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.
Well, my spouse has done it again. We were supposed to leave for our vacation today around noon, and now they tell me that they’re not going to ready in time. They may — may — get up by 11:00.
That’s pretty disappointing. But then again, we are taking two cars, so I’m not going to be dragged down by their sluggishness. I have to come back home on Sunday night in order to be at the office from Monday through Wednesday. Wednesday night, I’ll head back out to the condo we’re renting, a few hours from home, and I’ll work remotely in the morning on Thursday and Friday, then take afternoons off.
I’m not sure why this “change in plans” surprises me so much. Maybe because my spouse is picking up another friend to join us for a few days, and that friend’s family is going out of their way to drop them off half-way. It seems incredibly unfair to everyone (except my spouse), that everyone’s schedules need to be re-jiggered to accommodate them. People have better things to do, than wait around to find out when they should leave the house.
If anything, it seems a bit sociopathic on my spouse’s part – like nothing matters except them and their own wishes and needs. Then again, they do have neurological issues, as well as some cognitive impairment and possible dementia, so they may not even realize that they’re being selfish. The whole neurological decline thing is a real drain, and if you forget what’s going on with them, it can be maddening. When they’re challenged, they get reallyangry right off the bat, possibly because they get scared at being caught unawares and not being able to think right away. They lash out and yell and threaten and cry and so forth. On the one hand, some people think they’re being manipulative, but I think it’s also a sign of cognitive decline. They really do get scared — and then they use their anger and blustering to stop me from saying or doing anything else… and that way they buy some time to catch up.
The thing is, once they get past their hemming and hawing and blow-harding, they re-orient themself to what’s happening, and then they calm down and can carry on a usual conversation.
The main thing for me is to not take things personally and get really upset when they start acting out. That happens all too often, and I forget that they’ve got cognitive issues. I take it personally and get so upset and bent out of shape — everything balloons in my mind, till the argument is not about what’s happening right in front of me, it’s about everything and anything that’s possibly related to my frustration at that point in time. My own brain goes haywire, too, so we feed off each other — and not in a good way.
Fortunately, I am getting better about checking in with myself and telling if I’m starting to get too wound up. Then I can back off — just walk away and cool off, and give us both a chance to simmer down. It’s just both our brains going haywire, and we both get scared. And we lash out. It gets to be a little much, to tell the truth, and some days I just despair about that downward cycle. But if I can step away and have some time to myself and get enough rest, that helps.
Taking care of myself really needs to be my top priority, in dealing with my spouse. When I get tired, my brain doesn’t work well, and of the two of us, I’ve always been the more functional — by a lot. I’ve been their caregiver, pretty much, for nearly the whole time we’ve been together. Their health has often been bad — especially their mental health, and after a serious neurological illness they had back in 2007. They’ve got a ton of history behind why they’re so mentally ill, and there’s plenty of reasons why they have the issues they do. Panic. Anxiety. Depression. Paranoia. Verbal aggression. A real roller coaster of emotions — with very little calm in the meantime.
Does it get old? Oh, you betcha. But they’re the love of my life, so you take the bad with the good.
And you take care of yourself.
So, this “vacation”, I need to be really clear about what I will and will not do. I need to not bend over backwards for them, just because they’re on vacation and think they should be treated like royalty. They’re not the only person who deserves a break, and I need to get some rest, too. In some ways, coming home from Monday to Wednesday is going to be a real relief for me. I’ll have the house to myself, I’ll be able to eat whatever I like — actually much healthier than how my spouse will eat. And I’ll be able to get to bed at decent times without that late-night drama they love to stir up.
So, it’s all going to work out for the best, I believe.
I just have to remember that my spouse is actually impaired in some significant ways, and I need to adjust and adapt and plan ahead.
And not get my hopes up for things that have never happened before, and will probably never happen, period. Like getting on the road at the pre-agreed time. Or having a low-key and very no-nonsense sort of trip.
The main thing is that I find a way to really enjoy myself, take care of myself, and actually get some rest. The condo where we’re staying has three floors, and I’ll be downstairs in a quiet, dark bedroom with couch and desk and its own bathroom, while my spouse will be up on the top floor. It works out well, and it leaves room for both of us to move at our own paces and have some freedom from each other. We’re both getting older and a lot more set in our ways — and a lot less willing to compromise.
More rigid? Yes. But also more discerning, and not so willing to give ground on things that really matter to us personally.
I think a lot of couples find this as they get older. They either split up, or they stick together and find a way to peacefully co-exist, whilst pursuing different interests that are all their own. I know I’m at that point in my life, and it’s not worth hassling over. It really isn’t.
So, I just need to take care of myself and have the vacation I want. Whatever my spouse does, is on them. No skin off my teeth. Not if I don’t let it.
Got some decent sleep – almost 8 hours… got up and moved with my weights… and I cleaned my bedroom a little bit.
While my spouse is away this weekend, I’m sleeping downstairs in the living room where it’s cool. It’s been crazy hot, for the past week, and the A/C in my bedroom is on the fritz. On the one hand, it might not make that much of a difference, because I tend to overheat at night, anyway, and the heat might not even get to me. But it’s like a psychological thing with me, so I pulled out the sleeper sofa and made myself cozy in the living room A/C.
I woke up dizzy again, but less than yesterday, and definitely less than 2 days ago. I stumbled/wobbled around for a little bit, till I got my bearings, then I did some exercises to get my system back online. Doing the movement with the weights really seems to help me get my balance – pushing myself a little bit to stay upright with the added weight of the dumbells seems to kick my system into gear. I’m still dizzy, and I’ve got a sick throbbing headache, but I’m better than I was an hour ago. At least I can stay upright and I can see better than I have been, over the past few days.
Yesterday when I was running errands in the morning, I was having a hard time seeing. Nothing would stay in focus, and I couldn’t read very well. Crazy. I had to do a lot of driving around in the morning, so I had to stay 1000% focused on the road, on driving, talking to people, getting things done… all of that. I got some weird looks from people who maybe thought I was a little drunk, but so what. I had things to do, and I was going to get them done. It probably wasn’t the safest thing for me to do – driving around in such a state – but I had no choice. The stuff had to get done. Before noon. There was no waiting and there was no other option. I did manage to get it all done, with some minor snapping at my spouse — they were really pushing me, and I wasn’t in the mood to be pushed. But then I lay down for an hour and listened to my stress-hardiness tape, and I got a little sleep. So I woke up better than I was when I lay down.
Now my spouse is gone for a few days, and I have peace. No panic. No anxiety. No constant hounding about this, that, or the other thing… How do people live like that, with the non-stop worrying? I’ve got my own panic-anxiety issues, but it’s not this constant thing. At least, not anymore. Once upon a time, it was, so I know what that’s like.
The thing I don’t get is how someone can let themself stayin that state, year after year. It’s like my spouse isn’t happy if they’re not stressed out about something. Then again, I know what that’s like, too, so I need to have some damn’ compassion, already.
Yeah, okay. Point taken. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming about my own stuff and my own life and what I’m doing to take care of myself and keep myself out of trouble…
After I exercised, I went upstairs to grab some clean clothes, and I noticed how messy my bedroom is. I sleep in a separate room, because my spouse stays up late and then reads for hours, and it’s impossible for me to sleep through the night with them crawling in and out of bed and keeping the light on. They also need to have one of those salt lamps on at all times — apparently it cleans the air? If nothing else, it makes them feel safe – they cannot stand a totally dark room. It just terrifies them, I guess because of bad things that once happened in dark rooms when they were a kid?
I don’t have those issues. I like a completely dark room. The light of the salt lamp made me nuts, and they were not going to change, so I relocated to the guest bedroom some time ago. I have to say, it’s been really good to have control over my own sleeping space. I went out and got some light-blocking curtains, hung some new curtain rods, and now I’ve got a veritable cave that is pitch dark when I arrange the curtains correctly — even in daytime. It is amazing – what a huge relief it was, when I first started sleeping there. No more salt lamp light. No more being woken at 2 a.m. by someone getting into bed, no more sound of pages turning in bed beside me. And I could stretch out and toss and turn to my heart’s content and sweat like I was in a sauna, without someone pitching a fit.
People tend to think that sleeping apart means spouses are incompatible, or their relationship is on the rocks. In some ways, that is true for us. We have seen better days. However, sleeping apart has actually helped our relationship over the years. The biggest hurdle we’ve had to overcome with regard to sleeping apart, is the internal bias against it — getting ourselves used to the idea that this is a good thing and not a sign that we can’t be married anymore. Once that was overcome, things got a lot better, and now I’m feeling 100% fine with the sleeping arrangement.
So, back to the cleaning bit — I picked up around my bedroom a bit, which was overdue. It was starting to look like a — well, never mind what it was starting to look like. For some reason, I couldn’t get started with picking up — I would just drop clothing into an appropriate pile and move on. It wasn’t terrible — not like you see on “Hoarders” — but it was getting to be a bit much.
So, I took 15 minutes and got rid of the piles. Folded up t-shirts and jeans and put them in my closet. Sorted the socks and underwear and put them in their respective drawers. I could have done more, but that was enough for the moment. It made a noticeable difference, and that’s fine. I’ll get to the rest of it later.
Cleaning is something I really need to do better at. I keep pretty busy, and then I get distracted and don’t spend enough time cleaning up after myself. I don’t live in filth, by any stretch — the house is clean and functional and fairly well-organized. On the other hand, there are a bunch of piles of stuff — papers and miscellaneous items — around the house. I’m looking at a pile of papers right now. They will be easy to deal with, if I just take a few minutes to do so. The trick is just spending a few minutes, which is hard for me to do.
I think part of the reason I don’t pick up more often is that I have a hard time stopping, once I start. I sort out one pile, then I’m in the swing of things, and I sort out another pile… and another… and another… until I’ve taken care of a bunch of things, and it’s all good, but I have lost track of time and I’m behind on other things. Later, when I think about cleaning, I have this association in my head that it will take me hours to do the work, and it will set me back on other things I’m supposed to be doing. It’s unconscious, and it’s pernicious, and I need to find a way around it.
So, here’s my new strategy for cleaning, which is very similar to other strategies I have set for myself lately — only give myself a short period to do it. Limit the period I’m going to do it, and then stop when the time is up. I’ve got a timer I bought a number of years ago for exactly this purpose, but after using it for about six months, I got bored with it. I also got sick of the ear-piercing beep, so I decided to not time myself anymore. But I can start using it again, and that will be fine. Heck, I can use the timer on the stove to time myself, since that’s a lot less obnoxious.
Sounds like a plan.
So, life is good. I got almost 8 hours of sleep last night, I woke up feeling pretty rested — albeit pretty dizzy and with a sick headache. I got my exercise in. And I cleaned a little bit, which is good.
I’ve got a lot of things I want to do today – I just need to get myself on a timed schedule for much of them, because I’m noticing that the same thing that keeps me from cleaning, keeps me from starting other things — I anticipate them being so big and taking so long, that they will consume me and I will get lost in them and not do the other things I need to do.
Breaking them all up in chunks will fix that. And sticking to that “deal” I’m making with myself, to ONLY do things for as long as I give myself, is essential.
I found an interesting article today (thank you Twitter) called Busting the 21 days habit formation myth. Apparently, we’ve all been under the impression that science was at the root of this belief, when the “21 day magic bullet” was pretty much anecdotal…
Not that anecdotes are wrong, but a complete world view needs a little more substantiation, in my book.
I’m working from home today, and I’ve noticed something interesting – I need more space.
The office I have at home, as nice as it is, is feeling small.
The places around the house where I usually work are also feeling small.
Even the areas that I have marked out as mine (which is a rare and deeply appreciated luxury) feel cramped.
I need more space.
It’s not that I’m greedy – if anything, I like to do with less. I have always felt that the less I need, the stronger and more secure I am. But with the days getting longer and the weather getting nicer, I’m feeling this strong push to move out, to get out, to expand and extend and try new things.
Move into new and different spaces.
Do something a little different.
And spread out a whole lot more than I have ever allowed myself to do.
See, here’s the thing…
Ever since I realized that the pattern I have of not being able to stick it out with jobs was NOT about me being deficient or slacking… ever since I “got it” that the things driving my interests and intentions have been intricately connected with how my brain works, and how my body works, too… ever since I realized that I don’t HAVE to repeat all my old patterns of never being able to stay at one job for longer than a year or two, and that I don’t have to get all worked up and tweaked and bent out of shape over work-related things, as well as people-related things… Well, something has changed.
Something has loosened up.
Something has expanded.
And I don’t want to spend all my time cooped up inside a building, in an office, in one place and one place only, day in and day out. I need to move. I need to expand. And I need to do this with the work I am doing and the life I am living — not ditch the situation I’m in now, and move on to what’s next.
It’s ironic, really — the stronger my comfort level with where I am, the more I want to really dive in and expand and evolve what I’ve got. I want to add more dimensions to my work. I want to develop a deeper understanding of the people I work with and a strong connection with my work itself. I have so much going on, day in and day out. What I need most, is not so much a break from the activity, as a deeper understanding and appreciation of what it is I’m doing — and why.
I can’t see going through life with the same tightness and uptightness I’ve been caught up in, for so long. As long as I can remember, I’ve been uptight. Having all sorts of sensory issues, where my body feels like it’s alternately being attacked by the outside world, and then attacking me, hasn’t helped. Nor has the anxiety and agitation and constant restlessness and fatigue and confusion that comes with TBI and all the stuff that follows on it.
But even though I still have my issues (boy, did I ever sleep wrong last night – my neck is KILLING me! – and I’m bone-tired from not getting enough sleep), they don’t throw me like they used to. I am doing much better about just realizing that they’re there, letting them be, and just managing them. Taking a nap. Doing some relaxation. Reminding myself that it’s just my “stuff” acting up again.
And not letting it get to me.
It’s actually pretty amazing, if I think about it. After a lifetime of hassle and worry and tension and stress over this stuff, suddenly, it’s not this horrific drama anymore. After being literally locked away in habits and behaviors that I never questioned, just went with, I suddenly have choices about how to live my life, how to respond to it, how to keep myself going, in the face of even the most problematic issues. Things like trying to function on 4 hours of sleep, trying to navigate messed-up finances, trying to patch back together relationships that have frayed and strained to the breaking point, and functioning in a high-stress, fast-paced work environment… I can handle them. I really can.
Which opens up a whole lot of possibilities for me. Possibilities to just live my life, instead of having to struggle through. Possibilities of being able to actually enjoy my life, instead of laboring from one problem to the next. Possibilities of seeing what all I can get out of situations, and what all I can put into them, instead of just enduring till the bitter end.
And with this new expansiveness, I really feel the need for more space… to get out of my office and out in the day… to stop following the exact same route to work each day, and experiment with other routes on my way home… to step outside my daily rituals and routines and improvise a little. Riff a little. Kick back and innovate a little.
I didn’t want to exercise, when I got up this morning.
But I did it anyway.
I was feeling “gunked up” and sluggish and I have a lot to do. I didn’t want to spend the first half hour of my day riding the bike and lifting my 5 lb weights.
But I did it anyway.
And I’m glad I did.
I would like to say that I was able to follow through with my morning routine because I realize it is good for me, and I look forward to doing it every single day. But that would be untrue. Fact of the matter is, I’ve built this routine into my daily schedule so completely, that to veer from it or deviate in any way causes me intense anxiety. Its not so much high-minded intentions and enlightenment that gets me on the bike and stretching and lifting weights, first thing. Its the sheer force of a strictly enforced habit.
A friend of mine tells me it takes six weeks for a habit to form. Well, I’ve been at this morning routine for nearly six months, and its so ingrained in me that doing something different is not a prospect I relish. I have a tendency to intense anxiety and nervousness — and I use that to my benefit, by creating positive, constructive structures which cause me intense anxiety if I deviate from them.
If you can’t get rid of your neuroses, you might as well put them to work for you. That’s what I did this morning. And I’m glad I did.
‘Cause now I feel a whole lot better. My sinuses have cleared, my body feels more awake, and I’m mentally much clearer.
Clear is good. I have a lot to get done today. It’s Sunday, and part of me feels like I should be taking it easy, as I had such a rough and long week, last week. But if I work this right and play my cards right, I can actually settle into what I’m doing and take it easy while I’m doing it.
Easy does it, say friends of mine. After hearing them say this for 20 years, it’s starting to sink in.
About time 😉
Anyway, this morning I realized I’ve run out of my pre-printed daily tracking forms, and I had to go back to writing things out by hand on scrap paper on my clipboard. In a way, I like this better. I’ve recently realized that the more stressed I am, the worse my handwriting is, so I can use that as a measure of how tweaked I am over things. Since being tweaked over things sets in motion a whole bunch of complications that set me off-track — I start to load up all sorts of extra activities on myself that do not need to be done — I’ve realized that I can gauge how well or how poorly I am doing, in general — and how well or how poorly I am likely to do through the course of the coming day — by my handwriting.
Having a pre-printed form with lines on it that keeps me neat and tidy is actually a short-cut that keeps me from having to really focus in on my handwriting. It’s also a little bit of a crutch for me, as it structures my day for me and tells me what I’m supposed to do — and when. I’ve been very much in need of that kind of structure, for the past decades, and I’ve suffered with out it. Stuff just didn’t get done. It just didn’t. Important stuff. Stuff that I’m now paying the consequences of not finishing. And a lot of stuff got started and commitments got made that had no business ending up on my plate. Not having that structure, not having a consistent way to go about things, was — well — in some cases small-scale catastrophic.
But in the past couple of years, since I realized what havoc mTBI has played in my life, I have done a really focused and intensive job of ordering my life in a much more constructive way. I’ve created routines for myself specifically to strengthen and support the parts of me that need help. I’ve taken myself to task for lots of things that I messed up for no good reason, and I’ve taken steps to remedy them. I’ve really stepped up in many, many aspects of my life that used to either languish or fall by the wayside. And I’ve made tremendous strides in the past 18 months — largely because I suddenly realized that I had problems, and those problems needed to be solved.
Now I find myself not only able to follow through with the required activities I set for myself each day, but I’m also better able to manage the optional ones. I’m also better at distinguishing which ones matter and which ones are wishful. I am better and not packing my plate full of things that “must” be done, and I’m better at deciding which ones are energy drains and not contributing to my overall progress.
It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally starting to come together. And a key part of all of this has been the force of habit. Identifying what I’m going to do, and doing it religiously, each and every day without fail. The things that are important to me — like exercising — I do every single day. Without fail. At the same time, each and every day. Without fail. And it’s the daily aspect of it that I think really makes a difference.
Now, a lot of people say that you don’t have to exercise every single day, in order to get benefits. Well, I tried that, and in my case, if I don’t do my exercises each and every day, I end up forgetting about them, doing other things, and not doing them even once a week. Trust me – I’ve tried to do the “half-way” fitness routine, and it doesn’t work. So, I broke the cardinal rule of fitness and I do my workout every single morning.
No, I do not give myself time to “rest” between daily workouts. I do not give my body time to “catch up”. But I also don’t push myself really hard every single day that I exercise. Some days, I’ll put a little more into bike ride, pushing myself to work up a sweat. Or I’ll focus on more weights with my lifting, so I feel a little sore the next day. But I don’t give myself time off, because by this time exercise has become like any other daily activity — like eating a meal or sleeping. It’s just part of my daily routine. It’s just part of my life.
Force of habit to the rescue.
And now that I’ve got the exercise thing down — which still takes discipline and determination, some days, like today — I can extend that into other areas of my life. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I want my life to be like, on down the line, and I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what parts of my life now are contributing to making that a reality later. I’ve come to the realization that my neurological and physiological issues may never go away and I’m going to have to factor them in at every turn, but I’ve also proven to myself that I am capable of positive change, and if I follow certain steps and do so consistently, I can — and will — make the kinds of changes I need in my life.
I may not be able to get back the years and the money and the relationships which fell prey to my injury, but I can work towards building something new for myself which is a reflection of what capabilities I have, and what my character truly is.
Ultimately, for me, the real power of the force of habit is about it relieving me of the need to think through every single action I take. Developing good habits frees up valuable time and energy I would otherwise be spending considering the pros and cons of what I’m doing, getting my head around the reasons why I’m doing them, and convincing myself they’re worthwhile. Developing rock-solid habits around good activities and behaviors enables me to focus on the important stuff — the actual doing of the activities, not the constant thinking about them. Developing positive habits frees me from analysis paralysis, and it acts as a kind of artificial executive function that keeps things running smoothly, even as the thinking parts of me are noodling about how to go about things.
Set-in-stone habits take care of the What and Why, so I can focus on the How.
And that’s a good thing.
So, that being said, it’s time to come up with some more habits. It’s time to create some more structure around what I absolutely positively need to do, in order to get where I’m going. This morning I created my daily planning list without the benefit of a pre-printed form. And my day is progressing really well anyway.