that was never going to be attainable… like I was crawling across the desert towards an “oasis” that turned out to be a mirage.

“Screw it,” I decided. I realized that I lost all respect for the people I report to, a long time ago. Nice people, but weak… poseurs. And pandering. And a little bit dangerous that way. They’ll say what ever they need to say to get along with their higher-ups and damn the truth of the matter. These kinds of people not only make life hard for their co-workers, but also for their bosses by not telling them the whole truth and actually fixing sh*t instead of covering it up and putting lipstick on the pig. All I wanted to do was get the job done and get it done right. I wasn’t bending over backwards to make anybody happy, I wasn’t going out of my way to soften things and paint them in the right shades of mauve. Screw it. I was just going to get the job done, and never mind what everybody had to say about it.

That freed up a lot of energy, actually. And I felt a whole lot better when I just let that sh*t go.

Then I went on vacation. I didn’t check my email, I didn’t pay any attention to work, I didn’t do squat that had anything to do with the workplace. I took time to myself. And I let it go. I just f*cking let it go. All that drama would be there when I got back. What was the point in getting all worked up over everything? No point at all, especially considering that I wasn’t going to “win” with these losers, anyway. So, I had a vacation. For the first time in years. And I came back feeling human and ready to rumble again — on my terms.

And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing — rumbling on my terms. And it’s been great. Seriously. My performance has been great. I have gotten so much done, and I’ve turned so much around in the space of a couple of weeks, my head’s spinning. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but I’m doing it. One step at a time. One day at a time. One task at a time. I am getting into a great routine, a great roll — exercising again, but in a smart way… taking time away from my desk to decompress and then come back in to the thick of things… making up for lost time… and getting sharper all the time.

How could I not? I’m moving. I’m taking time out to think and to get square away. I’m living. And living to the best of my ability has turned out to be incredibly positive, incredibly helpful, incredibly healing on a number of different levels. I can definitely tell that my thought processes are not as fluid as they were before my last TBI, but by God, I’ve got something else in place that is working – and it’s working better every day that I practice it.

See, that’s the thing – the practice. It . is . so . important. Hands down, it is the one thing that has turned my life around — practice, practice, and more practice. Getting a goal in mind, blocking everything else out, going after that goal over-and-over-and-over-again, till I have reached it. Not giving up. Not quitting. Not accepting temporary setbacks as a sign of true failure. So long as I just keep at it, there can be no failure. Because I’m not done yet. There’s a line from the trailer of the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”  where someone says “Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.”

That’s pretty much where I am, these days. Keeping on keeping on, till I get where I’m going.

And that’s a relatively new thing for me. One of the things that this TBI business has taught me, is how to stick with something, even when I appear to fail along the way. When I was a kid growing up, people gave up on me all the time. If I didn’t perform up to their standards or expectations right out of the gate, that was it. I was done. I was fortunate to have some native intelligence that let me quickly figure some things out — and also mimic others who were doing what they were doing — so I could at least pass some of their tests. But when it came to temporary setbacks, people would get very frustrated with me and wouldn’t work with me to figure things out. They just gave up on me because my performance was so erratic (and they thought it was because I wasn’t trying hard enough), and I never had anyone really talk things through with me and work it through.

Throughout my life, I’ve had a lot of experiences where I’ve been able to figure some things out pretty quickly and also mimic the performance of others who had things “down”, and get by pretty well in most things. I reached a certain level of proficiency, and things were looking pretty damn’ good. I had stock options in a very big corporation where I worked, and I was about 18 months away from being able to cash out, pay off my house, get out of debt, and really free myself up in general.

Then I fell and smashed my head on some stairs, and everything got scrambled. All of a sudden, things stopped making sense to me. And over the next six months, they just fell apart. Just . fell . apart.

And it seemed like it was going to be that way forever. The confidence about skills that I was so comfortable with before… gone. Not comfortable anymore. The skills were still there, but the confidence was gone. The abilities I had to self-regulate and keep a lid on things when times got tight… gone. It was like someone took a deck of cards and flipped them all into the air, and then I was expected to compete in a poker tournament in Vegas. Not happening.

To say that this has been difficult would be an understatement. TBI… concussion… brain injury… whatever you want to call it, it’s a bitch. A stark raving slovering bitch.

But you know what? All those cards — even though they were scattered all over the place — they could be picked up again, and I could get back a whole lot of what I’d lost. It has been a long and torturous road, and this Thanksgiving it will be 8 years since that fall. I have either lost or almost lost so f*cking much that mattered to me in the past, and I’ve had to work my ass off to get back to a level that’s not even close to where I was before. But with time, I am all but positive that I am going to get back not only to that former level, but also take it up a notch. Because now I know what it’s like to lose so much. Now I know what it’s like to get knocked down so hard, and have to work my way back.

And most importantly of all, I am learning how to hang in there and keep fighting, even when things are so hard against me – like this job situation, the political dramas, the tension and hostile dynamics at work, and the nagging doubts and lack of self-confidence that just eats away at me, if I let it.

Sometimes the only way we can learn how to fly, is if we get the legs knocked out from under us. Imagine what would happen to the ostriches, if they couldn’t use their legs to escape predators… a lot of them would die, sure, but others would probably learn how to fly, and a whole new species would emerge.

I guess that’s what I’m doing with my life — creating a whole new species, a whole new way of living and operating. It’s not perfect, but the way I was before wasn’t perfect, either. When I get honest about that — really honest — I know that there were a lot of things that needed improvement before, but because they seemed to be working fairly well (I had money in the bank and a job and a home) I had no incentive to change them.

Only when I got injured..  and then things got so bad and the pain got so unbearable… did I take a wholesale look at my life and find the things that hadn’t actually been working for a long time, but I could let slide because I was functioning acceptably overall.

To say that my life has changed, would be an understatement. It has totally changed into something else, something I never would have expected myself to be living — more settled, more deliberate, more focused, and more social than ever, ever, ever in my life. Amazing. But that didn’t start to change until things broke down so badly that I had no choice but to change.

That’s how it usually goes with us human beings, is it not? So long as we can “get by” we figure we’re doing pretty well. We like to take it easy. We like to not push so hard. We like to chill. We don’t like to take huge risks, unless it’s exciting for us and we’re into that sort of thing. On the whole, we’re creatures of leisure, and we like it like that.

Unless something comes along and kicks us in the ass so hard, it pushes us off the tracks we were stuck in. Something pretty significant needs to blow us out of the rut we groove for ourselves in our lives. And sometimes we don’t survive the explosion. But sometimes we do. In fact, I think we’re a lot more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. When we can get past the initial anxiety and worry and intimidation… things change.

But speaking of change, I’ve got to get on with my day. I’ve got a lot to do, and I’ve got my schedule cleared to do it. I was up early, so I hope to take a nap later, to keep myself going. If I work this right, I’ll be totally wiped out by 2 p.m., when I’ll lie down for a 30-minute nap… then get up and go at it again.

Practice, practice, practice. Build some more habits. Deepen the grooves. Get those neurons firing — so frequently in the same way that they cannot help but create new patterns, new abilities, new ways of living and being and seeing and understanding.

It’s a whole new day, and another chance to strengthen the new.

Onward.

Keep trying, keep growing, and see what happens

Just a quick note before I start my day… thinking back over the past five years or so, I’m surprised at how much I struggled through. I’m not surprised that I struggled — I was pretty ragged there, for a while. But I’m surprised that I made it through. And I’m surprised that I managed to tolerate as much difficulty and downright depressing experiences that I did.

See, the thing is, in a lot of cases, I was pretty much faking my way through – taking on things that were bigger and more challenging than I “should” have taken on. Part of me thought I could do it (though I was clearly not up to the cognitive/behavioral challenges at the time), and part of me thought that if I couldn’t do it exactly, I could learn. And I ended up taking on a lot of things that I never should have done. Bad decisions, bad judgment, poor self-assessment, etc.

But ultimately, those things ended up being exactly what I needed to do. Some of them I screwed up royally. Some of them I started but never finished. Others I started but then quit before I could finish. But I started them. And I learned something each time. And the times when I failed terribly were the times when I learned the most.

Not that I like to fail — I hate it. But the lessons that came from those times were invaluable.

Now I sit on the verge of making another significant change in my employment. I have a lot of options open to me, and I am feeling really good about where I’m at. Right now, the biggest threat to my future, is feeling comfortable, feeling like I’m in a comfort zone, and wanting to stay that way. I need to keep growing, I need to keep trying, and I need to not sell myself short.

Just because I don’t know how to do something right now, doesn’t mean I won’t learn how to do it later. I may just learn to do it well.

On the other hand, I may never learn how to do it the way I want to, and end up like I have many times, defeated and eating crow, and looking closely at my life for what I’ve learned this time.

Either way, it’s good. But I’d rather learn to do things well — and do them well.

We’ll see…