Finally getting into the holidays

christmas tree
It’s a modest Christmas, this year

This holiday season has been quite different from past years. Both of us were too sick to travel for Thanksgiving, so we stayed home and ate turkey in the peace and quiet of our own company. It was nice. No yelling, no screaming, no wild flurries of activity and trying like crazy to catch up with family members we haven’t seen in a few years.

There really wasn’t enough time to do everything — and my side of the family has a bad habit of trying to cram everything into a few days, which is exhausting and disorienting and sets us both up for a whole world of hurt, when we travel on to the rest of the family.

We were also a lot shorter on energy, this year, than we’ve been in the past. My spouse’s mobility issues — severe pain and limited range of motion — make it next to impossible to get around easily, and the impatience of others doesn’t help. It’s not a total disability, but it’s a significant limitation, which others cannot seem to understand. My spouse looks and acts perfectly normal when sitting down and chatting, or talking on the phone. They’re not obviously cognitively impaired. So, somehow that gets into people’s minds that they’re really not that bad off.

And that’s a problem, in itself. Because then people expect unrealistic things of you, and they don’t treat you very well, when you just can’t keep up with the frenetic pace.

Anyway, that’s only half of the problems we avoided by staying home and keeping to ourselves, this year. The other half, is my anger, fatigue, frustration, and bad behavior issues, which have been flaring up, now and then. I seem to have a shorter fuse, this year, than in the past. I think it’s really due to my work situation, which is mighty “dynamic”, these days. There are layoffs pending in the not-so-distant future. And while I feel pretty confident about my own situation — not only am I getting along with my new colleagues better than just about anybody I know, but I’m also feeling really strong about my professional prospects.

I’ve come such a long way, in the past 10 years. It’s pretty amazing. 10 years ago, I was pretty much of a train wreck — spending money left and right, completely out of control with my behavior, my anger, my self-management.

And I had no idea why it was — or that it had anything to do with TBI.

Now I know better. And now I’m doing better.

It’s just other people’s “stuff” I need to deal with. There are a lot of worried, anxious people, and that makes them difficult to handle.

But for myself, my prospects are looking good, so I’m not worrying about it. Main thing, is taking care of myself, doing the best I can, and not letting the world around me bring me down.

So, I’m finally getting into the holidays. Dealing with them as they come… and getting my shopping and decorating done, a little bit at a time. It’s taking a few weeks longer, than in past years, but I’m not worrying about it. At least it’s happening. And the way I’m doing it all — measured and gradual and not stressing about it — really makes sense for where I and my spouse are at, right now. This time is one for me to be reflective and slow down, not get caught up in everybody else’s dramas. They can go on without me. I’m fine where I am.

Of MLK Day and Migraines

ON THE MOVE: Dr. Martin Luther King, lower right, holds hands with his wife, Coretta, during an Alabama march. -- PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press
ON THE MOVE: Dr. Martin Luther King, lower right, holds hands with his wife, Coretta, during an Alabama march. — PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, everyone. If anyone deserves a holiday commemorating their work, it’s him.

What I love about this picture is that it shows that he was not alone in his work and his belief and his actions. He’s surrounded by a whole lot of people, some of whom look nothing like him.

That speaks to the power of A) someone who has a very, very clear vision of how things could be — and is willing to put themself on the line for it, and B) a cohesive group of committed people who support that cause and are willing to put themselves on the line, as well.

I grew up in the late 60s and early 70s, when students were bused in the small city we lived in, and the Black Power movement was on the rise. Those were the days after Dr. King’s life had ended, and I watched the Civil Rights Movement devolve into fractious fighting and chaos. I was attacked by other students a number of times because I didn’t look like them, and one of my most significant TBIs came at the hands of some of those kids. It was a violent time, a messy time, and there was a lot of harm done.

Of course, the pendulum tends to swing in different directions, so maybe that was to be expected. I’m not sure what would have happened, had Dr. King not been killed. There’s no guarantee things would not have descended into chaos, in any case. All I know is, those years of my childhood were extraordinarily tough, due to race relations, and I’m still dealing with the fallout.

Today is a holiday for many folks, including the schools. I actually don’t have the day off work. It’s an elective holiday for us, which means that office is going to be very quiet, as everybody with kids takes the day off to be with them. That also means there’s no point in me going into the office, and I can work from home.

That’s good.

I’m not in the mood to deal with people today. I’ve had a sick headache for days, now. It’s getting better, but it’s still around. Yesterday was better, probably because I got plenty of sleep over the weekend, I took it easy, and I cut out all that chocolate that I’ve been eating since the holidays. I’ve had at least 2 pieces of chocolate in the afternoons, for months. Sometimes I’ll have a bunch of it over the course of the day — to keep myself going. The amount has steadily increased, and I think it’s contributed to my migraines.

Chocolate has caffeine in it. Sugar, too. I’ve been using it as a substitute for coffee for those afternoon lulls. But that makes no sense — it’s still caffeine, which has been linked to migraines. I’ve also been drinking black tea (with honey) and yerba mate, both with caffeine. Come to think of it, when I started drinking more black tea (Red Rose is my favorite), the headaches started to come back.

So, I cut it all out for the past two days, and I’m feeling much better. I bit withrawal-ish, but better.

I had planned to get off caffeine completely, back in May, but that didn’t work. I have to have at least a little bit in the morning — I cut back on my amount drastically. The month of May came and went, and over the months, my headaches really subsided. But now, eight months later, I’ve slipped back into my old ways, and the headaches are back. So, I’m taking corrective action. And I’m just doing the smart thing — the thing that connects the dots.

I think there’s more to my headaches than just coffee. There’s usually more than one thing, with me. I ask myself: What all have I done differently over the past few months, that might have given rise to increased migraines?

  1. I was really off my regular diet over the holidays — eating a lot more sugar and carbs than usual, and not watching my portion control. I ate a LOT of candy, although I justified it by only eating chocolate, rather than a lot of other junk food. I told myself that dark chocolate is good for me, and it’s been linked with longevity. Who doesn’t want to live longer… all thanks to dark chocolate?
  2. I also stopped exercising regularly. I had a project in November that consumed my attention and kept me off the exercise bike, first thing in the morning. It also kept me off the trails on the weekends, and it consumed every spare moment of my time. Consequently, I lost muscle tone and strength and gained weight, and my energy level dropped. Not good.
  3. I was also pretty stressed at times over the holiday break. I got pretty bent out of shape about all the changes happening – work changes, doctor changes, etc. It got to me more than I care to admit, and it was definitely a factor in increased irritability. I wasn’t sleeping great, the stress was throwing me off, and I just didn’t feel like I could handle anything.
  4. Also… I worked from home for the week and a half around Christmas and New Years, and my spouse and I got irritable from being underfoot with each other. We had a couple of blow-ups, which shot up my blood pressure. I’ve been really struggling with my anger — and my heart rate — ever since. My headaches come on when my heart rate goes up, so it’s actually a helpful reminder to keep it down. And since I know how to lower my heart rate, I need to go back to just doing that. And so I have been. It takes time and practice — and I’ve been a bit out of practice.

think this is all inter-related, so I need to do something about it. And I’ve been doing just that. Laying off the chocolate. Doing my breathing exercises. Being extra-mindful about what’s going on around me and how I’m reacting to it. And taking action to reduce the stress. And making more of an effort to peacefully co-exist with my spouse. They’re making more of an effort, too. They actually asked me to work from home today, which is a huge change.

The most important thing for me is support. It make everything easier. I hadn’t mentioned my migraines to my spouse, during the holidays — I just did my usual shut-out thing, where I ignore the pain and hope it’ll go away. It didn’t, though. It just got worse. And of course, my spouse couldn’t figure out why I was in such rough shape, all of a sudden.

When I told them about my headaches, last week, suddenly there was support — compassion — and extra help with doing things like getting to bed at a decent hour and not overeating. They don’t do great with the whole TBI issues thing — it freaks them out, even to this day, and we can never discuss them without them going into some form of panic/anxiety. So, that’s no good. But they can deal with the idea that I have migraines. It doesn’t make them question their own safety and sanity.

If they think my brain is not working properly, they get frightened and combative, because it threatens their existence. But if they think I “just” have a sick headache, that poses no threat to them, and they can think clearly about how to help me. Migraines are less intimidating. Headaches are something they can relate to, without it turning into a life-and-death struggle… or pointing to a future filled with dementia and diapers.

So, “playing the migraine card” is a useful way to get the help I need, under these conditions. It helps, that it’s true.

And that’s good. Because all alone, dealing with all of this is a tough go.

Bottom line: when you have support from other like-minded individuals who share your vision and your dreams, you can actually achieve a thing or two.

Onward.

Three days off never came at a better time

Thank you, Mr. Presidents

I’ve been really sick, this week. Not flu, but a really bad cold that has wiped me out. It’s been a few years, since I was this sick, which I suppose is good. But I am also out of practice with dealing with this crap, and that makes it even more annoying.

I got some OTC meds and the first batch I got had pseudoephedrine in it.

WOO HOO!

They really sent me for a loop — good-bye impulse control! I was running around, talking a mile a minute, ranting over every little thing, and I could hardly sit still. I was probably pretty interesting to watch at work, and I did have a LOT of energy, but My God, it was a little much.

Regular Sudafed makes me nuts, and I thought I could get away with the generic brand. But this had the stuff in it that makes me crazy, so I went back to the store and got myself something without pseudoephedrine, and all was well, yesterday.

I’ve been drinking a lot of that Airborn stuff — generic bargain brand, again, and that seems to make the biggest difference. Whatever they put in that stuff makes me instantly feel better. So, I need to use my noggin and drink plenty of it — also, preferably before I get sick in the first place.

Anyway, I have three days off work, and that will give me a chance to finish up a couple of projects — one for a friend I’ve been helping, one for my house, which needs more than an hour of TLC, and one for me, which has been hanging over my head for some time, now. I can finally get it done, and I’m pretty excited to see that one off my plate, so to speak.

Then I can get back to  TBI S.O.S.

All in good time, though.

I also want to enjoy myself, this weekend. Do some more thinking about some more ideas I have…and just life my life. Heck, I might even work on my taxes.

That would be something.

Onward.

A day off, and lots of options

Finally, I get a day off! Woo. Hoo. After I got back from my business trip, I had intended to rest on Friday, catch up on my sleep, etc. But it turned out that I needed to work and catch up on some outstanding things I’ll be doing first thing tomorrow morning. One of my teammates just left the company — it’s a really good thing, because they had an awful (non-existent) work ethic, and everything they did made work harder for me “downstream”… at the same time, that means there will be more work of different kinds for me to catch up on.

So, on Friday I banked a little time and effort against my coming week, and I tied up some loose ends and coordinated my activities for tomorrow. That should simplify things at least a little bit.

Saturday was a full day of work and activity, with no nap as I’d planned. I just had too much to do, getting back from my trip.

Sunday was another bust, taken up by visiting with company all morning and into the afternoon, followed by more tasks and a 3-hour nap that I sorely needed.

So, this is really the first day “off” I’ve gotten, from the obligatory backlog of stuff. And do I ever need it.

I have a handful of things I really need to concentrate on – completing and filing my federal and state taxes, cleaning up more of my work spaces around the house, catching up on emails, doing some food shopping, and of course a nap this afternoon. I’m feeling a lot more human than I have in days, and it’s good to be back. Sleep and lots of water and protein and exercise is doing me good, as is just moving at my own pace.

Today, I’m just going to take it easy. I will have plenty to stress about later this week. But today, I can do as I please — do some writing, read my book(s), go for those loooooong walks that I haven’t been able to take for about a week, and sleep. Get some more sleep.

It’s all good. And I’m glad that I’m not pushing myself to be “ultra-productive”, the way I have in the past. There will be lots of opportunities do that after I get back to work. For today, I just need to take care of myself and regroup, recoup, and chill.

Come to think of it, I think I’ll go back to bed. With my book. To read. Because I can.

 

 

No animals were harmed in the making of my last vacation

… and no people were harmed, either. A couple of times, I came close to snapping at folks, and I did get a little testy at one point. But I managed to pull out of it, just step away and catch my breath — count to 90… distract myself with something more interesting and positive than freaking out — and then get back into the action without making everyone around me uncomfortable… or worse.

And this is good. I have to say, I felt like crap, most of the trip. I was very dizzy, off balance, exhausted, and really feeling terrible about my job and work situation. I was falling asleep on my feet, half the time, and there were a whole lot of conversations I did not even try to keep up with, because I could only concentrate on one thing at a time, and people were being generally self-centered and rude and talking over each other.

Constantly.

But yet I kept my cool. And when I felt things starting to get a little haywire, I did something about it.

I can’t say that I actually enjoyed myself all that much, but at the very least I did NOT harm anyone else, which was change from how things have been before. In the past, people have pretty much regretted that I came to visit — I would get so uptight and snappy and pick fights and be impossible to talk to. Not this time, though. This time was different.

Some things were a bust, on this trip. But the benefits of my “behavior management” were pretty good.

Just glad I’m home. For real.

Woo hoo! It worked!

I just got back from the best Thanksgiving ever.

I had my plan, and I stuck with it. Each day, before I did anything else, I got up and went for my brisk walk. Then I went back to my parents’ house, had a drink of water or juice, and closed myself off in an extra bedroom to stretch and lift my weights (which I brought with me). I had my breakfast in the usual fashion, and I took my time.

Whenever I got overloaded (which happened a few times), I stepped away and took a nap. I had help, too. My spouse was there to help “cover” for me, when my family was wanting to talk and visit and spend time. And people didn’t seem to be pushing as much as they were in other years.

I managed to get through the holiday without melting down or insulting people or saying things that I hadn’t thought through. I was careful and deliberate, and I was very, very present with just about everyone I talked with.

I think people really saw a difference, too. By the end of the weekend, my mom was asking me about what exercises I do, and she had that look in her eye that said she was going to try them.

I also (finally) talked to my folks about the TBIs, and how they had played a role in the problems I had as a kid. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, now, because my folks aren’t getting any younger, and I didn’t want them to spend their final years burdened by the same regret and remorse that they’ve carried around with them for as long as I can remember. My parents have spent a lot of time apologizing to me for being bad parents, and I never knew what to say.

This Thanksgiving, I figured out what to say:  “All the problems I had weren’t your fault. They were neurological, and they were because I got hit on the head a lot. It’s nobody’s fault, and all those people who gave you a hard time for being bad parents were wrong about you. And they were wrong about me.”

It really choked them up. My mom got scared, and my dad had to step out of the room to compose himself. My parents love me a lot, and they could never understand why I didn’t respond to them the same way my other siblings did. Now they have a very important piece of the puzzle, and maybe now we can start healing some of the old hurts that never made any sense, but hurt, all the same.

Yes, my strategy did work — If I take care of my body, my mind can take care of my brain.

I was very careful about what I ate (tho’ I did overdo it on Thanksgiving Day — but who doesn’t? At least  it was real — not junk — food!), I paced myself well. I took my time, and I did not rush the things I often rushed (like packing the car and moving around). I was very mindful of my surroundings, and I took time to breathe deeply and relax.

Now I’ve got a lot of body aches and pains — too little sleep and too much long driving and too many unfamiliar activities — but while I was with my family, I was in a good space, and I was in good form.

And for that, I am truly thankful.